Friday, November 30, 2007

The Lost Perfumes: Agnona

A long, long time ago Italian fashion label Agnona had a perfume. This label is part of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group and is known for using luxurious materials and classic designs. The looks are very Italian, just not in a Versace way. Looking at their current look book you can almost feel the soft cashmere.

The perfume, simply called Agnona, hasn't been around for years now (at least a decade, as far as my research could go), so the little bottle containing 1/2 oz of the extrait I scored on eBay is no spring Chicken. There's not much left from the top notes, but I'm getting a hint of delicate greens and some blossoms. Once the real thing starts developing the feel of this scent is very feminine and soft. It belongs in the same group with ladylike classics like Caleche, Annick Goutal Grand Amour and maybe even Chanel no. 5, though it lacks the soapy quality. The iconic blend of rose and jasmine has an edge in Agnona. There's something peppery, probably carnation, that remains and deepens into the dry-down, where I also get a hint of dry, non-foody vanilla.

Agnona has very little sillage (not surprising, since we're talking a vintage extrait with hardly a top note), but it has enough weight and staying power on skin level. It's very pretty, the kind of perfume that's always appropriate and never offends. It's enjoyable, but the lack of originality is probably what killed this perfume, together with utter lack of marketing effort.

Photos: Fashion from, bottle (identical to mine, including suede pouch with logo) from

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Alton Brown Approach to Skin Care- Biotherm Biosource 3-in-1

If you're familiar with Food Network guru Alton Brown (who finally lost that unfortunate facial hair. Hallelujah), you know that he claims that the only kitchen tool allowed to be a "unitasker" is the fire extinguisher. It saves kitchen space, that's for sure, so I wouldn't object to a similar approach to beauty, if only for the sake of my overflowing cabinets and drawers.

Biotherm Biosource Miceallaire 3-in-1 is a cleanser, toner & eye make-up remover. The concept sounds a bit scary, considering most toners have this "avoid eye are" clause and usually a recommendation about what to do if you did manage to get it into your eye, and it ends with "call your doctor".

But I'm a brave little beauty blogger, so I gave it a try.

As far as cleansing goes, the 3-in-1 wasn't up to the task. I don't use tons of makeup, but it still failed to thoroughly remove my foundation and required follow-up with something more efficient. Surprisingly, it did much better on my eyes and managed to easily take care of both my mascara and eyeliner, with only a couple of swipes across the area and no need of pulling or rubbing.

The best results were when used as a toner, after a regular cleanser. It made my face feel clean and refreshed with no drying or tightening. I especially like using it in the morning, because it feels so gentle while waking up the skin.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Journey in a Bottle: Hyacinth and a Mechanic by Tauer Perfumes

The bottle that arrived at my door a few weeks ago had no label or logo. But the inscription on the plain white box was written and signed by a familiar hand. This bottle is one of a kind, for now. Andy Tauer has created a perfume, bottled it and sent it on a journey. You can read more about it here. This fragrance, unofficially named Hyacinth and a Mechanic, isn't in production, but I hope that one day it will be.

It's not just the handwriting on the box that was recognizable. From the first sniff, just from smelling the cap, it was unmistakeably a Tauer perfume. No need to wait for the dry-down and the "Tauerade", there's something in the blend, a signature ingredient perhaps, that instantly makes it feel personal.

Because that's the thing: Andy's scents carry you away. Some of these journeys are to remote destinations. Others are to places you've been to, places within yourself.

The green opening is strong and almost overwhelming. Especially if you give it a big spray. I've played with it a little, and discovered that it's easier to wear if you start by dabbing just a little, and get acquainted with this very unusual scent. As I said, it's green. And lush. And floral, but not in a girly, ornate way. If hyacinth and lily of the valley make you think Laura Ashley, you'll have to reconsider. These flowers are wild, untamed, hiding in shady corners of a secret, half forgotten garden.

When I was about six years old we lived in a house with such a yard. The grass grew high, hiding small creatures like turtles. My parents' bedroom was on ground level, and on spring days I'd climb out and land in the soft, green, fragrant grass, eager to play, pick flowers and follow the kittens. The house was just above a ravine that went all the way down the mountain to the beach, full of fragrant plants and shrubs, including white and dark pink cistus (labdanum is made of cistus resin).

The green and floral notes in this perfume take me back there. But there's a lot more to the Mechanic than these notes. It also feels raw, almost jagged and unfinished. The oily part comes and goes, not always emerging from behind the stems that keep growing and growing.

The scent lasts forever and at times feels like it's getting stronger instead of calming down. It's very potent and full of personality. Spray too much and you'll get looks from people around you, wondering if you've just rolled down a grassy hill straight into a flower bed, crushing everything along your way. But if applied just so you get the prize: A dry-down that is reminiscent of the magnificent L'air du Désert Marocain, but where L'Air is dry and ambery, this one is infused with dew and plant nectar.

(images found randomly online and mercilessly mangled by me)

Monday, November 26, 2007

In Search of the Perfect Red Lipstick- Finding it at Chanel

Where else?

Apparently, there really is a Chanel red for everyone, even if mine is more garnet than true red and it has a bit of pearlness going on (just a little: the light shimmer is mostly on the outer layer of the lipstick, so only a bit gets on the lips, just enough to look pretty but not to make you look like a Christmas ornament). Rouge Allure in Garnet Fire is part of the limited edition (I know. But no one does limited edition lip colors like Chanel) Gemstones Collection. There are five more colors in this series, all lighter than Garnet Fire.

I was talked into trying it by René, a very sweet and friendly SA at Barneys (their beauty department is a different planet from the snooty and snarky fashion floor). I told him I was giving up on finding a good red for me when he whipped this little gem out, and there it was: My perfect red. Not too cool, not too warm, no hint of orange or of teeth-yellowing. A garnet is a purplish red, as is this lip color, and it fits perfectly.

The lipstick is comfortable to wear, feels light and soft and even lasts fairly well.

To take my lips up a notch, René has topped the lipstick with a Glossimer in Myriad. I never need much prompting to add another one of these glosses to my collection. There are other brands with great textures (some might even be softer and feel more luxurious, actually), but Chanel colors are in a league of their own and some of them are the prettiest I've seen. Despite the color swatch on every website I've checked, Myriad isn't pink at all. It's a shimmery true red, like a Christmas red, actually, but soft and sheer enough to make it wearable, on top of a lipstick or on its own.

Most Chanel counters offline and online still have the lipstick in stock. The gloss is part of the regular collection, so no need to go eBay-crazy.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Case of the Lost Leather- Kenneth Cole New York

Among the many things, big and small, I've learned from my mother, there's the rule that every perfume has its use. While spending nearly 30 years being loyal to her signature scent, she would still occasionally receive gifts of perfume from well-meaning but truly misguided friends and family members. I remember bottles of Azzaro 9, Montana and several Charlies (hey, it was the 70s and early 80s!). My mom would never just let them take up space in the back of her closet, nor would she re-gift them. Instead, she'd make the bottles earn their keep.

Ever the practical homemaker, she'd take advantage of the high alcohol content and use the perfumes for cleaning and disinfecting household items like phone receivers and light switches. The result was that the phones in our house usually smelled disturbingly like some of my teachers, but I guess I should be thankful my mom never dared to use Maja for this purpose.

Now, my wonderful cleaning lady would look at me like I've grown a second head if I'd replace the Caldrea and Mrs. Meyer's cleaner and wipes with something even more frou-frou. But what I do with those neglected bottles and unwanted samples (the ones I don't even think are worth the effort to list for selling and swapping) is use them in my lamp rings to scent the house.

A couple of months ago I was digging in the reject pile and came up with a big sample of Kenneth Cole's first fragrance (also known as Kenneth Cole New York). I probably had the vial since the perfume was first launched in 2002, and while it waited patiently at the bottom of the drawer, Kenneth Cole managed to come up with several other scents and discontinue the original one in the round bronze bottle. I was gave any of these perfumes more than a casual sniff and was largely unimpressed with them. None smelled bad, they just seemed uninteresting, uninspired and mostly, like something created to please a focus group of young interns. They all seem to exist within the safe inoffensive and impersonal boundaries, with no pretense to be soul-stirring or even remembered.

Soon after I poured most of the vial's content into the ring and turned on the light I became aware of a very pleasing scent wafting in the air. I was also surprised to like the way my fingertips smelled from handling the sample. The rest of the juice went on my wrist and I was quite happy with the spicy and warm results. Happy enough to go online, learn that while KCNY was officially a goner, it's available from every online discounter and it was dirt cheap. I placed an order.

The rumour about it being a leather scent has made me very curious. I hoped that once I have enough of the perfume to spray, the leather would appear and make it even more interesting. Once the bottle arrived I began to seriously test it. Alas, the stars have never again aligned in favor of this scent, and whatever it was that I found intriguing enough that first time, hasn't appeared again. The notes are (supposedly. Couldn't find anything official) mandarin, black currant, white cardamom, jasmine, cinnamon bark, red mahogany and leather. What I've been getting consistently is a sweet citrus and jasmine blend that smells very synthetic and gets stronger and almost shrill, until it somewhat calms down and softens, but remains high-pitched until late in the dry-down. When the jasmine finally leaves I'm left with a sweet and spicy citrus infused wood, quite pleasant in that inoffensive way that gets perfume classified as "recommended for office wear".

Try as I might, I never get the promised leather. Once the annoying notes are gone, there's absolutely nothing memorable or interesting in this scent. It's not horrible, but the synthetic jasmine makes the opening and the middle smell cheap, which means I'm not likely to want it on my skin.

Back to the lamp ring it goes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Putting Color in My Cheeks- Guerlain Terracotta Bronzing Powder

It's the season: We're getting pale and sallow, the cold air isn't doing us any favors and neither does the excessive heating. I'm wearing bronzers year-round, but it's this time of the year that requires something special to warm things up.

That's what sent me to the nearest Guerlain counter to look at their offering (and there are several, including some gorgeous limited edition holiday items). What I chose was the Terracotta Light Sheer Bronzing Powder. For some reason, I fell for the mosaic gimmick, despite knowing well that it doesn't really matter: You need to swipe and swirl your bronzer brush all over the compact to catch a bit of all the colors and textures, and you definitely don't want the actual pattern on your skin, right? still, it's cute and I like seeing all the different elements and shades that make the bronzer.

Naturally, I picked the Brunette one, and it's definitely the perfect color. There's a tiny bit of shimmer (only three of the mosaic pieces are shimmery), which suits me well. The rest blends into a lovely sun-kissed but not overdone glow, with no hint of peach or coral . It's pigmented enough not to require any additional blush, and it's a very good thing. As high-maintenance as I may be, there's only so much color I want to pile up on my face. The texture is light and fine, melts nicely into the skin and stays there all day long (I'm using both a primer and light foundation). Can't ask for much more.

The Terracotta bronzer has won some prizes and was voted as best in its category by both InStyle and Allure magazines. Is it really the best? Hard to tell. It's a good product, no doubt about it, but I can't say it knocked the brush off my hand. The above average price tag isn't outrageous for the bronzer's quality, but there are several excellent bronzers that cost less. It also doesn't affect my opinion that the greatest bronzer/blush of all time is Dallas from Benefit, even if sometimes I want a more glamorous look (hence the addition of this Guerlain to my alarmingly growing stash).

A word about brushes: I started using this product with a thick bronzer brush from Sephora and it worked well, but lately I'm preferring to use a softer, fluffier old brush that I've had for over a decade (I distinctly remember packing it in my makeup bag for our honeymoon). It's a French brush, a little lighter and not as dense as a regular bronzer brush, and I think it gives better results: lighter and more even with less effort. I don't know who was its maker. Everything other than the "made in France" has faded from it over the years, but the head is still in perfect condition and doesn't shed when I wash it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Soft White Paws- Serge Lutens Louve

"She began to walk forward, crunch-crunch over the snow and through the wood toward the other light. In about 10 minutes she reached it and found it was a lamp-post. As she stood looking at it, wondering why there was a lamp-post in the middle of a wood and wondering what to do next, she heard a pitter patter of feet coming towards her."
- The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: Lucy Looks into a Wardrobe

It snowed yesterday morning, and while it didn't stick (thankfully!), there was still the snowy smell in the air, a certain silence and the special color of the sky. As much as I hate our winter, I'm not immune to its beauty (which lasts exactly until the first time I get to dig my car out, shovel the driveway or perform the miracle of walking on ice in 4" heels). If there ever was a perfume that calls to mind pretty powdery snow and a winter wonderland scene is Louve, the newest creation in Serge Lutens' export line.

Louve means she-wolf, and the inspiration for this fragrance was snow capped mountains. I'm sure Serge Almighty had a very specific image in mind, but to me this perfume is Narnia in an eternal winter.

The milky almonds in the opening never go completely away. Instead, they are delicately weaved into the other notes, keeping them white and hushed. Thus, the fruity part is contained and kept from becoming joyful and giggly like in Luctor et Emergo, where the marzipan note melts into the cherry liquor heart. The almond is there when the delicate floral part appears. There's rose, but only the soft petals, not the sweetened rosewater that could have taken it into Turkish delight realms (curiously enough, the other almond-cherry Lutens fragrance is the non-export Rahat Loukoum, the name of which means Turkish delight). It is sweet but not quite gourmand, yet the notes and the connotation makes me think of the White Witch tempting Edmund with that very delicacy. Maybe that's the hint dangerous she-wolf Lutens envisioned. He saw a wild animal, I see a snow queen.

Louve dries down into a soft skin scent. It's musky, powdery with a hint of vanilla, without losing the almonds. It smells sweeter in the heat and softer outside on a cold day. On my husband's skin it felt dry, almost woody and a lot cleaner. The sillage is less than what I'd expect from a Serge Lutens perfume, but the lasting power is decent (it's a higher concentration, and comes in the elegant black box). I love spraying some into my hair and on sweaters and coats. It makes a cold day much more beautiful and feels cozy and comforting on a cold night.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Quench Black Soap

There's something a bit disturbing about a black soap. The muddy color doesn't seem right for a product that's supposed to clean, and the smell isn't all that great, either. But the African Black Soap Facial Wash from Quench , a small company that offers a handful of products based on natural African ingredients, is a real gem.
(Despite the somewhat annoying web site)

I've been using it for the last couple of weeks with great results. At first, I was worried that the "squeaky clean" feeling it gave me while washing my face meant that the soap was stripping the skin, but to my surprise it didn't. I didn't get the all too familiar tightening sensation that screams for moisturizer.

The cleansing action is very good. It washes away all the grime, including makeup, leaves my skin soft, doesn't cause any irritation, redness or breakouts and doesn't leave any residue behind. All that, without drying and causing skin go into an overdrive of oil-producing. It seems to be gentle enough even in cold weather, which is very welcome right about now. Despite the non-cosmetic scent and the simple packaging, this cleanser feels almost like a luxury product.

They claim the soap is made of organic materials, but the label of the sample I was sent has no further details or a "certified organic" stamp. Also, the list of ingredients doesn't seem to be full. I wasn't too worried, because my allergies have yet to be triggered by a non-mass market product.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Search of the perfect red lipstick- 29 Cosmetics

I'm after the perfect true red lipstick for my weird skin tone, and even Paris Hilton and the lipstick on her teeth can't stop me. I got comments on the above post that show how hard this quest can be. Not only do you need to be careful about a match to your natural coloring and complexion, but there's also the issue of certain blue-based shades making your teeth look yellow. Not exactly the picture of glamor. One reader suggested going for coral-based reds. This might work for some, but I can't do corals at all. It clashes horribly with my skin and my natural plummish lips. Still, searching is fun and is taking me places...

29 Cosmetics is a California-based company, owned by wine makers, the Mondavi family from Napa Valley. Their products supposedly contain grape seed oil, which we all know is good for you because of the antioxidants and moisturizing qualities. That's a good starting point for a lipstick.

The quality of the lipsticks I tested was exceptional and on the same level as my favorite Chanels and Diors. The formula is rich, glides easily, wears comfortably and lasts fairly well without flaking or bleeding (extremely important if you want to avoid the punch mouth look). If you're lucky enough to find the right color for you, it will serve you well and it's definitely worth paying Neiman Marcus a visit (29 Cosmetics is only sold at Neiman's and through their own web site). However, despite the pretty color swatches on the 29 site, don't be tempted to buy untested. The colors of all the lip products I've seen are very different than what they appear, and you get no indication on the finish (metallic,cream, shimmer).

Fine Whine is a metallic red with a pink copper undertone, if that makes any sense. It's probably more suitable for summer months, as the look it creates is more fun and light than the dramatic passionate red of the season. While the texture is rich and luxurious, I'm not sure the final appearance does my lips any favors: the natural lines of the skin seem to pop out a bit too much.
Reserved Red is a classic medium red with a cool pink base. It's not too blueish to give one the dreaded yellow teeth, but it's still not for everyone (including some who insist on wearing similar shades). It's a color I often choose for clothes, but it's a bit more difficult for me in makeup, and definitely not for daytime. It's pretty, but just not the one I'm looking for.

Art: Red Lips by Harold Haydon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Thank me later: An amazing Serge Lutens promotional at Bergdorf Goodman

Before I start catching up (I'm so behind it's not even funny, both on other people's blogs and on my own), I have something great to share. If you follow the Serge Lutens news, you probably already know that two bell jars of Serge Lutens scents from the exclusive line (non-export, previously only available from Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris) have appeared at Bergdorf. The perfumes are Bois et Fruits and Un Bois Sépia. What you may not know is that they also have the best introductory promotional: If you buy one of these two (also in the regular 1.69 oz rectangular bottle), they will decant for you any other Serge of your choice (including the second exclusive Bois) into a 20 ml spray bottle. Serge fans know just how rare a deal this is, so if you're within a day trip distance from NYC, you may want to take advantage of the offer (not available online, but you can order by phone and inquire about it).

As for the rumour claiming the entire exclusive line is about to be available at Bergdorf, there's no confirmation. Right now, only these two will be sold in the US, but the (friendly, gracious and knowledgeable) SA believes that if Serge Lutens ever decides to export the bell jars, it would be to Bergdorf, because this is the first time ever any of the line is being sold outside of the Salons.

(image from Salons-Shiseido web site)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hotel Beauty

I'm in Florida, which should explain why I'm behind on emails and comments. If one absolutely has to turn 37, there are worse ways to do it than being in a warm place with palm trees.

I don't travel light (if my sister is reading this, she's probably having a good laugh at the thought of my luggage). When it comes to beauty supplies, it doesn't matter much if you're going for two days or two weeks. I still need a considerable amount of stuff, and I'm not one to start decanting it into travel size bottles.

Normally I stay far far away from those miniature toiletries supplied by hotels. I'm allergic to many soaps and my skin is too sensitive for such experiments. But my husband, the adventerous soul, declared the Marriott-issued Nirvae Botanicals products as "really nice", so I braved it. I tried the grapefruit-mint body wash and found it refreshing and gentle on the skin. The orange & sandalwood lotion is very pleasant, the scent is a joy for sandalwood lovers (=me) and it's smooth and fast-absorbing. Florida weather makes my skin far less demanding than usual, so while this thin and light lotion would never do at home this time of the year, it works nicely for now.

Nirvae Botanicals are the Marriott's private label (the products are available for sale at the hotel's gift shop), and seem to be popular enough to be found in many eBay auctions. I tried to find out who makes it for the Marriott, but my research time is somewhat limited with this whole being away thing. In any case, those of you who happen to come across these little bottles can feel safe using them. My skin approves.

As for being 37, it's not bad. Not bad at all.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Fade to Blue- Bulgari Blu Absolute

The connection between expensive jewelry and perfume isn't exclusive to Bulgari. Cartier, Tiffany and the magnificent JAR are all doing it successfully. While Bulgari perfumes probably sell more than all the others (combined?), they usually bore me to tears (with the notable exception of Bulgari Black, but even that isn't something I ever felt I had to own: When it comes to rubber and vanilla, Dzing! by L'Artisan is much more interesting and satisfying for me); I also suspect that there's something in most of them that completely evades my nose. I can't even smell the Omnia series. It's just not there. Add Kate Moss, who is the current face of their Pour Femme, and no wonder I never considered owning a bottle of any Bulgari perfume.

Would the limited edition of Bulgari Blu Absolute change this?

The answer is no.

Blu Absolute (2002) is supposed to be a deeper, more concentrated version of the original Blu, and it has the same official notes of spicy citrus, ginger, mimosa, wisteria, musk, vanilla and sandalwood. The opening is sharp and peppery, the ginger is more loud than exotic or warm and the whole thing smells chemical and synthetic. The under-the-sink aroma mellows down within 15-20 minutes, into a sweet, musky floral. It's a relief from the opening, but that's all I can say for it.

As the fragrance dries down the infamous musk more or less over and I can barely smell the remains of the fragrance. Yes, there's some vanilla there, but sandalwood? who knows. It's been swallowed by the invisible musk.

My personal feeling is that the people of Bulgari are aiming low, as in Light Blue low. There's nothing that feels expensive, luxurious or special about it, which is really a shame. Their name deserves far better than this perfume, which is (not surprisingly) available for 50% or less of its original price tag from most online discounters.

Friday, November 09, 2007

What Have You Been Doing with Your Hands? Essie Bordeaux Nail Polish

I was doing my nails the other day and chose Essie Bordeaux. As I was applying it and looking at the cute color (a deep, rich red, not as dark as the picture would let you think), I wondered why I haven't used it in so many months. A few hours later I was reminded of the answer: It chips and peels like crazy and for no good reason. Maybe it hates my OPI base color, but that's no excuse. Other Essie colors (not to mention Chanel, Zoya and Sally Hansen) take well to the OPI base and top. It's just Bordeaux that makes my hands look like I just finished scrubbing the kitchen and calls to mind that Gone With The Wind scene, where Rhett asks Scarlett what she's been doing with her hands, because all the feathers and velvet curtains can't hide her hands, ruined by field work.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Trade Secrets- Beauty Confidential by Nadine Haobsh- Book Review

I remember quite well when I started reading beauty blogs. The year was 2005 and I was beginning to think that in the internet era it was ridiculous to rely on beauty information from monthly magazines, because that couldn't possibly the latest and hottest, not to mention the feeling I always had about their first commitment being to their advertisers and not to the readers. I remember hearing some buzz about an associate beauty editor from Ladies' Home Journal who was busted for blogging about trade secret, thus losing both her job and the job offer from Seventeen magazine she has already accepted. I looked up her blog, Jolie in NYC, found it interesting enough and went on to pursue more beauty blogs.

I loved reading these blogs, many of them are now linked here, in the side bar menu on the right. They were fresh, updated daily, informative and fun to read. The best thing was the feeling I wasn't being fed press releases and PR purple prose, but was actually reading what real women had to say and getting some good, practical advice that goes beyond the recycled advice in many of the magazines. However, eventually I couldn't help but notice that since these blogs were so real and personal, the advice and point of view were too often inapplicable for me: Many of them were much younger than me, blonde, pale skinned, with a hair-straightening habit and a preference for aquatic fresh or fruity-floral scents (that was before I found some like-minded souls on the perfume blogs). I began thinking maybe I had something to add to the beauty discussion. That was the moment The Non-Blonde was born.

All of the above is meant to explain why I was so eager to read Beauty Confidential, Nadine Haobsh' book. After all, she achieved what most of us bloggers dream about: A book deal. The cover promises "The no preaching, no lies, advice-you'll-actually-use guide to looking your best". The back cover also mentions "industry secrets and insider tips". To be honest, what I wanted most to read about was not so much how to make a dye job last, but more about the reality of her former "The Devil Wears Prada" existence and especially about the transition from magazine editor to blogger.

The latter was barely touched, and I understand why. After all, the vast majority of her readers are not bloggers and are looking to buy the book for its Beauty Bible value. The stories from behind the scenes at the glossies are cute, but if that's what you want to read about, Nadine's former boss at Lucky magazine, Jean Godfrey June, has done a better job. Where Haobsh has the edge both on Godfrey-June and on Allure's Linda Wells, is in that she actually names the products, good (mostly) and bad. It's clear she has far less fear of advertisers, so she can tell us that she's not impressed with the performance of Creme de la Mer (why should she be? She's only about 27. Let's talk in a decade) and doesn't like Maybelline Great Lash mascara. Her list of must-have products is interesting and worthy, but I hope no one would really take it as the ultimate shopping list without first stopping to consider the small issues of age, complexion and actual needs.

Just as I have started my own blog because Nadine and others raved and endorsed products that were obviously wrong for me, despite her conviction in her all-encompassing knowledge, sometimes she's wrong. With all my love and respect for Nars products, their Orgasm blush in all its peachy glory looks ridiculous on me. And I'm not the only freak: My sister whose coloring is completely different than mine, pale and pink-cheeked, looks just as weird in it. So, no, Orgasm isn't universally flattering. Another bad blush moment in the book is the praise for Smashbox O-Glow. Looks like Nadine has missed the Beauty Brains post where they exposed the truth about this product. I expected her to know better than this (after all, I did).

Still, other than a few glitches, most of this book can be very helpful and informative, especially for those who are still searching for serious holy grail products, looking for makeup tips that actually work or a manual for maintaining their blonde (this is the part of the book I can't comment about. Everything she says makes sense, but I've never had so much as highlights and have yet to come face to face with a flat iron). I liked her myth-crushing approach to makeup and real life solutions, including good advice on products worth splurging for and what's better bought from the drugstore.

The tone of the book is chipper and sunny, pretty much like her blog, and is full with endearing anecdotes and stories from beauty mishaps to awkward moments at the salon and on the waxing table. I might not turn to her for skincare advice or perfume info (her list of favorites had me shake my head several times), but I'll probably come back to several of her makeup tips and quick fixes, and I'll never look at a a magazine's "how to get the cover look" the same way again (hint: they're lying through their teeth).

Here's a quote I loved from the book. It sums up everything I think and feel about beauty products:
"...that's all beauty products really are: indulgent, gorgeous, happiness-inducing luxuries that help take you away from your reality and transport you to another world, one where you're always beautiful, always feeling your best, and always smelling divine."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Out with the old? L'Occitane is playing with honey

According to the SA in my local L'Occitane store, the Honey Harvest line is being discontinued (though it's still sold for full price and the website doesn't mention anything about it being phased out). I can't say I'm surprised. I love the true honey fragrance of these products, but it's not exactly mainstream. It has a little funk, not unlike the infamous Miel de Bois (Serge Lutens) and layers well with it. Also, as much as I love the scent, the texture of both the body balm and the nectar leaves a lot to be desired (and the face cream made my skin break out). The foaming jelly and the bubble bath were fabulous, though.

The new honey range, Honey and Lemon, has probably a wider appeal. The website has labeled all the products as limited edition, so I'm not sure if it's here to stay or not. I'm waiting for clarification for their customer service department and will post when I get one.

In the new products the honey is cut with a light lemon scent, making it airy and fresh, though far less interesting and not sexy in the least. It's a straight up honey/lemon mix, more foody than the old honey scent, but it dries down to a very soft skin musk. If Honey Harvest was a good pairing for Miel de Bois, the new line is much more suitable to be layered under Lutens' Fleur de Citronnier.

When it comes to texture and performance, the body cream is as delightful as they promise. It's very rich, moisturizing and feels great on the skin. They claim it can also be used on the face, but there's no way I'm trying that, considering my previous experience with their face cream. Some things are just better kept under my clothes.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

An Uneven Road to Perfection: BECCA Complexion Products

You know all those regurgitated magazine articles about the most common makeup mistakes and no-nos: The obvious foundation on the jawline, the dark lip liner with pink lipstick, the unblended eyeshadow... It's all true, but no longer as common as it once used to be. People do learn, eventually. What's far more common is the half-done makeup: You see a woman who obviously took the time to carefully do her eye makeup, maybe even curled her lashes, chose the right lip color and dabbed on some gloss, but the problem is that she did all that on an uneven surface or skipped a step in the complexion perfection routine. And it shows.

(Another complexion pet peeve is the over-buffing of mineral makeup that results in an unnatural shiny mask. One day when we look back at makeup blunders of this decade, this is going to be at the top of every list, together with excessive smoky eyes that reach the apple of one's cheek, but that's a discussion for another day.)

Once upon a time, before primers appeared on the market, it used to be hard to keep a natural, even face without having to redo the whole thing mid-day. Thankfully, we now have eye primers that do not let eyeshadow crease or fade, and face primers that help us keep up appearances from day to night. They come in two formulas: Clear silicon, like the excellent Smashbox Photo Finish, that glides over the skin and smoothing it, and thin creamy ones that melt into the skin, refining its texture (like the Sephora brand, Shiseido Smoothing Veil and many others).

BECCA Silky Hydrating Primer belongs to the latter group. It's supposed to be a moisturizer as well as a primer, but I wouldn't recommend giving up your usual product. It worked well on top of my regular cream and did a good job at keeping the skin supple and my makeup in place for long hours. The texture is very thin, and since it comes in a regular tube, it dispenses more than needed and is quite wastefull.

The primer worked better with my regular Chanel foundation than with BECCA's own Luminous Skin Color, but that's not really surprising since the LSC is more of a tinted moisturizer than a full-blown foundation. As such, it's lighter in coverage and quite sheer. It feels pleasant on the skin and gives it a nice, healthy finish. I really liked the way it looked: Fresh but without that silly dewey look many light products give. I liked less the way the pump bottle works: It's so squirty, I'm constantly having to wipe the lotion of various surfaces in my bathroom.
Since the coverage is so light, this product requires a touch of concealer on problem areas underneath.

BECCA's compact concealer is a two-in-one deal. You get two intensity levels of coverage: medium and extra. Both are quite thick, which makes blending tricky, especially in the eye area. Also, all the concealer brushes I own are quite useless with this texture. It only works with fingers, which isn't the most hygienic thing ever. The coverage is better than many other concealer I've tried, but the blending issue is a big one in a product that needs to not be seen. The biggest flaw is in the packaging: You need to keep the little plastic insert that tells you which side is which, because you really don't want the pasty extra coverage under your eyes. Believe me: I tried. Quite annoying.

The finishing touch for every well-made face is powder. The one BECCA is offering is loose, very fine milled and gives a truly fabulous, natural look (lovely finish that blends perfectly with the skin and never looks powdered), but only if one manages to work the correct amount, because the packaging, again, doesn't make it easy. What I do, is get some powder on the puff, and then swipe a brush over it. It's a bit of a hassle, even if the results are good.