"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.

· Desert Island: Manicure
· Beauty Notes: The Life Cycle of the Asian Woman
· Bestsellers: Caron Poudre Peau Fine
· Perfume Notes: Les Nez Manoumalia
· Culture Notes: Autumn Leaves
· Beauty Notes: How To Take Self-Portraits

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Desert Island: Manicure
by Dain

The tools.

Why even bother to apply polish onto ragged, ill-groomed nails? A good nail comes down to the manicure itself. These tools, lackluster and unshiny though they may be, are more important than any color, no matter how complex, how brilliant.

First, I file my nails: a gently pointed oval shape flatters my hand best, as my nail bed is quite curved. I file with an old manicure still on; it is easier to gauge the shape that way. The OPI Nail File is gentle (why on earth did I use that crappy metal file for so long?) on the nail, its smooth edge less prone to splitting, yet highly efficient at taking down length. Compared to most glass files, the OPI is thinner, more fragile, so it's easier to get the side edge, just keep it in the original plastic tube. On rare occasion, I buff, using the softest fabric on my thin nails.

For removal, I prefer pure acetone, using a cotton that does not shred, like Delon+ from Costco, the most cost-effective option I've found in the US. It's drying, but I do not like the residue left behind by removers laced with glycerin. Pure acetone is also more efficient at cleaning up the edges with a synthetic brush—mine's from ELF. My cuticle work isn't as meticulous as a manicurist's, but the Blue Cross Cuticle Remover, decanted into an empty squeeze bottle for ease of use, dissolves dry, tough cuticle in seconds. It's so effective, better by miles than Sally Hansen, which I tired of endlessly repurchasing, I've had to make some readjustments and try out other, less aggressive cuticle groomers. This one from Trans Design (highly recommended if buying nail supplies in bulk) has a fine edge, so it's easier to push under dead cuticle than my blunted old Revlon. If you like to nip, I strongly advise not using Blue Cross on freshly trimmed skin; it will burn.

Once my nail bed is clean, my favorite base coat is a strengthening and conditioning treatment, Nail Tek II, which after some experimentation is the best on my thin, soft, easily shattered nails. Sometimes, I also use the corresponding Foundation, though it's not necessary. For a topcoat, I love Creative Nail Design Super Shiney. It's glassy and plush, quick to dry, and sinks through layers of polish, evening out any bumps or ridges.

To maintain my cuticles in good nick, I usually drop some plain jojoba oil, decanted into a mini dropper, post manicure. Jojoba absorbs most readily into my skin, freeing my hands all the quicker. If they're extremely dry, Dior Crème d'Abricot, a thick, emollient blend of mineral oil and lanolin, softens them overnight. In general, I opt for cheapest products when it comes to the manicure, loathe to spend $30 on a topcoat that I need to replace three months later, but Crème d'Abricot cannot be bettered for an intensive cuticle cream.

Now the colors: top ten.

Probably my favorite nailpolish of them all. The softness of Chanel Golden Sand is sort of an expensive take on nude.

Essie Borrowed & Blue may look greener here in full afternoon sun, but is actually a slightly greyed blue creme, in Essie's smooth pastel formula. Surprisingly, it is my favorite pedicure shade. I favor pastels (rarely brights or darks). Though Candy Apple Mint is a close second, this blue pleases me best.

Because it is slightly sheer, Sephora Sin-cerely Violet wears more like a soft lilac-pink with gold pearl, better balanced on my skin tone than the many pinks and roses I've bought.

Glittery topcoats tend to take over the manicure (e.g. Across The Universe), but OPI Pirouette My Whistle is quite delicate and subdued, with slightly translucent, satin-matte sequins scattered into a fine silver and black glitters.

There must be a dozen sheer milky pinks out there, but for a pure, clean nail I reach for Chanel Ballerina. It's the ultimate palate cleanser.

Etude House BL009 is unapologetic bad taste: a sapphire base that fades to ultraviolet depths, with an intense teal shimmer that picks up more green when it catches the light. Not quite a holo, but nearly as dimensional.

Lippmann's thicker, gel-like formula provides the ideal suspension for her imaginative glitters. Ray of Light is definitely a statement manicure (roughly equivalent to like wearing a wild print in a simple cut), and the formula is more trouble to work with, but the results are worth it: this rich blue-violet gelly is so exquisite, like a deconstructed Clarins 230.

The orange-leaning coral of Chanel Orange Fizz somehow manages to be punchy yet muted at the same time.

I hemmed and hawed for a long time over my favorite red, but Orly Haute Red won out. It's a bright cherry creme, slightly warm, particularly crisp on the nail, unlike the darker, cooler Chanel Dragon, another great red.

I often feel like vampy nails wear me instead of the other way around, but I wear OPI Royal Ruby Rajah all the time, year round. It's a black cherry—properly moody, satisfyingly rich, but still classic in feel—velvety chocolate depths spiced up by brighter red shimmer.

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5/31/2012 [2]

Beauty Notes: The Life Cycle of the Asian Woman
by Dain

I was hoping to complete an article for publication today. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to write it in time (and may remain so for a while). In the meantime, here's a humorous cartoon that's been making the rounds.


5/25/2012 [5]

Bestsellers: Caron Poudre Peau Fine
by Dain

Some cult products are ubiquitous; others are so obscure, one wonders how they acquired such a fervent following. Such is the case with Caron Poudre Peau Fine, which in the Western hemisphere is available only through the Phyto Universe boutique on 715 Lexington in New York City. If you can go in person, I highly recommend it. The experience is well worth the trouble. Or you can call 212 308 0270 or email; Diane is extremely knowledgeable and will help you pick a shade, then ship to you, wherever you may roam.

Loose versus pressed.

I especially wonder, in my case, how I stumbled across Caron Poudre Peau Fine, because this is my third time repurchasing. Yes, you heard me right. THIRD. It's rare for me to finish products, rarer still that I don't cave into my magpie tendencies. I love a good loose powder, especially with a tint. At a level of coverage so sheer it's barely perceptible, its main office is to improve the texture of the skin—in my case, matte down rather than add a glow. It also breathes easier on the skin than a foundation.

My skin plays well with powders of all kinds. For a colorless finishing powder, there's Suqqu Nuancing (or the more matte Koh Gen Do). Its high-silicone content smooths out the surface like a primer, but otherwise it's invisible, without caking or altering the undertones of your base. If foundation-like coverage is preferred, I'm very fond of Lunasol Skinfusing, quite high in silica, and, as the name implies, fuses beautifully into the skin in a naturalistic manner. Then there are blotting compacts, like trusty MAC Blot, or glow-enhancers like Météorites, neither of which I find useful for my skin type. But my favorite kind of powder is the classic talc-based loose powder with pinky-peachy tones to brighten up sallowness. It adds just enough oomph, for a minimum of effort. If that's your kind of powder, it doesn't get more exquisite than Caron Poudre Peau Fine.

The formula is quite a simple one:
    INGREDIENTS  talc, zinc stearate, magnesium carbonate, mica, magnesium myristate, parfum, isopropyl palmitate, mineral oil, titanium dioxide, lanolin, imidazolidinylurea, methylparaben, propylparaben, ultramarines (CI 77007), iron oxides (CI 77491, CI 77492)
Obviously, it predates the advent of silicones, so it does not have the invisibly skinfinish effect of more advanced technology, but is helpful if you need to avoid them (as I do). When I first bought mine many years ago, I thought $45 expensive, though now of course it is reasonable compared to most luxury brands. The powder is milled gossamer-fine, like smoke rising from incense, fragrant with rose. Be advised: those sensitive to scent will find it potent.

Rose Bonne Mine. I'm light with pink undertones.

You drop the sifter (included in the box) on top and it sits loose on top of the powder. This is not an option for travel. There is a voyage compact equally glamorous, into which you can depot some powder, or the pressed powder version shown above, which has a pleasantly luxurious heft in your hand. If you're in the mood to treat yourself further, Caron also makes swansdown puffs in mint, baby blue, peach, and hot pink. Since I use a brush (Kokutan S), I didn't get one.

Poudre Peau Fine comes in two formulations: classic, which is light-to-medium coverage and very matte, transparent, which is sheer with a glow.

In general, the classic formula is dated to a time when powder was more commonly used than foundation, so it can be buffed into the skin in lieu of foundation.

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5/20/2012 [6]

Perfume Notes: Les Nez Manoumalia
by Dain

Kasuhiro Otomo, The Watermelon Messiah (1981)

When I watch a great pianist (or dancer, basketball player, writer, chef—whatever you like) at what he does best, what runs through my mind is, "hey, I can do that!" Nevermind that I couldn't play "Chopsticks" to save my life, they just make it seem so easy. Switch to a novice, and I wince through the entire performance, uncomfortably aware of all the labor that goes into it, because of course playing the piano is very difficult indeed. Ars est celare artem. It's not what but how the deed is done: as any perfumer can tell you, the extraction of rose is not exactly the smell of the flower in nature. No matter how many you sniff, every single soliflore is an intepretation. Some are highly exaggerated, such as the darkly sanguine Nombre Noir, while the more literal Parfum d'Empire Eau Suave is still dewy from the garden. Both are roses, but as distinct from each other as Wagner (which, you gotta admit, is Lutens' schtick) from George Harrison.

Technique is hardly uppermost in my mind, however, when I smell a perfume. The experience is much more emotive, one you cannot quite intellectualize and put into words. There's no satisfactory explanation for the attraction. This is what I wonder as I play with Manoumalia: why do I like this?

Even if I liked tropical florals—and I loathe them—Manoumalia is a monster, like Isabelle Doyen's earlier take on ylang ylang and frangipane, a recipe for instant scrubber if I ever saw one. There's nothing I find more repulsive in a fragrance than coconut, but here's a huge slug of it, its sweetness amplified by sugared almonds (yuck) and hints of banana from ylang ylang. The coconut is tenacious, and lingers in the background as Manoumalia moves into its lush creamy heart of Polynesian florals, an unsubtle allusion to Monoï, the ancient enfleurage of tiare blossoms in coconut oil. Vetiver meanders throughout the composition, almost salty by contrast, and incense, in the form of sandalwood, finishes off the creamy sweetness of amber.

The development of Manoumalia is fairly linear. Death by indoles.

Used judiciously, indoles add an extra dimension to florals, from two to three, such as the demure La Chasse aux Papillons or the even more refined Diorella. When blown up into unnatural proportions, a trick used most famously in Lutens' A La Nuit, the resulting floral is surreal, even vulgar, like Pamela Anderson's figure. Were you to stumble across a tuberose or a tiare (to my nose, the dominant notes) in the wild, you would find their fragrance distinctive, yet without any of the flagrant assertiveness that Manoumalia presents. Like all larger-than-life white florals, Manoumalia works on you in two ways: the appeal is straightforward, as uncomplicated as the more temperate rose, a kneejerk reaction to something very, very pretty, but the execution feels calculated, even suggestive of corruption—much like sex appeal itself.

Bois de Jasmin
I Smell Therefore I Am
Perfume Shrine
Smelly Thoughts
1000 Frangrances
Grain de Musc
Ayala Smellyblog
Perfume Posse
Katie Pucrick

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5/14/2012 [2]

Culture Notes: Autumn Leaves
by Dain

ARRRGGH. I'm sorry. I keep hitting "publish" by accident.

This one is a no-brainer crowd-pleaser for lovers of jazz, with Miles Davis on trumpet, Cannonball Adderley on alto sax, Hank Jones on piano, Art Blakey on drums, Sam Jones on bass.

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5/09/2012 [4]

Beauty Notes: How To Take Self-Portraits
by Dain

This post addresses those who have expressed an interest in Makeup For Monolids, as well as some advice on how to take face shots: I've got a pinboard of looks for your perusal. Personally, I think that monolids are a very versatile eye shape, because they are so simple and you don't have to account for a fold. Pretty much a blank canvas for pigment. All you really have to learn is adjusting the shape to your particular symmetry.

Makeup application, I find, is a bit like cooking. There is, on one side, makeup as a form of experimentation. You cannot follow a recipe to the letter; there are minute tweaks you must make according to your tastes (and the inadequacies of your stove). It is fun to discover how herbs, spices, stocks, and sauces can breathe new life into familiar flavours, which the conscious chef channels into honing technique. Sometimes I'm lucky, but it takes a few trials before I'm satisfied. But there is also the integrity of the raw ingredients to consider, the imperative to put the face first. It's like cooking a steak. The execution does not have to be ornate when there's greater charm in simplicity. The whole look must be, for lack of a better word, edible.

So my first advice for FOTDs is to be objective: offer your audience recipes worth following. It helps chase away the jitters of having strangers privy to something so personal.

A few things I like: contrasting lips and eyes, color as highlight, rounded shapes, pink blush.

The expression on your face counts for everything. You may be looking at a camera lens, but the viewer evaluates your face in a photograph by the same criteria as real life. Imagine a conversation in which the other person stares vacantly into space, closes their eyes or opens them ulzzang huge, or remains blankly, sullenly neutral. It's weird. (Unless you're going to prison, it's weird.) Treat the camera like another person and make eye contact, unless it's necessary to show placement for eye looks. I find looking to the side and down, as I've shown here, is the best for that. This relaxes the lid so that, no matter how small your lidspace, it's in full view. I also usually try to smirk a little. An outright smile tends to distort eye looks, but that smirk helps avoid bitchface.

A few beautifying tricks: tilt your head down, if you haven't a defined jawline, and slightly angled, to disguise asymmetries. Knowing your angle also speeds up the process, so you don't have to wade through fifty random shots, but takes some practice to find. Personally, I never crop just to eyes or lips, but that's up to you.

Lighting is very important, more than the quality of your camera. Because I often do my looks at night, I generally shine lights directly onto my face. (Product shots are in natural light, however.) This means flash photography, so apply makeup heavier than in real life, and lean as close to the wall as possible. And then, in Photoshop, I generally brighten and white-balance, since my camera tends to pick up yellow tones. I don't use blur, because pores are not an imperfection, but I do erase the scar on my forehead (of a suspicious mole), since I am in the process of having it removed. Sometimes, I desaturate, as flash photography tends to flatten undertones. The fancier tricks with Photoshop, I'm afraid I cannot do, but there are surely tutorials out there if you're interested. Just don't take the edits too far; even an overbrightened image looks poorer than a good raw photograph.

I do not claim any special knowledge of photography. (Not. even. close.) Just a few tricks I learned through trial and error, which may prove useful to you as well.


5/04/2012 [4]

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