The thing I remember most about my meeting with Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, who died yesterday of a brain hemorrhage, was her size. She was teeny tiny, something photos, of course, could never convey.
But she was big on ideas and she talked a mile a minute about them to me for about a half hour. I don't remember being able to get a word in during the conversation, as she kept changing the subject before I could catch my breath. No sooner had she launched into a speech about her fair trade practices, than she leapt into a discussion of the meaning of beauty, then on to the perils of franchising.
The fact she had done scores of interviews at the time in support of her book Business As Usual: The Triumph Of Anita Roddick (HarperCollins, 2000) had not reduced her energy one iota. Unlike the film stars currently in town for the film festival, she never tired of answering the same questions again and again. And when our encounter was over I understood why she was so successful: she was unstoppable.
While others may celebrate the fact that she cared about fair trade when almost nobody else did and others might denigrate the Body Shop product crop for containing some nasty chemicals, I admired her, mostly for the way she talked about beauty.
Famously, she was quoted as having said that there was no such thing as an anti-aging cream. More famously, she said that any woman paying over $20 for a face cream was getting royally ripped off. Every cream is basically the same, she insisted. Any dough over the $20 mark was paying for packaging and star endorsements.
When I first heard her utter such anti-capitalist heresies I was sure women would stop the stampede to the cosmetics counter - but no. Last time I went to Sephora to get a little something to pump up my eyebrows (not botox, silly, just a little mascara and brush, for which I paid a monstrous $40), the woman in front of me was shelling out $140 for one bottle of cream and I almost said something to her, like, "What's the matter with you? Don't you like your money? Haven't you ever heard of Anita Roddick?"
It's true that in franchising the Body Shop Roddick was guilty of overrreach - especially in America, where shoppers don't like to mix politics with shopping - but she was ahead of her time in so many other ways. She believed in an ethical business model. She was one of the first to turn profits over to activist groups - her first cause was to fight violence against women - and she did it long before anybody invented one of the now ubiquitous ribbon campaigns.
She was uniquely radical - one to be missed, for sure.