Anita Roddick Cleans Up with Cosmetics Fit for a King (or Queen, Prince, Princess, Duke or Duchess)

updated 10/10/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It's a house favorite with the well-scrubbed members of the British royal family. Discriminating Di is a devotee. So are Charles and Fergie. And last March at Buckingham Palace, the Queen offered up some praise to the woman behind the Body Shop, an all-atural New Age cosmetics company. "Well done," the Queen told Anita Roddick as the latter received the insignia of an officer of the Order of the British Empire. "You are growing very big, aren't you?"

The Queen had done her homework. The alternative-cosmetics house that Roddick started in a leaky shop in Brighton 12 years ago has mushroomed into a global enterprise with 340 outlets. Customers in 33 countries flock to the fragrantly scented boutiques for such exotic dainties as banana hair conditioner, orange spice shampoo, pineapple facial wash and musk massage oils. For this all-natural enterprise, there's nothing unnatural about making a profit; the Body Shop grossed $57 million last year.

This summer Roddick invaded the U.S., opening a boutique in Manhattan and another in Paramus Park, N.J. Like all Body Shops, the interiors of the American stores are painted green. Roddick plans to open 22 more U.S. stores by the end of 1989. Next on her must-convert list are the Soviet Union and Japan.

Roddick, 45, infuses her aggressive business moves with genuine New Age values. The Body Shop sell is, well, no sell. That means no fancy packaging, no advertising and no glossy display photographs of flawlessly skinned women. "All our products do is clean, polish and protect the hair and the skin," says Roddick. "We don't claim they will get rid of your crow lines or make your breasts bigger. There is nothing magical about moisture cream. But in this industry of hype, the truth rings like a clarion bell."

There's nothing new about all-natural beauty products. What sets the Body Shop apart from the pack is its strong social message. The company makes only biodegradable products, right down to the shops' green shopping bags. It also promotes recycling of paper waste and requires each of its British boutiques to sponsor a local community project, such as makeup workshops for the blind. "We look after the community, the environment and the work force," Roddick says proudly. "This is definitely New Age thinking." In her U.S. shops, posters and leaflets on subjects such as antivivisection and Amnesty international are displayed alongside the jars of Elderflower Eye Gel and Olive Stone Body Scrub. Richard Branson, the head of Virgin Enterprises, says, "Anita is one of a new breed of British entrepreneurs with a particularly caring side."

Roddick's caring side was nurtured during her youth in West Sussex. Born into a family of first-generation Italian immigrants, Anita used to work weekends and summers in the family café. "It was a very WASPy English town," says Roddick (née Perilli). "I grew up with a very strong work ethic where you received nothing unless you worked hard for it."

Roddick has been on the move ever since she graduated from the Bath College of Education in 1962. In her 20s she briefly taught school in Southampton. After a short time in Paris at the clip desk of the New York Herald Tribune, she worked for the United Nations, traveling to Third World countries to learn more about improving benefits for women. Back home in England she met and fell in love with a penniless poet and global knockabout named Gordon Roddick. "I immediately knew he was my fate," Anita says with a grin. "It only took me four days of pursuit." They married when Anita was pregnant with their second daughter, Samantha, now 17. (The couple's elder daughter, Justine, is 19.)

Anita conceived the idea for the Body Shop when Roddick announced he was going to leave home for two years to ride from Buenos Aires to New York on horseback. Unfazed but, as she puts it, eager to "keep the wolf from the door," Anita found an herbalist in the Yellow Pages, and together they conjured up soaps and lotions using the herbal ingredients she remembered from her travels. She opened the store in March 1976. By the time her husband returned early the next year (his horse keeled over in the Andes), the Body Shop had expanded to a second location. Today Gordon, 46, runs the financial end of the business. "We have a brilliant relationship," says Anita. "We work at opposite ends of the building and have most of our board meetings in bed."

Home for the Roddicks is a Georgian house on a four-acre spread on the Sussex Downs, 50 miles from London. They also own what they describe as a "wonderful folly," a 17th-century house they stumbled on last year during a walking trip through Scotland. Even with two gorgeous residences, plus a flat in London, it's hard to keep her in one place for long.

Roddick goes on several research trips a year. Her idea of bliss is a tramp through a field of frankincense in Oman or an afternoon spent trading beauty secrets with women in Japan. "Work is more fun than fun," she says. The main worry of this doyenne of New Age cosmetics is that she won't accomplish everything she'd like to. Says Roddick: "I wake up every morning thinking, 'Christ, this is my last day.' And I jam everything into it. There's no time for mediocrity. This is no damned dress rehearsal."

—By Harriet Shapiro, with Laura Sanderson Healy in London

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