.:ARS AROMATICA:.
"The most beautiful makeup for a woman is passion, but cosmetics are easier to buy."
                                                                                              —Yves Saint Laurent

Announcements
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.


Contents
· Closet Confidential: On the Go
· Desert Island: Brushes
· Perfume Notes: Frédéric Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur
· Beauty Notes: Nine-to-Fives
· Beauty Notebook: Intelligent Nutrients
· Culture Notes: Taste and Functionality
· Fashion Notes: Shokay
· Culture Notes: How To Be Alone
· Beauty Notes: Red Lips and Bold Eyes
· Most Wanted: The Good Thief
· Color Me In: Li Wen
· Beauty Notes: Good To The Last Drop (Dain)
· Beauty Notes: Good To The Last Drop (Dorothy)
· Beauty Notes: Good to the Last Drop (Anne)

Favored
Art Tattler
the glamourai
The Non-Blonde
Perfume Shrine
Lisa Eldridge
Garance Doré
Smitten Kitchen
Into The Gloss
Grain de Musc
Lacquerized
Res Pulchrae
Drivel About Frivol
The Selfish Seamstress
Killer Colours
Bois de Jasmin
Glossed In Translation
Jak and Jil
Toto Kaelo
Worship at the House of Blues
I Smell Therefore I Am
Food Wishes
The Natural Haven
Messy Wands
1000 Fragrances
Moving Image Source
Wondegondigo
The Emperor's Old Clothes
M. Guerlain
Colin's Beauty Pages
Barney's jewelry department
Parfümrien
loodie loodie loodie
The Straight Dope
Sea of Shoes
London Makeup Girl
Sakecat's Scent Project
Asian Models
Ratzilla Cosme
Smart Skincare
Illustrated Obscurity
A.V. Club
Tom & Lorenzo: Mad Style
Eiderdown Press
Beauty and the Bullshit
La Garçonne
Flame Warriors
Everyday Beauty
Fashion Gone Rogue
Now Smell This
Dempeaux
Fashionista
The Cut
A Fevered Dictation
Nathan Branch
101 Cookbooks

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Closet Confidential: On the Go
by Li Wen

Once the first-time thrill wears off, long distance air travel settles rapidly into the category of bloody nuisance. Unless you have the good fortune to be flying private or first class, it means hours or even days spent in queues, waiting rooms, packed into uncomfortable seats, breathing recycled air, and completing your toilette in a tiny cubicle roughly the size of a pantry. Hardly the glamourous Pan Am image of air travel.

IMG 0767 Nostalgia: The jet-setting life of 1960s aristocrats.

In the effort to combat stress and exhaustion, I find it exceedingly helpful to have a few basic rules when it comes to dress.

INNERWEAR
Basic common sense: wear comfortable lingerie, something that won't cause squirming, itching, tugging and adjusting. Carry a spare pair of briefs in a clean plastic bag in case of emergency (eg. lost luggage, delayed flights).

OUTERWEAR
Relaxed clothes in fabrics that breath and are difficult to wrinkle are preferable - nothing stiff, bulky, restrictive, or high maintenance. While it may be the height of summer where you board or disembark, airplanes are all uniformly chilly, so it's a good idea to carry a jacket or scarf. As an extra precaution against catching a cold while you're flying, drink plenty of water and use a nasal mist to keep your body's natural defences in good condition.

FOOTWEAR
Leave the high-heeled shoes and boots till after the flight; you don't want your footwear taking over what limited leg room you have on planes. Flat-heeled shoes, such as ballet flats and loafers, will pass through metal detectors nearly always without hiccup. Wear ones without laces, in case an over-zealous security officer asks you to remove them, or if you feel like slipping them off during the flight.

If your feet tend to get cold or sweaty in heavily air-conditioned spaces, avoid open-toed shoes and consider adding a pair of socks. Most airlines will provide you with disposable bed-socks if you fly overnight; bring your own if you are taking a daytime flight.

HANDBAG
The type of handbag you carry will depend on how much "stuff" you feel you need on the plane, the presence of any valuable items you intend to carry (such as jewellery), and how well you like to take care of your bags. It usually comes down to compromises:

A large tote will comfortably fit all the essentials (passport, phone, wallet, pen for filling out forms), as well as iPad/notebook/paperback, lip balm, makeup, the latest edition of Harper's Bazaar, tissues, and a snack; but a bag that is too oversized may not fit under the seat in front of you and have to go into the overhead rack, where it is at greater potential risk of theft. An expensive handbag in pale-colour leather might not be the best idea unless you intend to keep it on your lap for the entire flight.

Plan your travel clothes ahead of time, everything down to your shoes and bag. For one thing, it will help you to narrow down what else you still need to pack in your suitcase. For another, it will allow you to sleep a little while longer if you have to take a morning flight, which is a gift not to be dismissed if you find it difficult to rest on planes.

Internatinal Nomad

Tomorrow, on my trip from Sydney to Shanghai (with a 3-hour layover in Singapore), I will be wearing what has become my habitual outfit for long distance flights.

I get more wear-time out of my abi and joseph Relaxed Fit Pants ($115 AUD) whilst travelling than actually doing yoga. Made of Supplex, a type of nylon used frequently in fitness wear, they have the look and feel of cotton, but are much more easy to wash and maintain. The super-quick drying time with Supplex is also very useful if you have to wash your clothes on trips, and the straight, slim leg and low waistband keep the pants from looking dowdy. Over that, I throw on a soft t-shirt, like the T by Alexander Wang in Lavender ($95 AUD), or my sentimental favourite: a marl grey cotton Collette Dinnigan t-shirt that came free with an issue of Vogue Australia.

For warmth, I prefer a soft, heavy knit or sweater. My Carl Kapp Cashmere Cardigan ($720 AUD) is a tactile, understated luxury, like being wrapped in a hug. Last of all, my beloved Milani snakeskin loafers, so scuffed and well-worn by this stage, but still the ideal travelling shoe - my equivalent of wearing sneakers (which I do not favour for flying, what with all the shoe-laces). A more stylish (and pricy) alternative are Salvatore Ferragamo Ballet Flats in leather and linen ($393.51 AUD).


Image Credit: "The International Nomads" taken by me at Berkelouw's Paddington, Vince square neck cardigan from Nolita, abi and joseph pants from abi and joseph, T by Alexander from Incu

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8/31/2011 [6]



Desert Island: Brushes
by Dain



While most of my stuff—my skincare routine, my favorite books, my makeup stash—is in a constant state of evolution, my brush collection has more or less attained completion. These dozen more than amply fulfill my needs. A well crafted brush is often multipurpose; I often repurpose brushes even if they have been trained to a specific technique. Keep in mind that these are my personal favorites, tailored to the specific limitations of my anatomy as well as the products and techniques I favor, rather than a generic list I'd recommend for universal use. Not everyone shares my love for black ferrules. : )

For those seeking to invest in quality brushes for the first time, I think the best place to start would be Laura Mercier. The brand is relatively accessible, so you can try before you buy, and the shapes are nicely put together.


I typically wear a minimal base, which nullifies face brushes for the most part. I pat in my undereye concealer with fingers, but for extra polish I do like a dusting of loose powder. Consequently, Hakuhodo Kokutan S Blush Brush ($77) enjoys the prominence of frequent use. Full, fluffy, and meticulously tapered, the uncut blue-squirrel-and-synthetic blend is decadently soft and yielding. It picks up pigment too delicately for its intended use as a blush brush, at least for my gaudy taste, but with loose powder, its gossamer-sheer application is perfect. Of course, Hakuhodo does make a big fluffy powder brush, but I feel like the smaller size of a blush brush offers better control.

There might be half a dozen ways to put Laura Mercier Finishing Eye ($32) to use. A fluffy round duo-fibre in a classic diffused crease shape, it's supposed to blend eyeshadow once you're done, but it might equally serve with fast-setting cream shadows or intense pigments that need sheering out. I primarily use this as a mini stippling brush to buff in minute dabs of foundation (as concealer). The finish is never too cakey.


It's taken me ages to find the perfect blush brush. Most brushes are too big and fluffy to yield the saturated application I prefer. To compensate for how my skin desaturates pigment of all vibrancy, I needed Hakuhodo Kokutan Eye Shadow Brush L E0179 ($60). I'm slightly baffled by its designation for eyeshadow; its size is closer to your conventional contouring brush, much too large for any human eye. As a blush brush, it builds intensity out of sheerer blushes like Shiseido PK304 Carnation, but tapered, so there are no harsh edges even with a eye-searing bright like Addiction Revenge. It also buffs in cream blushes impeccably. The secret lies in the densely bundled blue squirrel: it's the same amount of hair as the Kokutan S, but much firmer, shorter—more compact.

I rarely use lip brushes, only when the formula tends to be messy and requires extra precision, so my preferred shape is small and pointed, for the crispest possible edge: Shu Uemura 6M or the slightly smaller Portable Gel Liner Brush.



My eye makeup is not very elaborate. I wear washes, just as easily applied and blended out with fingers, or eyeliner, a smoky haze or barely there tightlining. Neither highlighting the tear duct nor sharply drawn flicks flatter my wide set eyes, and of course contouring, which requires extra, specialized equipment, isn't much use on a crease as shallow as mine.

For that reason, my favorite eye brushes are extremely basic shapes, if crafted out of the best kolinsky sable (or whatever) by Japanese artisans. I've got three favorite laydown brushes. The most utilitarian is the weasel filbert, Hakuhodo Kokutan WM ($54), which beat out Shu Uemura Natural 10 by a narrow margin. Thicker and squatter, the Shu 10 is firm enough to retain its shape better as you sweep it into the crease—not for me the most useful secondary function.The Kokutan WM has a flatter edge, which more easily doubles at the lashline, its softer hair less problematic so close to the eye, unlike the sometimes scratchy Shu 10. But it also picks up less pigment. So if I want to pack on the color, I turn to Hakuhodo Kokutan T ($42) (also known as the G5528BkSL), which behaves like a luxurious sponge tip. It is too blunt for detail work, but the densely bundled blue squirrel builds up as much intensity as possible. Since I loathe synthetic brushes, I use the water-resistant, durable goat/synthetic blend of Hakuhodo Kokutan SG ($32) for cream shadows. It's especially handy with formulas that set quickly, as it will pat on product then feather the edges in one, without your fumbling around for another brush. It's also perfect for foiling, applying dry powder damp.

I absolutely adore the Hakuhodo Kokutan Eye Shadow Brush SL ($34) (also known as K005), a brilliant example of the superiority of uncut hair. It deposits pigment right between the lashes for perfect tightlining, every time, as well any other eyelining technique you may favor, outside of a crisply drawn flick. For that, I like the script brush from Hakuhodo, the K Series Eye Liner Brush Round K007 ($15). I have backups of both. For blending, I've got the Edward Bess Luxury Eye Brush ($40). Don't be fooled by all that tapering; it is quite a dense brush, with a firmness equal to your ring finger—what I used before Edward Bess. For brows, I'm fond of the squat RMK Brow Brush, built of water badger with slightly rounded edges.


If I had to use just one brush for my eye makeup, it would surely be a detail brush. My lidspace is small, so detail brushes can handle most of the work around my eyes: contouring, smudgy liner, point highlighting, laydown, and blending. I love my Shu Uemura 5R ($60) fiercely; mine's many years old. The 5R is so precise, but with a hint of fullness instead of coming to a point like your standard pencil brush: it creates the smoothest gradation just at the lashline with dark or jewel-toned pigment. It is better suited to drier textures. For soft, creamy pigments, the Suqqu S ($75), though newer, proves just as indispensable. At first glance, it may bear a resemblance to the Kokutan T, but the Suqqu S keeps its point no matter how you maneuver the brush, so it handles precision detail work with ease.


I'm not a girl that likes glow; I prefer matte. So neither the Hakuhodo Kokutan Finishing Brush LAG ($94) nor the Shu Uemura 13G ($46) boast the greatest utility. But for dusting on bronzer, to effect that sunkissed warmth on the skin, the Kokutan LAG, which I bought purely as a collector's item, is just right... Its delicate touch on the skin keeps bronzer from overwhelming my cool-toned skin, and somehow its shape knows exactly how the sun would hit: on my forehead, down my nose, swept across the brow and cheek bones, and the tip of the chin. For a long time, I considered 13G a useless brush. It's too flat to outperform other blending brushes, and what is my pigment-negating skin going to do with an overlarge supersheer laydown? But it's found its niche with highlighter, now that I've found one that doesn't become a sparkly mess on my skin, Shiseido's High Beam White.

Not pictured: Anastasia Tweezers ($28), which grab minute new growth with better accuracy than the famous Tweezerman, and the Shu Uemura Lash Curler ($19), primarily because I've never tried anything else.

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8/28/2011 [20]



Perfume Notes: Frédéric Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur
by Dain


Eric Fischl, Best Western Study (1983).

The geranium is a modest flower*. With a purity not quite antiseptic, it strikes an attractive balance between optimism and sobriety, well suited for unguents and lathers, when a subtle, fresh scent is the expectation. In all likelihood, you've smelled it many times before, without conscious recognition. Both anonymous and familiar, geranium is the éminence grise of masculine perfumery. Like the equally soft-spoken but darker, animalic oakmoss, geranium shifts the mood of the composition as a whole, without dominating the conversation: most notably, its bright, clean aroma quietly rounds out the edgier personalities of lavender and calone in the fougère, the origin of modern fragrance. Now popularly called "cologne", the fougère has grown fresher and sportier, until it's practically disinfectant (Axe), just as feminines have turned cloyingly sweet. And the humble geranium, never a flamboyant note, has been dragged along for the ride. Through Geranium Pour Monsieur, Malle and Ropion set out to breathe new life into this faded, well worn note.

Even positioned this prominently, geranium has a tendency to recede. The first few moments on the skin are dominated by a dose of mint, creamy and slightly saccharine, beggaring comparisons with toothpaste. It is delightfully weird, and so confident (or Gallic) of Malle not to rely on top notes for an easy sale. Then, nearly as salient but far more universally pleasing, is Geranium Pour Monsieur's exquisite sandalwood drydown, set off by the clove-and-cinnamon spice and a shadow of patchouli, before dissipating in a whisper of white musk.

Somehow, the geranium gets lost between the unorthodoxy of the mint and sandalwood as a palliative, each so striking in its own way, I almost missed the wan, green slightly screechy heart of bergamot-spiked rose, closely modeled on Chanel Pour Monsieur. From the collaborators who brought us the photorealistic Carnal Flower, the tranquil and meditative Vetiver Extraordinaire, and the glorious decay of Une Fleur de Cassie, I had expected more than mere attractiveness from Geranium Pour Monsieur. Wait ten minutes, however, and spritz again, so it overlaps itself in its own progression. What may at first have seemed a tune so simple that anyone, a man whistling in the street, might have written it, on replay, is geranium transformed into its most sublime form. The aniseed finally manifests, its sweet licorice tones in perfect contrast with the crispness of a citrusy-floral geranium, at the same time providing a vertical link between the cool burst of mint and the well spiced sandalwood. In equal measure Geranium Pour Monsieur conveys Malle's nostalgia for the toiletries of the barbershop and a bold reinvention of the tired theme of cleanliness in masculine perfumery. The menthol, citrus, rose, verdancy, and earthiness all inherent in geranium essential oil have been heavily abstracted, like one of those Picasso nudes with crotch, ass, and tits on simultaneous display, the greediest voyeur—nothing short of a marvel of coherence.

OTHER REVIEWS
Perfume Posse
Grain de Musc
The Scented Salamander
Now Smell This
Fragrance Bouquet
Confessions of A Perfume Nerd
The Non-Blonde
1000 Fragrances
Eiderdown Press
Fragrantica
Makeupalley
Basenotes

* Technically, the essential oil is extracted from the leaves, not the flowers.

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8/23/2011 [0]



Beauty Notes: Nine-to-Fives
by Li Wen

A look into my everyday beauty habits and routines, inspired by the series "The Top Shelf" at Into The Gloss.

Portrait

Bathroom

Bathroom drawer

I have been wearing makeup regularly only since I was twenty-two. In the few years since, I have managed to become high-maintenance pretty quickly. But being also bookish, introverted, and working in an industry that demands a conservative look from me, there is by design nothing flashy or theatrical about my day-to-day appearance. Left to my own devices, I favour the urban elegance and sophistication of La Garçonne; it's great fun to be able to play with colour, but nothing feels quite so right on me as a barely-there eye paired with a red lip (NARS Rouge d'Enfer, in the case of the photo above).

When it comes to skincare, I appreciate its importance without being fully committed to the ritual of facials, exfoliates, and treatments, although I'll wager that it's only a matter of time. I use a combination of old faithfuls and new products that I am testing. First, I remove my make-up with Shu Uemura Cleansing Oil - one pump is sufficient for getting rid of everything, including waterproof mascara - before cleansing with an oil-targetting cleaner, followed by the application of layers of various toners, serums and creams. Shu Uemura Depsea Hydrability Intense Moisturising Concentrate is a stalwart that I wear on its own in summer and beneath a moisturiser or oil in winter. Another product I have repurchased many times is Clinique All About Eyes Rich; after too many bad experiences with eye creams on my sensitive skin, I tend to stick to what is known and safe. Huiles & Baumes Face Smoothing Serum is a rich facial oil I have been testing for the last month or so - I love the fresh herbal scent and the way it shrinks my pores.

Living in Australia, I enjoy being out in the sun, relaxing at the park or at the beach. However, I am all too conscious of the aging (not to mention cancerous) effects of UV exposure. Even when not wearing makeup, I use a non-greasy moisturiser with SPF 30+ on my face - To Save Face from Mecca Cosmetica*. Stashed in various places around the house are also tubes of the less expensive Banana Boat SPF 30+ sunscreen - in the car glove compartment, near the front door where I keep my keys, in the laundry, etc.

My lips chap easily, especially in cold, windy weather, so I never leave the house without lip balm, preferable ones that are non-sticky, flavourless, and colourless. I keep Blistex Lip Conditioner with SPF 20 around the house, on my bedside table and at my desk, and a tube of Clinique Superbalm Lip Treatment in every purse. Both are great, intensely nourishing and not so expensive that you can't afford numerous back-ups. Lip balm is something that needs to be applied frequently and liberally, so you never want to be caught without one handy.

If my skin is clear, I am happy to get away with just wearing tinted moisturiser and some concealer. When I do wear foundation, I apply it directly with my fingers - it's quicker and saves me the bother of washing a foundation brush after every use - before dusting a bit of loose powder over it to keep it in place.

Brow pencil is a minimum requirement when mine are so naturally sparse and patchy - I use Shu Uemura in the shade 06 Acorn. On a normal day, all I wear on my lids are matte or satin browns and taupes, for a look that is polished, but not painstakingly drawn in. Even my eyeliner and mascara are brown. I am already on my third tube of Shiseido Perfect Mascara in BR602, and I've lost count of how many of the Guerlain Eye Pencil in Kohl Me Brown 03 I have bought. I smudge the pencil into my upper lashline, to give my eyes some subtle definition. Gel and liquid liner has its occasional uses, but not whilst I am on the clock.

My go-to lip colour - lipstick, never lipgloss - is always changing. If you keep your eye makeup clean and effortless, it is a simple matter to change your look in the middle of a day by switching lip colours. I have a red imitation-leather lipstick case that I bought in the markets in Shanghai for around 150 RMB (or $21 AUD). It has an inbuilt mirror and holds three lipsticks, usually a sheer natural colour, a deeper berry or rose, and a red. Continental Couture has one that looks very similar but made from shark skin for £119.

Cutting my hair short was a decision I made the year I left high school, and it's been that length ever since. Short hair is freeing and conveniently low maintenance. But also, looking back at old photographs of myself, I feel like that person with long hair is a stranger, someone still wore school uniforms and had not yet been introduced to undergraduate anthropology. In a not unsubstantial way, we are not the same, just as I will not be the same person ten years hence. Identity is an ever-evolving thing, and often the outward change - manhood initiation rituals, the widow's weeds - marks also a significant internal overhaul. (The reverse is also true, and it is not in my interest here to quibble about direction of causality between the mental and the physical, for both are intrinsic and interdependent.) It takes me less than 5 seconds to style my hair: a few strokes with a synthetic and boar bristle brush is all it needs. If it is in a truly disastrous state of disarray, a tiny daub of Frederic Fekkai Glossing Cream, combed through with my fingers, is usually enough to tame it.

I do not have a signature fragrance, but I always come back to a select few, like Serge Lutens Vetiver Oriental. In my work bag, I keep a Travalo filled with Chanel No. 19, for those times when I forget to apply before leaving the house. Perfume is the last step of my routine of getting ready. Without it, I always feel a little unfinished.


*Australian regulations don't allow SPF factor numerals greater than 30 to be claimed on sunscreen labels, for several reasons, so SPF 30+ is the highest level of sun protection that you will see on any product in Australia.

Top photo credit: Orion Mitchell, 2010

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8/21/2011 [11]



Beauty Notebook: Intelligent Nutrients
by Dain

For all its airs of exclusivity, the beauty industry is quite shameless in its pursuit of sales. Nowhere is this more evident than in the anti-aging cream, a marketing gimmick that's pure profit margin: vague but audacious claims staked onto the flimsiest premise. Take, for example, Chanel Sublimage ($390), which boasts a uniquely purified poly-fractionated Vanilla Planifolia extract from the farthest reaches of Madagascar—the mysticism should either intrigue or infuriate you. Even if it had the credentials of tretinoin, it is nevertheless lost in the standard base of water, oils, humectants, and emulsifiers common to all good moisturizers. After all, when inexpensive fillers so effectively stretch your profit margins, why bother with substantive amounts of active ingredients? However, before we grind too keen an edge to our outrage, it would be only just to point out that premium skincare satisfies a psychological impulse. People prefer to buy the expensive stuff precisely because it's expensive; the exhilaration is not far removed from gambling*. Besides, what difference does it make? If physicists can't do anything about the forces of entropy, neither can Chanel. Once denuded of its gorgeous trappings, one anti-aging cream is much the same as another. If you want to indulge, why not?

Here's a rough breakdown of the mechanics behind aging: 50% genetics, 40% lifestyle, and a measly 8% improvement possible from skincare. By the age of thirty-five, there is a noticeable diminishment in both the skin's structural network of collagen, which keeps skin firm and wrinkle-free, and its rate of regeneration, which is responsible for that fresh, lit-from-within luminosity. The handful of clinically affirmed ingredients—vitamin C, alpha hydroxies, retinoids, possibly peptides—earn their laurels because they've been observed to stimulate collage and cell turnover, but even these actives are limited in the effects they can achieve.


"I believe, Sandy, I believe... I am past my prime."

If biology is not on your side, it's well to remember our skin also accumulates the habits of a lifetime. Smoking, drinking, and late nights will take their toll, but it is UV exposure and diet that will show most tellingly on the skin. Of the role sunscreens plays in damage prevention, we are all well aware, but not even the most devoted Anthélios habit can mitigate internal forces of destruction, natural by-products of metabolism. You'd be surprised how much sugar (and by extension, carbs) can age your skin. It's as simple a solution as weight loss: eat less and exercise more, never mind fad diets. Anti-aging comes down to an equally simple formula. Sunscreen will neutralize the external aggression of UV radiation, while a diet low in sugars and carbohydrates will minimize the damage from within.

None of this would come as a surprise to Horst Rechelbacher, who founded Aveda in 1978, then in 1997 sold it to Estée Lauder, only to watch his original vision deteriorate into something unrecognizable. Once his non-compete clause ran out, he founded Intelligent Nutrients, the renaissance of Aveda. Given his background, it was with some disappointment that I contemplated the "anti-aging" label on his four basic skincare products: cleanser, mist, moisturizer, and serum. Surely someone of Rechelbacher's experience would recognize the futility of anti-aging. As it turns out, Intelligent Nutrients is a neat reversal of the conventions of skincare. There's no aggressive, fantastic hype. The claims are modest: "antioxidant restorative blend feeds skin." Inside the bottle, are real, potent ingredients of the highest quality—antioxidants, as the label says—not a cheaply manufactured base with token actives thrown in. It's only when you try products that are properly weighted, with effective ingredients instead of inert fillers, that you notice the difference. Your skin may not ultimately agree with Intelligent Nutrients; all the same this is how skincare should be formulated.

In Rechelbacher's own words, "vote with your dollars".

At the core of the Intelligent Nutrients brand is a proprietary blend of seed oils—black cumin, pumpkin, red grape, red raspberry, and cranberry—hand-selected for their highly antioxidant properties, Rechelbacher's own personal recipe. So steadfast is his belief in this Intellimune Seed Oil Complex, it powers most of the products, from hair gel to lip balm.

As suggested by Intelligent Nutrients, I layer the Anti-Aging Serum ($60) over the Anti-Aging Mist ($35). The formulations are straightforward, even simplistic, the better to display the sophistication of the raw materials. Any mist will "facilitate the absorption and dispersion of" any oil, in mimicry of the acid mantle, but you'd be hard pressed to find a natural brand that uses antioxidants to better advantage: two teaspoons of the Intellimune Complex are equal to ten pounds of fresh berries. If you consider that aging is an accumulation of damage, by consequence anti-aging skincare must be preventative. Just by moisturizing, you protect your skin by improving its resilience, but you will more effectively soften the inevitable decline with the addition of antioxidants. While they cannot penetrate deep enough to neutralize the free radicals destroying collagen at the level of the dermis, Intelligent Nutrients would perform brilliantly beneath a sunscreen, to boost the UV blockers, or alternatively as a healing nighttime treatment. The textures are on the lighter side, to accommodate the middle ground of skin types rather than the extremes of dry or oily. The Mist, a hydrosol version of the Intellimune Complex, is balancing but not quite purifying. The Serum is exquisite: elegantly textured, so fine and silken it absorbs instantly without a hint of residue. It's a green the color of living leaves, with an addictive, heady fragrance—part herb, part flower, part spice—loosely evocative of a meadow. Like any good oil with a balanced fatty-acid composition, it conditions the skin, settles sebum imbalance, calms inflammation, locks in moisture, and imparts suppleness—everything a moisturizer can do, in other words, save hydrate (no water, naturally).

The Intellimune Complex is so potent, even diluted by the base oils of safflower and argan, I cannot use it on my unusually sensitive skin. It provokes my old friend, contact dermatitis, which resembles dehydration, and what's more fascinating, the worst breakout in a decade. Carefully, I examined the blemishes: angry-red and inflamed, no blockage. This was acne as an immune response, yet another manifestation of sensitivity, rather than congestion. Before we jump to conclusions: this is a very positive sign. My skin is an excellent litmus test for potent actives. If there's no negative reaction, the ingredients are inert. Like tretinoin or vitamin C, the irritation is a side effect of efficacy. There's always a chance of irritation for me, but from a face oil, which are never what one would consider "active", a reaction was unprecedented. Clearly, Intelligent Nutrients has crafted an oil of unusual potency. Beneath the surface, my skin feels palpably firmer, my fine lines significantly softened. An excellent option for thick, sluggish skin that could use a little rejuvenation.

INGREDIENTS
    MIST  aqueous extracts of black cumin seed, pumpkin seed, red raspberry seed, red grape seed, cranberry seed; alcohol denat, black cumin seed oil, pumpkin seed oil, red raspberry oil, red grape seed oil, cranberry seed oil, neroli extract, everlasting flower extract, carrot seed oil, ylang ylang extract, bergamot extract, chamomile (German) extract, limonene, linalool, geraniol, citronellol, benzyl benzoate, farnesol, benzyl salicylate, tocopherol

    SERUM  aqueous extracts of black cumin seed, pumpkin seed, red raspberry seed, red grape seed, cranberry seed; alcohol denat, black cumin seed oil, pumpkin seed oil, red raspberry oil, red grape seed oil, cranberry seed oil, neroli extract, everlasting flower extract, carrot seed oil, ylang ylang extract, bergamot extract, chamomile (German) extract, limonene, linalool, geraniol, citronellol, benzyl benzoate, farnesol, benzyl salicylate, tocopherol
Give or take a few necessary fillers, the central motif should be fairly obvious. I believe the presence of ethanol (alcohol denat), the kind of alcohol you drink, not isopropyl, which is too harsh for any skin type, most likely functions as a solvent.

* The human psyche derives personal satisfaction from gain, through loss, be it time, hard work, or lesson learned. Both shopping and gambling are an artificial simulation; the response is predetermined, even without meaningful gain. That is why you feel fulfilled whenever you buy a new lipstick, but not as fulfilled as when you solve a difficult geometric proof.

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8/18/2011 [4]



Culture Notes: Taste and Functionality
by Li Wen

1920s advertisement for Three Pagodas Brand Cosmetics Company

Both my parents grew up in China during the Cultural Revolution, a period of deprivation and austerity when individuality as expressed through personal style was frowned upon. Happy communists all, the ideal was that, everybody being equal, any obvious display of vanity was unseemly and grotesque.

Suppression, of course, only breeds rebellion. My mother and father never repeated the platitude that "appearances do not matter." Instead, the message they imparted to me, their only child, was that - as a woman and a Chinese woman at that - I would inevitably be judged by how I looked. The least I could do was take control and use it to my own advantage. Mercenary and cynical, perhaps, but pragmatic above all else. Want to dress to impress or instill confidence, to appear younger or more mature, to tell the world that you're a free radical - there are ways and means.

To bloggers for whom beauty is a passion and an art, it might seem tasteless to give voice to the underlying notion that beauty is also functional, particularly in cases of societies that are highly stratified. Yet what magazine copy and fashion advertisements tip-toe around is this very concept - better to be clear-eyed than blindly steered.

The way I conceive of make-up is as an element of style, not to be scrutinised or evaluated in isolation from general grooming, dress, and deportment. Because I take joy in what is aesthetically pleasing, it is all as much for my own benefit as to ease the myriad social interactions that most of us necessarily engage in on a day to day basis. Though the precise semiotics of taste are complex and ever-evolving, it is impossible to deny that image is power. At the same time, it is worth remembering not to take it all too seriously - as Dain says, "It's only make-up", after all.

How to use the power of the image, to enjoy it as a medium of self-expression, without becoming a victim of it, is every individual's balancing act.

A large part of what I love about perfume is that there is something very personal, and a little selfish and defiant about scent. The codes are less normalised than with make-up, more esoteric. You don't have to look at yourself for every minute of the day, but your own scent is something that stays with you, and if other people don't like it - if, for example, they take askance to you wearing Bandit loudly and proudly in their close vicinity - well, then they can stand a little further away.


Image credit: Old Orient Museum

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8/17/2011 [4]



Fashion Notes: Shokay
by Li Wen

Growing up close to the textiles industry, I learned that fashion was short-lived, but that good fabric would last a lifetime. My parents bought yards of cloth for their coats and suits overseas (Italian wool woven from Australian merino), before having them tailored in Shanghai: the best of both worlds. I know grades of wool, silk, mohair, alpaca, linen, cashmere and cotton by feel, and I am very particular about what I will allow near my skin.

100% polyester? Not a chance.

90% cotton/10% cashmere? I will be needing second, third, fourth back-ups, in different colours, please.*

On my most recent trip to Shanghai, while scouting various boutiques in the French Concession for a suitable birthday gift for a discerning friend, I came across Shokay ("yak fiber" in Tibetan), a brand founded in 2006 by Marie So and Carol Chyau, former classmates at the Harvard Kennedy School’s MPA/ID program.

According to their website, Shokay is "the world’s first lifestyle brand focused on using yak fibers to provide maximum warmth, comfort, & style. Shokay prides itself not only in its classic and modern designs, but also in its social impact." Their scarves, shawls, throws and other products are made from hand-combed yak down sourced from Tibetan herders in Qinghai Province, and knitted in Chongming Island, off the eastern coast of China, before being sold in up-scale boutique stores in Shanghai, Beijing, abroad, and online.

The business model is not new: sell to a niche market something that gives people in less developed areas (in this case, one of the poorest regions in China) a sustainable income. The Oxfam Store runs on the same basic principle. What is unique about Shokay is how it is almost single-handed creating a market for a product that most people outside of the region do not know anything about.

I am not entirely unfamiliar with yaks. On a trip last summer to Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, also know as Shangri-La, in Yunnan Province, I had the opportunity to get pretty close to a number of those large, shaggy animals. But what I could not have anticipated from seeing them is just how truly luxurious their down was.

I own the plaid shawl ($105 USD) from Shokay in the colour pale green, made from a blend of 75% yak and 25% bamboo. (Bamboo!**) The fabric is superbly soft, breathable like linen, with the warmth and lightness of weight of cashmere. It is ideal during the warmer months, when the weather can turn chilly all of a sudden, or if you need a temporary shield for your bare skin against the over-zealous air conditioning.

I have since gone back to the store (Nuomi on Xinle Road, for the curious) for three more scarves from Shokay, in different sizes and colours. They are a great conversation gift, I find, and well-appreciated by people who like quality, but not showy, accessories. Also available at the online store are dyed yak yarns for knitters.

Ethical consumerism is very much in vogue right now, but despite largely good intentions, it systematically runs into the problem of turning into yet another product differentiation tool, used to sell over-priced items to the middle class. What's more, the outcomes of such projects as Fair Trade and Oxfam have often been mixed, and less positive than expected.

Cynic that I am, before buying too enthusiastically into the social entrepreneurial-ship aspect of the brand, I would need to know more about how money is divvied up between the various parties in the production and distribution chain, and perhaps hear what the Tibetan farmers have to say about the business.

The products, however, already speak for themselves.

Find your nearest stockist here.



*It's warm, comfortable, and machine-washable. What's not to like?

**Bamboo is a hardy, fast-growing plant that requires almost no pesticides, and that produces a silky organic fabric with a similar texture to cotton.

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8/15/2011 [2]



Culture Notes: How To Be Alone
by Dain


It was Dorothy who introduced me to Andrea Dorfman. In this excerpt, she is uplifting and poetic.

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8/14/2011 [2]



Beauty Notes: Red Lips and Bold Eyes
by Li Wen

The Shiseido Luminizing Satin Eye Color Trios are the brainchild of Dick Page, creative director for the Shiseido cosmetics, who was featured in this recent article by Dain. All the trios are top quality, exquisite in design, highly covetable (not to mention, they come with a miniature natural hair brush that - brace yourselves! - you can actually use). Though they look intimidatingly bright in the pan, there is not a single one that I don't think I could realistically wear.

Case in point: GR305 Jungle (above left).

Three greens. One neutral golden khaki (left), one slightly cooler/bluer (right), and one slightly warmer/yellower (centre). My local Myer was so understaffed today that the SA at the Shiseido counter literally handed me a couple of clean eyeshadow brushes (Shiseido #4 brushes, by the way), eye makeup remover, some tissues, and told me to go away and play by myself.

I wasn't expecting to fall in love with Jungle, it was more of an experiment. I wanted to see if I could wear those three bright greens in combination, with nothing else. But the quick look I ended up producing with it was so soft and pretty, I could not help but think about the possibilities that could be achieved with more time and better tools at my disposal.


This was my inspiration image, a jewel-toned smokey eye from an editorial in the September 2011 issue of Harper's Bazaar Australia (1). The makeup was by Amanda Reardon at Viviens Creative.

Finding no iridescent emerald in my stash, it was impossible for me to attempt to recreate this look entirely. So I followed my whimsy, and added red lips to the look.


First came the base: Giorgio Armani Designer Shaping Cream Foundation in #4, which is about two shades lighter than my present complexion, to contrast more strongly with the lips. Having just gotten back from Shanghai and Singapore, I am far more tanned than I would normally be in the winter here in Sydney. There is no blush, just a hint of bronzer to contour.

For the lipstick, I wanted a matte: Shu Uemura RD178M Rouge Unlimited Creme Matte is a dark red with brown and purple undertones. For greater precision, I layered it with a brush over NARS lipliner in Amazon. On the eyes, all three greens from the Jungle trio, applied with a damp brush, the coolest shade in the inner corner graduating outward to the khaki near the temples. Then a blackened lame green from the Yves Saint Laurent Ombre Duo Lumiere No. 11 to deepen the crease, and Stila Cloud on the ball of the eye, creating a highlight.

Perhaps not the most wearable of looks, but given that it was created in the spirit of fun, I think Dick Page would approve.

Like the other writers on staff, I am all for giving Shiseido the better blogosphere attention and credit it deserves. Next trio to tackle when I am again in the mood to splurge: BL310 Punky Blues...


(1) Scan by Visual Optimism

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8/13/2011 [16]



Most Wanted: The Good Thief
by Li Wen

Thegoodthief013

A young waitress with sleek, boyish hair and matter-of-fact grace applies lipstick in the bathroom mirror of a smoke-dimmed club.

Despite her youth, she has the air of someone who is never surprised by anything. Certainly not by the louche, middle-aged man sprawled all over the grimy floor tiles. Needle in one hand, he is injecting heroin into his other arm. He wears a shirt and pants that have seen far better days.

"You spyin' on me, kid?"

"No. I work here."

"Since when?" (1)

Not the most likely candidate for a knight in shining armour. Not that she will admits she needs saving.

Neil Jordan is a writer/director (and sometime-novelist) with a "big-hearted tolerance" and a particular talent for sympathetic, even Romantic, portrayals of characters that society ordinarily shuns or overlooks (2). His films - which include the Oscar-winning The Crying Game (1992), in which Stephen Rea played an IRA terrorist who falls in love with a transgender singer (Jaye Davidson), and Interview with the Vampire (1994), an adaptation of the Anne Rice novel which sparked a whole sub-genre of vampire-as-antihero - are about rebels and outsiders, defiers of conventional morality and customs, whether by fate or by choice.

There are two such loveable rogues at the heart of The Good Thief (2002): an ageing gambler/thief named Bob Montagnet, played by Nick Nolte at his most wrecked and beautiful, and 17-year-old Anne (Nutsa Kukhnianidze), a Bosnian immigrant. The setting is Nice, the French Riviera, where Europe and North Africa meet.

Ending Scene

Gamine and tough-fragile, seemingly unaware of the sharks surrounding her, Anne inspires protectiveness in the world-weary Bob. Although the two have an undeniable chemistry, his relationship to Anne is paternal, not sexual. When they meet for the first time, Bob at the tail end of a long career peppered by addiction and incarceration, and Anne on the verge of a slippery slope that leads to unwilling prostitution, each brings about the other's redemption. Throughout the course of the film, Bob imparts lessons about life, art and gambling. In return, Anne becomes, in a whimsically magical realist fashion, his good luck charm.

Starting in the bowels of Remi's disreputable club, they gradually ascend through the stratas of this colourful and decadent underworld - cafes, boudoirs and Monte Carlo casinos. When at the end they emerge together, dazed and triumphant, stepping literally into the daylight, they are physically as well as mentally transformed; her in a glittering black sheath dress, he in an elegant tuxedo.

But whether winning or losing, this is that type of film where everything is done with style.


***


"The Good Thief splays out The Crying Game’s neon-night seediness on an exotic European locale, specifically Nice and Monte Carlo but more accurately a foreigner’s dreamy idealized conception of such a romantic liminal zone. The film looks ravishing, its dusky Christmas-lit set pieces bringing to mind Wong Kar-Wai, Alfonso Cuarón’s Great Expectations, and the visual light games from certain scenes in Eyes Wide Shut."

- Justin Stewart, Reverse Shot (3)


Dutch Club

I have been enamoured with The Good Thief for as long as I have been a Neil Jordan fan; that is to say, for a considerable length of time, but not as long as those who first fell in love with him through The Company of Wolves (1984).

For me, the experience of (re)watching The Good Thief is like slipping back into a conversation with a much admired friend, someone who taught you how to become the person that you are, and whose words still have the power to stop your heart with desire and envy. The moment when "Parisien du Nord" starts to play, and the opening credits appear like an absinthe dream over the jewel-coloured neon of an alley behind a gambling den, is both a homecoming and a seduction.

The Good Thief, in other words, is to me what Breakfast at Tiffany's is to so many women, a jewel of pop culture that is my own beauty manifesto. Others point to Audrey Hepburn as the epitome of chic, but for me that iconic status is held jointly by Bob and Anne. (4)

Witty and sexy, with their never-gone-to-bed rumpled nonchalance, their smoke-roughened voices, the line-up of thieves and con-artists in The Good Thief, and the nocturnal world they inhabit, exude a cool and easy lyricism that is almost a life philosophy, a way of being. Its soundtrack, filled with Leonard Cohen and French-Algerian raï music, is a constant companion to my humdrum day-to-day. If I were Alice and could have my pick of rabbit holes, this darkly dazzling version of Nice would be my notion of Wonderland.


* * *


Early August is the pit of winter for those of us who live in the southern hemisphere. As the body shivers, neck huddling into furred collars and wrapping scarves against the cold wind, the mind longs for the Mediterranean.

Oscar de la Renta Resort 2012 00300m

Looking at Picasso's portraits of his wives and mistresses (one of which plays an important role in The Good Thief), one first notices the sensuality of their eyes, the curve of their breasts, the luxurious textures of their dark hair. This dress from Oscar de la Renta Resort 2012 collection (not yet in stores), with its sweetheart bodice and graphic, Cubist print, tailored to flair out slightly at the hips, is sophisticated without ever being staid, and exposes those most admired attributes to perfection. Turquoise is the colour of the tropics, the blue of warm, shallow seas; here it provides vivid accents against a palette of neutral beige, tan and charcoal grey. The slender straps and the horizontal stripes at the hem lend it a youthful coquetry, which can be dressed up for a night of sizzling jazz and cocktails, or down for a walk along the beach.

As always when wearing such a busy print, care must be taken that it doesn't wear you. Mixing prints and colours takes skill and a willingness to risk looking like this; if you would rather let the dress speak for itself, keep the rest of the outfit minimalist. Being comfortable, holding yourself in a way that is relaxed and fluid, goes a long way toward helping project the feeling that you belong in an outfit. If you find that this does not come naturally, try a glass or two of wine.

161347 fr dl

The runway look features mid-heel pumps and leather belt in exactly matching turquoise. These Reed Krakoff snakeskin and leather sandals (£504.17), on the other hand, in contrasting coral and pink would provide a pop of warmth without being too bottom-heavy or overwhelming, while the silver leather and snakeskin detail echoes the neutrals in the dress. A warm red or orange lipstick, such as NARS Heat Wave ($24 USD), or alternatively, a brightly saturated fuchsia like Anna Sui #360 Lip Rouge V, could then provide striking counterbalance.

Screen shot 2011 08 12 at 1 05 56 PM

The Alexandrite Eternity Ring by Satomi Kawakita ($1440 USD) and the Four Knot Yarn Bracelet from Wendy Nichol ($345 USD) have a rough-cut, nautical flare that complements the resort theme without intruding. To finish, a touch of rakish masculinity with a classic broad-brimmed brown fedora, like this one from Juicy Couture ($56.92 USD), and a spritz or two of a citrusy leather chypre like Estée Lauder Azurée ($38 USD for 2.0 oz.), to juxtapose against the feminine dress and heels; an artful play on innocence and experience.


(1) Neil Jordan, "The Good Thief - Dialogue Transcript", http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/g/good-thief-script-transcript-nolte.html

(2) Eric Hynes (2006), "The Butcher Boy", Reverse Shot, http://www.reverseshot.com/legacy/winter06/jordan/butcherboy.html

(3) Justin Stewart (2006), "Chance Encounter", Reverse Shot, http://www.reverseshot.com/legacy/winter06/jordan/goodtheif.html

(4) Gong Li's character in Miami Vice (2006) also holds that place of influence over me, but that's another film, another column altogether.

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8/12/2011 [8]



Color Me In: Li Wen
by Dain



FIRST NAME
Diana (Li Wen)

HAIR COLOR
Brown/black - coloured dark brown with tan/auburn highlights

SKIN TYPE
Combination

SKIN TONE
Light/medium beige, with yellow and olive undertones

EYE COLOR
Dark brown

SPECIFIC CONCERNS
Dark circles under my eyes and acne-prone skin, which breaks out whenever I eat dairy products. I like to wear bold, bright lips so getting as flawless and immaculate a base as possible always is my main task. I also have unruly eyebrows - sparse, straight hairs that stick out in all directions - which require a combination of brow setter, pencil, and powder to tame. Unless I am at home, or spending hours on an airplane, I usually wear one-day contacts, so having eye makeup that does not run or smear is important to me.

MAKEUP STYLE
Sophisticated, by turns fresh and bold

TOP THREE FAVORITE PRODUCTS
Shu Uemura Hard 9 Brow Pencil - Acorn
Guerlain Eye Liner & Khol - Khol Me 03 (brown)
Red lipstick - cannot pick just one!

WHAT BLUSHES IN YOUR COLLECTION MAKE YOU LOOK MOST ALIVE?
NARS Zen for a neutral with a hint of red, Cargo The Big Easy for a summery peach, and Becca Amaryllis for the perfect winter flush.

Asian brows are indeed tricky to tame. The black is emphatic and the hairs are pin straight, so an unruly hair refuses to behave, even with lashings of brow gel. Within minutes, it comes undone. One option might be to use a good hairspray, one with excellent hold, onto a toothbrush. A more frustrating, but ultimately more satisfying, alternative would be grow your brows in thicker. It'll get worse before it gets better, but resist the urge to pluck those messy, minute hairs for a few months until they've reached their full length. Then you can zero in—carefully! ever so carefully—on individual hairs so they lie more or less in the proper direction.

A peachy tone to your undereye concealer (Laura Mercier, Bobbi Brown, or professional brands like Ben Nye and Graftobian) will counteract sallowness. You can always layer a highlighting pen on top, if you need extra brightening.

Li Wen already owns a formidable collection of red lipsticks and well-edited neutrals (from her Livejournal, Fire of Spring). It's clear she's driven by a spirit of adventure, "I think there are areas that I have missed, colour blindspots that I would like to explore a bit more", as well as a fascination with a conceptual approach to makeup. In response, we've adjusted our recommendations accordingly, slightly more saturated twists on her reliable stable of neutrals.
We've chosen Becca Amaryllis (center) to center this palette. It's an easy, rosy flush that leans neither too warm nor too cool, and it's no secret how much we love the formula.

On the premise that flattering lipcolors should pick up on undertones in a well chosen blush, Lipstick Queen Saint Berry (top center) is a richer, slightly warmer color, a hybrid between brown and warm red known as clove, but not so far removed you cannot detect the relationship with Amaryllis. Sheered down so it doesn't become draining, it's soft and naturalistic without resorting to a nude. For excitement, it doesn't get much bolder than Shiseido OR418 Day Lily Perfect Rouge (top right), a heartstoppingly chic shade of vibrant orange. Day Lily takes the thread of warmth lurking in Saint Berry, isolates it from the neutralizing brown, then saturates it to high intensity. On Li Wen's olive+/yellow undertones, it illuminates her face entire*.

For eyes, we've chosen shades that should integrate beautifully together. For neutrals, a greyed khaki, Shiseido Kombu (far left), and a blackened plum, Laura Mercier Black Plum (bottom left). Though they seem more colorful, they'll wear as easily as Li Wen's favorite ashy browns, like off-browns. Her perfect contrast, aligned exactly opposite Amaryllis on the color wheel, would be a periwinkle. At full strength, Stila Mambo (bottom, second from right) would serve as a bright wash, but it'll contrast nicely against greens and play a more tonal game with darker purples and blues. Alternatively, we might recommend Chanel Bambou (not pictured), a very fresh spring green. Finally, we've included an accent color, to provide a touch of highlight against Black Plum, Kombu, and Mambo, Stila Cloud (bottom, far right). Li Wen notes she doesn't wear silver very comfortably, but Cloud is sufficiently softened by a hint of rosy taupe to take the bite out of the harsh metallic.

* N.B. Since we've been talking to Li Wen over an extended period of time, it's been possible to check various suggestions for their affinity to her coloring.

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8/09/2011 [2]



Beauty Notes: Good To The Last Drop (Dain)
by Dain

There's a part of me that wishes I were the kind of girl who has nothing more ambitious than a grubby Cover Girl powder in her bag—it's the lure of simplicity.


American classic: vintage Revlon ads.

But I am someone who shops for fun. And nothing's more joyless than people, who aspire to luxury brands (as opposed to those who genuinely lack patience with exorbitant prices), demanding budget alternatives. This is not to imply that drugstore products cannot perform at equivalence—although a few things are outside their power, a proper rendition of a difficult pigment like purple eyeshadow for example—it's more that the drugstore has a deliberately down-market appeal. When drugstore products attempt to ape glamour, the territory of luxury, they inevitably suffer by comparison. The most successful, iconic drugstore products embrace the kitsch: the pink and green tube of Maybelline Great Lash, some Pond's Cold Cream to emulsify your makeup, the powdery floral scent of Coty Airspun, the minty tingle of Burt's Bees lip balm, protein-packed Mane & Tail conditioner*, the classic shades of Revlon Super Lustrous lipsticks. Every single one of these products are perfectly functional, if somewhat basic, old-fashioned, but cheerfully cheap.

Here are our own favorite inexpensive products... See also Dorothy's and Anne's lists.

BARGAINS

Since my lashes are too insubstantial to register any difference in price, I prefer cheapie mascaras. My requirements are modest, as I dislike obvious mascara. For clean, feathery lashes, Cover Girl Lash Blast is lovely. For a little more impact, the saturated black and thicker formula of L'Oréal Carbon Black Voluminous has been a perennial favorite for many years; it adds just the right degree of girth.

A beautiful manicure lies in the execution, not in trendy colors. Nail grooming tools need not be expensive, but they make a huge difference. I'm very particular about shaping my nails to flatter my hand; when the shape is right, the manicure always looks good. I use a generic steel nail file ($1.99), with a fine grit for my thin, soft nails; it's durable enough to last a lifetime. I soften cuticles with Sally Hansen Instant Cuticle Remover ($4.99), then remove the excess with the Revlon Stainless Steel Nail Groomer ($5.99), now nearly six years old. To moisturize, I'm fond of Dr. Bronner's Organic Body Balm ($4.99), which melts on contact with the skin, without the greasy mess of oils. Massive tin, though. I also love Burt's Bees Shea Butter Hand Repair Cream ($13). It takes a while to absorb (and the smell is a little funky) but does it ever protect and nourish your hands.

I quite like Garnier Fructis Anti-Dandruff Dry Scalp Shampoo ($3.99) for my dry, itchy scalp. Everything about it screams cheerfully mainstream: the tacky packaging, the fruity smell, the deliberately juvenile campaign. My hair just isn't picky.

In answer to the questions I get about Hakuhodo brushes: get the K005 ($15) without fail. It's the most brilliant eyeliner brush, ever. (Dior make a similar one for $26, and for pure decadence, the Kokutan version is $32.) It's a flat brush, 2.5 mm in thickness, with slightly tapered corners, in uncut weasel hair. Vastly superior to synthetic fibers, the firm but flexible hair offers maximum control. It's fantastic for tightlining, as the fine tips of noge, soft enough for delicate skin, maneuver pigment right between the lashes. You can use it for traditional eyeliner of course, whether you want a hint of definition or a thick smudge. If you're not too fussy about getting a precise flick, it'll serve with gel liner, too.

In my opinion, Weleda Calendula Baby Shampoo ($12) is the perfect mild cleanse. My sensitive skin rejects most foaming cleansers, and yet I can't abide cleansing milks, because it hurts to remove the residue with cotton wool. This straddles that divide between formulations. It's got a clean-rinsing surfactant that emulsifies makeup and grime, buffered by emollients so it's very gentle on the skin. Plus, it smells like tangerines.

TIPS & TRICKS
I drink perhaps five quarts of tea daily. It's not forced for health reasons; I am decidedly not that kind of person. I'm just perenially thirsty. Green tea masks the metallic taint of tapwater, but as an added benefit, those antioxidants probably perform better inside your body than in any topical cream.

A textured cloth—Korean viscose for the body, soft muslin for the face—is by far the most effective, inexpensive exfoliant.

I like to pamper myself when it comes to skincare, so DIY, though infinitely cheaper, is not my style, insofar laziness is a luxury. Most of my attempts have ended disastrously, with my breaking out in hives. Nevertheless, I keep a few raw materials at hand. To protect and heal, unrefined shea butter, mixed with a little argan oil for a smoother texture, the best salve for raw, irritated skin. It's useful to keep a small quantity of a multipurpose oil for skin and hair. I like argan best; my skin has an affinity for its fatty-acid composition. Evan Healy Green Tea Clay ($24.95) isn't that cheap, nor is it a raw material, but it's close: just montmorillonite and matcha green tea. Pure clay draws out impurities more powerfully than any other material, but without damaging the skin. If you've got oily skin, incorporate it into your cleanser (or even honey) for mildly exfoliating, sebum-absorbing properties. There's a universe of interesting tricks in your medicine cabinet: aspirin masks, Bragg's Apple Cider, aloe vera gel, chickpea flour, manuka honey, yogurt, unrefined coconut oil, oatmeal...

If you love luxury products as much as I do, possibly the best advice I can offer you is to choose your products for specific reasons. I'll reject a product if it doesn't match my criteria for texture, smell, color balance, pigment quality, longevity, or ease of use. I can be exceptionally anal about it; believe it or not, I make a conscious effort not to buy more than one lipstick from any single brand, because I like to know the color inside by the packaging. I am really that picky. Like many women, I tend to gravitate towards the same colors over and over again, so I am particularly vigilant about redundancies within my stash. My weakness lies in shades I find so objectively, uniquely beautiful; I want them just to look at rather than use. You need to know your preferences pretty well to carry out this strategy successfully, but since we shop to alleviate boredom, this makes the hunt a little more fun, a little more challenging.

Are you applying your skincare correctly? Before you reject CeraVe as too mild and ineffectual, try massaging it into your skin for a minute or two, so it has the chance of emulsifying dirt, oil, and makeup properly. You might be surprised. It's a more thorough cleanse than a lazy, ten-second rinse with bubbles. Plus, your skin should be thoroughly saturated and therefore more receptive to serum or moisturizer. Proper usage is probably more important than the ingredients themselves.

INVESTMENTS
Good pigments are expensive. I'm much too anal-retentive to prefer drugstore lipsticks and eyeshadows—they're just not as good.

While L'Oréal HIP and Wet 'n' Wild Color Icon have made strides, a silky, silicone-laced texture and intense pigmentation isn't everything. The true hallmark of high-quality eyeshadow is finely-milled pigment. Laura Mercier's neutrals ($22) may resemble the standard palette, but the ultrafine pigments ensure seamless mattes, multifaceted (but subdued) shimmers, and darks that don't go watery. Between Stellar, a silvered cream highlight, and Deep Night, a sophisticated navy matte, I find other neutrals superfluous, which narrows my selection of basic eyecolors down to three, with a cool lavender from Chanel. This is luxury in its most functional sense; I'll wear these down to the last particle, vindicating the initial investment.

Likewise, a proper red lipstick is hard to find. Different colors require different formulas; even luxury brands fail to deliver a supersaturated red with a retro-matte finish, notable exceptions from NARS and MAC notwithstanding. For utmost fidelity (even down to the packaging), you can't beat Bésame ($22). I've been meaning to repurchase Red Velvet for some time now.

Few things are equal in glory to a classic Guerlain.

Damn you, Tata Harper, why do you charge products at such ball-busting prices? Let's face it, skincare is all pretty much the same, give or take a few cosmetic details. Cream or lotion, a moisturizer moisturizes. To date, Tata Harper is the only truly effective skincare I've tried; it significantly improves the condition of your skin, albeit superficially. Were I to indulge, the Refreshing Cleanser ($50) and Rejuvenating Serum ($150) would be my picks of the line, but in the interests of spending less money I've adjusted my addiction to my skin's needs. With the same cocktail of actives—date seed narcissus, menyanthes, alfalfa, and borage—but in an enriched base, the Restorative Eye Crème ($90) targets the faint dehydration lines around my eyes.

Makeup brushes crafted of sable may seem prohibitively expensive, but they're worth every penny. I can apply washes with my finger (why not?), but for detail work, I'd be lost without my Shu Uemura 5R ($60), in the perfect shape and size. My all-time favorite brush.

* I've meaning to try this ever since I noticed zuneta.com, of all places, carries it. Anyone like or dislike it?

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8/03/2011 [3]



Beauty Notes: Good To The Last Drop (Dorothy)
by Dorothy

I think it's hard to be truly frugal with makeup when you've made a hobby of it. Even if I look askance at people who purchase entire seasonal collections or refer to nearly identical nail polish colours as "so different you need both", I understand the impulse; I always have that urge to try the shiny new thing that is slightly different from the former shiny new things in my makeup drawer. I've become better at resisting, as some novelty has worn off; even so, I find it hard to imagine giving up drugstore-sale thrills.



BASICS

I have perennially insensitive skin, such that I'm surprised when a skincare product makes any visible difference at all. It seems that no matter what I do, it's a bit dry in the winter or when I've just washed it, a bit oily at the end of the day, shiny regardless of its condition (what is up with that?) and prone to minor breakouts. Accordingly, I don't pay a whole lot of attention to it, and aside from the occasional experiment, I don't like to spend a lot of time or money on skincare.

DHC's Deep Cleansing Oil has been a staple for me for several years now; it smears off makeup and dirt and leaves nothing but clean, slightly tight skin. (I have yet to commit to a moisturizer or an exfoliant.) There are cheaper cleansers out there, but a $25 bottle of this stuff lasts me several months.

I am pale and vain: sunscreen is a must. I've tried expensive sunscreens, but in my opinion, the cost makes it too tempting to skimp. Sunscreen application guidelines make me roll my eyes — who has the time or inclination to re-apply every few hours, all day, every day? — but it surely does help to apply generously at the beginning of the day, and in the winter, Olay Complete All Day UV Moisturizer is cheap and inoffensive enough to allow that. In the summer, I go to a higher SPF: right now I'm using a good-but-not-great SPF 60 lotion from Neutrogena.

Besides that...I don't have exciting health habits. I sleep a lot. A lot a lot.



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CHEAP THRILLS

I've owned a lot of NYX eyeshadows; they're inexpensive and usually highly pigmented, great for experimenting, and the colour selection is staggering. And I've got rid of a lot of NYX eyeshadows, because they tend to have coarse, over-the-top shimmer or glitter particles more suited for a 21-year-old clubber than a wannabe professional staring down the barrel of 30. That said, NYX's newer matte shadows (generally, the ones with higher numbers on the label) are brilliant: silky and highly pigmented, with the softest satiny sheen.

When I was a teenager, I never bought anything but cheap drugstore makeup; my budget and confidence didn't stretch to anything else. It being the 1990s in Canada, though, my selection was pretty limited, and I quickly discovered that almost all reds and pinks turned to neon fuchsia on me. I ended up with a lot of too-dark 1990s browns, the most classic of which was probably Revlon Super Lustrous in Coffee Bean. I liked the way the colour looked (it was the 1990s), but I still remember the vile chemical smell.

Fifteen years later, though, the smell is gone, and Revlon makes my favourite cheap lipsticks. I prefer the longer-lasting Mattes, but Super Lustrous has the biggest colour selection, including a new variety of warm reds, corals and pinks that don't turn fuchsia against my skin.

I also love buying cheap makeup on eBay, which makes available hundreds of brands that can't otherwise be had in Canada, or even in North America. My current favourite blushes are actually from the cheap Korean brand Etude House: the blush above is the Face Color Corset in a colour I think is called Orange Mango, a finely milled, intensely pigmented matte peach, like NARS Gina at a lower price point.

Just in general, I don't see the point in spending a lot of money on mascara or gel eyeliner: Bobbi Brown's gel liners probably have the best shade range out there, but they smudge like mad on me, whereas much cheaper liners from Sonia Kashuk and Essence barely budge. And while I used to think all drugstores mascaras would run down my face, I can now find many cheap ones that don't: whether this is due to a change in my skin or an improvement in formulas, I haven't found out. And though I've bought a couple of Rescue Beauty Lounge nail polishes, my favourite brands are the much cheaper Zoya and China Glaze.


INVESTMENTS

It's becoming tedious to read this, I'm sure, but Hakuhodo does make the most beautiful brushes I've ever used; I didn't know brushes existed that would never feel the least bit scratchy against my face. They handle pigment beautifully, they feel wonderful against my skin, and they are -- let's face it -- psychologically satisfying to use.

There are some decent red lipsticks at the drugstore, but as Dain says, for the richest pigmentation one needs to spend a little more. My favourites are still probably from Julie Hewett's Noir collection: Belle Noir and Coco Noir suit me the best, but all of the Noirs (save the bizarrely described "nude invisible red" Nude Noir) are serious, intense, gorgeous reds.

Perhaps the most surprisingly good investment I've made, though, is my Anastasia Perfect Brow Pencil in Ash Blonde. I bought it nearly three years ago for an obscene, jacked-up Canadian price (about $30) and have used and sharpened it constantly, watching it turn into a STASIA pencil and later an ASIA pencil; it's currently a letterless stub, and the spoolie on the end has seen better days...but it's lasted me nearly three years.

I am not convinced that this expenditure is necessary; though my efforts to find a drugstore eyebrow pencil went nowhere (Annabelle's Taupe is too green, Cover Girl's too red, Maybelline Define-A-Brow is annoyingly crumbly and gram for gram as expensive as MAC), I balked at buying another Anastasia pencil and instead went for MAC's automatic eye pencil in Fling, which is pretty much the same shade as Ash Blonde but cheaper, and later, out of curiosity, a tub of Laura Mercier's Brow Definer. But will they last me as long?


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8/03/2011 [7]



Beauty Notes: Good to the Last Drop (Anne)
by Anne

College students are no strangers to scrimping, and when you're putting your budget on a diet, so to speak, there are three well recognized approaches one can take: buy a cheaper version, make your expenses last, or simply do without.

Low prices aren't necessarily correlated with low quality: when it comes to beauty, you don't, contrary to popular belief, always get what you pay for. There are products that can be bought for cheap that are comparable to their more costly peers, and why pay more for the same effect?


  • My skin just likes Nivea Crème a lot. It forms an extremely comfortable barrier when the weather gets harsh. Despite its thick texture, it actually absorbs quite well: the trouble seems to be that it doesn't spread easily, so people often end up using more than they need. I always make sure to warm it up in the hand before applying for this reason.
  • The Face Shop Arsainte Eco Therapy Toner is an excellent softener. It's gentle, hydrating, and as with the Nivea, I don't mind the scent, though some might.
  • 4-way emery and buffing boards are actually not all that cheap, and they need to be replaced continually, but they're a good replacement for an all-out manicure, when you don't have the time to put into upkeep or can't afford to experiment with color.
  • I don't wear lipstick on an everyday basis, so it's not something I can afford to invest in, but nor do I want to waste my money on cheap products that won't perform. Revlon matte lipsticks are good for when you want a cheap lipstick fix without sacrificing quality: it's really phenomenal to find this kind of staying power and pigmentation at these prices.
  • L'Oreal Extra-Intense Liquid Pencil Eyeliner is soft enough to tightline without irritating the eyes, yet does not transfer to the lower lid and seems to be genuinely tear- and sweat-proof. By far the best no-brainer eyeliner I've ever used.
  • The frequent name changes to L'Oreal's hair care lineup seems to confuse everyone, but the formulae, at least, seem to stay constant. Currently, their Elsève Smooth-Intense line is quite effective at taming my stubborn, wiry hair, unusually so for a drugstore brand, and I have heard similarly favorable reviews for their other lines. It smells a little off—a bit cloying, a bit synthetic—though, so if you want a pampering experience—which many people want, including myself—look elsewhere.

Sometimes, however, it pays to spend a little more money at the outset for a product you will keep coming back to. Not only is it difficult to find a comparable quality at lower prices, but investing in reliable and high-quality products in these categories will curb redundant and unnecessary future purchases, especially of gimmicks and quick fixes that will only disappoint.


  • As Dain mentioned in her article about Dick Page, one may actually need less makeup after applying a good blush, which should melt into the skin, not stand out against it. More than anything, it's really difficult to look your best without the extra touch that a good blush provides. The beauty of the system is, you may want more, but you only really need one.
  • Eyeshadows are the collectible toys of the makeup world, and it's very easy to get caught up in the "gotta catch'em all" game, but every woman who commits to wearing eyeshadow should pay the most meticulous attention to building up a small and select range of neutral shadows, preferably in very fine textures with minimal discernible shimmer that meld with the skin so seamlessly that they don't register as makeup to the eye. It's not just a matter of having prettier eyes: as with clothing, where a good core of basics to work around provides a starting point for explorations into statement pieces, it's necessary to be really secure in your staple shades in order to curb unnecessary spending, avoiding redundancy and ill-considered purchases, which is why I consider this kind of expense an investment. I use three shades from the now-discontinued Dior quint in Brun Casual, which provides a good model for what this kind of collection should look like: a skin-friendly highlight that melts into skin rather than jumping out at you against it (soft opalescent peachy gold), a darker shade to contour with (gray lavender-mauve), and a liner shade that can run the whole gamut between tightlining and deep deep smoky eyes (chocolate brown). Another place to look for these kinds of textures and colors would be Laura Mercier: the authors of this blog cannot recommend the eyeshadows highly enough.
  • I could really use a nice brush or two, which I do not own but have used, and I can attest that they make a world of difference in application. They make for more deft and shapely application of eyeshadow and blush, tightlining with powder eyeshadow for a soft look that is hard to replicate with pencil or gel formulae, and more even and fine distribution of powder, without caking. If you're going to shoot for perfection, I'd say it's pretty hard to get there without these kinds of tools.
  • Brows are really the linchpin of any look: if you're going to be wearing nothing else, I'd suggest brows, even before blush (but not before concealer). Mine are quite sparse and the hairs are stiff and unruly, so the pomade-like Laura Mercier Brow Definer looks promising.

Products for every concievable beauty want have been developed, but it requires shocking amounts of money to buy everything out there that's targeted at reassuring us that solutions to our problems are all here, packaged in pretty bottles. Plus it's often just more convenient to use things that are lying around in the pantry or medicine cabinet, or the cheap and dirty tricks that often work at a more fundamental level than creams or foundation.


  • Go out, get some exercise and get the blood pumping. Skin, like any other organ, derives most of its nutrition from its blood supply, so getting more flowing to your skin on a regular basis actually makes more sense than slathering it with "nutrient" creams. It also gives you a beautiful flush that lasts all day and looks prettier than any blush. The same goes for hydration: before you spend your money on fancy "water creams" or hyaluronic acid softeners, drink lots of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables, which have high water contents—usually over 90%.
  • Lipids (the kind that are solid at room temperature) often do form an occlusive barrier both in and outsite the body, and sebum overproduction can indeed cause skin problems—though usually not alone but in combination with sluggish skin turnover—but not all lipids are the same: lighter oils such as 100% jojoba are low in the oleic acids that mimic human sebum, making them ideal for skin that is already producing plenty of sebum: the face, for example. Olive oil, which is cheaper and more widely available, is higher in oleic acids and therefore it's more softening, ideal as a deep conditioner for hair and dry patches of skin like elbows and knees. It's greasier, though, so it's really only feasible as a pre-shower treatment. Make sure you clean up after yourself, as olive oil can get really messy, and you don't want slippery floors in the shower
  • Vinegar, diluted 4-fold with water, has so far been the most effective defrizzing agent I've used on my hair. The scales on hair lie flatter at low (acidic) pHs. The only caveat is that it smells, as might be expected, so rinse out hair thoroughly after use.
  • Beauty ideals have changed over time, but one constant has always been the appearance of healthy, flawless, youthful skin. For the vast majority, it's impossible to attain that ideal without some degree of coverage, but pancake makeup never helps. Lisa Eldridge has pointed out the effectiveness of replacing pancake makeup with local coverage limited to the greatest spots and flaws, coupled with minimal coverage—only powder if you can manage, or the thinnest layers of foundation—for the rest of the skin. When it comes to base, it's often more about technique than the product itself, which is why the aforementioned investment in brushes plays such a role.
  • I have thick skin that is slow to clear itself of debris that clogs and dulls the skin, so I exfoliate generously. I use salt on my feet, usually combined with the abovementioned olive oil to give it some slip and cushion the effect of the harsh granules. The combination is very effective at softening and smoothing rough dry heels. For the face, I usually use viscose cloths: cheap, reusable, and a no-brainer to use, though when I want a micropeel, salicylic acid smoothes skin incrementally but noticeably, and wards off mild acne to boot.

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8/03/2011 [4]




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