Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Cranky Shopper Returneth

I couldn't help it. My curiosity got the better of me and I found myself in front of the Yves Saint Laurent counter at Bloomingdale's looking for the black gloss. I had to see it for myself and try it on. But the first obstacle in my way was the deserted counter. No SA was to be found. Left to my own devices I started playing with the YSL HolidaySet: The Bow Collection and was quite impressed. I liked just about everything they had there, especially the four color eye shadow palette: rich pigments, the softest texture and just perfect colors. I decided to get it and probably also the Golden Burgundy gloss.

But where was the sales assistant?

A lady from the Guerlain counter was efficient enough to go and locate the YSL guy, who was deep in conversation somewhere around the Dior area. He wasn't happy about being disturbed. I asked about the black gloss. Sure, he said, producing a golden box from a drawer, but we don't have a tester and I can't open one.

Seriously? Am I supposed to blind buy a black lip gloss without actually seeing it in action?

The guy shrugged. We don't have a tester yet.

Do you sell many of these without a tester? Do you know how it's supposed to look?

Another bored shrug.

No "hopefully we'll get a tester next week/after the holiday/when Santa comes". No "leave me your number and I'll call as soon as we have one". No "Can I show you the Holiday Collection?". He was eager to get back to his conversation.

Guess who didn't get my business?

That's why they invented online shopping. There aren't any testers, but also no attitude.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Warm Fuzzies- Le Labo Vanille 44

I remember when the news first broke about the Le Labo Paris exclusive, Vanille 44, people were equally excited and disappointed. Some wondered what could be so special in a vanilla fragrance to justify the hype and the price (obviously they have yet to be introduced to Shalimar parfum), while others went into a vanilla coma based on the fantasy and the imaginary pleasure.

Then the first samples arrived and it became clear that once again, Le Labo aren't into accuracy in naming. While there's vanilla somewhere in the composition, this isn't about smelling like cupcakes (good), but those who hoped for a modern Shalimar offspring were disappointed. Still, the fragrance has created enough obsession, addiction and devotion. And of course irritation about the company's marketing methods.

I was ready to buy a bottle last summer when I was in Paris. But once I actually tried it on, I just couldn't see why I should. Granted, it was pleasant and wearable, but it didn't rock my world enough to justify the cost (it was during a week the US dollar was at its humblest point and the exchange rate was impossible. The price was somewhere north of $300).

I resisted when during the month of September you could get bottles at the Colette mini-store in NYC (it was a limited time thing), but I did go for a decant (The Perfumed Court has them), seeing as I liked it enough to want to have some on hand. I can't help it: Vanille 44 makes me happy in its weird little way.

It's not the vanilla, I can tell you that. What I'm getting is the rare creature of soft and warm incense, peppery on top, woody and fuzzy later on. It lacks any sharp edges or mysterious sexiness. Instead, there's a mellow, squishy musk and a mostly dry, smooth ambery base that works for me like a cashmere wrap.

It's called Vanille, but it's a grownup, unisex scent, more complex than meets the eye and nose at first. Had it been reasonably priced, I'd happily buy a bottle and indulge often. But at twice the price of a Lutens bell jar, I expect at least that level of greatness, which is just not there.

Le Labo Vanille 44 can only be purchased from Colette, Paris (their willingness to ship overseas is questionable). Samples and Decants can be purchased from The Perfumed Court. That's how I got mine.

Photo: Early morning in the Bois du Boulogne by Tara Bradford, Paris Parfait.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

10 Most Common Makeup Mistakes

Despite Jessica's Simpson effort to prove me wrong, I still think most of us don't really need the regurgitated advice most magazines seem to favor. Instead, let's talk about the more subtle things that can make or break our look.

1. Not Using Primer-
Eye primer and face primer not only make your makeup last longer, but they provide a smooth, receptive canvas for other products. You can use less foundation and get a better coverage. And they prevent color migration. Yes, it is an extra step, but it only adds about 30 seconds to the process. It's worth it, I promise.

2. Concealer Before Foundation-
If you're applying concealer to problem areas (zits, spots, uneven patches) before foundation, chances are that you're using more product than needed. Start with your foundation and spread it evenly. It gives some coverage and evens out things. Then add just enough concealer and blend it into your foundation. The result is more natural looking and far less likely to look caked.

3. Too Dark Foundation-
And I'm not even talking about the dreaded oompa loompa look. Between the weird lighting in department stores and our own tendency to look for coverage, it's very easy to choose too dark a foundation. Next time you're at your favorite counter ask for a sample of a foundation that's one shade lighter than what you're wearing. Test it under normal conditions. Chances are you're not as dark as you thought.

4. Not Using a Lip Liner-
Seriously. If you're wearing a dark lipstick, be it a sexy red or this season's vampy browns, you need a matching lip liner to outline and keep your lip color in place. Not doing so results in a sloppy look and color bleeding. Also, a liner in a natural shade would do wonders for your neutral colored lipstick and would make it last longer if you use it to fill the lips. Take a look at the comments on yesterday's post for more fabulous suggestions.

5. Bright And Shimmery Blush-
A blush is supposed to give you a naturally flushed look. Do you know anyone who actually blushes in shimmery coral? Me neither. Consider a muted rose or a gentle plum. If you want extra shimmer add it subtly where and when appropriate (which is rarely over your cheeks).

6. Old Mascaras-
Yes, I know the tube isn't empty yet, but there's a good reason you're told to toss your mascara after three months. All the air that's getting pumped inside every time you dip the brush in to it doesn't just make it a breeding ground for bacteria, but also dries the mascara out and makes it clumpy. And despite what you've been telling yourself, it shows.

7. Black Eyeliner-
Don't get me wrong: I love black eyeliner. It's sexy. However, even someone with my coloring doesn't need a very contrasting color for daytime. It can look very harsh, and if you're fair skinned or blonde it might look overdone and garish. There are so many better options, from the almost-black-but-not-quite to caramel. they will give you the contouring and definition in a modern, non-Amy Winehouse way.

8. Skipping Powder-
Powder has somewhat of a bad rap that's not necessarily justified. Of course, you don't want to go overboard or to look ashy (the result of too many "translucent" powders that are actually more white than naturally colored). But for a truly polished and natural face, you need a good finishing product that would even things out even more than your foundation does and would keep things in place. Opt for a pressed powder (easier to handle, less likely to look ghostly, travels better) that has a color to match your undertone. Apply with a good, thick brush (let the cat play with those cute puffs).

9. Penciled Eyebrows-
A penciled eyebrow looks painted and weird, even if you found the perfect color. It always surprises me to see how many women (otherwise well-informed and makeup savvy) make this mistake. Choose an eye shadow color that matches your hair color and apply with a thin, stiff angled brush using tiny strokes.

10. Clinging To Discontinued Products-
I know you loved that perfect eyeliner/lip gloss/stick foundation the evil people at the marketing department decided to discontinue. You loved it so much you wrote the company and had them send you every last scrape of it they had in their warehouse and then you haunted eBay for months searching for more. I did it, too. But it's time to let go. There are new and better formulas, updated and subtler shades and lots of new awesome products. There are constant improvement in textures and modern pigments. Today you wouldn't touch even the most luxurious lipstick or concealer from 10 years ago. They just don't measure up to the ones currently on the market, so why get stuck with an outdated look?

Image: Modern Mechanix

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bobbi Brown Moon Rock Long-Wear Eye Palette

The Good:
Pretty colors, my favorite eyeliner, small enough quantities of each color so it's not likely to dry out before I got a chance to use it, portable, great texture, long lasting (over an eye primer).

The Annoying:
What's with the brush? Despite what the picture above shows, the brush that came with my palette only has one side, the thicker one. It's too big to be effective for the eyeliners, but stiff and uncomfortable for cream eye shadows. Even an old school sponge applicator worked better than the brush (and I'm not above dipping my finger in the shimmery goo and going to town).

The Verdict:
The Moon Rock palette has been serving me well over the last month. It's my current staple for an elegant and fun evening look with a subtle shimmer. Its sister palette, Night Sky is just as pretty, but cool toned and the colors looked a bit too harsh on me.

Bobbi Brown Moon Rock Long-Wear Eye Palette ($55) is available online and from their department store counters. I got mine at Saks.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Magnifying Mirror Musings

I've always had a love-hate relationship with those magnifying mirrors in hotel bathrooms. Do I really want to get that closely acquainted with my pores and under-eye area just when I'm off the plane? Not to mention the lighting in those bathrooms was not designed to flatter, and who knows what I'll see when looking that closely.

On the other hand, they do make some tasks remarkably easier, not to mention precise, and I'm weird enough to enjoy looking at mascara wands up close and see exactly what they do for my lashes.

My solution has always been trying to focus on the less scary areas of the face and ignore the rest. Or just skip that evil mirror altogether...

On my most recent trip I got brave and really looked. It was somewhat of an ego boost to realize that even up close I have a better skin than certain (younger than me) celebrities. I also found out that such a mirror is very helpful in assessing your success in makeup removal. I liked it so much that now I'm considering getting a magnifying mirror for my bathroom at home.

Do you have one? How do you feel about these mirrors and what you see in them?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Image: Birthday Wish by Brandi Milne

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sephora by OPI I'm With Brad Nail Polish

Here's something you can add to your shortlist of life certainties: The one nail polish Jennifer Aniston would never wear: I'm With Brad from the Sephora by OPI collection.

Not all of the colors in the line were created equal. Looking at the in-store display, I couldn't help but think that too many of the bottles had a seventies drugstore reject thing going on (read: cheap looking). But there are more than enough pretty and interesting shades. I got my mother a bottle of Let's Do Lunch, an elegant coral-beige, her seasonless signature color.

I was looking for something super dark, but yet different than all the other dark burgundy versions I already own. I'm With Brad was a perfect choice and is currently working hard in my fall-winter rotation. Sephora's web site describes it as "shimmering wine over dark coffee", which is another way of saying "reddish Coca-Cola". In any case, it's pretty, sexy and dark without going into Elvira's territory.

Application, as with most OPI polishes, is easy and smooth. Even I didn't manage to get it to streak. A single coat can be enough, but I like to use two to get the exact color of the bottle. Without a top coat, the first chips appeared after a couple of days, but when using one the polish lasts 6-7 days and looks great.

I'm not really a Brad fan, but when it comes to this polish, it really is Jen's loss.

Sephora by OPI nail polish ($9) is available from every Sephora store and online. I bought mine at my local mall.

photos: mine

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ask the Non-Blonde: Avoiding "Plane Hair"

Lisa from Boston is asking:
"My hair seems to be like yours: long, wavy and very thick. It's quite dry, but I'm good at keeping it shiny and happy. Except when I travel. Do you have any advice about how to keep hair from becoming frizzy, smelly and dry?"

I know the feeling. Flights aren't exactly a trip to the spa, with their germy, dry, recycled air. This is the one occasion I slather thick coats of products over every part of me, from hair to feet. So, the answer is in the goop.

I wash my hair a few hours before boarding the plane (the night before, if it's obscenely early), and work a considerable amount of a rich hair cream into it. I like Carol's Daughter hair balm, because it's very moisturizing and a little of it is more than enough. Also, the very strong scent wards off airplane smells. You do need to be careful and not overdo it with this product, as if your hair is not very thick, it'll get stringy/greasy. But the right amount for the right hair would do the job. You can also pick a drugstore leave-in conditioner (TreSemme anti-frizz smoothing creme or Garnier Fructis. Both are good, but I don't like their scents), and do the same.

Once thoroughly gooped, I put my hair up in a (big, heavy) bun and forget about it until I reach my destination. A quick wash and my hair is as happy and shiny as ever, no trauma and no need for a rescue treatment.

Image: 'La Bell Dame Sans Merci' by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917). That's one interesting use for long hair.

L'Occitane Immortelle Cleansing Foam

While my mother is a big fan of L'Occitane's Immortelle skin care line, none of the creams has ever worked for me (this range is designated for mature skin, and I'm not quite there yet). This means I didn't have a good reason to buy their cleansing foam, other than the packaging: I picked it up months ago when I needed a travel-friendly cleanser, and the 5.1 oz pump bottle looked just about right.

I used it for the two weeks I was away in June and loved it. Then I put my travel bag away and promptly forgot about it until this week when I had to pack again. That was one happy reunion.

Everything about this foam is fabulous: the delicate scent, a light and airy texture, and most of all: performance. I find that it removes every last trace of makeup, including stubborn mascara (hello, Givenchy!), while giving my face the softest feel. There's no need for a once-over with a toner and my face doesn't scream for mercy afterwards.

I don't know about the promise for brightening: A product that you wash off quickly can't do much in that department. But I can tell you that it does my skin a world of good in the softness and smoothness department, and I love that it's the first and last stop I need for cleansing and makeup removing.

L'Occiatne Immortelle Cleansing Foam ($24) is available online and from every L'Occitane store. I bought mine at my local mall.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The Position by Meg Wolitzer. Sex and the Seventies.

Everything I've Got In My Pocket from Minnie Driver's first album. Yes, that Minnie Driver. And she's surprisingly good.

Frequently worn outfit/item
An Elie Tahari black zippered cardigan. I loved it so much I got another one in gray.

Organza Indecence. Perfect vanilla and spice.

Bobbi Brown Palettes. Both the Mauve and the newest one.

Mac & Cheese.

Water. Though this is really time for Champagne.

Guilty Pleasure
See above, under Food.

Bane of my existence
Hotel rooms with no wi-fi and too few electric outlets.


Carrying your essential cosmetics in those ziplock baggies for air travel is getting very old, very fast. It's not the lady with the La Mer who is a potential terrorist.

What are your current loves and banes?

Image: Brandi Milne- Let's Eat Cake

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Pacifica Solid Perfumes: Cute Things In Small Packages

As you can see, Lizzy and Giselle found these little pots of Pacifica Solid perfumes to be quite entertaining (then again, they are highly amused with twist ties, bottle caps, the zipper of my favorite hoodie and each other's tail). I enjoyed the cute packaging (they would make nice stocking stuffers) and portability: These tins are smaller than several of my lip balms.

Like most solid perfumes, these ones from Pacifica are low in sillage and stay very close to the skin, while still being detectable if you get close enough. It makes me think that they'd be ideal when one is stuck in a very small space, like on a flight (there's some travel in my very near future, so I think at least one of these tins are boarding the plane with me. The size is TSA-friendly). I apply them to the back of my hand (I like the smooth, waxy feel), so sniffing it to block those horrid airplane smells is another good use.

Out of the ones I tested, Spanish Amber is my favorite. While it's no Ambre Sultan, there's still enough richness and depth even in such a simple product, and the tenacity is great. When applied just before bed, I could still smell traces of it in the morning. My other favorite is Mexican Cocoa, a guilty gourmand indulgence of chocolate, spice and vanilla. Not for the boardroom or a night in the opera, but fun and comforting when you need it. The one that gave me serious issues was the very popular Tibetan Mountain Temple. I wanted to love this incense blend (ginger and a promise for vetiver and patchouli), but had a Serge Noir flashback: all curry, all the time. So I'm sticking with the sweet ones (and would have loved an enviromental oil in Avalon Juniper. It's clean, sharp and green, just like I'd love my house to smell on a winter morning. And maybe also laundry products).

Pacifica solid perfumes ($8.95 each) are available online from the company's website and can also be found at select Whole Foods stores. I receives these lot as a PR freebie.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Day

Monday, November 03, 2008

Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums: Musc Ravageur

What makes a perfume sexy?

When I was very young, I felt it was all about the big chypres. I wore Paloma Picasso and Eau de Soir (the potent, pre-reformulation stuff) and felt ready to take on the world and every man in it. From there, I moved on to big floriental, especially with a rich vanilla and/or amber base. Tiffany, Panthere de Cartier and Jil Sander no. 4 were my equivalent and accompaniment to black lace and a push-up bra. I'll put Tom Ford Black Orchid in this category with my old favorites. It definitely feels right at home there.

Then I discovered musks, leathers, sophisticated vanillas and the femme fatale of them all, Shalimar.

Musks are weird creatures. There are the so-called dirty ones (Miller Harris L'Air de Dien, Serge Lutens MKK and CB Musk Reinvention, all turn into sweet cuddly creatures on my skin), the pretty ones (Serge Lutens Clair de Musc, safe to wear at any and every situation, layers beautifully with other SL scents), the ones to which I'm completely anosmic (SJP Lovely, Escentric Molecules, Narciso Rodriguez and most Egyptian musks I ever came across) and then there are the sweet, often gourmand ones, where musk is paired with vanilla, almond (Leah St. Bart) or cocoa (Musc Maori). They are regarded as comfort scents just as often (if not more) than they are considered sexy. And yet, we all have heard how men prefer gourmand in general and vanilla in particular. There's the legend of Shalimar and other Guerlains with their sweet tonka base, and there must be a reason young women who came of age in the 90s and later consider smelling "yummy" an advantage in the men-alluring arena, and translate it to smelling like cupcakes.

This is the reality into which Musc Ravageur was born.

From the name it is clear what was on Maurice Roucel's mind when he created Musc Ravageur for Editions de Parfum Frederic Malle. It belongs to the same school of thought as Shalimar: An oriental with a sharp, bracing opening that softens up and goes seductively smooth and rich, and on the right skin makes the elves sing (think Lord of the Rings, just with very little clothes. Thank me later for the mental image).

The reason it's supposed to be so sexy and bone jumping ready is the way Musc Ravageur quickly turns into a velvety skin scent. The foody elements aren't about dessert, but they would make you want to bury your nose in some skin, just because it's that pleasant. But is it really about sex? Is this what you're supposed to wear for a steamy night?

I find that Musc Ravageur develops better and is sexier on warmer skin, either in hot weather or in a well-heated room. Otherwise, the cedar and sandalwood are more prominent than the vanilla (not that there's anything wrong with it). If there's one thing I'm not smelling here is musk, but there's plenty of other stuff to enjoy, and the overall result is pleasurable and satisfying, so I guess that, yes, this is a sexy scent.

But I still find Shalimar more daring.

The official notes are:
Top Notes- Lavender, Bergamot.
Middle Notes- Clove, Cinnamon.
Base Notes- Gaiac wood, Cedar, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Tonka, Musk

Photo and clip: From Here to Eternity (1953).

Frederic Malle Editions de Parfum scents are exclusive to Barneys in the USA (I got mine at the NYC store) and can also be ordered online from the company's web site. The 3X10 ml travel spray package ($85) is my favorite. I wish more companies would offer this option instead of big bottles with more juice than I could use in three lifetimes.