“I like to call it ‘experiential beauty’. I think it’s important for people to try products before they invest,” says Hannah Wiles, founder of new Wellington beauty boutique Iris Store & Studio.
Her storefront is on the corner of Mercer and Victoria streets in the heritage Dominion building, which was home to the Dominion newspaper (now the Dominion Post) from 1928 to 1976.
A make-up artist and beauty therapist of 18 years, Wiles describes the area as a “design precinct”. This is appropriate given her neighbours include City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi and several fashion and homewares boutiques, including The Axe, Yu Mei, Hej Hej and more – all within a 100-metre radius.
Wiles jumped at the opportunity to seize the prime location, with the aim of bringing pioneering beauty brands to New Zealand for the first time.
The products are displayed against autumnal terracotta walls, refurbished wooden floors and dim lighting. The purpose-built space is slick and welcoming, thanks to the creative direction of Auckland concept and design studio Wonder Group, and handcrafted benches and shelving from Wellington bespoke plywood furniture design company Hedge. A mezzanine floor has treatment rooms offering 30, 45 or 60-minute holistic facials, as well as make-up services.
There’s an eye-catching window display with a tiled plinth that almost ended Wiles’ relationship, she tells Broadsheet, laughing. “You have to give my partner huge props. I had my heart set on a tiled plinth, but the tile samples on offer were thick, heavy and expensive.” They ended up painstakingly putting the whole thing together with fibreboard.
A career in beauty wasn’t initially on the cards for Wiles, who first undertook a degree in resource management, hoping to help businesses assess and change their environmental impacts.
After a five-year stint at Inland Revenue, she wanted to do something more creative. On a whim, she completed a certificate in make-up, design and production in Christchurch at age 28.
This led to roles in sales, distribution, manufacturing, training, brand management and leadership at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, Cosmax Prestige Brands, The Herb Farm, Perfume Playground and Spring Spa in New Zealand and Australia.
“Then David Jones closed its doors [in Wellington] and I started to think, ‘I can do that.’ I’d always been interested in brands, and particularly brands that are pioneering the industry internationally but aren’t available in New Zealand.”
While Sydney and Melbourne aren’t too far away, there are far more products over there, she says. “And it doesn’t mean we don’t want them. We’re like the poor sibling, where we’re a little left behind in some ways. It means we’re left with buying online, which only works if you’ve tried and tested the product.”
This can also be wasteful. “Everyone has that graveyard drawer of beauty products that haven’t quite lived up to the hype.”
And as for her store’s name, Wiles (who is in her mid-forties) was taken with Helen Walmsley-Johnson’s book The Invisible Woman, which looks at how women over the age of 35 start to disappear in the eyes of the media, retail and so on.
“I liked the idea of being seen – so the ‘eye’ in Iris resonated.”
Iris also happens to be Wiles’s mother’s favourite flower – and as luck would have it, Iris is also the Greek goddess of rainbows.
Iris Store & Studio
78 Victoria Street, Wellington Central
Tues & Wed 10am–5pm
Thurs & Fri 10am–6pm