Saturday, December 29, 2007

Favorite Things 2007

In what has become an annual tradition, a group of beauty, fashion and perfume bloggers have joined in this little project of bringing you lists of our favorite things from the year that's coming to an end. Not all of these were actually launched in 2007. A few are a bit older, but these are the things that made my year, got me excited and helped me stay pretty. Links to the complete original reviews are provided whenever available.

In no particular order:

1) Zoya Nail Polish- The colors are fabulous, the seasonal collections are gorgeous, but in a very saturated market, what stands out most is the quality. Add to that a much less toxic formula, free of several scary chemicals you usually find in nail colors, and this is a winning product. No one else could have made me try on a green polish and fall in love with it.

2) Chanel Hand Cream- Since we're on the subject of beautiful hands, Chanel Body Excellence is not just a fabulous hand cream that makes skin softer, it's also a shielding cream that forms a thin but powerful barrier and it has anti-aging ingredients. My aging skin rejoiceth.

3) Chanel Nail Color in Tulip Noir- While nothing beats the quality of Zoya, the color that mesmerized me most this year was the limited edition Tulip Noir from the fall collection. With all due respect to the black nail craze (and the much talked about navy and Tiffany's blue), nothing is sexier than red, and Chanel did it the best possible way with this deep metallic color.

4) Bobbi Does Metallics- Yes, limited edition palettes are starting to annoy everyone. So does shimmer. Yet, in a year full of both, Bobbi Brown Metallics were a huge hit and deservingly so. The colors in all four palettes were beautiful and surprisingly wearable. The "metallics" is just a light finish for a wonderful texture, making it classy and elegant, as you'd expect from a line known for its natural, non-painted looks. My favorite was the Velvet Plum set, a good choice that has become part of my regular rotation.

5) Chanel Red Lips- There are many excellent brands who make wonderful lip colors. Some have better textures or stay put longer. But nobody makes bold colors like Chanel. Between Hibiscus and Catalina from the Garden Party fall 2007 collection and the Rouge Allure in Garnet Fire, my lips have barely seen a nude color in months.

6) Bobbi Brown Eyeliner Gel- This was the year I stopped being afraid of an eyeliner brush, and it's all because of Bobbi's gel eyeliners. The texture is really of a gel, which makes it unlikely to run, drip or smudge, even at the hands of a certified klutz. It's easy to apply and control, and the result is movie-star-perfect. It stays put until you go after it with a makeup remover without fading or flaking. The large selection of colors doesn't hurt, either.

7) Benefit Silky Finish Lipstick- It looks like a lipstick and feels like a gloss. This was the lip product that made my mother start wearing lipstick, which is nothing short of a miracle. We both wear Dessert First, a pretty plum.

8) Tauer Perfumes- It's been exactly a year since I discovered Andy Tauer and his perfumes, all of which were love at first sniff. 2007 has seen Andy launch the beautiful and delicate Reverie au Jardin, a scent that has seen the husband and me competing over who gets to wear it on hot summer days. If I were into a signature holy grail scent, I'd live in a cloud of L'Air du Desert Marocain. But since I'm happily promiscuous when it comes to fragrance, I can't wait till January 23rd, when his new Incense Extreme is launched.

9) Serge Lutens at Bergdorf and Barneys- My other favorite perfume mastermind. Loving Serge can be very frustrating, because he doesn't take us, American perfume nuts, seriously enough, and keeps half of his creations as non-exports. These scents are exclusive to his Paris boutique at Les Salon du Palais Royal Shiseido, and while they can be purchased online if you live in Europe, they will not ship to the US no matter how much you beg or what bribes and sexual favors you offer. This is why I'm thankful for every limited release they do here. Currently you can get Fumerie Turque, Chene and Chergui exclusively at Barneys, Vetiver Oriental (see below no. 14) at most authorized Lutens seller (I got mine at Aedes), and the biggest surprise of the year was the sudden appearance of two bell jars at Bergdorf: Un Bois Sepia and Bois et Fruits. Let's hope this is only the beginning.

10) The Perfumed Court- Speaking of hard to find fragrances: Once upon a time, if you wanted to sample a scent that isn't sold at the usual niche suspects (Luckyscent and Aedes both sell samples of almost everything they have in stock), or if you wanted to buy a decant of something fabulous you love but can't afford to pay the three-figure price of a full bottle, you could head to eBay and buy it from several excellent and reputable sellers. Then eBay decided they'd rather profit from the huge volume of sales made by perfume counterfeits and other crooks, while at the same time they shut down the decanting business. This has lead four of the most successful and knowledgeable eBay sellers to unite and open a store together: The Perfumed Court. The selections and possibilities are beyond anything I would have imagined and the service is close to perfects. The price for samples is higher than what you'd pay for the same things elsewhere, so stick to the really rare stuff (JAR and non-export Lutens, to name a few, as well as vintage and discontinued scents), and they have no competition when it comes to decants in several sizes.

11) Boots No. 7 at Target- Drugstore cosmetics will never be the same. The products of British company Boots, from their No. 7 and Botanics lines, were first introduced to the American market by Target, now also available at CVS. There are many hyped products in these lines, some so popular they made Matt Lauer go investigate them. My personal favorites are the excellent self tanner (no stink, no George Hamilton) and the makeup removal wipes, that are not only extremely effective, but also soft, thick and luxurious.

12) Laboratoire Remède Super C Serum- This year I greatly simplified my skin care routine, with two principles in mind: a product must make my skin feel great and it has to show clear results. My goal was to even out and brighten my skin tone. I saw the first results within weeks, and continue to be impressed of the serum's performance. I didn't let the faulty packaging of my first bottle keep me from repurchasing, and don't see myself switching products any time soon.

13) Laboratoire Remède Double Oxygenating Booster- This isn't a new discovery. As a matter of fact, this is the third year I've been using this cream. However, until recent months I've only applied it topically about one week a month to get rid of an existing blemish or to prevent one from actually forming. It's the most effective zit zapper I've come across. It made a huge difference for me, as together with the Super C serum it helped get rid of past sins. After reading that the cream may be used all over the face, I started doing it about once a week. The results were immediate: Smoother skin, less visible pores. No irritation and no dryness.

14) Men fragrance: Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental- A 2002 release that became available in the US this year in the regular export bottle and won my husband completely. I adore this scent just as much, and suspect that a backup bottle might be a good idea at this usage rate. Vetiver Oriental is an unusual sweet and rounded vetiver, deepened by a chocolate note. Sounds horrible, but in reality the rooty, earthy vetiver mates well with the chocolate for an exotic but surprisingly comforting aroma. A labdanum and mossy green drydown makes it irresistible to my nose, and apparently to my husband's who made the choice in this category.

15) Biotherm Homme Ultra Confort -My husband's holy grail skin care product was a recent discovery. It does everything: comforts, replenishes and moisturizes. His experience (and mine) is documented here.

Please visit the other participating bloggers and see what they loved this year:
  • 15 Minute Beauty Fanatic

  • Afrobella

  • All About The Pretty

  • All Lacquered Up

  • Beauty 411

  • Beauty Blogging Junkie

  • Beauty Talk

  • Beautiful Makeup Search

  • Beauty Hatchery

  • Beauty Jones

  • Blogdorf Goodman

  • Canadian Beauty

  • C'est Chic

  • Coquette

  • eBeautyDaily

  • For The Love of Beauty

  • Give Me Your Eyes I Need Sunshine

  • Getting Amped

  • Grayburn

  • HauteMommaStuff

  • Koneko's Beauty Diary

  • Makeup Bag

  • The Makeup Girl

  • Miss Whoever You Are

  • My Life,My Words,My Mind

  • Perfumista

  • Periodic Style

  • Platinum Blonde Life

  • Product Girl

  • Shop Diary

  • Slap of the Day

  • Steeping Beauty

  • The Beauty Alchemist

  • The Daily Obsession

  • The Life Of A Ladybug

  • Urbane Girl

  • Victoria's Own

  • We Love Beauty

  • Also worth reading, a few perfume bloggers have done their own "Best of 2007" project, and it's worth reading:
    ::Aromascope :: Bois de Jasmin :: Now Smell This :: Perfume Posse :: PerfumeSmellin’ Things ::Scentzilla ::
    As did GreenEyes of Sweet Diva and Helg of Perfume Shrine.

    Friday, December 28, 2007

    Serge Lutens Midwinter part 3: Fumerie Turque

    It's cold outside.

    Well, actually, it's supposed to be cold outside, but we're having the weirdest weather with temperatures in the mid 40s tonight, though it's raining buckets. We'll just have to pretend it's a real midwinter out there.

    Blogs and perfume-related message boards often have these lists of "best perfume for cold weather", "what perfume makes you feel warm?" or "perfume for a cozy night by the fire". I don't think even one list fails to mention Serge Lutens' Fumerie Turque. It's such a classic in this category, and rightly so.

    Described on the official web site as "Blond tobacco, sweet, honeyed, spicy", Fumerie Turque is all that and more. Despite the rich sweetness, the feel of the perfume is very dry and warm. There's obviously a smokey note, but it's easier on the nose than the one in Zagorsk (or in that smokehouse mess of Fumidus) because it's so soft and honeyed.

    On cold and wet days, especially if I find myself having to deal with snow and ice, when the chill sets in my bones and make my back and shoulders stiffen, I often long for a session in a dry sauna. The smell of wood, the dry heat that relaxes the muscles... Wearing Fumerie Turque feels just like that, and spraying some on my scarves and coats is amazingly comforting.

    Images: Fumerie Turque advertisement from OsMoz, art: Arabian Nights II by Charlotte Atkinson from

    Fumerie Turque is part of the non-export range of Lutens perfumes, but available in the US from Barneys (in store and by phone only).

    For Blondes

    While infinitely better than last year's corpse colors from the Violet Face Palette, Bobbi Brown still believes that spring is for blondes. The Pink Raspberry Face Palette is very cute and would probably sell out by February, it's just not colors that need to be anywhere near my face (if you go to Bobbi's web site you'll see the lip colors are very cool-toned and much lighter and pinker than they appear here).

    Here's a challenge for makeup companies: Do a spring collection for olive skin.

    Wednesday, December 26, 2007

    In which I go to sephora...

    ...and save you the trouble.

    I'll start with the non-perfume findings, because those are way more positive. And also because it's my turn to add a cent or two of my thoughts to the much talked about Wall Street Journal article. Since it relates nicely to my Sephora visit, I'll get to it shortly.

    Bath and Body
    There are more and more Korres products. I've been a fan for years, while the line was still a bit obscure and hard to find (now it seems to be everywhere) around here, and the only product was the Guava body butter, which was superb once you figured that it's best to use it right after the shower, while the bathroom is still steamy and your skin absorbs it right away.
    The line has grown, adding more scents and more products. I was very eager to try the newish fig scent, but while the products' texture is as great as always, it doesn't smell all that figgy and rich as I hoped. I'm not sure exactly what it smells like. Something herbal but sweet, maybe. I wasn't all too impressed with the Quince, either.

    The good news is that there are more products in the Korres Yogurt range, and just like the famous cooling gel, they feel great on the skin. There's a yogurt buddy butter and I couldn't be happier. The very delicate scent might be my favorite of them all.

    I was very interested in the Ren line. It sounds promising, the packaging is modern and unisex, and most of all they declare "clean, plant-based ingredients—and free of all unfriendly ones like petrochemicals, synthetic dyes, and parabens" and claim to be eco-friendly and socially conscious. Looking at the ingredient lists of the products, it seems they actually deliver on the promise. I only quickly sampled a few creams and lotions, and while the textures seem nice, the scents are off-putting. Very surprising to get such an unpleasant "pharmacy" whiff from something that is made of plant extracts and oils.

    The Union Square store now has a Guerlain stand. This is a great improvement considering the increasing floor space that is given to brands that cater to the glitter-loving demographic. You'll find the Terracotta line and all the gorgeous lip and face products.

    I mostly skip the holiday collections because they tend to suck almost as bad as the spring ones (too much glitter in the former and a pink orgy in the latter). But there are a couple of notable limited edition items that are available right now that are quite interesting, holiday or not and it is worth checking them out:

    Smashbox has a new Sephora exclusive limited edition kit, Platinum Surge, a $110 value for $39. It's not part of the official Beyond Beauty Holiday 2007 collection, but with the super-shiny glosses it might as well be. The two lip products are the weak part of this kit, if you ask me. I was far more impressed by the eyeshadow quad and the SoftLights compact, both are quite classy and elegant.

    Dior's Detective Chic Eye Palette is a gorgeous collection of six eyeshadows, most are dark, deep but muted and wearable colors, all are very pigmented and fine-textured. The quality is superior, as always with this brand. The case is stylish and as Dior as it can get.

    Insert deep sigh.
    It wasn't that long ago that Sephora's perfume section had quite a few interesting brands and larger selection within each of them. It also wasn't always cotton candy central.

    I went through several new and newish releases, most I've already tried once or twice and dismissed, but wanted to give everything another chance. I used every piece of skin I could expose without getting arrested, with a couple of cleansing breaks in between. Here are the highlights:

    L.A.M.B by Gwen Stefani- It's not the worst I've come across, which is a lot for a fruity floral. The combination of greens and a non-candied pear is pleasant. It's girly, inoffensive and unoriginal (notice how many negatives in one short paragraph? That's exactly the problem: a scent that's defined by what it isn't instead by what it is).

    Fendi Palazzo- Why bother? The top notes are almost interesting with a sweet and peppery touch, but every time I tried it on hoping for the best because of my love for the house of Fendi, it dried down to a musky nothing with a hint of cheap smelling woods. And we know it won't last: In a year it'll be available from all the discounters and then discontinued and replaced with another nondescript scent and a big marketing blitz. Bring Theorema back.

    At the recommendation of Dain, I gave a good try to Givenchy Hot Couture. It's quite different than most other Givenchy offerings (all those Very Irresistible flankers). It's sweet, girly and much more pleasing than most fruity florals, despite the raspberry note. From what I can gather, there has been a reformulation somewhere along the lines, and the old EdP is superior to the current EdP. What else is new?

    Maitresse from Agent Provocateur is far less provocative and daring than the original. Instead of a saffron-laced chypre, here we get a musky floral. Easier on the nose? Maybe. Also boring as hell.

    Midnight Poison (Dior)- Good intentions and a synthetic ambery rose do not a good perfume make.

    My Insolence (Guerlain)- What's a Guerlain perfume without the Guerlinade base? Yes, I get that they're trying to reach a young audience whose biggest fear is to smell like an old lady and biggest desire is to smell like fruit. I don't have to like it, though.

    It's sad, really. Sniffing and looking at all these perfumes you just know that most of them will not survive five years on the market. Even sadder to me is remembering that most of these come from houses that stand for luxury, but there's nothing even remotely upscale and special in these products (I'm reading Deluxe by Dana Thomas and it's worth discussing here soon, for this very reason).

    We didn't need the WSJ article to tell us that the designer market is in trouble. We can smell it. The best perfumes Sephora has to offer right now may be the Chanel and Hermes scents, but all of them are cheapened reformulated EdTs, far inferior to the original extraits, bottled and boxed to sell many and quickly at the expense of quality and integrity.

    Ayala Sender in her SmellyBlog is saddened and appalled to learn that there's no artistic vision even behind the exclusive ranges some of these big houses are launching. Only a cold calculation from a marketing point of view. I'd still take those, as long as they truly are made to be of better quality and with an actual intent to create an excellent perfume, but I do know what Ayala is talking about: Why should we even bother with Armani Privé , Tom Ford Private blend or Chanel Les Exclusifs when we can get the real thing, made by real artists and visionaries? Serge Lutens, Andy Tauer, Frederic Malle, Pierre Guillaume and many others (including Ayala herself) still love what they do and are putting everything they can into their bottles. The article doesn't mention the niche market at all, probably because it's such a small one that it doesn't really count in an $18 billion market. But there is an alternative to those ladies who spray us at the department stores, and I hope more and more perfume lovers realize it and go niche.

    Monday, December 24, 2007

    Serge Lutens Midwinter part 2: Chêne

    This time of the year, most of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere are celebrating a midwinter holiday of some sort. No matter what our culture or religion is, we are linked through our pagan ancestors who were connected to the Earth, knew a thing or two about nature and started some of the traditions we have later transformed into our familiar rituals.

    The ancient tribes worshipped the oaks that covered much of Britain and Western Europe. Before the pagan midwinter festivals were absorbed into Christian Christmas celebrations, the sacred oak was decorated each winter solstice with bright colors. It was an attempt to lure spring back.

    Serge Lutens is another fan of oak trees. He created Chêne to represent "The comfort and magnitude of oak", and fully succeeded in doing so. This is a gorgeous and unusual scent, extremely evocative of every myth and image of oak groves, comforting in its familiarity but never ever boring. It has every element of the tree, from green and sap to dusty crumbling bark and mossy undergrowth, all in a perfect balance that conjures up the whole tree.

    On my skin it is dry and warm. It is a unisex scent, and while I know that many women find its stark, almost linear, woody notes too masculine unless they layer it with something sweet, I have no problem wearing it alone. I have a hard time classifying it as either a formal or a casual scent. While it's probably not the right perfume for a woman to wear on a first date or a romantic night out, I feel it's appropriate for most other occasions and events. A man who'd wear it on a date would cause major swoonage, which makes me wonder about some gender stereotypes (for the record, three perfumes I've worn recently for romantic situations were Musc Maori, Ambre Sultan and Diamond Water. I'm not sure how to interpret that, so be my guest and share your thoughts). It's probably worth of a separate post or three.

    The scent's dryness (unlike several other Lutens perfumes, known for their depth, sweetness and darkness) would probably make it just as wearable in warmer weather. I have the feeling it would bloom nicely, as it does in overheated rooms and shopping malls of this season. It has a nice sillage and excellent staying power, but I doubt anyone would find it offensive or suffocating. Even with all the sap and dirt covered roots, Chêne manages to maintain a certain clean and green feel to it.

    Merry Christmas to my readers and friends who celebrate it, and Peace on Earth to all of us.

    Chêne is part of Serge Lutens exclusive line, but this season it's available from Barneys and can even be ordered online.

    Images: trees from Choralicious! and Sharon Keating. Chêne bell jar bottle from Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido.

    Saturday, December 22, 2007

    Happy Winter Solstice!

    Image: Leigh Behnke "Winter Solstice" from HindSight

    Friday, December 21, 2007

    Serge Lutens Midwinter part 1: Bois et Fruits

    'Tis the season for fruitcake.

    Many Serge Lutens perfumes have a wintery appeal with their deep, dark notes. I chose to start with Bois et Fruits because of the holidays and the traditional dried fruit dishes. Serge Lutens simply describes this scent as "Candied Cedar", capturing both the gourmand aspect as well as the dry wood that's not just in the base, but layers throughout the perfume's skin-life.

    There's always a duality: Even the opening notes aren't just boozey apricots and plums. There's a whiff of what anti-wood people call "eww, pencil shavings" and cedar lovers call "oooohhh, pencil shavings!". It keeps the candied treat from being too sweet and going the bad yummy way.

    The scent develops in waves, not exactly like the traditional note pyramid. It feels like the fruit and cedar chase each other to the finish line, each getting deeper (the fruits become dates and figs, sweeter than the tangy apricots) and mellower over time, so the fragrance stays perfectly balanced and calm yet very satisfying, because the end result is creamy, warm and enveloping the wearer in a safe and cozy veil.

    While the scent is perfect in this weather and for holiday events, it isn't very festive and doesn't sparkle. I have a feeling (based on wearing Bois et Fruits while working out) that it will bloom and intensify in hot weather, yet will remain very wearable. The sillage is minimal when it's cold and the lasting power moderate, especially in Serge standards: about 4 hours.

    Bois et Fruits is one of the two exclusive Lutens (the other one is Un Bois Sepia) that have recently appeared at Bergdorf Goodman. Until last month they were only available from Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris which doesn't ship outside the EU. While still not sold online, tehy can be purchased from Bergdorf by phone.

    Image of the Egyptian market in Istanbul, Turkey from Turkey Travel Planner.

    Thursday, December 20, 2007

    Ask the Non-Blonde: The Makeup Edition

    Another crop of questions sent to me by email, that might be of interest to the public.

    Johanna asks:
    "I really want to try black liquid liner, but I'm clueless about applying it and don't want to end up looking like Amy Winehouse. Any recommendations?"

    My reply:
    Two months ago I would have told you to try Lancome Artliner, which is basically a felt tip pen for lining your eyes. That's what I, a certified klutz, have used for nearly twenty years. I still think it's a great product which gives great results whether you're a beginner or a pro. However, since discovering Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner, it's become my number one liner. The texture is great even for a less-than-stable hand, and is pretty Winehouse-proof. Buy the recommended brush and start practicing.

    S. from Colorado asks:
    "How exactly do you apply a bronzer? Also, do I need a blush on top of it? Where does it go?"

    My reply:
    Using a soft, full brush (the fluffiest the brush, the more subtle the results), swipe the bronzer drawing a cursive "E" on the left side of your face, starting just left to the middle of your forehead and ending at your chin. Repeat by drawing a "3" on the other side (see Ms. M. Lisa below). A light touch on the chin and nose is recommended (but optional. Not every face actually requires it). I don't always add blush, especially if I'm going for a more natural look, but when I do I just put it on the apple of my cheek. No contouring, shading or anything like that. It might look great in pictures, but for real life it's too painted and overdone.

    Regina from Belgium asks:
    "I don't think I can wear red lipstick. Every last one I tried looked awful on pasty white with red cheeks skin. Is it a must this season?"

    My reply:
    No, it isn't.
    While I do believe there's some kind of red for everyone, I truly object to the "must have/must wear/must do" mentality. Fashion and trends are for fun, not to make anyone feel inadequate. If something doesn't work for you (or even if you just don't like it), just skip it. There are plenty of colors and options available every season, just choose the right one for you. All the big companies (as well as major stores like Sephora) present their latest looks on their websites. Find one that you like and you'll still have an updated look that makes you feel pretty.

    Wednesday, December 19, 2007

    High and Low- Bliss High Intensity Hand Cream

    The best thing about being used to really good products is being able to identify and dismiss low performing lotions and potions. Today's underachiever is the over-hyped High Intensity Hand Cream from Bliss.

    It's not a bad cream, but given a very dry skin and winter conditions, my finicky skin, which used to a daily pampering in Chanel's wonderful hand lotion and generous doses of L'Occitane products, is not impressed. The cream absorbs fast, provides some relief, but on bad skin days it's not enough, and it doesn't protect much from harsh environment.

    My biggest issue with this cream is the scent. Synthetic and lemony, it just doesn't feel luxurious, and at $18 for 2.5 oz (compare to L'Occitane at $25 for 5.2 oz), the least it could do is make me smell good.

    Image of Victorian hand beads: SaraJane's

    Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    What I smelled

    Nothing in depth tonight, despite a few Serge Lutens that need to be discussed. It's just a case of so many perfumes, so little time. There were several sniffing trips and a handful of samples that are worth documenting here, even if it's not a full review yet.

    Lalique Encre Noire didn't win me over at first sniff, though I liked its vetivery goodness. I only tested the EdT version out of fear I'd really like the EdP (priced at JAR level), so maybe that's why the "noire" aspect of this fragrance has been a bit lost on me. The grapefruit in the opening and some other clean notes are making it dry, light and luminous to my nose. Still, it has captured my attention and my nose enough to the point I can recall and dwell on the scent's memory. I came to really like it, though between the sweet sensuality of Vetiver Oriental and the sexual power house of Malle's Vétiver Extraordinaire (and a future release from Andy Tauer), I'm not sure I really need another full vetiver bottle.
    Available at Aedes.

    Tom Ford for Men Extreme is much more related to the original Black Orchid (which I adore) than to the recently released masculine scent that carries his name. From the beginning there's the recognizable darkness and funk of that weird black truffle note. The fruity part is different: the blackcurrant is replaced by a richer note, rumored to be fig, which turns into the familiar vanillic base. Unlike Tom Ford for Men, which is wearable, likable and always appropriate, this one might not be the scent to give your father-in-law for Christmas. The controversial ad campaign makes much more sense now that I've smelled the Extreme. It's a limited edition that will be gone soon; exactly the stuff perfume obsessions are made of.
    Available at Bergdorf, Saks and Neiman's.

    Hermès Brin de Reglisse is the newest release in the exclusive Hermessence collection. I was looking forward to this modern take on lavender and licorice and initially was not disappointed. It's sweet, almost candied, the lavender is gorgeous and as far from the craft fair's aromatherapy sachets and pillows as can be. The sweet anise is rich and satisfying, the combination works well, and then it's gone. Twenty minutes after lavishly spraying there was not a trace or a hint of the scent, so I can't talk about any dry-down or development.
    I tested Brin de Reglisse at the newly-opened Hermès boutique near my house. The store was completely empty except for my husband and me, but the three sales assistants did their best to ignore us. I'm not sure how many Birkin bags they sell at that store, but apparently enough to make trying to sell us perfume not worth their time.
    Available at Hermès boutiques.

    The sample of Penhaligon's Lily and Spice has been sitting in my drawer taunting me for weeks. I'm not big on lilies, but I was curious about the spice part, and something in Penhaligon's Britishness has always appealed to me. I cracked it open and hoped for the best. After the first seconds of lily alarm, I realized that I actually like it. A lot. The flowers are as far from Holly Hobbie as can be, and the scent is much more about the spice than you'd suspect. I have a peculiar skin. It amplifies spicy notes and makes everything smells like carnations and clove. There's some saffron in the mix, but on me it's almost sweet and gingerbready. Like a warm cake on a nicely made table that has a small vase of fresh lilies as a centerpiece.
    Available from Aedes.

    As much as I like the French perfumery meets the streets of New York concept of Bond no. 9, the only Bond I love and own is New Haarlem. Most of them are just too airy, floral and unoriginal to my nose, except for Chinatown that becomes an indescribable vile abomination as soon as it contacts my skin. Still, I was curious about the recent release of their Andy Warhol Silver Factory perfume. An incense perfume is something I can't resist, and this one didn't disappoint. It's got a lot of character. It smells "big". Not necessarily feminine, but a woman wearing it has to feel all "woman" and not girly in the least. The scent is complex, changes between the woody, ambery notes and the layers of incense, and feels dark and sexy. I liked it a lot, but in a wardrobe rich in incense fragrances (and about to get richer with the two upcoming incense scents from Tauer Perfumes) I'm not sure I need a 3.4 oz bottle of any juice. Had they offered a smaller option I'd have bought it upon the first sniff.
    Available at Saks and Bond no. 9 boutiques.

    Monday, December 17, 2007


    When it comes to men's grooming, surprisingly little has changed since 1948, when Cary Grant in his movie Mr. Blanding Builds His Dream House was desperately trying to shave in peace (click to watch the clip). Sure, razors are much better and cool gels can save one from the brush (though I know some men still have one and use it as part of their ritual), but the process is basically the same.

    One thing that has changed is the after-shave products. The poor souls no longer need to disinfect their raw skin with an alcohol-based liquid that smell of lavender and pine (ouch. Can you imagine inflicting such treatment on your freshly shaved parts?) and have all kinds of creams and balms to choose from.

    My husband has been searching for his holy grail product: A cream that combines the soothing and comforting of a good after-shave with an effective and strong moisturizer. He's finally found one that makes him very happy: Biotherm Homme Ultra Confort. He's used several other Biotherm products in the past, and while liking them quite a bit, none of them was The One, until now. Ultra Confort gets his full endorsement.

    According to him the product delivers on all the promises and does a perfect job keeping his skin soft and comfortable feeling. I conducted my own little experiment: I tested Ultra Confort on my own face after a deep cleansing session and thorough exfoliating. The cream made my skin feel calm, replenished the lost moisture and made it incredibly smooth and soft to the touch. I was quite surprised at how good it felt.

    I wonder what Cary Grant would have said.

    Photo and clip from ShaveBlog.

    Thursday, December 13, 2007

    Curing a bad hair day- Carol's Daughter Hair Balm

    Carol's Daughter hair products were originally created to answer the hair care needs of African American women , but they are excellent for anyone with thick, dry or unruly hair. The hair milk is one of my favorite leave-in treatments, so I was happy to try the hair balm.

    I have a lot of hair. It's long, thick and you can't argue with it, just go along with whatever it's doing. Like a mythological beast, respect it, bring it an offering and it'll let you live. But sometimes I do have a bad hair day, which requires a little extra care. That's where the balm fits in.

    All I need is a very small amount, not more than grape size, worked into the problem area. It moisturizes, smooths, detangles and takes care of any frizz. It took a few tries to figure out just how much my hair needs, because the balm is very rich, and while not really greasy, it can weigh my hair down too much.

    The smell is very "hair salon" and almost nostalgic, but there's a whiff of patchouli that might bother some, which I actually thought was nice. It doesn't matter much, though, because you need to actually press your nose to my hair if you want to smell it. There's no sillage, thankfully, and it doesn't clash with my perfume.

    Image: Rapunzel's Delight

    Tuesday, December 11, 2007

    Elegance in the Shower: Molton Brown

    While we all know that products that basically go down the drain as you use them are not the best splurge value, there's something to be said for showering in something that feels elegant and luxurious.

    While not comparing to a matching body products for one's favorite scents (think Chanel or Guerlain soaps and lotions), Having Molton Brown bottles in your shower gives the place an understated grownup elegance, much like the scents inside them.

    I tried the Radiant lili-pili hairwash (that's Molton Bronish for shampoo), which is made for daily use, and is, indeed, gentle enough on the scalp and hair, and leaves a clean feeling. The scent is very faint and doesn't linger which is fine with me, as a heavy user of leave-in conditioners. No bad side effects as far as my scalp and hairline are concerned.

    The other product I tested was Enlivening toko-yuzu bath shower. I love the unisex citrus-woody scent, and wouldn't have objected for a better lasting power. I probably need to try the matching lotion. The shower gel is gentle and non-drying, my sensitive skin didn't protest after a full week of use, so it's all good.

    Bottom line: At a price range equivalent to L'Occitane, Molton Brown products are another good option. For me personally, since the length of my hair means that I'm going through big shampoo and conditioner bottles at the same rate some people go through milk, the hair products are more of an occasional treat, while the bath and body ones can easily fit into my daily routine.

    Art: Le Bain, Alfred Emile Leopold Stevens, 1823 ,Musee d' Orsay, Paris

    Givenchy Organza Indecence

    What would have happened if Tam Dao (Diptyque), Rousse (Serge Almighty) and Kenzo Jungle L'Elephant had a love child?

    The answer is Givenchy Organza Indecence.

    While the original Organza is a massively floral concoction, this younger sibling is very unique and should have been given a different name, one that doesn't suggest a flanker but can stand alone. See, Organza Indecence has no floral notes whatsoever and it's also very different than any other Givenchy offering, except for maybe the masculine Pi.

    The opening notes seem sharp and a bit overwhelming for the first few minutes. There's a blast of sweet cinnamon with a scary hint of candied fruit. But as soon as the Christmas cake tones down a bit and the cinnamon is left to play with heart notes of Jacaranda wood (fancy Brazilian name for rosewood) and just a little patchouli, the fragrance takes a turn for the wonderful. It's sweet, warm and definitely of the "yummy" category (same school of perfumery thinking that unleashed Angel on us), but still feels grownup and, dare I say it? Complex and sophisticated.
    The dry-down on my skin is equal parts of vanilla, gorgeous wood and soft amber. Despite the sweetness, the overall feel of the scent is very dry, warm and incredibly sexy. These qualities, together with its strength, make this a very good winter scent. It blooms quickly, and body heat makes it into a serious sillage powerhouse, so careful application is highly recommended. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    Organza Indecence was launched in 1999 but discontinued about five years later. Its cult of followers has made its eBay price to soar as high as no modern Givenchy perfume should ever go. However, it seems like this perfume is once again in production. With little fanfare and no marketing effort, Organza Indecence can once again be bought at sane retail price, though the eBay market has yet to catch up on this. You can find the EdP at Dillard's (and also on their website), and if you search long enough, some online discounters are offering it even cheaper.


    Monday, December 10, 2007

    Good mascara makes you pretty: Prescriptives False Eyelashes Plush Mascara

    Three good things about getting over the 80s:
    1. Lynda Evans is no longer a sex symbol.
    2. Madonna has stopped taking off her clothes in public.
    3. Good mascara is easy to find.

    Prescriptives False Eyelashes Plush Mascara is a good example. Despite the name, it won't make your lashes look fake, but it will greatly enhance them and provide lots of lush volume, a little extra length and will hold a curl better than most formulas with similar features because of its thicker than average texture that sculpts the lashes.

    The brush is quite dense and coats the lashes well, though you need to keep it clean to avoid caking. Same goes for the tube's opening. Since the mascara is so thick, the parts that get more exposed to air tend to dry quickly and form clumps on the tube or on the brush. As long as you gently wipe the brush and the tube's neck, they will not transfer to your lashes.

    Being quick to dry also means that there's no dotting and smearing. The mascara stays put until removed, and doesn't resist either one of my favorite cleansers: Lancome Bi-Facil and Almay eye makeup removing pads.

    Thursday, December 06, 2007

    Muted Beauty: 29 Cosmetics I-BLOCK Eye Shadows

    Continuing their Napa Valley winery theme, 29 Cosmetics offer pretty eye shadow palettes, each one contains 4 well coordinated colors. The compact is elegant and feels luxurious, the colors are very wearable and blend well. Of course, there's also the claim that it's full of antioxidants and moisturizing components, but I can't tell you what if any is the effect of those. I'll talk about color and texture.

    The one I chose, The Valley, has several of my favorite colors. The colors on the top are shimmers: a mauvish beige with a little taupe in it. The other one is an olive taupe that isn't too green. The matte colors look like a muted, toned down version of Nars Habanera. I wished for something like that for a long time, because as pretty as the Habanera colors may be, they are so out there I can only wear them at night, and even then a careful application and blending is a must. Here there's a light, creamy sage and a deep purply brown, both are neutrals and daytime ready.

    I have to mention that these eye shadows aren't very pigmented. They all show up on my skin , but the look is tamed and always appropriate. Of course, if you're pale, your mileage may vary.

    The texture is super-fine and melts into the skin. It blends perfectly and makes a beautiful, classy look. this palette has become one of my favorites for a casual morning look, but it can definitely be played up, especially on lighter skin tones. A primer is essential to make it last, otherwise the colors start to fade within 3-4 hours, which is my one and only complaint regarding quality.

    29 Cosmetics is available at select Neiman Marcus store, and the company's own website.

    Wednesday, December 05, 2007

    The Crocodile Files: Quench Shea Body Products

    It's cold outside, which means we're in danger of getting in touch with our inner crocodile and letting it take over our skin. For me, this means time to bring out the big guns and big butters. And shea. Lots of shea.

    Quench Bath and Body have several shea products, and I got to try both the oil and the body whip. Out of the two, my favorite is the oil, mostly because the ease of use. It spreads evenly and is immediately absorbed, leaving no oily residue while fully moisturizing and making the skin feel comfortable even when it's bitter cold and snowing outside. It's quick, easy and effective, and as an added benefit it also extends the wear of my perfume of the day. This oil is unscented and has a faint smell of a nutty vegetable oil that fades as soon as it's absorbed.

    All that doesn't mean that the body whip isn't a good product. It's made of 20% shea butter, which is quite rich. But the buttery texture demands more time and elbow grease in order to work it fully into the skin. The result is great, but considering my favorite body cream from L'Occitane, Shea Butter Ultra Rich Body Cream, has 25% shea butter and a softer texture that makes it easier to apply, I'm not swept off my feet.

    Quench Shea Body Products are available from the company's website. I got mine as a PR freebie.

    Tuesday, December 04, 2007

    Romancing the Stone: Diamond Water by JAR

    A carnation isn't the most glamorous flower. While popular and symbolizing affection, love and luck, it lacks the diva quality of a rose or a lily, or the drama of an iris. The price tag for a carnation bouquet is reasonable, which makes the flower quite ubiquitous. But when it comes to perfume, a carnation note has a lot more to offer. It can be peppery, spicy (often paired with clove), sharp and fresh cut or sweet and powdery. It can also sparkle.

    The latter is the incredible effect found in Diamond Water, one of seven unique creations by jeweler to the stars, Joel Arthur Rosenthal (see this post for an overview of the line and my first encounter with it). Diamond Water isn't the only carnation scent by JAR. Golconda is one, too, but it's softer and dries down to a warm skin scent, while Diamond Water shines and dazzles with various white flowers, spices, and maybe a hint of incense. The perfect blending makes the notes flow into each other, from the peppery opening to a rich floral heart (jasmine? who knows. JAR does not reveal the official notes and prefers to keep us guessing). Just as the perfume starts to give hints of a white flower bouquet it begins transforming into clean but dark incense. It's far from heavy or church-like, and somehow the incense manages to retain the shine and sparkle of the earlier phases. A black diamond, if you will.

    This perfume is incredibly pretty and feels like the ultimate in elegance. There's something very romantic about the way it wears: ball gowns, crystal chandeliers, french doors opening into a well-manicured garden. That's not to say it's all femme. While my skin brings out the jewels and velvet dresses, on a masculine chemistry it's darker and the dry-down is a soft wood and incense blend.

    Diamond Water (like all JAR perfumes) only comes as a pure parfum in a 1 oz teardrop shaped bottle (around $595), ensconced in a purple suede pouch. It can be found in one of two locations: The Paris boutique (14 rue de Castiglione) and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC.

    Images: Blue Carnation from Judith Barath Art, JAR jewelry via the New York Times.

    Monday, December 03, 2007

    Facts and Figures: Everything but the Kitchen Sink by Francesca Beauman

    It may be a sign of getting older or just my natural crankiness, but I have issues with being told "What every modern woman needs to know" by someone who has yet to turn 30, but since it's an ironic, tongue-in-cheek label I can let it slide . Fracesca Beauman, author of Everything But the Kitchen Sink, is the know-it-all in question. Her biography includes a degree from Cambridge University, several TV appearances a book deal and being cute as a button and also British, so that's not a bad start.

    The book cover looks quite retro, which might be the reason the UK version of Amazon has grouped it with such gems as "Don'ts for Wives" and "The Gentle Art of Domesticity". This is a wildly inaccurate placing, because the title is humorous and the book, while offering advice on the various uses of vinegar (I suspect that Ms. Beauman is somewhat of the crunchy granola type), points to consider when doing Internet dating and the best body parts to get tattooed, has several wild moments, like the etiquette of group sex (hint: Don't bother with thank-you notes).

    Here and there you'll find a beauty or fashion tidbit. Some are good: "Perfect for any event that does not actually involve standing up, this $10 job from Payless is only for the iron-footed: mostly crafted from a hard generation of plastic, it is a shoe that seems to be designed for something far more industrial than mere human feet". Other are eyebrow raising: "A pedicure is a waste of time. Life is too short to worry about the way one's feet look." . She's all for bikini waxing, though.

    This book is not a manual for anything. It's a compilation of odds, ends, weird statistics and random good advice. It reads like those trivia books that end up in some people's bathrooms, which might be just what it was aimed to be.