Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Benefit You Rebel and You Rebel Lite Tinted Moisturizer

I've been all about minimal coverage lately, especially after I worked my way through a couple of You Rebel samples. It's exactly what you'd expect a tinted moisturizer to be: light, kind to your face and give an even finish. The added SPF 15 is definitely a bonus.

Once I was done with the samples and ready to buy a tube, I discovered (the hard way) that You Rebel comes in two colors, regular and light. Surprisingly enough, the one I loved and have used for weeks was the Light. Doesn't make any sense, if you consider my complexion is anything but porcelain. However, you can't argue with the facts: Light melted right into my skin and looked nice and natural, while the regular one made me look related to George Hamilton.

Adding just a drop of the regular You Rebel to a normal dose of Light was perfect in the summer, but now I'm back to just Light. It works well with most primers, and while it doesn't last more than 8 hours, that's quite good for tinted moisturizer.

You Rebel and You Rebel Light ($30) are available from Sephora and BenefitCosmetics.Com

Bobbi Brown Metallic Lip Color

Just like with her metallic eye shadows from last year, Bobbi Brown shows the world how to do light shimmery colors. The metallic lipsticks are pretty and elegant. The pearly finish is understated and reflects light in a very flattering way. The formula is rich and silky, easy to wear but not very long lasting.

My color of choice is Plum, which packs enough pigment to look dressy and sophisticated, but is easy to wear during the day. As you can see, I'm not the only fan of this color in our house.

Photos: Mine. Model: the latest addition to our family, Giselle.

Bobbi Brown Metallic Lip Color ($22) is available from BobbiBrownCosmetics.com and every Bobbi Brown counter at fine department stores. I bought mine at my local Bloomingdale's.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Urban Decay Liquid Liner

As a devotee of gel eyeliners and easy to use pens, I wasn't too eager to test my skills with a regular eyeliner brush. But it was there, the color was pretty and I just had to try.

To my surprise, Urban Decay eyeliner was easy to use, the brush easy to control and klutz proof, and the liquid is quick to dry. I have yet to mess it up. The staying power is wonderful, but still easy to remove, even with the regular Almay pads. The only issue is that some of the silver flecks are more tenacious than what's good for them, and I still see a couple until the next morning's shower.

The color I have, Crash, is a silver-flecked purple and much darker than the color swatches you see online. It doesn't glitter too much, just enough to lighten and brighten, and the purple itself looks quite muted and neutral on my skin (it'd look much bolder if you're pale). It coordinates nicely with the grey and mauve hues of the season.

Urban Decay Liquid Liner ($18) is available from Sephora, Ulta and Beauty.com. I got a travel-size sample as a GWP.

Top photo: Glamour magazine, via myvintagevogue.com

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925-2008

Another legend is gone.

Some Paul Newman quotes:

"The embarrassing thing is that the salad dressing is outgrossing my films."

"I picture my epitaph: "Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown."

"I respect generosity in people, and I respect it in companies too. I don't look at it as philanthropy; I see it as an investment in the community."

(Don't you hate to think that we're left now with Tom Cruise as the bluest eyes in Hollywod?)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chanel Sublimage Serum

Out of all the products I get to review, skin care items are the trickiest. It usually takes weeks before you can expect any results and even longer until I feel I tested enough to account for different circumstances, time of the month, etc.. Considering that normally my skin is in pretty good condition, it's even harder to gauge the change. Add to that the fear factor: why fix something that isn't broken and alter anything in a skin care routine that's proven to work? But I can't fight my natural curiosity (that's understatement for obsession) about new and supposedly amazing products, or my dedication (again, read: obsession) to testing and blogging. The rest is documented in these pages.

That was a long prolog for a simple review of a not-so-simple serum. Sublimage is Chanel's most advanced anti-aging line. It's supposed to have regenerating abilities and the flowery description that comes with the line talks about "precious oil extracted from the powerful botanical fruit" that only grows in Madagascar. Don't ask me what's a botanical fruit. This kind of prose annoys the regenerated moisture out of my skin cells, but I was willing to give Sublimage Serum a chance and see what it can do for me.

The first couple of days weren't too promising. It looked like I had a clogged pore or two, but I took care of it and soldiered on. My pores adjusted quickly and the serum acted more like a super concentrated cream, both in feel and in texture. Some days I skipped the moisturizer because it was clear that my skin didn't need anything extra, tough most days I kept my regular routine. 

I had two sample tubes and made them last for about five weeks, combined. By the third week my face felt a bit softer than before and I noted that my skin looked extra nice. The more sensitive areas that are prone to redness when unhappy, haven't shown a sign of irritation in weeks. The improvement was there, even if subtle and probably marginal. I doubt that anyone else would have noticed a difference, because let's be honest: I'm the only one who looks that closely every day in search for signs of intelligent life (or happy pores). But there was an improvement and I wonder if it would have been more noticeable had I not been a devoted serum user for the last couple of years.

Now, about the anti-aging claims: I don't really buy it. Skin ages. You can make it age more gracefully with consistent use of sun blocks and making sure it's moisturized, nourished, (very) gently exfoliated and by using active creams/serums to encourage quicker cell regeneration (basically make the skin more diligent about repairing itself). But ultimately and long-term, the only anti-aging treatment is the one you get from your plastic surgeon. 

So, is Chanel Sublimage Serum worth the heart-stopping price tag ($385)?
It's hard to say. If your skin has been distressed for a while and you already tried several other products that didn't deliver much, it is worth a visit to your local Chanel counter and asking (begging) for samples. It might be just the thing. But if you've been good to your skin for a while and it's already showing you some love, there are many good options in the $100 range. Even if you're looking to upgrade to the most innovative products, there are others (I'm contemplating the new Secret de Vie serum from Lancome, that at $265 is a bottle of Serge Lutens perfume away from the Chanel serum) worth checking.

Chanel Sublimage skin care line is available from every Chanel counter and online. I got my samples as a GWP from Chanel.com and my local Saks.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

About those JARs...

Previously on the Non-Blonde: Tom (my scent twin) and I went on a perfume adventure. You can read all about it here, but I promised a separate post to discuss the JAR perfumes we sniffed at Bergdorf.

I've been there before and have a full bottle of Diamond Water, so I knew more or less what to expect. It was still a surprising experience. The sales assistant presented us with the famous scented fabrics in their glass bowls, and we started sniffing. The first thing I noticed was the (too) big a difference between the real juice and what you get from the cloth. I had to be told that what I was smelling was Diamond Water, because the pretty but tame thing didn't resemble the radiant, sparkly and spicy perfume I like to wear when dressed to the nines.

Golconda was more spicy than the carnation skin scent I remembered, but it's still high on my wish list. Jardenia was its cheesy gardenia self, pungent and life-like. Shadow was not as dark as I remembered it on my husband's skin, but that's one that needs to be worn before you can really tell much (like all of them, actually). Jarling was softer than I remembered. This time I could actually smell the lilacs under the almonds. I didn't even have to try it on to know it can never work on my skin that brings out the worst in anything with lilac. This one just smells cheap on me.

The two for which I intended to devote serious skin space were the mysterious Bolt of Lightning and the notorious Ferme Tes Yeux. The latter is sometimes known as "I smell dead people", and I remembered it as too weird and rather unpleasant. Now, I've smelled a thing or two since then, and I'm the proud owner of some other famous stinkers that on my skin are tame kittens, and Ferme Tes Yeux is amazingly close to them. It's a sibling to Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Khan with a touch of the sweetness I get from CB Musk and some undefinable animalic quality that makes it very appealing. I adored it from the second it touched my skin till I reluctantly showered late that night. I want a full bottle, but since I already own MKK and CB Musk, it's a bit hard to justify buying Ferme Tes Yeux considering the price tag (around $500). If you're a fan of Muscs Kublai Khan, this is a must-smell. And it makes the price of the Serge Lutens bell jar look like a bargain.

The jewel in the JAR collection is Bolt of Lightning. It's not the perfume's real name, because it doesn't actually have one. But the flacon is etched with a bolt of lightning (the same one that you see painted on the ceiling at the dark alcove of the boutique), so that's what the perfume is nicknamed. The scent is a whirlwind of charged air and danger in its opening, then it becomes green and damp, and then...

I can't even begin to say how glad I am that Tom was there with me and tested the exact same thing on the same part of his arm, because otherwise I'd hesitate to write this. Not only did I have a witness to sniff me, but also someone who had the very same thing happening on his skin.

Gardenia. That's what Bolt of Lightening became on both of us. An exquisite, the most beautiful, non-creamy, unsweetened, elegant and streamlined gardenia. It's a gorgeous fragrance, but for the life of me I can't fathom forking over $800 to smell like a gardenia (a $500 dirty musk is all of a sudden so very reasonable).

My first visit to the JAR boutique at Bergdorf Goodman can be found here.
My full review of Diamond Water is here.

Image: Zebra brooch by Joel Arthur Rosenthal, the nose behind JAR, from The Jewels of JAR Paris: The Gilbert Collection (catalog of the exhibition). I'm still dreaming about the cuff bracelets from that collection. Probably the sexiest, most perfect piece of jewelry I've ever seen.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Liz Earle Cleansing System

My fickleness regarding cleansers is a well-known fact. I rarely stay with one product, and more often I rotate between several cleansing methods on any given month. But lately I've been so happy with the Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser from Liz Earle and the matching toner, that I'm as close to skin care monogamy as I can ever be.

It works like this: You slather your face with the cleansing cream and thoroughly massage it, including your eye area. It feels like any lotion or even cleansing oil: you'll get the sensation of pores opening and gunk moving out (a bit weird if you've been using rinse-off soaps and gels for a long time). Then you get one of the muslin cloths nice and wet (hot water) and polish it all off, leaving the eyes till the end. The muslin is quite gentle, but just abrasive enough to give you a nice exfoliating without rubbing your face raw. A quick rinse in cool water followed by patting dry with a soft towel and you're all set.

I was surprised to see how well the cleanser removes eye makeup, including mascara. The only problem is that some mascaras leave semi-permanent stains on the cloths. But maybe I should do more aggressive laundering.

A toner is not really necessary, especially not if a cleansing system is as efficient as the Liz Earle one. But I have a thing for toners, especially in the morning. It helps me wake up and look a bit more alive even before I have my tea. The Instant Boost Skin Tonic smells like perfume (lavender, rosemary and some flower extracts) and feels wonderful. Looking at the ingredient list, the toner is much more natural and far less chemical than just about anything I currently have in my cabinets. The main ingredient after water is aloe vera juice and there are other extracts and essential oils that seem to be in high concentration. My only complaint is the cap, that seems to let too much toner out and is quite wasteful. Other than that it's fast becoming a favorite product (and I just discovered that my husband has been secretly using it, too).

Liz Earle products are available online directly from the company's website and also at Fred Segal in Santa Monica and Brownes & Co Apothecary, Miami Beach. I got the products as PR freebies.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Oh, the things we have smelled!

Or: The Scent Twins Take Manhattan (and make SAs cry)

One of the best things about a sniffing expedition with your scent twin is that it instantly doubles the available skin space (and if he is a very tall and long-limbed guy, all the more skin to use). When said scent twin is such a wonderful companion as mine is, the pleasure is more than doubled. And he makes me laugh.

Tom came from L.A. and we spent Thursday afternoon relentlessly spraying, sniffing each other, and pondering the wonders of skin chemistry. We started at Saks, which could have been a much more pleasant place without the piranha-like sales assistants. There were too many of them at every counter and they were aggressive and cloying at the same time, shoving scented cards under our noses and trying to spray us with whatever they were hawking, telling us how it's the most popular thing and we really must try. No, thank you.

They were strongly promoting the not-so-new DSquared2 He Wood and She Wood. While it looks quite official that woods are making a comeback to mainstream perfume, I was not impressed and my prediction is that these scents would end up at most discounters in no time. More interesting was the discovery of a fully stocked Guerlain counter, offering the L’Art et la Matiere line as well as some of the more interesting bottles of the house. We both discovered the wonders of Derby and I just loved seeing Tom's face as he tried Sous Le Vent. I had the same look when I first tried it in Paris.

Tom introduced me to one of the more interesting Saks exclusives, Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel, which lasted for most of the day on my hand, making me realize that I absolutely need a bottle. I'm not an airy-beachy girl, but this salty, herbal wonder is unlike anything else I have and it evokes the kind of shore experience that has nothing to do with Jersey's boardwalks and everything to do with an emotional place.

The other Saks exclusive we were curious about was Chanel Beige (only at the NYC flagship for now). It's pretty in a floral Chanel way, lady-like and understated, but as far as I'm concerned it lacks an edge, and it's not that original, either. I liked smelling it, but have no desire to wear it. As I said to Tom, it simply doesn't go with my hair.

From there, we continued up 5th Avenue to Henri Bendel, which was a huge relief in terms of SAs. You can freely browse, spray and try things without a SA breathing down your neck. What a concept! We were waiting to see some poor unsuspecting soul spraying itself silly with Secretion, but it didn't happen. Tom and I seemed to be the only ones interested in the Etat Libre d'Orange bottles, which do seem a bit out of place there. Try as we did, we couldn't find one that really felt full bottle worthy in that line. We're just not that into them (though I still like Encens et Bubblegum).

A block or so down the road was the temporary Colette mini-store at The Gap. It's the weirdest thing and quite disappointing. They had some (not very interesting) t-shirts and a whole lot of ugly plastic knickknacks that looked like crap the Paris store was looking to unload somewhere instead of throwing it into the Seine. They did have the Paris-exclusive Le Labo Vanille 44, which I now hear is (temporarily) sold out. What we didn't know is that the price is more reasonable than in Paris ("only" $150 for 1.7 oz, compared to the ~$300, depending how bad the dollar is on a given day Le Labo seem to have some pricing issues and have re-adjusted the price to $260 for 1.7 oz). I'm still not sure it warrants more than a decant, but I do like its fuzzy muskiness and warm labdanum body.

Other fragrances you can find at that store are a few of the Comme des Garcons in silly packaging with gold tails and muzzles (not kidding), and there was something else I can no longer recall. But the most ridiculous thing at that place were the Kiehl's products. Yes, you read it right. I don't know who was the genius who though that what NYC needs is repackaging of a local product with a French seal of approval. They had the popular body creme in the regular bottle that had "Colette" printed on it (yay! or something), and sets of travel size products. Why? And who buys it?

We pondered these questions on our way to Bergdorf. We stopped at the Serge Lutens stand, where the (very nice, if a bit scared of us) SA showed us some interesting layering combinations (apparently that's what they do with the Serge savvy customers). Who knew that Douce Amere and Ambre Sultan go amazingly well together? I'm going to try it tomorrow night. The other thing I learned is that I probably do need Bois de Violet after all.

Next came the JAR experience, which was Tom's first time. This is going to be a separate post, because I have a lot to say about it, but I'll give you a teaser: We tried Ferme tes Yeux. And lived to tell the tale.

We left Bergdorf feeling drunk. We needed a break, because trying anything after the JARs seemed a bit futile (the poor Jo Malone SA had no chance with us). Besides, we were starving, so a very late lunch was in order before we could proceed to our last stop of the day: Barneys.

Barneys has a lot of good stuff. From some exclusive Serge to Nasomatto and Le Labo. But as far as I'm concerned, the main attraction (and the nicest SA) is Fredric Malle Editions de Parfums. They didn't have the new one, Dans Tes Bras by Maurice Roucel (though the tester is expected within weeks and there's going to be a grand launch event, including an appearance by Roucel himself. No word about the state of his moustache), but the rest of the line is always wonderful to smell and try. I accomplished my mission for the day by purchasing my beloved Musc Ravageur. Tom got me to sniff L'Eau d'Hiver, which might just be the Jean-Claude Ellena creation I won't be able to resist, proving that if you put enough musk and heliotrope in a bottle, I'm going to love it. It still does not absolve him the sin of the melon, but it comes close.

That was the last of the day's adventure. While I didn't beat rush hour traffic out of Manhattan, I smelled so good that I couldn't work up a decent road rage.

Image: wikimedia.org

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sephora Brand Professionnel Perfection Makeup Base

The last few months I've been mostly shying away from silicone-based primers. Mostly because of the humidity (if you were in NYC last weekend you know exactly what I mean). My lotion-like primer of choice is Shiseido Smoothing Veil, and I've already gone through two jars of it. But a while ago I picked a tube of Sephora brand primer, simply because the small, very travel-friendly packaging, and while it's not perfect, I can still declare it a well-spent $12.

There's something pearly pink in there which made me nervous, but it doesn't show unless there's incompatibility issues with your foundation. I discovered that my Chanel Vitalumier doesn't mix well with this primer and produces some weird debris on the sides of my face and patches in the nose area that let the pink show through. However, when used under my tinted moisturizer, Benefit You Rebel, the results were flawless.

The staying power is great: 8-10 hours even on a disgusting humid day. Makeup is kept fresh, my skin is happy, I can't ask for much more.

Sephora Brand makeup is available online and offline. I bought mine at the Union Square store.

Tomorrow: The Scent Twins take Manhattan

A Happy Update: Pretty French Jewelry

The other day I posted about Olivolga, a French online store that offers the brands I mentioned in my Paris shopping reports and ships internationally, but I couldn't find Canada in their list of countries. they emailed me to confirm that they do ship to Canada, and not only that: Those of us outside the EU are exempt from the tax, so the actual prices are 16.39% less than what's listed. I'm seriously eyeing the Skalli necklace above.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Smashbox Bionic Mascara

It sometimes seems like mascara is the most dramatic makeup item one can have. The names, the brushes, the promises... In reality, mascara is paint for eyelashes, usually with added tiny particles. Not exactly the stuff of dreams, despite what the ads are trying to tell you. Still, some of the new mascaras are trying a bit harder, even if they aren't nearly as revolutionary as they'd like us to think.

The Bionic Mascara from Smashbox is certainly nothing new. It's not the great lash deliverance. A regular brush, a regular formula (beeswax, silk protein, wheat protein) and a black color that is not too glossy.It's decent enough, even though when it comes to length I needed several coats before it came close to my everyday staple, Clinique High Impact. It doesn't curl and doesn't hold a curl very well, which for me is a big flaw. It also made my lash feel too crisp for comfort.

What I do like is the minimal clumping (none, really, as long as I wipe the brush) and absolutely no smearing and cooning. Every bit of paint remains on the lashes until I come after it with Bi-Facil (the Almay pads also work, but require more work).

Bottom line: In the category of under $20 this is a decent option, but not as good as the $14 High Impact mascara from Clinique.

Smashbox Bionic Mascara ($19) is available from Sephora, Nordstrom, Ulta, Beauty.com and the company's web site. I got a sample as a GWP.
Images: The original Bionic Woman from somewhere on the web, the mascara from Smashbox.com.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Easy, Breezy And Beautiful

A big kudos to CoverGirl for choosing Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson for a new campaign that will launch in January.

Real beauty, courage, big personality and a sense of humor can sell cosmetics! Maybe the 21st century is finally here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

We'll Always Have Paris

My posts about the gorgeous and fun jewelry stores I visited in Paris, Taratata and Skalli, triggered many emails from readers eager to see more and buy online. My friends in Europe had it easier, but there was little to none for us here in the US.

Earlier today I got a lovely email from an executive at Taratata, who gave me a link to an online store, Olivolga, that sells part of the Taratata line, as well as Skalli and several other brands. They ship worldwide, including to the US (though apparently not to Canada) and if you spend more than 90 euros (which is frighteningly easy), shipping is free.

EDIT: See update here

I think I'm in love with this elephant necklace by Sabrina Dehoff:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Jean-Louis Scherrer Vintage Parfum

I love vintage chypers but they don't always love me back, leaving me with existential doubts about my skin, my nose and the freshness of the tested bottle. That's why finding one that works so perfectly for me as the classic Jean-Louis Scherrer is such a joy.

Scherrer is a green chypre in full glory. OsMoz lists the notes as-
top notes: Cassis, Hyacinth, Violet, Aldehydes
heart note: Tuberose, Rose, Gardenia, Carnation
base note: Sandal, Vetiver, Moss, Civet

Some of the notes above are making me raise an eyebrow, since for the life of me I can't detect violet or tuberose in the juice. I wouldn't put my money on gardenia, either. I could also swear there's galbanum somewhere in Scherrer, but it's not listed. My bottle is of the parfum, and what I get from it is a delicate spicy opening that quickly morphs into the green, dry base. The vetiver and oakmoss are very dominant, but not in an earthy or lush way. They are very crisp, very poised and elegant.

I love the classic, perfumy feel of this gem. It wasn't created to please focus groups that prefer "freshly showered" scents. It's the real thing, well-dressed and impeccably mannered, and if you are of a certain school of perfume lovers, also very sexy (and in a complete opposite of what "Very Sexy" means to the Victoria's Secret generation).

Jean-Louis Scherrer is fabulous to wear on a chilly fall or winter day, but my personal perversion about letting some potent scents bloom in the heat, worked well for me this summer. It's not a sillage monster (at least not in extrait) and mostly stays close to the skin and lasts for hours, as most good vetivers do.

While the parfum of Jean-Louis Scherrer has long been discontinued (I found mine sealed on eBay. Miracles do happen), the EDT is still around, and rumor has it that the demon of reformulation has not taken its soul just yet, though being so oakmossy you know its days are numbered. Almost every retailer, online and off has it in stock, and for a reasonable price. Definitely worth checking out.

top image: Jean-Louis Scherrer Couture, 1986
bottle: mine

Thursday, September 11, 2008

This Day

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The F-Files

How did the summer treat your feet?

Even when doing the necessary regular maintenance, once summer is over and we take a good look at our feet, there's probably some work that needs to be done. I'm a DIY girl and have been experimenting and comparing three de-hooving tools over the last couple of months.

1. Diamancel Tough Buffer #11

I've had mine for the last seven or eight years and have been using it regularly. It's a heavy duty tool and I've yet to see a callus that can survive it. Operating is easy and the rubber grip is quite comfortable. The price is scary ($49), but it's durable and easy to clean, and as I said: it lasts for many years.

Pros: It works like magic, lasts forever
Cons: Messy and requires cleanup (best to use it in a dry bath tub), the wide surface makes it difficult to use on smaller parts of the feet, the buffer is suited for serious calluses but not as effective for final touches and a smooth finish. And, of course, the price.

2. The Ped Egg

It promises to save you the mess and gross cleanup, because the dead skin is supposed to go right into the compartment instead of fall on the floor. However, this is only partially true, because the smaller skin particles fall right out through the perforated part of the grater and there's still skin shavings to clean. Just like the Diamancel, it works better on the really bad parts, but leaves even more jagged skin in need of buffing. That's why they give you sand paper stickers to put on the back of the egg and finish the job. It definitely works. Too well, even, as I've discovered one day when I got really into the process. Unlike the grater that's famously safe to use on a balloon, the sand paper will flay you unless you know when to stop. Ouch.

Pros: Effective even on the roughest patches, cheap and widely available.
Cons: Still messy (despite the promises), the plastic isn't that easy for maintaining a good grip, requires extra buffing, you'll need to buy replacement parts every few month, both for the grater part and the buffing stickers.

3. Tweezerman Glass Pedicure File

After falling in love with crystal glass nail files, I decided to try a glass foot file. Tweezerman is just one of the companies offering this tool, as you can see if you either google it or follow the link in my nail file post. It soon became my favorite. While it requires a bit more effort that the Diamancel when dealing with really hard skin, it's still very effective. And it completely buffs the feet and makes them truly smooth.

Pros: price ($15), easy to clean and even disinfect, thin enough to reach every part of the foot, works amazingly well, does not require extra tools to achieve a smooth finish, lasts forever.
Cons: Leaves the usual mess, requires more work on really bad calluses.

Bottom line: While I'm not tossing out my trusted Diamancel, I'm using the glass file a lot more. A perfect pedicure combines both: a couple of strokes from the Diamancel to do the hard work, then the Tweezerman for an easy and smooth finish. The Ped Egg? I haven't touched it in over a month.

Diamancel products are available from several high-end retailers like Beauty.com . I'm pretty sure I bought mine from the Bliss catalog, but that was ages ago.
The Ped Egg is available from every drugstore and is easy to find online. I got it as a PR freebie.
Tweezerman have discontinued their glass pedicure file, but it's still available online at Amazon (where I bought mine), BeautyEncounter.com and several other sites. There are also other brands that make similar products. An online search yields dozens of results, all within the same price range.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Anatomy Of A Lemming: Balmain Ambre Gris

E-commerce and marketing experts do not usually hang out in perfume forums. Too bad, really, because the random stampedes that originate there are worth some serious exploring.

Take, for example, the case of Ambre Gris by Balmain.

Ambre Gris came out earlier this year and until last month was only available in Europe. This alone is reason enough to get all of us, crazy perfume people, twitching and yearning. Uncle Serge has made this into an art form, after all. A couple of months ago one of the more reliable e-tailers suddenly had it in stock and in an incredible price, to boot: Sephora France lists the 40 ml (1.3 oz) bottle for 38.10€ and the 75 ml for 55.40€. I saw the 100 ml (3.4 oz) bottle at Le Bon Marche in Paris for about 70 € (nearly $100). Compare this to the $25-$30 for the largest bottle that you were charged here!

The info spread quickly on every message board and related threads sprouted several times a day. I wish I knew exactly how many people made a purchase, but it seemed that just about everyone did. And the interesting part that separates the Ambre Gris phenomenon from the Chaos rush that followed a few weeks later was that almost everyone was buying blind without ever sniffing or sampling.

Part of the reason is the name. Ambregris is a highly regarded note, even in its synthetic or plant-derived substitute form. It conjures fantasies of precious materials, pungent scents and an air of mystery. Add to that the elegant grayish bottle (it is the season of gray, after all) even with the odd golden golf ball cap, and the reputation of the house of Balmain (looks like everyone manged to ignore the butchered reformulation of their classic Vent Vert), and what you get is biggest stampede since March made everyone crave Kenzo Jungle L'elephant.

Then the bottles started showing up on doorsteps across North America and the first disappointed threads appeared on the usual message boards. Why?

Mainly because there is nothing out-of-the ordinary, mysterious or especially unique about Ambre Gris and it won't take you on a journey to times and places where real ambergris was used in the great perfumes of yore. What you get in the heavy bottle is a modern juice that goes from light and airy (though not in the horrible aquatic way too commonly found) to very sweet. The official notes (translated from Sephora France): pink pepper, cinnamon, tuberose, immortelle, myrrh, gaïac wood, benzoin, white musks, ambergris.

Basically, people were hoping to get some exotic animalic funk, but instead found themselves with a huge bottle of candied wood.

The thing is, I like Ambre Gris. I actually sniffed and tried it in Paris (it was everywhere from Colette to Le Bon Marche). While I thought it was nice, it certainly wasn't worth the retail price. I had much better uses for my perfume budget. But when I had the opportunity to get a bottle for less than I've paid for any perfume in ages (if $25 wasn't good enough, there was also a 10% off code and free shipping). With minimal expectations this was a pretty good deal.

I find Ambre Gris to be a very wearable pretty little thing. The opening has the lightness of a late summer morning. It's cool and barely there (or maybe I'm half anosmic to something). The sweetness follows quickly. It's almost fruity (I blame the pink pepper and cinnamon), but the tuberose gives the heart a little kick before handing the torch to the pudding. The immortelle and benzoin lend the dry-down a decidedly gourmand feel. But for an ambery-vanillic base it still maintains an interesting clarity that makes the perfume more of a crystallized sugar than a heavy syrup. If you don't like sweet perfumes (think L'Occitane Amber or Givenchy Pi), you're not going to enjoy this one, either. But if you're fond of them, you might find that Ambre Gris is a friendly fragrance that (sprayed lightly) works surprisingly well even in hot summer days, and is sure to be just as nice when fall sets in.

But, you know what's really funny? While Ambre Gris seems to be easy to find now from several online discounters (just google it and you'll see), even if the price has gone up a little, LuckyScent, of all places, is now selling it (why?) for full Paris-worthy retail price (screen capture from their web site, because it's really hard to believe):

Bottle image: Balmain.com

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Already Waiting For Spring

WWD has the photos from the Diane von Furstenberg RTW Spring 2009 show. The colors and prints are fabulous, but as the WWD reporter has noticed, almost everything shown was on the dreamy, hippie side, and very little you can take to the office or a NYC dinner party. However, from past experience I think we have reasons to hope that the fabrics would also end up in other shapes and cuts. I know I'd be happy to meet many of them in a wrap dress or a little blouse one can pair with a denim skirt or classic white pants. The ones I'd take as is are the dress Diane herself was wearing and this cute striped one (minus the model's horribly bony legs):

Images: WWD

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Reality Check: Chanel Smoky Eye Quad

A couple of months ago, when I first got the sneak peak preview of Chanel's Smoky Eyes eye shadow quad (it was on the annoying promotional mini-site for the Exceptionnel mascara) I got a serious case of coveting. It looked utterly gorgeous.

Last week I got to play with it at my local Bloomingdale's. The compact is, indeed, beautiful (you can see the real-life photos taken by Annie of Blogdorf Goodman here. I'm not yet brave enough to attempt such a move, as the SAs here still give me enough dirty looks when I take my time testing and swatching. Apparently, I'm supposed to whip out my charge card just because they tell me "everyone looooves it"), but I didn't buy it.


I've always had issues with the smoky eye concept. The combination of a funky skin tone, dark circles and my age is making my first eye makeup priority be "try to look alive". While I use very dark colors on my lids and (upper) lash base because my lids are quite heavy and can use serious shading, I avoid any eye makeup on and under my lower lashes, and I always make sure that the rest of my eye area is "opened up" with a light wash of barely-there color. So my version of the look is the "half smoky" eye, where nothing is smudged downwards. Ever.

Now, the Chanel quad could have been the answer to my problem: all the colors, even the black one, are on the sheer side. The pigment is airy rather than dense, so there's no risk of looking like I just got a shiner. The thing is, what Smoky Eyes lack in pigment they compensate with shimmer. Lots and lots of shimmer. The white color, for example, doesn't show on me at all. It's a translucent base that holds tiny shimmery particles. Very pretty, but unless I was going clubbing or to a holiday party I wouldn't ever wear it. The black and the charcoal were seriously Halloween disco and the silver was pure shiny metal. Pretty, trendy, but not practical if you're me.

I really wanted a version of this look, but one that could actually work with my style and habits.there are several other smokey eye palettes on the market right now, and many, though shimmery, look more wearable than the Chanel (and they cost significantly less) with a better pigment/shimmer ratio. Worth checking: The Red Carpet Look or the Smoky eye quad from Stila, the Grey Eye from Du-Wop, Night Essence from Fresh and Guerlain L'Heure Fumee. I also took a good look at my already existing stash and realized I already have several black, charcoal, gray and silver eye shadows in various textures and finishes. I bet you have some, too (except you, Tom).

What I'm currently missing is a matte medium gray that can create the look for daytime. Bobbi Brown has exactly that: Slate (Steel also looks like a good option). I'd love to hear more suggestions.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Ten Fall Essentials

So what if the temperatures are in the 80s and the official start date of fall is the Equinox, September 23rd? These precious weeks of pre-season are good for planning our fall strategy. Colors, textures and scents. Here are the things that are making me forget that fall also means that it's about to get really really cold...

  • Skinny black pants
    If you're going to wear a longer cardigan or a top with some volume, a pair of black stretchy pants is your friends. As long as it's butt friendly. 
  • Lacy top
    Black, sexy and mysterious. Goes with jeans as well as with a pencil skirt.
  • Berry/pink- a subtle approach
    Pink, purple and berry tone are all the rage. I can't wear most, so instead I go for a pop of the color in a more palatable black and grey top.
  • Pencil skirt
    A classic. You need one.
  • Gray basics and accessories
    Who said it was boring? And gray nail polish is probably the edgiest item this season. Chanel Kaleidoscope or OPI You Don't Know Jacques are probably the most interesting.
  • Gray eye shadow
    You don't need to go all the way with a smoky eye, but a touch of gray on the lids works surprisingly well.
  • Dark lips
    Not just for goths. Choose a color that works for you: burgundy and plum are quite easy to wear.
  • Perfect skin
    Hopefully, we were all smart about skin protection during the summer. But extra TLC in the form of serums would do wonders. I'm still loving my old C booster from Remede but have been testing one from Chanel and there's a Guerlain sample on my shelf. And the new Secret de Vie serum just came out.
  • Tea
    I've been on a chocolate tea kick for a while now. My new favorite is chocolate-mint. 
  • Perfume
    Continuing the chocolate theme, Borneo 1834 from Serge Lutens is chocolate and  patchouli with a touch of tobacco, honey and camphor, to keep things interesting. Borneo 1834 is a Paris exclusive, but will be this year's limited edition export release. Coming soon to a Barneys near you.

    And a bonus one: The remake of the 1939 movie The Women is coming out September 12th. I'm a bit scared to see it what they've done to it, but won't be able to stay away. At least, we'll always have the classic.

1. Nanette Lepore lingerie lace top. $325 Neiman Marcus
2. M. Missoni double knit pants $295 Neiman Marcus
3. Stila Backstage Beauty Eye Shadow Palette - The Red Carpet Look $40 Sephora
4. Diane von Furstenberg Nadina blouse $198 Saks 5th Avenue
5. Serge Lutens Borneo 1834  €110 (the export edition is should be about $130)
6. Nars lip gloss Rose Gitane $24 Sephora
7. Diane von Furstenberg Cashmere Maia sweater $345 and wide leg Burnes pants $158.90
8. Chanel Kaleidoscope nail polish $20 Saks

Monday, September 01, 2008

An Encounter At The Mall: David Yurman Perfume

Or: Why I won't do a full review of it

I'm pretty sure the David Yurman perfume smells fabulous on many people. I'm just not one of them. There's something in the aggressive combination of florals that doesn't agree with me. The rose is of the kind that turns sour of me (YSL Paris has the same effect. I have a black wrist that destroys certain roses), the lily becomes Glade-like, and the overall impression is of that generic department store scent that combines the worst of the Lauder and Lancome counters, including the tenacity of their sales assistants (ten hours and some scrubbing later and it's still there).

It makes me think of padded shoulders, Jersey hair, Alexis Carrington and Nancy Reagan. Not something I want to experience enough times to write a review.

Image: DavidYurman.com.

Happy Labor Day!

Are you putting your white shoes away?

Stuart Weitzman shoes: Zappos.com