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.


  1. Lol, the title reminds me of a novel by Diana Wynne Jones: Howl's Moving Castle. All the titles begin 'In Which...'

  2. I totally agree with your comments on the Sephora perfume selection. It's like someone planted money in a pot, watered it with BBW, and voila! Instant headache!

    I am sorry to hear about the Hot Couture reformulation. It figures. I would offer my bottle for a sniff, but I gave mine away, as in truth I am entirely opposed to fruity perfumes, even interesting ones.

    What is your opinion on Caron?

  3. i love korres as well. i got their fig body scrub for christmas. i agree it doesn't smell much like fig, but i love it anyway. it's deliciously woody, it reminds me of oak trees or a barrel of woodshavings (in a good way).

  4. Mandy- I'm glad you liked the title. It's a somewhat old-fashioned literary thing, which seemed right in this context.

    Dain- I'm still working on Caron. I'm probably more of a Guerlain girl, but some Carons are starting to appeal to me. I currently own Bellodgia and Nocturnes, both in vintage extrait. The former is a spicy carnation, so it's easy for me to wear and love. Nocturnes is an unlikely scent for me to love, but I adore it. It's like playing dress-up and pretending I'm a pretty pretty princess. Can't do it every day, but lots of fun.

    Kamo- I'm adding the scrub to my "to try" list. Oak trees and woodshavings sound fabulous, especially when most scrubs are horribly fruity.

  5. These days I use Sephora for emergency replenishment of sunscreens.

    I was just in one this past week trying to find something for my friends husband (he's been filching the Gris Clair). I really could not find anything that I thought was that great, and certainly not at the price point I was going for- say $40- 50. Most of them were just "meh".

    But I will forgive them because they still carry Fracas.

  6. Very well written recap. Thanks for informing me on more obscure issues (body products and makeup) and *sigh* I agree with you on perfumes....

    PS. A reformulation of Hot Couture so soon! Weird times we live in.

  7. I recently went to Sephora in search of a new scent. I'm so glad it wasn't just me not being able to find one worthy.

  8. Every Guerlain fragrance is a love affair. Sometimes it's a grand romance and sometimes its merely a flirtation. But what is the 'Guerlinade base'?

  9. quite honestly i hope the masses do NOT discover niche fragrances. i do not want to smell like everybody else, and i pride myself in knowing that no one else is gonna smell like me. let the masses wear the junk that sephora sells. no offense.


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