Thursday, July 31, 2008

Is Henri Bendel Owned By Young Mr. Grace?

I considered writing a long rant in which I'd question the genius business minds behind Henri Bendel, and their decision to keep their online presence to an absolute minimum. Yes, there's a web site, but you can only buy the store brand signature items. If you desire a striped makeup bag you're in luck. If you want to buy Secretion Magnifique, not so much.

But then, why bother?

Here's the link, see for yourself how one of the top department stores in NYC (and the US) operates its web business in 2008:

Yes, there is a concierge service, which I'm guessing means you can order by phone, but the website doesn't even list what exactly you can buy there.

Are you being served?

Original store image from Henri Bendel site. Botched photoshopping: Mine. Harold Bennett as Young Mr. Grace from somewhere on the net.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ôverhype- Lancome Ôscillation Mascara

A first edition tube of mascara. Seriously.

I probably shouldn't be speaking, considering I attended three Harry Potter parties when the last books came out. I couldn't wait for the morning and had to get my paws on a copy at midnight (and spend most of the night reading). But I just can't wrap my mind around the idea of people supposedly standing in line to be the first ones to buy a vibrating mascara. I'm staying home.

What do you think?


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chanel Fall 2008 Glossimer Amberlight

Before we move on to the other lip color trend for fall, deep brown, let's have a look at one of the limited edition glossimers: Amberlight (114). The other colors were too light for me (Delight is a pale, silvery lilac and Gold Light is a perfect match for the Gold Fiction nail polish), so I picked this deeper golden caramel shade. It looks more bronze in the tube, but when applied the effect is very transparent, and it has more of a glow than a shimmer.

It can be worn alone, especially if your natural lip color is not as dark as mine. I prefer it over a lipstick and have been layering it with Dior Must See Mauve for a stunning candle-lit effect, which means I'm not saving it for fall. It's a good thing that by October we'll have the holiday collections, because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's been wearing fall colors in July.

Chanel Glossimers ($26) are available at your local department stores from Macy's and up, and online. I ordered mine directly from Chanel's website.

Photos: mine. A somewhat reluctant model: Kosh.

An American Blogger In Paris: Serge Lutens at the Salons du Palais-Royal Shiseido

Stepping into the Salons du Palais-Royal is a perfumista's rite of passage. Just like facing the mysterious scented cloths at the JAR boutique, learning to identify civet and buying your first vintage Guerlain on eBay.

I had a case of the stomach butterflies, even though there was no more chance I'd run into Monsieur Lutens or his prophet, Christopher Sheldrake, than bumping into the Prince of Wales next time I'm in London. Just the idea of being at perfume ground zero and being able to sniff the coveted scents (and buy a bell jar or two) was enough.

The Salon hides away from the main street, at an inner courtyard of the Palais-Royal. It's a bit hard to find without exact internet directions, but we came prepared and entered the quiet, dimly-lit boutique. There was only one SA on hand at first, and when a few other customers showed up, he was frantically ringing a small bell(!) to summon more help.

I was pretty focused on the things I wanted to smell and try on my skin and on the Blond's. I hoped to get a first whiff of the two new scents (Serge Noire and El Attarine), but it was too early for that and testers weren't yet available. There were enough other things to keep me from being disappointed, though.

Our sales assistant was kind and pleasant, even if not overly friendly. We chatted about the Bois series: it's a lot of fun to sniff them one after another, detect the similarities and the differences and to see how they all relate to the original Feminitè du Bois.

You're not allowed to take pictures inside, otherwise I'd subject you to endless sniffing and fawning photos, titled from "The Adoration of the Juice" to "Group portrait with a bell jar". You'll have to take my word: It was lovely. We spent enough time there playing and letting the scents we tried develop a little on skin. The Blond fell for Cuir Mauresque and I tamed the two notorious beasts, Musc Koublai Khan and Borneo 1834 (reviews coming).

Happy and equipped with our Precious, we were ready to face the next task: Finding a vegetarian lunch.

Photo credit: Mine. The first one was taken through the window, hence the glare.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Beauty Emergency- Running Out Of Eye Primer

On my second day in Paris, I discovered to my horror that I've run out of eye primer. I had a travel size one in my cosmetics case, but apparently I've done just enough travel in previous months to use every drop of it. So there I was in front of the mirror in my hotel room, half dressed, makeup only half done, ready to start my day (and eager for my breakfast of pain au chocolat) but knowing full well that without something to hold my eye makeup, it'd all be gone before my long day of walking, Metro-ing and sniffing perfume is over.

There was a Sephora just across the street from our hotel, but it was still a couple of hours before it was to open. So I went digging in my train case, searching for something that would work in a pinch. It was a Goldilocks moment: everything I checked was either too thin (liquid foundation, liquid concealer) and wouldn't last, or too thick (anything in cream or solid form), until I found the mini Some Kind Of Gorgeous (Benefit Cosmetics). The somewhat weird texture was perfect for my needs and as soon as smoothed a little across my lids I could feel the silky finish and knew it would hold.

And it did. I haven't noticed a difference from wearing a regular primer. My makeup lasted all day through the evening without fading or creasing. Crisis averted and I kept using it all through my vacation.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bobbi Brown Fall 2008 Mauve Collection

I doubt Bobbi Brown would release any numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that the Mauve collection is the biggest bestseller since the Chocolate palette of fall 2006. It's practical, wearable, flattering on just about anyone and looks very cute.

Out of the entire collection I chose the palette (of course) and a gloss- the non-shimmery one called Mauve. The other two didn't work for me. They had too much shimmer and the pigment was too light. I considered the gel eyeliner but it's basically a shimmery Black Plum, so I didn't feel compelled to have it.

The gloss looks very nice by itself. It's an elegant dark mauve that will go nicely with a more somber fall wardrobe. But it looks even better layered on top any of the lip colors in the palette. Together they give a beautiful, rich finish.

The two dark eyeshadows are pretty and go well together. I use the middle one, Vintage, on the crease and the darkest, Chocolate Mauve, to enhance my eyeliner (or create a semi-smoky eye). The lightest one, Navajo, is completely useless for me. It might as well be a transparent powder because it doesn't show up at all. I had the same issue with Bone from the Chocolate palette. It's just not pigmented enough to appear on my skin.

The blush is the biggest winner here. I was a bit worried it'd be too pink for me, but it turned out to be the most natural looking blush I own. It's the first cheek color I tried that really has the effect of a true flush. Not sun-kissed, not shimmering, just a healthy glow.

The palette doesn't come with brushes. It's a serious flaw because otherwise it'd be perfect to toss in your purse and skip the makeup bag altogether. But you must add a brush case and make sure you have a lip brush in it, because it's the only way to successfully apply the lip colors. They are too thick and unyielding to be finger-friendly (and it'd take you some work to clean your finger if you try).

All photos are mine. Models: Lizzy and Gracie.

The Mauve collection is a limited edition, currently available from most department stores and online. I bought mine at my local Bloomingdale's Bobbi Brown counter. Lip Gloss $19, the palette $55.

Exceptionnel de Chanel: An eMarketing Campaign

Regular readers of this blog know I'm usually a big fan of Chanel makeup. Getting me interested in a new product shouldn't be hard, right?

But watching the ad on Chanel's new Exceptionnel mascara mini-site (turn the volume way down if you're at work) was more annoying than intriguing. From the (really bad) music to the ad copy ("she prepares to perform black magic that'll transform her eyes", "the black that puts the world at your feet". Seriously).

The design of the site is flawed: It doesn't take into account laptop users with smaller screens. I have a 15" widescreen and had to scroll down in search of any possible links to more information. Many would just close the tab quickly to escape the muzak and never know there were application tips and a preview of the entire Exceptionnel collection (not yet available, but looks interesting enough).

Also, a note to the good people of Chanel: your customers are a sophisticated bunch. They want real info about the new formula (what the hell is Volumeplast Complex?) and a better description of the brush (SculptVolume? Can we stop with made-up names?). That brush ballet in the mostly empty Design section (more of the bad music) is not helping.

To add insult to injury, the email newsletter promised "a limited time opportunity for subscribers". The great opportunity, apparently, is being subjected to that ad, because the option to buy the new mascara is readily available to any visitor of the regular Chanel website.

As far as I'm concerned, the great review of the new Givenchy mascara written by Cavewoman for Blogdorf Goodman is a lot more effective in getting me to the store.

Image: Chanel

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chanel Fall Makeup Collection: Ombre Essential Eyeshadow

Chanel Ombre Essential eyeshadows have the softest, smoothest texture and always make me wonder why I don't just stick with them (the answer is that we, beauty ninjas, are both brave and reckless when it comes to new products. We just can't be satisfied with one brand).

There are two new colors for fall, Le Bronze, which you see here, and Bois Bleu, a gorgeous but not really necessary dark teal (unless you don't have any teal eyeshadows in your stash, which makes it as good a reason as any to get one. You'd probably use it a handful of times a year and never hit the pan for the rest of your life).

None of the official color swatches of Le Bronze (on Chanel web site and the other stores selling it) is doing it justice. It's a perfectly balanced brown, not too warm, described as "metallic", but it's not disco in any way. The shimmer is low key and elegant, perfectly suited for day time, and while it's intended for fall, I'm wearing it now, paired with the lightest gold color from my old Chanel Gold Rush compact.

Available from your local Chanel counter, and, which is where I bought mine. $28.50
Photos: The Non-Blonde

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An American Blogger In Paris: A Visit To Cinquième Sens Perfumery School

A few days before my Paris trip I got an email informing me the French perfume school Cinquième Sens is about to open a NYC branch and will begin to offer classes this fall. This was very exciting to know, since there are very few other programs available for those who wish to get formal perfume training. A few emails back and forth and a visit to the Paris school was arranged.

Cinquième Sens is located very close to the Eiffel Tower. From the outside it looks like a regular office building with a store front, but when you step in you discover that the "store" is the main workshop area, where students in the last part of their training are seated with bottles, pipettes and other equipment and creating fragrances for their final project.

The school offers two courses: Technical and Cultural. The technical program is a hands-on training that includes chemistry, lab work and formulation classes that teach how to create and construct perfumes. The cultural course teaches fragrance appreciation, introduces the raw materials, analyzes the industry and its history and takes an in-depth look at the market and its bestsellers.

Some of the core classes are the same for both programs, and the best thing is that you don't have to register for the whole course. You can take the particular classes that interest you, after completing the basics and the specific prerequisites. Classes can be from one to eight days (some of the workshops are half days).

Perfumer Anne-Sophie Behagel who teaches some of the technical classes has showed The Blond and me around the school and was very kind to explain the curriculum and chat with us about perfumes, the market and the current trends. If you're a fragrance enthusiast, you know the thrill of meeting someone who shares this obsession and can discuss notes, noses and houses. It's even more exciting to talk juice with someone who is a real pro.

I think I gained a little perspective thanks to Anne-Sophie's insights. It's a little too easy to sit behind a computer, play with samples and become a (little obnoxious) niche snob. The reality is that it's the big names and the bestsellers that drive the industry forward, and while I'd still rather not wear most of them (and in certain cases I'd also prefer not to smell them ever again), it's in everyone's best interest to understand the market and the trends and to appreciate the work behind the top 20.

I'm giddy with excitement about taking the classes. I'll post more info as soon as I get the details. Would you be interested in this? Which one of the programs appeals to you?

For inquiries please contact Laëtitia Longuefosse
T: 212 686 4123
F: 212 686 4056
[email protected]

Photos: All mine.

Monday, July 21, 2008

No Wire Hangers, Ever!

My dream closet is the one Nick Lachey had built for Jessica Simpson in an old Newlyweds episode from the good old days when both of them had careers. However, it's not happening any time soon, and I'm dealing with very little room to hang my dresses and shirts.

My nice wood hangers looked good about 30 dresses ago, but lately they've been bumping into each other, hanging to the side and pulling the garments in every direction. And the worst part is that they're quite thick, which translates into taking up the precious space.

A couple of months ago I discovered Joy Mangano Huggable Hangers. My local Target had a few six packs which I bought one desperate day. Ever since then I go back and take everything they have in stock, because they are just that fabulous. The concept is simple: thin hangers covered in a velvety material that keeps even my flimsiest silk chiffon tops from sliding off (and getting lost in the abyss known as the closet floor). For every two of my old hangers I can now fit three, so it's a serious space saver.

My store only carries the black and butter ones, but on the HSN website I see they also come in fun colors and different sizes. Now I just need someone to come over and get everything organized for me.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Buying DVF On eBay- A Cautionary Tale

Early last month I did a stupid thing. I was wasting some time on eBay and somehow wandered from my regular browsing for vintage perfume into the dark realms of apparel. I did a quick search for Diane von Furstenberg and was happy to see a large selection of items. I'm a big fan and a very loyal DVF customer, so an opportunity to add an item or two to my collection at a very attractive price was just too good to pass.

You see where this is going, right?

While I know how to spot a fake perfume seller and haven't fallen into that particular trap in nearly a year, it didn't occur to me that a DVF dress, photographed from different angles and offered by a regular seller (not a pro) with a 100% feedback and a total score of 100-something could be anything but what it was claimed to be. I clicked "buy it now", paid immediately and waited for my dress to arrive.

What a disappointment! As soon as I touched the fabric I knew something was wrong. I have several of these silk jersey wraps, and they all are soft and smooth to the touch. The dress I was holding had an unpleasant synthetic texture and the print looked off, as did the seams. A few minutes of internet research made it clear I was taken for a ride.

Apparently, there's a huge industry of counterfeit Diane von Furstenberg dresses, and eBay is a prime venue for its distribution (unlikely to change now, that the US Court cleared eBay of responsibility to authenticate items and sellers). Fortunately, there are pretty easy ways to spot them. In my case, the telltale signs were:
1. fabric
2. seams
3. a label saying "silk jersey" instead of just "silk"
4. lack of an inside tag identifying the style (this one should appear in every silk wrap purchased from a department store, as this dress was claimed to be.

Giving the seller the benefit of doubt, I contacted her and informed her the dress was fake, and whoever sold it to her wasn't honest. She insisted she bought it from Saks in NYC and paid $325. My next step was opening a claim with PayPal and informing eBay, for good measures.

That started a long and painful process that only ended last week. In order to prove my claim, I had to bring the dress to the DVF boutique in the Meat Packing district, who took it (upstairs) to their headquarters where a VP of production identified it as a fake in writing. All that had to be done within a very short time frame (PayPal rule), which meant I had to hound the DVF people to finish the process so I could fax the letter on time. A regular retailer can't/won't do anything to help, by the way. While Saks, Neiman and the others are authorized distributors, their stores would not do anything to help, other than sympathize with you.

After that bit of fun I had to mail back the dress. But PayPal's instructions were a jumbled contradicting mess that couldn't be cleared until I returned from Paris, begged and pleaded for them to reopen the case, had my husband take over the phone interaction because I was seeing red at that point, mailed the wretched dress and finally got the refund last week.

So there you have it. Personally, this was the last time I buy a DVF (or any designer) item outside of retail store. But if you're planning to take the risk, check out this guide to spotting a fake DVF: Part 1, part 2 and part 5 were especially helpful.

Photos are from the actual auction I "won". Credit belongs to the seller.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Crystal Glass Nail Files

From the "what took me so long to find this?" department.

I have my mom to thank for introducing me to the wonder of crystal glass nail files. She got me a small one, made in the Czech Republic that looks like the OPI one, and I was hooked immediately.

These files do an extremely efficient job in a minimum number of strokes (much healthier for the nail) while leaving it with a perfect silky finish that doesn't snag or split. Another advantage they have is being washable and the fact that unless you drop them on a very hard surface, they'll last forever.

I started research and discovered that you can find them in several sizes, including as a foot file (which I promptly acquired. Next week I'll post a comprehensive review of hoof-care methods), and also colored, hand-painted or blingified, for your inner Kimora Lee. I loved the Betty Boop set.

The one I collected above are available from Sephora, Amazon (do a search for glass nail file. It'll keep you entertained for a while) or . Prices are from $3.99 for a small one to about $40 for a decorated set of three.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Suave Body Wash

The good news is that your drugstore has body washes that are actually kind to your skin. The bad news is that the scents still leave a lot to be desired.

I had some hope for Suave Exhale body wash in lavender-vanilla. The packaging reminded me of the lavender vanilla laundry detergent and softener I use for my bed sheets (they make the cats smell great after a snuggling session). It's not a high achievement of perfumery, but I still enjoy it. I hoped the body wash would be similar. It isn't. In fact, the lavender is faint, the vanilla is very synthetic, and you need to use quite a bit of the product to even smell it. It's harmless, but definitely not aromatherapy-worthy.

Still, the body wash is very mild and doesn't dry out my skin. I like the way it produces a gentle foam that just glides off. My husband, though, reports that its cleaning power is questionable. While my requirements from a shower product is that it leaves my skin soft and not itchy, a man with underarm hair needs something that washes deodorant leftovers out (apologies for the mental image). Exhale didn't perform on that front.

The other Suave product I received was the Daily Exfoliating body wash. This one did an impressive job reviving and moisturizing my skin, but the (strong) scent can only be described as tropical hell. It's really a shame, because it feels wonderfully luxurious and my skin only needed the lightest lotion afterwards. It's just the fragrance that ruins the experience.

Both body washes were a PR freebie. You can find them at your local drugstore and online for $3.49 each.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Another Fall Look: Dior Dandy Collection

Among the more interesting options for fall 2008 we have the 'Dandy' collection from Dior. It's interesting, and can be made wearable with a few adjustments. Nordstrom debuted it and within days (and before I made up my mind if I really need more pearly brown eyeshadows) were sold out of the most interesting item, the Imression Cuir Leather Couture eyeshadow compact. It was gorgeous and I hope they will have some more when the collection moves to other stores.

There are still other options to create this glamorous (and, let's admit it, a bit over-the-top) eye makeup using the Iridescent Leather 5 shadow compact. And I'm willing to bet my Bobbi Brown Chocolate palette from fall 2006 that we all have enough brown and bronze eyeshadows in our stashes that adding another big compact isn't a top priority.

But the real star here is the dark brown lip color. Dior isn't the only option for this look. Smashbox Wicked Lipgloss in Sultry is another one (review coming later this week), and it's worth exploring, even though it's not easy to pull off without looking like you had an encounter with a pudding cup. I'll post some tips with my upcoming reviews.

One last thing: The model in the photo is sporting the icky reverse French manicure, but the color itself is great. Neither Nordstrom nor any other retailer has announced which one it is. It might be Liquorice (a former Nordstrom exclusive, now available at, of all places).


Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire by Judith Thurman. It's acollection of essays that appeared in the New Yorker. So much for my resolution to read more fiction.

Invasion by Eisley. "Something's not right, I can feel it inside". Apparently I've gone emo.

frequently worn outfit or item
brown croc embossed Stuart Weitzman wedges.

Shalimar Light. Got vanilla?

Chanel fall collection. By the time October rolls here I might hit pan. Or be horribly bored with it.

Fruit, and lots of it.


guilty pleasure
Absolutely nothing. Being good is a bit sad.

bane of my existence
My neighbors.

Pretty things that come in the mail.

A Valentino Histoire bag in black pebble grain leather. I have one in red, and it's the best bag ever, but sometimes one really needs a simple black purse. The problem? They don't seem to exist. I might have to settle for this one. It's pretty neutral.

What are your current loves? Please share them in the comments.

Art: Bluebird by Sabzi from Vinings Gallery
Coveted item: Bergdorf Goodman

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stink, Stank, Stunk

Last week I told you about a beauty oopsie I made while traveling. I asked you about your own beauty horror stories and was glad to see there weren't that many. Apparently my readers know better. The best (or worst,depending on your point of view) comes from my mother, who recently decided to make an all-natural scalp revitalizing hair mask. The recipe was simple:

Take one egg yolk, one tbs of freshly grated onion juice and one tbs olive oil. Mix together until emulsified then apply to your hair roots and scalp with
a pastry brush. Leave for 20 minutes and wash hair.

My mom, a beauty savvy non-blonde, says she has no idea what possessed her to put the smelly mixture on her head. She suffered quietly the whole 20 minutes before rushing to wash it off. The problem? Even double rinsing and using a proper hair mask didn't make the smell go away. It haunted her till the next day, turning her stomach frequently. She was too traumatized to even notice any benefits to her scalp.

What's the worst smelling thing you ever applied to your hair? Did it work?


More Ways To Stay In Touch

It's all about social networking, isn't it? You're welcome to follow me on Twitter, where you'll be able to see what I do throughout the day and get a little sneak peak on future review as I test the products.

Also, you can add The Non-Blonde to your favorite blogs on Facebook by clicking here, and see who else is reading. It's pretty cool.


Top 25 Perfumes You Can Actually Find!

One of the hottest (and most frustrating) perfume discussions is about the discontinuation and reformulation of dearly loved scents. You can see it on the blogs (I collect Lost Perfumes and often write about them) and on the various forums, and you can do a Google search for Donna Karan Chaos, vintage Miss Dior, L'Occitane Neroli original version and (I'm not kidding) Miami Glow by J. Lo.

I'm not above stocking up on a handful of goners, as is obvious from looking at the bottom shelf of my perfume cabinet. But once you've hoarded a lifetime supply of Fendi Theorema, there comes the question: What now?

Several of us, bloggers, have asked ourselves this question, and here's the result: A list of our top 25 perfumes that are available without spending days haunting eBay, bribing LVMH employees or performing black magic.

The following is my super subjective take on what's the best out there. My fellow bloggers offer more ideas: Perfume Shrine, Smelly Blog and Savvy Thinker .

Here we go, in absolutely no particular order...

The Classics:

You can hardly go wrong with Guerlain (it's still possible, because even they had some weird lapses in judgment, but why dwell on L'Instant when there's so much good stuff to enjoy?). Even though most of the classics have undergone some reformulation and change, including the ones I'm listing here, unlike other houses, Guerlain have put the time, resources and creativity to keep these scents alive and beautiful. The following can be found at most decent department stores and occasionally online.

1. Mitsouko (parfum concentration)- This one needs no introduction. It's hard to define and explain this scent, and saying that it's peachy chypre doesn't come close to describing it. Even I, a certified peach-hater, can't get enough of this rich marvel. It's sexy like no other, and while I hear that some men aren't afraid of wearing it, in my mind Mitsouko is the ultimate femininity.

2. Shalimar- No matter what changes Shalimar has undergone over the years, it still has a sharp, citrusy opening and a sweet, amber-vanilla drydown, with hints of wood, smoke and raunchy sex. While my preferred concentration is the pure parfum, it's worth trying (and owning) in every formulation. I haven't met a Shalimar I didn't like.

3. Eau de Shalimar- I'm not cheating. EdS is a different perfume than its forefather. It opens lemony and fluffy, sort of a lemon meringue pie, and morphs into a happy vanilla. Certain men would drop dead at your feet. This is the most recent incarnation of the now dead Shalimar Light (which had two versions in the short time it was available). It's not identical, but still an amazingly wearable scent with a wide appeal that shows that even very old dogs can learn a new trick or two.

The Neo-Classics:

Serge Lutens
While pondering Guerlain, I instantly knew which scents I was going to write about. It wasn't so easy when it came to Serge Almighty, whose bottles take the most shelf space in my cabinet. I love them all, the cute and the menacing, and most of them agree with me.

4. Vetiver Oriental- A complex and rich blend that goes right to my head. Velvety soft, reasonably sweet and still green while having a beautiful chocolate note. It's not really a gourmand, but you'll be tempted to try. Originally a non-export (Paris exclusive in a bell jar) release which is currently available from most stores that stock the export line, including Neiman Marcus, Aedes and Luckyscent.

5. Chergui- Spicy, woody, aromatic and sweet. It's rich and dark, but retains a certain dryness from the hay and tobacco notes. Supposedly a masculine scent, but that has never stopped me before. Chergui is part of the non-export line, but every Barneys carry it and I also saw it in Evody, Paris.

6. Chene- The ultimate woody scent. It's warm and dry like a bark but still has some sap and dirty earth somewhere in the composition. Like Chergui, it's a Barneys exclusive non-export.

7. Ambre Sultan- To me, it's the queen of amber. Gorgeous from its herbal start to its rich drydown that never ends. Taking a shower the morning after seems a little wasteful when I still smell so good.

8. Muscs koublai Khan- Dirty, sweaty warrior king? I don't think so. Musks (those I can smell, that is) are extremely warm and comforting for me. This one is rich, a little smoky and a tad sweet. Requires a trip to Paris or a French friend who really loves you and willing to deal with their postal service.

Annick Goutal
A direct descendent of the traditional French houses, Annick Goutal makes elegant, mostly feminine perfumes. They come in pretty boxes and the bottles are put in a fabric pouch that makes me think of an over-groomed poodle, yet it all works, somehow.

9. Grand Amour (in Eau de Parfum)- This is what my nose classifies as French perfume. Decidedly floral, elegant and never wears jeans. There's something so devastatingly perfect about this perfume that I'm surprising myself every time I choose to wear it. As romantic as Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman, who knew a thing or two about great loves could have been a perfect spokesperson for this.

10. Eau d'Hadrien (in EdP)- This might be the ultimate citrus scent. The one so many of us turn to when the weather is so atrociously hot we only want to think of lemons and cool cypress trees. A unisex scent that is often recommended for beginners, in hope that the fresh, easy to wear notes would evoke a love for perfume for the uninitiated. Those of us who like to go deeper, enjoy the dusty Mediterranean shrubbery and the woody undertones.

L'Artisan Parfumeur
One of the first niche houses that is now a classic. There's something for everyone in their impressive collection, from the friendly and floral to the stunning and weird.

11. Dzing!- Inspired by the circus, this scent has hay, rubber, smoky leather and dusty vanilla. Haters talk about barnyards, tigers and elephants with some wet cardboard. Even they don't claim boredom. I love it with a passion.

The Modern Ones:

Tauer Perfumes
Andy Tauer makes magical perfumes. I'm limiting myself to only two here, but honestly, everything he bottles is a personal journey made with love, integrity and inspiration.

12. L'Air du Desert Marocain- This is as close as I get to a Holy Grail scent, and while it's a unisex scent, I don't think my husband has ever dared wearing it. It's too much me.

13. Incense Rose- A happy incense. I wore it recently on some of the hottest days of the year. Incense Rose blooms and radiates its beauty without ever turning beastly or suffocating.

Vero Profumo
As niche as it comes. Vero Kern from Switzerland has only three perfumes, very different from one another. All three tell stories and are uniquely beautiful. Currently only available from Vero's web site (easy to navigate and purchase), but will be released in the US this fall.

14. Onda- A fierce vetiver that speaks of days long gone, silent movies, dark lipstick, velvet gowns and bold jewelry.

CB I Hate Perfume
The name might be a bit of a gimmick but Christopher Brosius makes beautiful perfumes that have a sci-fi quality in his Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio. They are multi dimensional and have the ability to transcend time and space. Beam me up.

15. Revelation- This is a fig tree, from the roots up. It's not milky or coconuty and has none of the sheer, easy qualities you'll find in most fig scents. Instead you will get an evocative glance at faraway places, where these fragrant trees grow.

Comme des Garcon
A quirky, whimsical fashion house that produces quirky, whimsical perfumes, with a masterpiece thrown here and there for good measures. They are mostly unisex with a leaning towards the masculine edge. I don't find everything wearable and their patchouli has tried to kill me once, but when they're good...

16. Zagorsk- A dark and broody incense, with a pencil shavings cedar base and a melancholy violet and iris heart that illuminates the gray smoke.

Miller Harris
Perfumer Lyn Harris makes pretty and easy to wear scents. They are all nice, but I usually look for something more to catch my fleeting attention span. So far I've fallen in love with two creations from this house. Here's the most striking.

17. L'Air de Rien- Inspired by singer Jane Birkin who wanted a scent that smells of everything and nothing, this is a wonderful skin scent with patchouli, musk and moss. The result is both naughty and comforting, salty and a little sweet and doesn't resemble anything else.

Frederic Malle
Imagine that: A perfume house that gives its noses the freedom to create the best thing they can. Frederic Malle hires the most interesting talent (and also Jean-Claude Ellena) and gets beautiful scents, many can already be considered classics. Even the ones that fight with my skin are things of beauty when you sniff them in the boutique's smelling booths. Available from Barneys.

18. Vetiver Extraordinaire- A bitter green, take-the-boardroom-by-storm masculine that softens considerably on my skin and shows its woody side. A Dominique Ropion Creation.

19. Musc Ravageur- They weren't kidding about this name. Musc Ravageur belongs to the Shalimar school of seduction with its innocent bergamot opening that gets spicier and naughtier until a vanilla-musky drydown. Maurice Roucel is responsible for this gem.

Parfumerie Generale
Pierre Guillaume brings originality and fun to this old game. Almost every bottle offers a unique point of view and they are all worth exploring.

20. Musc Maori- Last musk for today, I promise. This is a sweet (and probably a little girly) confection. Bitter chocolate, vanilla-tonka and a not-so-clean white musk. A happy scent with a couple of secrets by day, a men slayer by night.
21. Bois Blond- A sharp, resinous scent that cozies up to cedar lovers and softens as it develops its rich tobacco personality.

Resurrected Classics:
Robert Piguet
New versions of 1940-50s (and in the case of Cravache 1960s) elegant scents. They've been modernized and tweaked, but still retain a certain dignity that's hard to find elsewhere. I chose here the two most notable, but have also a soft spot for Visa, a fruity-leathery that does interesting things on skin. The French-made version is supposed to be better than what we have here in the US (different alcohol). Still, these are great scents with a larger-than-life personality.

22. Fracas (parfum concentration)- The queen of tuberose. It doesn't get more femme than this . The parfum is more understated than the take-no-prisoners death by sillage EdP, but I still wouldn't wear it to a PTA meeting or to be introduced to your future in-laws.

23. Bandit (EdP)- Somewhere in the Bible Belt there's a preacher who started his career when he smelled this and saw sin.

The uber-luxurious:
JAR Perfumes
Joel Arthur Rosenthal is not alone in the break the bank category, but as far as I'm concerned he's the one who does it best. There's a whole ceremony when you go to smell them at the JAR boutique (Paris or NYC) , considered by some a dog and pony show. I think it's fitting of these creations.

24. Diamond Water- A shiny and sparkly floral scent, with a peppery opening and a sweet, incense-tinged drydown. For an opening night at the Met, a royal wedding or a very special date.

And the almost mainstream:

Tom Ford
Controversial and brilliant, nasty and glamorous, fashion designer Tom Ford is master of provocation. When the hype dies down, what's left is a bunch of surprisingly (or not) beautiful scents. His Private Blend line is worth exploring in itself, but his first feminine fragrance has the making of a classic.

25. Black Orchid- Blackcurrant, gardenia, a mysterious black orchid, chocolate, black truffle, patchouli and vanilla. On the wrong skin it might turn into a mess, but when it works for you, this is a rich, intoxicating fragrance that can turn an evening into an unforgettable night.

Please visit Perfume Shrine, Smelly Blog and Savvy Thinker for more suggestions, and add your own suggestions for the brilliant and available.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Fashionista Questionnaire

I don't think I qualify as a fashionista, since I have a preference for classics over trends, but this little survey (copied from Jack & Hill who took it from here) is fun.

What is your favourite item in your wardrobe?
A pair of platform knee-high Emilio Pucci boots. Black leather with a fabric leg shaft in a cream, green and wine print. They make jeans and a white t-shirt look fabulous and are traffic stoppers in the best possible way.

What is your fall-back outfit?
A black and camel DVF dress in one of her vintage prints. It's effortless, comfy and always looks perfectly put together.

What is your one piece of beauty advice?

Biggest fashion faux pas?
The 80s. I was a teenager, but even that is not a good enough excuse.

What aspect of fashion do you hate the most?
When people don't stop to think if a certain style or trend actually makes them look good.

How do you think people perceive you from the way you dress?
I've really struggled with this question. My look is two polar opposites: a little boho (the hair and the prints) with mostly classic items. In the end of the day, I'm both, so perhaps that's how I'm also perceived.

If you could steal anyone's wardrobe, whose would it be and why?
Sophia Loren. Especially her vintage clothes. She's fabulous now, in her 70s, and has always looked like she was having fun.

If you could change one part of your body, which would it be?
Three or four extra inches would have done me a world of good.

What are your five desert-island staples?
A good cleanser, a rich moisturizer, sunscreen, lipgloss and perfume.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Goldfinger- Chanel Facettes D'Or Nail Color Gold Fiction

I'm posting pictures of my own nails here is neither because I'm proud of either my one-hand photographing skills (I'm definitely not), nor is it because of my nail polish application expertise (I'm a known klutz). The reason I'm doing this is because the bottle of the new Chanel Facettes D'Or Nail Color Gold Fiction for fall 2008 is an opaque gold so you can't see what's inside. I can't say I'm convinced it was the best idea ever, but the bottle is quite true the polish, though to get the exact result you'll need three coats, which is more than I'm willing to commit myself to doing. It triples the odds of cat hair getting stuck to my nails, which is not a good look for me.

Therefore, what you see here is the result of two coats of polish. The first two photos were taken in natural daylight (though still indoors and I had to use flash). The last one was taken in evening-like environment (again, with flash). The results are very true-to-life. I didn't use any base coat or top coat when taking these, so this is Gold Fiction straight up.

What I like about this polish is both the quality (easy to apply and doesn't streak, stays put for several days even when not using a top coat) and the color itself. I was worried that it would be too yellow, hence look sickly, but this is true gold and the undertone is almost peachy, so it never goes fungal.

The gold color is actually very summery. Especially when you compare it to Dior Gold Nugget. I'm glad it came out early enough to wear all through July and August. In the fall I actually prefer the deep browns and burgundy that other companies are about to launch.

But now we get to the price. Gold Fiction retails for $30 and I hate to even think about what it would end up raking on eBay, once it's sold out everywhere else. I like this polish and don't regret buying it, but considering the prices of everything else, I'm not sure I can tell you to run out and buy it. It's a good one, for sure, the color is lovely and quite special. But unless you're a collector, a die-hard fan or think this is your holy grail, I can't say the price is fully justified.

Now, here's a little distraction brought to you from an era when you didn't have to choose between filling your gas tank and buying a nail polish:

Photos: my own.

Chanel fall 2008 collection is available from Chanel counters at upscale department stores (though my local ones in Paramus still didn't have it last weekend) and online. I bought mine directly from

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

An American Blogger In Paris: Guerlain

The Guerlain boutique on 68 Champs-Elysees is my happy place (I considered calling it a perfumista's Disneyland, but that would be so very wrong). It was the opposite of my wretched Caron experience, both in terms of the wonderful gracious and patient customer service and of scent. It didn't hurt that the store is very spacious and elegant.

The street level entrance doesn't prepare you for the golden oppulance of the second floor, where you can go around the three tiered table in the center to play with the more famous classics and major releases (the parfums are on the top tier) from Jicky to Insolence. There's a wall that holds more of the popular ones like the new flankers and Eau de Shalimar, but the main attraction is the stuff you'll never see in Sephora.

Mouchoir de Monsieur, the last escargot bottle, sits in its vault in all its 800-something euro glory (I got to sniff and it's gorgeous). L'Art et la Matiere collection sits on a table by the large window, all yours to play (and overdose on the vanillic aftertaste you get from having several of them on one arm). I tested them before, but this is way more fun than Bergdorf.

Then there are the re-issues, the Parisienne collection, the crystal bottle of Quand Vient La Pluie that comes in a box with a funnel, and the bee bottles. Speaking of the latter, I got a kick out of the option to have your own engraved gold-plated bee bottle in any size of your favorite Guerlain. I'm not sure who buys the 32 oz, but I wouldn't have objected to a small personalized one of Shalimar parfum that reads Gaia, the Non-Blonde...

I was too tired to really play much in the other rooms, the ones with the makeup and skin care, but having purchased a bottle of Sous le Vent (I was sure I'll end up with one of the la Matiere, most likely Spiritueuse Double Vanille, but the grownup sex appeal of Sous le Vent won over the cake and booze that day) , I got some generous samples that are worth a review once I actually try them.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Peter Som Is Inspired

I saw this Peter Som dress in a Bergdorf newsletter. I liked it, which is no surprise considering I have the two piece Missoni (I never wear them together. The sweater is great with jeans, while I usually wear the skirt with a brown t-shirt or a tank) from two years ago.

Cats are normally not allowed near these clothes, but Thomas and Lizzy were being extra cute tonight.

Peter Som dress $895 from Bergdorf
Missoni and cats picture: Gaia, the Non-Blonde

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Shape Issue

Someone at Neiman Marcus thought this Fendi jacket was worth an email newsletter. I agree, but for another reason altogether: it shows all that's wrong with this shape.

Have a look- What part of the model's body appears the smallest? Which part is the widest?

See what I mean?

In what universe do women aspire to have a midsection that's twice the size of their breasts?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Things you shouldn't do when traveling

This falls under "I really, really should have known better".

After spending a couple of days walking all over Paris and riding the Metro, it seemed like my face could really use some serious de-griming. It's not that my makeup remover and a mild cleanser weren't performing. But I had a feeling, probably more psychological than anything else, that my skin wasn't clean enough. So I turned to the stash of samples I had in my bag for something that could do the job.

Part of blogging about beauty products is making the choice of which cosmetics to test, which to ignore and what to put away to be considered another time. Occasionally, one of the places the "to be determined" items end up is a bag that gets shoved into my luggage. Just because samples are more travel friendly.

That's a mistake, of course, because a vacation (or a business trip, for that matter) is never the right time for testing a beauty product that you weren't sure about to begin with. First, you're too busy to pay attention. Also, the weather, environment and daily routines are most likely not the normal ones, so the products are not tested correctly. And, most important, if something goes horribly wrong, you might not have all the resources to fix the problem.

Back to Paris. After a little rummaging I discovered I had a little sample of a facial scrub and a clay mask from a favorite top brand. It doesn't matter which one, because this is not a product review, just a cautionary tale. That night after a nice hot shower I exfoliated my face with the cream. It wasn't anything special, despite the prestigious label. Probably a little more abrasive than I would normally choose. That should have been enough of a warning, but just like in a horror movie when you see the girl opening that door and entering the scary house, like she hasn't seen any b-movies in her life, she still goes there. So did I. I applied the mask.

It's been years since my last absorbent mask. Nowadays it's all about keeping a balance of a clean but well-hydrated face. Clay doesn't belong there, as I soon discovered. An hour after I washed off the mask, my face, stripped from any oils, good and bad, went into an overcompensating mode, trying to replenish the lost moisture. I could feel it getting worse by the minute. Thankfully, I had enough of my trusty heavy-duty cream to slather on several times that night (fighting the instinct to run to the sink and wash, wash, wash) before going to bed, which stopped the oil-fest before a serious skin freakout. The next morning everything was back to normal, and I just used my regular products, which is what I should have been doing all along.

Do you have any travel/skincare horror stories? Please share in the comments.

Image of vintage face sauna:

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 03, 2008

An American Blogger In Paris: Visiting The Caron Boutique

Or: Luca Turin Was Right

While I was living in vintage heaven, something bad has happened to the house of Caron. It's not that I was completely oblivious. I knew that the house has changed hands, I've heard that scents were reformulated and I read Perfumes: The Guide, so I had a general idea that scents I used to know as lively and potent no longer smell masterpiecey. I just hoped Mr. Turin was being dramatic.

The store is pretty in a frou-frou way. Large colorful powder puffs, gilded mirrors, carved bottles and all kinds of lace-and-beads fashion accessories that don't make much sense. But you're not there for embroidered scarves. It's all about the urn perfumes: the precious juice in parfum concentration, elegant, rich and timeless.

I got the bad vibes before the first sniff. Two bored-looking and indifferent sales assistants who barely graced me with a glance, even though I was the only potential customer in the store. The ignored me completely, never bothered to ask a question or offer help and information. I didn't mind too much, as I like browsing and exploring by myself, but some attention wouldn't have killed me (or them).

I tried the parfums, as the EdT are easy enough to find elsewhere. I played with test strips and dabbed several on my skin and on my husband's. Some, like Tabac Blond, started nicely enough, even if not as strong and dark as I remembered. Others didn't even smell close to the vintage ones I own. I barely recognized Bellodgia. But it was the way the scents have developed (or not) that I found disturbing. They fell apart, and what remained on my skin felt unconvincing. And the worst part: Tabac Blond simply smelled bad.

The good news: no scrubbing needed. While I didn't like any of the perfumes I tried on, they didn't last beyond half an hour of a weird, pale floral debris.

Photo taken by the Blond. And, yes, that's really my hair.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

What To Wear On A Plane?

A couple of months ago I read Nina Garcia's Little Black Book Of Style. It had a section of short interviews with famous designers and other prominent fashion figures that I found a bit lacking. It was too full with recycled cliches of the kind you find in magazines, but I still read it from beginning to end, hoping one of these luminaries would say something inspiring.

The question of what to wear on a plane was presented to two designers: Donatella Versace and Michael Kors. While Donatella managed to lament the days of dressing up for travel, say something about the importance of being comfortable and avoid actually answering the question, Michael Kors had some practical advice for us:
A black cashmere turtleneck and white jeans and huge sunglasses.


I don't know about you, but I'm just enough of a germaphobe to feel that clothes I wear when flying are dirty and full of ick, and somehow, international travel is not when I want to engage in finding a good dry cleaning place. And I'd rather wear my white jeans when actually on vacation than find a laundry service.

I do like to be comfortable on a plane, especially on excruciatingly long international flights, but ratty sweats (or even nice ones) are not something I'd wear in public. My choice is black yoga pants, which I'm fussy enough to buy a new pair or two just before my trips, to make sure they are very black and not even a bit faded. I pair them with soft (but washable) wrap tops and take a zip-up yoga jacket. It might not be the jet-set glamorous style of the old days, but still a flattering and effortless look.

I'll confess to wearing flip-flops at the airport. It makes taking them off and putting them back on in the security check (while struggling to gather and re-assemble the content of my purse, passport, laptop and various other items) much easier and saves some fumbling. Later, when finally seated, I slather some foot cream (L'Occitane) and put on a pair of thick cotton socks.

Michael Kors can keep his huge sunglasses.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Excuse me while I snicker

Earlier this year, when the NY Times went straight for the Pulitzer by revealing that beauty bloggers sometimes get free samples, there were people who questioned our ability to review products in an objective manner (despite all the evidence to the contrary, in this blog and many others).

A big part of why that article felt so insulting was the underlying accusation that bloggers have no ethics, unlike print media that has strict rules, and therefore is more objective. When I say it was insulting, I mean insulting to readers' intelligence, because (just like many of my commenters noted), one look at the traditional media is enough to confirm its obligation and dependence on advertisers.

That's why I couldn't help myself from feeling a smidge of schadenfreude when reading Natasha Singer's much braver article over the weekend. This quote says it all:

“Boy, they really sold out — Hearst — didn’t they?” said Allan Mottus, a beauty industry analyst who publishes the Informationist, a trade publication. Mr. Mottus added: “You have to take your hat off to Lauder. It is an enormous coup.”