If you're new to this blog, then read our guides to the basics: Skin (Part I), Skin (Part II), The Supernatural, Color Theory I, Color Theory II, Eyes, and Brushes.
Also, check out the blogsale.
Into The Gloss
Grain de Musc
Drivel About Frivol The Selfish Seamstress
Bois de Jasmin Glossed In Translation
Jak and Jil
Worship at the House of Blues
I Smell Therefore I Am
The Natural Haven
Moving Image Source
The Emperor's Old Clothes
Colin's Beauty Pages
Barney's jewelry department
loodie loodie loodie
The Straight Dope
Sea of Shoes
London Makeup Girl
Sakecat's Scent Project
Tom & Lorenzo: Mad Style
Beauty and the Bullshit
La Garçonne Flame Warriors Everyday Beauty
Fashion Gone Rogue
Now Smell This
A Fevered Dictation
I revisited Mitsouko recently, and it may be that by now I've been exposed to more chypres with real oakmoss in it, but the current formulation isn't really doing it for me. The outlines are recognizable enough, but its substance is missing. Sad, really. I've mostly been wearing Chant d'Arômes of late; it cuts beautifully through the heat and humidity.
I've never been able to find anything to equal the ease, expediency of application, the flawless coverage and naturalistic finish of Clé de Peau's mythic concealer. It's $78, but it's the best stuff out there, etc., etc. Pixi's Illuminating Tint & Conceal SPF 20 ($35) may be a worthy substitute. Better actually, since the Clé de Peau has clearly been reformulated since the repackaging. I have the Stephane Marais, older formulation, newest formulation, and the Pixi all on hand for comparison. The old formula and the Stephane Marais (they're virtually indistinguishable) are the clear winner, but the Pixi beats out the new Clé de Peau easy. The coverage is higher with Clé de Peau, and it glides on more softly, but the drier texture of the Pixi is better in the long run; within minutes, the Clé de Peau begins to take on a cakey appearance.
Actually, this marvelous concealer is an incidental extra, because the bulk of the product is devoted to the tinted moisturizer. I've never had much use for tinted moisturizer; they're often too weak to provide coverage, in which case there's a dozen moisturizers out there I'd much rather use, or they've got too much coverage (Laura Mercier), in which case there's a hundred foundations out there that feel less tacky. Bridging skincare with makeup is rarely effective. But this is just a superb tinted moisturizer. It's got just enough oomph to blur over imperfections, in a vaguely Photoshopped way, but still low enough so that you can really just slap it on and blend carelessly, before it settles into a beautifully naturalistic finish. On my dry skin, it doesn't catch on flakes at all, but if you're prone to shine, it's best to layer with powder. The "illuminating" in the title refers to some shimmer particles, but the effect is very, very subtle, and shouldn't scare anyone off. And, believe it or not, that SPF is bona-fide broad spectrum, a combination of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. After so many years of resisting sunscreen, Pixi has managed to secretly sneak one into my routine.
I can't read Korean, so I've been a little wary (and shy) about entering Korean restaurants, so I've spent a rather needless amount of money on rather a lot of overpriced, mediocre Italian food. My problem is, I'd rather eat Thai or Japanese when it comes to Asian cuisine, and anything slightly exotic, especially in Shinsa, tends to be expensive. I must simply overcome my reserve.
Though I'm surrounded by no end of retail, I haven't been too tempted. There are too many other things I need. I've been wearing the brighter stuff in my wardrobe. I'm not a neutrals girl, but the demon of perversity insists that I dress differently from those around me, and here my mainstay, pastels, are much too common. I can still happily wear my white, of which there is also a good quantity, but it seems that white is quite difficult to wear well. I always thought it was my coloring, but I guess not. I'd be curious to find out why white flatters me so well; it's practically a no-brainer.
Mostly, I need stuff for my new apartment: a duvet cover, posters for the walls, double-stick tape for said posters, a toaster oven, curtains, a couple of lamps, toilet paper, speakers, digital camera, USB cord...
Here is a selection of jazz greats, perhaps not much in the way of the obscure and experimental, but a decent introduction, perhaps.
Labels: culture notes
This is easily one of my favorite videos of all time. It was released around the start of the current war, when the neo-eighties movement had already begun in Europe and had started to make waves in the States. This video gives a nod to the eighties without that obnoxious, smug, self-righteous quality normally associated with its revival, instead referencing the era's recession and large working class. This video is brilliantly shot, the undersaturation recalling the poor photographic standards of the time and the washed-out quality of photographed memories. At the same time, it's also an accurate depiction of color - in the height of summer, colors can't retain their brilliance.
Both the song and video are also deeply honest. Pharrell and company aren't doing anything grand here, just riding their bikes around and around the neighborhood, because when you're poor, what else are you going to do? There isn't the money available for supermodels, Cristal, or even for just getting out. The location shots and imagery are right on target, with no location having too much money or brilliance, and the casting is great. No one falls into the typical Hollywood trap of playing someone down and out while also, amazingly, having gleaming hair and a Pilates body.
The best element of this video is the song itself. Pharrell Williams wrote beautiful, honest music for N.E.R.D.'s In Search Of..., with this song being one of the album's best tracks. Pharrell managed to capture something in this song very rarely seen in popular culture about the working class - striving. The popular media likes to portray the working class generally as being dissolute, stupid, lazy, and criminal, without thought or deeper meaning, or no deeper meaning than as the butt of middle-class jokes. In this song, Pharell speaks to the common working class (really, human) experience of working for something more from life, striving for it, while being haunted by the demon of, "What if?," or, "Will I find my sanity/Where I find my glory?" Pharell's lyrics reveal a level of self-knowledge and experience that, though rarely expressed in the pop world, make for compelling lyrics, expressing the life experiences of millions who are typically spoken for rather than truly heard.
I can't say I'm crazy about the last bit protesting the war. It's not subtle, to say the least, so I console myself with the fact that Pharrell inverts his peace sign into a rude gesture towards the end.
I've been in Seoul some few weeks, for the first time since I was a child. In spite of some initial anxiety on my part, I'm pleased to report that it has not been much of a culture shock. There is no racism to contend with (I feel slightly sorry for any white people I meet, more so for any blacks), but the illusion of my Korean blood is weak, and breaks under extensive, or even just close, examination. Given my violent paranoia about attention, this is mostly a good thing, but I have found that this is for the most part a good thing, but at times I find it useful to take advantage of my bemusement and broken Korean, reinforced by subtler cues such as the cut of my clothes, my relatively undone hairdo, and, as The Kindly One described it, my "resting expression", to establish myself as a foreigner, thus sidestepping most probabilities for offense. By and large, the standard of living is high, and Seoul is actually a more modernized (if far less aesthetic) city than, say, Athens.
What strikes me most immediately about Korea is the sense of inhibition that seems to bind every facet of society. I do not mean, by this, the inhibition that every alien feels irrespective of specifics, but that this is a conservative culture. As Anne has been so good as to explain to me, recent Korean history has been marked by extremes—not merely the Depression and WWII, but a harsh and exploitative Japanese occupation that puts the Nazis' claims in the human-rights-violation contest rather to shame, not just the ideologues of the Cold War but actual civil strife that tore apart one of the least ethnically diverse countries in the world, and finally in the last few decades, a period of intense and rapid industrialization from what had been originally a feudal society—and each generation is distinctly marked by its particular history, even while cohabiting the same society. "Change," she asserted, "is going to be gradual. There isn't likely to be a sexual revolution, for example, but the old ways will die out with the old generation. You'll find that people our age are not so different as you might imagine." Certainly, the modernization of Seoul is impressive, and it is a cleaner, cheaper, and more efficiently run city than New York. It's as if, one day, Koreans took a look around where they were in the world and realized, "Shit, we're behind," and have pursued the goal of industrialization with a purity of singlemindedness both awful and awe-inspiring. No Western society would have this in their capacity, without compromising some aspect of their culture, and yet that tension does not exist here. In my eyes, however, such efficient and assiduous drive has resulted in limitations. Anne remarked, and I thought this hit very true, now that Korea has attained a level of material comfort, it is now necessary to take pause and reflect, without which it cannot deepen and enrich its identity, and when I related this comment to my aunt, she agreed, and was especially critical of the lack of social responsibility in the wealthy elements in Korea.
After all, if you are singleminded in your goals, it means also that only one set of standards is right and allowable. Consequently, a rigid pertinacity to form informs practically every facet of society. It is not merely a matter of social codes, in which sex premarital, extramarital, and homosexual are considered deviant and therefore must happen (and they happen, as in all cultures) behind closed doors, which I cannot help criticize, with some asperity, that openness and tolerance is far healthier, and that what people do with their own lives is no one's damn business but their own, though I will add that I have no real right to judge, since freedom of lifestyle has its own problems in the west, insofar that it does not change, but sometimes exacerbates, bigotry, and sometimes results in nothing more than vulgarity and selfish license. But it is not a very balanced or a very deep lifestyle. In my experience as a teacher, creative thinking is almost absent from Korean (or East Asian) education. Give any Korean student a straightforward, linear math problem, for example, and he will solve it with a rapidity and ease well beyond the average American student. But give the same student an open-question, such as, "How does Hamlet's need to intellectualize his emotions affect those around him?", and he will draw a blank, not understanding that the expectation is personal opinion. It is a major drawback. Maybe most people in any society are satisfied with a shallow and immediate culture, but it's almost as if the skills for fomenting and discussing a deep, creative, independent, progressive, and thoughtful culture don't even exist. Instead, there are these ridiculous melodramas (which do very well in Asia in general, because the synthesis of Asian values with modernization appeals to audiences in China, Japan, and elsewhere), truly awful pop music, and rampant plastic surgery, or, as my uncle complained, all the celebrities look alike. The dress is formal—their hair is done, they walk everywhere in heels, wear makeup, don't display even the barest hint of cleavage and wear stockings with their short skirts, the guys are more relaxed but it's not uncommon to see shiny suits, manbags, and expressive hairdos—vanity is a way of life here. And, there is no end of shopping, which, to be perfectly hypocritical about it, I like very much.
As chance would have it, I've landed in the particularly posh neighborhood of Shinsa. There's a main street glut to the gills with excruciatingly cute boutiques, cafés, and wine bars—mostly populated by women. Once, returning home from the 7-eleven down the street, I couldn't help gawking at the Vanessa Bruno boutique two blocks from my apartment (a Steven Alan is here too; haven't found it yet). Further along, near Apgujeong, where I work, is a Hyundai department store, with Hermès (including the Hermessences), Prada, Chanel, Balenciaga, Jil Sander, Dolce & Gabbana, Marni, Lanvin, Manolo Blahnik, Givenchy, Dries Van Noten, MM6—you name it. Outside of Frédéric Malle, the less popular Guerlains, and NARS, this is a shopper's paradise. You can find everything from adorable, fully integrable (as opposed to some cheaply made passing trend from Wet Seal) flats for $35, to Birkins in the little shop a few blocks down the road. As my mother says, beware.
Here are some things that have colored in my space in the past two weeks:
The weather has been gorgeous.
After four and a half months away at school, I've finally had a chance to come home to Toronto. And oh, what a relief it is to be home. While I can live happily in cities smaller than Toronto, I remain a city girl, and the town where I've been going to school is much too small, expensive, under-serviced and car-dependent for me. Alas, I'm not done with it yet; my lease is not yet over, my graduation ceremony is this week, and I have numerous loose ends to tie up before I leave for good. But oh, believe me, I will be leaving for good.
During my two-week break, I have been catching up with friends, babbling at my family, snuggling my beloved cat, and revelling in the pleasures of home: abundant sidewalks, walkable and varied neighbourhoods, a halfway functioning transit system (essential, since I don't know how to drive), cheap restaurants, my brother's PS3, and oh yes, shopping.
When I first sampled Après l'Ondée, more than a year ago, I was displeased and perplexed. I believe the phrase I used at the time was "urinal cake". Did I get a bad sample? Does it need to be sprayed instead of dabbed? I have given away the sample; I can't compare it with the scent I idly spritzed in Toronto's Guerlain boutique last week, only to discover that I'd fallen in love. Was it the warm weather, the exhaust in the air, that made this ever-chilly scent -- anise and violets in a spring mist -- so suddenly, absurdly appealing? I was astonished. I had to buy it.
I try (I do!) not to be profligate in acquiring makeup, but I am a sucker for red lipstick. I own more variations on red lipstick than any woman ought to have: corals, bricks, wines. My latest is YSL Rouge Pur in 131, Opium Red, which gets raves on Makeupalley; now I know why. This is a rich, glowing, deep red, faintly warm, utterly beautiful. Alas, it bleeds like mad, necessitating the use of lip brushes, lipliner, concealer, the whole shebang.
I finished watching The Wire when I should have been studying. I fear I have become one of those tedious Wire evangelists, but seriously, this show is fantastic; once you get past the in-medias-res confusion of the first episodes (a process that must be repeated with every season of the show) it becomes the most complex, gripping, twisted tragedy. I am now in withdrawal: I've watched The Wire, I've seen all of Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood and Six Feet Under, Mad Men does not return until August, I'm not quite ready to take on The Sopranos, what should I do? Am I ready for another show? Perhaps not. Lately I have been using the TV to upgrade my Rock Band 2 skills, not quite the same sort of thing.
Saul Leiter, Lanesville, (1958).
With the exception of flightier things like kölnisch wasser, the base notes are really the most important part of a fragrance, though perfumers nowadays are encouraged to focus on appealing top notes designed to grab the flighty attention of the average consumer before she has time to be disappointed by a pale drydown, of which Coco Mademoiselle is the textbook example. It is no surprise that those perfumers who are determined to remain true to their craft (Jean Claude Ellena, Olivia Giacobetti, Bertrand Duchaufour, etc.) have opted for a transparency to their aesthetic, thus avoiding the problem altogether. For this classics lover, the subterfuge feels a trifle thin. Most aromatics are chosen because they smell good, but base notes, being far less obvious, enjoy a greater latitude. Some, like vetiver, sandalwood, or "amber", are quite palatable on their own, but they can also range from the bizarre, such as oakmoss and patchouli, to downright disgusting, such as your animalics, a euphemism for their historical origins as extractions from the anal glands of male musk deer, beavers (castoreum), and civet cats, though they can also embrace both vegetable (indoles in white flowers, galbanum, cumin) and mineral (phenolic acid and quinolines) sources. Natural musks, loaded as they are with pheromones, are quite rank enough to turn your stomach, though some people, French people, actually enjoy the distinctive presence of genitalia lurking in the background. Applied with a subtler hand, however, musks make prissy, hyperbolic florals like JOY sing on your skin. After all, we are animals too, and we don't exactly smell like jasmine or roses. Base notes not only play a functional role as fixatives, but for the balance and depth they impart to perfumes, and more importantly, in making sure that they "connect" with our skin.
Due to issues with availability, price, and quality control, long before animal rights were any serious issue, musks have shifted into synthetics, from the now obsolete nitro musks to the cheap, ubiquitous molecules in laundry detergent, which, as Chandler Burr points out in The Perfect Scent, have ironically become the clichéd definition of "clean". Any discussion of musks is therefore a matter of pinpointing its position on the spectrum, between the extremes of squeaky clean, synthetic musk of Il Profumo's Musc Bleu and the filthy, raw sexuality of Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan, with Kiehl's Original Musk balanced right in the middle. Because of their huge molecular weight, some synthetic musks run the danger of anosmia (the inability to smell), though it differs widely from person to person. The harsh, industrial feel of a clean musk is frequently softened by floral notes, as in the vaguely-soapy-but-not-quite-shower-fresh Narciso Rodriguez, while the dirty musks might fuse together our venal appetites by lacing the raunchiness with gourmand notes, in the manner of Frédéric Malle's Musc Ravageur. However you like your musk, it will always lie very flat on the skin, which is great if you want subtle sillage or a literal skin scent, but an annoyance if you expect a proper perfume rather than a smell.
That is, until L'Air de Rien. As suits Birkin, whose fame rests on a kind of artistic pornography, which would be considered fairly outré even by today's degraded standards of vulgarity, and whose specifications were the direct inspiration, this is one of your dirtier musks. It is also fitting that someone who'd eschew her namesake Hermès because it was "too much [like] being flung around by Hamlet" would be loathe to wear your average fruity-floral celeb fare. To my nose, the cinnamon and vanilla of L'Air de Rien approaches the high-calorie gourmand effect of Musc Ravageur, and yet its sweetness feels less overdone, subtly mellowing with each passing minute. It seems rather to pass into the orbit of Guerlain's long discontinued Djedi, by superimposing on this unctuous, sensual backdrop the austerity of oakmoss and an accord of leather and lignin (suggestions of both wood and paper), like the murky smell of an old library with a lingering whiff of sex in the air.
The Non Blonde
Memory and Desire
Now Smell This
Pere de Pierre
To paraphrase, Ryan Gosling once said in an interview that he isn't sure what art is, but he's pretty sure it's not making films. I can understand that: under most directors, filmmaking is too hurry-up-and-stop to truly be a dynamic experience. Still, it took me quite a while to truly get a sense of what he meant. The only understanding I've come upon has been that art is an experience, whether in the conception, actualization, or final appreciation of the event. It's meant to be engaged with, so that a static painting on a museum wall transforms from something stale and static to a vibrant exchange. So with music. Now that everything can be digitally filtered and tweaked, there is less room to leave a song alone and let it simply resonate and speak for that moment in time when it was recorded, much less for the moment you're in. The imperfections are gone, but so is the passion. (Gosling says as much here.)
Enter Dead Man's Bones, the two-man collaboration between Gosling and friend Zach Shields. More interested in experience than perfection, the two collaborated with a children's choir from Silverlake Conservatory of Music's to create their upcoming album. Rather than go on about their highly independent approach to recording, which the linked article nicely outlines, I'd rather just share that their songs I've heard have brought back everything I miss about records - the warmth, the imperfections, and the ability to share an experience with each track. With each listen, I can become more engaged with each warp and distinction until the imperfections themselves take on a resonance beyond the music. Besides that, the tracks sound live, as though they really are experiences in time that have been captured, allowing me to engage in a real event rather than just passively accepting more manufactured beats. I can't say I can get with the visuals, but listen to the song and check out more of Dead Man's Bones. This is great music, and I think it's art.
The experienced reader of product reviews knows that the best product research involves the perfect ratio between detailed, well judged analyses (blogs) and random samples (MUA). You can trust a pundit only so far, since experiences are rarely consistent from person to person, but for genuine desire and details only a neurotically obsessed enthusiast can provide, the reliability of random reviews just won't do. So today, we're trying a different angle. Dorothy, The Kindly One, and I all have different skin types, needs, and life styles, but we are alike in being very exacting about lending any product our approbation. We've chosen three products from DHC to review in this style; we hope you enjoy them.
Deep Cleansing Oil ($25)
INGREDIENTS olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, caprylic/capric triglyceride, sorbeth-30 tetraoleate, tocopherol, phenoxyethanol, propylparaben, stearyl glycyrrhetinate, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil
The Kindly One: Deep Cleansing Oil was the single most useful product I reviewed. Cleansers can be tricky, as they can either promote the health of the skin through proper, effective cleansing or aggravate conditions through harsh stripping agents and irritating ingredients. I've found my skin's condition has improved with the use of Deep Cleansing Oil, as it has nothing to irritate the skin, plus it does a great job of removing makeup. I still need a separate eye makeup remover for Mac Technakohl I use on my lashline, but even then, Deep Cleansing Oil removes most of it. I also appreciate using that this product isn't runny. It stays put both on the face and in my hands, leaving it easier and less messy to use than many liquid cleansers. Overall, this is a great product that deserves the praise it receives.
Dain: Deep Cleansing Oil is in my mind the perfect cleanser. It's cost-effective; one bottle with twice-daily use lasts about six months. It's an oil, so it annihilates the most resistant makeup, but rinses completely clean. And yet, it's a very simple, gentle product. If you get some into your eyes, your vision may blur, but that's the worst of it. It's not much of a review, but there's surprisingly little to say about perfect performance. It looks easy. It's not. Has a light olive-rosemary scent, unusual but not unpleasant.
Acerola 100 ($22.50)
INGREDIENTS water, butylene glycol, malpighia glabra (acerola) fruit extract
The Kindly One: Acerola 100 is surprised me by doing something remarkable: exactly what it claims. Upon application, Acerola 100 noticeably brightens the skin, leaving it clearer and slightly lighter. This brightness doesn't initially last throughout the day, but after two weeks' use, I did notice that, during the times I wasn't wearing foundation/powder, my skin retained brightness and clarity. I had to discontinue use after two weeks, though. I have very sensitive skin, so that using that much vitamin C even once a day started to turn my skin red. That said, I usually have an adverse reaction to vitamin C serums after a single use, so I assume that Acerola 100 is a gentler formulation than most. Most people will not have this problem - I just have an exceptional sensitivity to vitamin C products. Additionally, the formulation itself will be a hit or miss with most users. This product is very, very thin, almost the consistency of water, and I learned the hard way to apply with care (the first few times, it all ran down my arm). I found the best application method was to dispense a drop or two onto the back of my hand and then dab or smooth it onto my skin from there. Learning curve and all, I would recommend this product to all but the most sensitive skin types as it is a really effective, potent antioxidant.
Dain: I wouldn't normally look at Acerola 100 twice, because an oil-free brightening 'n' lightening treatment so rich in vitamin C (essentially diluted acerola extract, which apparently contains 32 times the vitamin C of orange juice) hardly seems an auspicious match for my dry, sensitive, and already pale skin, which tends to react to potent ingredients with chemical burns. When it comes to immediate reactions, this merely tingles, and only if I've exfoliated beforehand. The texture is watery, rather like a toner, which leaves a sticky residue on the skin, with a weird (in my view, unpleasant) smell like maple syrup, drawing commentary from my sister: "What smells like oatmeal"? After a few minutes, however, it has absorbed completely, leaving behind only soft, deeply hydrated skin, sufficient on its own for oilier skin. My skin still demands an extra layer of moisturizer, and the cumulative effect is slightly drying, so apply sparingly. As with all DHC products I've met thus far, a little does go a long way. I, too, have skin that's extremely intolerant to vitamin C, which, as The Kindly One has pointed out, is really the exception rather than the rule, and so I've had to shift the testing from my face to the hardier regions of the body, on a really nasty spider-bite scar on my shin. It had quite the feast, and its bite must have been poisonous, because it quite putrefied my skin and the damage still lingers many months later. The Acerola 100 has done a great job lightening that area.
Concentrated Eye Cream ($31.50)
INGREDIENTS water, cucumis sativus (cucumber) juice, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, stearic acid, caprylic/capric triglyceride, aesculus hippocastanum (horse chestnut) seed extract, butylene glycol, hydrogenated castor oil, biosaccharide gum-1, squalane, sodium hyaluronate, sasa veitchii extract, polysorbate 60, glycerin, cetyl alcohol, sorbitan stearate, panax ginseng root extract, royal jelly extract, potassium hydroxide, carbomer, methylparaben, propylparaben, magnesium aluminum silicate, tocopherol, dipotassium glycyrrhizate, citric acid
The Kindly One: DHC's Concentrated Eye Cream is a very good, basic eye cream that's rich enough to impart deep hydration without causing milia or, more importantly, drifting. The formulation is thick enough that it stays exactly where you put it and dries quickly, so that in a couple of minutes, you can put on your glasses/sunscreen/makeup and be set. It's also very concentrated - you won't be going through this quickly. I don't think this will do anything for aging concerns, which would require stronger ingredients than this product offers. Still, I find it to be an excellent cream for both those with sensitive eyes and those who need deeper hydration around the eyes than their moisturizer provides.
Dain: I've long sneered at eye creams as an unnecessary expense—it's the same stuff as face creams, in a smaller jar—but lately, out of idle hypocrisy, I've been thinking of indulging in one. I am still skeptical of eye treatments' putative powers against aging and hyperpigmentation, so I just go with the strategy of ... the richest thing your skin can stand, which is probably balm strength at my driest. The Concentrated Eye Cream is a plain, honest moisturizer on the richer side, but still it absorbs well and pairs nicely with concealer, and displays no inclination to cause milia, which I'm not really in a position to gauge. It imparts a plump little "bounce" to the skin that probably helps with the appearance of fine lines. No discernible scent and a cool, yogurty texture.
This image from The Sartorialist illustrates that strong shoulders are wearable, need not be overwrought, and do not have to refer to the eighties. These shoulders work because they add definition to the jacket and balance out the wearer's hips, thereby creating an overall lean silhouette. These are not shoulder pads for show. They do not extend from her body or add heft. They simply provide definition and balance. Shoulder pads will never be for everyone, but when used appropriately, they can provide a necessary balance to fuller hips and provide a frame for the rest of an outfit to fall from.
It may be my current status as an ex-pat, but as I read Walden I am struck by how very American he is. Unlike the British, with thousands of years of history to mine and delve, and whose culture we sometimes appropriate as our own (I speak in literary terms primarily), the emphases in American literature falls often on starting anew, with the past hovering as an oppressive burden (think Faulkner). Thoreau reflects, in response to a young man approaching him expressing a desire to live as he did, "I would not have any one adopt my mode of living on any account... I desire that there be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way." This is not to suggest that Americans claim a monopoly on free thought and independent living, only that it serves as a fundamental ideal; in a sense, one could argue that the country was founded, with all its morally-tinged civil liberties, to defend free enterprise (it's our money, King George). Like all ideals, independence is often manifest only as an orientation, as a goal not likely to be reached without compromising others, and sometimes as outright, mealy-minded hypocrisy, or the sophomoric posturings of adolescence. Of these failures no one could be more critical than Thoreau himself. He seems to understand that true independence, or rather, independence in its purest form, is one shorn of materialistic values, in the sense that the things you own, end up owning you.
In the summer, Walden Pond, about fifteen minutes away from where I grew up, is little more than a glorified watering hole. Thoreau's original one-room cottage still stands, and if you happen to be nearby, it's always worth stepping inside just to marvel at its size—smaller than your average first-world bathroom. Against its asceticism, our "necessaries of life" look like luxuriousness, to which we cling out of weakness. If this seems to echo certain Eastern philosophies, it is well to point out that Thoreau is as likely to quote from the Baghavad Gita as Homer. Much of the book, however, is not philosophical in nature, certainly none of it has the standard format of the "systems" that drive philosophical works (it can sometimes read rather like a sermon), nor is it exactly literary, but devoted to his observations of the natural world around him. The Concord of his day would seem rural to our eyes (it is a modest suburb today), but even so he is determined to give himself the quiet in which he might hear himself think, and order his day according to nothing than his own sweet will. There is, he admits, an intrinsic selfishness of removing himself as a contributing member of society, but the contemplative life, as he understands it, isn't possible without the physical solitude that obviates the dependence on others for his food, shelter, clothes, and culture as well as the concern for others' opinions that occupies so much of our lives. Had he been born in Catholic Europe instead of Puritan New England, he might have become a monk.
Not the best scan, but I love the colors here, from Allure.
I've got a soft spot for red lipstick, that fusion of simplicity and drama into one. How fitting that lipstick was once termed "rouge", in recognition of its classic form (lighter pigments were not available until the 60s), but while the ultimate lipstick is a red one, it can be a little tricky in execution: the lips must be symmetrical and properly sized (not too thin, not too full), smooth, clear skin is a requirement, as red tones exacerbate blotchiness, and sometimes both exfoliation and lipliner is necessary beforehand. Still, I'd rather wear red lipstick than exotic eyeshadow any day. For a change of pace, however, I sometimes switch into fuschia.
Now, one of the main criticisms of red lipsticks is their tendency to "fuschia", or turn an unflattering bright pink hue. Because of the expense of red pigment, companies sometimes skimp on cost by lacing their lipstick with just enough red to lend the proper vibrancy to the tube, but on the lips, the color may not be so true. A touch of brown helps alleviate this tendency, which is why the most universally flattering shade is a browned "blood" red. If you are cool of coloring, however, a little blue may suit you the better, and that very fuschia of which so many complain may just be the perfect alternative to the statement of a red lip: brighter, fresher, more youthful, slightly abrasive. The principles remain the same, however. You still need good skin and proportioned lips, and the best balance on the eyes is neither nothing nor too much, but a wash of metallic shadow, such as the silver shown above, provides the best balance to a straight, hard-fitting fuschia like NARS Schiap. Personally, my favorite pairing is the soft, antiqued petrol blue of NARS Underworld, and blues in general are the natural contrast to pink.
There are quite a few variations on bright pink, some of which are shown below, and different ways to wear it:
Worried that fuschia won't mesh with your coloring? Stay tuned for our coral lookbook, authored by Dorothy, who is about as warm as I am cool, and berry lookbook, for those with olive undertones or a taste for darker drama.
In order to be “well-dressed,” the consensus goes that one must cover one’s face in obliterating spackle, wobble about unsteadily in heels that limit one’s stride, and wear miniskirts and pantyhose in winter. Simply put, “beauty is pain,” or at the very least annoyance, and unless I did nothing all day but stare at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t reap whatever aesthetic benefits I gain by conforming to someone else’s idea of perfection—or even my own idea of perfection. And I’ve always been as obstinate as a mule, refusing point-blank to move at any pace but mine or make an effort at doing anything I don’t truly want to do. It’s more important for me to feel comfortable in my own body and in the clothes that I’m wearing than it is for me to look good.
This means that I’m probably one of the least fashionable people you’ll ever meet: I always err on the side of casual, rarely suffer high heels, wear my few favorite outfits to death, and still cling to my bootcut jeans and trousers from the 90’s. I do whatever is necessary to be considered presentable, and not an iota more or less. I need clothes that flatter, especially because I have the kind of figure that is difficult to dress around, but beyond that excessive embellishment is unnecessary: in my opinion, clothes don't have any business attracting undue attention to themselves, away from their wearer. I suppose this is the reason why I don’t really lust after designer clothing or keep up with the runway shows: ignoring the sour-grapes-factor, much designer clothing either tends to dwarf the wearer in its outréness or telegraph, by its own preciousness, its own elevation from quotidian concerns... and while I really am a snob at heart, I would rather not look like one, or at least not so openly.
So it seems like great audacity or even hypocrisy on my part to dare write about style, and it is difficult for me to name a single designer, movement, or even aesthetic that has made an impact on the way I dress, or even on the way I imagine I'd like to dress. My preferences change little even with increased exposure to sartorial possibilities, but the more I see, the better I know what my own tastes truly are. To this day, I still don’t quite know what I really like, much less my reasons for liking what I do, though I have realized that I keep coming back to the same themes. Possibly I’m driven by nostalgia—many of the influences I cite have their roots in childhood memories—or possibly I’m working myself into a permanent rut that only grows deeper as time passes. It's as if my tastes were predetermined and all that is left to do is to refine and streamline my habits accordingly, stripping away everything that is not truly necessary to my own satisfaction. It is this process of self-discovery that is the whole point; I am too narrow-minded to take an interest in anything else.
When it comes down to it, people dress for the benefit of others, and though it is true that well-dressed people are usually treated better, a certain saturation point is reached once you've done what's required to look decent and clean and “put-together”; beyond that point, no one is going to care. And “put-together” usually means dressing in some incarnation of a classic preppy style, derived from the dress of what was once the New England upper class, itself derived from an idealization of the dress code of the English elite. It’s an aesthetic characterized not by outlandish cuts or a dizzying turnover rate for trends, but by subtlety and close attention paid to fit, details and the quality of materials. Each person wears much the same thing as every other person of comparable class and situation, and there is very little departure from core basics in terms of styles and cut, so there is a certain kind of security to be found in anonymity and conformity, but somehow, the garments seem entirely personal to the wearer, managing to flatter without stealing the stage for themselves. These are the kind of clothes/outfits that I want to live in: I could throw them on in the morning unthinkingly and count on looking polished and at home in almost any milieu. (French-chic, which has admittedly become something of a cliché, is also a similar aesthetic, but more urbane and youthful, and less hidebound: APC's seasonal lookbooks, or Emma de Caunes looking sexy in nothing more than a basic buttondown in a brilliant emerald green that sets off her tawny skin.)
Understated good taste and a reliance on basics, however, can never entirely take the place of drama. I need drama to satisfy the extremist streak within me, the part of me that likes red lips and listening to Wagner and reading Ayn Rand, as well as to balance out my (for an asian) broad frame and curves: I look ridiculous in cropped tops and dresses over pants—like a middle-aged woman trying to appear "cute" by dressing like a teeny-bopper and fooling no one—and outright trashy in miniskirts—like Jennifer Lopez cast as a Van Nuys streetwalker in some hypothetical movie. I need long flared trousers, sleeves of a decent width, and voluminous skirts to accomodate my long and well-fleshed limbs, and cowl necks, scarves, bateau necklines, and wide collars, with a crisply-defined shoulder to balance out a broad hip, all centered around a defined waist. Calvin Klein's couture pieces seem to best embody this charismatic and slightly masculine quality I seek. (I couldn't find the exact image I was looking for, which featured a long slim-cut black coat with wide sleeves and an oversized cowl-neck: the material seemed to soft but heavy—possibly a knit—judging from the way it draped and clung to the body. The velour blazer shown here is a decent substitute.)
The accoutrements of ballet, for which I nursed an obsession throughout childhood and beyond, also satisfy this hunger for theatrics: stage makeup, skirts like floating clouds of tulle, satin ribbons criss-crossing slender ankles. Yet despite the romantic excesses of performances and stage garb, the behind-the-scenes lifestyle of ballet dancers is one of simplicity, rigor, and almost Spartan discipline. The (not quite healthy) emphasis on ethereal slimness, sleek uncomplicated hairstyles, and a clean uncluttered silhouette puts the focus on the contemplation of movement and the human form itself. I'm not built like a ballet dancer, but I aspire to the same aesthetic, where the body being dressed is the centerpiece of the look and any superfluous ornament is eliminated.
It is this palate-cleansing simplicity that is necessary to balance out the aforementioned theatrics in an outfit, which like any performer, needs respectful quiet in its surroundings in order to perform at its best. Minimalism is really a form of luxury in its own right when taken to extremes (even the Spartans of antiquity had to rule a slave class that outnumbered them 10 to 1 in order to finance their extravagantly austere lifestyle). Song Hye-kyo is dressed in an outfit of utmost simplicity and minimal fuss: the fluid lines of the jersey and sweater coat and the interplay between beige and black provide a backdrop for the oversized and highly-textured cowl-like scarf.
In contrast with the high-strung elegance of ballet, my sartorial memories of childhood can be summed up in two categories of considerably lesser sophistication: eighties, and polarfleece. In Korea, I am considered part of the “post-Olympic” generation—born too late to witness or remember the 1988 Seoul Olympics—but I inherited 80's fads and culture from those who had lived it, stripped of all the trashy flamboyance notorious to the decade and grown soft and manageable like a hand-me-down pair of jeans that the previous owner had broken in—eighties-lite, if you will. Boxy t-shirts and jackets worn with slim jeans, in primary colors (my brother calls them "Lego colors" and "Rubik's Cube colors"), my cousins' pirated copies of trashy manga, my mother relaxing in leggings and oversized buttondowns belted at the waist, Sophie Marceau as a teen just beginning to discover romance in La Boum, whose tomboyish ways do nothing to mask her (natural) beauty. Childrens' clothing tends to fall about five years to a decade behind adult fashions and I myself wore leggings with sweatshirts, Flashdance-style, until the arrival of the noughties. It's a shame that the current so-called “80’s revival” completely ignores all the things I loved best about the decade, the sort of playfulness that can only come from childish innocence or ignorant stupidity. I would have liked to see the return of a more angular, better-defined shoulder in particular, as well as a certain emphasis on the mature female body—all those hard shoulder pads needed feminine curves as ballast.
My other fond childhood memories are mostly about frequent hiking and canoeing field trips, when I lived in the Bay Area. We wore light, warm polarfleece jackets and windbreakers over t-shirts and cargo pants or shorts and sneakers. One can imagine there wasn’t much room to put on airs; the most you could do would be to tie your scarf a certain way, get a dexterous friend to braid your hair (I was the only girl in our grade who could French-braid her own hair), and make sure your sweatshirt and fleece didn’t clash. We also wore stud earrings, charm jewelry, and string friendship bracelets (it was the 90s), all in a variety of designs that were surprisingly delicate and tasteful, while Lip Smackers were popular to ease lips chapped by the salt sea wind (my favorite was Pink Lemonade). We were still only children, so we were free of the insecurities and status anxieties that would taint similar pursuits at a later date; all that fueled us at the time was a love of pretty things and the desire to put our best foot forward. We may have never had it so right about style as we did back then.
It's difficult, maybe impossible, to catalogue one's inspirations all at one go; the things that appeal to us often do so because of a combination of factors, memories from childhood, our senses of our own looks, favoured colours, feelings, the idiosyncratic connections we make between images and ideas.
That said, here's a start. If a garment, a makeup style, a perfume reminds me of one of these, I find it very hard to resist:
FRED AND GINGER
I've thought, watching Fred and Ginger movies from the 1930s (The Barkleys of Broadway, from 1949, is rather tedious), that I would be content to dress like Fred Astaire half the time and Ginger Rogers the other half. Fred Astaire is famous for the "top hat, white tie and tails" look, but he preferred slightly tweedier, more casual clothing. Really, few men wore clothes, any clothes, as well as Fred Astaire.
A pity more videos aren't available legally, since so much of what I love about Ginger Rogers' dance dresses is the way they moved. Sometimes this reflects their utter impossibility as garments: a forty-pound beaded dress, a mass of whirling, shedding feathers. You wouldn't wear something like this in 2009, and yet, how absurdly romantic, how decadent.
Here, the perennially gorgeous "Never Gonna Dance" gown, with its tightly tucked bodice and cloud of a skirt (layers of chiffon)? I dream of owning a version of this one some day. It still looks fresh, despite being made for a 73-year-old movie.
With regard to videos of Fred and Ginger, there tends to be a cycle on Youtube: people post videos of the dance sequences, Warner Brothers cracks down, and then the videos reappear. I'm loath to post links to videos that will shortly be removed for copyright violation, but among the numbers I adore are "Pick Yourself Up", "Never Gonna Dance", "Change Partners", "Cheek To Cheek", and "Let's Face The Music And Dance."
Tomoko Kawase (often referred to as Tommy) is the singer in the Japanese band The Brilliant Green, which I followed semi-obsessively for years. At this point she has a couple of side projects (which started out parodic, but now seem to be all oh-isn't-she-cute all the time, meh), and has styled herself every which way, enough that I'm not sure one can say she has a style.
One of Tommy's more parodic videos, this one clearly taking off Avril Lavigne's video for "Complicated." I love that she smashes the guitar at the beginning of the video.
Watching this woman's career has given me a sense, however vague, of the differences between North American and Pacific Rim fashion. A gross generalization, I know, but bear with me: to my mind it seems there's something distinctive about (particularly) Japanese and Korean designers, a demure femininity, a playfulness, a willingness to countenance frills, slouchiness and shapelessness, but somehow in a way that works on petite women. Being petite, slender and flat-chested myself, I appreciate this. Look at the publicity images here: much is abominably cutesy or '80s throwback, but what works has a slouchy, schoolgirlish charm that I find immensely appealing. (As for the image above, eh to the Elmo doll, but I love the pattern on the dress.)
I was in Bangkok in 2004, and the younger, more well-heeled women there almost had a uniform: flowy jersey top, full 1950s-style skirt, pointy-toed heels. I still love dressing that way.
Hard for me to take inspiration from Marilyn Monroe, since I look nothing like her, but I've always found her compelling. The camera worshipped her. I especially love her in The Misfits, the last movie she completed before she died: not the best movie, but few things Monroe did -- or wore -- felt this simple or unstudied. You get a sadness from Monroe, a fragility, and an innocent sensuality, like a cat in sunshine; hard to know whether that was authentic to her or merely Arthur Miller's idealized image of her, but she embodies it. I love the way she wore a white shirt. And I love this dress.
It's difficult for me write about inspirations. Not only because "chic" is nothing you can pick up from external cues, but an entirely homegrown aesthetic, but also because I just tend to focus on the next stage of evolution within my closet, without really questioning how I arrived at that point. I couldn't describe "my style" to you, just as I would have a difficult time describing my personality, and I guess I prefer to leave both a little indefinite. Perhaps two things are necessary when it comes to determining one's style with decision: finding the shapes and colors that flatter, and good accessories. There has been a tendency of late to place too much emphasis on the latter, to the point that shoes and bags now all have names—a little too precious for me. In terms of what works for me:
You see, when it comes to matters of personal taste, I'm never cool. I'd love to be the girl who runs around in Martin Margiela, that kind of anonymously branded, ultra-hip and ultra-modern, intimidating chic, which I find so intellectually appealing, but could never pull off. My figure poses the greatest problem; I'm just too disproportionate for strange experimental volumes or endearingly boyish gamine, both of which often make up for the lack of femininity by going mini, a disaster for the short-legged. I need fashion that's face-centric, torso-centric; it's just a bottom line in terms of what is going to work. Then, there is the fact that every fashion-forward girl at school embraced the hipster style, and in that sea of anti-establishment posturing, a little formality went a very long way.
In fact, I suspect that more than any specific aesthetic, it's that childish perversity, "to be different", that prevails. In high school, I dressed like a hippie in a sea of Abercrombie & Fitch, until boho chic became appallingly trendy. In college, it was dresses and heels amongst endless sweats, day in and day out. Now that I'm in an environment (South Korea) where the high-maintenance, hyper-feminine aesthetic reigns over all, I find myself gravitating to menswear. My interest has been percolating since before my arrival, when I wore a pair of trim-but-slouchy plaid trousers with a rumpled white buttondown and my soft-but-sleek plum jacket to dinner, and though there was nothing remotely outré about my outfit (and exposure is not really an option in Korea, as people will make assumptions about your line of work), I had never felt sexier—quite empowered, really. As Garance Doré points out, "what's crazy is how men love [it]".
The infinitesimal variations in men's fashion can sometimes border on tedium, but the emphasis on fine construction and quality materials is a welcome change for a woman, as our fashions emphasize change to a degree that cheap is sometimes a necessity. Menswear is all about the fit, because you always run the danger of looking lost, especially if you're petite. If your buttondown has a "borrowed from the boys" look with an easy torso, the shoulders must fit exactly; if the volume is at the sleeves, then a slim fit is best. Then, because it's such a buttoned up, conservative aesthetic, you can add a bit of rumpled charm by rolling up the sleeves carelessly. The most important piece, however, are the trousers. They must fit to perfection, around the waist and perhaps the butt, properly hemmed, no matter how baggy you like the legs. It's for that reason that trends like harem pants look so off, in spite of the assertions of the Lucky staff; they may play with proportions in an unusual way, but they just don't fit right, so they look foolish.
Ultimately, I think perhaps I am influenced largely by "no" (no leggings, no tunics, no dropped crotches, no jeans, no black, no brown, nothing cheap looking, no casual wear, no it bags, no loubs, no extensions—please!) than "yes". I know better what I don't like, and how it has inspired me, than what I do like.
I enjoy perusing a variety of fashion trends and looks, each of them inflaming the imagination and widening the horizons of fashion references. Still, only a few of these resources directly influence how I dress. The following are my personal fashion inspirations in ascending order.
One of my more passive hobbies is sitting back and browsing various style sites. This is in part to keep up with hipster trends, because as much as I openly despise the hipster mentality, I really like a lot of their clothes. I also enjoy following what fashion editors wear and learning how to mix luxurious clothing with the more quotidian. That said, there are very few hipster items that would suit me, and the majority of fashion insight I glean is in the areas of styling, layering, and proportion, the last moreso from men than women. I have specifically followed The Sartorialist for lessons in proportion, as with the man above; Chictopia for layering and visuals of how specific clothes look on a variety of body types; and Jak & Jil for specifics on styling and proportion, including where on the arm a glove should end and how to wear ankle pants.
Having lived in Scandinavia, I don't buy into the fervor over how cool Scandinavian fashion can be. Some of it is, some of it isn't. Like anywhere else, there are some girls who know how to dress and end up on all the fashion blogs, perceived as the face of Scandinavian style when they really elevate the foundations of Scandinavian style - leather jackets, boots, scarves, cool trainers, and tight jeans - into their own unique orbit. Still, I took away some lessons from Scandinavian style, including what to layer with leather jackets, how to wear scarves, and to wear clothes that fit. Occasionally, I still glance at Lisaplace (above) for the photography and styling.
There is a vast store of fashion imagery that acts at the subconscious level to form my impressions of what exactly is fashion and my relation to it. All of this imagery resonates with me because it realizes my golden mean in some way, whether because it moves me, it features a look I aspire to, or it offers a reflection of my inner self. None of these images directly inspires how I dress; instead, they are the foundation of how I perceive fashion at large, my measure of great fashion design and photography, and my personal aesthetic. Even though none of this could be directly noted on what I wear daily, it is the foundation upon which all the more direct influences take root. Rather than provide a detailed account of all these foundational images, which would take a whole blog, I have chosen to include the above image of Kate Moss. This comes from the first editorial I can clearly remember loving and incorporates the themes of my most perennial fashion loves: minimalism, the 90s, austerity, the avant-garde, fashion photography, Kate Moss. Other themes not seen here: street style, sportswear, 90s couture, Harper's Bazaar under Liz Tilberis's editorship, exaggerated design.
Though not as rabid a follower as I once was, Ashley Olsen has had a greater influence on my conception of style than any other individual. She's the person who's first influenced me to notice the particulars. She doesn't just wear a scarf - she wears deliberately oversized scarfs to balance (or offset) the rest of her outfit, trousers cut to specific shapes and proportions, and plays with the masculine dress, layering, and bagginess/shapelessness. She's the first person to make me realize how the cut of a pant can dramatically alter proportions (both of the outfit and the wearer), that it is possible to dress in a boyish fashion and maintain feminity, and the limitations of dressing for a petite frame. It's that sense of deliberateness that puts Ashley Olsen at the top of my list. Due to her, I now pay attention to how an item's particular shape and proportions fit into my overall outfit. I realize the effect of something so simple as altering a pant leg by an inch or two, that these simple changes in proportion can greatly affect an overall silhouette. I've also picked up from her how to "accessorize" with clothing. Since I don't wear jewelry, other than a watch, I've learned how to add interest with jackets, sweaters, scarves, and texture.
As for the picture above, probably the single greatest influence I've received from Ashley Olsen is how to dress boyishly and get away with it. This is just a great outfit - the oversize hoodie, the chunky necklace, the general laddishness of it - but she gets aways with it by cutting everything down to her proportions. She doesn't look like she's borrowed clothes from her boyfriend (I've never understood the appeal of that look, it's too sloppy). Everything fits her frame, it's just the aesthetic that points away from the feminine. Of all her looks, it's Ashley's boyish dressing I love best and how I came to appreciate the thoughtful layering of standard American fare, such as grey athletic sweatshirts, worn out t-shirts, and beaten up work trousers. Let's face it: if not for her, I would still to stuck with the delusion that Audrey Hepburn was the greatest dresser of all time. Thank God for Ashley Olsen, Kate Moss, and the rest, or I'd still be wearing dull, basic "smart clothes" in an ongoing failed attempt to look "nice." No, bring me the disordered and the quotidian, please.
The Mnemonic Sense
The Beauty Primer
On The Label
The Hit List
Color Me In
The Makeup Artist
& orientals arc