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                                                                                              —Yves Saint Laurent

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· Fashion Notes: Bag End
· Culture Notes: Lentil & White Bean Soup
· Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia
· The Beauty Primer: Manicure
· Fashion Notes: Making a Spectacle of Myself
· Beauty Notes: Tailored To Fit
· Beauty Notes: Red Light

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Fashion Notes: Bag End
by Dain

I've been carrying this vintage Bally saddlebag for the last three or four years. It coordinates with all my clothes, both casual and formal, and best of all, it works perfectly with my black-and-white check trenchcoat. When the cold weather comes, it's like a ready-made outfit.

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10/30/2012 [3]

Culture Notes: Lentil & White Bean Soup
by Dain

This is the soupiest of soups.

Your chowders, your consommés, even the most velvety of tomato soups have nothing on the humble lentil. It's a long list of ingredients, but cheerfully cheap, and it makes the most of what's already in your pantry, a throw-everything-in-the-pot kind of soup. It doesn't require neatness, fresh herbs and homemade stock are not necessary, though the more solicitude you take to build up the flavours at each stage, the better it will taste.

Not too pretty to look at, but is it ever tasty.
    3 strips of bacon, sliced into half-inch chunks
    4 stalks of celery
    3 medium carrots
    2 medium onions
    4 cloves garlic
    4 medium tomatoes, on the vine, peeled
    1/2 tsp thyme
    1/4 tsp rosemary
    dash of pepper
    1 bay leaf
    2 chicken stock cubes
    4 cups chicken stock
    water, to pad the broth
    1/3 cup white beans
    1/2 cup lentils 1/2 cup flat parsley (optional)
First, wash your beans and lentils thoroughly. The beans you can soak, just to soften up slightly. The lentils will cook more quickly, and do not require a presoak. Then, chop your carrots, celery, and onions—the classic mirepoix—quite roughly, but evenly sized. The garlic I crush and slice into chunks: the idea is to allow the flavour to infuse, but not take over as a mince would. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for thirty seconds, until the skin is easily removed, and chop coarsely. Conserve the vine. This is all the prep that is required.

Fry the chunks of bacon in a large pot. When the fat has rendered and the bacon has crisped up and turned brown, drain off, reserving a tablespoon or two. Porkfat is delicious with legumes. Perhaps in its own way, this is bacon soup.

Add the chopped onions and garlic. Once they start to soften, the celery and carrots, for a few minutes until they begin to sweat. Add the thyme and rosemary, pepper to taste. Add the tomatoes. Personally, I prefer using fresh tomatoes because they don't alter the texture as tomato paste would; I throw in the vine for extra flavour. Add the bay leaf, two stock cubes, the stock, and water till the broth is twice the volume: the lentils and beans form a heavy sediment, so I like having plenty of broth. Once the soup is at a boil, add the lentils and beans, and cook till tender. About five minutes before serving, coarsely chopped parsley is a nice addition.

I make a big pot of it, as it freezes well. It's nice and comforting on a chilly, overcast afternoon with a tart Honeycrisp apple and toasted sourdough, maybe a few slices of good cheddar.

10/25/2012 [8]

Perfume Notes: L'Artisan Parfumeur Vanilia
by Dain

Robert Gligorov, Dollar Note (2006-2007).

Some time in the late 70s, when Jean Laporte held the final formula of Vanilia in his hands, did he know what a monster he would unleash on the world?

Best known for L'Artisan Parfumeur, Laporte (along with Diptyque's Yves Couslant) established niche perfumery's tropes: the impressions taken from reality, terse compositions that illustrate a single olfactory concept, with little more than word-of-mouth for marketing. There are niche brands in 2012 that copy this business model verbatim. There was no established archetype for Vanilia, when it launched, simultaneously with the likes of Santal and Tubéreuse and Vetiver and L'Eau d'Ambre, into a market glut with bombastic chypres and florientals. And Vanilia would achieve further notoriety, as the first known demonstration of ethyl maltol, the molecule that defines the gourmand as a genre. It may have been Angel that pushed ethyl maltol into the public domain, but Vanilia is the origin, the adam and eve of sticky-sweet perfumes*.

In fact, 'fumeheads are apt to bemoan the influx of candy notes in perfume, simply because you can't escape their assault on the olfactory landscape. Next to the full-bodied Shalimar, Pink Sugar and Coco Mademoiselle certainly seem like shallow, juvenile things. And yet, they are equally sweet, and if anything Shalimar is even more vulgar, a deliberate wink that flies in the face of sober good taste. Smelling Vanilia now, which smells like and unlike Pink Sugar, the cheapness so readily attached to today's gourmands lies not in the genre, but the quality of the raw materials. Buried beneath the candy floss, lies a delicate ylang ylang absolute, its banana-like sweetness enhanced by ethyl maltol's own fruity characteristics. In that filigree of smoke—the subtly sweet, papery benzoin—and the mellow richness of tonka bean—there's a nod to Shalimar, after all. In the final drydown, Vanilia settles into a fine and silky musk.

As gourmands go, Vanilia is relatively austere, not given to theatrics. Once it burns through the sugar, it stays soft and close on the skin, its vanillic tendencies not at all syrupy, as if it keeps the memory of the flower still.

Vanilia was discontinued very recently, to make room for—or perhaps updated by—Havana Vanille. Traces of its lineage linger still, but Havana Vanille, a standard gourmand with a pleasant oatmeal-cookie angle, lacks the delicacy, restraint, and intense nostalgia that makes Vanilia such a marvelous perfume, even for those who are normally vanilla-averse. It is still sweet and comforting of course, nowhere near as edgy as Angel or even BVLGARI Black with its own smoky, rubbery vanilla, but all the same Vanilia has a haunting presence unexpected in a gourmand. If you can score a bottle, and the idea of a luminous, gossamer-sheer gourmand appeals to you (or even if it doesn't), it is well worth your time.

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Daly Beauty
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* Much thanks to Elena of Perfume Shrine, the sibyl of perfume land, for helping me with fact checking.

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10/21/2012 [2]

The Beauty Primer: Manicure
by Dain

As a disclaimer, I am (ostensibly enough) not a nail blogger, though my interest in manicures has grown apace. As with all Beauty Primers, the idea is to share what I would have wished to know as a beginner, not necessarily a compendium of all knowledge, so no doubt the information will become outdated in time. For product recommendations, please read the updated Desert Island.

Along with neat cuticles, the shape of the nail determines how the final manicure will look. The eye sees the shape of the polish, first, before it sees the polish. The most flattering shape depends on the size and curve of your nail bed, how much free edge you can access, and personal preference, of course. For most people, something in between a square and an oval (squoval) is most flattering—the pointier it gets, the weaker the nail becomes. File with the old manicure still on. You'll find it easier to gauge the final shape, especially since each nail grows in slightly differently.

The five basic shapes.

Choose a grit that's appropriate to your nail type: the higher the number, the finer the grit. Coarse files take down length faster, especially if you've got strong nails, but a fine grit leave leave a smoother edge and won't tear at thin nails. Crystal files are rightly popular. They take down length efficiently whilst being very gentle. Avoid clippers, as they can split the nail.

Start by lightly neatening the sidewall. Then, in one direction—or, if you find it easier, in two directions working towards the center—reshape and shorten the nail. Maneuver under the nail, as much as possible, so that you clean up any bits and pieces still stuck onto the nail. Check the length of the free edge by flipping your hand over, to see if they line up with each other. Then, to help prevent chipping, you can seal the nail plate with a buffer. If your nails are ridgey, they might benefit from more generalized buffing, which gives a smooth surface for the polish to settle and removes some staining. Since it weakens the nail, however, it's advisable not to buff too often, unless your nails are very thick and strong.

Before you pick a color, the manicure itself must come first. Not even the most spectacular holo looks good against ragged, messy cuticles and misshapen nails. If you moisturize regularly—a lightweight oil and a waxy, protective cream are good in combination—and push them back while they've softened in the shower, they won't require much effort. A good cuticle remover will take care of any excess. If you've neglected them, and your cuticles are tough and overgrown, soak them in warm water first: you can add a drop of soap, some milk (the lactic acid helps soften calluses on the feet), or a tablet of Alka Seltzer, if they've yellowed. It's best however to be consistent with your maintenance, since the nail plate warps ever so slightly when soaked in water. Whatever route you follow, make sure your nails are completely dry before you begin.

Don't be too aggressive. If you tear the cuticle, it damages the nail itself. The gentlest is probably an orange-stick wrapped in cotton, though if you're extremely fastidious and know what you're cutting, a nipper will give the cleanest look.

To remove nail polish, soak a tightly woven, absorbent cotton in remover and leave on the nail for one to two minutes. Wrap in foil, if you're dealing with something as tenacious as glitter. Give the remover time to sink through layers of polish. It should then wipe off easily, without further damaging the nail. Pure acetone works best, but you can mix in some glycerin to counteracting the drying. If you're prone to bubbling, wipe the surface white vinegar to neutralize any oils.

No one basecoat fits all; choose yours according to the condition of your nails. Some fill in ridges. Others bond tightly to the nail plate. Those formulated with formaldehyde harden the nail plate, conditioners moisturize, while proteins create a protective seal. For further information about nail strengtheners, loodieloodieloodie has written a comprehensive guide. Whichever basecoat works best for you, it should dry quickly, extend the life of your manicure, and minimize staining. Equally critical is a good topcoat. Unless you opt for a special finish (matte, for example), look for a topcoat with a plush, glass-like shine that brings out hidden shimmers in a complex polish, drying quickly without shrinkage. It should seep all the way down to the nail plate, evening out the layers of polish. For thirsty glitters, something like Gelous might be a good investment, to build a cushiony, gel-like layer to fill out the surface before the final topcoat.

Essie Aruba Blue (shimmer) // Chanel Ballerina (sheer) as base
Butter London Tart With a Heart (glitter) // China Glaze Lemon Fizz (pastel)

Once you're cleaned, shaped, and primed, you're at last ready to color. It takes some practice, but ideally you want to build the polish in thin, even layers. If the polish has separated, roll (not shake) the bottle in the palms of your hands. Start with the pinky, on the nondominant hand; you lose the most dexterity with wet thumbs. You will have much better control if you measure out the amount of polish on the brush, first, so it's easy to apply in deft, sure strokes instead of flooding the nail plate. Don't apply the polish flush with the cuticle: leave a gap so you can shape the polish exactly so. If necessary, clean up any messy edges with a synthetic brush dipped in acetone. If by chance you nick or smudge your manicure, not too badly, lick it to smooth it out. Perhaps the most practical advice is to go to the bathroom before you start your manicure.

The following finishes have categorized more by application style than aesthetics; I suggest reading Lacquerized's guide for the latter:
    creme   The standard, no shimmer of any kind. Offers the widest range of colors, easiest to mix and match to a pedicure. Look for shades that glow on the nail, instead of looking dull. Alternate finishes that apply much like cremes are neons and mattes, which dry matte. Take especial care with dark vampy shades. They are more likely to stain and require crisp, neat edges and a well shaped nail.

    pastel   Essentially a creme with white pigment. Tends to have a very thick, chalky flow that will streak on the first coat, so you may need more polish. Consequently, a pastel takes longer to dry. Most yellows have this issue. N.B. a very low amount of ultrafine shimmer usually alleviates the streakiness of a pastel, if you do not insist on a true creme.

    sheer   Translucent coverage that allows the natural tone of the nail bed to show through. Prone to streakiness, so position the brush parallel to the surface and swipe with the flat of the brush (as opposed to perpendicular).

    jelly   Differs from the sheer in its squishy gel texture. Applies easily, dries quickly, just be wary that it will never be true-to-bottle.

    frost, pearl, and metallic   There are many finer gradations within shimmers, from the complexity of glass-flecked duochromes to a fine, evenly metallic foil. Frosts in particular are prone to brushstrokes. Don't work a shimmer polish too much; when dragged across the surface of the nail, the particles can trap minute air bubbles, and bubble like mad. When mixed into a creme base, shimmers are easier to apply.

    holo   When the shimmer catches the light, it takes on a rainbow hue. Linear holos apply as smoothly as the best cremes, but seem to chip easily, so pair with a bonding basecoat. Like any shimmer, scattered holos can bubble when overworked.

    glitter   Glitters vary the most in size and shape, from concentrated glass flecks, which bridge the boundary between shimmer and glitter, to small hearts and stars that must be individually placed. Most glitters are best deployed as topcoats or gradients, so the ideal suspension is a smooth gel, with the glitters sparsely distributed. (Pigmentation is not a boon here.) This prevents too much dragging on your manicure. Always look at what's on the brush first, so you've a good idea of what will end up on the nail.
In general, look for a formula that flows smoothly and evenly, with pigmentation that achieves opacity in two coats; at three or four coats, your manicure will take longer to dry. Keep the thinner on standby, as all formulas inevitably thicken. The brush itself also makes a difference: whether you prefer thin or wide, one that keeps its shape, without splaying, is preferable.

There are a few things you can do to extend the life of your manicure, if longevity is a concern. Switch to a bonding basecoat, such as Orly Bonder or Creative Nail Design Stickey, which is designed to grip to nailpolish. Certain formulas are more prone to chips. The more polish sits on the nail, the more readily it will chip: thin layers of a fluid formula is ideal, not too many coats. Every two or three days, you can seal in your manicure with extra topcoat. But most of all, don't deploy your nails as tools. Your manicure is especially vulnerable when wet, so take especial care while showering, cooking, and cleaning dishes (use gloves).

Since I rarely try anything beyond a plain manicure, I cannot speak on nail art: konad, marbling, painting little pictures with a teeny-tiny brush, the French manicure in all its iterations.

Credits: Passion For Polish and create-magical-nails.


10/15/2012 [2]

Fashion Notes: Making a Spectacle of Myself
by Anne

As far as inconvenient surprises go, I've never been as flummoxed as, when on a camping trip last winter, I woke up to find that one of the legs of my glasses had broken clean off the frame, presumably when I rolled over the cold-brittle frame in my sleep. Since then, I'd mostly been getting by on the power of scotch-tape, and as may be expected, had to deal with the frame constantly falling apart on me, as well as probably a lot of strange looks that I never noticed.

My tendencies toward procrastination, however, meant that I didn't get up off my ass and start looking for a replacement until August. Notwithstanding, this was an opportunity I'd been looking forward to for years.

You see, while my old glasses had been nice enough, their appearance could best be described as "nerdy". I looked like every stereotypical badly-dressed Asian kid holed in the library, managing the honor roll every quarter but with no social skills to speak of.

Which, there's nothing wrong with being that (and I was) but even apart from that, I found my old wire frames neither here nor there, as if trying too hard to be inconspicuous. This glaringly misses the point, because no matter how thin the frames are—or even nonexistent, a style that was popular in the early years of this millennium—no one was ever going to miss the fact that I was wearing glasses. And I thought, if my glasses were going to be the focal point of my face anyway, why not make them more assertive, more fashion-forward?

I was still apprehensive, though, and I worried I was just blindly following a trend, without regard for how it would actually suit me. Would not the thick frames close in on my eyes and make them look smaller? Would they dominate my face and swamp my features? Would I be doomed to wearing minimal makeup for as long as I wore them, for fear of all the colors overwhelming my face?

And yet, despite my misgivings, it was the bold frames—and in a claret red at that—that called out to me, and, surprisingly, the strong color and shape flattered my features better. As it turns out, the frames play surprisingly well with makeup, even the brighter red lipstick shown here. The clarity of my features (black-lashed and almond-shaped eyes, a defined nose, and full lips) has always been my strong point, and the frames did not draw attention away from them as I had feared they would, but reframed my face in terms of broad strokes, throwing my features into stronger relief. The poor texture of my skin is less apparent in this photograph, because they are simply less noticeable against the brightness of the frames.


The new frames also removed my image further from that of the uptight and plain intellectual, which is a change I like, though admittedly the effect is also more generic, more fashion-conscious, and perhaps less expressive of my actual personality. Still, it's not as if my identity has undergone a change: these are just another accoutrement, after all, and if it turns out to be a mistake, well then that's easily reversed by another camping trip. And when better to try on new personas and appearances than in (my rapidly dwindling) foolish and innocent youth?


10/12/2012 [2]

Beauty Notes: Tailored To Fit
by Dain

Under the premise of finding only the best for myself, there was a time I would have exalted specific shades and textures above all others. But either my eye has grown jaded, or the game changed, because it strikes me that the majority of luxury brands know how to cater to our crowd: if a taupe, let it be complex in finish, if a matte black, opaque yet smooth in texture, if a beige, transparency of pigment.

Now, when I step into the beauty department, every counter looks the same, a premeditated, market-researched palette of colors guaranteed to sell, with a blue eyeshadow and a red lipstick thrown in for visual interest. Because people have different preferences—whether subtle sheen or a sparkle that glows from within, drier silky textures over buttery soft, a dusky mauve undertone versus a rich golden warmth—it is worth documenting, swatching, reviewing all these minute variations. Even so, there isn't a beauty blogger who does not wonder if she's hit saturation point. Once on the face, it all starts to blur into the same look.

And yet, in spite of shopper's ennui, I cling stubbornly to habit: my opaque berry-rose-red lipsticks, pink blush, grey-toned neutrals and watercolor pastels. I draw the same rounded shape with my eyeshadow. But these colors, these techniques, are optimally flattering. Sometimes, by overcomplicating things, you miss the obvious, the face itself.

Dick Page for Michael Kors AW2010: the same concept, but not the same look.

Page's design for Michael Kors is just that—simple. A soft, smoky grey is blended towards the outer corner, for intensity. The lips are barely colored, a peachy nude buffed lightly into the lips, not enough to obscure the texture. Thickly drawn brows. The blush moves seamlessly from contour to burnt apricot to highlighter, angled strongly along the cheekbone. Makeup like this, anyone can do. Contouring might take a little practice, and you'll need to invest in a good blending brush, but it is hardly alienating. In fact, the makeup leaves behind so little impression, you might pass it by. And that, is precisely the point. Makeup is not about visual spectacle, a face chart. It is about the face. Consider the subtle adjustments Page made to each girl: Liu Wen's eye shape makes altogether different demands on eyeshadow placement than the hooded Caucasian eyes of Kim Noorda, and for each, the shape is perfect, flattering. Even the way the contouring follows the lineaments of the cheekbone is nothing short of masterful.

When we look at a painting, we do not see paint on a canvas. Likewise, with makeup, it is the final look that matters, not the products. This is not to suggest that acquisition and use-value are at cross purposes—if anything, one informs the other—but I do think we are best satisfied when they are in equilibrium.

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10/09/2012 [3]

Beauty Notes: Red Light
by Dain

A red lipstick makes me happy as few things can. Here's a new favorite: Sisley L33 Rouge Passion.

I've never spent quite this much on a lipstick before—I'm quite happy to stay within the $30 range—but I cannot resist a pigment this rich, luminous, and intense. Everything about this lipstick is luxurious. From the velvet-matte finish and incredible longevity (lasts through a greasy appetizer!), I assumed it would be drying. Though hardly a moisturizing formula, I was pleasantly surprised by its smooth glide. It's great fun to open: progressing from the rainbow-striped box to black velvet to the shiny gold tube to the beveled, twisted mold, which makes it a breeze to paint crisp edges, straight from the bullet. The scent is a powdery rose, strong and old-fashioned. I'd recommend getting a whiff first.

For me, however, it is all about the intensity of pigment.

When I first encountered it, Rouge Passion made the Chanel red I was already wearing watery by contrast, it is was that intense. Still, I dismissed the urge. Too expensive. There's a classic cherry red across all brands, without exception. Blot it down, a sure way to detect undertones in a bold lipstick, and a tinge of coral becomes manifest (N.B. my natural lip tone shifts everything warm). There is a sparsely scattered sparkle that does not show at full intensity, but will appear when you blot. When you dismiss the luxurious trappings, those details that delight us otaku, I must admit, there's no real reason why Ruby Woo might not serve instead. But some things will haunt you, and a red lipstick is just one of those things guaranteed to undermine my resolve. I picked it up a few weeks later.

Full opacity in one coat.

To inaugarate this red, I've worn it on a very pure, minimal face: undereye concealer, loose powder, brows, coordinating blush, light mascara. It's a variation of how I wear my makeup most days, albeit in softer tones. Somewhat unexpectedly, the statement lip is all about the skin. It's not the color itself that's special—it is likely a different red, or perhaps no red on earth, that might do this for you—rather its relationship to the tones of my face. Even with my makeup relatively unfinished like this, even with a pimple hanging out dead center, a great lipstick gets me out the door.

Signs you've got a flattering lipstick:
  1. On a bare face, it brightens the face entire, adds a glow to the skin. You will ultimately need more makeup for balance, but when testing, a bare face will give you the most accurate read. Theoretically, the right color should allow you to get away with less.
  2. Does it double as a cream blush? If so, it is in synergy with your skin tone.
  3. Personally, I always sheer down the pigment into a stain, so that I can see more clearly how the undertones interact with my natural lip tone, not just my skin tone.
If, however, a deliberate clash is what you desire, a very stark and editorial statement lip, then simply reverse these principles.

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10/03/2012 [2]

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