Monday, September 30, 2013

Guerlain- L'Instant Magic

It's hard to reconcile the difference between historic Guerlain and the LVMH-owned company. The former gave us Mitsouko; the latter is a serial manufacturer of  limited edition perfumes in giant crystal jugs for girlfriends of Russian mobsters and endless flankers for perfumes that should have never been conceived in the first place.

I never liked the original L'Instant in any of its variations, and the flankers came and went without leaving much of an impression. But Guerlain has put some serious marketing effort in their 2007 L'Instant Magic, from the ad campaign to several bottle designs, from the limited edition black lace one to a fancy bee bottle. From the note list L'Instant Magic appears like a floral-gourmand, sort of a L'Heure Bleue for beginners. From the commercial (a model climbing an ornate staircase into the starry night)  you'd think it's is a sensual nocturnal masterpiece. The reality is a white musk beast sitting atop a fake iris, almonds ground into a powder and a very generic dry-down that smells familiar, easy to wear, reasonably sweet, and quite mind-numbing.

I've been trying to decide if if my reaction is based on the high expectation I still have from Guerlain. I adore their L'Art et la Matiere line as well as so many others, old and new. Eventually I decided that I'd feel the same way about any perfume that over-promises and under-delivers, and that I'm so over bland generic musks that smell cheap and cost a fortune. I can wear L'Instant Magic, because it's a sweet powdery little thing that doesn't go sour despite the fruity whatever they put in there to make it smell "young". I just don't enjoy it very much.

Elena from Perfume Shrine was equally unimpressed.

Notes: Bergamot, Anise, Lemon, Rose, Fressia, Violet, Carnation, Mimosa, White Musk, Cedar, Sandalwood, Almond, Vanilla.

Guerlain- L'Instant Magic is in a somewhat limited distribution. I think I saw it at Bergdorf recently in a bee bottle. It's easy to find online, though, at about half the price, especially if you go for the smaller quantity.

A deconstructed iris by Tiggy Rawling
Stylized Guerlain by Lilly-Marthe Ebener
L'Instant Magic promotional image from Guerlain's Facebook page.

Top 7 Black Eyeliner Pencils

A black eyeliner pencil was the first makeup item my friends and I wore on a regular basis. It was cheap, had a major impact, and required little skill. It was the eighties, I was a Cure fan; need I say more?
I still have several black eyeliner pencils around. Here are my top seven, in no particular order:

Urban Decay 24/7 in Zero. This one is a modern classic. soft, pliable and blacker than black. Longevity is medium compared to other long-lasting pencils, but the intensity makes up for it, and the creamy texture acts as a base for many a smoky eye. $19 at Sephora, Ulta, and

NARS Larger Than Life in Via Veneto- This one stays on forever and a day.  It's a workhorse if there ever was one. $24 at the counters, Sephora, and

Hourglass Film Noir Kohl Pencil in Eclipse Black- The most elegant of the bunch. It's too soft for summer, but a favorite for a dramatic winter look. $28 at the counters and Sephora.

Pixi Endless Silky Eye Pen in BlackNoir. I'm a huge fan of Pixi pencils and have one in each color. Intense and long lasting, NoirBlack might not be the most interesting thing Pixi has to offer, but it works beautifully and can be found at Target when you have an eyeliner emergency. $15 at Target and

Lancome Le Crayon Khol in Black Ebony. A classic. I've had one in my stash since my late teens and always replenished. This is a true kohl pencil, made for the waterline and for good smudging, even though it's dedfinitely not as black as the modern competitors. $26 at the counters, Sephora, Ulta, and

Armani Eyes To Kill Waterproof Liner #1. It used to be a limited edition item that came and went with different seasonal collection. The pencil always sold out withing days of the (re)release, making people hoard and hoard (and sell on eBay at an unbelievable markup). Now part of the Eyes To Kill range. $28 at the counters and

YSL Waterproof Eye Pencil #1 Black Ink. YSL Black Ink used to be the alternative to the limited edition Armani pencils. Now it's actually $2 more expensive but still as fabulous, except that they get depleted far too quickly. $30 at the counters, Sephora, and

The pencils from NARS and Hourglass were press samples.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Union Fragrance- Gothic Bluebell

There's a reason I caution perfume bloggers and civilians not to buy or review a fragrance based upon a one time spray n'sniff at the counter; neither is a quick dabbing on one the left wrist while also testing something else on the right (and wearing a favorite something or another on the neck) sufficient. You may swoon, you may recoil, but are you sure you know what you're smelling? I'm pretty sure that when I first tried Gothic Bluebell by Union Fragrance at Henri Bendel I wore it too close to one of the green ones from this line, so I didn't get much of an impression other than that I walked out of the store smelling like an English cottage.

Later dabbing of Gothic Bluebell was still inconclusive. One summer day I was reminded of the old formula of Freesia by Crabtree & Evelyn. The last time I bought a bottle was to scent my sheets in 2001 and it cost about $40. Later on I actually found the moss and the forest Union were promising, and there was even a day I was jonsing for a bottle (it was late June and my skin chemistry was off). About 4 mls later (I had a few samples) and I can tell you that on a good day there's a lot to love-- hyacinth and ivy growing around the castle, a cool afternoon breeze and the rustle of leaves as the maiden gathers her skirts and runs towards the gate. So pretty.

But applied with abandon the sharpness of those not-quite natural flowers takes over and all the moss, wood, and danger are gone. Gothic Bluebell becomes more like flowers that were painted with a heavy hand on a china plate for tourists. It's too sharp, too cloying, and too air-freshener, only with a musk that never goes out. The result is more Bertha Rochester than Jane Eyre, if you will.

The conclusion? Gothic Bluebell is not the one for me. I'll get my hyacinth fix from Bas de Soie and Grand Amour, but lovers of this kind of flowers are more likely to enjoy it, because there is something there.

Notes: English bluebell, Devonian violet leaf, Dorset blue ground ivy, moss, willow bark, oak bark, musk, hyacinth, narcissus.

Union Fragrance Gothic Bluebell ($185, 100ml EDT) is available from Henri Bendel.

Art: The Fairy Wood by Henry Meynell Rheam, 1903

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Guerlain- Heliotrope Blanc (Vintage Perfume)

This bottle of Heliotrope Blanc, a long-forgotten Guerlain perfume, was one of my antique store finds. I recognized the apothecary bottle as vintage Guerlain right away, but had never heard of Heliotrope Blanc until I bought it. I was aware that some early Guerlain fragrances were simple soliflores, so my initial guess was that I was holding something from the 1930. Imagine my surprise when I contacted  perfume historian Octavian s. Coifan and he had this to say:
"The bottle was made by Pochet et du Courval in the apothecary style and has the "femme drapeaux" motif on backside. But your bottle was created after 1914 because it has the Champs Elysées address. This type of bottle (shape + motif) was still produced in 1917 (but not for a long period, and with a change) and the bottles from the 30's (Cuir de Russie Guerlain) have not the motif. In my opinion you have a WWI perfume based on a formula created somewhere around 1880-1890."

The juice inside still smelled good and perfumy. I suspected that whatever top notes Heliotrope Blanc might have had, they were pretty much gone; my suspicion was confirmed when a wonderful reader sent me a sample from her bottle. It smelled the same, just slightly perkier in the opening, while drying down to the same juice as mine.

So, what does a heliotrope fragrance circa WWI smell like?
Basically, like slightly sweet heliotrope talc. It's a pretty little thing, despite a certain medicinal note (more prominent in the brighter juice my friend sent). Heliotrope Blanc is like almond powder dusted lightly. It reminds me of old French sachets embroidered with a lilac colored thread. As a matter of fact, I might also be smelling something sort of lilacy. The blossoms are so delicate they come apart hwn you touch them, or maybe they're scattered on an old bridal veil that's stored away carefully and lovingly. Heliotrope Blanc is really pretty. The obvious almond scent of heliotrope is definitely there but at no point does it become even remotely gourmand, even as some vanilla kicks in. This is where Heliotrope Blanc differs greatly from its famous offspring, L'Heure Bleue. The latter takes the almond note and runs with it all the way to the pastry shop, getting into a mood and developing deep emotions on the way. Heliotrope Blanc smells more sheer and carefree, perhaps younger.

More about the composition of Heliotrope from Octavian:
"It was already sold by Guerlain in 1890's and actually it represents one of the first perfumes based on the new synthetic molecule called heliotropine (it smells like almond and vanilla and many Guerlain perfumes used it) like Après l'ondée was based on another similar molecule called aubépine (anisaldehyde or hawthorn). In those early days "heliotrope" became a type of perfume, and one of the first "fantasy" soliflore fragrances. L'Heure Bleue has an important heliotrop note (and heliotropine)."

So there you have it: a 100 year old Guerlain found at an antique store in NJ. I wear it sometimes, especially early in the morning before I'm fully awake and ready to decide on my scent for the day. Heliotrope Blanc lasts for a couple of hours, which is all you can ask from this pretty relic.

Rescue Beauty Lounge- Thank You Nail Polish

"Thank You" is an interesting name for a nail color. It was one of several colors created by Ji Baek, Rescue Beauty Lounge mastermind, as part of a "lessons learned" collection (others include"Smile", "Be Humble", and "Forgiveness"). I don't usually seek spiritual advice from my nail polish, but it is a nice change from the oversexualized Tom Ford names.

Thank You is a barely-there opalescent pink. It has a fairy princess gossamer look that I wasn't fully sure about at first, but its greatness, as is often the case with RBL polishes is that it's still elegant and grownup, so I'm not giving the bottle to my niece any time soon. What you see here is two coats of polish and a top glaze. I could have probably added a third layer of color, but there's only so much time I'm willing to spend with wet nails (it's a disaster waiting to happen), so two it is. The other remarkable thing about Thank You (again, a Rescue Beauty standard), is that these photos show fourth day polish, not just-manicured hands. There's a some tip wear on my index finger but that's it.

Bottom Line: a new classic.

Rescue Beauty Lounge- Thank You Nail Polish ($20) is available from

Jason Natural Cosmetics Vitamin K Creme Plus- Another Hand Care Secret

Earlier this week I posted about one of my favorite ways to keep my hands soft: using a good exfoliating scrubs. The second step is, of course, moisturizing. There are some great hand creams on the market, especially those offering a good SPF, but once again, when doing a little extra for my hands I'm looking for products with active ingredients in a face-grade formula. Donatella Versace famously uses tubs of Creme de la Mer on her feet, but I'm not quite there yet. Instead, a stroll through the cosmetics aisle at Whole Foods brought me a bottle of Vitamin K Creme Plus by Jason Natural Cosmetics. I usually have a couple of Jason products around (have they stopped making their pure shea butter? I've used it for years but can't find it now), such as the hand wash (very gentle on my dry hands). But this was the first time I bought one of their face creams.

Jason Vitamin K Creme Plus boasts a long list of natural ingredients, including some that can be irritating for a sensitive face. I never used this cream on my own face, so I can't comment, but for hands this is truly fabulous. The cream is not greasy at all and absorbs right away, so no issues with slathering and typing. My hands are left feeling soft, and the effect lasts for hours. The high concentration of Vitamin K promises
"to tone down redness, minimize the appearance of broken blood vessels and bruises, reduce burning sensation, lighten under-eye circles and moisturize extremely dry skin"
As far as I can tell the back of my hands has been looking smoother and more even. Of course, I use sunblocks and AHA creams, so this can't be attributed to Jason alone (I've been using it for the past 8 or 9 weeks), but it is a great product to keep hands in top shape. It comes in a neat pump bottle that puses out the perfect amount of cream for both hands while keeping everything airtight and clean.

Aqua/Water/Eau (Purified Water), Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil (Certified Organic), MSM (Methylsulfonylmethane), Vegetable Squalane, Phytonadione (Vitamin K1) (Vit K), Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut) Bark Extract, Vegetable Glycerin, Calendula (Calendula Officinalis) Flower Extract (Certified Organic), Ceteareth 20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Anthemis Nobilis (Roman Chamomile) Flower Extract (Certified Organic), Steareth 20, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C) (Vitamin C), Stearyl Alcohol, Ruscus Aculeatus (Butcher's Broom) Extract, Potassium Stearate, Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavender) Extract (Certified Organic), Sonchus Oleraceus Extract (Milk Thistle), Oenothera Biennis (Evening Primrose) Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Crataegus Monogina (Hawthorn) Fruit Extract, Arginine HCl, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Lecithin, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E) (Vit E), Bioflavonoid Complex, Achillea Millefolium (Yarrow) Extract (Yarrow), Panthenol (Vit B5), Vitis Vinifera (Grape) Seed Oil, Bromelia Balansea (Bromelian) Extract, Rosa Canina (Rose Hip) Seed Oil, Cetyl Esters, Ascorbyl Palmitate (Vitamin C) (Vit. C), Ginkgo Biloba Extract, Phospholipid Vaccinium Myrtillus (Bilberry) Extract, Tocopherol (Natural Vitamin E), Allantoin (Comfrey Root), Benzyl Alcohol, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Seed Extract, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate, Annatto Extract (Color)

Jason Natural Cosmetics Vitamin K Creme Plus ($22.95, 2oz) is available at Whole Foods and from where all skincare is currently on sale for 20% off.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Marc Jacobs- Bang

I first smelled Marc Jacobs Bang before it officially launched and really liked it. This 2010 men's fragrance caught my attention with its pepper overload and dry wood, and while I didn't think it was groundbreaking and the name was ridiculous, I thought it was a good one, especially considering the mainstream pricing. Then came the ad campaign, featuring a very oiled  and naked Marc Jacobs on a tinfoil sheet with the bottle of Bang acting as his fig leaf. Then there was an issue with the bottle itself or the sprayer, and Bang was hard to find for a while until it got fixed. By then the buzz died with a whimper.

It's too bad, really, because Bang is actually a decent effort and a far better fragrance than a lot of what's offered by other popular designer names. One must enjoy pepper; really enjoy pepper, because the opening of the perfume has so much of it that irresponsible spraying will make your neighbor's eyes water. There's a zing there and then some, which quickly becomes greener and more junipery, with a bandaidish note. Bang, especially if applied the way of Axe-graduates will get you noticed. That's exactly what it's supposed to do, and personally I'd rather smell this statement than anything with a fake citrus note.

I remember people complaining that Bang is a pale imitation of Terre d'Hermes. It's definitely in the same ballpark, but Terre's magic is in its earthy mineral-laden vetiver that was just dug out of the earth, while Bang is mostly about wood. Terre d'Hermes is far longer lasting (two showers and counting), while Bang, despite the shock and awe surrounding it, is much more timid.

On my decidedly girly skin, the pepper is just as noticeable, but Bang become more about pencil shavings and sweet incensy resins as times goes by. There's also something savory-edible there that I'm having a hard time pinpointing, though maybe it's just my impression of a pepper-crusted chunk of wood. The fragrance is warm and intimate, and if I dare say so-- also sexy, in a much more understated way than the ready for roasting Marc Jacobs portrait above may lead one to think.

As far as I know, while Marc Jacobs Bang ($40, 1oz EDT)  is still in production, it is not stocked at Sephora and the usual designer counters. It can be ordered directly from or from various online discounters.

By Terry Misty Rock Ombre Blackstar Melting Eye Shadow

This is an easy one. I love cream eye shadows in stick format (Laura Mercier, Chanel, and Bobbi Brown) and use them all the time. They're easy to apply, have an excellent color payoff, and are perfect for travel and use on the go, not requiring any tools or even much of a skill-- just swipe, smudge with your finger and go. By Terry offers twelve colors of Ombre Blackstar Melting eye Shadow (they've been on the market for quite a while, but as far as I know there aren't any limited edition seasonal shades); I picked #5 Misty Rock, a high shimmer taupe that goes with just about anything.

Like other similar products, By Terry Ombre Blackstar is wonderfully creamy and easy to work with. The eye shadow applies evenly as a thin and light layer that you can intensify if needed. I find that By Terry's version, at least in this color, is more sparkly than Laura Mercier Caviar Sticks. Not that there's anything wrong with it. I use Misty Rock on its own or with a touch of teal, navy, or forest green liner. This By Terry eye shadow stays in place nicely till late at night, though I do find that it becomes more sheer as the hours go by.

Bottom Line: very pretty, but I think I prefer Caviar Sticks for their more saturated color.

By Terry Misty Rock Ombre Blackstar Melting Eye Shadow ($43) is available from Barneys, Space NK, Osswald, and

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

La Via del Profumo- Sharif

Coco Chanel famously said " Elegance is refusal". It can be applied to many things, including the idea of nobility that AbdesSalaam Attar, the perfumer behind Italian line La Via del Profumo wrote about when describing Sharif:
"It is said of a person that he is noble even though not of noble descent. Nobility, for the fierce people of the desert, is a quality of the soul. Sharif is a fragrance that attracts attention to the person who wears it, like the radiant light of a noble person’s character attracts the attention of all those present, an attraction of the soul. Sharif is the fragrance of a noble sheikh of Arabia who has chosen supreme elegance over flamboyance, gentleness over arrogance and seduction over haughtiness."
Sharif, a 2011 release, is an incredibly complex wood/animalic fragrance. The aromatic opening is a bit deceiving-- you almost think that you're getting an old school balsamic camphoric men's cologne when it captures you and pulls you into its world: leather, amber, and the unmistakable touch of civet. Sharif, like other  La Via del Profumo fragrances aims to take you away from the world of perfume as you know it. This time the journey is to an imaginary desert. The landscape is stark and the sandstorm blurs reality. There are tall figures approaching, their silhouettes appear in the dusty air. Are they friends or foes? There's a smell of danger in the air.

Sharif's desert scene is stark and only marginally sweet. It's as far from what we call an "oriental" perfume as the artwork above is different from the opulence and decadence of Orientalist art. The solitary figure of the scholar and the graphic shapes are the opposite of lush harem pictures with their plush textures and elaborate interiors. In Sharif perfumer AbdesSalaam Attar created this striking figure, aloof at first but not intimidating, attractive in his (or hers) elegance and quiet demeanor.

The perfumer's description of Sharif makes it sound like a very masculine perfume. Obviously I'm not the right person to comment on that-- I wear whatever smells good to me. I do think that it's quite gender neutral and women who find the notes and ideas expressed in this fragrance should give it a try (must love civet). The sillage of Sharif is polite, but it's incredibly long-lasting on mys skin as well as on the husband (10 hours easily); it also clings to fabric until after a second washing. Sharif is an all-natural perfume, meaning no synthetic ingredients, but it's decidedly not vegan. The civet you smell here is the real thing, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know where and how AbdesSalaam Attar acquired it.

Notes: almond, amber, leather, balsam, woods, civet.

Have a look at other reviews of Sharif by Lucy on IndiePerfumes and  Kevin on NST.

La Via del Profumo- Sharif (€45, 15.5ml ) is available from, where you can also purchase samples. Samples for this review were sent by the perfumer.

Art: The Scholar by Osman Hamdy Bey, oil on canvas, 1878.

Rouge Bunny Rouge - Trio Eye Pencil Sharpener

I forgot to include the Trio Eye Pencil Sharpener from Rouge Bunny Rouge in my post last week, ironically because it was in the wrong drawer. However, this sharpener deserves its own post, so it's all good. Rouge Bunny Rouge created a double-chamber sharpener that accommodates pencils in three sizes: the regular thin one, a thick/medium and the popular chubby girth. I wasn't fully aware that I had two kinds of thick pencils, as the medium one seems too be less common. I went through the eye and lip pencils I own and the only ones that fit the medium size are the now discontinued Sue Devitt Lip Intensifiers. I'm pretty sure that I used to sharpen them with the old Sue Devitt tool before acquiring this RBR one, but it's been a while. For the record, they're thinner than the Eye Intensifiers. The latter, as well as NARS chubby lip and eye pencils, Rouge Bunny Rouge's own Brightening Liner Duo, and any other old lip crayon I could find all need the widest sharpening option, which you get when removing the insert from the larger chamber.

The cleaning pick is located inside the cover, so you need to remove it first. When putting it back into place, take note that there's only one right way to do it, with the tiny handle pointing down. It's a bit annoying and requires nimble fingers (and no help from well-meaning kittens), but this piece of German engineering is sturdy and can take some use and abuse, so it's worth the hassle.

Rouge Bunny Rouge - Trio Eye Pencil Sharpener ($10, and even more expensive if you buy directly from the company at the current exchange rate) is available from and The product for this review was sent to me free of charge.

Nuxe Gentle Exfoliating Gel (A Hand Care Secret)

A reader emailed yesterday to ask for tips for dealing with dry skin on one's hands and general upkeep secret. I'm not inventing the wheel here or anything by saying that skin is skin. The same principles that guide my face skincare routine work on hands as well:  sun protection, moisturizing, and exfoliation. The latter includes both glycolic/AHA (whatever I put on my face often goes on the back of the hands), and manual scrubs, since hands can take a much more vigorous sloughing.

Which brings us to a product that works beautifully: Nuxe Gentle Exfoliating Gel. I've had several GWP and samples in my beauty closet, which after an initial inspection I decided will not go anywhere near my face. I like Nuxe products very much, but a gel made with sharp nutshell bits is far too abrasive, despite the inclusion of rose petals in the ingredient list. However, it works wonders on hands, can be used on damp or dry skin and it leaves my hands wonderfully soft. The gel washes off easily (you can also wipe it with a wet hot towel for some extra pampering), smells delicate,  and prepares the hands for the next step: moisturizing.

At this point, Nuxe Gentle Exfoliating Gel has become a staple that I use a couple of times a week. The tube packaging is hygienic and travel-friendly, not to mention takes up little space.

Bottom Line:  Just keep it off the face.

Nuxe Gentle Exfoliating Gel with Rose Petals ($26, 2.5 oz) is available from Bloomingdale's, and

Photo by  E.O. Hoppé, 1928.

Perfumes I'll Be Wearing This Fall

It's officially fall and I almost wore a big black shawl when going out for dinner tonight (but it wasn't really needed). Still, there's an invitation in the air and the changes are all around us, and at least at this point it's very welcome, including in perfume. This isn't an "All Time Favorites" list. I wrote one last year, adding to my Transition Into Fall suggestions from 2011. This is just a very personal look at fragrances I'll be wearing as often as possible in the coming weeks.

The Perennials
Bandit (Piguet), Shalimar, and Mitsouko (Guerlain). It's not that I ever stop wearing them, and Shalimar in all concentrations is perhaps my most worn perfume, summer and winter. Bandit and Mitsouko, two very different  sides of the chypre theme, do work better in colder weather. All three are eternal, like the change of seasons.

Newest Discoveries
RealOud from Phoenicia Perfumes because it's one sexy beast and Ashoka by Neela Vermeire because it's fig and leather. Not as new, but the husband gave me a bottle of Hedonist (Viktoria Minya) for our anniversary (obviously he reads this blog and takes notes).

Heartwarming and good for the soul
Some perfumes are just right. Le Labo Santal 33 is one-- all wood, spice and violets. Aftelier Tango is a sensual kaleidoscope of warmth and color, Tzora by Anat Fritz is crisp, peppery, and carries the dry air of the mountains on its wings.

And last, because I vowed to only include ten perfumes in this list, is Muscs Kublai Khan (Serge Lutens). I will wear it the first time I wrap myself in a much beloved cream-colored cashmere scarf that I've had for years. The understated cable knit goes well with the grandest of musks, and will probably retain the scent for the remaining of the season (no matter how many times I'll Dryell it until then).

Is there a perfume you're especially looking forward to wearing this fall?

Image by Riikka Sormunen.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Spa Day In New Hampshire At The Skin & Body Spa

It's not that there's a shortage of spas and salons in NYC and Northern NJ, so  it's a bit funny that I had to be in New Hampshire to get myself into a spa, but there you have it. Knowing that I was going to have a full day to kill in Nashua, NH, I booked a spa day at the Skin & Body Spa. The place was close to the hotel where the husband and I were staying, and it had very good reviews online, so why not? I chose their Relax & Renew package ($343, including a 18% gratuity), a combination of deep tissue massage, their classic facial, the spa's signature mani-pedi, lunch, and a makeup application. Personally, I'd have swapped the makeup session with another body treatment, but I'm fully aware that most spa-goers don't get their makeup done quite as often as I do, nor are they the control freak that I am.

To say the massage was much-needed would be an understatement. Brandy, the massage therapist figured out the source of my back and posture issues and worked hard on the major knots. Truth be told, I should probably have deep-tissue massage a lot more often. It's the one thing that cannot be part of a DIY pampering. Not that a real full facial is not a good idea, even for those of us who have perfected their routine. Fallon, the aesthetician who took care of me, is probably the best advertisement for this service. You don't often see this kind of perfect skin on a living breathing creature. The treatment was pretty standard: a very thorough cleansing (including a session with a Clarisonic brush followed by extractions), an enzyme peel (AHA) for a good glow, some seriously hydrating mask and creams, and all that while also getting a truly relaxing hand, foot, shoulder, and neck massages. The hand treatment was particularly nice: I never get to just lie there with hands wrapped in warming mitts while my skin soaks it all up. That's the thing about a salon facial: it forces you to really devote the time to the ritual, no distractions, no phone calls, no running downstairs to flip the laundry. It's all about your skin.

I felt like a million dollars after the facial. It really drove home the point of hydration. I do that religiously anyway, but that morning because I was going to the spa I only used a light moisturizer with an SPF for the walk through the parking lot and the three minute drive. My face was eager and drank up everything Fallon slathered on me. So I vow never to take my creams and masks for granted. They really do make a difference.

A light lunch was ordered for me from a local Italian restaurants. It's not exactly the finger sandwiches and cucumber water of NYC spas, but the big salad hit the spot and I got enough time to relax with my iPad before the day continued.

The manicure and pedicure with Brook was probably the highlight of my day. Brook is a fellow makeup and polish addict who loves color-- to play with and to talk about it. It was an incredible fun, the foot massage was beyond divine, and she took her time to make the process perfect. My hands and feet are always dry and I work hard to keep them in good shape, so I could appreciate the attention and care Brook devoted to treating me. The color I chose for both hands and toes was I Knead Sour-Dough from OPI Fall 2013 San Francisco Collection. It's probably one of the sleepers, but I absolutely loved it once I saw the color up close. You can see the Scrangie's swatches (scroll down for this color); all I can say is that I need a bottle, pronto.  I almost wish for a third hand or a foot or something, so that the mani-pedi would have lasted longer.

The last part of the day was makeup application with Danielle of the infinite lashes (she said it's thanks to Revitalash). The makeup brands used at the spa are mineral: Mirabella and Jane Iredale. I don't envy a makeup artist who needs to foundation-match me on the spot. Danielle did well and found the right combo very quickly, but the Jane Iredale powder ended up looking way too cakey after an hour or so, reminding me why I'm not the biggest fan of mineral makeup. But that's between me and my skin. I ended up with a subtle my-face-but-better look.

My spa day ended up being a little over five hours long, and I enjoyed it tremendously. Obviously, I need to do it more often, and not just on out-of-state trips.

The Skin & Body Spa, 385 East Dunstable Road, Nashua, NH.  Online booking available at


A Look At Lauren Moshi Victoria Herringbone Bow Silk Chiffon Scarf

 Lauren Moshi clothes and accessories are designed and made in Los Angeles and it shows. Most of the line is far too L.A. for my taste and style (overpriced sweatpants and slouchy tank dresses), but I have a thing for a good check pattern, especially with a modern twist like this bow print. The silk chiffon scarf ($174, is the right mix of elegant and cute, and I'd be happy to wear it. The tote bag with the same bow ($88, below) looks too much like a diaper bag, but it is useful for travel or schlepping books, iPad and other various necesseties around town.  The one thing that deeply annoys me is Lauren Moshi's error in naming the bow print range. This is a houndstooth pattern, not a herringbone, something that I expect a fashion designer to know.

Photos via and

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lauren by Ralph Lauren (1978)- Revisiting a Vintage Perfume

One of the things I did during my first year of blogging was going back to some of my oldest perfume loves, bottles that have been in my collection since the late 80s or early 90s and that I keep wearing to this day. Lauren, the 1978 Ralph Lauren fragrance, was one of them. I've been wearing it quite often lately. Probably because I managed to replenish my supply with quite a bit of vintage juice, mostly in parfum, so I don't feel the loss of every precious drop I use. Lauren fans know that while L'Oreal owns the perfume license of the brand and keeps producing both Lauren and Safari, they're nothing like what we remember.

As a 1978 perfume, Lauren has been probably reformulated more than once. I'm not even sure that my very first bottle, an eau de cologne from 1991, was identical to the original formula. All I know is that it was so very good. Wearing (vintage) Lauren now in my 40s feels as satisfying as ever, and it's still age appropriate. I know that the fragrance was a standard among preppy high school girls in the eighties, an obvious contrast to the grownup world of Opium, Poison, and Giorgio, as well as to the common Sand & Sable or Ex`cla-ma`tion (*shudder*).

More than anything, Lauren is a wonderful green floral with a slightly bitter twist. The tagetes (marigold) note is as addictive here as it is in Niki de Saint Phalle, but Lauren is more tender. The wood and oakmoss are smooth and elegant without fussyness; unlike the newer perfumes released under the Lauren name, this fragrance was a true representation of the brand the way it was perceived back then (you know, before Ralph Lauren outsourced production of the Olympic uniform to China).

Lauren is also an interesting perfume. The floral notes have a backbone and aren't too girly (as a matter of fact, I'm pretty sure a guy can wear it easily). It's loaded with wood and moss, but this isn't a dark or heavy perfume, even in extrait, where the base is even richer. Speaking of the extrait de parfum, even the top notes there are rounder, fuller, and more satisfying. That's where the pineapple shines- it's more aromatic than juicy, slightly mouthwatering and works wonderfully with the greenery that follows.

While smelling the current version of Lauren is a depressing experience, it's not that hard to find older bottles (skip anything that says EDT-- that's an indication of newer juice). That's probably the result of the perfume's mega popularity in previous decades, so yard sales and thrift stores are an excellent source.

Pencil Sharpeners

As a teenager my sister had the annoying habit of losing every eye pencil sharpener she had, than "borrowing" from my mother and from me, promptly misplacing them forever (let's blame the cat). Decades of not living under the same roof with her and I have about 20 sharpeners all sitting nicely in a drawer, never disappearing. It amused me greatly when last year my sister complained about not finding her sharpener; I gave her one of my spare Chanel ones.

A couple of readers asked me to recommend makeup pencil sharpeners. I rounded up what I have, plus a bunch of the free ones you get when you buy an eye or a lip liner from some top brands. Digging through the drawer, I found the white one you see on the top left-- that's an oldie that came with a Versace eyeliner I loved very much. Does anyone else still remember the Versace makeup line? I think it was exclusive to Sephora.

Brands like Chanel, Dior, YSL, Laura Mercier, and Burberry include a good sharpener with their pencils. They're sharp, effective and stay around forever (as long as you don't have a younger sister shopping your stash). All of the freebie ones above except the Versace also have that little plastic pick tucked inside that you should use for removing pencil debris. It's a small but important detail.

Free sharpeners only come with one chamber for standard size pencil. If you need to sharpen a chubby pencil and/or you want the tool to have an enclosed casing you need to actually buy one. My oldest one in the group is that big Sue Devitt sharpener (no.1). It's excellent and has survived years of use and abuse. Sadly, the company went out of business earlier this year, but if you see one on clearance somewhere just grab it.

No. 2 is the cult favorite Urban Decay Grind House. It's a power tool, ultra sharp, and the purple color makes it easy to spot in a makeup bag. It's also annoyingly priced at $10, but this sharpener is likely to outlast all your makeup. Available at Sephora and

No. 3 is a German made stainless steel sharpener that I bought at a pro makeup store. It's scarily efficient, but horrible to use: the dual sharpeners are placed on opposite sides. Since there's no outer case I end up giving myself thin and painful cuts. Avoid.

No. 4 is the most recommended of the bunch. NARS is reliable, safe, and works with just about any pencil under the sun. Since I own so many NARS pencils, I like having this around. $6 at the counters, Sephora, and

Cleaning: I remove gunk and debris with the plastic pick, then wipe the blade gently with an oil-free eye makeup remover pad and dry it with a kleenex.

Do you have a favorite pencil sharpener?

Kevyn Aucoin The Eye Shadow Duo #206

Kevyn Aucoin eye shadow duos were released some time last year (or was it earlier this year?) as the brand started revamping and reinventing its product line. They've added a few more colors since the launch which I have yet to check out, but my first Kevyn Aucoin duo was #206, a classic combination of shimmery navy and a taupy beige. Both are basic and wearable colors, and I probably would have been much more excited about them if I didn't already have eleventy seven similar colors, including this Laura Mercier duo in Mystere.

The texture of these eye shadows is soft and easy to work with; there's minimal fallout and the finish is beautiful and shimmery. The swatches above were done over bare skin with no primer, yet you can see that it sits nicely with good color payoff. I put the duo in my makeup bag because it's a perfect size for travel and these are the kind of colors I wear all the time. I do wish for some more inspired colors, but for a basic color wardrobe this will do.

Kevyn Aucoin The Eye Shadow Duo #206  ($42) is available at the counters, and

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Currently- September 2013

American Fashion by Charlie Scheips. It's a book from 2007 or thereabout, and between the wonderful photos and the well-researched information I'm happy and satisfied. Absolutely gorgeous.

Goldfrapp-  Drew (video is NSFW)

Still watching endless home improvement shows. I can look at this guy all day long (even when he's not wielding a jackhammer) :

I've been wearing Hiris to bed lately. The brilliance of Olivia Giacobetti never ceases to amaze me.

The new Shiseido palette. It reminds me of the feeling I had as a kid whenever I got a new box of crayons.

Frequently Worn Item/Outfit
Earlier this month I bought a funky vintage bracelet. The large pottery beads are shaped like pineapples and glazed in yellow, orange and green. It's a conversation piece, and oddly goes well with many outfits. Then again, I don't exactly work at a bank.

I had the most heavenly zabaglione last Friday. It was made at the table right in front our eyes. I could die and die (and eat and eat).

Harney's African Autumn tea. It's a rooibos blend.

Discovering that Ikea has discontinued the Bertby media storage system that I use for my perfume collection. The six I have are beyond full and I desperately need a couple more cabinets (the husband wants his own section).

Celebrating twenty years together with the husband.

A spa day.

Just health and peace for my friends and their sweet cats and dogs. Too many have been suffering lately.

Random Thought
At the End Of Days, the only thing left other than cockroaches will be Ikea Malm dressers.

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

Art: Woman with Cat by Pablo Picasso, 1900

Face Stockholm Port Gel Eyeliner

This Face Stockholm Gel Eyeliner in Port (and the Japonesque travel size eyeliner brush pictured above) were part of my Wantable Box. I have to say that I'm in love with this eyeliner and my interest in Face Stockholm has doubled and tripled over the last few weeks.

I love gel eyeliners. LOVE. The ease of application and their general tenacity have made these little pots of color an essential part of my makeup arsenal. Like many of us, I started with Bobbi Brown, later adding every single color of theYSL gel liners. And now come these. Port is nearly identical to YSL Effet Faux Cils Long-Wear Cream Eyeliner in Cherry Black. I think it's a little less glossy, but honestly, when drawing a fine line over the lashes you can't tell which is which. Performance and longevity are similar, though I suspect the Face Stockholm liner yields a bit better to makeup removers, thus it might crumble or melt faster under really bad enviromental conditions.

Port is a blackened reddish brown with a little shimmer (not really shiny when applied on the eyes) and dries down quite matte. It's beautiful, complex, look good on olive skin and will be absolutely stunning against pale skin and blue eyes.

Bottom Line: gorgeous.

 Face Stockholm Port Gel Eyeliner ($24) is available from The product for this review was part of a free Wantable Box that was sent for my consideration.

By Terry Touche Veloutée Highlighting Concealer Brush

As a devoted user of skin luminizers, I've gone through countless pens of YSL Touche Eclat over the years. I've also used up a few units of Guerlain Precious Lights. My previous discovery in this arena was Rouge Bunny Rouge Luminous Skin Wand, which I love dearly but only use around my nose and above the cupid bow because the color range is extremely limited. I keep hoping RBR would add more shades to the existing two, but one can't hide her dark circles with hope.  I don't know what took me so long to give a chance to the much-praised Touche Veloutée Highlighting Concealer Brush from By Terry, but Finally I did. Where has it been all my life? (the answer is: at Barneys).

Like most By Terry products, Touche Veloutée Highlighting Concealer Brush has a distinct luxurious feeling. The wand is nice and thick, and most importantly, the brush is made of very soft hair (synthetic, I assume) instead of the usual horrible plastic bristles. The brush head is smooth, thick and actually feels nice on skin, so you can really use it on the go instead of transferring the blob of product to the back of your hand and picking up with a real brush.

My color in By Terry Touche Veloutée Highlighting Concealer Brush is #3 Beige. It's an excellent match that works well under my eyes. Like the Rouge Bunny Rouge wand, this product offers good coverage as well as light reflection. If you look at the swatches above you'll notice a cat scratch on my arm (Marigold, Pippa, and I were rough-housing). In the first photo, before I blended the concealer, the mark is quite red. Now look at the second, where I lightly touched it up with Touche Veloutée-- my skin looks much more even.

Bottom Line: as close as I get to a holy grail product these days.

By Terry Touche Veloutée Highlighting Concealer Brush ($58) is available at Barneys, Osswald, and

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Penhaligon's- Sartorial

I bought the Blond a bottle of Penhaligon's Sartorial a couple of years ago. I got it for him as a surprise little pick-me-up before an important business meeting, since he already tested it once and I remembered it smelled like a million dollars on him.  There's something irresistible and charming in a very classic-seeming men's fougere on all its violet leaf and lavender galore. It's even more attractive once you begin to pay attention and realize that the fragrance has an incredible depth beyond the clean and green first impression. I figured it was just what the husband needed on  that occasion.

Then I started borrowing the bottle here and there. Men's cologne? Whatever. What Bertrand Duchaufour created for Penhaligon's here is an elegant and layered modern floral animalic fragrance. Sartorial was inspired by the bespoke tailors of Savile Row, their backrooms where heavy old sewing machines work noisily, the old wooden floors are waxed to perfection only to be littered with shards of wool, pieces of chalk and thread, before a young intern sweeps it all away. The steam from the irons rises through the air, as is the neroli and lavender cologne worn by many of the employees and visitors. Late afternoon light drifts in and you can see the dust particles dancing in the air before they land on the well-worn leather chair in the corner. You can hear muffled laughter from the front of the store during the few seconds the machines are silent.

I love the darker and slightly heavier notes that emerge from behind the flowers, leaves, and herbs. My chemistry amplifies anything remotely honeyed, and beeswax/honey notes become one with my skin. There's a measured sweetness there behind ample wood, and it's both a little wild and highly cultured. Sartorial is such a pleasure to wear, not to mention that it lasts for about 10 hours, something that most fougeres can never achieve, and gives me the thrill of wearing something slightly subversively.

Notes: Aldehydes, ozonic effect, metallic effect, violet leaf, neroli, cardamom, black pepper, fresh ginger, beeswax, cyclamen, linden blossom, lavender, leather, gurjum wood, patchouli, myrrh, cedar wood, tonka bean, oakmoss, white musk, honey effect, old wood effect, vanilla, amber.

Penhaligon's- Sartorial ($125, 100ml EDT) is available from Luckyscent, Penhaligon's boutiques, and

Photo of Sean Connery getting fitted for a bespoke suit via

Pixi Beauty Emerald Gold Endless Silky Eye Pen

Emerald Gold is the new color in Pixi's fabulous Endless Silky Eye Pen line. It replaces the discuntinued True Teal (why, Pixi, why???). Emerald Gold is a rich blueish green with the subtle shimmer of this Pixi range.  The pencil is as soft and creamy as they get, easy to apply and last forever once set. I find the texture suitable for tightlining (the shimmer particles are invisible and non-irritating). They're lovely as is, but also make a great base for powder eye shadows that need a little support.

The one downside of pencils that are so soft and creamy is that you need to sharpen them for every use, losing some product in the process and going through them rather quickly. Still, having a full line of beautiful eyeliners in both basic neutrals as well as complex bold colors, is a true pleasure.

Bottom Line: I'm a fan.

 Pixi Emerald Gold Endless Silky Eye Pen ($15) is available at Target (if you're brave enough) and online from

Dermalogica Skin Resurfacing Cleanser & Gentle Cream Exfoliant

Between the name Dermalogica and the no-nonsense packaging, the brand's product have a solid image of strong performers and serious skincare. Dermalogica is easy to find: carried by Ulta in store and online, as well as at, where it's touted as a innovative line based on active ingredients. I'm a big fan of acids- lactic, mandelic, glycolic, salycilic; they really do work. So testing Dermalogica was an obvious move. The first two products I chose were cleansers: a tall bottle of Skin Resurfacing Cleanser from the Age Smart range, and the heavy duty Gentle Cream Exfoliant.

Skin Resurfacing Cleanser is your basic foaming cleansing lotion. It can be used with a Clarisonic brush and seems to remove makeup traces and other skin debris. The cleanser is loaded with lactic acid (third ingredient on the list), but it also contains SLES (sodium laureth sulfate), a strong foaming agent that is far too dated and known as a serious irritant. Between the SLES and the fact that the cleanser doesn't stay on one's skin long enough to make the lactic acid amount to anything, I have to say that I'm not impressed. There are gentler and more pampering options in every price range (my favorites: Elemis and Paula's Choice), so I can't say I see the point of Dermalogica's Skin Resurfacing Cleanser. $40, 5.1oz.

The Gentle Cream Exfoliant is actually a mask (similar to the one by Chella). You apply a nice layer over cleansed skin, leave it for 10-15 minutes (be careful the first couple of times and be prepared to remove it sooner if the stinging becomes too much) and rinse it off. It's a 1-2 times a week max treatment that combines lactic acid, salicylic acid, sulfur and fruit enzymes. These are active efficient ingredients that remove dead skin cells, debris, and gunk from the pores. This level of chemical exfoliating increases the efficiency of serums and hydrating products, resulting overtime in a better looking skin. If you're completely new to chemical peels, during the first few weeks of use (starting about three days after application) you might see some visible peeling. It means that the acids found quite a bit of dead skin that needed to go. In later weeks there's far less visible peeling and a lot more radiant skin. Since this Dermalogica product is $21 cheaper than Chella, it might be a good place to start. $39, 2.5oz.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Amouage- Dia Woman

The note list of Amouage Dia Woman paints a picture of a classic green floral perfume with a creamy sweet base. The actual opening of Dia is also quite aldehydic and uplifting; Dia is heart-achingly pretty, feminine, and just perfect. It's another one of those Amouage gems of the they-don't-make-them-like-that-anymore genre. The only problem? There's already a grander perfume based on this idea in the Amouage line: Gold Woman. As far as I'm concerned, the older Guy Roberts creation trumps the 2002 aquarelle by Jean-Claude Ellena on every front, from longevity to a satisfying dry-down.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that Dia is really really pretty. The smooth floral heart is wonderfully blended together and spells tasteful. There's a powdery phase that quickly turns soapy. I like it a lot, but I can think of about a dozen green floral perfumes that I find more interesting than Dia. Since I probably have enough vintage Caleche in extrait to last for my next two lives, and a good stock of Chamade (though there can never be enough Chamade), I'm saved from coveting Dia too intensely.

Notes: Fig, Cyclamen, Bergamot, Tarragon, Sage, Violet Leaves, Bush Peach Blossoms, Rose Oil, Orange Flower, Peony, Orris, White Musk, Incense, Vanilla, Heliotrope, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Gaiac Wood.

Amouage- Dia Woman ($270, 50ml EDP) is available from Luckyscent, Osswald, MiN NY, Bergdorf Goodman, and select Neiman Marcus locations.

Photo: “Polka Dots on the Lake” 1950’s by Kenneth Heilbron