Sunday, May 31, 2009

Histoires de Parfums Ambre 114

Looking at my fragrance wardrobe, it's pretty clear I'm a fan of amber accord in almost any form. After all, what's not to love? It's rich, warm, often sweet and paired with vanilla and spice. Histoires de Parfums Amber 114 is no different in this regard, and despite all the other ambers I wear, it still has a place in my perfume cabinet as it's different enough.

Ambre 114 feels more restrained and pulled together than the exuberant powerhouse of Ambre Sultan. It shares the pairing of herbs and spice in the top and middle notes, but it's not as chewy and vegetal. Actually, while the 114 in the name stands for the number of ingredients in the perfume (how very Le Labo), the blending is so smooth and seamless it doesn't really invite you to play "spot the note". There's more of a feeling- a spicy phase, a floral streak and all that powdery vanilla-tonka-benzoin of a spicy oriental that makes one glue her nose to her wrist and roll her eyes with pleasure.

The entire Histoires de Parfums line is beautifully made and worth exploring, but right now Ambre 114 is my favorite (well, together with the sexy 1740 Marquis de Sade and 1969 which feels like an elegant and improved Angel), probably because it allows me to indulge in amber even in hot weather. I like to wear it at night as it's a bit dressy, but unlike many other ambers it doesn't feel dense. The herbal element keeps it clean (and unisex), and the very moderate sillage makes it appropriate almost everywhere, though my personal taste finds it on the romantic side.

Histoires de Parfums scents ($185 for 120 ml) are available in the US from Takashimaya in NYC and online through, where you can also order samples of the entire line. In Europe, it's available directly from the company's website (130 €). I received the samples and a mini of Ambre 114 as a PR freebie.

Art: Shooting Star by Sabzi

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Get Positively Beautiful by Carmindy- Book Review

Carmindy's second book, Get Positively Beautiful, has been sitting in my pile of books for months now. I couldn't decide what to do with it. Obviously, it's a beauty book that was sent to me for review, so I was simply supposed to read it and let the world know what I think of it. But it wasn't that easy.

As a beauty book, Get Positively Beautiful is mediocre at best. The chapters focusing on makeup application and technique resemble the generic advice you find in magazines. Here's an example:

"For an eye that's ready for day or evening, lightly line the upper lash line with a pencil. Next, sweep a midtone shadow on the lid, and with an angled brush, smudge it under the lower lash line. Then brush a contour shadow in the crease and a highlight shade under the brow. Finish with mascara, and you're gorgeously good to go." (page 46)


The very few illustrations are of little help. The "custom eye looks" try to explain how to apply eye makeup for different eye shapes, but the drawings show almost the exact same eye for every category, so the point is lost.

What you do get in the book is lots of great photos of Carmindy herself, in action and just showing her very pretty face. She's gorgeous and likable, but I'm not sure how that serves the purpose.

So why can't I just come out and say "this book sucks"?

As a beauty/makeup manual it does, indeed, suck. But Get Positively Beautiful is trying to be more than that, and there's some merit to this approach. If you're familiar with Carmindy's work on the American version of What Not To Wear, you know she starts her makeup consultations by asking the woman in front of her "what do you see in the mirror?". She then works on showing her makeoveree just how naturally pretty are some of her features and encourages her to plat them up. Carmindy doesn't talk about hiding, fixing or camouflaging your flaws. Instead, she focuses on the pretty and the positive, making sure the women can still recognize themselves in the mirror.

Similarly, large parts of the book are dedicated to make one change the way she looks at herself in the mirror. It's sort of a "chicken soup for the soul" thing, full of positive affirmations and mantras. I admire the good intentions and the loving spirit and think we all could use some of this attitude for looking at ourselves and at the world. But is it effective? Would reading such a book 25 years ago had saved me some of the teen angst? Had I been able to look at myself and see more than a nose only a plastic surgeon could love? Maybe, but I have a hunch it takes more than statements in a book by a picture-perfect blonde makeup artist.

Get Positively Beautiful by Carmindy (list price is $21.99, available on Amazon for $14.29) can be found in any bookstore, online and offline. I got my copy as a PR freebie.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Kevyn Aucoin - The Expert Lip Tint in Dantique

The name of this product, The Expert Lip Tint by Kevyn Aucoin, is somewhat misleading. It's more of a full-on lipstick than a tint, both in coverage and in pigment. It glides on nicely, and as long as you make sure to exfoliate beforehand, the rich texture sits well and looks very flattering. The finish is almost creamy though not shiny and makes the lips appear a little fuller.

My color of choice, Dantique, is described as sheer red, but it's not really sheer, at least not in the see-through sense. It's a warm red with a slight rust/brown base that isn't too obvious but works to keep the color more natural-neutral. It adds warmth and life to the face and is very wearable, day or night. Staying power isn't the best and I need to reapply after having a cup of tea, but it's quite moisturizing, so my lips are happy.

Model: Buffy
Photos and cat: Mine

Kevyn Aucoin The Expert Lip Tint ($23) is available from Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Sephora and, which is where I bought mine.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Anise Nail Polish

Anise Cosmetics is another great company that produces non-toxic nail polish (meaning free of formaldehyde, toluene and DBP). They have been cruelty-free certified by both PETA and the Leaping Bunny Organization and conform to several green and eco-friendly standards.

The colors you see here are part of the Spring/Summer 2009 collection (they do not stock older colors, for better and for worse), which like other major lines this year, are all about bright colors from neon pink to sunny yellow. While my favorites are usually the more mellow shades (today I'm wearing the rosy bronze Fake'n Bake), I must admit falling in love with Thank Heavens, the creamy pale aqua. It's fabulous on one's toes and looks surprisingly flattering against my skin. Who would have thought?

The polish goes on easily and smoothly, and while I haven't tried all the colors yet, there was no streaking with those I applied. The texture is a bit thinner than I'm used to, but the coverage is good. You'll need two to three coats to achieve the color intensity you see in the bottle and the level of shimmer varies between the colors- while Fake'n Bake is almost glittery, the gorgeous tangerine of Club Tropicana is more mellow and office-friendly.

Anise Cosmetics nail polish is sold at Whole Foods Markets, DSW Shoes stores and Annie Sez stores. The colors I got were a PR freebie.

Model: Lizzy. All photos are mine.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Top Ten Summer Perfumes

Can there be a list of summer perfume recommendation without boring myself silly and/or mentioning Eau d'Hadrien? I'm going to try. Some of these are new(ish), others are perennial favorites. In no particular order:

1. Reverie au Jardin- Tauer
Midsummer afternoon dream. Will transport you to a magical alpine garden.

2. Amethyst- Olivier Durbano
Slightly sweetened pencil shavings, clean incense and a touch of vanilla. Surprisingly refreshing in the heat.

3. Un Matin d'Orage- Annick Goutal
Green gardenias drenched in rain without an ounce of sweetness until the musky drydown.

4. Monyette Paris *
The other side of gardenia. Tropical, sweet with a touch of nag champa incense. Put a flower in your hair and go dancing on the beach.
*I think it's the first fragrance review I've written here. It's magnificently bad, but kind of nostalgic in a campy way.

5. Nuit de Cellophane- Serge Lutens
Osmanthus flowers with a hint of apricot. Like drinking iced peach tea on a beautiful Cape May porch.

6. Italian Cypress- Tom Ford
Is it an homage to Eau d'Hadrien (so I lied. It had to be mentioned)? Maybe. But the cypress is a darker green and the feeling is more pulled together.

7. Encre Noire- Lalique
Or any other vetiver, really. I've chosen this one because it's a bit softer while still dry and grassy.

8. (Vintage) Vivara-Pucci
I'm talking about the original 60s formula. A salty chypre that belongs with the jet set in San Tropez. White pants, a Pucci scarf and oversized sunglasses are essential.

9. Bois Blond- Parfumerie Generale
A roll in dry hay on a lazy Sunday afternoon. You can smell the earth and trees baking in the sun.

10. Figuier- Heeley
Like lying in the shade of a huge, old fig tree next to a running stream.

What are your summer favorites this year?

art: Embarkation by Dan Dahlke

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual- Book Review

Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual is the book I wish I had years ago. It would have saved me countless of makeup disasters, stupid purchases and the entire dark age known as the 80s. Of course, all these years of experimenting are also responsible for my beauty obsession and the thought process that started and created this blog, so maybe it was not all bad. In any case, this book is probably among the most useful makeup tools one can have.

Bobbi Brown's approach to beauty and makeup has always been about letting the woman shine, making her look like the best possible version of herself. Her makeup line makes sense- the colors are pretty, flattering, wearable, and will never make one look like Katie Price or Shauna Sands. The great news is Bobbi Brown's latest endeavour, the Bobbi Brown University, a new program that will encompass the in-house training for the company’s artists plus college-level classes she developed for Montclair State and her alma mater, Emerson College. It would be fabulous to see more and more makeup artists trained according to Bobbi Brown and less of the parrot school of color application.

I got to hear Bobbi speaking about her vision, her school and her book a couple of weeks ago at an industry event, organized by Makeup Artist Magazine. It was a fun cocktail party for makeup artists and industry professionals which let everyone a chance to mix and mingle, meet Bobbi Brown and ask her questions. I brought my copy of the book and got her to sign it, which excited me quite a bit (I'm a nerd and have a serious thing for autographed books).

The book itself covers everything one needs and wants to know, from color choices to application techniques. There are thorough explanations of the types of brushes, including tips on choosing the right ones. Different skin types and complexions get the proper attention and coverage (I especially feel validated about a couple of my observation regarding my own skin tone and what's right for it), and the focus is always on working with nature and not against it.

The detailed instructions for everything from the proper way for applying foundation, covering blemishes and doing a dramatic smoky eye are absolutely priceless. Some of the photographs are breath-taking (you'd recognize many of them from Bobbi's various collections. They look so much better in high quality print and you get to appreciate the artistry) and would make you head straight to your mirror and start playing. The wealth of information is wonderful and is interesting and useful enough to hold the attention of even a seasoned makeup user.

I liked that there's a section about lifestyle and nutrition as the base for every beauty routine. What you eat and how you live shows in your face. Just look at Kate Moss or Amy Winehouse and then compare them to 51 year old Bobbi Brown herself.

I admit I only skimmed the chapters about becoming a makeup artist, and since I'm not really in that game, I can't comment about its usefulness for an industry pro. The history of makeup and the who's who sections were fun, though.

Bobbi Brown Makeup Manual ($36 retail price, listed on for $20.16) is available from bookstores online and offline. My copy was a PR freebie.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Shiseido Eye Shadow Quad- Rose Tones

Even someone with a general pink aversion can use a little bit of the questionable color as both a pick-me-up and to add a little life to a makeup look. It's all about matching colors and blending. A fabulous texture doesn't hurt, either.

Shiseido Eye Shadow Quad in Rose Tones successfully pairs two pink shadows: a very light one and a bright azalea pink with mauve and a dark dusty eggplant. The light pink has fast become my favorite highlighter, as unlike 90% shadows in this category it actually does the work on my weird skin color and gives just the right amount of brightening. It doesn't shows as very pink when applied, which is a good thing, but it gives the coveted "alive and awake" look.

The mauve is my go-to color for an easy daytime makeup, and with a touch of the eggplant as a liner, the look is soft and pretty. Mauves and purples can be tricky on certain complexions and create a bruise effect, so beware, especially if you're very fair. But most olive skin tones can pull it off, and then carefully add a little of the brighter pink (and blend well! the pigment is rich and strong) to bring more life into the mix. The shadows have the most delicate sheen/shimmer. They're not shiny or metallic, just very bright.

The texture of these shadows is superfine and silky. It lends to easy blending and application, just be sure to use a very soft brush, as it tends to somewhat crumble in the pan. A primer is non-negotiable. It will make the eye shadows stay on all day (including in humid NYC) and look better. I tested with and without a primer and the difference was significance, so it's worth the extra 30 seconds to get it right. I use the Sephora Brand Professional Platinum brushes, but any good, soft brush would do.

Shiseido 'The Makeup' Eye Shadow Quad ($36.50) is available at the better department stores as well as from Sephora. Mine was a gift from a friend.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Frederic Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur- First Impression

The Blond and I dropped by Barneys yesterday, hoping to get a first sniff of the new Frederic Malle, Géranium Pour Monsieur (a Dominique Ropion creation). The perfume hasn't launched yet and will not be available until the second week of June, but the SA (you'll need to go downstairs to the Beauty floor. It's not at the Men's department yet) had a tester in the back room.

She has warned us that Géranium Pour Monsieur needs time to develop, because the story here is the drydown. She was right. The opening is uncomfortably minty. More chewing gum than what you'd expect from a fine fragrance. For a few dreadful moments I thought it was going to be like the stomach-turning Cartier Roadster, especially on the husband's skin. I generally don't like mint in perfume and this was no exception, though it's not really bad, just too fresh for my taste. It's cool and airy, but thankfully not aquatic or ozonic, and the mint morphs into other herbal notes within 10-15 minutes.

The geranium note was more abstract than anticipated. I thought it would be similar to Miller Harris Geranium Bourbon, which is sunny and rosy. But Géranium Pour Monsieur stays cool and somewhat aloof. It gives the impression of a pale mint-colored space, if that makes any sense. This is the most masculine part of the scent, with a clean, slightly spicy (clove? it's a bit medicinal and continues the dental hygiene theme from the opening) herbal cleanliness. I was nearly ready to write it off when it made a turn for the better, on my skin more than on the Blond's.

The drydown was very pleasant. A musky, clean skin scent (that's what I wanted from Dans tes Bras) mixed with a note that made me think of a white-washed wood. It was a bit like smelling Bois d'Orage/French Lover from afar. It got better and better with time, and lasted for hours on my skin, but faded relatively quickly on my husband. I think the base of Géranium Pour Monsieur is quite unisex, in a clean, friendly way. It feels like an ideal summer scent, and while at first I didn't think it's all that great and definitely not a must-have, it has grown on me the longer it stayed on, and one day later I find myself still thinking of it.

Image: Mint Spring I by Elena Filatov from allposterscom

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere

The original Chanel No. 5 on all its concentrations, variations and formulations is so iconic and recognizable I doubt I'd ever bother (or dare) reviewing. It's part of just about everyone's olfactory memory in some way or another, even if one knows nothing about perfume (and cares even less). The classic aldehydic-floral blend has become what many would recognize and label simple as "perfume", even if they can't name it. As a result, almost everyone has an opinion about it. It amused me to no end to hear my 60-something father call it "an old lady scent", but it makes sense if you think about it: for my dad's generation, Chanel No. 5 is the perfume of mothers, aunts and grandmas. Let's face it, these ladies have been old for quite a while.

But we're not here to discuss No. 5, which I keep on hand for reference purpose, but rarely wear. This is about the updated version, Eau Premiere, which was created for the sake of those of us who have a Chanel-lust but suffer an aldehyde aversion. An interesting idea, for sure, and much more civilized than simply butchering a classic in the name of modernity.

No. 5 Eau Premiere is easy on the nose. It has an airy citrus meringue opening (think of a pared-down, non gourmand Shalimar Light), an abstract floral heart which is most like the original No. 5, though I have a hard time telling the flowers apart from each other, while at least in the parfum they are more noticeable, and a muted vanilla and soap base. The drydown might be the weakest link here. It's barely there and not very convincing for someone who prefers a scent with some fangs.

Eau Premiere is easy to wear and easy to like. While it is decidedly recognizable as No. 5, it lacks the challenging parts, though I doubt my father would find it more youthful (he wears Terre d'Hermès these days). It's pleasant, pretty and no matter how much I apply, it never becomes obnoxious (and I've worn it while doing 90 minutes on the elliptical trainer). It feels like a go-to scent, something I'd reach for when I have no clue what else I'd like or when needing something tasteful, appropriate and not oozing with personality. As a result it's also a little boring. Not in a bad way, though. I think of Eau Premiere as the equivalent of a J. Crew cardigan. It's a functional and essential piece in one's wardrobe, but unless you know how to integrate the sweater into an interesting outfit and accessorize it well, you might end up looking just a bit bland.

Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere is available in those ridiculous 5 oz bottles for $125 from Chanel counters and However, some online discounters have managed to stock the more tasteful 2.5 oz bottles (did they fall off of a truck on the way to Canada?) and they sell it for around $80. I have a 5 ml mini which is probably over a year's worth, and I have every intention to get more once it reaches critical level.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pantene Pro-V Red Expressions Shampoo- The Case Of The Mysterious Bottle

I have no idea why I had a bottle of Pantene Pro-V Red Expressions Shampoo in my product stash. I didn't buy it, that's for sure, and since my hair has never been red and there wasn't a matching bottle of conditioner next to it, I can only assume it was sent to me with other random products and got shoved under the sink, waiting for salvation.

I dug it out a few months ago and it's been residing in my shower and getting an occasional use, just because it's red and it's there. But I have to say, red or not, this is a pretty decent shampoo, even if I can't comment on the color preserving issue.

Pantene Pro-V Red Expressions Shampoo smells like apples, which is not something I like in perfume or lotion (it actually makes me gag), but has a nostalgic quality in shampoo. It lathers nicely and feels very pleasant on my scalp and hair, leaving a clean feeling without any itching or dryness. I always use it with heavy duty deep conditioning masks, and it never clashes with these products. The red color is a bit weird and I always make sure to rinse the tub well after use to make sure there's no freaky looking residue. It doesn't affect my dark brown color, but I think my hair looks a bit more shiny after I wash it with this shampoo, or maybe it's just my imagination. In any case, I like it a lot better than I'd expected.

Pantene Pro-V Red Expressions Shampoo can be found at your local drugstore for around $6. I have no idea how it got into my possession, so I assume it was a PR freebie.
Photo: Getty Images

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hermes Caleche (Parfum)

As a 1961 creation, Caleche has been around nearly a decade before I was even born. thus, by the time I started to be aware of perfumes and the women who wore them, it was already a fairly recognisable classic. I never gave it any more thought than to other aldehydic scents like Chanel No. 5 or Arpege. It smelled soapy and perfume-like and neither my mom, Queen Of White Flowers, nor I, who preferred big orientals, had any reason to keep it around. Chanel, Hermes, Lanvin... they were French, elegant and I probably considered them boring for longer than I care to admit.

Hermès perfumes pre-Ellena might have lacked the marketing concepts and direction that would have put them on the best seller list, but many of them made strong aesthetic statements and were quite iconic in their own way. Caleche, a crisp, well-tailored chypre, is an excellent example of a mostly-extinct perfume style. These scents that used to define femininity would probably be appealing and wearable to a modern man.Caleche is dry, clean and very understated, once you get over the fear of aldehydes and flowers.

The bottles I own are both of the parfum extrait. One is from the early 80s and the other more recent. It's important to note, because just like any other veteran perfume and perfume house, Hermès have reformulated Caleche (and probably more than once).

The differences between my two bottles are quite striking. The older one has a dark streak hiding just behind the prim and proper soapiness. The oakmoss tramples the floral heart quite easily and takes Caleche to secret places. I find it sweeter and a touch more feminine than the newer version, which is decidedly cleaner in the opening and dries own to a warm and pleasant vetiver, albeit pale. The new Caleche feels less French, more no-nonsense and a bit faceless. I still like it well enough to wear it when I need something calm and centering to start my day, but I can't really say that it's an interesting perfume. I guess it's more of a nice relic.

Once again, all of the above is about the parfum extrait. The juice sold as today's Caleche EDT is not even funny.

Caleche in parfum extrait can be found at Hermes boutiques ($130 for 0.25 oz), but both my bottles were eBay finds, which is the way to go for vintage.

Photos of Jeanne Moreau with Annette Stroyberg and Roger Vadim from

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Today I went back to finish a book I've abandoned weeks ago, then moved on to read a couple of chapters from Pride and Prejudice, because I needed the comfort of familiar words. Next might be something by Carol Goodman.

Richard Shindell's version of Springsteen's 4th of July, Asbury Park (aka Sandy). It's my favorite Bruce song and Shindell takes it into a whole new level of awesome.

Frequently worn outfit/item
Trench coats. 'Tis the season.

MPG Racine. The softer side of vetiver.

Anything by Le Metier de Beaute . Superb quality.

Pineapple chunks.

Chinese green tea.

Guilty Pleasure
My mom's sugar cookies.

Bane of my existence

My new laptop is finally making its way here.

Why is Mariah Carey suddenly everywhere?

What are your current loves, hates and little pleasures? Please share.

Art: Tamara de Lempicka-Portrait de Mme Ira Perrot

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sira des Indes By Jean Patou -The One With The Banana

The first few times I tested Sira des Indes on my wrist were mostly a dare and a little game I was playing with myself. This 2006 perfume from the formerly mighty house of Jean Patou is mostly famous for having a banana accord, and a synthetic banana is among the vilest of scents as far as I'm concerned. But I sprayed, sniffed and survived. And tried it again several more times until I found myself searching online and buying a 1/4 oz bottle of Sira des Indes in parfum extrait against my better judgment. How did that happen?

The short answer: The thing smells pretty and it was a bargain.

I'm a sucker for extraits. Even if they come from a perfume house that has gone downhill so much you can barely recognize its roots and former glory. Even if said house is now owned by a giant corporation (Procter & Gamble) more famous for feminine hygiene products, paper towels and over-the-counter heartburn medication, to only name a few highlights.

Let there be no mistakes here: Sira des Indes is a tropical fruity floral, pink, punch-like and girly. It has a creamy sandalwoodish vanilla drydown that appeals to one's inner teenager and opulent tropical flowers that belong on a printed pareo wrap worn on the Love Boat's Lido Deck (preferably while reading a chick-lit novel and sipping a pink drink decorated with a pink umbrella from a glass that had its rim dipped in pink sugar).

This still doesn't explain why I own this little bottle.

The thing is, Sira des Indes is actually very balanced. Yes, it's sweet, but none of the facets- the fruits, the flowers or the milky base-is too overwhelming or aggressive. I don't get the banana, either. It's more of an abstract plate of fruit poached in a vanilla bean syrup. The flowers are kept in check and never turn screechy or suffocating. Champaca notes can be easier to wear than gardenia or tuberose, and they play well with others, without hogging the bottle.

The result in this case is a cheerful little thing for summer. My skin is extremely vanilla-friendly, and the the parfum, with its creamier tendencies and medium-low sillage, works nicely. I consider wearing Sira des Indes an equivalent of wearing pink. It's not really my style and I don't do it often, but there are days that call for it.

Sira des Indes is one of the few Jean Patou perfumes still in production. It's sold in most department stores for a pretty penny, but can be found for less than half retail price through the usual suspects online. The parfum is a better choice than the EDP, if you can find it, though it doesn't add to the scent's lasting power.

Art: Amaryllis 06 by Marcia Baldwin

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Le Metier de Beaute Jade Anamorphic Lash Mascara

I have very little patience for purple prose or ridiculous promises. A mascara that comes with declarations about "three-dimensional lashes" (because otherwise lashes don't have three dimensions?) and "Conditions as it thickens for a soft, touchable look" (I dare you to try and touch my lashes) doesn't get the best starting point with me.

I was fully prepared to unleash some snark, but Le Metier de Beaute Anamorphic Lash Mascara is actually quite fabulous.

The brush is not too big and not too thin, resulting in a perfect, even coat. The color goes on smoothly, gives the proper amount of thickness and length without going overboard. I get beautifully defined lashes that don't cross any lines into scary territory. The Anamorphic mascara holds the curl for hours, and after nearly a month of use I have yet to see clumping, flaking, cooning or smudging. Removal with all the usual suspects is easy and painless.

Le Metier de Beaute products are normally very pigmented (reviews coming soon). In this case, the one I have is Jade, supposedly a very dark hunter green, but for the life of me I can't detect any green. It's a not-quite-black or an almost brown on my lashes, which is fine with me, as long as the result is so pretty and the mascara is a high performer as this one.

Le Metier de Beaute Anamorphic Lash Mascara ($36) is available from Bergdorf Goodman online and in store. Mine was part of a Bergdorf goodie bag.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Serge Lutens Water Lip Color (Encre Pour Les Levres)

It looked like a good idea at the time.

After all, long before Serge Lutens has created his perfumes, he became famous for the innovative makeup looks he developed for Dior and Shiseido. I've been fawning over his makeup line for a while (and briefly tested the eye shadows. Liked them a lot), so when the Water Lip Colors came out I had to get one.

The choice was easy, as there are only two colors: Chardon (a berry/purple grape) and Safrané (a fiery orange). I went with the former.

The packaging didn't disappoint. An elegant Lutens box in black and tan, holding the sleek tube with the slanted applicator. I liked the wand and found it efficient in reaching the corners and curves, which is quite important when dealing with a lip stain (unlike a regular gloss that tends to be more forgiving).

Unlike too many lips stains on the market, the Lutens goes on much more evenly and isn't blotchy when first applied (attention: foreshadowing). It's completely sheer and takes the concept of "your lips, but better" into new heights. The finish is matte and there's absolutely no goop or residue, so it doesn't even look like makeup. Color intensity is somewhat buildable. I've found that three coats give me exactly the right look.

But nothing is perfect.

It takes a little practice to paint within the lines. Using a lip liner would completely ruin the look here, so you need to make sure not even a speck of color lands outside the desired area. I also discovered that any imperfection on the lip, like my tiny scar, absorb more tint than desired. I have to use a thin brush and fill the scar with a lip balm (or an eye cream... works just as well), so the product doesn't pool in it. Once I got the hang of it, initial application was great. The problem is with the way the lip stain wears. Blotches appear towards the inside of the mouth after about an hour or once you drink the first cup of tea, whichever comes first. Since the color doesn't wear off evenly, I end up looking as though I've just eaten a grape popsicle. Not exactly something you want when paying $65 for the most stylish lip product around.

Serge Lutens makeup in the USA is exclusive to Barneys (in Europe it can be ordered directly from the Salons du Palais Royal). I ordered it online, but at the moment it seems they're out of stock.

Photos: mine (as apparent from the poor quality). Model: Gracie

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mona di Orio Chamarre (and more disturbing news)

The good news is that Chamarré, the new perfume from Mona di Orio, is quite lovely and doesn't have the disturbing opening found in so many of Di Orio's scents*. The bad news is that if you're in the USA, there's no way to buy it (unless one of the few remaining European distributors is willing to ship).

The even worse news is that the only place that still carries the Mona di Orio line here, Spafumerie (2nd Ave. and 48th st, NYC. A must-visit destination), will not be getting Chamarré and according to the SA with whom I spoke today, is most likely to stop offering the other MdO perfumes. The reason? It's a hard sell. Customers just don't get it and are unwilling to give the fragrances the time of the day once they smell the unpleasant opening. The store still has a few bottles of the older perfumes (Lux, Nuit Noire, Carnation, Amyitis and Oiro) and the scented candles, but as of right now, they would not be getting any more.

But back to Chamarre. The opening is very friendly with a burst of lavender and clary sage. The official notes also include aldehyde, but this isn't what you expect from an aldehydic perfume- the ghosts of No. 5 and Arpege are definitely not here. There's just a light and airy burst that keeps the lavender from smelling like a traditional cologne. The first time I wore Chamarre, it made me think of the top notes in Tauer's Reverie, but it might have been just a craving on my side, as the perfumes are nothing alike, despite the herbal aspect.

As the opening wears off, Chamarré becomes much more of a skin scent. The florals are powdery and subdued, I get more violet than rose and it all dries down into an almost fuzzy, nubby texure. It has a musky presence, and just like in Carnation, the result is more than a little carnal. The effect has also reminded me of Frederic Malle's Dans tes Bras (sans earth and mushrooms), though Chamarré is brighter.

I wish Chamarré had a better sillage and was longer lasting. After three hours one risks a neck injury from the nose-to-cleavage action (there was nothing left on my wrists). The leftover scent on my clothes reveals a warm and dry violet, elegant and not too rich. I'm starting to think of is as a violet scent the more I wear it, probably for this reason. My husband tried it once and found it pleasant enough and men-friendly, but nothing to rock his socks. I like it quite a bit and think it could have been more popular than the other di Orio perfumes (personally, I still prefer Carnation), if not for the little problem of marketing and availability.

As I've mentioned in my previous post on the subject, Mona di Orio perfumes are no longer sold at Bergdorf Goodman and Aedes in NYC. If I understand correctly, the problem is not limited to the US and other European distributors have also removed the line from the shelves, though unlike the USA situation it is not confirmed. Liberty London only has Lux, Nuit Noire and Oiro, but Les Senteurs actually has Chamarré in stock, which is a very good sign. If any of my readers know more details, please comment. The MdO web site does not have e-commerce at this time (why? You'd think they'd learn something from Ormonde Jayne, Andy Tauer, Vero Kern and many others. It's not that complicated). It's sad how such a deserving line is getting lost not because of quality, but because of poor marketing and communication from the house and mostly an oversight when it comes to the house's biggest and best potential fan base.

The perfume enthusiasts are online. We read (and write) blogs. We post on message boards and join Facebook groups. We email , we Twit and most of all: we shop online. That is, if you let us.

*My husband's intitial reaction to Nuit Noire on a scent strip was "vile". Then I sprayed it on and he agreed it was beautiful and sexy. Take that, Luca Turin.

Art: Violet Nude by John Keaton

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Underachievers And Underperformers

There are so many great products on the market and it's hard enough to keep up with them. I usually manage to avoid the really awful ones, but what about the ones that aren't horrible, just don't perform as you would hope?

Here are a bunch I've encountered in recent months. Please comment if they happen to work better for you.

Boots Time to Cleanse- Time Dimensions deep cleansing wipes
I always have makeup removal wipes on hand, even though it's not the most effective method. You know those nights when one step cleansing is all one can manage? That's when cleansing cloths are a life-saver. I usually use the regular ones in the greenish packaging, but my Target isn't known for being well-stocked at all times, so I picked these instead. They clean, sort of, if you insist and rub your face enough. Not exactly what I want to be doing. Following with a toner solves the problem, but that defies the purpose.

Guerlain Success Future Day Care SPF 15 Wrinkle Minimizer
I've gone through several sample tubes before giving up. It's a daytime moisturizer with SPF 15, but it's just doesn't deliver on the moisturizing front. I tested it under various conditions and the result is always the same: needs supplement. While at $140 for 1 oz it's about half the price of the heavy guns, it's still way too much for a non moisturizing day cream (and the pure amber extract? I don't buy it).

Skyn Icelandic Relief Eye Cream with Biospheric Complex
(Have you noticed how all these products are a mouthful?)
An eco-friendly eye cream full of good intentions but does diddly squat on those mornings one needs extra help to perk up. I've been spoiled rotten by Lancome Secret de Vie Eye, so it's hard to compromise. Works great as a lip balm, though.

Arcona White Tea Eye Makeup Remover
I usually love Arcona products. They tend to smell great and feel wonderful on skin. The high concentration of plant extracts doesn't hurt, either. But when it comes to removing eye makeup this product is a dud. It takes a lot of product and too much rubbing to remove my mascara and eye liner, and even then it's never 100% clean. Completely unacceptable.

Image: Some rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Nars Brightening Serum- There's Something About It

Last time we discussed brightening I was so impressed with Shiseido White Lucent cream, I decided to buy the matching serum. Somehow I got sidetracked and purchased something else instead- Nars Brightening Serum. In my defence, the Nars serum has been on my must try list for a couple of years, so it's not completely a case of product ADD. I had to cross it off my list, right?

Unlike many treatment serums, Nars Brightening Serum isn't a before-bed product. It's actually a multitasker which is part of one's makeup routine as well as a step in your skin care regimen. While it does suppose to do some magic to whiten, brighten and even out the complexion, it also has its own opalescent-iridescence thing going on that supports foundations and gives the skin a certain glow.

That glow made me a bit iffy about this product at first. The serum's moisturizing properties aren't enough for me to skip my regular face cream which is as essential to my morning routine as that first cup of tea. They both make me look and feel alive. Adding the opalish serum felt like a bit of an overkill and I wasn't too sure about having anything iridescent on my face. Add to that the regular adjusting hassle of a few clogged pores in the first couple of days and you get a product that wasn't likely to make it to my "best of" list this year.

The key word here is "adjusting". I found that the heaviness becomes bearable quickly, especially once I apply foundation (I also like to mix a drop of each in my palm and apply together for an even lighter coverage). It doesn't actually make the face into an opalescent mask though there is some subsurface subtle glow.

I can't say the promise to improve appearance after one use is serious, but then again, I'm extremely diligent (read: obsessive) about my skin care routine, so the only overnight improvement would have been if I were to wake up and find my face has turned into Sophia Loren circa 1959. What I can say is that after about a couple of months of nearly daily use, one of the sun spots on my left cheek has become a tiny, pale dot. Of course, I've been seruming myself out for two years now and I also keep using the Shiseido whitening cream at night, so it's not a scientific proof for anything except for the fact that good skin care makes a difference. But I'd guess Nars Brightening Serum has something to do with it.

Nars Brightening Serum ($61 for 2.5 oz) is available from the company's web site, several department stores and Sephora, which is where I bought mine.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Oribe Hair Care: Signature Shampoo And Conditioner

Celebrity hair stylist product lines seem to be exempt from the yawns, groans and ridicule that follow items such as Paris Hilton perfumes and Ramona from the Real Housewives of NYC skin care. Then again, these products seem to be at least above the average, even if no one actually believes the hair guru worked in the lab and concocting the perfect serum.

Oribe has been one of the biggest names in the industry for decades and was responsible for many runway and cover looks as well as for gossip items from the feud that was or wasn't with Jennifer Lopez to a story about Linda Avengelista throwing a backstage tantrum and sticking her head in the sink, threatening to run the water over her newly coiffed hair just before the show was about to begin, unless Oribe changes the style he gave another model, which was too similar to hers. His work usually features drama and volume and he has a refreshing respect for curls.

The Oribe hair care line is taking the image and reputation to new heights. It starts with the packaging: the ivory-and-black boxes could just as well hold perfume. They call to mind the iconic Serge Lutens box. The bottles are sleek, beautiful and free of the cluttered graphics and print you expect to find. Dark colors, muted and minimal script and the Versace-inspired logo. It's obvious that someone put real thought into the design as everything is easy to grab and hold. The shampoo and the conditioner bottles have a completely different shape, so you wouldn't reach for the wrong one even if you're still half asleep and/or not wearing your glasses.

Normally when it comes to high-end hair products I go straight for the stuff that stays in my hair and isn't washed right away, meaning styling creams, serums and curl-definers. But in this case I received the Oribe Signature shampoo and conditioner (for daily use), so I've been testing them in recent weeks.

The first try is always the scariest. Not just because of the risk for an allergic reaction and scalp itch, but because I never use any additional products for the initial test. Nothing- it's just me and the shampoo/conditioner against a world of frizz. April showers are probably not exactly the best environment for such endeavours, but to my surprise I didn't find myself with hair that is trying to reach the moon when I ventured out on a rainy night with my newly washed locks. Everything stayed in place and felt soft and manageable with only a reasonable amount of frizz.

Close inspection has shown that my hair was clean, shiny and felt great. The delicate floral scent is far above the average and it lasted for a very long time (but without projecting into the stratosphere). Repeat use has shown that Oribe Signature shampoo and conditioner are among those rare ones that require minimal styling products as a follow up. I use either a smoothing balm or my beloved Sebastian Whipped Creme and that's it, so I'm happy and nearly goop free.

The line has a couple of styling products that seem very interesting: A curl defining cream and especially the Supershine Moisturizing Cream, which is described as "Especially loved by medium-to-thick and extra-long hair". I just wish they'd take into account that us, carriers of the extra thick and long hair need bigger bottles.

Thankfully, I wouldn't need to hunt the Oribe line at various salons (these places freak me out. I always feel like everyone there is eyeing my hair and plotting ways to cut it. I'm only half kidding). It is sold at Bergdorf, Blue Mercury and on the company's website.

Both the Oribe Signature Shampoo ($29.00 250 ml /8.5 fl.oz ) and Conditioner ($34.00 200 ml /6.8 fl.oz) were part of goodie bag at a Bergdorf Goodman event.

Photos: Oribe with Alicia Keyes from, Coco Rocha in a flaming Oribe creation from, bottle from

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque

Leather is:
a Birkin bag (why not start at the top?)
saddles, horses, the whole barnyard
and the cowboy
the inside of a lady's purse with the mysterious powdery smell and a red lipstick
fetish gear and a dominatrix corset
heavy furniture
old, important books
and perfume.

I have leather perfumes representing almost each and every one of the above (and really should get a bottle of CBIHP In The Library). The leather note is often paired with iris, smoke, ripe fruit or violet and I love them all. But my favorite is the one less easily defined (and probably most controversial), Cuir Mauresque by Serge Lutens.

It has the weirdest top notes. It starts with a medicinal and somewhat perverse note with an almost sweet turpentine-like quality that strangely agrees with my skin and feels extremely sensual before the main course of hardcore leather arrives. At times I could have sworn I smell oud, but maybe it's just an interpretation of that crazy opening. The leather itself is even sweeter and has an ambery transparency (ambery as in the appearance of the resinous but scentless Baltic stone, not the vanillic perfume note). Cuir Mauresque has the Lutens signature of spiced dry fruit (I get some cinnamon and maybe candied citrus peel), though thankfully without the cumin and sewage of Arabie, and it's prettified by a sheer white floral note that stays mostly in the background but is quite detectable in the drydown.

The result is extremely sensual. Like many Lutens perfumes, Cuir Mauresque is neither feminine nor masculine, it has its own identity which happens to work brilliantly with my skin chemistry. It's a scent better dabbed than sprayed, with a very modest sillage after the first hour and an all day longevity. I find it easy to wear just about anywhere and any time. Unlike Bandit, for example, which screams of naughty things, Cuir Mauresque is more discreet when worn by itself. But it can be taken to a whole new level if layered with a white floral. When I add Fleurs d'Oranger it feels like I can take Manhattan (and possibly also Berlin). If you tried pairing CM with the other white florals (I'm thinking A la Nuit or Un Lys), please tell us how it went.

While I can't get enough of Cuir Mauresque and tend to murmur sweet nothings at my bell jar, others have a completely different take on this juice. My favorite scathing review is by Nathan Branch. I think I want to smell it on him.

Cuir Mauresque (75 ml, 110 €) is a Paris exclusive, which means you can only buy it directly from the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. I bought mine when I was there last summer, but if you live in Europe you can order it either online or by phone. They do not ship elsewhere in the world. Samples are available from both The Posh Peasant and The Perfumed Court.

Image: Scène de harem (Femme mauresque à sa toilette) by Théodore Chassériau