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

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.

· Fashion Notes: Sequins
· Fashion Notes: The Perfect LBD
· Culture Notes: Closed Systems
· Beauty Notes: What Works For Me
· Beauty Notes: What Works For Me (Daïn)
· Beauty Notes: What Works For Me
· Beauty Notes: MAC Powersurge
· Perfume Notes: Cartier Déclaration
· Culture Notes: A Star Is Born

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Fashion Notes: Sequins
by The Kindly One

I used to hate sequins. Previous to a couple of months ago, I considered them tacky, overt, and obvious and couldn't see any use for them. Recently, though, I've come to realize the problem all along hasn't been sequins themselves so much as it has been with their inappropriate use as a design element.

One of my problems with sequins had been their fairly strict virgin/whore connotations. I've primarily only seen sequins as appliques on holiday sweaters or on overly tight, short, and skimpy frocks. While there's a whole lot of room between for experimentation, it takes thinking outside of these extremes to do so. This can be difficult to do when the extremes are so embedded into the cultural consciousness as to be accepted as "the way it is," so it is little surprise that my conversion to sequins began with a step outside my own norms.

French fashion blogger Betty is the first, and most instrumental, person to show me the way with sequins. I love her use of them because she takes everything that always scared me about sequins - their cheapness, frumpiness, tackiness, and overt, aggressive sexuality - and throws it out the window. She's able to wear them simply as just another design element without any allusions to their sordid past.


I've saved my favorite sequin look for first. What I love about this outfit is that it isn't about sequins at all. Instead, it looks as though Betty has thrown on a sweater that just happens to have sequins on it, sidestepping the issue of obviousness and just looking like herself. It also helps that the sequins aren't in some sort of pattern (the ubiquitous flower or butterfly), but instead have a tonal effect, brightening the darker greys and blues of the outfit. And the fact that they are placed on a small, concentrated area of the sweater doesn't hurt.


Sequins don't have to be relegated to supporting role, though. They can be a centerpiece of an outfit so long as the outfit maintains balance. Betty achieves this both through a voluminous cut and the inclusion of neutral and earthy design elements. This tunic would be far too much if it were tight - too overt, too sexy, too much for daytime. This looser, slouchier cut allows for a softer, more wearable look that's infinitely more flattering to a variety of body types than the standard skin-flick of a sequined dress. The earthy shoes also play down the shine to literally ground the look, and the denim works as a kind of universal neutralizer to keep either of the other two elements from standing out too much or working against each other.


If you really want to subvert the norms, though, just use sequins themselves as a neutral. In the wrong hands, this outfit would become a skimpy tank and shorts with no room for the imagination, but Betty transforms the tank into the outfit's grounding piece. By wearing sequins in a neutral tone and matte finish on a more voluminous cut, Betty's able to take a sequined tank and essentially dress it down to the level of a white t-shirt. All the sequins do here is add texture to what would otherwise be a matte, flat outfit so that the tank is an entirely wearable neutral that can either add balance or pop to an outfit.


Pop - that's what I used to think sequins were all about. I still think they can be, though I now have a different idea of what that means thanks to Zanita. Instead of neutralizing sequins, like Betty, Zanita uses them as a whimsical centerpiece to an otherwise adult outfit. The shoes are attention-getters, for sure, but they're fun and funny rather than pushy and sexy, plus they provide a lovely contrast to the black. I have to admit, I've been looking for sequined skimmers since I first saw this picture.

My other gripe with sequins has been that they look cheap - not only in the sense of gaudy, but also as in poorly applied, about to fall off, and just plain busted. Go to a store and you'll often see them applied in some hideous design, too much (all over a full-length gown), or just randomly sprinkled over netting without any thought or purpose.

As with beading, embroidery, lace, and other handiworks, sequins require real craftmanship of application and aesthetics. This is why so much factory-sewn sequin work looks cheap, gawdy, and tacky. The method of production doesn't allow for time and thoughtfulness in application. When sequins are properly accounted for as a design element, as in the picture below, they can end up looking rich, expensive, and purposeful.


This Lanvin dress works because Albert Elbaz has accounted for the way sequins catch and reflect light. It would be far too much silver, sparkle, and "fabulousness" to fully sequin a dress in bright, metallic silver. The use of matte grey-silver is appropriate - it's eye-catching, and that is where it begins and ends. The dress doesn't grasp for your attention or leave you slave to its sheer gaudiness. Instead, the eye is subtly drawn to it so that the viewer only glances and wants to take it more.

This dress is also stunning because it's very, very expensive. Lanvin is a luxury brand in the truest sense, which means that the brand can afford to spend money on design, development, and labor. This allows Elbaz to spend the time necessary to decide on exact placement of sequins - where they must be laid down to catch light, how they need to be placed to allow for draping of the garment, and so forth. This also allows for spending on quality materials, quality craftmanship, and ironically, failure. If a dress doesn't drape right the first time, Elbaz has a little elbow room to play with and perfect the design, certainly more than a designer scraping by. In turn, all of these elements combined with a truly discerning designer allow for exceptional clothing that will neither look cheap now, nor in 20 years.

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7/30/2009 [11]

Fashion Notes: The Perfect LBD
by The Kindly One


As has been much lamented, contemporary fashion has been obsessed with newness: new shapes, new textures, new ways to style clothes, new ways to rehash the 80s, etc. This is great in terms of innovation, as pushing the envelope is one way to move design forward and find out where the boundaries really are. It's terrible for timelessness, though, which means that, no matter how much you pay for your clothes, they're basically disposable. Sure, allowing for fit and age-appropriateness, you can wear your current clothes again in twenty years, when the current fashions are being revived, and you can wear them right now, but when the fashion pendulum swings round again in two or three years, you won't be able to wear today's clothes without looking like you don't know what year you're in.

As with fashion proper, so with LBDs. There is a glut of LBDs on the market right now banking on newness as their primary selling point, with newness indicated in terms of shape, structure, texture, reference point, and even the newness of turning the whole concept on its head and going for a Little White Dress instead. But rather than reinforcing the concept of and need for the LBD, or even the LWD, all this newness slowly renders the concept of the LBD obsolete as it wears away at the basic idea of the LBD itself, which is that Little Black Dresses must be timeless, versatile, and reflective of the wearer herself.

Not so with this stunner from Alexander Wang. Shown as part of his Resort 2010 collection, this dress is the embodiment of everything that is the traditional LBD. It's timeless, without pointed, exhaustive reference to any particular shape, structure, or era of fashion, even it's own. It's cut in a manner to drape over and enhance the figure without adding unnecessary bulk or an odd, unwearable structure. It's versatile enough to adapt to a variety of events, whether the event is a house party or a wedding (it would make a lovely bridesmaid dress). It's soft, feminine, simple, and elegant, which is event enough in itself in an era in which each dress, garment, accessory, and movement must be an event. It is simply a beautiful dress, and this is the point of the LBD (and clothing in general) that I think is being lost in the clutter and roar of newness, general trendiness, and the expansion of the elite club and the general public perception of what is "fashion." It is simply a beautiful dress that showcases and enhances the wearer's own beauty. This is not a simple feat to acheive, and it comes to greater effect than all the avant-garde offerings out right now because viewers are left with the personal, that this is a beautiful woman. That is always going to be more memorable and alluring than simply a great dress or a new idea for a garment. For all the great fashion innovation going on out there, there's still a place for taking a breather and simply enjoying and being beautiful (and really, if you're that beautiful, you don't need to avant-garde to fall back on, anyway). That's where the LBD and its timelessness come into play, because there's never a time when being beautiful won't be desired or attractive. And that's where this Alexander Wang dress hits the spot.

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7/25/2009 [1]

Culture Notes: Closed Systems
by The Kindly One


I was pleased to read this recent interview with Louise Wilson on Cathy Horyn's On the Runway blog. I enjoy Cathy's interviews, and I found this interview particularly engaging as it touched on cultural themes that are very personally familiar, primarily the enormous amount of cultural stagnation we are facing:

"Did the industry plan that everyone would travel to the same countries, that everyone would have disposable means of income, that everybody would be quite bland? I recently interviewed someone coming to the MA program and they said the last film they had seen was “Valkyrie,” with Tom Cruise. I said, “You’re joking, aren’t you?” ...There are immensely talented people around but I feel huge vortexes of them are sucked into this mediocre world where nobody criticizes and it’s all terribly politically correct." [cite]

Despite the unprecedented level of access our culture at large now has to information, communication, material goods, and luxury replicas, I don't think it's making us any smarter, more critical, more thoughtful, or more imaginative. Instead, we're facing the Tumblr effect, in which all information gets virtually posted and re-posted without end, both in the sense that it never stops being posted and in that the information never reaches a culmination. Really cool pictures of audacious styling, inspiring quotes, viral videos - it's all shared endlessly. But what do people do with it? This is my question. I don't see a real response to various media or a progression of ideas. I only see replication of the idea, literally (that cool picture on every blog) and passively (one hundred different people on one hundred different days taking the same photo of a tea set with the light bouncing off the saucer). I never see any real action take place - a rebellion against stylized realism, an incisive satire of "edgy" fashion, anything that doesn't feed directly into the trends, thoughts, and assumptions of our times.

Years ago, Marc Jacobs gave an interview in which he shared that the role of designer was drastically different from even a generation before. In addition to designing, there was so much information the designer was expected to know, so much culture the designer had to engage in. Designers were now expected to read the same books as everyone else, keep up with pop culture, basically maintain the same references. At the time, I thought these very notions were ridiculous and the observations were mere complaints, the symptom of some anxiety. And I was right, though I didn't realize the anxiety was both cultural and personal. At times when less and less seems stable and controllable, when self-definitions crumble, the notion of safety in numbers can appeal, and I think it's this conceit that's partly responsible for the navalgazing the culture at large is currently engaged in. We may not know what it is to be American anymore or what the future will bring, but by God, we can all know and share in our experiences with the Kardashians/Rihanna/Octomom. Maybe no one looks good in Margiela's shredded jeans because they're ugly, but they're cool, so we'll all wear them. It boils down to safety, and it's all the more vicious and virulent a notion of safety not just because it's ultimately based in fear, but, more potently, because we're choosing to do it to ourselves.

I am not part of the fashion industry, but I enjoy reading my favorite fashion/style blogs daily. It has become a chore. I'm only an amateur, and yet it seems there's so much information you need to know just to keep up and be relevant. It's a daunting task just to keep up and nearly completely absorbing to get ahead, and this isn't even a description of skill, merely of retaining information. I cannot imagine the intense amount of pressure I'd feel if I were in the field, or the boredom, because all the information's the same. In a culture in which knowing and demonstrating the right information determines safety/competence/relevance, information itself quickly stagnates and discernment takes a vacation. It's less important to dress oneself well and appropriately for one's body type and lifestyle than it is to keep up and do as the Romans, a fact Wilson speaks to when she mentions the decline of style. As much technological innovation we have now and sheer possibility, never before witnessed, to create our own movements, speak for ourselves, and express our individual potentials, the effort is wasted on perfectionism and bleating to the beat of one collective drum. And while sharing the same information is crucial to a culture's survival - this is how culture gets transmitted - so is updating that information and infusing it with new life. Otherwise, you have a closed system in which nothing can get in or out. And as any systems analyst can tell you, without the exchange of (in this case) information, systems will fail.

"It might be very good for fashion if fashion goes out of fashion, and maybe nothing does happen for awhile and a few companies shut down. When the light turns away that’s when the new work will be done." [cite]


7/16/2009 [1]

Beauty Notes: What Works For Me
by Dorothy

Comparisons were made, at one time.

My experiences with cosmetics have been largely determined by my "non-standard" colouring and facial features. I don't wish to overstate this: obviously, the North American beauty market caters to white women like me far, far more than it does to other women. However, I was a redhead as a child, and even though my hair has darkened, I still have freckles, green eyes, and a very pale, peach-toned complexion. The advice doled out in magazines often does not apply to me. I didn't find a red lipstick I could wear until I was 25, and that required going to a MAC counter and watching one sales associate's frustration mount as tester after tester turned fuchsia or purple on my skin. She finally handed me off to another SA, who tried another five or six before finding two that worked (Rage and Chili, if you're curious). I continue to spend much of my life avoiding the dreaded fuchsia.

Exciting to some, horrifying to others.

I am, in other words, not a blank canvas. I have fairly definite, high-contrast colouring and defined features: a high forehead, a long nose, high cheekbones, a slight figure, and wavy, cowlicky hair. I feel generally more comfortable with retro-influenced styles than wholly modern ones: anything blingy, beachy, sporty or vampy makes me look ridiculous.


It's a shame Besame's Soufflé Foundation was discontinued, because it makes a great concealer.

I distinctly remember being five years old, looking in the bathroom mirror and appreciating the pretty mauve colour of my undereye circles. They are permanent, hereditary fixtures on my face. I put on undereye concealer before applying any other makeup. I follow that up with eyebrow pencil; my eyebrows are naturally quite well shaped, but a bit sparse.

I don't own a foundation. I don't really know how to use one, and anyway, I don't think most women need it for every day. I do have very shiny skin, exacerbated by my near-daily application of sunscreen (it should be daily, but I get lazy), so I use translucent powder, which blurs the imperfections on my face without looking too much like paint.

I've grown to appreciate the value of bright (not sparkly!) blush, probably because my skin is less naturally rosy at 27 than it was at 17. Pink blush looks like rosacea on me; peaches and corals are much more flattering. I don't know how to contour, but then I don't particularly need to.

P.S. Sparkly blush looks stupid.


I'm in a bit of a rut, I admit, but I love the look of gel eyeliner; I'm also wary of heavy eye makeup, since nothing telegraphs PARTY TIME to the same extent. I usually stick to a wash of neutral shadow (my favourite is NARS Cairo, a taupe with a hint of rose) and gel liner in brown or plum.

Women with green eyes are frequently advised to wear purple shadow. This isn't foolproof; any colour that is too dark will look like a smudgy grey-black on my skin, and any colour with red in it has to be chosen carefully so I don't end up emphasizing my dark circles or giving myself the "pinkeye" look. I have to experiment. I find that I keep accumulating turquoise and green shadows, even though I generally don't wear them because I'm afraid of looking frivolous. (I am frivolous, but must everyone know?)


I am obsessed. It is kind of ridiculous, and clearly a left-over hangup from my adolescence, when I discovered that most "universal" shades, as touted by magazines, looked terrible on me. Pinks look sickly on me; "true" reds and berries turn neon fuchsia; even bright oranges, like Shiseido Day Lily, head straight for Day-Glo peach. I used to try to counteract this trend by buying drugstore lipstick that looked very, very orange or very, very brown in the tube; these days I tend to buy higher-quality lipstick that turns less dramatically.

I am picky about lip products: I usually want them full-coverage and nearly matte. I love red lipstick and would wear it every day if I had the guts. It saddens me that red lipstick is ever considered trampy or garish; when my grandmother was my age, this was not the case at all. I probably look best in deeper, browner shades -- MAC Chili, Lipstick Queen Rust, YSL Opium Red -- but I love intense, balls-out orangey reds: Besame Carmine, Julie Hewett Belle Noir, MAC Lady Danger.

I have a number of medium-toned and sheer lipsticks, but have yet to figure out how to wear nude. I have a feeling that with colouring as high-contrast as mine, truly nude lips will never quite work.

Above, fairly standard makeup for me: darkened brows, eyes lined on top lids only, minimal eyeshadow, bright lips.

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7/12/2009 [3]

Beauty Notes: What Works For Me (Daïn)
by Dain

I'm terribly late on this one, but it's been a hellish summer. Those who scoff at "creative" work, such as writing, should really try it seriously some time. Sure, you don't have established hours, but as with musicians, athletes, artists, and dancers—any profession ultimately informed by natural and peculiar talents—the drive must come from within, and there is no such thing as "on" versus "off" time. Writers write every day, dancers dance every day, musicians play every day, athletes practice every day, or very nearly. But if you fall out of the habit, it's hard to return, as much as you'd like to. It's not much of an excuse, but lately I've not had time to eat, much less to keep up a blogger's momentum.

Here I am. Dopey expression, but the closest face shot. Makeup is minimal:
undereye concealer, blush, eyeliner, mascara, lipcolor. My hair is black now.

Coloring is a peculiar thing. I've made some ingress into it, with my blush theory, but in all forthrightness, it is unpredictable. Unlike The Kindly One, I have soft, delicate features, with very little emphasis on bone structure, and can pull off colors acid-bright in intensity but look terrible in neutrals. Unlike Dorothy's high-pigment, ultra-warm coloring, I'm a chilly black-and-white palette; I'm not so pale, but my skin is nearly colorless, almost translucent under flash photography. And lest you assume that Anne and I have shades and techniques in common, simply because we're Asian, think again: I have a strict bias for cool shades.

I apply makeup incrementally. Undereye concealer, groomed brows (brow powder and gel), and mascara (often with black liner on my waterline for extra definition): the same as everyone else, an improvement on my naked face. Given the utter absence of color in my face, a pigmented pink blush and a lipcolor on the richer side, adds crucial balance—on other faces, the shades I favor look overdone, but they only barely register on me. My favorite blush is Desire, by NARS, which I wear in the photo above (from which you'd never conjecture it was an intense fuschia). I feel overexposed without blush, but even more so without real lipstick (you'd also not believe me if I told you I'm wearing purple-plum lipcolor, too). Though I've experimented with nude lips, it requires a pancake-level of makeup elsewhere to approach decency. The spectrum I favor runs from rose-infused berries and reds, so I favor NARS: Gothika, Schiap, Damned, Scarlet Empress, Christina, Flair. The warmest shade I can manage is Chanel's Rouge Allure in Attitude, though this is very wearable. I also love Besamé; Red Velvet is my favorite, but Noir Red and Besamé Red look fantastic too.

This image is a bit recycled, but it covers the most frequented shade ranges for me: cool red lips, fevered blush, and rich, somber blues on the eyes.
When it comes to eyes, it's soft, smoky definition, often from MAC Teddy (and occasionally Powersurge), that flatters more than any specific color, since my eyes are a dark, almost black brown that doesn't clash with anything, though I certainly look best in cooler shades. I haven't met the blue that doesn't agree with me, though I'm particularly fond of NARS Underworld (both shades), but I've also had luck with an ethereal violet like Chanel Lavande. But since I tend to restrict color on my eyes to liner, or a haze around the outer corners, most shades, including olive or plum, do work on me, especially when softened by the gilded peach of Dior's Brun Casual quint, so long as there's not too much warmth. I play around with NARS duos; I like to experiment with color, but the basic techniques don't shift much.

This is shorter than I expected... But after so much anal-retentive refinement of my stash over the years, I have a pretty clear idea of what works for me.

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7/12/2009 [2]

Beauty Notes: What Works For Me
by The Kindly One



Just as Dain has worked out her theory of coloring, I have a theory of facial structure, in that facial structure determines what type of makeup best suits women, as well as how to best wear it. Women with strong bone structure, such as Angelina Jolie, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Sarah Jessica Parker, look their best highlighting and defining what they have, in this case literally, using highlighters and contouring to bring out their features. Typically, women with strong features need to avoid wearing too much color, as this can easily make them look overdone, hard, or, in the vein of Angelina and Megan Fox, a mix of sexy and astoundingly beautiful to the point of aggressiveness.*

Conversely, women with weaker bone structure (think Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, and Drew Barrymore) can acheive a greater effect with blush than with simply highlighting and contouring, as their strength is in being able to work with (or change) their bone structure through color (and makeup in general) rather than light. These women can wear more color than those with stronger bone structure without overwhelming their features.

This is not to say that women with weaker bone structure can't contour and women with strong bone structure can't wear blush. This is simply a guide to maximize the effect of makeup. Women who have strong bone structure have more facial planes to play with light and shadow than women who don't. Likewise, women with weaker bone structure can play with more overall color without being overwhelmed by it than women with a stronger structure. Think of it this way: Gwen Stefani can wear a ton of makeup, basically carving her face structure out of it, and look great. Were Angelina Jolie to wear that much makeup, she would look very hard, overdone, and mannish. The more defined your features are, the more easily they can be overwhelmed. The less defined they are, the more room you have to use color and makeup in general to define them without overwhelming.

All this to say that I can go from zero to drag queen in a second. I really don't take makeup well beyond very minimal amounts. Too much foundation and I look like I'm wearing spackle, too much lipstick and you'd have to ask, "Who is she trying to fool?" I am definitely of the strong bone structure camp and rely on making the most of my good skin and bone structure rather than on color. When I wear foundation, I rely on powders rather over other formulas, specifically MAC Mineralize Skinfinish in Light. I like the sheer coverage, the hint of color, the lasting power, and best of all, that it only takes three swipes and ten seconds in the morning. This feature alone has kept me from returning to liquids. For highlighting, I either use Nars The Multiple in Copacabana or MAC Studio Stick Foundation in NC15 on cheekbones, the center of my forehead, my nose, and chin. Copacabana is more of a traditional highlighter, in that it has a bit of shimmer and brings light directly to where I apply it. Studio Stick acts like light itself radiating from my skin, adding radiance, brightness, and a softer light that looks like it comes from within. Both layer well under the Skinfinish. If I want to further contour, I use the lightest shade in Cover Girl's Trucheeks blush palette in number 1 (I think the color is Snow Plum). It's so light that it doesn't really add color, just shadow. On the rare occasions that I wear blush, the only color that consistently performs is the middle color in this palette, a mid-tone plummy pink. Every other blush color fails me: pinks are too pink and either look like a rash or too jarring against my yellow undertones, pinky-peaches look good until they oxidize and turn orange, and brown tones absolutely don't work.

(I could have probably just scanned this picture, since this is essentially the look I wear every day.)

As I have a mix of warm and cool undertones, as well as hazel eyes, it's perhaps no surprise that my eyes can take the warm tones that my skin can't. In fact, I prefer my eyes in warm tones, though they can take cool, as well. Again, I have to be careful with coloring. Anything too warm looks great against my eyes, but looks jarring against my skin, and anything too cool just looks awful overall. Generally, warm sunset colors (golds, oranges, reds, warm browns) best suit my eyes, so long as they aren't very bright, which is harsh against pale skin. On the cool end of the spectrum, violets such as MAC's Parfait Amour make my eyes green (which is a pity, because I hate violet). I can also wear both warm and cool blues, which again bring out their contrasting color, orange. I've had success wearing both MAC's Technakohl liner in Auto-de-Blu, a warm, bright blue, and MAC's Pearlglide liner in Black Russian, which is a deep cool blue with silvery highlights. Auto-de-Blu makes my eyes pop, bringing out the warmth and slightly blurring it with the other colors to create a slightly muddy, sultry intensity (sounds paradoxical, but really works). When sheered out slightly, the silver and light blue in Black Russian brings light to my eyes and makes their hazel hue stand out.

Generally, my eye routine consists of tightlining my eyes with either a warm brown (MAC Technakohl in Brownborder) or carbon black. The warm brown brings out the warm topaz in my eyes and brings soft definition to the shape, while black brings out the shape itself and brings intensity and light to my eyes. It can be a harsher color against my skin, but sultrier. Other than that, I wear liner on my top lid and mascara. Typically, I wear warm, red-based brown liners, such as Jane's Browny Points, Stila's Twig or NARS's Galapagos. These colors work well to further define and shape my eyes, as well as to bring out the orange and gold in them. Since my lashes are very long, occasionally I curl them to get more pop out of my eye makeup, but usually I'm too lazy and just swipe mascara on them as is. I'm not loyal to any particular mascara, although I really like Cover Girl Lash Blast Luxe (the brush deposits mascara perfectly). Were I to wear shadow washes, I'd exclusively wear Stila's Summer, an orangey-bronze, and Tarte's dusky golden shade in the Kalalua duo, as these both make my eye color warmer and more intense. I've given up shadow washes, though, because I think I look better just wearing liner.



I absolutely rely on sheer colors on my lips. Opaque colors overpower them and make them look smaller, which creates an imbalance in the proportions of my face. I avoid dark colors for the same reasons, and brights are, again, too jarring against my skin. There are basically three colors I return to repeatedly: sheer plum, pinky-peach, and neutral. Sheer plum with a touch of pink (no red, no brown) is probably the best color for me. Not only is it the blush color I use, it adds a touch of depth and color to my makeup without being overwhelming, and the cool tone flatters my cool lips. Pinky-peach, when heavier on the pink side, also does a great job of flattering my skin by adding brightness and color, but I have to be careful of the peach tones. Too much peach turns orange against my skin.

Since my lips have a lot of pigment (depending on if I'm cold, if I've just eaten, etc., they're a cool light-to-medium cool pink), my best bet for an understated look is neutral lips. This is not the same as nude lips, which really only look good on women of medium skin tones. My version of neutral lips is to basically neutralize the coolness of them so that they're just pink. I can do this by using a gold gloss on top or by filling them in with a brown-based neutral liner and using a pale pink gloss on top. Either way, I maintain my essential lip shape and facial proportions.

I'm in a state of flux with my lip products. I had used MAC Tendertones exclusively as my gloss, but using them so much aggravated my fragrance allergy and I've had to discontinue their use. This isn't too much of a shame, because I'm mostly over the stickiness and general goopy mess of glosses. I loved Clinique's Colour Surge Bare Brilliance lipsticks in Waterviolet and Pink Beach for plum and peachy-pink lip colors, respectively, but they're now only offered in the more opaque, drying Butter Shine formula, which I hate. I'm going to have to shop around for lip products that suit my needs and will stay on the shelves more than two minutes.

*(I have often wondered to myself, If I were a man waking up next to either them, would it not be too much to see that day in, day out? I think rather than being a male sexual fantasy, it would be rather harsh and intimidating, a blunt beauty that's blatently, boldly there that leaves no room for gazing and slowly taking it all in. Really, that leaves no room at all for a relationship with it, because it the end, beauty is partly what we something we interact with and stake claim to ourselves, whether it's our beauty to claim or not.

I still haven't found an answer to the question in terms of being a woman waking up with them. Somehow, I think it would be easier to bear.)

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7/11/2009 [3]

Beauty Notes: MAC Powersurge
by Dain

O, everyone should own Powersurge. It is like... the potato. Before you murmur at my stupidity, I totally mean it pretentious-literary-like. In M.F.K. Fisher's first book, Serve It Forth (which is a great book, so read it!), my favorite chapter is dedicated to the potato. The whole premise of the chapter is that she attacks the American (and European, for that matter) aesthetic of meat-and-potatoes, where the potato is totally unappreciated, but simply "expected", as a given and a prerogative.

Instead, she suggests that it be eaten with true appreciation. Of course, for its own innate goodness:
    A potato is good when it is cooked correctly. Baked slowly, with its skin rubbed first in a buttery hand. or boiled in its jacket and then 'shook', it is delicious. Salt and pepper are almost always necessary to its hot moist-dusty flavour. Alone, or with a fat jug of rich cool milk or a chunk of French Gruyère, it fills the stomach and the soul with a satisfaction not too easy to attain.
But even more so for its utter perfection as a complement:
    If, French fried, they make a grilled sirloin taste richer; if, mashed and whipped with fresh cream and salty butter, they bridge the deadly gap between a ragoût and a salad; if, baked and pinched open and bulging with mealy snowiness, they offset the fat spiced flavour of sausages—then and then alone should they be served. Then they are dignified. Then they are worthy of a high place, not debased to the deadly rank of daily acceptance. Then they are a gastronomic pleasure, not merely "tubers used for food".
Anyway, what has this got to do with make-up? Well, Powersurge is exactly like that. It's pretty on its own, of course, a lovely bronze with a smooth finish of gold—very nice against the skin and peeking through lashes (and for subtle definition). But its especial genius is how it combines with other shades, especially [coughs] Nars duos. Nars tends to be cool, even with his warmish-seeming duos, and Powersurge softens them somewhat by adding a little warmth. Plus, it allows the liner to really "grab onto" the skin, for improved longevity (which any creamy pencil will do but Powersurge does especially well because it melds so well into the skin). But most all, it somehow harmonizes (and as much as I try, I can't say why) shades beautifully—especially if they are colors for the sake of colors and rather discordant with the skin's natural tones. I find this true with both Babylon and Cleo, which sit a little rough and chalky on the skin without the aid of Powersurge. It is somehow a supreme complement, and that's the magic of it.

It looks particularly smashing against oceanic colors as a general rule... periwinkle, sea blue, mermaid green, lavender, sand. All the colors one would find at the sea, basically (including at sunset).

A picture of Powersurge and what it looks like:

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7/06/2009 [1]

Perfume Notes: Cartier Déclaration
by Dain

Pablo Picasso, Family of Saltimbanques (1905).

"Men," declared my friend Ryan sententiously, "grow bored easily. They like something new." While he meant of course objects of sexual desire (in which case he may have spoken true), even a cursory assessment of the landscape of masculines would lead to the opposite conclusion: in fact, men just want more of the same. It's a little dreary, actually, all these minor variations on Cool Water, so little wonder that many a perfume enthusiast has turned to feminines for relief. Indeed, when a masculine does come along good enough to wear, it's frequently appropriated by women, whose tastes are less limited but standards for quality tend to be higher: Guerlain Vetiver, Caron Troisième Homme, Tauer L'Air du Désert Marocain, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Dior Eau Sauvage, and perhaps the first modern perfume of them all, Guerlain Jicky. Déclaration stands among them.

Though technically a masculine, it is most certainly unisex in its appeal. Its opening of tart bergamot and bitter orange, especially with an infusion of herbal bitters, references your classic eau fraîche, as brisk as a gin & tonic on a muggy summer's day. Before long, however, the characteristic fizz of ISO E Super, the multifaceted synthetic that also provides the focus for Serge Lutens’ magnificent Eaux Boisées, makes its presence known. The gossamer-sheer woodsiness, with its rich tangy, wild-fruit angle, keeps afloat the most angular, exotic notes, making Lutens' precious, neoclassical orientals possible. Jean Claude Ellena's treatment of ISO E Super, true to the pared-down aesthetic that marks his more mature work, is rather more sere. Here, the molecule, with the dry heat of cardamom and coriander, provides just the right dose of sweet warmth to balance out the bitter chill of citrus, juniper, and wormwood. Instead of the complex evolutions of traditional tripartite perfumery, Déclaration is deceptively linear, and yet informed by such an astute sense of proportion, like the outline of a perfect face, not fleshed out in paint but hovering in midair like a holograph. Like many of Ellena's best compositions, it is better sensed rather than analyzed; then its layers of citrus, juniper, cardamom, and slightly smoky woods seem to merge into a pleasing coherence.

Bois de Jasmin
Perfume Shrine
The Scented Salamander
Nathan Branch
Pere de Pierre
I Smell Therefore I Am (comparison with Déclaration Essence)

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7/03/2009 [0]

Culture Notes: A Star Is Born
by Dain

Truly, the internet is a wonderful place. I've been watching classic movies uploaded on Youtube. The faces! The clothes! The witty dialogue!

Now, this version of A Star Is Born was released in 1954. This means two things. One, it is not weird that it is a musical, today it is a practically a genre for effete audiences only (like tourists to Broadway), not for "serious films". Two, though it meditates unflinchingly on the dark side of celebrity, it is not as dark as it could be. The first is a golden opportunity for Garland's golden voice, and if it is a little silly at times, the film pokes fun at it. I particularly enjoyed this number, early on in the film when she's just scraping by, perhaps because I'm real fond of jazz (not that a jazz singer would so diva-like):
Garland seems chubby and plainfaced by the Hollywood standard (for the rest of us, she is still a very attractive woman). The film makes fun of this too: the infamous "makeover" scene where the artistes fuss over her troublesome nostrils, and Mason fails to recognize her, and laughs when he realizes who it is, all based on Garland's real-life experiences. Garland plays up her androgyny, with a boyishly short cut and equally gamine costumes, her only womanly feature on display are her perfect dancer's legs.

But what makes the film really striking is its exploration of celebrity, which is perhaps why this film has been remade so many times. So long as film endures, so will the issues it brings to the table. The troubles of the unknown, the sheer machinery aspect of Hollywood, the pressures of publicity, and the deep, deep dependency on fame. There is one really terrible scene when Garland is leaving a funeral and a fan screams at her and rips her veil off.

At first, I intended this article to present the flavor of contrition. I felt ashamed that I bitch about celebrities. I don't know these people. Why are they fair game? I would not like people to pass judgment on me in such a manner.

But then, I thought, I am not a celebrity. In fact, I can think of nothing more horrifying than a whole lot of people looking at me. Hollywood is the myth-making instinct of humanity turned into a business. It is not that celebrities are "not people", but they sought public attention on a grand scale, a goal so very, very difficult to obtain that it cannot be anything but deliberate. I've heard many a time that Paris Hilton (the only celebrity I truly despise) is a nice girl, that people give her a hard time, but those who would seek attention should be prepared for negative attention, or quit it as Dave Chappelle did. People who value privacy first and foremost do not seek to be a public figure. If you are lucky enough to attain the fulfillment of your desires and do not, as did Macbeth, find them to your liking, that is not other people's fault. For chrissakes, I don't care about your problems; entertainers are not victims of society, by my book.

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7/01/2009 [1]

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