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                                                                                              —Yves Saint Laurent

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· Perfume Notes: JAR Diamond Water
· Beauty Notes: High Rotation
· Happy Thanksgiving!
· Beauty Notes: Raw Materials
· Culture Notes: Façades
· Beauty Notes: Second Thoughts

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Perfume Notes: JAR Diamond Water
by Dain

Francisco Pradilla Ortiz, Juana La Loca (1877)

When first you approach fine fragrance in earnest, it may come as a surprise that the experience, the act of sniffing itself, does not measure up to descriptions. Mitsouko doesn't smell like peach, nor Bandit of leather whips—the association is looser, more conceptual. As it turns out, literalism isn't all that worth pursuing in a fragrance; it is nicer to wear Mitsouko than peach syrup after all. So, if you're put off the idea of carnation because of its reputation as a cheap filler in dowdy bouquets, give it a chance in perfume.

You might already have encountered carnation in a supporting role, everpresent but rarely conspicuous. The feminine equivalent to geranium, it mediates between rough, raw florals, whether in the melancholy Normandie or juxtaposed against leather and cigarette ashes in Tabac Blond. But I love carnation best when it's center stage. Hidden within its essence, not readily apparent from the real flower, lies the fiery molecule eugenol, the same heat that gives cloves and basil their characteristic spice. Perfumers frequently expose obscure facets in smell—the brine in lilies, the urine in jasmine, the chocolate in patchouli—and the humble carnation is full of surprises. The most aggressively marketed perfume in history, YSL Opium, is a carnation. Caron's Poivre (and the more attenuated eau de toilette, Coup de Fouet) crackles with a brighter, cleaner flame. For homey warmth, there's the powdery, mimosa-rich Divine Folie from Jean Patou. Even in Bellodgia's fresh-from-the-florist incarnation, it delivers a grand floral equal to Fracas and Paris, if far better behaved. Above and beyond other florals, carnation is a personal favorite, so I mourn the ravages of reformulation on the spicy carnations of yore, their fire all but extinguished.

Left behind in the carnage, perhaps because of its extreme rarity and expense, is JAR Diamond Water*. Every precious droplet sparkles on the skin, from the effervescent top notes to the quiet, pensive drydown of incense smoke. And at the heart of it all is a great carnation, in both its softly floral and brash spicy modes.

Diamond Water opens on a luminous accord of mandarin and peachy aldehydes, before transitioning seamlessly into rose and a dewy, fresh carnation. It holds there, among the tender petals, for several heartbeats, then a buttery, vanillic tuberose emerges, a discreet but decadent dose, for a richer texture. It sustains this floral disposition for the better part of an hour, as hints of spice peek through, shedding petals slowly, one by one. By the time the eugenol has mustered full intensity, with cloves and bay leaf as reinforcement, Diamond Water is a peppery, unapologetic oriental, ablaze on the skin. Eventually, it mellows into a smouldering base of sandalwood and sweet myrrh.

Both gourmands and orientals can be characterized by opacity, sometimes heavy and cloying; what's nice about a spicy carnation is that it can grow deeper, more meditative, without losing any of its radiance. Furthermore, it is quite modern in its appeal, with the potential to support a complex structure: were you to extract the carnation from Diamond Water, then split the remainder in half, the result is incongruous—L'Air du Temps and Avignon. A carnation revival might yield some interesting experiments; it is my fervent hope that the houses will look past its cultural status, and return their noses to it soon.

The Non-Blonde
Smelly Thoughts
Left Coast Nose
Parfume NW
Now Smell This
Bois de Jasmin
Blogdorf Goodman

* As of this review, my decant is some three or four years old.

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11/30/2012 [1]

Beauty Notes: High Rotation
by Dain

These are some of my favorite nailpolishes, at the moment. From left to right, China Glaze Unpredictable, Lippmann Ray of Light, Chanel Ballerina with Butter London Tart With a Heart, China Glaze Sea Spray, Zoya Toni, and Chanel Dragon. I haven't swatched all of them, what with the incidental sunshine of November, but you can find far better on dedicated nail blogs, anyhow.

China Glaze Sea Spray is pretty much my kind of color, any time of the year, but here it's been jazzed by layering Sephora X Chaotic just at the tips.

It's the color of the moment, that vampy half-red, half-plum shade known as 'oxblood'. Zoya Toni is my favorite incarnation. Some days old, if you'll excuse the gap.

A glitter gradient using Butter London's Tart With a Heart on top of Chanel Ballerina, the ole reliable sheer milky pink. Unlike a traditional French, the more randomized the pattern, the better.

Of the bunch, China Glaze Unpredictable is easily the favorite. In some lights, it'll pick up some of that yellow-blue duochrome you see in the bottle, but most of the time it's a flatter glass fleck in the most pleasing wintergreen. It tends to be brush-strokey, however, and quite fragile, quick to shatter into chips.

11/26/2012 [1]

Happy Thanksgiving!
by Dain

11/22/2012 [0]

Beauty Notes: Raw Materials
by Dain

I'm not much of a DIYer, but I keep these ingredients around for various contingencies. They are useful for tweaking textures. Since I have sensitive skin, for me there is often a binary of irritants versus safe ingredients, but I generally don't have to worry about occlusivity. Figuring out ingredients is a wholly individual process, and those of you with more resilient skin should be able to branch out into more options than I've shown here.

my emergency cabinet: Phoenix Botanicals Sweet Birch Butter, Lansinoh, Hadalabo, coconut oil, jojoba oil.

Now, Hadalabo is a complete product unto itself. It makes an excellent softener, featuring both hyaluronic acid and glycerin, two humectants that draw moisture into the skin. I've used it for years. It's not the least bit exciting, a bland, minimalist formulation that eschews all unnecessary additives, which makes it an ideal match for sensitive skin, but also functions well as a mixer. A drop or two in any aqueous solution, from hydrosol to serum to moisturizer, boosts its powers of hydration, while emulsions absorb better into the skin.

Emollients are extremely handy if you've got dry skin; they soften, condition, and seal moisture into the skin. There's humble mineral oil, one of the most effective barrier formers and totally inert on intolerant skin. Unfortunately for me, it contributes to milia. Silicones rival mineral oil in ubiquity, and offer a range of textures from the heavy silk of dimethicone to cyclopentasiloxane, a volatile silicone that dries down to a lightweight, slightly rubbery feel. Sensitivity defeats me again: most silicones make me itch, others ball up in a most unattractive way. As a consequence, I have a strong preference for plant oils and butters. I find that they absorb more readily into my thin, sebum-starved skin, and anti-inflammatory EFAs (essential fatty acids) soothe the usual irritations that simmer beneath the surface.

The drawbacks to natural oils are generally threefold:
  1. Expense. Be wary of buying repackaged and overpriced argan oil, for example. Others, like seabuckthorn berry or jasmine, which you'd never use neat, are so costly it will raise the price of a blend significantly.
  2. Shelf life on plant oils is generally short, especially if they're packed with antioxidants. Store them in a cool dark place away from heat, air, and light. CO2 extractions are generally more stable than cold-pressed, if you can get them.
  3. If you've got skin that tends towards congestion, you might balk at using oils on your skin. A study has suggested, however, that those high in linoleic acid (omega 6), such as safflower and grapeseed, can actually diminish clogged pores. Fatty-acid compositions might serve as a rough guide, but ultimately it comes down to trial and error.
After dithering around with many fancy and exotic oils, from Decleor to Rodin Olio Lusso, I've decided that plain jojoba oil, the first of them to enjoy a 'craze' nearly ten years ago, is my favorite to use neat. If I'm very dry, I still rely on Kahina Serum, an enriched argan blend so rich it's almost a gel in texture, perfect for adding body to a lighter cream, but it is very expensive. Jojoba is cheaper and more stable than argan, with a faint nutty odor inoffensive to my nose. I also like apricot kernel, emu, rosehip, evening primrose, macadamia, and squalane, but the texture of jojoba, the oil closest to human sebum, seems most neutral: it sinks in seconds after application.

If my skin is really sore and chapped, shea butter is all my skin can tolerate. It's more protective than an oil, as it takes much longer to absorb. Since raw shea isn't so pliable, I prefer it leavened slightly with some oils, like this Phoenix Botanicals Sweet Birch Butter.

My lips are chapped at all times of the year, so I go through a tube of Lansinoh faster than you'd believe. Of all emollients, I find lanolin penetrates and softens roughened, flaky skin most effectively, then a little beeswax seals and protects. Pure lanolin is not quite as nice as the balm I like best (Dr. Hauschka), but it's a good deal cheaper, and sized generously enough to last. I sometimes melt down an overly waxy lip balm with a dollop of lanolin, about half and half.

The day I discovered Leonor Greyl's Huile de Palme marks a seismic shift in the way I condition my hair. It used to be there wasn't a deep conditioner formulated "deep" enough; turns out, all I needed was an oil soaking into my hair, pre-shampoo. You don't need a fancy blend, either. Simple coconut oil will do the trick. Coconut has the distinction of being one of the few oils that can penetrate the hair shaft and nourish from within. For cosmetic use, many formulations already use the refined, deodorized version, capric/caprylic triglycerides. It is a heavier oil, with a characteristic buttery-rich texture that liquefies at body temperature, and it has a nutty warm coconut aroma, like macaroons baking. If you're having trouble rinsing it off, use less. The right amount should readily absorb into your hair, but that depends on length, porosity, and dryness. If your hair needs also protein, add a few egg yolks and honey, to a tablespoon of coconut oil; it makes a great fortifying hair mask.

Honorable mentions go tea tree oil and Evanhealy Green Tea Clay (not shown). It's not often I break out, but the antiseptic properties of tea tree and clay's sebum-absorption takes care of most acne-related contingencies. As a spot treatment, this simple mix of montmorillite clay and matcha shrinks down a burgeoning, pus-filled pimple, and, applied all over, temporarily refines the grain of my pores to nigh unto invisibility, though it does little to actual blackheads. It also stimulates circulation, so that irritation heals faster.


11/15/2012 [8]

Culture Notes: Façades
by Dain

Better than "Bad Romance", lust as the ultimate illusion.

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11/09/2012 [1]

Beauty Notes: Second Thoughts
by Dain

Estée Lauder Arctic Sky // Chanel Lavande (disc) // Suqqu 08 Mizuaoi

I keep a tight watch on my stash. So, when I caved into one or two of Estée Lauder's Cyber Metallics, Arctic Sky posed a problem: it hits the same sweet spot as Suqqu Mizuaoi. One of them has to go. My idea of a dupe is more metaphysical ('sweet spot') than concrete, so these are not dupes in the true sense of the word. There's a watercolor-like delicacy that characterizes Mizuaoi; it's not designed for impact, like the neo-metallic Arctic Sky.

My problem? That exquisite sparkly pink in Mizuaoi. It's the perfect textural and warm-toned (relatively speaking) accent against many of my cool-toned pigments.

I'm guessing this is probably Pink Sands, not Mizuaoi. Memory dims, this being an experiment that was never intended to see the light of day. Nevertheless, it will serve as an illustration of what I mean by 'accent'. Z-axis highlighting, i.e. the browbone and inner corner, are best suited to people with more prominent bone structure. For me, optimal highlighting is centralized, to lift and open up the eye. It's a technique I've been working on since I got Shiseido Opera; the olive-bronze is tricky on the sallowness around my eyes without another color to balance it. The pink in Mizuaoi excels as this kind of accent. Since most of my eyeshadows lack any red or brown tones, it's almost always guaranteed to contrast.

It brightens a neutral look. With Addiction Arabian Ruby (smoky plum brown) and Concrete Jungle (lavender grey), they approximate a taupe eye, when a true taupe would look dirty and tired against my skin tone.

It serves as the ideal counterpoint to the fresh, spring-y green in Guerlain Les Verts. I usually add a flick, always an easy way to punctuate dramatic combinations.

My safety net of blue liner, here Addiction Midnight Oasis, and grey shadow, the original Stila Diamond Lil.

What should I do? I cannot swap or sell a quad with one shade missing, after all, and yet this pink, with its scattered microsparkle, is a finish Suqqu (and other high-end Asian brands) do well, but is rarely seen on the American market. Pretty though it is, I think it will have to go.

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11/05/2012 [5]

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