Lawrenceville beauty spot the Gilded Girl gets skin deep
The Gilded Girl has been dealt a good hand. She’s worldly and wealthy, and particularly well-traveled for a gal just shy of 30. With a certain affection for all that glitters, she spends much of her journeys scouting the finest cosmetic and skin care products from across the globe. She’s far from conservative, both politically and financially. But her heart — and her eyeshadow — is always in the right place.
“She’s fabulous,” says Liz Quesnelle, owner and creator of The Gilded Girl Beauty Emporium. Of course, The Gilded Girl herself — though she shares Quesnelle’s passion for esthetics and glamour — is fictional. But the Upper Lawrenceville beauty shop by the same name? It’s real. And it’s just as fabulous as its leading lady would have hoped.
Quesnelle is a licensed esthetician and a born entrepreneur. Long before bringing The Gilded Girl to Butler Street in September 2015, she owned and single-handedly operated a successful skin care clinic in Chicago. Aptly named Le Bon Visage (literally “the good face” in French), the clinic was inspired by Quesnelle’s prior experiences as an intern at a local hospital, where she applied her background in cosmetics to help patients with congenital skin disorders. Since then, the proprietor has maintained a specialized focus on skin health.
“When I had my own one-woman spa in Chicago, I did facials and makeup and makeup lessons and private events,” she says. “And when [my husband and I] moved here, I was debating about what I wanted to do with myself. I temporarily took a job … and I just thought, ‘I should have my own store. There are so many great products out there that I want to see here in Pittsburgh that just aren’t here.’ So, here I am, three years later.”
Parked on the corner of Butler Street and Stanton Avenue, Quesnelle’s storefront is impossible to overlook. Inside, the space feels soft and simple, scattered with antique furniture and heirlooms. “I wanted [the store] to feel vintagey and comfortable,” says Quesnelle. “A little bit of glamour, a little bit of comfort. All of the tchotchkes are either things that I got at estate sales, or at my grandparents’ house. Things like that to make it look comfortable and homey.”
Flooding Quesnelle’s vintage shelves are the high-quality fragrance, skin care, and makeup lines she’d once dreamt of introducing to Pittsburgh. From indie to luxury; organic to vegan cosmetics, women — and men — of all ages can reap the benefits of the shop’s extensive selections. “We get everybody in here,” she adds.
While perusing the shop, those in tune with the latest cosmetic trends may be quick to recognize many brands from national or international magazines, ads, and boutiques. There are even a few local goods, as well: Simple Sugars natural skin care (of “Shark Tank” fame) and Sally Sandy Style makeup bags, which are made in Squirrel Hill. A few exceptions aside, most of The Gilded Girl’s stock can’t be found elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
Obviously, curating an inventory this exclusive doesn’t happen overnight. “I do a lot of research,” says Quesnelle. “I read all the fashion magazines and fashion blogs. I’ll see a product that I think looks interesting, do research, and bring it in. I like to buy things that would look good on your vanity.” Coincidentally, we also like to buy things that look good on our vanities. And here, there isn’t one nail polish, lip balm, or face scrub in sight that we’d hesitate to display.
Take Indie Lee, for example: facial creams, moisturizers, blemish sticks, and beyond, all marked with bright blocks of color in sleek containers. Based out of South Salem, N.Y., the line was created by one woman, a brain tumor survivor, who wanted to take a more eco-friendly approach to skin care. “She created a line that is very effective, but minimal in its ingredients,” says Quesnelle. “Vogue and Allure and places like that love her. She doesn’t use parabens or phthalates or anything like that.”
Parabens and phthalates, Quesnelle explains, are among hundreds of harmful — and usually unnecessary — chemicals found in mass-produced cosmetics. They’re largely unavoidable, especially to the average consumer. At the Gilded Girl, Quesnelle makes every effort to go toxin-free and to ensure that the majority of her products qualify as “clean.”
In Pittsburgh, we’re not sure there’s a neighborhood more suitable than Lawrenceville for hosting the city’s only independently owned beauty boutique — let alone one that narrows in on natural and organic products. But the neighborhood is changing; particularly in Upper Lawrenceville, where small businesses and young professionals are thriving.
Intrigued by the area’s redevelopment and promising future, Quesnelle was quick to scoop up her space on Butler Street’s 51st block. “[Upper Lawrenceville] has a really good vibe to it,” she says. “It’s definitely up-and-coming. It just has a different feeling than either Central or Lower Lawrenceville. There are some great retailers down there, which is awesome. But I like the feel of here better.”
Quesnelle isn’t the first Upper Lawrenceville business owner to praise the neighborhood’s fruitful atmosphere — or its strong inter-business community, for that matter. She speaks highly of the area’s hot spots — the Butterwood, Vestis, Calligramme, Von Walter & Funk — and of the camaraderie among their proprietors. “We’ve all been really helping each other,” she says. “Telling our customers about the other places … it’s great. We get together for drinks, we talk about concerns about our businesses, and try to find ways that we can help each other.”
Whatever they’re doing is working. Quesnelle, after all, is in the business of helping. Like her neighbors, she’s built a reputation on honesty and humility — and word travels fast in Pittsburgh. In fact, The Gilded Girl had barely been open three months before local and national media calls began pouring in. “It was amazing how quickly the media turned on to this,” says Quesnelle. “It’s cool that [the shop] has been so embraced by the public.
“We’re not in the business of pushing product here. You don’t need to spend that money. I’m not going to tell people to do that, and I think that’s what sets me apart.”
That, and the broadest, most eclectic collection of independent cosmetic brands in the state of Pennsylvania. Minor details.
↑ “We have lots of products from the U.K. But these [Andrea Garland lip balms] make me really happy. I have one in every shade. Some of them are tinted and some are clear. They come in this little vintage-style pill box, and you can reuse it when the balm is empty.”
↑ “I just adore Rituel de Fille. It’s made by three makeup artist sisters in Los Angeles. This has no artificial dyes, no fragrance, no parabens, no anything. Usually when you get something that doesn’t have artificial dyes, it tends to be not very pigmented. And these ones are super bold. They’re just gorgeous.”
↑ “This is probably the greatest thing ever. It’s a glitter atomizer. You don’t even know you need that until you discover it. These are from Tarina Tarantino. She’s a jewelry designer out of Los Angeles, and she has a makeup line as well. She has hot pink hair and she’s all crazy and cool.”
Two weeks before our meeting, Quesnelle appeared on two consecutive episodes of “Jeopardy.” Naturally, her themed manicure featured a portrait of Alex Trebek’s face.
↑ “These are a 5-Free formula,” Quesnelle says of Smith & Cult nail polishes. “That means there’s no formaldehyde, no toluene, no camphor. Nothing in them that’s terrible like a normal nail polish. But, super pigments. I love these colors. And they’re good-lasting.”