Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let's Talk About It: The Big Palette Rush

I'm fully aware that this post is going to look more than slightly ridiculous in light of the next one, which will be a review of Pat McGrath's Mothership: Subliminal palette. I still think it's worth talking about, because palettes are a big part of current makeup conversations, both negative and positive. Younger consumer seem to think that palettes became a thing with the launch of the original Urban Decay Naked Palette in the summer of 2010. This is not quite accurate, of course. There've always been makeup palettes, big and small. While "always" in my case is the last thirty years that I've been wearing makeup and can describe from personal experience, makeup palettes have been here much much longer:

 Max Factor 1967, three years before I was even born
A multitasking palette from 1965

I love palettes. Always have. As a teen I had a large drugstore one, kind of the equivalent of those noname mega palettes people were buying on eBay over a decade ago (or the current Coastal Scents and their ilk). I also had a couple of adorable  St. Michael sets, a Marks & Spencer brand known for embossed tin packaging and pastel color stories. The shades were comically wrong for me, but they gave me the push to start doing makeup on my friends, several of whom had the right coloring for those pinks and lilacs. I had incredible fun doing that.

As far as I can remember, my mother was not a palette person. She favored duos or trios, and never had more than a couple of those at any given time. Browsing through vintage makeup books in my collection I'm reminded that we weren't always supposed to build layers of transition colors and use three separate shades in the crease alone. 'the 80s weren't that big on blending, either, but that's a topic for another day. My own approach to eye shadow was using two (three max) colors at any given time, the dark one mostly on the mobile lid and outwards, the lighter from the tear duct and up on most of the browbone. Using a quint or a quad didn't mean applying all the colors at once (If you're a millenial it can't make much sense, right?).

I didn't own a proper Christian Dior quint until my very late twenties (I did have a couple of Dior duos; one is still alive, well, and sees regular use because the quality, shades, and pigmentation are still superb). The following Dior ad from the fall/winter 1988 campaign (remember when there were only two makeup seasons/collections a year?) featuring the inimitable Susie Bick  pretty much embodies that style (and might be the reason I must have every blue Dior quint they release. It's seared into my brain.

Musing on palettes of yore also reminded me that Inglot did not really invent the "Freedom System". Other brands probably also had similar setups, but back in 1988 or early 1989 I decided to get a "create your own" duo of Revlon eye shadows. You'd buy the pans and the lady at the counter would pop them in a plastic compact. I needed something that would have fitted in a small makeup bag, so in my eternal wisdom I picked two colors: a satin/shimmer olive green and paired it with a matte hot pink. Now you know all my secrets.

I'm realizing I've been drifting off the subject of real actual palette and the shelf space they take up in stores, individual collection, and mental wishlist (and rabid coveting list, of which I'm just as guilty). When did they become the must-have of all must-haves? In the  early aughts (2003, I think) Chanel launched their Jeans de Chanel collection, with an eye shadow palette (a quad, really) as its star. I'm guessing it was a pre-fall release  that was available starting July that year, but I waltzed into my local Blomingdale's to buy it in early September, because I thought it'd pop  up nicely against my planned outfit for our anniversary dinner. There were no availability issues and I bought the quad and the matching liner, rejecting whatever else was in that display*.

During that same period Lorac was still a makeup artist-led brand (do you remember the lipsticks that were all named after Carol shaw's favorite celebs?). They had two eye & face palettes that to me are still iconic. The Snake Charmer (which I've bought soon after starting the blog even though it was on the market for over a year at that point. Funny how makeup marketing wasn't all about urgency) and the Croc Palette. You can see both in the photo at the top of the post. They're still as amazing. And what about really BIG palettes? Why didn't Cargo The Runway palette (2009) cause a mass shopping hysteria? After all, that was already in the new era that in my opinion was ushered by both MAC and their endless limited editions (at the height of the crazy it seemed like every four weeks. Then everyone stopped caring), and Bobbi Brown's whose original Chocolate palette (July 2006 for the fall collection) was really the first mass palette stampede I can remember (please correct me if it happened before).

Speaking of Bobbi, mega palettes were one of those items her super pro artists used on events (nowadays some are available to the public on a seasonal basis). MAC artists also had them in one form or another (right along with the bad attitude). I don't think I've seen a non-store brand (even Neiman has them), not made in china 500 colors that no one needs, or non-holiday drugstore  humongous palette until the last few years. Lorac Mega Pro is an extrapolation of their regular Pro palettes (the success might have caught them by surprise at first), and most of us have seen them being hyped to the moon and back on YouTube and Instagram. Not that Lorac is the biggest or worst offender here.  "Luxury" brands that have never been seen before outside the internet, Established brands that had the liquid highlighter go to their heads, brands releasing the very same shades again and again, upping the cute factor on packaging and lowering the quality, and we shall not forget: limited edition collaboration with celebrated online personalities that your mother has never heard about**.

All of that comes with a  clear message: Buy it. Buy it NOW. It won't last and then you'll cry. And you won't have this never seen before rose gold eye shadow that will never be released again (until next month. And have we told you that it's a LIMITED EDITION? Go! Go! Go!

Which brings me to the reason of this post. I love palettes. The ones at the top are a small glimpse of my collection. From Wet 'n' Wild to Chantecaille, Juvia's Place to Guerlain and everything in between. The thing I resent is the deluge of poorly thought and designed products that are marketed by people whose job is to sit in front (or behind) cameras and tell us to go shop now, before the next thing comes along, that you need another twenty eight eye shadow palette that offers the very same colors you already have "because they tweaked the formula and now it won't shed glitter into your cleavage" (remember how that glitter was the best thing ever two palettes ago?).  In most cases it's no longer about makeup, passion for innovation or technique, and it takes away a lot of the joy I feel when seeing a new collection and analysing how it relates to what we've seen in the most recent shows, as well as historical makeup moments, and  eternal fashion and beauty icons. There's still a lot to love (I owe you an in-depth overview of the entre Man Ray collection, which is exactly why I love makeup-in-context so much), and Pat McGrath has brought back artistry to choosing colors and textures. It's just the rest of them that make me cranky.


  • How do YOU feel about the palettes of the last couple of years?
  • What makes a collection exciting for you? What and who can make you buy them?
  • YouTube and Instagram personalities who are not Lisa Eldridge: how important is their endorsement to you?
  • Have you stopped buying or even testing products from certain brands? Why or why not?

* Chanel gets me every time. Right now I'm bemoaning the fact that Jews don't do Christmas and we only do Hanukkah for the children, since the Le Singe de Leon highlighter in Or Rose and the new Jardin De Chanel Blush in Camelia Peche have ensnared me. Yup, just as I was ranting about the limited edition ludicrousness. I'm a Chanel sheep.

** I want to be clear that my issue about collaborations is with the brands and the crap they produce, not with the marketing personalities that front them. I have a lot of respect to those among them who have game and can hustle, because I absolutely lack the talent. If I have a bone to pick with them is about knowledge and intellectual curiosity, but it is not something I'll discuss in public because they're also people with feelings, sensitivities, and mothers who read everything that is said about them.

So let's talk about it. What say you?

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Guerlain- Mon Guerlain (Perfume Review)

Usually when I take a perfume for a test run I also compose the review in my head as I'm going about my day. Once in awhile just as I'm building the argument why a fragrance is an utter disappointment I keep getting compliments from random people I encounter, leaving me with the reminder that the general public and fragonerds don't necessarily look for the same thing in perfume. Most people want to smell nice, not necessarily to stand out, and to get a level of familiar comfort from their little scent bubble. What do perfume people want? Especially, what do we want from a highly-anticipated release by one of the pillars of the industry? It's too easy to say "greatness". What does that even mean? We expect to not be bored, to get something new that doesn't reference the most commercial trends on the market, we hope for something that continues the venerable tradition without taking its name in vain. Apparently we want way too much.

Mon Guerlain was launched this year as the brand's big commercial release (for women) of the decade.  Signaling the importance Guerlain has assigned to this perfume was hiring the A-lister of all A-listers, Angelina Jolie, as the face and spokesperson of the perfume and declaring her its "icon". There were a gorgeous commercial and a photoshoot in what used to be the Jolie-Pitt French home, Chateau Miraval. There was also a press junket that included various quotes about what Guerlain means to her (the ever present bottle of Shalimar on her mother's dressing table, though Angelina herself is rumored to favor wearing masculine perfumes). All of that comes to show how seriously Mon Guerlain was taken.

Kind of. Sort of. Or at least when it came to marketing.

In reality, Mon Guerlain was a rebranding and rebottling of a limited edition fragrance from 2015, Mon Exclusif (source: Monsieur Guerlain). Despite its limited release Mon Exclusif was such a success the suits up there in LVMH knew they could make bank. And why wouldn't they? A pink juice in a modern version of the classic quadrilobe bottle, a decidedly vanillic gourmand that is still infinitely better than the pink juice of the decade, La Vie Est Belle (Lancome). And I'll take Angelina Jolie over Julia Roberts any day of the year. Add to that the endless talk about Guerlain's heritage and how they used Jicky's DNA to ground Mon Guerlain.

Jicky? What did I just say about taking the name in vain?

As someone who has a few bottles of Jicky in various concentrations from several vintages I can tell you emphatically: this ain't no Jicky. Mon Guerlain offers notes of citrus, lavender, vanilla, and coumarin, among others (coumarin is not what it used to be, but what is, really?). It's all stuff you could find in Jicky, but wearing Mn Guerlain on a hot sunny day while driving, I felt my car was filling up with the scent of functional lavender. A countertop cleaner or a fabric softener. It was deeply bothersome. Cooler days or bedtime wearings produced more of a comforting cuddle that reminded me of starched linens.  One of my friends called Mon Guerlain "a Jicky ice cream", while another found it revolting and unwearable. The Husband isn't certain he'd have pegged it as a Guerlain had I not told him.  I wouldn't go that far. Mon Guerlain deserves its shelf space next to La Petite Robe Noire and all its flankers, because that's what Guerlain is today.

We can clutch our vintage Mitsouko and Shalimar bottles all we want, but Guerlain isn't in the business of making iconic perfumes. They're here to create products that would fly off Sephora's shelves. Jacques and Aimé Guerlain were also in the business of selling perfume just as much as in making it. I don't know if back in 1889 they imagined a small group of perfume enthusiasts sitting down and weeping into their rare vintage Jicky bottles remembering (or imagining) the old days and complaining about the fake sandalwood and laundered patchouli in the 2017 Mon Guerlain. Maybe they'd be happy that the name Guerlain is still out there, perhaps they'd raise an eyebrow.

The blunt truth is that Guerlain has changed. Everything changes. We have our old bottles to remind us of old world grace (one of my treasures is a 100 year old Guerlain Heliotrope Blanc. I wear it sometimes), as well as glimpses into that world in art form. The image I chose to open this post is a series of photographs captured by Lee Miller in 1930 in front of the Champs Elysees store. We get views of the store's iconic sign, windows, and various reflections of the surroundings, all telling us little stories about the place. The most celebrated part of the series is Untitled/Exploding Hand in which we see an elegant hand (that sleeve!) clasping the Guerlain door handle amidst what looks like an electric flash but was actually the scrapings in the glass caused by decades of diamond rings on the hands of those entering and leaving the store (The Art of Lee Miller by Mark Haworth-Booth, 2007).

Guerlain- Mon Guerlain  1oz Eau de Parfum, $66.00, is available from Sephora, Ulta, and most department stores worldwide.

Images copyright of the Lee Miller Archive.