Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spring 2009: Zoya Twist

As you can see, I'm not the only one in this household who thinks nail polish is fun.

Twist is the new collection from Zoya for spring 2009, and it has both traditional springy colors and a couple that are more related to what we've been wearing all winter. My current favorites are Harley, a delicate shimmering dove gray and Malia, a cream violet that's not the easiest to wear (I'm not completely sure I don't look like a corpse bride when sporting it), but is just very pretty. I love looking at Jo, the metallic sky blue, but I can't bring myself to wear it.

The happy pink ones are a too bright for my hands but would make a fabulous summer pedicure (Barbie- shimmering soft pink, Cassi- shimmering soft peach and Moxi-a red plum cream). As always, Zoya proves that a nail polish without the most harmful chemical can be of the highest quality and last for over a week (the cream ones fade slightly and are more likely to chip, but even they remain perfect for 5-6 days with top and base coat).

Zoya nail polish ($6 for one bottle) is available at many fine salons and online from I got the sampler set as a PR freebie.

All photos are mine. Models: Lizzy, Buffy, Kosh and Giselle

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Serge Lutens Muscs Kublai Khan: Beauty And The Beast

People reading this post can be put into two categories: those who know what MKK stands for and those who don't. If you're in the first group, most chances you have a firm opinion about it.

MKK stands for Muscs Kublai Khan, a perfume from Serge Lutens non-export line. It's what we tend to call a "dirty musk" (mostly to differentiate it from the modern clean musks that evoke nothing but a laundry detergent) , though opinions on the level of dirtiness in this fragrance vary greatly. If you google Muscs Kublai Khan and dig enough, you would find colorful reviews, mentions of horses, genitalia and horses' genitalia. Which is where I make the "whatcha talking 'bout?" face.

I cannot argue with the fact MKK smells "raw", which probably translates to "animalic" for some. I've heard rumors of cumin, but I don't get any at all. Quite the opposite, actually, if we agree that a cumin note in perfume represents the dirty and the sweaty. What I'm getting is actually clean, sweet and warm. The dirty part is not the scent itself, but the warm skin feel it evokes and all the things one might associate with a skin in this state. In his review for Perfume Smellin' Things, my scent twin Tom called it "clean bodies in compromising positions", and that's exactly right.

I can't say I get any of the Mongolian warrior associations of the name. There's nothing horrifying, violent or medieval about Muscs Kublai Khan (but Serge Lutens is known for his interesting way with words. This is the man who named his most recent release "Nuits de Cellophane", whatever that means). On my skin it's a thing of beauty and has nothing to do with the great unwashed. It's also incredibly strong and persistent, even after the big show of the ultra sweet top notes fades away.

It's so strong, actually, that anything more than a couple of dabs can get extremely distracting. Over apply and you will keep smelling MKK, thinking about MKK, feeling MKK. It will occupy your thoughts in a NSFW way, so be careful. Another word of warning: Muscs Kublai Khan is meant to be dabbed and not sprayed. I'm saying this as someone who prefers to spray just about anything and regularly decants parfum extracts into mini atomizers. I did the same with MKK and it's just wrong. You don't want to cover a lot of skin with this, and spraying releases way too much. A discreet dab or two where it matters is all you need, and maybe half a dab on your wrist for a quick fix throughout the day (somehow planting my nose in the cleavage isn't all that graceful).

Muscs Kublai Khan (75 ml, 110 €) is a Paris exclusive, which means you can only buy it directly from the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. I bought mine when I was there last summer, but if you live in Europe you can order it either online or by phone. They do not ship elsewhere in the world. Samples (and please sample several times before you even think of asking your aunt Sally to bring you one from Paris. See the horse references above) are available from The Perfumed Court.

Photo: 'Beauty and the Beast', Sydney Dance Company, 1993

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Laura Mercier Matte Eye Colour

Earlier this season I spent weeks trying to find the perfect eye shadow. It had to be matte, gray but without blue undertone, silky, very pigmented and to be... just right.

I tried many, bought a few, and learned the many nuances of taupe. But none was quite it, until I came across the matte eye shadows from Laura Mercier. Coffee Ground is as perfect as it gets for me: a charcoal dark taupe/brown, on the cool side but without any blue in the base, so it's perfectly balanced and very flattering. I use it liberally in the crease, as my eyes are somewhat heavy lidded. It would make a perfect smoky eye if you're so inclined, and for the pale would double duty as a liner/brow filler.

The quality is top notch. I use an eye primer, and the shadow stays on from morning till night with no hint of giving up, creasing or fading. It's easy to apply, looks silky smooth and spreads and holds beautifully (I use Sephora Professional crease brush).

It's my top pick lately and the one I reach for 3 out of four times.

I bought mine at Sephora ($22), where Laura Mercier products are available in store and online. You can also find them at Saks, Neiman and Bergdorf.

Photo credits: mine. Models: Gracie ( the pretty calico) and Giselle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Vero Profumo Rubj- Prozac In A Bottle

It's January. The new year is not nearly as exciting as it seemed last month, Valentine's Day is still weeks away, and no matter what the rodent from Pennsylvania is going to say on February 2nd, we still have a couple of months of insanely cold days, dirty snow and icy roads ahead of us.

Am I depressing you? I know I've got a raging case of the ho-hums, the doldrums and the "why don't I just move to L.A.?" all wrapped into one. This calls for some serious sunshine-in-a-bottle, and my current pick in the category is Rubj, Vero Kern's creation.

I was not supposed to like it. A white floral, quite heavy on the jasmine, is not something I'd necessarily choose to wear. But there's something in Rubj that seems to speak to many and triggers many different interpretations of this scent (just check the list of other bloggers' reviews at the end of the post).

What I'm getting varies on the day and the weather. I wore it on some of the hottest and most humid days last summer and felt like I was entering a greenhouse, full of lush blooms. There was more than a hint of tuberose, though I couldn't find Queen T in any list of notes. It almost felt protective, a barrier between my skin and the poisonous air. But in winter, Rubj feels like a promise. It's still opulent and petal-like, a good reminder of days to come. And it's such a happy scent, full of sunshine, thanks to the orange blossom, and very much alive. The jasmine is all flesh and blood (a nice way to say indolic, I guess) and makes one feel very much alive even before the musk makes appearance. I'm not sure what kind of musk it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's somewhat related to the one in CB Musk, since my skin makes it sweet with a berry note. The musk is not overly strong, it's just makes the scent more rounded and grounds the flowers so they don't shriek like too many orange blossom-jasmine combos.

Skin chemistry makes a huge difference here: I had my mom try it last summer, and on her the flowers were more light and airy and the whole thing far less carnal than what I'm experiencing. She wears white florals a lot better than me, so no surprises here, except for the fact we both like Rubj, just for different reasons.

All three Vero Profumo's creations (Kiki and Onda are the other ones) are in parfum concentration, strong and extremely long lasting. The sillage will not clear the room as long as it's sanely applied. Can this be worn by a man? Yes. See Nathan's review below.

More reviews of Rubj can be found here:
Tom for Perfume Smellin' things
Perfume Shrine
Perfume Posse

And in The Guide, Luca Turin smells rose in Rubj. I have no idea what he's talking about, but if any of you got a rose, please say so and I'll try harder...

Rubj ($185 for 7.5 ml, as well as Kiki and Onda) is available in the US from Luckyscent. It can also be purchased directly from Vero's web site, where there's also an excellent sample set of all three.

art: Waiting For My Butterfly by Victoria Montesinos.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Liz Earle Superskin Concentrate: Another Month, Another Serum

My quest for the holy grail of serums continues.

Liz Earle Superskin Concentrate smells divine. It's all about essential oils and nourishing ingredients, from argan oil (a Moroccan nut. You'll find the orange hued pure oil costing an arm and a leg at upscale delis. It's great for your salad) to the more pedestrian avocado and rose hip. The addictive scent comes from neroli and lavender, and I'm writing a note to self about checking out the body care range, because I really want to smell like that.

The problem is that as a serum, Superskin Concentrate doesn't meet my needs. It's supposedly an over achiever product: nourishing mature skin, calming and balancing a more active face. I don't fall under any of these categories, but even so, a girl has some needs. My ideal serum is an active, chock-full of vitamin C and skin ingredients promoting cell renewal product, and this Liz Earle potion simply isn't what I'm after.

If used right after cleansing, it just sits there before sinking in and making my face feel over-saturated, even though it doesn't actually get oily and never clogs pores. But it makes me not want to add another layer of moisturizer. For mature skin, the recommendation is to moisturize first and then apply the serum, but my face liked this option even less.

I didn't use a vitamin C product during the weeks of testing Superskin Concentrate, and the results were obvious to me: less glow and some flaking in the areas prone to skin delinquency, which forced me to do more exfoliating than I like just to maintain decent appearance. Back to square one, serum-wise.

Liz Earle Superskin Concentrate ($70 for 1 oz) is available from the company's website. I got mine as a PR freebie.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cartier So Pretty- Naughty And Nice

A couple of months ago I was wearing So Pretty as my scent of the day when my husband made the observation this Cartier perfume might be the most feminine scent I own. This isn't completely true, but there's no doubt that my shelves host more unisex, masculine or weird fragrances than delicate ladylike ones. But So Pretty is more than just a pretty little thing.

So Pretty is one of the most aptly named perfumes you will find. It belongs in the same category with Annick Goutal Grand Amour and Guerlain Chamade. They are all beautifully and seamlessly blended, not relying too heavily on any of the floral notes as to make it too obvious, smelling rich, sophisticated and drying down into a smooth base that has not even a hint of gourmand leanings. It's not that Chamade, Grand Amour and So Pretty smell similar. But something about them calls to mind a certain type of femininity and elegance which seems a bit out of place in a world where the cover of Vogue is occupied by a Gossip Girl actress and people care about Miley Cyrus.

According to the Cartier web site, the three foundations of So Pretty are rose, iris and sandalwood. Nordstom also mentions fruit and orchid, and I definitely smell both. Basenotes adds musk, but I have no idea what they're talking about. In The Guide, Tania Sanchez calls it 'a blackcurrant chypre' and compares it to Mitsouko. I think she's got it right, and So Pretty does have that classic feel, even if it's not your ass-kicking oakmoss chypre. What I love about So Pretty is how well it manages to be intoxicating without any of the issues I often have with rose-heavy scents. The iris is ethereal, not earthy, the wood more balsamic than creamy, and there's some unexpected backbone to the drydown. It's a lady, but she has a past.

For a long time there were rumors about So Pretty being discontinued. It looks like the result of Cartier getting a tighter hold over the distribution: Many discounters no longer have it in stock, and those who do, only got the EDT. However, both Nordstrom (online, too) and Bloomingdale's still carry the EDP ($100 for 1.6 oz) and both formulations are listed on Cartier's official web site, thus promising that at least for now, So Pretty is alive and well.

This review is for the EDP, which has impressive sillage and easily stays on my skin for more than 12 hours. My first bottle from around 2001 was a gift and bought at one of the local department stores (or maybe Sephora, before they began to suck). I since got another one when one of the discounters still had the eau de parfum. It smells exactly the same as my original one, and a quick testing at Bloomingdale's a few weeks ago didn't detect any changes, either.

Image: Cartier white gold pendant from their Panthere collection. Want.

A New Dawn

Monday, January 19, 2009

International Orange Bath And Body Products

A couple of months ago, before going away for a full week out west, I realized I needed to overhaul and repack my supplies. That was one of those times when what used to be my linen closet and has slowly converted into a beauty product Aladdin's Cave has come in handy, as I found a set of travel size items from International Orange, a San Francisco spa and yoga center (named after the color of the Golden Gate Bridge). The 1-2 oz bottles were the perfect size, and had exactly what I needed: deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion.

The first thing I noticed when started testing was the scent. It was exactly what one would expect from a swanky spa: first grade essential oils, all smelling live, herbal and utterly intoxicating. Looking at the ingredient list on each bottle, the products seem to live to their promise of being all natural (the web site also says "organic", but the bottles don't). There aren't any active ingredients other than plant extracts and oils and no synthetic fillers, stabilizers, SLS, parabens or anything one needs to look up at those scary safety guides online (you know the ones: you type in what's in your lip gloss and the site tells you it's carcinogenic). Almost everything has bergamot and other citrus oils (take that, IFRA), and there's also crisp lavender and dreamy jasmine.

So, everything smelled great. It (almost) transformed a standard Vegas hotel shower into a dreamy spa (if only the water pressure was up to par). The shampoo and hair cream were nice and would satisfy anyone with normal hair, but my thick mane needs a little more TLC, especially when it comes to conditioning, so the 2 oz jasmine-tuberose cream was depleted long before the week was over.

My favorites were the gentle body wash (lavender bergamot) and the body lotion. The latter with its white lotus, bergamot and tuberose scent combination and aloe leaf, safflower, avocado and jojoba oil base (plus shea butter, wheat germ oil and lots of other goodies) is absolutely amazing. It goes on a bit more sticky than I like, but absorbs quickly and leaves the skin nice and soft. I wish the scent lingered longer, but it doesn't and 20 minutes later I can apply perfume. Of course, it makes me crave tuberose...

The one product I dearly suggest you avoid is the deodorant. Sorry, but grape alcohol and rosemary extract do not make a good anti-stinker. Thankfully, I've learned to be suspicious of all-natural underarm products and had backup (and wet wipes in my bag). Otherwise I would have been found frantically scouring the area for the nearest CVS. The liquid in the bottle might make a good pillow spray, but don't expect it to do anything other than smell calming.

IO products are available from the spa's website. The large samples/travel size ones I got were a PR freebie.

Image: bergamot from

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Le 2 de Guerlain Mascara

I have to confess that the reason I bought the Guerlain Le 2 de Mascara was the sleek packaging. It was so different than the common black plastic tubes. And it was shiny.

I also liked the concept of two differently shaped brushes in one tube. A famous makeup artist trick for superb lashes is to apply two coats of two different mascaras, and Le 2 seems to be using this concept to make sure each and every lash is painted.

Basically, you have the regular wand and a smaller one, curved at a 7 degrees angle which is supposed to reach the corners more easily. It's not a new idea- several companies offer similar brushes, but this is the only one I've come across that has both.

The mascara itself is quite thick and you need to apply carefully and lightly or you'll have too much goop that makes the lashes clamp together. Even when I got it right, a lash comb was still necessary for optimal results. The length/volume effect was satisfactory but not outstanding, and I liked how black and well-defined my lashes looked. But the best thing about Le 2 and what makes it worth the price tag is how it actually curls the lashes and keeps the shape for hours (because of the thick consistency).

I can actually skip the Shu when using Le 2 de Guerlain, and if I don't and go all out with it, I get the most perfect curl that lasts for at least half a day. For my long but straight lashes, this is quite an achievement.

Like all thick mascaras, removing it requires some work and a good cleanser.

The one I got was the limited edition Butterfly Sparkle mascara from the Holiday Collection. The tube is even prettier than the regular (silver with an etched butterfly), and the mascara in the smaller part is a shimmery lavender that you apply over the regular black at the tips and corners. It's a cute concept and not too shiny, but I can't say I really need to have sparkly purple lashes. I put it on for nights out and such, but next time I'll be getting the regular black/black.

Le 2 de Guerlain Mascara ($35) is available from Sephora and every decent department store. I got mine from Neiman Marcus. Most stores still have the Butterfly Sparkle in stock, if you feel the need for it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Serge Lutens Chergui

Maybe I should have saved reviewing Chergui until the week of Valentine's Day. It's such a romantic scent, one that calls to mind passion and intimate spaces more than the devastating eastern wind of the Moroccan desert (I wonder if there's some hidden meaning in the fact two of my most favorite perfumes in the world are named after the dry winds of Morocco. The other one, of course, is Andy Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain). But I'm on a serious Serge kick lately, so why not?

Chergui is an equal opportunity beauty. Not an androgynous unisex, but a scent that works beautifully on both male and female, creating an intoxicating atmosphere around its wearer without resorting to a gender cliché. After all, everyone wants to smell a little honeyed, warm, with a bit of the outdoors and a lot of sex appeal.

It took me a while to get the hey note. Actually, I didn't notice it until I tested Chergui side by side with another Serge Lutens honeyed wonder, Fumerie Turque. The latter's dry smoke made the hey stand out, just the way a similar test against the chewy Ambre Sultan shows Chergui's dryness. It also brought forth the iris note with its leathery connotations, adding to the scent's incredible richness and complexity.

Chergui is a surprisingly quiet scent, though its longevity is very impressive (10-12 hours). You'd think it should be reserved for the cold months, but despite the decidedly fall/winter notes (according to Luckyscent: honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, hay sugar, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood), this fragrance blooms beautifully in the summer heat. It's dry enough not to get cloying, instead it radiates and shows a clean, stark facade.

Chergui used to be a Paris exclusive (meaning a bell jar that could only be purchased at the Salon), but a couple of years ago it was released as the limited edition export gift from Uncle Serge to his loyal fans in the rectangular bottle with the higher price tag ($130, if I remember correctly, before the ones in the black labels were promoted to $140). Something has shifted lately at the Palais Royal, and just like how several of the other non-export have found their way to Bergdorf, Aedes and Scent Bar, Chergui has been repackaged with a cream label like the rest of the line and is priced like them at $120 (the Haute Concentration ones, as well as Vetiver Oriental, are still have the black label and the higher price tag).

In a recent interview for Bois de Jasmin, Mr. Lutens has said: "The great problem of commercial perfumery is that people keep buying it!". I believe that a big part of the reason people keep buying mainstream drek is the fact it's readily available. Making the good juice a little easier to find without a trip to Paris and getting lost trying to locate the boutique might be an important step in steering the potential consumer in the right direction. A bottle of Chergui (or any of the regular exports) costs the same as that horrible David Yurman Eau de Jersey Mall (I live here. I can say it). Maybe now a few more people would reach for the good stuff.

Chergui is now available at the better department stores and niche fragrance boutiques on my side of the pond, as well as their equivalents in the UK and the rest of Europe. I bought mine at Barneys.

Photo: Sea of Sand by Declan McCullagh. The description says: "Wind whips the sea of sand in the Sahara Desert across a lone paved road, creating near-whiteout conditions". I thought it was fitting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger

Almost every perfume enthusiast has a story about an unpredictable scent. One that can smell heavenly one day but send them scrubbing the next. It can be mood, season, time of the month and whatever else affect both are skin and our scent perception. Some people sell or swap these bottles only to re-purchase them a week later, wear the perfume for an entire blissful week, completely certain they really got it now, have enough of it soon after, get rid of the bottle... repeat as necessary.

Except for the selling and buying again, I've had a similar relationship with Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger. I've gone through many samples, being utterly in love with its warmth and luminosity, dropped by Aedes to buy the bottle only to spray it one last time at the store and decide it wasn't really working. Then I'd buy something else, request a sample or two of FdO and go through the whole process again.

When Fleurs d'Oranger works it's simply magnificent. While I'm usually mortally afraid of a tuberose-jasmine-orange blossom combination, this one is smooth and balanced without any of the shrieky, flesh eating tendencies of too many white florals (that's what Datura Noir is for). Even the cumin here is well-behaved and only adds a hint of humanity, unlike the gutters and back alleys of Arabie and Serge Noir.

What I get from FdO on a good day is sunshine. It's a scent that can make everything better and radiates optimism and promise. Oh, and it's incredibly sexy. Not in a creature of the night kind of way, but instead by being open and womanly, giving hints of a lacy undergarment under the white silk blouse. It's confidence in a bottle, and some days I absolutely crave it.

The off days find me and Fleurs d'Oranger fighting about who wears whom, with the juice reminding me how I'm not really a floral person and why don't I just go and drown myself in that MKK bell jar. It loses the balance and lets the jasmine have the upper hand, smelling too sharp and cheap. So scrubbing I go.

But I have learned to trust my instinct. When I crave FdO is when I know it's going to be a good day. I have a bottle now, after my husband heard me fawning once too many times and surprised me with it to my utter delight. Incidentally, I haven't had a bad FdO day ever since. I also learned to layer it. At the suggestion of Ida, the fairy godmother of all bloggers, I tried it with a hint of Cuir Mauresque and got the equivalent of my Pucci boots: it stops traffic. Fleurs d'Oranger also works beautifully with Rousse, MKK and with incense scents. I've tried it with Chaos and with CdG Hinoki to good results (someone at the Palais Royal is having an aneurysm right about now).

The bottom line: I love it. Sometimes I stay away for several weeks, but then I have a FdO day and it's all good.

Fleurs d'Oranger ($120) is available both in the 50 ml export bottle everywhere Uncle Serge graces with his other perfumes, and in the Palais Royal exclusive bell jar (75 ml, 110 €). My bottle came from Bergdorf.

Art: White Ladies by JalinePol, from
Vinings Gallery.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bittersweet- Serge Lutens Douce Amere

I first tested Douce Amere by Serge Lutens during a hot summer a few years ago. I was entranced by it and didn't care whatsoever that I was probably fumigating my surroundings and every poor soul, feline and human, unlucky enough to share my space. I went through several samples and eventually bought a bottle. I also learned moderation.

Douce Amere means bitter sweet, but my skin is a sweetness amplifier and I need to really pay attention if I want to smell the interesting parts hiding under the licorice. The wood reveals itself rather quickly (cedar, but I could swear I also get some creamy sandalwood. Note to self: try layering with Tam Dao and see if you survive. Preferably on a day you're not planning on leaving the house) and there's a persistent medicinal green bitterness. It took me a while to train my nose to identify the marigold, being familiar with a much bolder approach in Niki de Saint Phalle. But it's there, doing its thing and keeping Douce Amere from going fully into the gourmand territory of anise cookies.

The result is a seductive, nose-to-wrist wonder, but not necessarily what one would call yummy. It's something I wear for myself and is good for brooding more than as a comfort scent. The dry down remains close to the skin for hours, and it's then that you realize it's much more unisex than it seemed before, as the spiced wood takes center stage. I've tried layering with Rousse and Louve (separately) and I hear it also plays well with Un Bois Vanille (but what doesn't?). However, I find Douce Amere rich and interesting enough by itself.

Douce Amere ($120) is part of the Serge Lutens export line and is available at the best department stores as well as at the usual suspects Aedes, Scent Bar and Beauty Habit. I'm not completely sure, but I think I bought my bottle at Neiman's. Samples can be purchased from Aedes, The Perfumed Court and Posh Peasant.

Image: New York Movie by Edward Hopper, probably my favorite artist.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Favorite Things 2008

In what has now become a blogging tradition, a group of us (Many thanks to Grayburn for all the hard work) brings you our favorite things of the year. I recently went through my lists from previous years (2006 and 2007), wondering if I should write a post about which products have become perennial loves, but quickly realized I'd have to copy almost the entire post. More than 90% of the previous years favorites are things I've repurchased and still using regularly.

So here it is, not necessarily new releases, but all are items I discovered and loved in 2008. Links go to my original reviews.

1. Skin Care: Liz Earle cleansing products
Gentle, effective and smelling good. What more can you ask from something you put on and wash off?

2. Bath and Body: Bliss Sesame Carrot Scrub
The scent alone is good enough to be included in this list, but it also provides excellent exfoliation and skin softening. If only they had a matching body butter.

3. Hair Care: L'Occitane hair products
Shampoos, conditioners and hair masks that made a huge difference: My hair looks and feels better and I'm using less goop than ever before. And everything smells great.

4. Hair Styling: Sebastian Whipped Creme
The one product I do use on a regular basis. It's whipped cream for the hair, define curls without making them crunchy, sticky or anything other than soft, manageable hair. Imagine that!

5. Nail Polish: OPI-The French Collection
There was something about this collection that stood out among all the other seasonal/limited editions and other new polishes. The colors managed to look both edgy and elegant, while offering something to everyone. You Don't Know Jacques, a dark taupe, is probably the most memorable, with Tickle Me France, a nude mauve that should become a classic.

6. Palette: Bobbi Brown Mauve
Bobbi Brown is the undisputed Queen Of Palettes. The Mauve one from fall 2008 might be my favorite one so far. Yes, even more than the Chocolate. Muted, flattering colors with only a hint of shimmer and the prettiest blush one could ask for have made it into a makeup bag essential for me.

7. Lipstick: Chanel Rouge Allure in Attitude
As always, I find myself buying and wearing more Chanel lip color than any other brand. Rouge Allure lipstick in Attitude seems to work for just about everyone. A rosy red (reddish rose?) with just enough personality and completely wearable. And like all Rouge Allure products, it's kind to the lips.

8. Foundation: Benefit You Rebel (Lite) and Some Kind Of Gorgeous
Both the tinted moisturizer and cream-to-powder foundation made my life easier. Perfect light texture, sheer coverage that still performs beautifully and gives that most-wanted even look.

9. Powder: Laura Geller Balance-n-Bronze
A finishing powder with a hint of bronzer that matched my skin like nothing else. How good is this one? I'm already on my second compact.

10. Mascara: Givenchy Phenomen'Eyes
No lash left behind. In a year full of gimmicks, this mascara delivers like nothing else. Not for the faint of heart, but when I want to go all the way, this is my mascara of choice.

11. Perfume: Onda by Vero Profumo
Reminding us what perfume can and should be, Vero Kern from Switzerland has created a powerful masterpiece. All three of Vero's scents are now available in the US (from Luckyscent/Scent Bar in L.A.) and are worth trying. Onda is what Tim Gunn calls "soul stirring".
(My 2008 Perfume Retrospective is here)

For more suggestions, please visit the other participants:

Beautiful Makeup Search

Beauty 411

Beauty Talk

Beauty Tyrant

Binary Star


For The Love of Beauty


Life Of A Ladybug

lily loves mac

Make Do Style

Miss Whoever You Are

Perfume Shrine

Platinum Blonde Life

Searching the Inner Me

Slap Of The Day

The Beauty Alchemist

Urbane Girl

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Brand Dilution

Heidi Montag's Chanel manicure (click on the pictures for full effect) and Kim Kardashian's Hermes belt.

Rue du Faubourg, we have a problem...

both photos: The Superficial

Essie Vermouth

I've had the bottle of Essie Vermouth (#366) for a while, but I was distracted by other, shinier colors, so the pearly rose/plum/mauve was left untouched in a glass bowl on my dresser with other pretty colors, while the ones I actually use often reside in a drawer with other nail paraphernalia. But the other day I was in the mood for something less trendy, feminine but sophisticated. A quick look-around has ended with me finally cracking open the almost forgotten Vermouth.

It was prettier than I expected. It's one of those universally flattering colors, a bit on the cool side but perfectly balanced. It's dark enough to be noticed against olive skin, but not too much to steal the show from a pretty outfit, and always appropriate. The photo doesn't do justice to the color which is richer but not as dark.

It would have earned a permanent place among my go-to bottles if not for one thing: No durability.

I usually get good results with most Essie polishes, but this one was a disaster. It chipped on the first day. It cracks when you just look at it funny, and it started peeling the day after even though I used an Essie base and top coat and applied two layers every time I tested. Vermouth just wouldn't stay on. Shame, really. This could have been true love.

While I can't find this color on Essie's website, googling shows it's available from many places online for less than $5. I got the bottle as a PR freebie.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Chanel Cuir de Russie (Parfum)

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 2: How I Found My Chanel

When it comes to the classic perfume houses, I'm a Guerlain girl. I own a few vintage Carons which I learned to love and appreciate in parfum form, but as much as I've been trying for years, the magic of Chanel escaped me. I'm not even talking about the newer ones, Chance and Allure with all their flankers which I could never stand. It's the big guns, the famous and generally adored classics and classics-in-the-making that I just couldn't get to work for me.

I blamed the flowers, the aldehydes, and the French government, just because. The bottom line was elegant tester bottles mocking my unsophisticated skin and downtown tastes. Some turned upon contact (the horrors of No. 19, Coco Mademoiselle and Cristalle, very different from each other and only united in hating me), others were like wearing someone else's skin and clothes, simply not me. It made me sad.

I was aware of the more exclusive (even before the launch of the Les Exclusifs) Rue Cambon scents. They've been around for a while and I smelled them, probably in EDT version and never felt they were meant for me. I had a vague memory of what Cuir de Russie was like, but it didn't call my name, either, probably because it was so long ago and my young nose wasn't ready.

Over the last year or so I got reacquainted with the new formulation of the EDT. My complaint about the entire line still stands: Too Big, Too Sheer, Too Thin. But I couldn't deny that Cuir de Russie has captured my attention with its hint of naughtiness and the magic word: leather. Hoping for the best, I decided to go for the real thing and ordered the parfum (that was just before Chanel in their eternal wisdom decided the extrait doesn't belong on our shores and left us with the EDT in family size packaging).

That was one good decision.

I'm not afraid of horsies. Dzing!, Bandit, Lonestar Memories, Cuir Ottoman and Cuir Mauresque are all part of my rotation, as well as other, tamer animals. I find Cuir de Russie to be much more civilized than the ones I mentioned. Maybe it's my skin, I can't tell, but the animalic base here is very friendly and well-behaved and the floral composition is very uptown chic and not avant garde in the least.

And you know what? It's perfect.

Because as much as I like the East Village on its quirky restaurants, little clubs and creative but little-known designers, I also like it Uptown just as much. I also love Paris, listening to Yves Montand and watching many classic French films. I can't have Anouk Aimée's cheekbones or hairstyle, but I can dream. And I can wear Cuir de Russie and pull it off.

Cuir de Russie is elegant and nostalgic. While today's version is probably very different than the 1924 original, it still speaks of other times and places. I don't get much drama from it. The scent feels self-assured and very pulled-together. I'd hate to call it "fabulous" out of fear of evoking Kim Cattrall instead of true French chic, but it really is. The sillage of the parfum is minimal and requires getting close. Its staying power is good and what remains on sweaters, scarves and coats is so beautiful I want to wear it again and again.

Photo: Candice Bergen in the poster for Claude Lelouch's 1967 film, Vivre Pour Vivre. Clip from another Lelouche movie, Un Homme et Une Femme (1966).

This review is for Cuir de Russie parfum which I bought from ($165 for 1 oz) when it was still available around here. It wasn't discontinued, just withdrawn from our market in favor of the EDT. The Paris boutique keeps it in stock.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 1: In Which I Brave The MBT Boots

I've been curious about MBT Shoes and their big promises from the very first time I spotted their bulky soles in the Bliss catalog (by the way, either someone has been stealing the brochures from my mailbox lately or they stopped sending them. And now that I think of it, I didn't get the discount code for my November birthday, either. What's up with that?). What has always stopped me from ordering a pair has always been their aesthetics (or lack of) and the laces. I don't do laces.

But when the opportunity to test the MBT boots presented itself, I just couldn't resist . The boots are tall (14" shaft), fit snugly around the calve (no Uggly bulk) and are almost sleek for active footwear. They don't look like athletic shoes, which is a huge plus in my book. The question was: would I be seen wearing them in public?

The answer is yes. As part of my birthday resolutions, I decided to be more active in general, not necessarily as "exercise", but more as a lifestyle. You can't really do that in Manolos.

The last couple of months have found me tucking my jeans into the Tambos and braving the world, both for long walks around town (walking to Starbucks. Who would have thought?) and for those inevitable days of mall-shopping (this is Jersey. Malls are considered the wild wide world).

My first observation was how comfortable these things are for my poor flat feet. The fit and support in all the right spots makes for easy wearing and no pain at all, despite the odd angle of the sole, which is the whole point here. Thankfully, the 2" heel was enough for my flat-phobia.

The very first time I tried the MBTs on, I had to re-learn standing. It's true that the shoes affect your posture and force you into more awareness of the way you hold yourself. You need to re-center yourself and balance your weight differently. It was an odd sensation, but not unpleasant. Supposedly, this is what starts the extra muscle activity, which is something I only felt when spending a lot of time walking in the boots. While I never noticed I was making more effort when actually walking (it was as comfortable and pleasant as any super-comfortable shoes. Not that I would know such footwear if it hit me in the head), but after the fact I felt muscles that have definitely not been used in regular long walks ever before.

It reminded me of the first time I used Gladys, my elliptical, years ago. It was so easy and effortless I had no idea I was giving myself the thigh cramp of the century. Of course, being in much better shape than back in the day and not doing much besides walking, it wasn't even half as bad. Soon I adjusted and started wearing the MBTs regularly. It's not that they replace any of my high heels and personally I prefer them with jeans and not with skirts or dresses, but for very casual days when I try to accomplish something on top of errands/shopping, these are a good alternative that adds some value to the mall experience.

Bottom line: There's something to the hype over the MBT shoes. Of course, you actually need to use them extensively enough to make a difference, and for at least a couple of hours at the time, if not for a full day. If you do, it's an extra workout for some muscles. I'm considering getting a pair of their maryjane-alikes when it's no longer boot weather.

MBT shoes and boots ($230-$390, depending on model) are sold offline and online at many stores. As mentioned above, Bliss catalog is one source, as are and Nordstrom. The pair of boots I received was a PR freebie.