Thursday, February 28, 2008

Old Fashioned Washing- Bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash

Bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash has what might be the most schizophrenic ingredient list I've seen in a while:

Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Rosa Canina Leaf Extract (rose hips), Silybum Marianum Seed Extract (milk thistle), Passiflora Incarnata Extract (passion flower), Chamomilla Recutita Leaf Extract (matricaria), Acetyl Hexapeptide 3, PEG 12 Glyceryl Distearate, Cocamide DEA, Glucosamine, Pentylene Glycol, Citric Acid, Acrylates C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer, Polyethylene, Blue 1, Fragrance, Triethanolamine, Propylparaben, Methylparaben, Methylisothiazolinone

I'm definitely not one who is scared of old fashioned soap, and I'm well aware that the much-maligned SLS suffers from a bad rap mostly because of an urban legend, but it is still considered a skin irritant and many brands have developed more gentle products. The paraben issue is another controversy. Personally, while I'm not convinced it's going to kill me, I still prefer paraben-free products whenever possible. So, it is surprising that such an iconic product from a company that markets itself as modern and revolutionary could have just as easily be made in the 80s.

Crunchy vs. chemical debate aside, this face wash, while far less foaming than you'd expect from the name and the level of SLS it contains. Still, it cleans well, dissolving every trace of makeup and city grime while surprisingly not drying me out too badly. In two weeks of testing, I had no problem with skin irritation or extra sensitivity and have no complaints about this product, other than that those tiny exfoliating beads are quite useless. Not that it's a bad thing. I prefer to exfoliate using a warm damp washcloth rather than anything grainy.

Bottom line: it's a face soap. It cleans. Is the $22 price tag justified? Probably not. I'm pretty sure you can find more innovative cleansers at your local drugstore.

Bliss products are available from the company's web site,, Sephora and most department stores.
The travel size bottle I've been using for this review came as a gift with a recent order.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

If I could turn back time I wouldn't buy this- TimeBalm Concealer by TheBalm

It's very rare nowadays that I get caught up in a Sephora hype over a brand, buy it and then desperately try to make it work, until finally giving up and just tossing it out. Seriously, this is a humbling experience, because I should know better, right? I have good beauty instincts that normally save me from the god-awful. Just not this time.

I bought a TheBalm concealer in Medium, based on the promises it would do away with my dark circles, cover imperfections, sleek the unsmooth and clean the litterbox. I never got to test the last one, because the concealer caked, refused to blend into either a foundation or my skin and the worst part was when it came to that under-eye issue. It set into the skin texture in an ashy color that showed what a future without botox would look like.

I tried everything: a brush, my finger and makeup sponges, including the one that came in the tin. It didn't imrove any. This concealer was the most disappointing beauty product I've tried in a very long time.

Blue Angel- Creed Angelique Encens

It seems like incense is the note du jour in fragrance, isn't it?

(Well, right along with orris, oud and lychee, that is. And I hope to never come across a perfume that combines all of them together)

But going back in time, we can find one of the most classic incense scents that dates from 1933 and back then could be considered a celebrity fragrance, because it was inspired by Marlene Dietrich, who in 1930 starred in the movie Blue Angel and established herself as an iconic, mysterious and enigmatic temptress who would lead men to their doom.

That's quite a reputation. For an actress and for a perfume.

Angelique Encens is and isn't what you might expect. Its opening, famous for the herbal angelica note, registers in my nose as tinged with lavender. It's not supposed to be there, but the feeling both of the color and of the flower can almost be tasted. It's melancholy in a sweet, nostalgic way, like a forgotten sachet in an old drawer. But that drawer is more than it seems. Some of its content is quite lacy and racy. And incensy. Don't forget that part.

The incense here is different than many of the ones we know from modern perfumes: it's not ceremonial and aloof like the CdG Incsense series and it has none of the Darth Vader darkness of Black Cashmere or YSL Nu. Instead, it's sweetened by vanilla and dirtied with ambergris into a soft and tempting dry-down that while different than Shalimar, it shares a common sensibility with it.

One of the things I like best about Angelique Encens is how it shifts and changes on my skin. Sometimes I get the full vintage, black-and-white sense of a perfume from long ago and far away, while it never feels dated. A vanilla-incense combination could have come from any contemporary perfume house, though I doubt they'd make it better or prettier.

Angelic Encense is part of Creed Private Collection, which means it's only sold in huge 8.4 oz flacons with a hefty price tag ($300, but supposedly has it for $205). Here and there you might be able to find a better deal, but since Creed is prone to faking and counterfeiting, I'd personally avoid them. Besides, who even needs a lifetime plus several incarnations supply of perfume in one bottle? My personal recommendation is to go for a decant.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Diptyque Tam Dao

Some perfumes are sexy, others are calm and centering. Somehow, Tam Dao manages to feel mysterious, inviting and very zen. Named after a region in Vietnam, the fragrance is supposed to evoke the rich charms of the area. I've never been to those parts of Asia, so I have no idea if it's all about ceder and sandalwood, but Tam Dao most definitely is.

Those who love the dry-down and exotic hint in L'Artisan Bois Farine would enjoy this Diptyque perfume. I would also guess that Dzing! lovers will find some of that peanut and wood action here, only with less of the funk. This does not mean that Tam Dao doesn't offer something animalic in its depths, because it does. Just tamer and more like the belly of a well-groomed house cat (pet owners know exactly what I'm talking about. The rest of you are trying to fight the weird mental image and are asking yourselves why exactly you take beauty advice from a crazy cat lady).

However, Tam Dao is mostly about wood. It starts dry and clean and evolves into a creamy almost-sweetness. It has an addictive, nose-to-wrist quality and would have been considered a comfort scent if it wasn't also hiding a sexy skin scent secret, one that would cause a significant other to bury his or her head in your neck and follow the scent trail...

Vietnam images: TrekEarth

Diptyque fragrances are available at several stores. I bought my bottle from Aedes de Venustas in NYC. $70 for 1.7 oz.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Do You Want To Know A Secret?

If the spring collection from Zoya has made you yearn for warmer days and blooming trees, you're about to get a big craving for sandy beaches and long, hot summer days...

There's a very special collection for summer (to be launched in May) and it has me smiling from ear to ear. Michelle from All Lacquered Up has the full scoop and color swatches.

The official word from Zoya is that "my" color is a cool white metallic with gold undertones. I can't wait to see it on my fingers and toes.

Image by Deborah Jaffe from Jupiter Images

And The Scrub Goes To...

The winner of Bliss Carrot-Sesame body buff is Calypso. Please send me an email with your mailing address.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Becca Crème Eye Colour

My goal when applying eye shadow is to get a smooth, well-blended look that accentuates the eyes, makes them pop and is all about me eyes and not about the makeup. There's a balance between fashion colors, textures, the fun of experimenting and the idea of what really looks pretty. Sometimes common sense wins. Other times it's all about teal and fuchsia.

The quest for flawless gets a big boost from Becca's Crème eye shadows, despite a serious drawback. Let's start with the good, though. The colors are extremely easy to apply and blend. They glide over the skin, making the lids smooth and attractive. I apply the light color as an all-over wash with my fingers and the darker color with a medium width angled brush to the crease, blend them together with my pinky and that's it. The result looks way beyond my average skills and is so beautiful I tried taking pictures, but my photography talents are not in self portraits. I should stick to cat pictures.

Now to the drawbacks: the texture is beyond creamy and borders on greasy. It doesn't look so when on my eyelids, but it feels oily when applying and you absolutely must use a primer or it'll melt within a couple of hours. The primer helps set the colors and make them last, but not as long as you might hope. It holds nicely for about four to five hours before starting to fade, and is nearly gone soon after. I guess the results would be even worse in warmer weather or when moving several times from indoors to the outside. It's a shame, because the look is very pretty but I wouldn't trust it for an important event when you must look your best for hours and have no time for touch-ups. I'm not sure it can survive a grueling day at the office, either.

All the colors in this collection are nice and wearable. The ones I tried are Rose Gold (sold out on the Becca web site, still available from and Antique Gold. When on my skin, Rose Gold is very sheer with minimal gold pigment that's barely visible. It's not very highlighting, more of an almost nude golden wash that looks very natural and not painted. Antique Gold is a dark brown with very little bronze in it, if any. Probably more brass than gold and very pretty. I really like both, but I think that at $25 a piece I'd expect a much better performance.

The two eye shadows I got were PR freebies. Becca products are available online from the company's web site and from

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Two Perfume Addicts Walk Into Scent Bar... or: How I bought Bois 1920 Extreme and learned to love geranium

The impromptu business trip my husband had in Los Angeles gave me a perfect opportunity to:
a. Escape the miserable weather
b. Meet my scent twin, Tom
c. Visit Scent Bar

What could be better?
All of the above plus eating heavenly macarons that taste like Paris. But more on that later.

Over the last decade I've met several online friends from various web sites. But Tom and I share something special (other than perfume addiction, love for elliptical trainers and certain way of looking at the world): We smell alike. I'm not sure if it's perception, skin chemistry or both, but we're definitely scent twins. I go on many sniffing adventures with my husband and have always made liberal use of his skin to test more perfumes than my limbs allow, but if I want to know exactly how something smells, I need to spray it on Tom. It's quite amusing, really, and Tom, who is every bit as charming, funny and witty as he in his writing , is a perfect twin.

My husband might not fully admit it, but I suspect he was just as eager to play with the pretty bottles in the store. He knows what he likes (spice, insence, vetiver) and what he doesn't (marine notes), which helped him find and fall in love with L’homme sage by Divine. It is, indeed, divine, and I'll have to spend some time exploring its rich goodness soon.

In the mean time, Tom and I were all over the place, going far out of our normal comfort zone. We tried Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon, a perfume with notes that should send us running for the hills (cassis berries, lemon geranium, turkish rose), only to discover that it's beyond gorgeous with our jaded chemistry. He bought a bottle and I would have done the same if I hadn't given my left wrist another sniff and realized that while I couldn't remember what I sprayed there, the nameless scent was the most beautiful thing I came across that day.

Tom checked my wrist and commented, "you just found your holy grail and lost it". No way. I was not leaving the store without my mystery perfume, so I started tracing back my steps until I found it: Bois 1920 Extreme. It went home with me.

Masculine scent? Who cares? No wonder my scent twin is a guy (and I'm ordering the Miller Harris soon. I need it for spring)

Now for those macarons... Read Tom's post about them in his blog and his account of our meeting on Perfume Smellin' Things.

Fern photo: WCS

Monday, February 18, 2008

Aphrodite did a bad bad thing: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips- A Book Review

I knew I was going to like this book when one page into it I read the following:

"Are you talking to me?" said the tree. It had a faint Australian accent.
"Yes" said Artemis. "I am Artemis". If the tree experienced any recognition, it didn't show it. "I'm the goddess of hunting and chastity," said Artemis. Another silence. Then the tree said, "I'm Kate. I work in mergers and acquisitions for Goldman Sachs."

It had a Douglas Adams feel, only sexier.

Gods Behaving Badly by UK author Marie Phillips is a cute book that would give anyone a delightful weekend. Or a good reason to come home early and not even turn the TV on. You don't have to be a mythology nerd like me to enjoy reading what the Greek gods have been up to since their fall from grace, how Apollo has made a career in daytime TV, what use Aphrodite has found for her famous skills and why Eros has become a born-again Christian.

There are also a couple of humans in the book, heroes and anti-heroes, life, death and the after-life, and a new look at London's Underground system.

I don't know why they made a different cover for the American edition (left). I much prefer the British one.

Art: Aphrodite by Ron Hutt as appeared on yatzer

Out of Business: LuiLei

Bad news for perfume lovers in the NY Metro area. LuiLei in Brooklyn has closed, leaving us with less options for niche shopping. I'm not too surprised, because unlike their competitors, Aedes in Manhattan and ScentBar in L.A., LuiLei never seemed to do marketing or shown any effort in reaching out to their potential customers. Still it's sad, especially since they had at least one East Coast exclusive: Tauer Perfume.

The notice on their former website says they might return as an online business. I sure hope so, but I still believe that our area can support more than one store dedicated to niche and artisan perfumes.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Bliss carrot+sesame body buff (and a little giveaway)

Believe me: the last thing I needed was another body scrub. I have several jars, tins and tubes arranged near the bathtub and serving a double purpose of exfoliating my skin and giving the cats something to crash into when they chase each other in and out of the (empty) tub. It's a feline thing.

One of my recent orders from Bliss had a sample of their carrot+sesame spa body scrub, and it was so intriguing that I tried it that very night. Normally I'm all for separation of food and grooming, so a carrot, sesame and honey product wouldn't be my usual choice. But I was feeling adventurous.

I loved it from the second I tore the packet open and got a whiff of the carroty goodness. It smells like a Middle Eastern candy with the honey and sesame, but not to the icky point. It feels as rich as it smells and I found myself using way more of the sample than I really needed, just so I could spend more quality time with it.

There were two results to testing the scrubs: my skin felt softer than I could hope for and my tub was full of the sticky little granules and needed to be washed, which I had time for, because I was in no rush to slather myself with a body cream. The softness held until the next morning, which was when I went online to order a full size jar.

This scrub only comes in a set with something called "finishing foam", which is basically a whipped lotion. It smells of milk, honey, sesame and carrots and is in the yummy category, but again, thankfully, not over-the-top but feels sweet and cozy. You use it on damp skin and it sinks right in. Unfortunately, it doesn't add that much long-term moisturizing. I tried using the scrub with and without the finishing foam and it didn't matter at all, by morning I needed something more. I wish they'd use the scent in a regular body butter formula.

Bottom line: the scrub is amazing, the foam is ok.

I have a second sample of the scrub to give away for one lucky reader. Just leave a comment to say you're interested.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Making Eyes- Cargo Eye Shadow Palettes - Ten Thousand Islands

Keeping the theme of beautiful things, I've been completely obsessed lately with the under-hyped Ten Thousand Islands eyeshadow palette from Cargo. It's supposed to be a limited edition, but it's been around since 2006 and is still available from Sephora, so maybe we're lucky and it'll stick around in the regular collection. It's definitely worth it. The quality is excellent. Fine milled, long lasting powder that stays in place and remain true to color for a full day.

You know how it works with palettes: several coordinating colors, something bright for highlighting, something dark for lining, something blue...

It all works together perfectly. You can't go wrong with the neutrals in this set. I wear the light ecru and the taupish chocolate day in, day out. The colors are buildable and make just as good of a classy evening look that has just a little shimmer and a whole lot of chic.

Surprisingly enough, the most challenging color in this palette for me is the charcoal. It's dark and very pigmented. Since I'm not a fan of raccoon eyes I use it sparingly and only for evenings. The light silver has more than a little sage green in it. It works well on my skin. I swipe it very lightly on my lower lid, for a pop out effect. I use the blue the same way. It's not a loud color and is easy to blend with the neutrals. I suspect that someone with a cool, pale skin can still make it work if she's careful not to pile it up. As far as I'm considered, this is one of the most versatile compacts I own.

I bought my palette from Sephora Union Square in NYC. It's also available online. $28.

Images: Sephora and Starlight Records.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ready For Spring- Zoya Spring 2008 Collection (Blissful)

It snowed today, making SoCal a distant memory. Hard to believe it was only two days ago that I was wearing sandals and sitting on the beach watching the seals in Redondo Beach. The only trace of happy weather and sunshine is on my fingers and toes.

Blissful, Zoya's spring 2008 collection is all about the pink. The most challenging color of the bunch, as far as I'm concerned, is Miley. It's a very light lilac (though more lavender than the swatch above looks), a hue I normally avoid like the plague (out of fear I'd end up looking like a victim of one). This meant I just had to give it a try. The result was less ghoulish than I feared, even if unorthodox. It's a happy color and the shiny, creamy finish made my nails look like those colored candied almonds. Very Easter and cute in a Peeps bunny way. Have I already said happy? It might be a bit too much for an office look, though, for those who prefer less contrast with their skin tone.

My two absolute favorites in this collection are Zanna and Penelope. The former is currently on my toes: it's a mauve rose cream, as classic and flattering as anything can be, and it makes me think of a spring bouquet. Penelope is warmer, a rosy apricotish color, though not even remotely orange. I suspect it'd look good on most women, but us olive-skinned girls can't go wrong with it.

The quality is what you'd expect from Zoya, proving that nail polish can be made without Toluene, Formaldehyde and DBP (dibutyl phthalate) and still last. My toes are in perfect shape after a week. As for the colors on my hands, I tested one side with a clear top coat that kept the polish chip-free for a week, and the other hand without. The latter needed repairs after five days. Another advantage of both Penelope and Zanna (but not of the other colors that are lighter) is the richness, even if you only apply one coat. The color is opaque and true to the bottle. Add to that how quick they are to dry (all the colors in the collection, actually) and you've got a real winner.

I received the collection as a PR freebie. It's available from Zoya website, $6 a bottle or $34 for the sampler set.

The Return of the Cranky Shopper

I know I promised a series of pretty things, but before I go back to that there's some grumpiness that needs to be addressed. Let's get this out of the way:

Last week as I was packing my bags for vacation, I realized that I'm almost out of Secret de Vie. I usually order it online when there's a good offer or beauty event, but I had no time for that. So I headed to the nearest Lancôme counter, which happens to be in Bloomingdale's. I took all of a 30 seconds of the sales assistant time and dropped a hefty sum. You'd think it would make the SA eager to give me samples, but then you'd be wrong. the only thing she put in my shopping bag was the receipt, and I was in no mood to ask for swag (ha!).

Semi-cranky but satisfied with my accomplished mission I went into the mall to see what's new. First stop was J. Crew. Now, I'm a loyal customer and shop there for basics like cashmere sweaters, white t-shirts and I usually love their skirts (the a-line minis are particular favorites), but what gets to me every time is the creative use of pins on their mannequins. Seriously, if even their employees realize that the cut of their jackets, shirts and dresses is so bad it needs to be pinned and altered to look attractive, can't they send word to the designers? Clothes that fit right would make everyone happy.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Jet Lag

Apologies for the little hiatus. I was away in Los Angeles for a mini getaway. All that sunshine got in the way of blogging, as does being tired after a redeye flight. I'll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Lost Perfumes: Inès De La Fressange (2004)

Last summer I went searching for the two Inès De La Fressange fragrances. I was curious to smell scents that were created for one of the few celebrities who can and should be considered an icon and an inspiration. I wrote about the story behind these perfumes and reviewed the older one, which was all that I could find at the time. Since then I kept a watchful eye on eBay, until finally, a pristine boxed and sealed 1 0z bottle was mine for the taking.

The pretty box is adorned with the same gold leaves you see on the beautiful bottle, Inès' emblem. You spray by pressing the acorn that's on top. The whole thing is quite adorable, and so is the scent, in a generic, predictable fruit-floral-with-musk-in-the-base way. I'm not a big fan of Alberto Morillas creations, but one thing you can't take away from him: He knows how to do commercial fragrances. Which doesn't explain why this juice wasn't a success and was pulled from shelves within two years of its launch. Maybe it was lack of marketing, or maybe it was just too similar to dozens of other perfumes on the market.

While I'm not sure I could pick this scent in a blind test of other fruity-florals of it kind, it's not as bad a juice as one would imagine. Maybe that's another reason it was discontinued: there's no reek of vile cheap materials, and, dare I say it? It actually smells nice, even if only as a fruity musk little thing.

The official notes are:
top: mandarin, blackcurrant, bergamot, neroli
heart: lily, white rose, orris, peony
base: patchouli, white musk, benzoin, vetiver

Any orris and vetiver that might be in there are hiding their face in shame for sharing bottle space with all that fruit (there's no mistaking the abundance of mandarin and berries), and even the flowers are staying well in the shadow, but the drydown is quite fun. It's mostly musk and benzoin with a faint hint of patchouli. The result is pretty and wearable, and while it doesn't rock my world in any way, I don't hate it. The "yesterday's perfume" residue it leaves on my clothes is borderline gorgeous. That alone was worth the hassle of trying to find this perfume.

Monday, February 04, 2008


After last week's ugliness (not to mention those Gary Coleman pictures) we all can use some pretty things, which will be the theme for my posts in the upcoming days: bottles, scents, a book, nail polish and makeup.

Friday, February 01, 2008

No, mascara didn't make me do it: My response to the NY Times article

In a display of brave and brilliant journalism, the NY Time has uncovered the truth about beauty bloggers: We get free samples!

Take a second to absorb the fact. I'll wait.

This comes after an interesting week for bloggers in the media. First there was that WWD article in which a rep for Sephora told us we must have the right credentials in order to to express our opinions. Then came Target, announcing they do not respond to inquiries from bloggers and only willing to deal with the traditional media.

But it was Thursday's article by Kayleen Schaefer that has managed to get to us. Being portrayed as a group of opportunistic gold diggers was especially insulting in the wake of all the coverage from Sundance Festival. You know what I'm talking about: the gossip blogs kept running pictures of the most loathsome D-listers posing with loot from various "gifting suits", while the previous prestige of the Utah event flew out of the window. So, let's face it: having parallels drawn between Kim Kardashian and me was not exactly the highlight of my week.

I started this blog nearly two years ago because I felt I had something to say. There were already about two dozen successful beauty blogs around in early 2006, but after reading them for months, it seemed to me that I had a somewhat unique point of view and was eager to express it, even though I wasn't exactly sure who might be interested in reading it.

Somehow I found an audience, and as it grew and as my name got out there, I was found by various companies and PR reps who offered me samples.

Now, let's make a couple of things clear:
*I have never ever made the first contact or reached out to a company.
*I have never asked, nor have I begged, for a freebie.

I still buy the majority of the items you read about here. I do accept products to test and in most cases write about them. I also review things I get as a gift-with-purchase during beauty events at my favorite stores, samples that a nice sales assistant tosses into my shopping bag and beauty items that I get as gifts from friends and relatives.

I never hide the fact that some products were sent to me for review or given to me at various industry events. I try to make my writing interesting and not formulaic, while offering as much information about the pros and cons of each cream and makeup item. Getting something for free doesn't make me blind, and I've written when a face cream I was sent made me break out, when an eye shadow creased and flaked or when a body butter left skid marks on my sheets.

I also make it a point to say again and again that while I have some holy grail products, they come from different companies, and even my favorites have their stinkers here and there. I wasn't shy telling the world what I thought about Lancome's dead-people-lips Proenza Pink, an opinion that actually made its way to the NY times. Same goes for that ridiculous Smashbox mood blush, O-Glow.

In case anyone wondered, there's no "hand that feeds me perfume", and when it comes down to fragrance, I buy most of the high-end samples I write about. In some cases I even used my middle name in those purchases, so that a perfumer wouldn't know who I was and wouldn't feel pressured to give me anything for free.

The idea that my opinion on a company can be bought with a free mascara or shampoo is insulting. Not just to me but also to my readers. I like what works for me, and if I don't you'll hear all the reasons why. Laurice Rahme can show up on my doorstep in person with a basket full of kittens (that's the real way to my heart, not lip gloss), but I still think of her company, Bond no. 9, as shady.

I never sell posts and all requests to "help promote" whatever product or service (I kid you not. I get these kind of emails every day) are politely but firmly declined and I also tell them why. As for big swag, I was never offered any, and the one time someone wanted to send me a purse I had to tell them their stuff was really not to my taste (it was ugly as hell).

The point of all this is that I write for fun, and only about what interests me. If "notoriety" means receiving feedback and communicating with readers, then yes, I love it. If you mean coloring my hair blue and playing Perez Hilton on TV, then not so much.

Images of Gary Coleman and his loot at Sundance: Quick's Catch Up