Thursday, April 30, 2009

Chandler Burr on why so many new perfumes stink

"What would possess a brand to destroy its own marvelous creation, to ask
its perfumer to take a hatchet and hack out a flanker...
...The answer is, of course, money. You put cheaper raw materials in the limited editions than in the original, which lowers your costs and gives you a quick profit bump, and you sell that cheaper product on the back of your quality brand."

The entire NY Times article by scent critic Chandler Burr is a must-read for anyone and everyone who has ever bought a mainstream perfume from a luxury or designer brand. It answers the question I keep getting from people who have accidently stumbled upon this blog while trying to google and find out what has happened to their favorite scents and why they no longer like anything they sniff at Sephora or Macy's.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

StrangeBeautiful- Niche Nail Polish

After 25 or so years of using nail polish and exactly three years of beauty blogging (I remembered too late that the previous weekend was The Non-Blonde's birthday!), it's not every day that I get this excited about such a product. I mean, it's stinky paint that goes on your nails, and if you're lucky, it stays there looking pretty without chipping for the better part of a week.

Jane Schub, a designer, illustrator and beauty entrepreneur, expects more than that. She launched her StrangeBeautiful line as a fashion accessory, an edited collection of nail polish colors of the highest quality. Despite my jaded view, I'm beyond smitten.

It starts with the colors. That's how the line actually began. Jane Schub had a vintage typewriter in a gorgeous and unusual red, and she thought the color would make a striking nail polish. The concept developed from that point. Every color is saturated, bold and makes a fashion statement. Even the few mellow colors cannot be ignored.

When I met Ms. Schub a few weeks ago at a Bergdorf Goodman event, her vision and passion for making StrangeBeautiful an outstanding brand were evident, so I was not surprised upon testing to see that only one coat is enough for a cream finish that is completely true to the color you see in the bottle. The brush is the perfect width, the polish is very quick to dry and lasts chip-free for over a week even without a protective top coat. StrangeBeautiful is also "3 Free", which means not containing Formaldehyde, Toluene, and DBP (dibutyl phthalate).

The colors I received are an orange red and a rich toffee-like brown. There's no way my photos can do them justice. The red (described as a lobster tail red by Jane schub) is my dream color. Red has been my signature from childhood and there are shades that my nearest and dearest call "Gaia Red". This is going to be one of them.

Now, here's the catch: StrangeBeautiful doesn't sell individual bottles, only "volumes". Each volume is a collection of 8 bottles and is only released once, meaning once the volume is sold out that's the last it would be seen. All the colors in each volume are beautiful beyond words, but I don't necessarily need to own all of them. I mean, if I were ever to wear a teal polish, I'd want the one offered in Volume 1. The same goes for the vibrant yellow from Volume 2 (I want a closet full of clothes and accessories in that fantastic yellow, just not sure about it for nails). But despite the very reasonable price (an 8 bottle pack is $79, pricing them far bellow most department store brands), I don't want to buy colors I'd never use. However, I still have a serious case of WANT when I look at most of these shades.

At the moment Volume of StrangeBeautiful 1 is still available. Volume 2 is the most recently launched. They are sold at Bergdorf Goodman (including online) and Luckyscent. The two bottles I have were part of a BG goodie bag.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rouge Hermes And Parfum d'Hermes- Who's Afraid of Powdery Scents?

Five or six years ago I got a mini of Rouge because the little red bottle was irresistible and I thought that an oriental was a safe bet. But I was so overwhelmed by the powderiness and less-than-contemporary feel (said the woman who wears Caleche and most of the classic Guerlains), and ended up giving it away. I stayed away from Rouge until a few months ago, when a quick sniff at my local Hermès boutique showed me why when it comes to perfume, never say never.

I started wearing it again, first from another mini and later a full bottle and all of a sudden it clicks. Yes, Rouge is still powdery and sweet in a non-gourmand way, it's a rose-amber scent with a spicy resinous core that smells like it belongs in another decade. It's one of those scents that some discounters site would say "recommended for evening wear", but I don't really care and wear it whenever I'm in the mood, just because. Then again, I'm not exactly the jeans and t-shirt type, even when going for groceries, so I guess Rouge goes with my shoes.

Rouge is actually an updated version of the 1986 Parfum d'Hermes, which is still available (but only in EDT). My bottle is of an older (though not the 80s original) parfum extrait, which is a bit darker and richer than the current version. It starts with a vicious and malicious burst of aldehydes which make me question my sanity in buying and wearing the thing, but quickly moves past it, into a thick, sweet, playdough-ish and very perfumy realms. I find Parfum d'Hermes to be less powdery than Rouge with quite a bit of sparkle. They both feel retro, like polka dot accessories and have a plastic doll note somewhere in the drydown, but I find them pleasant and pleasing.

Both Rouge and Parfum d'Hermes smell loud on top but settle rapidly into a very manageable respectable sillage. They rarely last more than 4-6 hours and don't project too much (I tested them while working out. Everyone survived). My guess is that with the wrong skin chemistry it can be disastrous, but lovers of proper florientals have a good chance of loving both PdH and Rouge with their lack of fresh or fruity notes. The bald guy running after you, muttering that this is "an embarrassing mess" and "heavy on the stomach" is Luca Turin. Just sniff your wrist and ignore him.

Both Rouge and Parfum d'Hermès are available from Hermès stores and online, $140 for 100 ml, but at least Rouge can be found found at discounters in the discontinued 1.7 oz bottle (not to mention the mini) for significantly less. I'm talking under $40, which raises the question of Hermès involvement in the gray market, but that's a whole separate discussion.

The Mysterious Case Of Mona Di Orio

The latest online kerfuffle among the perfume-obsessed centers around niche brand Mona do Orio. There were some speculations that the house is going out of business, as the bottles were pulled of the shelves and no longer available. On the other hand, Mona di Orio's web site is up, running and lists a new fragrance, Chamarre.

I emailed the Mona di Orio rep as well as Aedes, trying to figure it out. Karl from Aedes confirmed they will no longer carry the brand. Getting a direct answer from the house itself proved to be a bit harder. First, they tried claiming that some of their US retailers do have an online service and that I should look at the MdO website for details, and by the way, did I know they have a new perfume?

Seriously? Head, meet desk.

I sent a second email, pointing them to the fact that out of the three US retailers listed on the Mona di Orio website, two (Bergdorf and Aedes) have officially stopped carrying it, and the third, Spafumerie* in NYC, does not have e-commerce or any mention of MdO. That, at least, got them to admit that, indeed, Mona di Orio no longer has a US outlet. According to Jeroen Oude Sogtoen who corresponded with me, they are now searching for a good distributor.

So there you have it. Mona di Orio is still producing perfumes. It's the selling part that's gotten a bit tricky.

*Spafumerie NYC (on 2nd Ave and 48th st.) seems like a wonderful place worth checking. It's gotten rave reviews from recent visitors, but their website takes you back to 1996 when merchants had their nephews who knew a couple of HTML tags do a little website with a badly taken photo and horrible graphics.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Lipstick Effect

One of the aspects of the slumping economy is the search for industries and products that are supposedly recession proof. The lipstick effect is one of these well-known concepts. Basically, when the going gets tough, the tough buy lipstick and go to the movies (or, at least, that's what they did during the Great Depression).

WWD tried taking the concept one step further and examine the other retail equivalents of the proverbial lipstick tube. More simply put: What are people buying to feel better?

They asked leading luxury retailers, designers and chain stores. Not all who were asked agreed to participate, and some of those who did seem to be spouting a marketing script for pushing their latest crap, but it's still interesting (even if I wouldn't base my future investment decisions on this little survey).

Bergdorf and Neiman claim that we're buying Manolos and Choos. The statement show, which in a way makes sense. You get more mileage from the perfect sandals than from one Versace dress. Both retailers have a winning red lipstick, Rouge G lipstick from Guerlain. At $45 I feel like doing a lipstick face-off between this one and the $75 Serge Lutens (only available from Barneys).

Other retailers are talking accessories: scarves, belts, headbands. Nobody mentions the "It Bag", so hopefully we're over that particular craze. The Gap is trying to convince us that their boxy cardigan is the item of choice that would make us all feel good (at $44, I'd skip the cardi and go for a Guerlain lipstick). Intermix are supposedly selling jumpsuits, but I'd rather believe we all have much better fashion sense than that. Only Bernie Madoff deserves a jumpsuits.

The one thing no one mentioned was perfume. It's making me sad.

Do you think this is accurate? Are you buying red lipsticks these days? What do you purchase as a pick-me-up? Please share in a comment.

Info: WWD
Top image: Joan Crawford and a lipstick organizer, 1929
Ugly jumpsuit: Proenza Schouler, $975,

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Shiseido Perfect Rouge And Paula Dorf Sheer Tint- Rose Colored Lips

My choice for a fun spring lip color that does not evoke Barbie is dark rose. These two lipstick, Paula Dorf Sheer Tint in Havana and Shiseido Perfect Rouge in Rose Bronze (RS 799) have a similar pigment but a different texture.

The Paula Dorf one is a perfect daytime rose, feels very comfortable and moisturizing. The SPF 15 is a nice bonus. Shiseido Rose Bronze (the color is a Nordstrom exclusive) has a metallic finish and is elegant enough for evening. Like many metallic lipsticks, it requires a perfect canvas, so always exfoliate before using it. I also dab a little lip balm underneath, to keep the color out of the little scar on my bottom lip. Filling the lip surface with a lip pencil also helps with that task. Naturally, Perefct Rouge has a better lasting power.

Speaking of lip liners, the one I use with both lipsticks (and with many others, actually) is Shiseido Automatic Lip Crayon in LC6. It's a thick pencil, in the loveliest rose color that blends with my natural lip. The creamy texture is absolute perfection and is fast becoming a holy grail product.

Paula Dorf Lip Color Sheer Tint ($21) is available from, which is where I bought it. Shiseido Automatic Lip Crayon in LC6 ($23) is available from Sephora and most fine department stores. Perfect Rouge in Rose Bronze ($25) is a Nordstrom exclusive. Both Shiseido products were a gift from a fabulous friend.

Both photos are mine. Apologies for the lack of cats in them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Walk Through Anya's Garden

Natural perfumes (when done right) have a raw, three-dimensional quality that makes them come alive on the wearer's skin. At their worst, natural perfumes are nothing but a crudely mixed essential oils you can buy at your local Whole Foods. But we're not talking about those. Anya McCoy, the perfumer behind the Anya's Garden brand knows what she's doing and has definitely got it right.

None of the five perfumes in the current line (two more, Starflower and Moondance, are about to be released soon) smells anything like what passes for perfumes at your typical department store. They don't smell freshly showered or clean laundry-like and you won't found a cotton candy accord to save your life. Instead, you are confronted by a bracing opening that leads the way to the scents' unfolding which reveals their true character, of which Anya's Garden perfumes have plenty.

Fairchild smells sweet out of the vial. On skin, you discover immediately that this is a larger-than-life lush floral with multiple personalities. Just when you think you've got it figured out and it's a salty citrus scent, you realize you've seen nothing yet: Congratulations, it's a chypre.

Temple is spicy cinnamon that turns into a mellow wood with a hint of medicinal smelling oud. It's the one scent in the range that feels less personal and more aromatherapeutic. I'd like to have my house smells of this. I have a feeling one can retain sanity through Temple.

Kaffir is a perfect example of Anya's artistry. It starts like the creamiest kaffir lime Thai curry (not to be confused with the Indian version), as true to life as I can tell from buying kaffir leaves at the supermarket. But it's not a light lime-like cologne, as you soon discover. Instead, the drydown is a leather scent, as elegant as they come. It's gorgeous.

Rivercali starts fresh. Probably too fresh for my taste. But the aggressive green florals fade away into a creamy vanilla-musk-sandalwood base that's as easy to wear as it sounds. Rivercali is probably the most modern in the bunch and can serve as a good introduction to the genre.

Pan is a dirty, dirty musk. If you like the more famous beasts in this category: MKK, Ferme Tes Yeux and CB Musk you need to smell this one. And probably own it. It will drive away unwanted guests, the evil eye and the occasional small animal. Anya Lists billy goat hair in the base notes and I fully believe her.

The samples I received are of the EDP concentration. I dabbed them, which is probably not the best way to assess sillage and longevity (unlike the case of a pure perfume), but still got a decent couple of hours wear even with the tiny amount I used each time. The packaging is adorable. True to Anya's sensibilities, the box has flower seeds embedded in it, which you're supposes to plant under a 1/2" layer of soil. I'm going to try it with mine, now that the weather has improved.

Anya's Garden perfumes ($95 for 15 ml of EDP, $60-75 for 3.5 ml of extrait, $30 for a collection of five samples) are available from the website under the same name (you can also read Anya's blog here). I received the samples as freebies for review.

Art: Garden Bulbs by Marcia Baldwin

Monday, April 20, 2009

Zoya Nail Polish Summer 2009- Cruel Summer

Zoya is bringing the 80s back with the Ooh-La-La collection for summer 2009. Four of the colors, the ultra-bright ones, have a distinct neon finish that calls to mind the matching socks, rubber bracelets and scrunchies of yore. The polish colors are as summery and fun as can get, but I'm getting the feeling those among us who've been there the first time around, might not be the target audience for Ooh-La-La. The other two colors, Dita and America, aren't exactly shy violets, either, but they are easier to wear. America, a deep watermelon shade is my favorite and the one I'm more likely to reach for. It's pretty and I can almost pull it off, but it's so strong and bright I ended up feeling a bit too self conscious wearing it in polite company.

La-Di-Da is the metallic option. Nobody does blue and green nail polish as well as Zoya. If that's your thing, you're going to enjoy Tallulah and Midori with their Mediterranean summer vibe. I pick the more conservative Emme and Ginessa for a pretty pedicure to go with fun sandals.

As always, Zoya nail polish is made without the big bad three: toluene, formaldehyde, and DBP (phthalates) , the worst of chemicals. The quality is wonderful: two coats give the exact color you see in the bottle, and even the cream formula dried up quickly and didn't budge for five days. I actually took it off before there were any signs of wear and tear.

And here are a couple of reasons to be wary of the 80s:

Zoya summer 2009 collection ($6 per bottle) is available online, from the company's web site. I received it as a PR freebie.

Are Stila's Troubles Over?

Were the rumors of Stila's demise exaggerated? It was no secret that the brand was in dire straights and product availability has been somewhat spotty lately. Their web site is mostly gone and there's a notice saying orders that were place on 3/23/2009 - 3/24/2009 may be canceled.

Stila has changed hands- Lauder sold it to Sun Capital who didn't seem to make it work, to the point that (according to WWD) they could not make payroll and have sent all employees home last month for an unpaid vacation time. The latest news is of another change in ownership. WWD is now reporting that Stila was sold to venture capital firm Patriarch Partners LLC.

Personally, I was never a big fan and had no Stila must-haves. I found most of the products overpriced for what they were, but I know enough beauty-obsessed who love the brand. Are you stocking up on your favorite Stila products?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Roxana Illuminated Perfume- Part 2

As promised, more botanical goodness from Roxana Illuminated Perfume (Part 1 is here).

Sierra- Sniffing the vial gives a blast of bracing, green citrus. However, on my skin the citrus is sweet, almost candied, and the green element is replaced by a wonderful dirty earth layer. It's warm and soft, and I love the balance between the simple sweetness and the complex depth lurking underneath.

Chaparral might be the most masculine of the bunch. Basically, it's a somewhat smoky herbal incense. It starts quite medicinal and very sharp, but mellows down quickly. Chaparral has a transporting quality- it takes you to a faraway place. In the liquid form there is something that turns sour on my skin after a while, but the solid perfume is smoother and more resinous.

Vespertina is fast becoming a favorite. An orange blossom and incense combination, clean and crisp like a well-made, exquisitely cut white shirt. It might be the most perfumey in the series and very easy to wear. There's something soapy about Vespertina, in the best possible way. For an orange blossom scent, the sillage is pretty minimal, but the staying power is great and it wears beautifully. A solid version is in the works, and I have a feeling it's going to be gorgeous.

Speaking of the solids, I got to try several and loved the way they illuminate one of the star ingredients of the liquid perfumes. There is also a solitary solid, Cimbalom, which doesn't have a liquid twin. On my skin it was a sweet and dirty patchouli, very alive and incredibly sexy. Probably the complete opposite of Vespertina, and I like it just as much. The solid perfume melt into the skin and layer well with the liquid, making them last longer. The scent from most of the Illuminated Perfumes lingers for about three hours. While I thought it was completely gone, some were actually detectable on a sleeve hours later.

Roxana's blog (where I found the photo of the bottles) is a joy to read, especially once you get acquainted with the perfumes and want to learn more about the inspiration for your favorites. There's always a story and artistic references which make the scents more special.

The perfumes and solids can be purchased from Roxana's etsy store.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Cuir de Lancome- Another (Sort Of) Lost Perfume

One doesn't need to be a marketing expert to recognize the clumsiness and utter lack of thought in the way Lancome have treated their La Collection fragrances. It was a series of classic perfumes that (unlike their more commercial releases) had actually quite a bit of vision, inspiration and quality put into the juice. But ask the average Lancome customer, someone who frequents their counter to buy her skin care and lipsticks, if she had ever smelled Sikkim, Magie or Cuir. You are most likely to encounter a blank stare.

I'm not sure Cuir de Lancome has ever seen the lights of a department store in the USA. It was a case of "straight to the discounters" even though perfume lovers have waited for the 2007 release with high hopes. After all, it's not every day that a mainstream house comes out with a leather scent.

Cuir de Lancome (2007) carries the name of a 1936 release which was first called Révolte before being repackaged. I have no idea what the original cuir smelled like, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover it was a film noir kind of scent, like the great Carons and Chanels of the time. The new Cuir probably takes its inspiration from that era, but it's decidedly modern and is closer to the recent version of Chanel Cuir de Russie in its whispered leather and smooth flowers than to the daring Bandit by Piguet, a re-issue with its heels deep in the 1940s and in Katharine Hepburn's shoes.

Cuir is soft and elegant. The saffron note gives it a lot of presence and personality which is hard to ignore. I suspect this is the part responsible for any haters this scent might have. I happen to love it and enjoy the rich, buttery feeling the saffron creates. The leather note, while not overly feminine, is definitely more plush handbag than stable and saddles. There is a smoky element, but it's well-behaved and wearable. Cuir is tame and non-animalic, which might explain the lack of enthusiasm for it from many leather lovers. If your expectations were for some avant-garde scent or an innovation level akin to Cuir Ottoman (2006, Parfum d'Empire) or the wonderfully weird Cuir Mauresque (Serge Lutens), then I can see why Cuir de Lancome might not hit the spot.

However, I find it beautiful. The leather eventually melts into a smoky sweetness and I could have sworn I smell vanilla or tonka. I said above that Cuir is a lot more modern than the big leather chypres from the golden age of perfumery, but when I say "modern" I do not mean it in a commercial Sephora way, because it simply isn't. Cuir's concept is too classic, too perfumy to have a mass appeal. It has the appeal of a George Cukor film, not a Judd Apatow, which is might explain why Lancome abandoned this fragrance (with the rest of the line) in favor of the uninspired pink juice you will find front and center on their counters.

Google Cuir de Lancome and you will see all the discounters that still sell it. It can be fond for less than $50, which if you ask me is a bargain. I got a second bottle.

Photo of Norma Shearer: Zivar on

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Laboratoire Remede: Changes

I had a completely different post planned for tonight about treatments for skin emergencies. While gathering shopping information I realized that although I knew that Laboratoire Remede have changed their packaging (finally! the old tubes and jars were horrible), I haven't checked what happened to my favorite products (I've stocked up the last time Bliss had a sale).

The good news is that they still have a vitamin C serum. The updated version, Intensive Double Sèrum, seems to combine their old Super C serum with my other favorite Remede product, Double Oxygenating Booster, which they have discontinued. It was the best troubleshooter I've ever come across and killed breakouts before they actually flared up. According to Bliss website, the new Intensive Double Sèrum is a multitasker and we can still use it as a spot treatment, just like with the old product. I sure hope they know what they're talking about.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Estee Lauder 'Pure Color' Nail Lacquer In Berry Cordial

The purple nail polish craze continues. This time with the darkest magenta one can ask for.

Berry Cordial was originally launched by Estée Lauder last season, as part of the Chocolate Decadence collection. It was supposed to be a limited edition color, but it seems to have a longer stay than expected, as it's still available from Bloomingdale's and Nordstrom, and isn't marked as an LE. I got it as gift from a friend who knows about my recent quest for the purple, and Berry Cordial definitely hits the spot color-wise.

Try as I might, I couldn't photograph the polish even semi-decently, so the original stock photo will have to do. It's so dark that between my lack of skills and my miserable camera, the nail swatch looked black. In reality, the color looks more red (or crimson) in bright daylight (not that we've had too much of that lately) and like a purple tinged black cherry at night. All of this means Berry Cordial is very dark. While on the vampy side, it's not over-the-top, unless you have Morticia Adams nails. If you've already worn Essie Wicked or Chanel Tulip Noir to the office, Berry Cordial shouldn't be a problem to pull off, as it's actually quite classy and elegant and completely devoid of glitter.

When it comes to quality the good news is that one coat is enough for a perfect opaque finish that is true to the bottle. The thick brush covers the nail easily, so each nail is coated quickly and efficiently without streaking. The bad news is that like several other Lauder polishes I've owned, it's incredibly quick to chip. I tested this Pure Color lacquer with several base coats: two from Zoya, an OPI and an Essie with the same chipped results, so it's safe to say it's the polish. You absolutely must use a protective coat and renew it daily, and even then expect the need to touch up and redo every few days.

Estee Lauder 'Pure Color' Nail Lacquer In Berry Cordial ($18) is available online from and

Raspberry Cordial cupcake photo (and recipe) from the wonderfully inspiring
Tofu and Cupcakes blog

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Roxana Illuminated Perfume- Part 1

In a time when mainstream and big house perfumery is going to hell in a hand basket, the biggest comfort (and dare I say hope?) comes from the artisans and independent perfumers. They tend to not only be passionate about their artistic vision, but also about the quality of ingredients, many of them natural.

One such perfumer is Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume. Her creations are handmade as are the tinctures she uses for them. The emphasis is on botanical ingredients from the aromatics to the alcohol base. The perfumes are in extrait strength, lively, herbal and full of personality. They smell sharp in the bottle but change and develop on the skin in a way only complex naturals can.

Here's my overview, part one:

Vera- A big lavender with an orange blossom heart. It could have easily gone into soap land, but somehow it never does. Instead, it's an uplifting scent with an aromatherpeutical quality.

Aurora- Sweet and spicy carnation. Fans of Bellodgia and Golconda will appreciate the way the spicy clove-like part mellows down and melts into the skin.

Q- Tom, my scent twin, liked this one best and, unsurprisingly, I think I agree. This is, indeed, the softest side of Chene. While it took me a while to find the musk, once I got it I was smitten. It's gorgeous, gender-less, and from my unwillingness to remove my wrist from my nose, also very addictive.

Lyra- This one feels complex and multifaceted. There's a candied orange in there that doesn't become too sweet. Unlike Tom, I did get the tropical flowers, and surprisingly enough- I liked it. A lot. Out of the four here, Lyra is the strongest and most tenacious, but it stays close enough to the skin to make it very wearable.

Go to Part 2

Roxana Illuminated Perfumes are available from her website (by the same name) and her etsy store: 7 ml of parfum extrait for $190, sample sets are also available, which is what I received as a PR freebie.

Image: Into The Light by Marcia Baldwin

Barneys Co-Op Is Creative

This is what I found in my email this morning (click for full effect).

What is that and why am I supposed to want any of it? Can someone please tell me what I'm missing here? Is that makeup? Prosthetic eyebrows? I actually clicked and browsed the entire catalog, where I could see more of the same, but this photo (the front cover of their mailer) was the scariest. I guess looking good no longer sells clothes.

The ridiculous rolled/cuffed shorts on the right are nowhere to be found on the website, though. Maybe the "What Not To Wear" people got to them first.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Frederic Fekkai Protein Rx® Reparative Treatment Mask

One of the biggest improvements in recent years as far beauty products go is the great selection of heavy duty, overachieving hair products. Ten years ago there was very little fabulousness outside of Aveda salons. Nowadays things are easier and my hair is grateful.

I've been pretty devoted to L'Occitane products lately, but brand monogamy is not my thing, which is how I found myself with a tub of Frederic Fekkai Protein Rx® Reparative Treatment Mask. I've been testing it under harsh conditions: when using Hair & Shoulder shampoo (to wash out silicone buildup from another product) and after toasting my hair with the flat iron.

The first thing you'll notice is the delicious vanilla scent. The second is the straightforward, no hassle directions: just slather it on and leave for 10-15 minutes. No need for towels, shower caps or ancient rituals. It was easy to wash off and the results are great every time: soft, shiny and easy to manage hair.

Once again, my only complaint is the small packaging- I have a lot of hair and 5.5 oz is enough for about 8 uses.

Fekkai Protein Rx® Reparative Treatment Mask ($29) is available from Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom and Sephora, among other places. I bought it from in my infamous last order.

Image: Veronica Lake from

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

YSL Nu (EDP)- The Lost Perfumes Series

This is shaping up to be an Yves Saint Laurent week. Not planned, but nice.

The opening blast of YSL Nu is so similar to Donna Karan's Black Cashmere (and to a degree also to Idole de Lubin) it makes one wonder if they aren't redundant. It's a strong, dark and spicy incense, not particularly feminine and decidedly challenging. It's no wonder neither Black Cashmere nor Nu have ever been a Sephora best seller and are more of a cult fragrances.

The difference from Black Cashmere begins once Nu starts developing on skin. While BC has all that gothic rose-saffron excitement that keeps it very bold and dominant like a pair of black patent leather stiletto boots, Nu is more of an introvert. Nu means "nude", and while I'd never call it a skin scent, it does hover much more closely to the body and is a lot softer. The floral notes (supposedly white orchid) are beautiful and just a step away from powdery, leading the way to drydown that alternates between a sweet fruity musk that's even more sensual and skin-caressing, and a faint, almost smoky vetiver that keeps things surprisingly cool.

I see Nu as a sophisticated, urban perfume. There's nothing cozy about it despite its softer side. Nu is easier to wear than Black Cashmere because it's not as aggressive and the somewhat more feminine turn it takes (I still consider it quite unisex, though), but it requires dressing up and taking it someplace fabulous.

Nu was created in 2001 and discontinued about two years ago. For a while it was available criminally cheap from most online discounters. Lately it's become a little harder to find, though the price is still under $50. This review is for the EDP in the round compact-like bottle in the black plastic box. There's also an EDT in a blue bottle that was marketed for men and is supposedly closely-related but different enough to be considered a separate entity.

Image: Patricia Neal and Gary Cooper in The Fountainhead from

Monday, April 06, 2009

YSL Golden Gloss In Golden Purple

When it comes to glamorous lip products, it doesn't get much better than Chanel lipsticks and YSL glosses. Between the slick packaging and the unique pigments, these are the ones I found most irresistible.

For the longest time, YSL Golden Gloss was offered in a limited number of shades, out of which my staple color (as in keeping one in almost every purse) was #2, Golden Praline, which is a glammed up neutral. Nowadays there's a lot more choice and since I've been on a purple kick, #14, Golden Purple is the perfect treat.

Golden Purple is dark enough for an ultra sexy evening look, yet it's sheer and never goes into vampire mouth territory. There's enough pink undertone to make the color blend with the lip, and the golden particles aren't over the top. I tested it in daylight and wore it several times when running mundane errands without feeling out of place (though I admit I wouldn't have done it if I were still teaching fifth grade math). What can I say? It catches the sunlight nicely.

Since I've already gone through a couple of Golden Gloss tubes, the vegetal scent no longer bothers me. I think I even like it better than the standard plastic vanilla you find in so many lip products. but if you're used to cotton candy sweet and testing the YSL gloss for the first time, be prepared for some weirdness.

YSL Golden Gloss ($29) is available from all the usual suspects, online and in store. Mine was a gift from a friend who has an exquisite taste.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Yves Saint Laurent: Style - Book Review

Yves Saint Laurent: Style is the companion book to a traveling exhibition of the late designer's work. I guess that's the reason it was released as a paperback and not in a coffee book format, which would have suited it well.

Yves Saint Laurent: Style introduces the main themes and inspiration for YSL's designs, but does not follow a chronological order (though there is a chronological index of designs as an appendix). I loved seeing the drawing and sketches with the attached fabric swatches by themselves as well as next to photos of the actual dresses. Each image in the book is numbered and accompanied with a short description of the outfit, material, show/season and in some cases even the names of celebrities who ordered it, from the Duchess of Windsor to Catherine Deneuve.

While this is probably not the ultimate reference book for Saint Laurent's designs (and to be fair, it was not meant to be) due to the way the information is presented, it's still a pleasure to leaf through and sigh at the beauty of the dresses. It makes me sorry I was not born in the right time or place (and let's face it: income bracket) to see and live this kind of glamor.

The book was created in collaboration with Foundation Pierre Bergé–Yves Saint Laurent, and the autors' names are missing from the front cover and only appear inside. The text was actually written by Florence Müller, a fashion historian (probably one of the coolest professions ever) and the curator of the exhibition and Hamish Bowles, of Vogue fame.

Yves Saint Laurent: Style ($50 list price) is available for $31.50 on Amazon. I received it as a PR freebie.

Image: Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian-inspired sack dress on

Friday, April 03, 2009

More About IFRA Restrictions

It's not funny and I don't have a good quip for this post.

The issue is the end of perfumery as we know it. On Wednesday I asked here why no one is talking. It looks like the online conversation is starting to gain momentum, which is one baby step in the right direction: spreading the word, because consumer awareness is the only hope in this case.

I'll add more links as they become available.

* Luca Turin in Duftnote (this is a must read)
* Octavian in 1000 Fragrances (and the latest: here)
* Denyse of Grain de Musc: A letter to the editor and also in her own blog (and a second post here)
* Robin in Now Smell This
* My previous post about this.
* Gretchen from The Discursive Daily: first post and second post
* A thread on Perfume Of Life (and an interesting spin-off)
* A thread on Basenotes

* More info in (thanks to Liz Zorn)

image: photogaga on flickr

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Lancome Absolue Ultimate Night ßx

Lancôme Absolue Ultimate Night ßx is a night serum labeled for mature skin. But when I found myself with a generous 0.5 oz tube of the stuff, I had every intention to give it a good testing on my decidedly immature face.

The pseudo science babble on the Lancôme website promises to "reduce the appearance of creasing and wrinkles while increasing the appearance of skin density". We all know that once a wrinkle sets in, only a surgeon can undo it. But prevention work and serious pampering can somewhat delay the process, and that's when good skin care products come in.

Absolue Ultimate Night serum is good skin care. It feels great when you apply it (once you figure out how to deal with the thin and runny texture and determine exactly how much of it you need) as the skin soaks it up. The intense moisturizing is evident and there's absolutely no greasiness. Tired or parched skin looks better within hours, so "By morning: Skin feels softer and beautifully luminous" is not far fetched. I can definitely see and feel the softening effect. Continuous use (I've nearly drained my sample in the last three weeks) shows results, especially in the areas prone to redness and flakiness.

According to instructions, one is supposed to use the serum under a moisturizer, but I don't do it every night, only according to need. I also don't limit the use to right before bed. Instead, I sometimes apply it as a pick-me-up on a cold morning or before going up at night, under my makeup primer.

Bottom line: Lancome Absolue Ultimate Night ßx is not a Botox-replacement (I still have the beginning of frown lines on my forehead that clearly show that I'm my father's daughter), but it's a great skin care product that shows results and makes my skin happy.

Lancome Absolue Ultimate Night ßx ($140 for 1 oz) is available from Lancôme counters everywhere and on the company's web site. I got it as a GWP.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Something Is Rotten

In the opening article for the latest installment of Perfumes- The Guide, Tania Sanchez says: "This year a number of traditional perfumery materials must be removed from or reduced in all formulas, new and old. Goodbye hydroxycitronellal means goodbye Diorissimo as you knew it". But this is not the only piece of bad news. The update brings a new review for Annick Goutal's classic, Eau d’Hadrien. It was originally reviewed by Sanchez for the book (and received 3 stars), but the new restriction on the use of citrus oils (the same material you get all over your hands in much larger concentration when peeling an orange or zesting a lemon) have forced Goutal to reformulate (dropping one of their biggest sellers of all times was probably not an option) and the result, apparently, is a hand washing liquid (two stars, meaning: Not Recommended).

In another review, Turin mentions new restrictions on heliotropin. That one hurts deeply, because it affects everything from Guerlain L'Heure Bleue to Luctor et Emergo by POTL. A similar remark was made about the rose derivatives damascones (think Guerlain Nahema and YSL Paris).

Turin also speculates that the recent reformulation of Féminité du Bois was done because of new European regulation, though he doesn't specify. There was a rumor not too long ago that the next molecule on the chopping block is Iso Super E. Féminité du Bois has quite a bit of it, and if that's the case, the entire CdG Incense series as well as Terre d' Hermes are goners. But since I can't find any proof of this, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

The restrictions Turin and Sanchez confirm are enough to raise some very serious questions about the future of perfumery. Both naturals and synthetics are being categorically axed, and the result makes my perfume cabinet into a museum of lost fragrances. In this reality, even the MacGyver of scent, Jean-Claude Ellena will have a smaller arsenal of molecules to put together and create something new. Other perfumers, whose approach is far less minimalist are likely to find themselves with their hands tied more than ever.

Out of all the topics raised by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez in their book, Perfumes- The Guide and its online sequels, most people have chose to gloss over their constant warnings about the industry's surrendering to draconian restrictions over the use of more and more raw materials. It's easier to take offense because the authors trashed your favorite classic instead of asking the question: why doesn't said classic smell as good as it used to?

For those new to the issue, here's a quick recap: Modern perfumes are a combination of both natural and synthetic molecules in varying proportions and concentrations. Just as is the case for raw materials one can find in the air or in food, some people have allergic reactions to them. The cosmetics industry (and food manufacturers) must list the ingredients on the packaging. This way, those of us who are allergic to strawberries, peanuts, MSG or balsam peru would know to avoid them. We've all seen the warning "if a rash appears- discontinue use" on various face creams and hair products. It makes sense.

For a reason as mysterious as the universe itself, the organizations in charge of regulating the perfume industry have no faith in the consumers reading comprehension skills. They do not think that a warning label such as "contains oakmoss" is enough. They have required by law to drastically reduce the amount of oakmoss in fragrance. This meant that many classic perfumes had to be adjusted accordingly. Unfortunately, none of the reformulations smells as good as the original, and some scents were completely discontinued.

Now, think about candy bars that contain peanuts. A severe peanut allergy can kill you if you're not rushed to the hospital on time. Yet, Sneakers bars are not restricted in any way.

But this is very old news. And the perfume industry's quick and easy surrender to this blow is a well-known fact.

According to Turin, nothing but a serious fight-back from the industry could change this, but they are not likely to do a thing if the consumers are silent. Why are we silent? Why do we keep buying bottles of reformulated juice? Why aren't we sending them back to LVMH accompanied by a nastigram?

Of course, there are other important questions: Who benefits from this? Why the fight against perfume, of all things? What is behind the industry's silence? But we, as consumers, can only change our own behavior, which is why I'm wondering why the discussion about the Guide doesn't include any alarm regarding the news mentioned above.

Some follow-up here.

Image: Animal Makers