Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

I wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. I'm going to spend the holiday among family and very dear friends, and I hope you do, too. I'm thankful for all of you who visit, read, and support. It means the world to me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Serge Lutens- L'Orpheline

In order to even start wrapping my head around L'Orpheline I had to completely ignore two things: my expectation from a Serge Lutens perfume, and the story/marketing materials provided by the company. I usually do the latter anyway, but here it was especially important. Because if you think that "The Little Orphan" is an odd choice for a perfume name, reading Lutens' quotes (you can find the whole thing on Fragrantica) and fragments from his painful and lonely childhood is sends you right to Les Misrables territory, and I don't mean the musical version, but straight to Victor Hugo's written world of wretchedness and endless suffering. How does that go with a luxury perfume? It doesn't (and I don't want it to).

Serge Lutens is the grand-master of oriental perfumes, thick and rich flowers, and otherworldly incense. L'Orpheline is nothing like that. The first time I sprayed it (at a rather crowded store) I couldn't focus my nose on the actual notes or on anything wafting off my skin. The fragrance seemed to move very fast in every direction, wrapping invisible threads around air molecules. It was there but not. Upon subsequent wearings (first from samples and eventually from the bottle I bought) I managed to hold on to these wisps of not-quite incense and fly away with them into a clear blue sky.

L'Orpheline seems at first like air and whiffs of a shockingly artificial musk (we're talking about a perfume from the same man who brought us MKK and Clair de Musk). But it's not. Actually it is shockingly artificial in the same way that several Le Labo and CdG fragrances utilize imaginary wood notes. But this is Uncle Serge after all, the artist who knows skin the way few others do. The not-really-wood and not-really-musk combined create multiple special effects. From cool air to a warm and cozy shelter, tree limbs with life of their own grow and twist like menacing fingers before they form a safe haven. And skin. Creamy, soft, slightly sweetened. Man or man-made, L'Orpheline is enchanting.

The special effects continue when it comes to sillage and longevity. There's something very misleading in the way L'Orpheline wears on me. It pretends to be a skin scent that whispers softly, but this musk is devious and can suddenly project to the other side of the room with no warning (I admit that I tend to go to town with this one because it never feels quite enough at first). Longevity is an all-day affair if you pay attention. Just when I think it might be time to refresh I realize that I can still smell L'Orpheline clearly.I guess this is the one thing that never abandons the little orphan. Or something. It's a great modern perfume no matter what.

Serge Lutens- L'Orpheline ($140, 50ml EDP) is available from Twisted Lily, Luckyscent, Aedes, Barneys, and the other usual suspects. My first sample came from Twisted Lily.

Fashion illustration by Rene Gruau for Madame Gres,1946, via

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Problem With Blogging- 2014 Edition

When I started this blog in early 2006 it was because I wanted to add my own voice to the beautiful chorus that has been forming in the online world by regular people who had something to say. Things seemed to have been going well in the beauty blogging arena, just as they did in other areas of the blogsphere until the backlash that happened around 2008. I admit that I was somewhat surprised. No one seemed to care that tech bloggers were regularly receiving various expensive gadgets for free, including every i-whatever. It was the objectivity of beauty bloggers over $20 mascaras that was called out and questioned in the NY Times. I wrote this response back then, and I still stand behind every word.

Unfortunately, while there's absolutely no problem with accepting samples and products for review  from brands or stores that bloggers regularly cover, there are more and more instances of what I call "Bloggers Behaving Badly". This covers a range of questionable action from begging for samples on Twitter (or begging in general, really), because that means the blogger owes the brand now, to the deplorable practice of selling gratis items. A gift from a brand, a store, or a perfumer was given out of good will. Selling a palette, a dress, or a perfume bottle (even splitting the latter for profit) is as unethical as it gets. This is the kind of behavior that besmirches the name of bloggers and gets us blacklisted. I'm shocked that I even have to say this at this day and age.

The issue of disclosure is still a hot topic, considering that bloggers and vloggers from outside the US are not required to put any disclaimer in their work. YouTube especially is rife with sponsorships, paid content, promotionals, advertorials, and infomercials, all pretending to be legit user content. They're not. When you watch a makeup tutorial that was sponsored by a brush-maker you will not necessarily get the best advice. You'll only hear the info the company wants you to absorb. The use of affiliate links (everyone from Lisa Eldridge to Gwyneth Paltrow does it nowadays) adds another compromise to the already fragile fabric of trust. If the blogger in question profits from the links it's an incentive to avoid writing negative reviews (best case scenario) and even to gloss over serious issues with the products. But that's something that any intelligent reader can decipher on his/her own. It's just the way it is, and honestly, with regular advertising revenues on the decline for years now, I have a lot of sympathy to bloggers who decide to use these links. As long as they disclose it clearly in a way that makes it clear that when they're praising a product to high heavens they're also hoping that it'll make you click on their links to make a purchase.

There are bigger issues, though. A year ago the Husband and I wrote this post about paid content/native advertisement on beauty blogs and magazines. It's become even more relevant since. I've always maintained the view that there should be a clear distinction and separation between personal blogs and personal advertising publishers. The fact that the content of a website is written by a sweet and funny individual does not make it a blog if the purpose of said site is promoting products and companies. That person is not a blogger. He or she are marketers, publishers, promoters--- call it whatever you want, but that is not a beauty blog (nor is it a gardening/cooking/parenting/pet etc. blog). It's a commercial website. As veteran blogger Kelly Kreth had put it: "Native advertising is basically saying 'What do I have to do to put you in this car today?' "

The blurred lines between bloggers and advertorial writers have created ridiculous incidents, such as a blogger who published a sponsored review that directly contradicted a real review she wrote a month earlier. Can't we at least expect that a blogger that dislikes a product would avoid accepting money to promote it? Is it that hard? It also extends to "bloggers" charging companies for inclusion in their holiday gift guides, getting paid to run a giveaway (sometimes for products that they haven't tried, didn't like, or has absolutely nothing to do with the niche of their site). Add to that all those paid "10 day challenge" paid by brands, sudden appearance of posts praising everything from frozen lasagna to feminine hygiene products and you get one big confusing mess

I have to admit that in this type of environment it is sometimes hard to keep doing what I do. I know that I'm old school, which raises the question of relevancy. Some of my favorite bloggers from the mid 2000s have left the field, partly because of the changing scene. Don't get me wrong: I know who my audience is, and it's amazingly large, diverse, and wonderfully sophisticated. I keep many of you in my mind when I decide which products to buy, what to accept for review, as I choose images that hopefully will delight you. My reasons for blogging are still valid, and my readership keeps growing, which probably answers the relevancy issue. I just hope not to be swallowed whole by a new reality where I and my friends who hold the same values no longer belong.

Photo: Audrey Hepburn in the 1951 movie Laughter In Paradise via

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lindsay Lohan & Charlotte Tilbury


If I were launching my own makeup line (or anything, really), and had to make a list of celebrity I'd like to see at my event or using my products, I'm pretty sure Lindsay Lohan wouldn't be there. The other real celebrity at the launch of Charlotte Tilbury's 'Backstage Beauty Booth' counter in the Beauty Hall at Fenwick, London, was model Amber Le Bon (Simon and Yasmin's daughter), a much better fit. But really, few personalities are more off-putting than Lindsay Lohan. I'm not buying.

Cat(s) Of The Day


Philip & Kate

There's an extra photo of Bob on the Jersey Cats Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tom Ford- Velvet Orchid

Cocktail Shoes by Mary L. Parkes

Eight years later, I'm still a fan of Tom Ford's first perfume, Black Orchid. It's a big-boned floriental-gourmand with more complexity than most modern designer perfumes put together. I also liked its short-lived flanker, Black Orchid Voile de Fleur, which was basically a gardenia version of the original with the gourmand aspect toned down. But I didn't know what to think about the idea of Velvet Orchid. Is it a Tom Ford flanker? It sure sounds like that, especially considering some of the marketing babble surrounding it. The first sniff confirmed that. The large shadow of Black Orchid was hovering over my skin to such a degree that I had to wonder why they even bothered. It's that fantasy orchid accord that is oddly earthy and fruity. I like it a lot, which is why I have a 100ml bottle of the original. But a flanker?

Soon after the deja vu of the opening things take a turn, and I wasn't convinced at first that it was for the better. The perfume was still following the Black Orchid path, but in a muted fuzzy way. It's oddly combined with a strong honey-booze note that peeks from beneath every once in a while. It's not really velvet; more like mohair. Again, I wasn't completely sold, but it's the kind of stuff that grown on you.

Where Velvet Orchid truly shines is in the dry-down. That's where this perfume comes back to the familiar Tom Ford sexiness, offering a thick and rich facet of myrrh, suede, and even more honey. It's not quite as sweet as Black Orchid, but gets very close, and somehow that's where the impressive sillage becomes even more noticeable. There's nothing to mask it or cover the trail. It's just perfume and skin, and the result becomes magical no matter how hard I try to resist.

Who will enjoy Velvet Orchid? Fans of other Tom Ford perfumes, those who found Black Orchid a bit too much, and lovers of sillage bombs with otherworldly longevity (24 hours for one spray). Do you need it if you already have and wear Black Orchid? Probably not, but it's still worth trying.

Tom Ford- Velvet Orchid ($112, 100ml EDP) is available from Sephora and most department stores.

Vintage Hats- Part 1

Cléopatra Diane de Mérode, an actress and dancer during the Belle Epoque

I started buying and wearing hats during senior year of high school. I was growing my hair back after nearly two years of various pixie cuts, and the in-between stage was insufferable, uneven, and out of control. It was the eighties, and fashion was somewhat limited in the headgear department, but I had a bunch of poorboy caps and berets, mostly in neutral colors that could go with most outfits (it was also the era of matching everything). Today I wear hats to protect from the sun, the cold, and because they're fun. I still have one beret that I bought in London in 1989, but most of my collection is from the last 15 years, bought at Saks, vintage stores, and everything in between. Browsing through my collection of images I realized that I have so many to share that this post will have a second part next week.


Model in a Nina Ricci dress, photo by John French, 1960s

1971, Actress Jacqueline Bisset for Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Givenchy 1981 in a fashion prediction for 2001

Twiggy by Avedon, Vogue 1967

Anjelica Huston in a Fashion editorial by Richard Avedon. Vogue, 1968

A more recent Anjelica

Au bord de la mer, 1936 by Andreas Feininger

Audrey, the one and only

Ava Gardner

Street style, 1960s

I had that hat (and decorated it accordingly)

Brigitte Bardot, 1960s

Vogue UK, 1972

Charm Magazine March 1959, Model: Anne St Marie


The inimitable Dovima, 1957

Balenciaga, what else?

Dovima, 1956

Jacques Fath hat

“Two of a Kind” 1950’s - Photo by Kenneth Heilbron
Dovima, 1957

Faye Dunaway by Jerry Schatzberg

George Dambier, Girl in Red at the Concorde Place, for ELLE Winter Collection, Paris 1957

All photos via My Vintage Vogue, Top Models of the World, and Stirred, Straight Up With a Twist.

The Fountain Spa New Jersey

Like good Thai food and antique stores, I've discovered that some of the best things can be found incredibly close to home. Case in point: a luxurious spa. Late last year I started visiting The Fountain Spa (located at The Shops On Riverside mall) and have been going there ever since. I was a bit skeptical because of the whole mall thing, but The Shops (formerly known as Riverside Square Mall) is our upscale mall, with stores such as Hermes, Burberry, Tiffany & Co., and Louis Vuitton, so why not a luxurious spa?

The first surprise was the spa's size. It's huge. Hidden in the mall's ground level right across from the river, you can't tell from the outside how big it is and the amenities the place offers. There's a sprawling lounge area, a wonderful sauna, and the waiting area, aka "Tranquility Room" is pleasantly lit, spacious and very comfortable, with a nice water feature (I'm guessing that's the fountain from the spa's name). I never managed to count the exact number of treatment rooms, there are so many, all customized for the various services offered there.  Once inside you cannot tell you're at the mall with two shopping levels above your head. The place is quiet and relaxing (which has done me a world of good on several occasions).

The Fountain Spa offers a wide selection of face and body treatments. I've only had a small number of them, including massages (deep tissue and Swedish), reflexology, a basic facial, and the spa's signature mani-pedi. Everything has been very very good so far, with no upselling attempts or product pushing, and barely a mention of the med-spa services (fillers, Botox, etc.). The result is a comfortable feeling that begins as soon as one sets foot inside and receives the white robe and slippers. That's why I keep coming back. The atmosphere is exactly what you need to be able to relax.

My biggest recommendation is the reflexology treatment, by itself or as a part of a two hour massage package. It's the most calming thing imagined, and I can just feel the stress melt away and leave the body (I'm pretty sure I've nodded off every single time). Followed by a pedicure, this is heaven.

The nail salon area is the one place that could probably use a bit of an updating. The layout is a bit choppy and less spacious, but the service is good. I highly recommend the long-lasting polish for your manicure. It's not gel (which the spa also offers), yet survives with no sign of wear for 7-8 days. Some of the nail services seem a bit overpriced for what they are ($55-$60 for added aromatherapy oils and such), but you just need to choose right to get the maximum value. The place seems spotless, and the whole experience is great.

Next on my list is probably an anti-aging facial. I'm curious to see what else they can do.

The Fountain Spa is easily accessible from route 4. There's a second location on rt.17 in Ramsey, but I've never been there. Parking in front of the spa's entrance can be scarce, but since we're talking a Jersey mall here you can always find a spot just further out (right next to Saks, for example). You can book the service online, and get email and text reminders.

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