Lawrenceville beauty spot The Gilded Girl gets skin deep
May 19, 2016
The Gilded Girl has been dealt a good hand. She’s affluent, worldly, and particularly well-traveled for a gal just shy of 30. Forever in search of the globe’s finest skin care and beauty products, she’s no stranger to living glamorously. But her heart — much like her eyeshadow — is always in the right place.
Albeit fictional, “she’s fabulous,” says Liz Quesnelle, a licensed esthetician and the owner and creator of Lawrenceville’s new cosmetics boutique, The Gilded Girl Beauty Emporium.
Long before landing in Pittsburgh last September, Quesnelle launched her esthetics career at a hospital in Chicago, where she helped to treat patients with congenital skin disorders. With a specialized focus on skin health, the proprietor later opened and single-handedly operated a “successful skin care clinic” in the city, aptly named Le Bon Visage (literally “the good face,” in French).
“When I had my own one-woman spa in Chicago, I did facials and makeup and makeup lessons and private events, and when [my husband and I] moved [to Pittsburgh], I was debating about what I wanted to do with myself,” says Quesnelle. “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.'”
The Gilded Girl’s storefront on the corner of Butler Street and Stanton Avenue is elegantly subtle. Inside, the space feels soft and simple, scattered with antique furniture and heirlooms. “All of the tchotchkes are either things that I got at estate sales or at my grandparents’ house,” says Quesnelle, whose shelves are stocked with the high-quality, small-batch cosmetic brands she’d been eager to share with Pittsburgh.
She stresses that the shop’s extensive selection of products — whether indie, luxury, organic, or vegan — appeals to women and men of all ages, adding, “we get everybody in here.”
While perusing, those in tune with the latest beauty trends may be quick to recognize popular national brands, like Rituel de Fille or Smith & Cult. There are some locally made goods as well: Look for sensitive skin products from Simple Sugars (of “Shark Tank” fame) and makeup bags from Squirrel Hill’s Sally Sandy Style.
The takeaway, though, is that most of The Gilded Girl’s inventory can’t be found elsewhere in Pittsburgh.
Obviously, curating an experience this exclusive doesn’t happen overnight. “I do a lot of research, I read all the fashion magazines and fashion blogs,” says Quesnelle. “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, so do we — and there isn’t one nail polish, lip balm, or face scrub here that we’d hesitate to display.
Take Indie Lee, for example: creams, moisturizers, blemish sticks, and more, 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,” Quesnelle notes. Vogue and Allure love her. She doesn’t use parabens or phthalates or anything like that.”
↑ Indie Lee cosmetics
We learn that parabens and phthalates are among hundreds of harmful — and usually unnecessary — chemicals, or toxins, found in mass-produced cosmetics. They’re largely unavoidable, especially to the average consumer. In her own establishment, Quesnelle makes every effort to ensure that the majority of products qualify as “clean.”
We’re not sure there’s a neighborhood more suited than Lawrenceville to host Pittsburgh’s only independently owned beauty store — one that emphasizes natural and organic products, at that. 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. It’s definitely up-and-coming. It just has a different feeling than either Central or Lower Lawrenceville.”
The small-business owner isn’t the first to praise the neighborhood’s fruitful atmosphere, or its strong inter-business community. She speaks highly of the area’s hot spots — The Butterwood, Vestis, Von Walter & Funk, Calligramme — and of the camaraderie among their proprietors. “We’ve all been really helping each other, telling our customers about the other places,” she says. “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. Like her neighbors, Quesnelle has built a reputation on honesty and humility — and word travels fast in Pittsburgh.
“It’s cool that [The Gilded Girl] has been so embraced by the public,” she says. “We’re not in the business of pushing product. 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.”
Photos by Tara Bennett
↓ “We have lots of products from the U.K., but these [Andrea Garland lip balms] make me really happy,” says Quesnelle. “They come in this little vintage-style pill box, and you can reuse it when the balm is empty.”
↓ “You don’t even know you need this until you discover it,” Quesnelle says of Tarina Tarantino glitter atomizers.
↓ We learn that Smith & Cult nail polishes use a 5-Free formula: “No formaldehyde, no toluene, no camphor. Nothing in them that’s terrible like a normal nail polish.”