Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Wishing you all the best in the new year!

Best Of 2013: My Beauty Picks

2013 felt somewhat less monumental than its predecessor when it comes to beauty products. It has something to do with the fact that my biggest skincare loves from 2012 still reign supreme for me, despite (or because) having tested many other options in the closing year. As I started working on this post I did it with less enthusiasm than last year, but going over my notes and files I realized that there's quite a bit to celebrate and acknowledge. Not 100% of my top picks are 2013 launches but I only discovered them this year, so they're part of the list.

My top 12 makeup discoveries:

  • Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder. This range of finishing powders is innovative, beautiful, and challenges Guerlain as best in category (perhaps why Guerlain felt compelled to reformulate their Meteorite Pearls).
  • Chanel Le Blush Creme de Chanel. An excellent cream-to-powder formula in gorgeous colors and superb longevity.
  • Ellis Faas Hot Lips. There were many great lipsticks this year, but nothing as innovative and beautiful as this velvet finish intense colors.
  • Pixi Beauty- Endless Silky Eye Pen. It's actually a range of pencils, but forget about the name. Rich and complex colors that perform beautifully and put to shame eyeliners from top luxury brands.
  • Urban Decay Vice 2 Palette. Probably the most fun item I got to play with this year. Some of the colors are a bit out there, but the concept was irresistible.
  • NARS Blkr 413 Multiple. There's a reason The Multiple has maintained its cult status for years, and this color is one of the best in the line.
  • Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencils. Quick, easy, and the colors are excellent. This brand deserves a lot more attention and hype.
  • Chanel Lash Curler. This was my last purchase of the year and I have to thank a sharp-eyed reader who alerted me that the curler was back in stock. Simply the best I've tried so far.
  • Dior Bonne Etoile eye shadow quint. The most beautiful palette this year, stunning colors, exquisite textures.
  • NARS Satin Lip Pencils.  The lab people at NARS have been doing some much needed work on new lip product formulas. These pencils were one of the best examples of their success.
  • Hourglass Femme Nude Lip Stylo. I used up the first one so quickly I had to buy my second within a couple of months, and I'm not even a nude lip person. It's become my base lip product under various glosses.
  • Lancome Black Lapis Le Crayon Khol. The classic formula in a new(ish) color that might just become my signature.
My top six skin and body care discoveries:

The last three items above seem to point towards an interesting trend: indie perfumers who start formulating high quality and all-natural cosmetic products. These oils smell heavenly, but it's the quality ingredients and visible effect that made them must-have for me.

Christmas shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, 1962, via myvintagevogue.com

Other points of interest:
  • The much-anticipated Marc Jacobs beauty line was perhaps the most significant new launch of 2013. There was a lot of media hype and a pre-sale that cleaned out the stock (Marc Jacobs is a Sephora exclusive). The packaging is very pretty, modern, and chic. The colors are dazzling. However, the formulas leave a lot to be desired and feel like stuff that could have been on the market ten years ago. I have a strong feeling that most of the investment in developing Marc Jacobs Beauty went into the packaging, so it's a case of style over substance. 
  • Fashion-inspired makeup collections are nothing new. The two major ones of 2013 were very different from each other: Alber Elbaz for Lancome turned out to be a simple repackaging of existing Lancome products and colors and some of the items looked a bit cheap. I see it as a missed opportunity for greatness. Elbaz is such a great talent and seems like a truly nice and inspiring man. I wish we had gotten his real and personal take on beauty and makeup. NARS Guy Bourdin collection brought us new lipstick formulas and a wide selection of colors. Not everyone was happy with NARS for choosing the controversial and ill-reputed fashion photographer as the inspiration. Bourdin was famous for objectifying women and his treatment of models and of the women in his personal life was questionable at best. However, the late photographer has always inspired Francois Nars (Exhibit A that was repromoted with the current collection has been part of the regular line for as long as I remember), so there's nothing really new about it. Bottom line is that the makeup was great, the packaging magnificent, and while I dearly wish Mr. Nars had some nicer icons to inspire him, I can't complain as I've been buying his stuff for the last 12 years or so.
  • My biggest on-going disappointment has been Bobbi Brown.  I wrote a full post about it back in May and it seemed to resonate with many of you. Subsequent collections and new releases from Bobbi Brown kept going in the same direction. I just bought a couple of items from the regular permanent line, but other than that every visit to the counter ended up with nothing in my shopping bag. Neither Katie Holmes nor Old Hollywood helped any, and no amount of shimmer can cover the fact that one of my favorite brands in the known universe has jumped the shark.
  • Let's end it on a positive note. Rouge Bunny Rouge has been expanding and is coming to New York. While there were some technical issues delaying the big day, Twisted Lily in Brooklyn expects to have a fully functioning RBR makeup counter in early February. 
How was your year? What did you discover and what disappointed you? Who and what inspired you?

Thank you for reading and being here year after year. I wish you a fresh start and all of the very best in the coming year- health, love, happiness, and kittens!

Top photo: Vogue Paris, December 1971.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 In Perfume: The Husband's Edition

I called upon the Husband to do his part in summarizing and analyzing 2013 in perfume (my top picks and other highlights are here). His part of our perfume collection is growing steadily, proving that he's more than just additional skin space for my perfume testing. Here are his thoughts about the State o'Perfumeland and the fragrances that made his year:

  • I finally discovered vintage perfumes. Gaia has been collecting them for a while but I used to sniff and say "Smells like vintage..". Getting introduced to a few classics and smelling the difference between vintage and new Eau Sauvage changed my mind. Vintage Patou Pour Homme sealed the deal.
  • Favorite new acquisitions (not necessarily new releases):

    • Amouage Interlude Man: My power scent.
    • Slumberhouse: the most innovative line (although sometimes only borderline wearable in public). I loved Jeke, Norne and Ore.
    • Anat Fritz Tzora became my comfort scent this year. Mediterranean herbs and warm wind to calm and soothe. 
    • Liz Zorn's Carpathian Oud is as close as they come to a bespoke scent for me.

  • I ventured a bit into the floral realm and survived. Still can't do rose and lily but I loved both Cuir Gardenia (Aftelier) and Violet Fumee (Mona di Orio).
  • Is it just me or did half of the new launches this year were oud scents? When we visited Paris 2 years ago, one of the large department stores had a special display of about 15 oud fragrances available. Now it seems like Tom Ford, Kilian and MFK have 15 Oud fragrances each. OK, we got it, Oud is Great, In Oud We Trust, but can we please, please, please move on?
  • I'm not sure what to think of the Roja Dove line. There is no argument that the scents are wonderful but the ultra high prices make it out of reach for most. Diaghilev is a masterpiece but at $1,000 per bottle? Who is the target audience?
  • Which brings to mind the general trend of escalating perfume prices. While some brands do offer smaller sizes and reasonable prices (Etat Libre d'Orange is a great example that you can do innovation, quality, and sell the 50ml bottle for $80 - $90). Way too many lines have nothing that they sell for less than $200. That is a very high entry point. I wish more brands  offered smaller sizes.  Twenty to thirty ml bottles will be ideal, especially for those of us withe large collections and revolving interests.
  • It is great to get  introduced to olfactory innovation from around the world and see more and more niche and independent brands,  but it does feel a bit crowded here at times. Gaia and I started counting the other day and could quickly name 100+ niche lines of the top of our heads without trying too hard. The real number is easily double or triple that.  At the same time, it does not seem like the niche perfume audience is growing at quite the same rate. Adding to that the escalating prices, it means that even the existing fragonerds will buy fewer full bottles next year. It makes me worry for perfumers I admire. I wonder if this is sustainable.
  • And one last perfume (and fragrance community) moment from this year: in July I had a fun Q&A session with The Fragrant Man.

    Image via vintageadbrowser.com.
  • Chanel Chamade & Intonation Le Blush Creme de Chanel Spring 2014

    Le Blush Creme de Chanel in Chamade (#67) and Intonation (#69) were my only two picks from Chanel Spring 2014 Collection, Notes de Printemps. Spring colors are rarely my thing, so it's not that big of a surprise, and while Chanel does offer a couple of reddish lip colors in this collection (Glossimer in Sonate and Rouge Allure in Melodieuse), I just didn't feel an intense need for them. But I loved the cream blushes Chanel previously released in the fall  (see my reviews of Revelation, Fantastic, and Destiny), and they're among my most used blushes, so this was an easy choice.

    The texture and finish of  Le Blush Creme de Chanel is cream-to-powder. The blushes are very lightweight and apply elegantly even if more often than not I just swipe and blend them with my fingers. Speaking of blending, both Chamade and Intonation require quite a bit of that, since they're very saturated and intense. These are two variations on coral, Chamade is a pinkish red, while Intonation is warmer and peachier. You'll notice that the swatches show the difference more clearly than what you see in the pan-- these colors are really nothing alike.

    Like the other  Le Blush Creme de Chanel  colors I have, Chamade and Intonation are very long lasting (at least over a well-applied base), and they've survived walking around in the pouring rain. While I know that they'll make for a great spring (and summer) look, they're also great to revive midwinter pallor and for a Snow White effect.

    Bottom Line: Chanel has a winner with this formula.

    Chanel Chamade & Intonation Le Blush Creme de Chanel for Spring 2014 ($38 each) have been arriving at the counters over the last few days. Also online from Nordstrom and Chanel.com

    Bliss- That’s Incredi-‘peel’!

    When it comes to glycolic and other acid peels I tend to be old-school and go with a mask or a liquid. I take my time and do the whole ritual. I'm not a fan of anything instant or fast-foody, and that applies to skincare as well. But I a few months ago I was sent a press sample of Bliss That’s Incredi-‘peel’!, individually wrapped pads for an overnight glycolic peel, and despite my initial skepticism I got hooked. I guess sometimes one is in a hurry, is traveling, or just needs a quick extra dose of glycolic acid to refresh the skin.

    Usage is simple: just wipe the pads over cleansed skin. Don't rinse and wait at least a few minutes until fully dry before moisturizing (or longer, for a more intense peel). The towelettes (each is folded inside the packaging , so it's nearly twice the size of the wrapper) are soaked in the glycolic solution, and there's always a lot of product left so I can use it on both my hands. If I'm not planning to leave the house until evening (glycolic acid increases the skin's photo-sensitivity) I sometimes use Bliss Incredi-‘peel’ in the morning/afternoon as a prep before an event.

    Glycolic acid has been part of my skincare regimen for years, so I know it works well for me. Bliss Incredi-‘peel’ is no different. It's an effective resurfacing treatment that removes skin flakes, blackhead and other impurities and makes the skin look fresher and healthy practically after the first use. The long term effect is visible brightening (elevates sun damage and softens fine lines). Since my face (and hands) are used to glycolic treatments I'd say that the intensity level of this Bliss product is medium. If you've never done a peel it might be quite harsh the first time you use Incredi-‘peel’, so take caution (and moisturize almost right away). For everyone else I'd recommend carrying a few packets in your travel bag.

    Bottom Line: I bought a new box.

    Water (Aqua/Eau), Glycolic Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, PEG-8 Dimethicone, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Methyl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Glycerin, Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Water, Tocopheryl Acetate, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Flower Water, Glycyrrhiza Glabra (Licorice) Root Extract, Calendula Officinalis Flower Extract, Butylene Glycol, Lauryl Methacrylate/Glycol Dimethacrylate Crosspolymer, Xanthan Gum, Benzoic Acid, Phenoxyethanol, Ethylhexylglycerin.

    Bliss- That’s Incredi-‘peel’! ($49 for a box of 30 towelettes) is available at Nordstrom, Ulta, and blissworld.com. The product in this review was originally sent for my consideration by PR.

    Best Of 2013: My Perfume Picks

    Welcome to the annual event where I complain about the incomprehensible number of perfume releases this year, the ubiquity of oud, the flankerization of the market, Guerlain (or Chanel) in general , and the fact that Bertrand Duchaufour and Francis Kurkdjian could use a sabbatical. But a funny thing happened as I was going over my notes, files, and purchases: several of the above found themselves firmly on my Best Perfumes of 2013 list. Go figure.

    Part 1: My Top 2013 perfume picks (links go to my reviews where available) in no particular order:
    • Phoenicia Perfumes- RealOud (and also Skin Graft). Perfumer David Falsberg channels emotion and life experience into his perfume stories, and the result is soul-stirring.
    • Le Labo- Ylang 49 & Lys 41. The two perfumes that made my summer. Gorgeous, sensual, and surprisingly accessible even if you don't live for white flowers.
    • Neela Vermeire Creations- Ashoka. The fourth perfume Bertrand Duchaufour created for Neela Vermeire's line is a calming fig-iris-suede affair. Love at first sniff.
    • Soivohle- Carpathian Oud. Liz Zorn does vampires. And oud. The husband's favorite perfume of the year.
    • Mona di Orio- Eau Absolue   A citrus gone bad in the best possible way. 
    • Serge Lutens- La Fille de Berlin. While I'm not completely sold yet on Lutens' newest exclusive, La Vierge de Fer, the romantic  red rose from the export line is my favorite of his three rose perfumes.
    • Etat Libre d'Orange- La Fin du Monde. Apparently, the end of the world will come in a storm of butter and iris. I'm fine with that.
    • Aftelier- Cuir de Gardenia. Straight out of a film noir, a sensual affair of flowers and leather.
    • Sonoma Scent Studio- Cocoa Sandalwood. A very grown up chocolate perfume, creamy and smooth, yet not too sweet.
    • Viktoria Minya- Hedonist. A black tie perfume for the grandest occasions.
    • Puredistance- Black. A maybe-oud for old money.
    • Tauer Perfumes- Noontide Petals. Andy Tauer bottled Art Deco and caught the light in the process.
    Part 2: But wait! There's more!

    While I have little to no patience for derivative mall perfumes, some mainstream brands managed to bridge the gap between marketing and perfume-making in a way that truly delighted me:
    Tom Ford Sahara Noir is kind of a sequel to last year's Noir (I bought a bottle for my father), and smells more interesting than all the Private Blend releases from this year.
    Then there's Balenciaga Rosabotanica, a beautifully-done flanker to the rather bland Florabotanica. It's safe, but also very very pretty, which has to count.
    Collections & Concepts:

    • Did Francis Kurkdjian really need to add more oud to his Maison? The Mood trio (Oud Cashmere, Oud Velvet, and Oud Silk) are so well-crafted that I ended up liking them despite my initial suspicion. And they're different enough from the other ouds (real and pretenders at Bergdorf).
    • DSH Perfumes Passport to Paris Collection for the Denver Art Museum was inspired by a very French exhibition (almost worth a trip to Denver). The three perfumes Dawn Spencer Hurwitz created  (Passport a Paris, Amouse Bouche, Vers la Violette) are a wonderful homage to classic perfumes as they take you on a journey through time and distance to the Paris of your dreams.
    • Charenton Maceration- Christopher Street is a wonderful representation of New York City. Gender-bending, fun, yet political and carrying centuries of history.
    Breakout Perfume Artist:Bruno Fazzolari. Visual arts and perfume. Try Au Dela and Lampblack.
    Brand Reboot
    Slumberhouse and Scents By Alexis have been around for a couple of years now, but perfumers Josh Lobb and Alexis Karl have made some changes and took their lines to the next level. Both represent artisan work at its best.

    Perfume Book
    Barbara Herman- Scent & Subversion. An excellent book for perfume lovers everywhere. An exploration of perfume history and aesthetics that reminds us of the time before inoffensive office scents.

    Twisted Lily in Brooklyn (360 Atlantic Avenue) opened earlier this fall and has made our lives that much sweeter, offering many luxury and indie perfume lines, several of them (Slumberhouse, Providence Perfume Company, Jardins d’Ecrivains, Rouge Bunny Rouge) were previously unavailable anywhere else in NYC.

    For more 2013 perfume picks please visit Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc, Now Smell This, and Perfume Posse.

    Women at Perfume Counter, c. 1948, by Dan Weiner via iconsofnewyork.com.

    Thursday, December 26, 2013

    Currently- December 2013

    I started reading the new Bridget Jones book, but right now I'm more interested in a non-fiction I just got, Courtesans by Katie Hickman. I was researching courtesans a couple of weeks ago for the Worth perfume review and was fascinated with these women.

    Wilco- How to Fight Loneliness

    We're binge watching shows we've DVRed but haven't touched since the season started. Already done with the Good Wife and Carrie Diaries.

    Etat Libre d'Orange- Fin du Monde. I'm completely taken with it. So much so that the husband got me a bottle on the spot.

    Back to basics: liquid eyeliner and red lipstick.

    Frequently Worn Item/Outfit
    Socks. 'tis the season.

    Nuts. Raw almonds and pecans.

    Guilty Pleasure
    Cranking up the heat just a little higher until the cats and I are truly toasty.

    No matter what I do, my back isn't happy.

    I know I'm repeating myself, but this sweet face and the way he's adjusted and become part of the family. We needed him just as much as he needed us.

    A new year. Much needed.

    Mostly things that have to do with this blog and its future. And a bottle of Roja Dove Diaghilev.

    Random Thought
    I'll never understand a thing about Kanye. And I'm perfectly fine with it.

    How are you? Please share your thoughts, recommendations, banes and joys!

    Art: Geza Farago- Slim Woman with a Cat, 1913

    Zelens Aka-Shiso Reviving Mineral Shower

    Zelens Aka-Shiso Reviving Mineral Shower sounded incredibly promising:
    "Enriched with five essential minerals (magnesium, zinc, copper, silicon and iron) and replenishing omega-3 from Shiso (Japanese mint), this revitalizing shower gently cleanses the skin, helps the skin recover its energy potential and stimulates a total sense of well-being; leaving the skin feeling toned, supple and refreshed with a beautiful scent."
    Zelens as a brand has been getting a lot of positive buzz from people in the know, the packaging is sleek and luxurious, and the active ingredients sound great; so I was eager to give it a try (shower products are a major addiction here).

    Let's start with the good: Zelens Aka-Shiso comes in a nice heavy bottle and smells the way you'd expect an upscale spa to smell. The zesty fragrance fills up the shower and makes one forgets the hairballs you jut cleaned off the floor and everything else in the world that doesn't exactly fall under "pampering". The shower gel felt good and I didn't experience any allergic reaction (a major concern for me with bath and body products). However...

    While not causing a reaction, Zelens Aka-Shiso is extremely drying for my already dry limbs. And I'm talking mummifying dry. Scary dry. The kind of dry that required major skin brushing and exfoliating to restore my skin to an acceptable condition. Every single time that I tested the Zelens product. And you know that I gave it several tries just to make sure that this product was the culprit. Ok, also because I liked the fragrance and texture.

    So, obviously, Zelens Aka-Shiso Reviving Mineral Shower is a beautiful product, just copletely, utterly, and totally wrong for very dry skin.

     Zelens Aka-Shiso Reviving Mineral Shower ($45, 6.8oz) is available from SpaceNK. The product in this review was sent for consideration by PR.

    Givenchy Bronze Précieux 14 Le Vernis Intense Color Nail Lacque

    My nail color of choice this holiday season is Givenchy Le Vernis Intense Color Nail Lacque in Bronze Précieux (#14).  It's the first Givenchy nail polish I've ever bought, and I'm very happy with it. The formula is smooth and easy to work with it, the polish dries quickly, and the coverage is excellent: I can even get away with one coat if I must, though two coats are perfection.

    Bronze Précieux 14 is a gorgeous and complex metallic color with a lot of depth. It's almost blackened but not quite and has a molten metal quality that I like very much. I find that the color looks good during the day and is rather stunning for evening without creating too much drama (so it doesn't compete with a sparkly dress).

    I don't have anything similar in my collection, but at first I was reminded of Chanel Peridot from Fall 2011. When I pulled the bottle out I saw that Peridot has a much greener cast and is not just lighter in color but also in coverage.

    Givenchy Bronze Précieux 14 Le Vernis Intense Color Nail Lacque ($20) is available from Barneys and Sephora.

    Tuesday, December 24, 2013

    Etat Libre d'Orange- Noël au Balcon

    Etat Libre d'Orange were on a mission to put the fun in Christmas when they created Noël au Balcon. From the cheeky name to the voluptuous composition, Noel is a juicy pleasure. It's all spice, ripe fruit, and warm honey. This fragrance has enough holiday spirit to fill an inflatable Santa or two, and tons of attitude that would make it stand out in an ugly Christmas sweater party.

    Noël au Balcon starts fruity and gains momentum as the cinnamon and pepper appear on the scene. They're zesty, tangy and fiery, making the fruit compote even more appetizing. And uplifting. You just can't be a Scrooge when wearing something so exuberant. You just go with it and enjoy the ride to the somewhat more traditionally oriental dry-down.

    The spice never goes away, and neither does the apricot jam, at least on skin level. But most of what's left (and I'm talking about 24 hours after application) is an ambery vanilla, a bit larger than life, a bit too loud, but boy, is it fun to wear!

    Merry Christmas!

    Notes: tangerine, vanilla, honey, orange blossom, apricot, red pepper, patchouli, musk, cistus, cinnamon, nigella, amber.

    Etat Libre d'Orange- Noël au Balcon ($80, 50ml EDP) is available from Twisted Lily, Luckyscent, and MiN NY.

    Aftelier- Organic Ylang Face Elixir

    If you're getting a head-start on your New Year's resolutions, and they include "Go organic" or "Use more natural skincare", here's something you may like: Organic Ylang Face Elixir from Aftelier Perfumes. Perfumer Mandy Aftel is also a beauty and cosmetics enthusiast who cares deeply about the stuff that goes on her (and our) face. Mandy and I share a belief that our beauty rituals contribute to our feeling of well-being: we take the time to do something wonderful for ourselves, to indulge in scents, colors, and textures that make us happy.  Enjoying this sensuality is, perhaps, the most fundamental aspect of our love for cosmetics.

     Aftelier body & hair elixirs are among my most favorite and most used treats (see my reviews of Ancient Resins, Chocolate & Saffron, Coffee& Pear). The previous incarnation of the Face Elixir felt slightly more aromatherapeutic than cosmetic, perhaps because the squat little bottles didn't come with a dropper, and I used them more to relax at the end of the day. The new formula, though, is not just for the senses, but also feels incredible on the skin.

    The base of Aftelier Face Elixir is a blend of several organic oils: rice bran, sweet almond, apricot kernel, camellia, grapeseed, squalene, and rose hip seed. I use a drop-full of the oil and it absorbs right away, leaving no greasy residue. My face doesn't look or feel oily afterwards and non of the elixir transfers to my pillowcase. Instead, the oils balance and nourish the skin, while the aromatic composition (ylang-ylang, pink grapefruit, blood orange) feels restorative and satisfying-- creamy more than floral, as is typical of ylang-ylang.

    My skin can sometimes be very dry, which requires using a heavier moisturizer over the elixir, but if your skin is more normal or if it's not midwinter you can probably get away with just this oil. This time of the year the oil is more for balancing and revitalizing for me, but I can tell that it has a long-term effect and I don't wake up with a parched face even if I don't top it off with a cream. You can first buy a 1ml sample before committing to a full bottle (always a good thing with active skincare, really) and test. Chances are that the experience will get you slightly addicted.

    Aftelier- Organic Ylang Face Elixir ($65 for 1/2 oz, and $6 for a 1ml sample) is available from aftelier.com. The product in this review was sent free of charge for my consideration.

    Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencils: Quince, Rhubarb, Cranberry, Madeira


    Let's be clear: I dearly hope that you're not about to do a last minute mad dash to Sephora for that one gift you forgotten, but if you really have to do it, these High Pigment Pencils from Bite Beauty are not a bad idea at all. Additionally, a few weeks ago when I reviewed the very mediocre Clinique Chubby Lip Pencils I commented that there are much better options available. Bite lip pencils were on top of my mind, having just gotten this cute set. Now, I don't remember if this was a GWP, a point-redeeming thing, or if I picked it as an after-thought on my way to the register at the store, but the set of mini crayons itself was a limited time offer. However, full size pencils of these four shades are part of the Bite Beauty lineup (including Cranberry, which was for a while listed as a limited edition).

    The people of Bite Beauty weren't kidding about the high pigment. The dark shades are intensely pigmented and leave a long-lasting stain that survives a cup of tea and a snack. The texture is feather-light (compare to the waxy feel of the Chubby Sticks), and as long as one's lips are in decent shape there's no drying effect. As a matter of fact, from my experience with Bite's lipsticks I'm willing to accept their claim that
    This product is free of synthetics, polybutenes, and petroleum byproducts and made exclusively with lip nurturing food-grade ingredients that are healthy enough to eat.
    The colors you see here are Quince (more of a raspberry, actually), Rhubarb (a plum rose, my absolute favorite that I will need a full size soon), Cranberry (a red berry, leans towards purple on very pigmented lips), and Madeira (a nice nude that I like as a base under a red or purple gloss). All of them are wearable and will flatter a wide range of faces. If I had to choose one it's obviously Rhubarb, which is more or less my everyday color.

    Bottom Line: probably best in class.

     Bite Beauty High Pigment Pencils ($24 each for the full size version) are exclusive to Sephora, online and in-store.

    Monday, December 23, 2013

    Winner Of Andy Tauer's 2013 Advent Calendar

    We have a winner for the 2013 Advent Calendar giveaway from Andy Tauer. Congratulations, Lisa! An email was sent to the email address you supplied.

    I wish to thank all of you who participated and shared your holiday recipes and traditions, and most importantly to Andy Tauer who spreads holiday cheer with his generosity and incredible perfumes.

    Merry Christmas!

    Photo of Ann-Margaret via Stirred, Straight Up, With A Twist.

    Olfactive Studio- Lumiere Blanche

    Lumiere Blanche by Olfactive Studios smells like a glass of cold milk and Christmas cookies left for Santa outside by the window overlooking a snow covered field lit by an almost full moon. It's warm and spicy inside, cold and metallic outside. The fragrance also moves between the comforting and familiar spices to a synthetic and industrialized world. It's interesting, if nothing else.

    The opening of Lumiere Blanche is mostly about cardamom and star anise. It's quite intense for the first few minutes (I admit to spraying with abandon, something I've learned to do with Olfactive Studio perfumes). But before it becomes Dutch cookies there's a wood and pollution note that infiltrates the idyllic scene and dominates it for a while.

    The sharp metallic air and ice cold milk soften Lumiere Blanche soon after, and there's a return to the comfort zone with more licorice-anise and the downy white musk is piled in layer upon layer, facet upon facet. Somehow, even with all that's going on, there's a very stark minimalism to Lumiere Blanche, and a very modern feel despite the hint of powder in the background.

    Lumiere Blanche was created for Olfactive Studio by perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur (who's also responsible for several By Kilian perfumes) to go with the photo above (by Massimo Vitali). I can't think of another perfume that captures an iceberg so accurately, not to mention manages to make it feel wearable and inviting. The white light here is quite beautiful, though eventually Limiere Noire disintegrates into a whisper-light white musk and loses most of its unique features. I'd say that this is a gender-neutral office scent that can please many with its transition from a light gourmand to a smooth powdery woody-musk.

    Notes: cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, iris, almond milk, Cashmere wood, cedar, sandalwood, tonka bean, white musk.

    Olfactive Studio- Lumiere Blanche ($145, 50ml EDP) is available from Luckyscent and Bergdorf Goodman. Samples were provided by PR and retailers at several events.

    Tamara Mellon- Sweet Revenge

    For those who wondered about Tamara Mellon and her new direction after Jimmy Choo, here it is: Sweet Revenge, a legging-boot combination (basically a leather footie. We should be thankful there's no top, I guess). This thing comes in two pant sizes  and is recommended to be worn  with "a sweater over it or a big man's shirt". Considering a good fit is nearly impossible with only two available sizes, a covered crotch is pretty much a must.

    $1995 at Net-a-Porter and Sweet Revenge is all yours.

    Sunday, December 22, 2013

    Andy Tauer's Advent Calendar 2013 Giveaway (and a recipe)

    The Grinch and Ebeneezer Scrooge together are no match to our holiday spirit tonight: we have a holiday table-worthy recipe AND a fabulous prize as part of Andy Tauer's Advent Calendar.

    The winner of the giveaway will receive a Tauer Perfumes Explorer Set, with three 15 ml travel sprays (of the winner's choice). All you need to do is leave a comment (just one, please) and tell us about a favorite holiday soup (or any other special dish if you're not a soup person).

    To make entering easier I'm disabling the evil captcha on the comment form for the duration of the Advent event.  If you're not signed-in into a Google account or another identifying option when commenting you'll need to leave an email address or Twitter name or any other way that we can use to identify the winner (anonymous comment #78 doesn't cut it). The draw is open to everyone worldwide (!).  The prize will be sent from Switzerland by Andy Tauer; the privacy policy of both of us is simple:  we do not contact the addressee after the prize is sent. Neither will we use the contact information for any other purpose than sending the prize, nor will we forward the address to anybody else.

    I'll be accepting comments until tomorrow night ( December 23rd, around 11PM- ish Eastern US time), at which point a winner will be chosen at random.

    Now for the recipe-- the Husband's butternut squash and chestnut holiday soup. We're lazy Americans and buy the squash and the chestnuts already peeled at Whole Foods (the chestnuts are pre-roasted and vacuum-packed) , the rest of the ingredients are pretty straight forward. Here's the recipe and description as written by the Blond:

    "I first created this recipe for our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal.  I wanted a hearty soup that would incorporate seasonal elements. I like my soups chunky and spicy, so this version of the classic butternut squash soup has a few unique elements. First - carrots, both for taste and texture. Second is to use cut roasted chestnuts for thickening the soup. The third is saving half of the vegetables before blending the soup and adding them back in later so it ends up pretty chunky. The result is sweet, savory and spicy with a wonderful aroma and flavor."
    Ingredients for 3-4 servings:

    2 lb butternut squash
    1/2 lb carrots (2 medium carrots)
    1 cup white wine
    5 cups vegetable stock
    1/4 lb roasted chestnuts
    1 tbsp EV Olive Oil
    1 tbsp butter (optional, just add another tbsp of EVOO to make it vegan)

    salt and pepper to taste
    chili flakes
    ginger (fresh is great, powder otherwise) 

    • Cut the butternut squash up to 1/2 inch squares and the carrots to 1/4 inch chunks.
    • Heat the soup pot or dutch oven on medium-high and melt the olive oil and butter. When hot, add the squash and carrot mixture and saute for 5-10 minutes until starting to brown. The butternut squash will give off a lot of liquid. 
    • Add the spices and then the wine to deglaze the pot. Add vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer.
    • After about 10 minutes - when the carrots are just tender, remove half of the carrots and squash with a straining spoon and save for later. 
    • Cut the chestnuts to small chunks and add half to the soup. 
    • Using a immersion blender puree the soup and let it cook for another 10 - 20 minutes until the texture thickens up a bit.
    • A minute before serving add back the saved squash and carrots, as well as the other half of the chestnut chunks.
    Good luck to everyone and Happy Holidays!

    Thursday, December 19, 2013

    Miyako by Annayake

    Miyako, a 2005 limited edition perfume from Japanese brand Annayake, is one of those things that makes one grateful for the internet. I wouldn't have heard about it otherwise (Annayke fragrance, makeup, and skincare products aren't sold in the US officially, though some online sellers have the occasional item), and buying it long after it was sold out would have been utterly impossible. But for the longest time there was a buzz about this unicorn, a Japanese incense perfume. eBay was my friend, and a pristine bottle in its beautiful special edition box found its way to me.

    When thinking about Japanese incense fragrance one immediately remembers Kyoto from CDG Incense Series. Miyako may be a distant cousin, but it's much sweeter and a lot more ambery than the smoky-yet-chilly Kyoto. As a matter of fact, while Miyako is labeled a floral incense, my skin and nose declare it an incensy amber. Not that there's anything wrong with it...

    The opening of Miyako is wonderfully spicy. It's almost Christmasy and perhaps not very Japanese, but a) who cares? and, b) it quickly flows into the core of what Annayake aimed for: a golden incense. Miyako becomes sweeter as it warms on skin. The incense and myrrh seem bolder outdoors in the cold air (they were not all that prominent during the summer), while heated skin brings out a very vanillic dry-down. Some days Miyako feels like a sheer version of Ambre Sultan, other times the incense and wood have the upper hand over the benzoin-vanilla. In any case, Miyako is a soft, comforting kind of incense. Is it all that special? Probably not, but it is a lovely and wearable variation on a beloved theme.

    Notes: cardamom, cinnamon, frankincense, Hinoki wood, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, musk, wild rose, benzoin, myrrh, amber.

    Image: A 1911 poster, advertising incense, by Kitano Tsunetomi (1880-1947), Japanese wood block carver, printmaker and painter.

    Marc Jacobs Surrender Dorothy Lovemarc Lip Gel

    Surrender Dorothy was actually the first Marc Jacobs Lovemarc Lip Gel I got, before Showstopper. You can read my full description of the texture and finish of this Marc Jacobs lipstick in the link above, so I won't repeat it here. This review is mostly about the color, a warm tomato red, which may be my favorite thing in the universe right now.

    I wear Surrender Dorothy as I would any other full coverage red lipstick: over smooth and hydrated lips, paired with a lip liner, and applied with a brush. For a slightly more casual look it can be applied over a lip balm or mixed with one if you really want a gel effect. This is such a fresh and delightful color that brings life to the face on the dreariest of days.

    Like all Marc Jacobs lipsticks (and other makeup products), the packaging is nice and hefty. The case is magnetic and shuts with a satisfying click. I can't detect any scent or taste, and I only loved the texture better this would have been one of my top lipsticks. As it is, like with Showstopper, I wear it for the color.

    Marc Jacobs Surrender Dorothy Lovemarc Lip Gel ($30) is exclusive to Sephora.

    Lip Balms And Treatments- Current Favorites

    Trying to come up with a full list of my most used lip balms and lip treatment proved to be somewhat tricky. I had to gather the pots and tubes from all the house as well as from various purses and evening clutches. I'm probably missing a couple, but figured that if I can't remember them they might not be real favorites, right?

    Some of these lip treatments were purchased after originally  receiving press samples (Sensai, Hourglass), others were parts of sets (Caudalie, Fresh). All of them are in heavy rotation right now.

    • Hourglass Lip Treatment Oil. It's a serum for your lips that works like serious skincare. ($42 at Sephora and select department stores)
    • By Terry Baume de Rose. This one is the Rolls Royce of lip balms. The texture is out of this world and the performance is superb: soothing, hydrating, long lasting. ($60/10ml at Barneys).
    • Elemis Fresh Skin Loving Lips Quenching Lip Balm. This one is more of a traditional lip balm in a small tube that fits in the smallest pockets. Pretty straight forward and quite effective. ($16 at Nordstrom. Press Sample)
    • Propolis Skin Cream by Hummingbird Ranch. Not technically a lip balm but works as one, especially for an overnight treatment. Heals chapping, bleeding, and will probably work against a bubonic plague. ($8)
    • Sensai Celluar Performance Total Lip Treatment. The one in the photo is actually the sample size because I couldn't locate the full size one (I blame the cats). A miracle worker that also looks good under lipstick. ($65/15ml at Bergdorf Goodman).
    • Caudalie Lip Conditioner. Like Good ole' Blistex but mostly all-natural and with a French flair. ($12 at Sephora).
    • Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment SPF15. A more refined version of the above. ($22.50 at Sephora).
    • Nuxe Reve de Miel Lip Balm. Not only is this one incredibly effective, but it also has a matte finish so you can mix it with lip color or add it on top without looking gloopy. ($19 on nuxe.com).

    DSH Perfumes- Vers la Violette

    What's the opposite of a Victorian violet? The answer, apparently, is Vers la Violette from DSH Perfumes (part of the Passport to Paris collection for Denver Art Museum). Greener than the classic Balmain Jolie Madame, Vers la Violette is a very abstract leather violet that has both an outdoorsy quality with a very sleek urban feel.

    Perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz found her inspiration for Vers la Violette in a 1893 impressionistic painting, Village by Hippolyte Petitjean. This particular Village stands out among other Petitjean landscapes by being all about the skyline and the silhouette of the buildings against the sky, instead of his usual hills and trees backdrop. DSH ran with this idea and took the violet note out of the romantic garden into a modern setting where it's neither feminine nor masculine. The abstract effect is achieved because Vers la Violette isn't particularly powdery; neither is it candied. Instead, the fragrance starts green and airy, like opening a window early in the morning and letting fresh air in (the fresh element on its leafy and dewy facets don't sit particularly well on my skin, but it doesn't last beyond a couple of minutes). But what is in the air? Not an English cottage garden, that's for sure.

    Instead, you welcome the city inside your room. And the city in this case is Paris. Violet, leather, and a hint of civet (not quite enough, if you ask me)  feel like a smart suede jacket that one wears accessorizes with a vintage purple scarf and goes outside to face the day.

    Notes: galbanum, bergamot, lemon, violet leaf, cyclamen, orange flower, orris root, Bulgarian rose, violet, sandalwood, oakmoss, labdanum, suede, and civet.

    DSH Perfumes- Vers la Violette ($63, 10ml EDP. Other sizes, concentrations, and samples also available) can be purchased from dshperfumes.com. The sample for this review was sent for my consideration by the perfumer.

    Image: A 1936 French  airmail stamp.

    Wednesday, December 18, 2013

    Cat (Or Two) Of The Day

    I was testing the light for some makeup and swatch photos, but Josephine and Lizzy  had other ideas and kept finding themselves in front of the lens. I figured you wouldn't mind too much.

    Serum Face-Off: Le Mieux Cosmetics Collagen Peptide vs. Wei East Dragon Tree Dramatic Lift Face Concentrate

    Skincare is such a complicated and complex subject. The machination that makes a product work for someone and totally fail another person has too many variables to track and determine. All I can do is use my face as the testing ground, hope for the best, and tell you all about it. Today we're looking at two face serums that are very different from each other. One seems to be quite effective, and the other one did nothing for my face. My pre-testing expectations, by the way, were opposite. Just to show you that you can never know until you try.

    I had the highest expectations from Wei East Dragon Tree Dramatic Lift Face Concentrate. I'm a sucker for Asian products, and the dragon tree thing seemed highly appealing. The ingredient list is short and chock-full of good-for-you active stuff. It doesn't contain any silicone, which is refreshing (I don't mind 'cones on my face, but still). The thing is that after weeks of use I couldn't see or feel any change (the company promises increased cell turnover, strengthened skin, and a lifted and firmer the appearance). Now, lifting is not a major concern for me yet, so maybe I'm missing on all the fun Wei East and their dragon can provide, but this fast-absorbing liquidy gel (hard to explain, but it feels like a thinned down aloe gel) has constantly left my skin feeling dehydrated and in need for intense nourishing.

    Ingredients for Wei East Dragon Tree Dramatic Lift Face Concentrate: Aqua\Water, Butylene Glycol, Chondrus Crispus (Carrageenan) Powder, Croton Lechleri (Dragon's Blood) Resin Powder, Glycyrrhiza Uralensis (Chinese Licorice) Root Extract, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Extract, Sodium Dehydroacetate, Benzoic Acid, Phenoxyethanol.

    I never heard of Le Mieux Cosmetics before receiving the press release, so I had zero expectations when the serum was sent to me for review. The opaque plastic pump bottle looked pretty generic and the product itself felt like a thin lotion, but the fact is that it feels good on skin, gives long-term hydration, and the ingredient list (in the photo below) points out that Le Mieux Cosmetics basically created a peptide-enriched hyaluronic acid serum, which makes sense to me. My bottle is nearly empty now. I admit to using it on my hands post-glycolic treatments, as well as to restore the balance on my inner arm after rigorous swatching and cleansing. It works well for all of these uses.

    Le Mieux Cosmetics Collagen Peptide serum
    Le Mieux Cosmetics Collagen Peptide Serum ($85.00, 1.75oz) is a professional product and sold at select salons and spas (don't ask me why they're not selling it directly online). Wei East Dragon Tree Dramatic Lift Face Concentrate. Wei East Dragon Tree Face Concentrate ($58, 1.35 oz) is available from weieast.com as well as on HSN.com. Both products were sent for my consideration by PR.

    Tuesday, December 17, 2013

    Undergreen- Black

    Black by Undergreen smells like a big city at nightfall. the smoke from cars speeding by, dirty pavements, and a whiff from the coffee shops and bars. Undergreen is a Parisian brand, but for me the smells and the city can easily be New York or London. We all stink alike, and I mean it in the best possible way.

    Black opens with an intriguing mix of smoky black pepper and burnt tires before it's taken over by licorice and slightly over-roasted coffee beans. Eventually the unorthodox non-perfumey urban noise settles down into a sweet tonka and smoky wood dry-down, rich with incense and birch tar. This is utterly delicious, yet edgy enough to keep my attention span for as long as the fragrance stays on skin (much longer when you spray generously than from a dab-on sample).

     Undergreen is an all-natural line. Not that there aren't quite a few of them around, but most aren't French. As a matter of fact, I can only think of two others: Olivia Giacobetti's Honore des Pres and the little known Sama Parfums (see my review of their Jardin d'Iris). It's interesting to note how their style differs from most natural perfumeries I'm familiar with-- my gut feeling is that Undergreen is aiming for a more modern style. Kind of like the natural cousin of Etat Libre d'Orange. I need to spend more quality time with the three other perfumes in the line (Pink, Gold, and White. You can read an overview of the line by Mark on CaFleureBon), but so far Black is the clear favorite-- I can't help it: I'm a city girl all the way through.

    Notes:  ginger, cinnamon, pepper, tonka bean, coffee, licorice, birch, guaiac wood, incense, agarwood (oud).

    Black by Undergreen ($140, 100ml EDP) is available from Twisted Lily/Parfum1, BeautyHabit, and Henri Bendel. Sample supplied by Twisted Lily.

    Photo: Paris at nightfall by http://euromode.wordpress.com.

    Random Thoughts- Midwinter Edition

    1. Charlestongirl of Best Things In Beauty is a much braver soul than me. I avoid the malls like the plague from November to mid-January, but she visited her local Neiman Marcus and found Chanel spring 2014 collection, Notes du Printemps, already at the counter. Spring collections used to come out in February. It's not even Christmas now, yet here it is. Why? What's the  rush? As for the collection itself, I'm kind of yawning here, but that's been my reaction to Chanel lately. I counted five limited edition collections that are offered this very moment on Chanel website (not including this new spring one), and too many of the colors and items are pretty redundant if you're not a collector (I'm not). Whatever.

    2.  what you see above is a music box with a Baccarat mini chandelier that serve as the packaging for a limited edition bottle of Lancome La Vie est Belle. Someone at Lancome decided that the best thing you can do with $35,000 is to buy this crap. Someone there also wrote this:
    (click to enlarge)
    I have no idea what it means. Nor do I understand who exactly is the target customer (I doubt Russian mobsters buy Lancome for their girlfriends. That's what Guerlain is for). I'll take my 35K and finish the basement.

    3. Last week HBO gave the world a lesson in creative marketing, use of social media, and respecting your audience. They declared Thursday as #roastJoffrey day and invited the world to insult the creepy bastard currently occupying the Iron Throne. Instead of griping about unauthorized use of their copyrighted images, HBO asked everyone to go ahead and have fun. And they did. 2.9 million people participated. I haven't laughed so hard in a while.

    Photos of birds in our backyard during the storm taken by the husband.