Saturday, June 24, 2006

Regina Harris Perfume Oils

Reading fragrance reviews is fascinating and frustrating. The combination of body chemistry and evoked associations are just as important as the golden liquid in the bottle. Memories and perceptions are so strong and personal, and that's what makes us accept or reject a fragrance.

I've read a couple of reviews condemning my beloved Tiffany as "an old lady smell" (yes, I'm cringing). It's been one of my signature smells since I was 22, and I'm never without a bottle. I can't even write a review of it- I can't analyze something that is so much a part of me. All I can say is that I'd never associate it with any age, that it's good and if you're not familiar with it, I recommend that you check it.

However, this isn't about Tiffany, but about two fragrances that immediately made me think "days of yore". I tested Regina Harris' two perfume oils: Frankincense - Myrrh - Rose Maroc and Amber-Vanilla (no points for name creativity, that's for sure). Both bottles are gorgeous and look like nothing else I've seen. They are both oils, and very thick. I love how it sinks into my skin and embeds the scent instead of spreading it into the air. But that's really all the good points I can find.

Frankincense - Myrrh - Rose Maroc is a dark, cognac colored oil. You need to be careful with it, as it would stain your clothes. I put it on and the first thing that popped into my mind is "ancient". I'm not sure what it was, probably the rose and myrrh, as I haven't smelled anything like that in many, many years. I can't recall which fear imposing figure from my childhood wore something like that. I'm half tempted to send the rest of my sample to my mom so she can remind me. Maybe I should. I can't see myself trying it on again.

The rose part of the scent evaporated eventually. I wasn't sorry to see it gone, as it made me think of a rose scented powder spilled inside a lady's battered, fading purse (black leather with a metal clasp that is peeling off) that's been left in a dark and musty corner. The dry-down was better, but still very myrrhish and heavy-hearted. It lacked joy for me.

Amber-Vanilla is lighter, both in color and in feeling. But not any easier. I didn't find it offensive, but not very exciting, either. The vanilla is non-existent on me. I couldn't smell even a trace. On my skin it smelled like a classic good quality bar of soap. Something that you'd get as a gift from someone who got back from Paris in the 70s. It's a nice smell, very clean and elegant, but in a very dated way. The dry-down was the same soap, just a bit spicier.

My husband actually liked the Amber-Vanilla. He found the cleanliness very appealing and said that it reminded him of something he can't trace back. It's probably a long forgotten pleasant childhood memory. My problem is that I don't want to smell like the old sachets that scented my mother's lingerie drawer in the 70s.

Edit- More about Amber-Vanilla:
Since my husband was so fond of it, I decided to give Amber-Vanilla another chance. I used more of it, so I can smell and feel how it develops on my skin and wore it all evening and through the night. This time, the soapy sharpness faded after about two hours into a more deep but still very clean amber. An hour or two later the vanilla note has finally showed up and it is, indeed, a beautiful one. Not a candied vanilla, it's has a hint of spice instead of straightforward sweetness. And it has a very impressive staying power. It still lingers the morning after.

I see a full-sized bottle in my future.

And another edit: How things change.

The Great Eyeliner Hunt II- On the High-End

Eyeliner is without a doubt my "desert island" product. It's the one thing that I can't do without and must have one in every possible color and texture. I don't think that I'm alone in that obsession. Just ask Cleopatra. Or Duran Duran's Nick Rhodes.

In previous posts I've mentioned some of my most frequently used liners. This is a good opportunity to give them center stage.

Sue Devitt's thick pencil in Gold Reef-I usually prefer thin pencils, as they are better as "liners", and I don't like thick, dark lines over my eye. But this color is magical- it does give contour and definition to the lash line, but it's light enough to not look like something out of Courtney Love's makeup drawer. It's a perfect bronze that works well as a shadow as well as a liner, which is why I love it as part of my "no effort" look.

The pencil glides easily over the lid. It's soft enough and doesn't pull the skin, precise despite the thickness and doesn't smudge or bleed. It stays in place for long hours, fades a little by the end of the day (especially if I don't use shadow to keep it in place) but doesn't migrate. It has an eye shadow applicator sponge on its other end that works well for smudging and blending, which I especially like for its narrow tip. It's a great liner and I keep promising myself to get it in some other colors. It didn't work well with the sharpener I had (a cheap one from target), so I had to purchase the Sue Devitt sharpener from Sephora. It was well worth it, because it sharpens well all my other lip and eye pencils.

Another liner in my collection is Chanel Precision Eye Definer (Le Crayon Yeux)in Blue Jean. This color appeared a couple of years ago together with a beautiful eye shadow compact that was also called Blue Jean and contained four different shades of blue. It was the perfect example of how blue eye shadow can be beautiful, flattering and not make you feel like it's 1980 all over again.

The liner is a very dark navy with a slight hint of metallic (that I find unnecessary). It's not very blue and can be easily worn for daytime. It's almost a "light black", so it doesn't scream "I'm wearing blue eye makeup". The color stays put all day, doesn't bleed or smudge, even when I accidentally rub my eyes.

Its two drawbacks are the slanted sponge applicator that isn't very effective (it's of the smooth, rubbery variety. Not the porous one that I think works better for blending and smudging), and the texture of the pencil itself. I'd expect a high-end product to feel better on my skin- it's too hard and unyielding, resulting in some skin pulling when applying it. My personal preference is for creamy pencils, even if it means less staying power. I use it because I like the color, but when it's time, I'll be looking for a navy pencil from another line.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Great Eyeliner Hunt I- An Ode to the Discontinued

Following the steps of The Great Mascara Hunt, Blogger Jilbean has started a similar quest for eyeliner and has invited me to participate. This should be fun and produce many reviwes. I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one around here who finds the liner to be the most essential item in her arsenal (and has about 20 different ones at any given point).

Eyeliner was the first makeup product that I ever wore. Even before lip color. Probably because my mother never liked lipstick and had none, while a black pencil liner was always present. For some reason. the girls in my class belonged to the school of thought that promoted using said black liner on the inside of the lower lashes. The eighties for us were, apparently, all about scary raccoon eyes.

Liquid liner, the kind you apply with a thin brush was very "out" and remained so until around 1988 where the first precise eyeliners that came in the form of a felt-tip pen took the market by storm (and are still here with us. Who doesn't own at least one Lancome Artliner?). My first one was a black Helena Rubenstein (I hear that you can stil buy them in Europe and Asia, sadly the brand is no longer available here in the US). While I've never (to this day) managed to gain the skill of applying a regular liquid liner, those pen-like applicators were easy to use, and even I learned to draw a nice, even line. I was no longer defining my lower lashes, but black was still the only color I used.

Then came 1990 and I discovered colors and subtlety. My first ever trip to the Clinique counter has resulted in discovering brown. I got the Charcoal Brown eyeshading pencil, that despite its name was much more of an eyeliner than a shadowing pencil, being thin, not very smudgy, it stayed put for hours, never bled and was suitable for drawing thin lines. This was my staple and no-effort liner for years. Still is, actually, but to my dismay, the whole line (not just the color) has been discontinued. You can still find it on ebay here and there, and for a hefty price. Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks that this was a perfect color.

It was brown, but a cool one, not warm, because of the charcoal element. It was perfect with my skin tone. Dark or deep and rich browns are good on me, as are greys- charcoal, silver, smoke and slate. But this color that combined the best of both groups looked perfect and blended well with almost any other eye makeup I used.

Part of my Great Hunt will be about finding a suitable replacement.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Practical Magic- Smashbox Eye Illusions

Every once in awhile I find a makeup item that is pure fun- something that is not just pretty, but also gives you a chance to play, experiment and recreate your face. I actually bought Smashbox Eye Illusions late last year and I'm still learning what can be done with it.

Smashbox is a pretty hyped brand, but their Eye Illusion is relatively unknown, even though it's been on the market since 2003. I found it while exploring their display in Sephora in search of mascara. I usually ignore anything that looks so pale, but somehow I read the description and had to try it. I was wearing dark blue liner and a hint of blue shadow (Chanel Jeans). I swiped some of the purple opal (it's actually more blue than purple) over it, using my finger and got a new color: lighter, pearly, and very girly. I did the same over the other eye and really loved the look. Needless to say, this compact went home with me.

Since then I've been playing with the different shades (pink, green, yellow gold, and bluish-purple opal), figuring out what it can do. My findings so far: It looks best over any dark shadow or liner, it also works over blush, applied with a brush or with a finger for more intensity, and the colors can be mixed together.

Eye Illusions can be a part of an elaborate, carefully applied look. But its charm is that it can also transform the face instantly. What I did today was very simple: I outlined my upper lid with Sue Devitt's thick pencil in Gold Reef which is my basic, no time, no patience, emergency choice. Then swiped the yellow over the entire eye area- over the liner and on the brow bone in one or two wide strokes using a soft brush. Added black mascara and that was it. Fully made-up eyes in light, pretty colors in less than a minute for both eyes. I can get behind that.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lip Service IV: In the Red (sort of)

This is a good time as any to talk about red lipstick. I was looking at this photo of Anne Hathaway, who is very lovely. But the lip color just doesn't work. Am I the only one who sees this? It's too harsh and isn't flattering at all. Not something that would make me run to Sephora and buy the look.

Anne Hathaway isn't the only one that doesn't look her best in such bold lip color. I wasn't too impressed with Michelle Williams' Oscar makeup (though I loved the vibrant yellow dress), and I don't think that Reese Witherspoon is doing herself any favors here:

But the blondes aren't the only ones having a hard time wearing true red. This non-blonde has long ago discovered that although the idea of wearing Chanel Red or any color like it is very alluring, it doesn't work in reality, and an adjustments must be made. Catherine Zeta Jones seems to be of a similar opinion. Although she usually wears deep, reddish colors, it's never the shades I've shown above. I don't know what exactly Catherine is wearing. Maybe I should check the Elizabeth Arden counters for it. But I'm more than happy with both my old Lancome stand-by and with my newest discovery- Dior Addict in Digital Brown, which is neither digital nor brown, but is a very pleasant reddish color.

But first, let's talk Lancome. I've been using the Sugared Maple for more years than I can remember. It's always been my daytime red, something that is strong and visible enough, but never over-the-top. It's a brownish red that goes well with most of my clothes and has a pearly finish that isn't too shiny. It's interesting to note that the same color on my sister, who is a much paler non-blonde, is still very beautiful but can only work for night. It's too dark on her to be worn casually.

Lancome has made a small change to this lipstick over the years.I started using it when it was part of the Rouge Absolu line before this range became very creamy, and nowadays it's a Rouge Sensation. I don't think that the formula has changed,just the packaging, as Rouge Absolu used to include several options for a finish. The texture is what it's always been- not too dry, good staying power and good coverage. It would probably not suit very dry lips without blending it with a gloss (and then losing some of the color). I like it so much that I have a tube in just about every purse.

Lately I've been looking for a more modern take on the brownish red subject. And I've found it at Neiman's Dior counter. Dior Addict in Digital Brown looks like a lighter version of Mapled Sugar. It's a little more red and more sheer, the finish is still pearly or metallic. I think it has a better coverage, though, like SM it is a bit dry and I'd be careful using it on days that my lips tend to chap. But it stays put for hours, doesn't bleed or melt, and overall it's my new favorite. For extra comfort I do layer it with gloss: DiorKiss in Praline- a nude (on me)color that gives shine and moisture and works well with any brown lipstick.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Colored Mascaras: NARS & Smashbox

Just before leaving for my vacation I ran out of my brown mascara. Since it was May, the month of the Great Mascara Hunt, I was feeling adventurous. Instead of running to the nearest Clinique counter I headed to Sephora to look at the more interesting brands.

As I said, what I needed was a brown mascara, which I like to use for a softer daytime look. But I was also interested in green/khaki colors, because one of my favorite eye liner pencils is a beautiful sage green that works great with my skin and eyes. Since I'm also very much in love with Bourjois iridescence khaki eye shadow, I was glad to discover that they make their Pump Up the Volume mascara in a color named Kaki Bomb, that looked very pretty. With all the hype around Smashbox, I also chose their "That's a wrap" brown mascara.

As I've written here before, my lashes are full, dark brown and above average in length. What I'm looking for in mascaras is a good color (definition), a little length and a lot of curling. I don't wear primer (seriously, how many products can one load on one's face?) and I don't use a curler (for neurotic reasons).
Here are the results:

Smashbox: Almost invisible. Definitely too light/not pigmented enough for my dark brown lashes.
Bourjois: It's khaki, alright. A little lighter when applied than what it seems on the brush (or on the tube). It will probably stand out more on someone with fair skin/lashes, but was visible enough on me.

Smashbox: Nothing special, just a regular brush that makes it hard for me to reach the corners, but coats evenly otherwise.
Bourjois: The same thing. No innovations there.

Smashbox: Good and even, just the right thickness.
Bourjois: On the thick side. Required combing to separate the lashes.

What it does/ How it looks
Smashbox: Even though it didn't add any color, so my lashes didn't pop out, this mascara did some serious lengthening and defining. The look is soft enough and my lashes do look pretty.
Bourjois: It promises volume and it delivers. Probably a little too much for my needs. It does a fine job in curling and adds some length. The problem is the color- it's too light and looks a bit dusty on me.

Lower lashes
Smashbox: Perfect. I need very little color on my very long lower lashes, and this barely-there brown is exactly right.
Bourjois: What looks weird on the upper lashes looks worse on the lower ones.

Smashbox: None
Bourjois: A little clumping. This is thick stuff.

How it holds
Smashbox: Pretty well, though the curling not so much.
Bourjois: Extremely well, hours later the curling is still there.

Final thoughts
Smashbox: Though this isn't the best brown mascara (both my High Impact Clinique and Chanel's mascara are better color-wise), this is still a very good one and I might want to try it in black.
Bourjois:It goes well with my sage green liner, and I discovered that if I use the brown Smashbox first and then apply this one only to the tips of my lashes, I get the right effect- nice soft, long lashes with a hint of green and a curl that holds.

Lip Service III: The Shining

I'm trying to look back to about ten years ago, did anyone over 16 use lip gloss? I certainly didn't, and I don't remember any respectable cosmetic company offering a full range of gooey, shiny substances in tubes. But somehow these things have become essential, and I suspect that at this very moment I own as many glosses as lipsticks. And that's a scary thought.

Over the last few weeks I've been testing a few new (to me) ones. I'm always looking for the perfect gloss- an ultimate mixture of color, moisture and shine. I have several favorites that I've mentioned here before- the Alison Raffaele (best colors for me are Polished and Elegant), Chanel's Glossimer (they are constantly discontinuing whichever color that works for me. I used to love Blush and Barely Fig that are no longer available. This spring I fell in love with their limited edition Summer Plum*. And if they discontinue Giggle I'll be very unhappy, as that's the last color that works for me). I also keep a Juicy Tube (Lancôme) or two in every purse. Most of them are just for shine, as they are not pigmented enough, but Beach Plum is a good color that's visible even on my darker than average lips. I still have a tube of their discontinued Desert, that while smelling like a medicine was a gorgeous brownish color.

My mother gave me Lancôme's Star Gloss. Unlike Juicy Tubes, this one is a brush-on color. The one I have is Princess (number 221 if you're in Europe). It looks pretty dark in the tube- a metallic brownish red. When brushed on my lips it's a lot lighter, not very pigmented but gives a nice shimmer. Surprisingly, the color and shimmer are on the cool side rather than bronze. It's pretty enough, and someone with lighter coloring can probably wear it on its own. For me, it works better over a real lip color.

The texture is smooth and pleasant. Less sticky that JT, for which I'm thankful. Between my own hair sticking to it and the scary amount of cat that usually accompanies me, things can get uncomfortable. Another advantage of the Star Gloss is that it lasts for several hours. No need for constant reapplying. I can't detetct any smell, which is very good, as Lancôme are not exactly famous for the good scent of their products.

Over all, it's a decent gloss, and Princess is a nice enough color (if you're darker than me, it will probably not do much for you color-wise, though the shine is still good). But it's not my Holy Grail.

The other new gloss I bought just before my vacation was Bourjois's Effet 3D. I chose number 2, Brun Galactic and got the same one for my mom. She is also a non-blonde, though her skin and hair are a bit lighter than mine- her hair has a lot more reddish bronze. Also, her undertone is different than mine- it's more pinkish than my green. She has to stay away from many yellow-based colors, while purples look great on her. But we have enough in common and many colors suit us both.

Once again, in the tube the color looks darker than it really is. I hoped for more brown pigment and in the store it seemed to have it. But on my lips in natural light it was once again more of a metallic shimmer. The color was a bit more detectable on my mom, and looked very pretty. Despite the tube, it's not bronze at all, but just as the Sephora site describes it: beige shimmer. I'm not sure about the 3D thing, but it does reflect light beautifully and mkes the lips stand out.

My mother, who is not a lipstick person, can wear this color on its own. I prefer to mix it with some color. I just discovered that it helps make a beautiful but scorching brown Shiseido lipstick wearable again. They go very well together and the gloss doesn't dilute the lovely soft brown of the lipstick. It just prevents it from drying my lips (I put a little gloss, than lipstic than some more of the gloss. Easy on the lips and holds for hours).

*ETA: Chanel has added Summer Plum to their regular line, and I'm very happy about it. Of course, we can't tell how long it's going to stay there as they are notorious about discontinuing colors. But for now, it's there.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Misadventures In Perfume

Last night I delved into the little bag of treats- the samples I got from Luckyscents. The little vial was Zagorsk by Comme des Garcons from their Incense series. I should have taken a whiff before putting this on. Maybe that would have saved me and my sensitive stomach. But I didn't.

The first thing I smelled was of something synthetic burning. It reminded me of a very muggy day on that particular part of the NJ Turnpike where you can smell the stench of several power plants and factories. The middle notes were only a bit better- burnt wood and more burnt wood. I let my husband smell my wrist and he commented that it smells medicinal and plastic, like a band aid. I agree with him. As it dried down, the Russian incense became more prominent, but the overall aroma of it was still wrong.

We were in a hurry to go out, so all I could do is wipe it as well as possible and apply a heavy dose of Valentino V Absolute, which was just as bad an idea (why do I even have this stuff?). It sort of drowned Zagorsk, but I still had a whiff of polluted smoke in my nostrils for the entire evening, the Valentino thing was the second mistake (again: why? why? why?)  resulting in an upset stomach by the end of the night (the second mojito might also had something to do with it, but my reaction would never have been so bad if it wasn't for stomach turning quality of Zagorsk).

This overload of bad wood has made me crave sweetness today. So I decided to sooth myself with something that I knew must be the opposite of Zagorsk. Another sample I had was of Des Filles a la Vanille Je t'aime, a scent that normally would be too fruity and candied for me, but today I was willing to give it a try. I desperately needed something warm and friendly, which Je t'aime definitely is. It's also non-complicated, syrupy and very lacking in depth and notes. I'm already getting tired of the berriness of this scent, but it did the trick. I'm almost cured from the lingering nastiness and ready to resume wearing something that actually smells good.

Late Edit: I'm laughing reading this. Zagorsk has turned into a great love. A full bottle is now residing in my cabinet.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Smitten- Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille & Cedre

I'm not going to be very original by raving about Serge Lutens perfumes. It seems that every blogger under the sun has already acquired a collection of them. Though I have yet to hear about someone who managed to score a decent sample (not the card one) of the exclusive line at the boutique.

I got three samples: Un Bois Vanille, Cedre and Gris Clair. I already bought bottles of the first two and going to hunt for samples of his other fragrances, because I'm very much in love. The third one, Gris Clair is a lovely lavender scent with a hint of a smoky spice that smells better on the husband.

The other two are a very different story. Un Bois Vanille is deep, rich and sweet in a very good, spicy way. The vanilla note is, of course, the star here. But it didn't make me smell like a cookie jar (unlike just about everything from Comptoir Sud Pacifique, a line that surprises me with its popularity). This vanilla is sexy and interesting, and its sophistication puts to shame other fragrances with similar notes. Wearing it is a pleasure. It's one of those perfumes that make you fall in love with yourself. My husband (who has an aversion to foody scents) loves it.

Cedre is another journey into the realms of deep spice. I think I'm on a spicy/woodsy kick lately, and this one fits perfectly. It's floral but also very dark. Cedre is probably not a summer fragrance, but as a rule I'm not big on those, and the richness works well for me on a hot summer night. I love how original this fragrance is. It's unlike anything else I'm familiar with, and it attracts attention. Like the UBV, its staying power is excellent. My body chemistry is notorious for making fragrances disintegrate, but these two stay forever.

Back at Home

A brief summery of my London vacation:
*Products tested: 2 lipglosses, 2 mascaras, 1 eye shadow
*Fragrances tested: 3
*Falling in love: with Serge Lutens. I'm going to buy two of the three I tried.
*Lingerie bought: three sets (all Elle MacPherson). They have a bigger selection than what I could find here in the US, including online (,
*Women's fashion: Still not impressed. I combed Selfridge's top to bottom, and can say this: Alice Temperley's dresses look much better in Vogue than in person. Size is a major problem if you're a petite woman- the smallest sizes are usually not small enough and they tend to vanish first.
*Nevertheless, clothes bought: A Missoni knit suit: knee length skirt and a matching sweater. The colors are bronze, green and deep blue. It was a rare size 6 (UK), and the Italian cut was perfect for me.
*Not beauty related but worth mentioning: We saw Judi Dench in Hay Fever. It was a great experience. Having front row tickets (we got them online a couple of months back) is very good.