Thursday, April 18, 2019

Seven Perfume Cravings that Prove I’ve Lost My Mind

Photo by Beata Cervin. You can read more here.

It’s not that I’ve stopped wearing Miel de Bois, thick velvety chypres, or any old amber-vanilla-sandalwood bombs. I do it with aplomb like we all did in the  80s, with one extra spritz for good luck. Every now and then, though, say once a week, I get a craving for something very very different. Sheer florals, wet florals, light musky florals, too prim and proper perfumes, fragrance styles that don’t go with my hair... Who is this person and why is she hoarding various Bvlgari Tea perfume samples in the bottom drawer of her nightstand? I can’t even blame spring, because the madness started over a year ago and has been fairly consistent throughout two winters, especially at bedtime or as a scent for the first couple hours of the day (until I’m fully awake, I guess).
  • Last year around this time I’ve told you how I fell in love with a most unlikely perfume, Linen Rose by Aerin. If that wasn’t enough, Sephora and a few department stores were pushing samples of another Aerin, the 2015 release Mediterranean Honeysuckle, one of their regular EdPs. I’m a sucker for honeysuckle, real and in perfume, so maybe it’s not a surprise that I fell for it. Still, the honeysuckle note here is steeped in citrus juice and heavily bleached by sunshine. It could have easily been a Jo Malone perfume, but who cares? It’s pretty and have lighted up many a dreary morning over winter.
  • Speaking of Jo Malone, this one is a sad craving because I missed out on the limited edition Wisteria and Violet from their 2014 London Rain collection. I held on to samples and hesitated for too long because it wasn’t what I envisioned as "my thing". It sold out rather quickly and that was it. The wisteria in my own garden is about a week away from blooming. We planted it by the deck, right next to the picture window of the living room, so its scent will burst in for a few days. It’s a gorgeous and fleeting moment, just like visiting London, my favorite city, and taking it in, trying to mentally tattoo every sensation and memory onto my heart. A bottle of this Jo Malone would have done me a world of good.
  • In a sharp turn from these modern fresh florals, here’s a retro one with billowing sleeves and a touch of melancholy. I’ve actually loved Nocturnes de Caron for many years despite or because it was clearly a perfume for a different woman. I’m not into astrology in any form, but I’m willing to bet no one familiar with Nocturnes would ever assign it to a Scorpio. I still feel a little like a pretender when I’m wearing it, but again, whatever. I might be a pretender but I smell like a proper lady.
  • This is where I’m feeling like a hypocrite because I’m over By Kilian and the various aspirational shenanigans of this Lauder-owned brand (yes, Aerin and Jo Malone are also part of the monster), yet I’m completely and utterly in lust with their Moonlight In Heaven. Let’s blame it on my severe coconut allergy that makes me compensate for it through coconut perfumes. Moonlight is a tropical pudding served alongside peeled wedges of sweet citrus fruit, and it all comes in clear glass bowls that reflect the light of the sunset from the beach. Obviously I’m in a need of a real vacation.
  • Fleur de Peau by Diptyque is another example of a “somebody else’s perfume”. It’s an iris, I’ll give you that, but of the very soapy and musky variety that I tend to skip (think Iris Poudre without all the poudre). It’s not makeupy, not particularly sexy, has none of the shadow and light of the truly great iris perfumes, but it’s pretty and actually warms up on the skin if you manage to make it last. Goes well with a vintage dress, pearls and opal, real hardcover books read by the open window, and beautiful cursive handwriting. I want to have a day like that every once in a while. Maybe I'll even do something with my hair in its honor.
  • This is where you get to wonder whether I’ve been abducted by aliens and replaced with a pod person. Last week I received a PR package from Elizabeth Arden. It had the original 2017 White Tea and the two new flankers, Vanilla Orchid and Wild Rose. Vanilla Orchid is a quince preserve that was cooked with a bit of vanilla but the pod was removed too early and not scraped into the jelly. Wild Rose scares me enough to wait until I can test it with a couple of friends. But it’s the original one that I suddenly find compelling (Reese Witherspoon is the campaign’s face, but it feels like she’s doing it in character as Madeline from Big Little Lies. That’s a good thing). I’m pretty sure I’m anosmic to at least half the structure of this fragrance because I’m not sure that in a blind test I can tell it apart from the Bvlgari one with the same name. I get a suspiciously cheerful citrusy white musk, slightly hysterical in its over-enthusiasm. It’s what you wear after finishing to KonMarie your entire home while you can still hear Marie Kondo’s giggly “ping” of the sparking joy moment.

  • Romulo Sans, Returned Gods, 2012
  • I thought that I was done with Chanel and we were never ever getting back together (told you: abducted, replaced, mind is gone). Between the disgrace that is Gabrielle, the travesty of L’Eau, and the gut job they did on the Les Exclusifs I’ve completely lost interest in anything they have to offer other than the makeup. Oh my god, the makeup! But the perfumes I’ve loved are ruined and the one I hated are now tolerable which is weird yet not enough of  a reason to wear Jersey. Then came 1957, the most recent Les Exclusif eau de parfum and I’m a goner. It’s both very modern using layer upon layer of white musk, perhaps the most synthetic of notes, but the layers are laminated in buttery florals like the dough of a French puff pastry. The sparkling citrus wrapped around young orange blossoms tames the animalic tendencies of this note. Normally I’d object to such treatment but somehow it works here. While the composition is new and even experimental for Chanel there’s still a nostalgic hint of real Chanel DNA when I’m wearing it. The world was quite nasty in 1957 if you weren’t a white man, middle class and above; as was Mademoiselle herself, so we need to be careful with the fake nostalgia. However, the 50s aesthetics can be enjoyed at face value, ironically, or as a guilty pleasure. That’s exactly how I’m going to feel when I order a bottle along with the newest Chanel makeup collection.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Beauty Gadgets- A Quick Overview

Anne Francis and Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet, 1956

I live on the intersection of high-maintenance girly-girls (at what age do you stop referring to yourself as such?) and nerdy geeks who like the little enhancement tech gizmos bring to our lives (and get surprisingly ragy when things don't work as they should. Ask our old dishwasher, R.I.P.). Somehow No surprise then that I've managed to amass a small hoard of beauty gadgets with cords, electric and USB alike, that now demand their own power strip in my beauty room. I haven't tried everything that's on the market (I'm too skeptic to shell out for a NuFace, not to mention to make the commitment to use it fully according to instructions). The stuff reviewed here is for face only and is electrically powered, just so we're clear.

Possibly the strongest statement I'll make here is that if you're going to buy just one single item ever make it a lighted magnifying mirror. It's the least sexy of all gadgets and can be downright scary. But if you're about to get close and personal with your pores (see below) or if you're an eyeliner user particularly over the age of 40 you need this thing and you'll need it more urgently with every passing year. I've had an OttLight one over a decade ago (it was a PR gift)  and when it died I replaced it with an 8" SimpleHuman that has been serving me well ever since. It's an older model, x5 magnification that I supplement with a small suction cup x10 for eyeliner. The lighting action is sensor activated and USB powered. People who complain about the light not turning on right away have probably neglected the occasional cleaning of the sensor (I use an alcohol wipe). I rely on it daily and should probably look at adding a travel version, because the one I have right now, a KEDSUM tri-fold I bought on Amazon ($26) has been unreliable at best. It looks fantastic, but mine has issues charging (USB) and sometimes refuses to turn on (it has a switch in the back, but the mirror doesn't seem to care). I've travelled with it quite a bit over the last eighteen months and I'm ready for an upgrade.

I promised some pore talk, so we're getting to it. I have one strong recommendation and two shrill warnings. Let's start with one that does good. Many facialists have started supplementing their cleansing and extracting process with a steam/water-aided electric pulsating wand that shakes the pores clean. It's a good thing if you're not the biggest fan of manual extractions (I'm not, and the husband was traumatized by his one experience of a "relaxing facial". He still loves me. I think). The salon machines are not exactly sized or priced for the average consumer, but look online and you'll find a wide range of pulsing spatulas that promise to clean out your pores as well as give you an alternate setting that actually pushes skincare into your recently purified skin. Prices vary and I've taken my time researching before deciding on the right one for me, Labelle Ultrasonic Gentle Stainless Steel Facial Skin Scrubber Spatula by Trophy Skin ($149. I'm pretty sure it was cheaper when I bought it seven months ago). It works on a well-steamed (see bellow) and damp skin by sending ultrasonic pulses into the face that serve as eviction notice for the gunk in one's pores. I can't vouch for the effectiveness on seriously congested and acneic skin and wouldn't use it without consulting a dermatologist or a serious aesthetician first. All I know is that for my normalish skin that tends to get surface and just-under-the top layer blackheads this is a working solution.

It's important to read and understand the instruction, to remember that the gadget works on ultrasonic pulses (I rarely hear them  and the cats don't seem to mind. No idea about dogs), and to avoid scraping, pushing and digging. Don't apply any pressure to the skin. Just glide it, change directions according to the face nooks and crannies and let the spatula do its work. The result is part satisfying and part horrifying as tiny sebum plugs vacate the premise.

Once done it's time for your choice of skincare, but here's where the spatula falls short. The reverse pulses feel pleasant but I don't feel they contribute anything to serum absorption. Maybe it's just me, but I wouldn't purchase this if you're mainly interested in pushing products into your skin. I have something else to recommend.

But before we get to that I still have a warning: vacuum pore suction devices. No No. No. I bought a dirt cheap one a couple of years ago that did diddly squat. You'd think I've learned my lesson, but no. I had to get a more "serious" one, with adjustable suction levels, replaceable suction heads in various sizes, and broken capillaries to boot. The gunk, by the way, remained comfortable until I switched to the Trophy Skin spatula. If you ever asked yourself who's the idiot who buys this junk featured on Instagram, that would be me (though I bought it on Amazon. I'm still as dumb).

The precursor to pre-cleaning is steaming the face. Methods vary from the good old boiling pot and a towel over one’s head (not recommended in homes ruled by felines) to various small appliances you can buy anywhere. A few have more functions than others, but I have yet to find a reason to replace my current one which is at least six years old and was purchased for less than $30. It’s no longer in production, but its clones are many.  The rules are simple: stable surface, close your eyes, don’t shove your face deep in there, and give the cats a few other educational toys to distract them.

I mentioned above that I didn’t think that the reverse action of the ultrasonic spatula was doing much for me. Instead I’ve got addicted to the Foreo UFO device ($280 at Sephora). The price is scandalous because they’re trying to keep milking you for money with the refill masks. As much as I adore this gadget I’m still mad about it. The UFO comes with an app, which means you’re supposedly have to locate your phone and bring it to the bathroom. Thankfully the default settings are good enough unless you’re intent on a specific facial routine. Once the Foreo UFO is nicely charged (USB, what else?) you remove the outer ring, stick the round mask and fasten it back with the plastic ring. If you’re using the app this is where you use the phone camera to read the barcode of the wrapper, or just click it on and start massaging your face gently with the device, enjoy the change in temperature and the LED lights that are also supposed to be beneficial. It’s a 90 second luxurious spa treatment that I feel does wonders for my skin (I can tell when I’ve been slacking). There are several different types of masks. I buy the basic Make My Day and Call It A Night ($9.99 for a seven unit package), and keep empty wrappers of each on hand to scan as needed, because I have a little secret. Many of us have piles of sheet masks around and they’re not all made equal. A good masking session takes more time, relaxation, and a high quality mask (both the sheet and the essence). Cheap and flimsy masks do have their place since they still give a hydration and glow boost. You just need to cut them to an approximate size and stick them in the UFO under whichever setting you fancy. It’s a great solution for the more questionable filler masks in your Mask Maven subscription, various GWPs, and all the ones that are supposed to make you look like a cute animal for Instagram stories. No. I will not film myself wearing a lemur mask, but I will use it in the solitude of my dressing room with the UFO. One last piece of advice: don’t pay full price. Sephora and other retailers have sales.

Now we’re getting to some unnecessarily controversial territory. A couple of years ago Lisa Eldridge decided to pull down a video about her experience with with facial microplaning . She was slagged as anti feminist and a promoter of unnatural beauty standards because women have facial hair and peach fuzz and shouldn’t feel the need to get treatment for it. I’ve watched that video while it was still available and even if I hadn’t, being familiar with Ms. Eldridge, her work and philosophy I could tell you there was no way she’d ever shame a person for their facial features. Ever. If you want to really be horrified go search Monika Blunder channel for her (possibly sponsored) video on the topic. As a Jewish person with ancestry that engulfs the Middle East, Balkan countries, and most of Eastern Europe I can tell you that facial hair, fuzzy or not, has been the bane of my existence from age twelve onwards, including years I’ve yearned paper bags over the head would be an acceptable fashion choice. I’m laughing it off now from my chair in a well-stocked beauty room and a lifetime experience of beauty treatments, but thirteen year old me would have sold my sister for a solution that would make me feel better about my appearance, at least to a less suicidal point. Microplaning is not a simple face shaving since it takes off the outermost layer of dead skin and debris, thus revealing a healthier, less prone to clogging skin, and a better absorbent canvas for skin care. The full Monty clinical procedure is relatively expensive, and frankly, I wouldn’t trust just anyone with a #11 scalpel near my face. There are several DIY options, such as the one Wayne Goss has shown on YouTube last year but it was a manual tool and not an electrical gadget, so it’s out of today’s scope. I would say that it’s better suited for an experienced microplaner, because it’s still a razor of sort. So beware. 

The one I’m talking about today is the Dermalash 2.0 ($189 at Sephora, Ulta, and most department stores). It’s another greedy scam to sell you an expensive device and then keep you buying the much needed refills. I wouldn’t use the same blade more than three times, and again use your Ulta points and various 20% coupons to take the sting off. It’s still annoying, but it works beautifully. Two things to know: it’s better to let the peach fuzz grow almost fully back before repeating, because that’s how it takes off most of the filth that’s caught in it. The second thing is that you must carefully eject the blade from the device so you can actually recharge it. It needs to be placed (blade-free) head down into the base. The LED light will indicate that it’s charging. Too many people didn’t fully read the manual (it’s confusing) and have returned fully functional units because they couldn’t figure out this little detail. The results I’ve been seeing over the last months (since the 2.0 model was launched) have made me a believer. I wish I could show my mustachioed and side-burnt teenage self all these wonders. 

One last note: Clarisonic. I still have my first generation brush I’ve written about back in the day and a stash of the old brush heads since I’ve heard they’ve changed, and not all brush types have improved. I’ll check it in due course. To the one I bought all those years ago joined a MIA Fit a few years ago ($219 wherever Clarisonic products are sold. I think this model might be in the process of phasing out in favor of a  bright and shiny new thing). It was a PR gift which has been serving well and traveled the world with me. Except that first time in Italy when I realized the PR package didn’t include a charging cable. I ordered one immediately and it was waiting for me when I got home, but the hilarity in the shower was unnecessary. In any case, I love my Clarisonic brushes and I’m secretly coveting the ultimate prize in the series, the Mia Smart Luxe Ultimate Collection ($299) that also includes a face massager and and eye awakening device (and hopefully a butler that looks and sounds like Tim Gunn to administer all these treatment).

How do you feel about beauty gadgets? Any recommendations?