Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ava Luxe Kama (EDP and Parfum Extrait)

I first tested Kama by Ava Luxe from a sample of the EDP and loved the naughty musk with its powdery heart and a hint of sweet darkness. It was sexy but never heavy or cheap and always wearable, despite an impressive sillage. When the sample was drained, I decided to upgrade and buy the extrait, hoping for more of the same, only deeper and darker.

The parfum extrait is a bit different, and I'm not sure I made the right decision. Don't get me wrong: I like it a lot and the drydown is delicious in a way reminiscent of other musky favorites such as Musc Ravageur. It's less powdery sweet and probably easier to wear for guys who shy away from vanilla. The labdanum is very prominent ( think of Le Labo Labdanum or a more masculine Barbara Bui). As expected, the extrait is closer to the skin than the EDP but surprisingly lacking in staying power. My other issue with it is the first 30 minutes that are a little to rough and jagged. It has quite a bit of unpolished resinous wood that makes the scent feel a bit unfinished. Not in a bad way, but something is missing.

It doesn't change the fact I just want to bathe in Kama and feel it all around me. The drydown is soft and satisfying in that comforting way I find in many musks, including the dirtiest. Kama is labeled as animalic, but I get no skank. Then again, I also wear MKK, so don't take my word for it.

Kama by Ava Luxe is available as EDP ($45) and extrait ($50) from the creator's web site, http://www.ava-luxe.com

Image: Brocata Ochre by Fabian Perez from Vinings Gallery

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dior Crayon Eyeliner In Elegant Taupe

From the jaw-dropping "statement compact" to true luxuries: A beautiful eye liner that creates an elegant look.

Dior made some serious improvements to the texture of their pencils. I had an older incarnation of the crayon in Precious Green and Precious Violet which I've put aside for lack of creaminess. This is why sometimes a reformulation can be a very good thing. I've since tested and liked the black and several lip liners, but it's the newest addition from the Parisian Nude collection, Elegant Taupe, that has won me over.

Elegant Taupe has a metallic finish that lifts and brightens the look instantly and is as spring-like as one can get without going pink. I wear it in a thick line with just a touch of black liquid liner at the base of the upper lashes, but someone with a fair skin should probably wear it alone.

Application is easy and doesn't require pulling or tugging. I use a primer and the line stays put and retains its color and sheen throughout the day with no smearing or bleeding. I tested it indoor and out and it also survived a short walk in the rain.

None of the online swatches does the pencil and the color any justice, and neither does my camera. You can see a semi decent photo on this French site that shows the color as a bit warmer than how it appears in mine, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Dior Crayon Eyeliner ($26) is available from most department stores as well as from Sephora. Mine was a gift from a dear friend.

Chantecaille Limited Edition La Baleine Eyes And Face

I'm utterly fascinated by the new compacts (one for eyes, one for face) from Chantecaille. The limited edition La Baleine Bleue Eyes and Blanche Face are breathtakingly beautiful. Too pretty, actually. They look more like a collector's item than something I'd use, which as far as I'm concerned, defeats the purpose.

The price tag ($98 each) puts them at a fashion statement level, much like investment shoes, only hidden in one's makeup bag.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 4: In which I take a perfume class

My secondary education years were long and twisted. I started out as a fresh faced English major and ended up in business school, where my final project/thesis was something about an information system for dairy farms. A couple of years in the real world have sent me back to school, this time for math education (I couldn't let all those years of advanced calculus go to waste). The point is that in my world, taking a class had a lot more to do with econometrics than with having fun.

I got a chance to participate in a two day introduction to perfumery techniques class and the experience was one of the most joyous I can recall. Imagine: learning and immersing yourself in one of your greatest passions while surrounded with people who feel exactly the same way. I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

Cinquième Sens, the French perfumery school has opened a branch in New York City and offering a growing variety of classes and programs for those of us who want to know more about the perfume industry, understand the market, the products and more than anything else: what it's all about. Last summer I visited the Paris school and spoke to one of the teachers (you can read about it here). Cinquième Sens takes a practical approach to fragrance. They focus on translating the art of perfumery into consumer products and they teach you about what's in your bottle. It's a fascinating journey.

The teachers were Jillian Friedman, a fragrance industry professional, who's been a consultant for several major brands, and Aurélie Dematons from the Paris school. Both of them offered knowledge and enthusiasm and patiently answered every question.

My absolutely favorite part was sniffing the raw materials, both natural and synthetic. Most of us have come across an essential oil or two before, but have you ever smelled raw tonka beans or ylang-ylang (my notes on the latter say: weird, oily, aggressive)? I wanted to plant my nose in the oakmoss jar and never let go. But the most amazing ones were the forbidden animalics- the ones that are no longer permitted for use. My vegetarian sensibilities are happy it's now illegal to use real musk, castoreum and civet. But I'm also glad I had a chance to smell them once. And my notes about ambregris, the whale equivalent of hairballs, say simply: "no words".

It was also eye opening to get acquainted with some of the more popular synthetics. It helped me understand my fragrance taste a bit better. When it comes to many (most?) of the new bestselling perfumes, the ones lauded for being light, fresh, young (insert your favorite adjective), I sniff them, sometimes spray on my skin, shrug and move on. I tend to forget them by the time I approach the next counter, unless they turn into a cataclysmic scrubber. Apparently, I'm anosmic to several of these happy new molecules. Sometimes I can't smell them at all, others I can tell there's a scent, but it barely registers.

It was especially fun to smell a raw material and then treasure-hunt it in real perfumes. For the first time I could make the separate notes in Chanel no. 5, especially the orange blossom. You gain appreciation for the art of fragrance construction and seamless blending.

Sitting in a classroom for two days, sniffing blotters with a group of people who are just as passionate about perfume is such a different experience than what most of us are used to. There was a great energy around the table as we passed the scent strips around and commented about them. We were all bubbly with excitement over the chance to spend two days talking about perfume. And who wouldn't be?

I attended the class a guest, thanks to Isabelle Ferrand, the head of the Paris school and Laëtitia Longuefosse, the NY director. For details about the offered programs and schedule for the upcoming months, contact Laëtitia at 212 686 4123 or [email protected] .

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Beauty.com - Truth In Advertising

Or: how to really annoy your customers

The other day I had to replenish some of the usual suspects in my beauty arsenal and was also in the mood for something new (anyone wonders how I became a beauty blogger?). It wasn't a case requiring instant gratification, so no need to deal with the sale assistants at Bloomie's or the mallishness of my local Sephora.

Beauty.com is one of my regular online shopping destinations and has been so for many years now. A click on my bookmarks list brought me to the front page, which told me about a great promotional: spend a certain amount and receive a bag with an impressive amount of samples, minis and full size products, many of them were already on my ever-growing list of "must try soon". I'm usually not a big fan of beauty bag events and have skipped all the recent ones from the serious department stores, as they offered ridiculously sub par crap. My policy is to buy what I need when I need it, and never because someone is offering a frosted aqua eye shadow when you spend enough to feed a small village. But I already planned to spend just over the required sum, so it wasn't an issue. And the GWP was really the best I've seen in ages.

Five minutes and a few clicks later and I was ready for checkout. My shopping cart has informed me that the GWP would be sent separately within another week with no added cost. No problem on my part. A couple of more clicks, the order was confirmed and sent. I was satisfied and free to go read some celeb gossip sites.

Today I got an automated email informing me that the second part of my order, the one with the GWP, was cancelled.

It doesn't matter much and I would have made the exact same order regardless. I don't feel entitled to a GWP and it's obvious that Beauty.com cannot be expected to send something they no longer have in stock. But this was not a case of an email promotional that I clicked too late, after it expired. The beauty bag was advertised right there on the front page of the site at the time I placed my order. This warrants at least a decent apology, and is a good lesson of why you should not make a purchase just for a GWP you may or may not receive.

Guerlain Meteorites Powder

Let's face it (no pun intended, I swear): face powder is not the sexiest makeup item in our arsenal. It suffers from a grandmotherly image that isn't doing any justice to the product or to its user, who simply knows better than to let a good makeup application disintegrate without the appropriate finishing product. Still, buying or applying it is much less fun than choosing a new red lipstick.

The people of Guerlain are doing their best to bring back some glamor to this elementary item, even if they claim the creation of Meteorites and the packaging was inspired by Marie Antoinette. Personally, the tragic queen makes me think about the guillotine and Kirsten Dunst, two decidedly unglamorous objects, but maybe that's just me. In any case, the colorful cardboard box (better than plastic, for sure) that holds the little pearls of powder is very cute.

Meteorites is closer to loose powder than to a pressed compact. The pearls are moving freely in their box and creating a bit too much violet-scented dust when applied, no matter if you use the accompanying puffy sponge (don't. It goes on uneven and tends to cake) or a powder brush (they recommend Guerlain's own scratchy Meteorites brush, the one with the disturbingly pink head, but you probably already own a suitable brush or two, so don't hesitate to use them). You'll want to protect your black cashmere sweater while putting it on, and probably also keep the cats away, though the scent is nice on them.

I chose Meteroites in Beige Chic (03), which is just right- not too pink and not too white. It doesn't add color, just melds nicely with what I've already put on. A few of the pearls have a little shimmer, but it doesn't transfer to the face. The final result is luminous, not pearly and it gives that flawless finish that is the whole point.

In term of staying power and keeping blush and foundation in place, Meteorites is certainly far above average. Performance of face products is often contingent upon skin's level of moisture/oiliness, the weather and any other product you've layered underneath. On my personal scale, Meteroites rates better than Lancome pressed powder but maybe not as good as Chanel.

The greatest disadvantage of this product is for travel. The pearls are too fragile and the box too big to carry in most makeup bags. But it looks nice on the dresser, as long as the cats don't get to it first (mine are more interested in brushes).

Guerlain Meteorites Powder ($53) is available from most department stores and from Sephora, which is where I bought mine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is what we call nowadays a celebuspawn (think Rumer Willis and Peaches Geldof). Except that being born in the 1950s meant she got to become Elizabeth Taylor's stepdaughter and spent quality time with Cary Grant. Even the Jolie-Pitts would never be able to top that. These stories alone made her memoir, Wishful Drinking, a book I really wanted to read.

The problem with Wishful Drinking is that it's mostly the material from Carrie Fisher's one-woman show by the same name, and not really an in-depth, tell-all autobiography. It's a lot shorter and breezier you would expect from a book that covers not only an unusual Hollywood childhood and coming of age but also two marriages (to Paul Simon and to a gay man), the Star Wars trilogy and Fisher's years of struggling with addiction and mental illness.

I can't help it: My favorite part was family saga and stories about Carrie Fisher's parents, Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and long parade of step-parents. Ancient Hollywood gossip is infinitely better than TMZ and Perez Hilton, especially when told by a very witty and often hilarious insider. The Star Wars part felt a bit rushed and too obligatory: What did she wear under the white dress? (gaffer's tape), how did she feel about the iconic hairstyle? (it made her look fat). And then there are the heartbreaks, Paul Simon and the illness, taking up about a third of the book and in some places a bit glossed over.

I can't help feeling that Carrie Fisher and her story deserve better than a quick read in one sitting, which is all the book provides. Her first novel, the fictionalized autobiography Postcards From The Edge was much more satisfying.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

L'Occitane Neroli (original)

The original Neroli EDP by L'Occitane is among the handful of scents that ever got me compliments from complete strangers. The others are Musc Ravageur, L'Air du Desert Marocain, Shalimar Light and Panthere de Cartier (Strangely enough, no one has ever stopped me on the street demanding to know where and how they can get a bottle of Miel de Bois). Interestingly, Neroli is the biggest traffic stopper of this group, despite its humble pedigree.

Neroli (the raw material) is an essential oil distilled from orange flowers (not to be confused with the orange blossom absolute, which is extracted through the use of a solvent). This might lead one to expect a light, ethereal and feminine scent, which couldn't be further from the truth. L'Occitane Neroli in it's original 2003 version is strong and quite aggressive. It opens up like most straight forward neroli oils you'd find at your local Whole Foods market or other places that sell essential oils. It's uplifting and full of sunshine, and I used to spray it into the air and walk into this. Not so much to lighten it up as because I wanted to coat myself and absorb as much of the perfume as humanly possible.

(I was so infatuated that for about six months this was my most worn scent and I went through several bottles before going back to my perfume promiscuous ways)

But after the conventional part of the scent, things get hot, heavy and somewhat animalic. I could not find an official list of notes, but to my nose there's quite a bit of ceder in the heart-to-drydown phase, and it's a dry and dirty cedar with the infamous hamster cage effect. I love it, but anyone looking for a demure and clean orange scent in the normal L'Occitane way would have been horrified, which I suspect was exactly the cause of the perfume's untimely demise.

Eventually the hamster is gone and what's left is a slightly sweet, ambery neroli with more than a hint of musk and lots of sex appeal. While the sillage mostly disappears after the first 30 minutes or so, what's left on the skin is quite tenacious.

As far as I remember, Neroli was marketed as a feminine and was presented as part of the (original) L'Oranger product line- there was a weird body wash with little brown moisture beads that made a mess in the bath, and a too thin body milk. But trying to objectively assess the scent I'm pretty sure that was a mistake. Neroli feels quite unisex and many men would have found it appealing. Think of Tom Ford's Neroli Portofino, which is quite masculine, and I have to say I find L'Occitane Neroli to be rounder and better.

Sadly, the original Neroli was discontinued some time between 2006 and 2007 only to be replaced with a weak and wimpy scent under the same name. The new juice is considerably lighter in color (the original started orange but ages into an almost red liquid, which leads me to believe that there was a considerable amount of natural ingredients in it, even though they also added colors to the formula, as indicated on the box). The new version is inoffensive but boring and feels like a washed out relative of the beautiful Neroli.

I was hoarding what I had left in my last bottle until last summer. Occasionally I would see an eBay auction of a bottle, but the prices always were way too much than anything I'd be willing to pay. Fortunately, last year when shopping in Paris I spotted the familiar boxes at Printemps. They had a clearance sale of what looked like old L'Occitane stock. Let's just say I now have a lifetime supply.

Photos of the bottle and box by me with the help of Kosh and Giselle.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


The Perfect scent by Chandler Burr. Yes, I'm a year late for the party. Still a fascinating read.

When Love Breaks Down by Prefab Sprout. A favorite for over twenty years.

Frequently worn outfit/item
Black Stiletto boots.

If it's a chypre, I'm going to wear it. Jut got a bottle of Bandit in parfum concentration. Love.

Any taupe eye shadow. I was considering putting everything else away, but then yesterday I felt like wearing navy blue and dug out a Chanel compact. So maybe I'm not ready just yet.

Fresh pasta. They opened a wonderful new Whole Foods a few blocks away from my house. It has absolutely everything, including fresh pasta they cut for you in any shape you request.

Water. I'm boring.

Guilty Pleasure
Chocolate. I don't eat any other sugary thing, but chocolate is my current downfall.

Bane of my existence
My laptop is dying a slow, painful death.

Growing my own tomatoes.

Manolo Blahnik studded sandals:

What are your current favorites, banes and wishes?

art: Purple Crocus by Beth Stafford
shoe fetish: Neiman Marcus

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Jonathan No-Frizz Hydrating Balm- Taming Of The Shrew

My biggest issue with styling products of the balm variety might have come to an end. Most leave-in conditioners, shine sprays and silicon drops that are good for the dry parts of my hair tend to make my scalp itch. On the other hand, gels and anti-frizz creams that keep things in place are fine to use near my face and hair roots, but can make everything else sticky and/or stiff.

Jonathan Product No-Frizz Hydrating Balm is a serious multitasker. It does a very decent job in the anti-frizz department even when I'm not using a styling iron. It just makes things ever so smooth, gives them a little shine while keeping the rest of the hair soft and fluffy. It opens my curls and makes them more wavy, but hair remains bouncy and not weighed down or limp.

I was happy to see that shea butter is a star player in this balm. The ingredient list has quite a few chemicals on board but also many essential oils and plant extracts to make me feel less toxic. The product is vegan and I loved the little "celebrity tested" label. It makes one think that maybe Heidi and Spencer were put into good use after all.

Jonathan Product No-Frizz Hydrating Balm ($26 for a 5.1 oz tube. It also comes in a 1.7 oz size) is available from beauty.com as well as from Sephora in store and online, which is where I bought mine.

Photograph by Charmante -Sterling, Inc, NYC

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Chanel No. 19

In one of the most memorable reviews from Perfumes- The Guide, Tania Sanchez defined No. 19 "...this extraordinary perfume appeals to any woman who has ever wished to know what it is to be heartless". While I definitely know what Sanchez is talking about, I'm not quite sure Chanel No. 19 really takes me there, despite the effort to put my heart aside. If I had to assign a scent to this state of mind, I'd go with Bandit. No. 19's flowers, while cold and uppity at times, are also melancholy, serene and have learned a thing or two about life.

The EDT version didn't always agree with me. Too many jagged edges that poke my comfort zone. There's something hollow there, and the green notes can fall apart occasionally, which is a shame. I hear that on just about anyone else it's a thing of beauty. I prefer to wear the EDP, which is rounder and sweeter, while still retaining a certain sparkle and crispiness. While there's something about it that speaks of spring, I love it on the coldest days when it feels like a wind chime in the distance.

The parfum (I have a not so new but not quite vintage bottle) is dry, and while not as leathery as the No. 19 of yore was rumored to be, the oakmoss is unmistakable and the strong bones of a chypre are evident. But more than anything, and what makes this scent special and melancholy to me is the large amounts of powdery orris. It's dusky, it broods, it has a past and quite a bit of baggage, which is probably why someone on Basenotes recommended it for middle-aged women (is "middle aged" the new "old lady"?).

Considering the big bad chypres I used to wear in my early twenties, I can't take that comment too seriously. All I know is that on certain days there's nothing that suits me more than No. 19. whatever it might say about the state of my heart.

Notes: galbanum, hyacinth, neroli, bergamot, rose, orris, jasmine, muguet, ylang-ylang, vetiver, oakmoss, leather, sandalwood, musk.

Chanel No. 19 in EDT is available from department stores and Chanel boutiques. The other formulations I reviewed here are more elusive.

Natasha Richardson 1963-2009

From a 1998 interview:
"For all its exhaustion and difficulties, I have this charmed life of a strong family life, with my two little baby boys and my husband and my home and my friends, and getting to be a gypsy playing these parts. Acting was my dream, and it's kind of unthinkable to do anything else."

Nars Gothika Lip Gloss

It happens every year: the stores are full of spring makeup collection in all their pink limited edition glory, I go through them, shrug and don't feel like getting anything. My tolerance for pink is very minimal.

Since I have yet to get excited about any of the new stuff, let's look at a lip gloss that is approaching classic status: Nars lip gloss in Gothika. The name might be scary, but this is not the lip product for aspiring vampires. Gothika is a low-profile plum with quite a bit of red and a hint of barely there gold shimmer that warms the color just enough to make it flattering on many skin tones. It works beautifully on my olive complexion, as it amps up the natural color. I saw it on more than one pale face and it was stunning- it creates some drama without looking weird.

Texture-wise, not all Nars glosses are created equal, but Gothika is among the very best. It's more pigment than goop, it stays in place and the stickiness is minimal. The gloss is semi-sheer, the color is buildable and can be toned down if you use a lip balm as a base.

I consider Gothika a neutral, go-anywhere color, which is why I keep one in just about every purse. Spring or not, darker lips are popular this year (which is a very good thing, if you ask me), so it's worth checking for anyone who's had enough of nude lips and wants something more exciting without going too far out of their comfort level.

Nars lip glosses ($24) are available from nars.com, beauty.com and Sephora- both online and in store, which is where I bought mine.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cartier Le Baiser Du Dragon

Le Baiser du Dragon by Cartier is a 2003 release, but feels like a perfume from another era. It starts big and bold, like orientals from bygone days. The amaretto note, a sweet almond liqueur, is very balanced: not too boozey, not too yummy, never crossing the line between a perfume and an after dinner treat. It draws you in with a lot of promise, which is where things get a bit tricky.

I really like Le Baiser du Dragon and I think (hope?) I wear it well, but there's a note there in the middle that feels a bit jarring. It's most prominent in the EDT which I find sharp and cheap, but also sticks out from the smoothness of the EDP. According to Basenotes, the heart notes are iris, musk, cedar and Bulgarian rose, but on my skin I can't detect anything specific. It might be the rose or just a general floral mess (my skin can do atrocious things to innocent flowers), but it goes away quickly, especially when I layer the EDP with the extrait de parfum, which I always do. The parfum is a golden perfection as far as I'm concerned, dark and velvety. It also amplifies the patchouli drydown.

And for me it's all about that drydown. I get hours of chocolate-like patchouli that glides easily from under the milkiness of the top notes. It's not very earthy or dirty, though I'm sure those with a patch-aversion who make the hippie connection would not have an epiphany and start loving it here, elegant bottle or not. To me, Le Baiser du Dragon feels like a grown up option for a gourmand mood, more dressed up than other perfumes in this category, more feminine than Borneo 1834. The base ends up with a mellow vetiver note, once the patchouli eases up a little. It's a dry and woody vetiver, without any bitterness or green.

A man can probably pull it off with the right skin chemistry(Nathan gave it a try, though he was not impressed) , especially the parfum. I have yet to try it on the resident male in this house, though, so no guarantees.

Cartier Le Baiser du Dragon is available at decent department stores (I saw it locally at Saks and Nordstorm), but you can find it better priced from online discounters or on eBay. Despite the rumors, LBdD has not been discontinued (yet. I doubt that it's a big seller) and you can see it on the Cartier web site.

Image of the chocolate dragon: blackmagicmarkers.com

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Discontinued: The Thymes Fig Leaf And Cassis

I try my best to keep an "out with the old, in with the new" attitude when it comes to discontinued beauty products and only throw tantrums (followed by weeks of eBay activity) when beloved perfumes disappear. But Fig Leaf & Cassis from The Thymes has been my favorite bath and body line for nearly ten years, and I kept hoping they will bring back the environmental oil in this scent, not to mention expand the range of products. Instead, it's being discontinued.

The leftover products are now in the "Last Chance" section (together with the Gardener and Green Tea lines). The body lotion is already gone, but everything else is still there.

I'm terribly disappointed. I didn't like any of the scents The Thymes have released in recent years. They're too thin, too flowery or horribly fruity. Something from the Red Cherie line that arrived here as a PR freebie, ended up being used in feline waste management, and I gave thumbs down to each and every of the scents I've tested in their focus groups. I guess we'll have to move on to Jo Malone's Fig Leaf & Cassis, but I'm going to dearly miss The Thymes. The scent was the perfect combination of lush and crisp, green with only a hint of honeyed fruit. It layered well with my favorite fig perfumes (Heeley and L'Artisan), and never failed to satisfy. If you have suggestions for other fig products, please comment. I'm sure I'm not the only FL&C fan who will need them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Burt's Bees Natural Body Wash For Men

The man of the house was in the market for a new body wash. This statement is somewhat amusing, given how our bathroom looks like a mini Sephora, only with cats instead of sale assistants. But he just finished a bottle of something or another and the existing inventory looked to him suspiciously girly, so I got him a bottle of Burt's Bees Natural Body Wash For Men.

He hated it.

While my main expectation from a body wash is that it doesn't turn my skin into a crispy dry mess, he actually wants the stuff to get him clean. I suspect that the lack of foaming (it's an SLS-free product) plays a part here, but he also feels the body wash doesn't get rid of antiperspirant debris, which is a legitimate complain. Seriously, eww.

Since I absolutely loved the scent (lemon herbal honey with more than a touch of patchouli), I tried to adopt the bottle. Funny enough, I found it too detergent-like. It's supposed to be very mild (I googled each and every ingredient and there's nothing alarming there. It's all coconut-derived and sensitive skin-friendly), but I found it too drying, especially for winter.

A few words regarding the ingredients: I was half ready to poke some fun at the brand and its fans, considering Burt's Bees is now part of the decidedly non-crunchy Clorox company. But a little research shows all the ingredients, including the ones with the alarming chemical names are natural (at least in the sense that they are produced from natural materials and not synthetic). It doesn't say much, of course, but at least there's nothing scary in there. There are no parabens in the formula. The preservative is Glucose Oxidase is found in honey and there's also Lactoperoxidase, an enzyme that comes from cow's milk and acts as an antimicrobial and antioxidant. The latter makes it non-vegan, but at least, like all Burt's Bees products, it was not animal tested.

Bottom line: Great smell, questionable performance. I use it from time to time, just because, and make sure to marinate myself in jojoba oil afterwards.

Burt's Bees Natural Body Wash For Men ( $8 for 12 oz) is available just about everywhere, from Macy's and Whole Foods market to drugstores. I bought it at my local Target.

In Which I Smell Annick Goutal Un Matin d'Orage

...and have a little déjà vu.

According to the flowery blurb on the Annick Goutal site, the inspiration for their newest fragrance, Un Matin d'Orage, was Camille Goutal's trips in Japan where she experienced storm drenched Japanese gardens. I've never been to Japan, so I cannot comment on how evocative the scent is in this regard, but shortly after spraying it on my arm I felt it was somewhat familiar. It took me several hours of obsessively sniffing my arm to realize where I've smelled this before.

But let's go back to the beginning. Un Matin d'Orage is currently only available at Saks (it looks sold out online, but if your local store is as much of a ghost town as mine, it's probably in stock), which meant braving the normally sour-faced SA at the counter. There's a significant improvement of the attitude in the store, probably related to the fact Saks is in dire straits these days. The SA apologized profusely because she had no samples of the perfume, but was eager for me to spray "the new orange perfume" (seriously!). Which I did.

Unlike the SA, I knew there wasn't any orange there (my French may be limited to a terrible pronunciation of "Serge Lutens" and "Pâte à Choux", but this is not the first Orage I come across, and it translates to "a stormy morning"). What I got was a hit of charged, ozonic air which led the way to wetness: wet greenery, wet florals, wet earth. My skin is an infamous flower slayer, so I can't say much about the promised champaca, jasmine or magnolia. The one flower that stood out and stayed put was gardenia. A surprisingly green gardenia, bare of any sweetness or gilding that you often find in gardenia-based scents.

Because of all the air and water that stand between my nose and the gardenia, my main impression was of a flower seen through a window while rain is pouring. That image has stayed with me for several hours until I remembered the last interesting gardenia I've smelled:

JAR Bolt Of Lightning


I don't know about Japan, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Isabelle Doyen, the nose behind Un Matin d'Orage, got some of her influence at the JAR boutique in Paris. Think of it: a stormy, ozonic opening, wet earth and tons of gardenia. It's not that UMdO smells like Bolt Of Lightning, but there are some striking similarities here and there as the scent develops. Bolt of Lightning has a much more dramatic and dangerous opening. It hits you forcefully before the gardenia arrives. Un Matin D'Orage isn't shocking. It draws you in and is decidedly prettier. But it's not a typical Goutal scent and has a lot more edge than one would expect.

Is it the poor man's Bolt Of Lightning? At $80 for 1.7 oz, It's less than 10% of the JAR price, so one could even spring for the special butterfly bottle ($220 for 3.4 oz) and still feel sort of thrifty. Is it an adequate substitution? Probably not. Un Matin d'Orage is thinner, lighter, airier. It belongs in the same group as other new tropical greens like L'Artisan Fleur de Liane and that aquatic disaster from Hermes, Un Jardin Apres La Mousson. It's also infinitely better than both.

I can see UMdO being a perfect summer scent if you're looking for something green with a touch of florals that will not turn on you. It's different than the calonic-melonic fragrances which can be stomach-turning if you're sensitive to their aromachemicals. And it's definitely pleasant to wear, unless you were hoping for something like Grand Amour or Quel Amour!. I don't agree with the ultra-feminine label they're trying to stick on Un Matin. I'm pretty sure many men can pull it off easily, as long as they don't have the skin chemistry that amplify white flowers and broadcast them to the stratosphere.

Do I need a bottle? I'm not sure. I'm not in the market for air and water. But talk to me in late July and I might change my tune.

Image of wet gardenia by Susan Boden Dillon

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Yes, I know bright yellow is one of the hottest colors for the comming summer, but even Natalie Portman doesn't convince me that having yellow nails is a good thing.

But for those who are interested in getting the look, here are a few options for yellow nail polish(click to enlarge):

Would you wear it?

Photo of Natalie Portman: A socialite's Life

Monday, March 09, 2009

Ojon Tunu Elastik Cleanser And Conditioner

Hair has been on my mind a lot lately, as you might have guessed last week. I've been testing the Ojon Tunu Elastik system lately, but it took me a while to post because it's not the stuff for everyday use. And if I'm saying a hair care product is a bit too heavy, you can imagine what it would be like for a person with a not insane hair.

The Ojon Tunu Elastik cleanser (you really can't call it a shampoo. It's more of a cleansing lotion) and conditioner would be a very effective restorative treatment for those of us who abuse their locks with heat and color. They are very rich and nourishing, excellent for detangling and I like using them when I'm planning to unleash the styling iron on my curls. But this also means that the Tunu system can considerably weigh down one's hair. The biggest issue I have with it is the lack of shine. No matter how soft it makes my hair, years of shampoo commercials have conditioned most of us to expect at least some shine, if not the full (impossible, I admit) digital effect. Tunu doesn't give that.

The scent, however, is a whole different story. It's a sweet vanillic thing, of the kind that causes certain men to want to bury their faces in your hair and inhale deeply. There's something to be said for that.

Ojon Tunu Elastik cleanser ($25) and conditioner ($27) are available from Sephora online and in store, as well as from QVC. I received both as a PR freebie.

Photo by Derek Cole from AllPosters.com

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Sniffage

The warming weather means that one can actually walk the short distance between Bergdorf and Barneys without contemplating death or a move to Florida. Which means a perfect day for some uptown sniffing for the Blond and I.

First was Bergdorf. Both of us have been on a serious Tom Ford kick lately (reviews coming soon), so we had to try the new Italian Cypress, a Milan exclusive until recently. The first impression was that it's a more conservative, a safer scent than others in the line. From the notes (citrus, herbs, wood resins and lots of cypress), I had a feeling it would be a darker, heavier interpretation of Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien, which was exactly what I smelled. If at first the Blond was a bit disappointed, he was won over by the time Italian Cypress dried down. On his skin it's elegant, manly and dark green. While there's noting innovative there, it's very well-made and alluring. A perfect first date scent of there ever was one.

We were disappointed to see that Bergdorf doesn't have Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane yet. They did have the newly labeled and repackaged Feminite du Bois. The eager sales assistance (not the wonderful Michael, who wasn't around this afternoon) tried to convince me Feminite du Bois is a brand new scent. For a moment I considered educating him about the Bois series in general and FdB in particular, but decided not to bother.

I just gave him a look.

Next was a quick stop at the Guerlain counter. The Blond is still unconvinced about most of the masculines other than Habit Rouge, I still like Derby but the lack of staying power is annoying. My main goal was to try the new release, La Petite Robe Noire. I knew it was fruity, I knew it was gourmand. I enjoy many of Guerlain's eau de patisserie style scents. But I was not ready for what I smelled.

Apparently, Guerlain is now doing a Vera Wang Princess.

The abomination is residing in the classic Mitsouko-like bottle. This is the last thing I'd wear with a little black dress. Actually, this is the last thing I'd wear, period. I didn't have much love for LVMH and their money-making machine before, but this release and what it symbolizes will make me think twice before I buy another Guerlain.

Next stop was Barneys. They didn't have much (anything?) new (what does it say about you when you can almost recite the entire Barneys fragrance catalog?), but there was a tester of Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane (they'll have it in stock later this week), and while I was fully prepared to dislike it, I fell in love on the spot. Yes, it's a white floral, very feminine. To me, it speaks of spring, sheer white fabric and lots of pretty things. Half a spray has lasted all day (still going as I'm writing this) without being suffocating. These days I rarely buy a bottle based on one testing, but I'm going to make an exception with this and get Nuit de Cellophane this week. My experience with Uncle Serge's work is that when it works it just works (and when it doesn't, I die of cumin exposure). This one is a winner for me.

Photo: Peter showing off his sniffer. All rights are mine (and his).

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Reflection and Self-Reinvention Part 3: In Which I Do Something About My Hair

Meet the reason for all the hair and self image issues I've ever had: The (vintage) Herbal Essence hippie girl and her flowing gold locks. She haunted my childhood and pre-teen years, mocking me from the bottle with her perfect hair, skin and long fingers. To add insult to injury, the shampoo dried my hair into an unmanageable frizzy straw the size of a small continent and irritated my scalp to make it a miserable, dandruffy mess (years later I learned I'm extremely allergic to each and every one of the Herbal Essence products). Looking at her, I decided that my hair was hopelessly ugly.

It's been about 25 years since I've last had to deal with the green stuff and the girl on its label. My hair has been short, super-short, long and longer. I now know it might be my best feature and treat it accordingly, with love and products. But I don't do much with it. It's too long to be styled, and that's the whole point: it's curly/wavy (depending on the weather), thick and very healthy. I keep my hair clean and moisturized and let it be. It works for all involved.

But every once in a while I look at a photo of Jennifer Aniston and her $56,000 hair and wonder if I'm not missing on something. A few months ago I was especially antsy to try something new. It was probably a case of the birthday fever (which sparked this little series of posts) that caused me to take advantage of Sephora's friends & family sale and buy myself the ghd (another one of those companies who insist on lower case. I hate it) style iron.

The first thing I did was watch the DVD that came in the package.

I learned that the iron is a versatile tool and should be able to make my hair straight, wavy or create perfectly styled big curls (a feature I found oddly appealing, because my own curls can be a bit unpredictable and/or frizzy). The second thing I learned was how little I know about hair styling.

Apparently, before you attempt to use the ghd iron, you're supposed to fully blow dry your hair. I was sitting there staring at my computer's screen, thinking "you've gotta be kidding me". I don't even own a hair dryer, because using one on my hair is an exercise in futility. It dries when it dries, that's it. And I admit that on occasion I get to wash it again before the inside has fully dried from the last time.

So, blow dry, ha. Who would have thought?

The model in the DVD had her hair blow dried straight, to the point I didn't see why she even needed the styling iron. More straightening and you'd look like Pete Wentz. But I watched faithfully, taking note that the curling action is just like curling paper ribbons, the wave creation didn't do much to entice me and the part about volumizing made me and my follicles laugh. I've spent the last three decades fighting volume in my hair (see Herbal Essence girl above) and I was not about to stop now. Still, straight hair or big, shiny curls are more than enough incentive.

Since my hair was dry, I decided there was no better time to try. I plugged the ghd in, sat in front of the mirror and started working, to the complete astonishment of the cats who gathered around me for the chance to paw at hair strands and an electric cord.

My biggest concern was that the amount and length of hair I'm sporting would make the ordeal excruciatingly tedious. While I no doubt take a lot more time to sort out than the aforementioned Pete Wentz, the process was addictively simple and relatively quick. Strand by strand, starting at the left side, went through the plates and emerged miraculously flat. I got the hang of it in no time, which meant figuring out the perfect amount of hair for each iteration to make it efficient. No, I didn't end up looking like Jen Aniston, and I didn't put all that much effort into getting the ends stick straight because I'm too scared of burning them. But for the first time in years, my hair was straight and didn't require two hours of endless combing and blow drying (that was the last time a stylist had a go at my hair, full of courage and good intentions). I loved it.

My next attempt at styling was not that successful. I tried to create those beautiful open curls I saw in the DVD, but apparently, the iron was not designed to deal with 3 feet of hair. It looks so simple, and as I said, just like curling paper ribbons, but my hair did not cooperate and I started getting that toasted hair smell, which meant "stop, now!". So I did. Subsequent efforts didn't show any improvement, so as far as I'm concerned, the ghd is just a flat iron. But as such, it performs very well.

I like the straight hair, though my husband isn't convinced and the my mom flat out (ha!) hated the picture I sent her. Then again, she wears her hair long and curly. I don't iron my hair too often, both out of laziness and because I'm worried of damaging it. After all, I take pride in having a healthy, shiny hair that was never chemically treated in any way. But I like straightening the parts near my face to make them more ruly, and I especially like the option to have a sleek look when I'm pulling it all back in a bun and not feeling like it's messy.

Variety is good.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Zana Cosmetics Lipstick And Lip Gloss- All Pinked Up

There's an obvious change in the way we look at products. There's more awareness about what we use and what we put into our bodies. More and more cosmetics companies are jumping on the natural bandwagon. Or the supposedly natural.

Personally, and it's just an opinion of someone who's not a pro in the health or well-being industry, I'm more concerned with the food that goes into my body than with anything washable that goes on the surface. Eating non-processed, organic whole foods is my top priority. But I can't deny that cosmetics that boast lack of toxic ingredients and/or an abundance of good-for-you stuff have a certain appeal.

Zana Cosmetics makeup products come in adorable outer packaging. The boxes are mostly pink with collages and illustrations, there are some pseudo-inspirational statements ("speak your mind, silence is the real crime against humanity" and "never compromise yourself". Don't ask me to analyze this. I don't do inspiration), everything is made in the USA, which makes one feel good these days, and there's a promise of mineral oil-free, paraben-free existence. Not bad for lip colors.

But then I look at the ingredient list. While the one for the lipstick is really impressive and has a lot more natural oils and waxes than any other components, the lip gloss is all about poly-this and ethyl-that. The only two ingredients I didn't have to google were silica and vanillin. So much for natural.

Once out of the boxes, the cuteness factor changes into a 70s retro vibe, all black plastic and metallic shocking pink. It has a certain charm, like a zebra print shag carpet and avocado green cabinets, but this is no Chanel.

The products I tested were surprisingly nice. I tried Kiss My Lips lipstick ($13) in Rose Wild and Diva Glaze ($14) in Hot Pink. Both are rich in pigment and quite long lasting. The lipstick is matte and dark, so all the usual rules apply: exfoliate, hydrate and line before applying. It's pretty and the color was very flattering for me. I can't wear it without a balm or a gloss, though. It's too dry for my comfort. The glaze looks scary pink in the tube, but is not as out there when applied (my lips are quite pigmented, so if you're pale you'll probably want to try a more subdued shade). It's only moderately sticky and tolerably shimmery. The pigment survives a cup of tea, though most of the glaze is gone.

I got both products as a PR freebie, and when researched online I discovered that Zana products are only available through their reps. To find one, you need to call a number on the (very annoying) website. Not the most efficient way to do business and very non-Web 2.0 approach. While I liked the lipstick enough to consider buying another one in a different color (Spicy Hot looked promising), it's not that amazing to justify any extra effort to locate the product. If i can't get it either at a local counter and/or online, I just don't bother.

All photos are mine. Model: Giselle.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum (vintage)

When I bought myself the first bottle of Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum, it was the spring of 1990 and I was emerging from a long boy-induced funk. The perfume wasn't a new release (launched in 1984) and I've wanted it for quite a while. I was 19 and still believed in signature scents. I spent six months trying to mold myself into a girl who wears YSL Paris, because my mom, full of good intentions and trying to cheer me up after a gut-wrenching breakup, bought me a gift set of the rosy pink Paris, but just like my attempts at dating during those months, Paris went sour.

Paloma Picasso the designer was one of my favorite non-blonde icons. She was a living proof that one can dark hair and eyes, family baggage, an unusual look and an individual style and still make it in the world and be a striking beauty. An important lesson for a child of the 80s whose other celebrity obsession was poor Princess Diana.

Even before I first smelled the juice, I was fascinated by the ad campaign and the red lipstick, and when I finally got to sniff it, I was sold. It was big, bold, womanly and strong. In Paloma Picasso I found exactly the person I wanted to be, and wearing it changed my attitude to the core. I could be myself again and not loath every second of it.

Paloma Picasso is a monumental chypre. It smacks you right on the head from it's opening when you realize bergamot can be a big diva. There's a floral heart that comes and goes, quite a bit of cool, dark greenery and a larger than life oakmoss base, which unlike other scents in the genre, is quite sweet and and has a feel of dark, velvety honey. Paloma Picasso is a strong and assertive perfume, of the kind that gave many chyper-wearers the reputation of an environmental hazard. It was probably not meant for 19 year olds (and neither was Sisley Eau de Soir, another big chypre and the fragrance I started wearing after someone in my social circle, a tall, flat-chested blonde, got a bottle of Paloma Picasso and made it her signature scent) even back in 1984. I still love it and keep some on hand, though I rarely wear it. When I do, I always dab and never spray, lest I kill someone with my sillage. My days of fumigating the planet are probably over.

Like just about any chyper and/or a perfume franchise owned by a global giant (L'Oreal, in this case), Paloma Picasso has been reformulated. The stuff currently found in stores (and online discounters) is as miserable and depressing as I was in the first half of 1990. And to add insult to injury,it smells cheap. If you can, seek out the old stuff (there's a good chance your aunt still has a bottle somewhere) . I always preferred the EDP, because it was sweeter and the opening didn't necessarily cleared my sinuses, but even the vintage EDT is better than the current juice.

Perfume ads: http://www.couleurparfum.com/

Monday, March 02, 2009


This One Is Mine by Maria Semple. Marriage and relationships in Beverly Hills.

It Wasn't Love But It Was Lovely by Emily Arin.

Frequently worn outfit/item
DVF cashmere wrap dresses. I hope she makes new ones every year in various colors and patterns.

Chanel 19 EDP. What's wrong with me?

Black eyeliner in any form.

roasted peppers and fresh mozzarella sandwiches.

tea, tea and more tea.

Guilty Pleasure
afternoon naps

Bane of my existence
achy throat

spring, please!

Red Coral necklace by Alexis Bittar

What are your current loves and banes?

photo of the tree in my front yard: mine