Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bad Weather

It's an icy mess outside. I thought I'd cheer myself up by making up a quick Christmas wish list. (Yes, dear, this is in addition to the one I gave you.)

Things I want right now (other than a Very Dry Martini):

1. iPhone 3G, 16G. My iPod is dying, my current phone is so old it doesn't even support bluetooth; time for an upgrade!

2. Chanel Classic Jumbo Quilted Bag, in white, caviar leather, with silver hardware. I almost bought one this summer, in Portland (no sales tax!), but I quickly regained my sanity.

3. Current/Elliott Skinny Jeans in high-low wash
4. Tiffany 16-stone gold and platinum ring, even though I have ugly hands and there's no reason to draw attention to them.

5. Hermès Chien de Collier Bracelet

I also kinda want an Hermès Birkin, but I'm too overwrought to provide any details.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Red Lipstick II

It's been insanely cold this week--and it's not even Winter yet.

I decided to warm things up a few days ago by trying out my newest lipstick: NARS HeatWave.

I know, I know: it wasn't on my list of coveted red lipsticks. But a few weekends ago, I was visiting friends in Madison, Wisconsin. Browsing the local Sephora, I consulted my running list of beauty products that I keep with me in my Filofax. (I have a number of these lists, by topic--any time I see something intriguing in a magazine or on a blog, I jot it down for future reference. Remember, I'm a librarian!) I think had I added HeatWave because it was featured on one of the Spring 2009 runways, but I'm not sure. Anyway, it's a little different than my usual red. Coutorture.com declares it the "perfect orange lipstick." I rubbed off the nude gloss I was wearing (more on that in a minute) and grabbed a Qtip to try the NARS.

Aside: I realize this is probably not the 1) most hygenic or 2) most efficient way to try on a lipstick. So what. At least I took care not to infect the tube with my own germs.

I gazed at myself in the mirror. "What do you think?" I asked my husband. It took a little getting used to, but I liked it, and he concurred. Hmmm.

I ended up leaving the mall without purchasing the tube, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. I didn't have time to go back to the store that weekend, and I was sad because I felt that I had missed my opportunity: nobody carries NARS in Central Illinois, where I live.

Luckily, Sephora sent me a timely email the following Monday offering free shipping with no minimum purchase. HeatWave was to be mine.

Above, I'm wearing it with Laura Mercier tinted foundation in sand, Lancome eye shadow in Filigree, and MAC Fluidline in Blacktrack.

I don't always wear red, but I always like something on my lips. In fact, I haul a cosmetic bag of tinted lipgloss around in my purse at all times. Here's what's in my bag:
Smith's Rosebud Salve. No color, but perfect alone and over my matte lipsticks
Clinique Black Honey Almost Lipstick. A pretty purplish tint, but doesn't last as long as I would like.
Kiehl's Lip Gloss in Golden Berry. Lovely texture and soft pink-peach color. Still, wears off a bit quickly.
Benefit Benetint Lip Balm
. The favorite. 15 SPF, absolutely perfect natural rosy color and stays put, for the most part.

I also recently bought Bobbi Brown's Lip Gloss in nude during her recent Friends and Family event. It's nice and clean, and looks good with a smoky eye as well as with Bobbi's Shimmering Nudes Eye Shadow palette.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Opera, in a Cornfield, With Popcorn

When I lived in Chicago, I was lucky enough to have annual subscriptions to the Lyric Opera. On performance evenings, my husband and I would take the train downtown to the Metra Station, and walk across the river to the opera house. We would linger as long as we could in the mezzanine, people-watching. I liked surreptitiously guessing the cost of ladies' purses and spying Hermès scarves. Then of course we would settle into our seats and be treated to a unforgettable performance at one of the world's best opera houses.

When I moved downstate to go to grad school, I caught a couple of productions at the university, but it wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles that I discovered the Met's Live in HD series. If you love opera but either live far from an established opera house or balk at the price of opera tickets (uh, yeah!), I encourage you to check this out! Here's what happens:
  • About once a month during the season, the Met streams live performances in High Definition to movie theaters all over the world. Originally, venues were limited, but they've expanded to the extent that I was thrilled to find, moving back to Central Illinois from LA, I could even catch a production surrounded by cornfields!
  • Tickets run about $22.
  • Thanks to the camera work, you have the best seats in the house. You can see the actors' expressions and catch details that you would miss from Row ZZZ.
  • In between scenes and during intermission, cameras go behind-stage following cast and crew, and famous opera stars [not involved in the current production] interview the leads about their roles and philosophies.
  • You can feast on popcorn and soda while you watch the performance!
On Saturday, my husband and I saw the Met's HD production La Damnation de Faust, by Hector Berlioz, in our local theater. First performed in 1846, it's rarely staged as an opera--typically it's performed in concert venues--because of the odd musical structure. (In fact, this is the first Met theatrical production of Damnation since 1906!) I was unfamiliar with the music and the opera, although of course I knew the basic story line of Faust and Mephistopheles. I always do my homework before I see a new opera, and happily the Met's website gave a good synopsis of the plot as well as an intriguing video on this particular production. Here, the producer uses video technology to smooth along the long musical episodes that originally made Berlioz's creation so difficult to stage. It's very new and, in my opinion, I found the video special effects + dance sequences stunning. I also adored the music. I already love Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique; I found the score of Damnation incredibly satisfying as well. The performers were...okay. Aside from Mephistopheles, who was captivating with his deep voice and red leather costume, I wasn't too excited. No hotties (see below).

More stuff about opera.

Homework: opera can be overwhelming, so you will enjoy it more if you prepare ahead of time.
  • Opera companies almost always will provide a plot synopsis online, which is especially helpful when the opera is performed in a foreign language. If you already know what's going on, you are less of a slave to the surtitles.
  • Borrow a CD from your library of either the full opera or one with the highlights, and listen to the music beforehand.
  • The Lyric Opera seasonally produces commentaries on each of its productions; most likely other companies do too. In these recordings, an opera expert presents an insider's view of the history of the opera, the plot, the composer, and the music. For example, the Commentary for the Lyric's production of The Magic Flute pointed out all the musical and lyrical Masonic symbols that Mozart, himself a Mason, hid within the opera. I was able to check out these CDs from my local library, or they're available for purchase.
  • Read books on opera. I recommend Ticket to the Opera, A Night at the Opera, or Opera 101. Written for the opera novice, these guides include plotlines, historical facts, and often suggested recordings.
  • Become familiar with the Opera stars. Let's face it: too often when we think of an opera singer, Elmer Fudd in a horned helmet comes to mind. And there are a lot of overweight, unattractive but talented performers out there--maybe better if you can't see them too close. But there are some really hot divas right now: Renée Fleming (did you see her spread in the October 2008 Vogue?!), Angela Gheorghiu, and my own favorite, gorgeous Anna Netrebko.
The next Met Live in HD production is Massenet's Thaïs with opera heavyweights Renée Fleming and Thomas Hampson, on December 20, 2008. Check here for theaters and times near you. If you've never been to an opera, and want to see a live production, I recommend starting with Carmen, The Barber of Seville, or any Puccini (my favorite!--you can seePuccini's famous Madama Butterfly via the Live in HD series on March 7, 2009!).

Okay, so don't go thinking opera is all serious business. In fact, while my husband and I were thoroughly entertained by the action on screen this past Saturday at La Damnation de Faust, there were plenty of high-jinks in the seats too. Like what, you ask?

Well, first of all, when we stepped into the theater, the average age dropped from about 85 to, well, maybe, 83 (and we're over forty, so do the math). People were saving space for their friends by draping their canes across the seats.

My husband sat on my right and, on my left, sat a Birkenstock-and-wool-sock-wearing elderly woman. She prepared for the opera by opening her lunch. In a baggie she had brought some ciabatta bread, cut into slices. In another bag, a hunk of cheese.

She handed the bread around to her friends. Then, brandishing a knife, she called down the row, "If you need to CUT THE CHEESE, I have a knife! [emphases mine]" (It was a sharp knife, too!) She kept yelling, "Do you need to CUT THE CHEESE?" which of course my husband and I found childishly hysterical. Finally, she offered around her lone water bottle. "We each get ONE DRINK," she ordered.

She fell asleep during the first act and started to snore.

Intermission was a riot. A lady in the front row passed around Christmas cookies. "I brought in contraband, so you all better finish it before we get caught," she announced to the audience. I chatted to the lady next to me about opera star (another hottie) Nathan Gunn, who lives locally. "I know he's an artist, and this shouldn't affect the way I feel about him," she confided to me, shaking her head, "But I just don't think of him the same way since I found out he voted for John McCain!" (This is why I love living in a liberal college town. I love how she just assumed that I would find this rumour as abhorrent as she did ;-) !)

Quite different from the last time my husband and I went to the theater, to see Quantum of Solace. The entire University of Illinois football team sat behind us, and there were no knives nor snores that I could tell. But damn, could those boys eat popcorn.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Perfume Favorites

For someone with a rather poor sense of smell, I adore fragrance. I wear it every day.

While a pre-teen and then a teenager, my fragrance interests were not original. You know what I'm talking about: Love's Baby Soft and those ubiquitous Avon colognes in the curious bottles, then Lauren in high school.

After college, I sought a Signature Scent and it never occurred to me that I could have a collection of fragrances. I gave myself the task of finding "the one." I canvassed the counters at my local Kaufmann's department store and nearly killed my husband's olfactory system (I needed a second opinion, and he has a better sense of smell than I do) with aldehydes.

Finally, I fell in love with a scent for the first time, and I treated myself to a department store splurge: Cacharel's LouLou. And so, starting with my first crush, I present to you my Perfume favorites (so far):

I admit that the beauty of its bottle initially intrigued me, but the fragrance, once against my skin, slayed me. My God I smelled wonderful, and the scent stayed with me all day.
LouLou, sadly, was discontinued in the United States by the time I had finished my bottle. Since it was not then to be my signature fragrance, I jumped on the Chanel No. 5 train.

Chanel No. 5
What better perfume to embrace? I fantasized that, when they were grown, my sons would someday reminisce about their beloved mother whenever they caught a breath of No. 5. (Ha!)
I still love Chanel No. 5 but I no longer own a bottle. I moved on when my husband gave me Dior's Dolce Vita for Christmas one year.

Dolce Vita
I loved this beauty and received a ton of compliments on it whenever I wore it. For a few years, I alternated between Dolce Vita and Chanel No. 5; I could never bring myself to choose one. They were so different, and so fantastic on my skin. Regrettably, they stopped selling Dolce Vita stateside a few years ago, although it can be found online.

My fragrance philosophy changed when I read the book The Bombshell Manual of Style by Laren Stover. The descriptions of Bombshell perfume favorites are uncomparable, so one is unable to resist trying them all. This one, especially, piqued my interest: "It is a youthful scent, combining lusty leather and tobacco notes with innocent, sing-songy, powdery carnation, iris and ylang-ylang and is recommended for Bombshells with wanderlust.... Comfortable in fast cars, slow cars, grand cafes in Vienna, casinos in Monte Carlo, nightclubs anywhere." That, my friends, describes:

Tabac Blond
It was tough getting my hands on a sample: Caron does not sell Tabac Blond in department stores. Apparently, it's only available in Caron boutiques--Paris, New York--and I've never been to Paris and haven't travelled to New York in years. I could have ordered a bottle from the NYC store, but I was of course hesitant to spend over $100 on an untested scent! Luckily, my enthusiasm lead me to the Fragrance Board at MakeUpAlley.com (MUA--more on them later). Not only a fabulous source of information for all things fragrant, through MUA I was able to split a full bottle of Tabac Blond with other perfume aficionadas and so, for $22, I scored a precious "sample."
I can't tell you what the basenotes are or describe a perfume's drydown like most other perfumistas. I can only tell you what I like, and I adore Tabac Blond. Okay, so I admit that I can smell the leather and the tobacco, as well as a voluptuous floral that's simultaneously overwhelming and comforting. And I love leather and tobacco--it's my husband's leather jacket when we first met and the unfiltered Gauloises that I crave (and try not to smoke too frequently).
I can't wait to go to Paris and purchase my own flacon of Tabac Blond. I hear they fill the bottle straight from an imposing crystal Baccarat urn.

Antonia's Flowers Floret and L'Artisan La Chasse au Papillons
I discovered these two amazing florals through recommendations on the MUA Fragrance Board. I've loved the scent of sweet peas since I was a little girl and had a doll that (ostensibly) smelled like the flower, and so one day, curious, I asked the Board for sweet pea-based fragrances. Floret was overwhelmingly recommended. It's not easy to find. First I purchased a sample from the Antonia's Flowers website, then I later went back and bought a full bottle. You can also find it at stores like Barney's, I think. It's a sweet and dainty perfume, but although I typically prefer more robust scents, sometimes it's exactly how I want to feel.
If you love white-flower florals, you can't go wrong with La Chasse. I had it on my wish-list for awhile, and finally my husband gave it to me when I graduated from law school. Some people wear it only in the summer, but I wear it year-round, whenever I feel like being surrounded by gorgeous garden flowers.

Guerlain L'heure bleue
Another find from The Bombshell Manual. It took me awhile to convince my husband that this was a beautiful scent--at first he claimed it was too "old lady." But he came around. Less overtly floral than Floret or La Chasse, L'heure bleue is dusky and powdery and sensual. If I HAD to choose a signature scent, this would be it, because there are very few days or occasions in my life in which L'heure bleue wouldn't be wildly appropriate (my other favorites all demand a certain sensibility, depending on whether I'm feeling happy or sad, warm or cool, conventional or bohemian, et cetera...).

Serge Lutens Daim Blond
My newest scent, Daim Blond is warm and leathery, but not at all masculine. Whenever I wear cashmere, I'm drawn to wear DB. A second runner-up in the for-all-occasions category. If you haven't tried Serge Luten fragrances yet, run to Neiman Marcus or Saks or Barney's and try them all! My other Serge Lutens favorite is Sa Majesté la Rose, and I'm dying to try one of their newer creations, Five O'Clock Au Gingembre.

Here are all the fragrances in my current collection. No, I don't usually keep them on my windowsill; typically they live on a tray in my closet.

From left to right, they are:
  • Lolita Lempicka: I only bought this because of the apple-shaped bottle (I collect apples). A bit too licorice for my taste.
  • L'heure bleue: My precious.
  • Serge Lutens Daim Blond.
  • Pure Tiffany: Okay, but I won't repurchase. Too Madison Avenue--I like to wear it with suits.
  • La Chasse au Papillons: Beauty in a Bottle.
  • Prada: Not quite a favorite, but I love it all the same. Best in the fall and winter, with Frye Campus boots.
  • Dior Dolce Vita: The last of the bottle. Sob.
  • Tabac Blond: my vial of cosmopolitan cool.

On My Wishlist:
  • Plus I have a whole other list of scents I want to try!

Find out More:

Buy your fragrances at aedes.com. I've never been to the Aedes store in NYC, which must be amazing, but their online shop is fun too. You can order samples at first, and when you finally cave make sure you have your purchase sent to you in their fresh-flower gift wrap! My husband, good man that he is, has this url bookmarked! Other good online sources are Luscious Cargo and Lucky Scent.

Meet fellow perfumistas on MakeUpAlley's Fragrance Board. Through MUA, you can swap perfume samples with other MUAers, which is a great way to try lesser-known or hard-to-find brands.

Read about perfume on the following fabulous blogs:
Don't limit yourself to the perfume counter at Macy's (although they have a ton of great scents!). Explore the world of boutique fragrances: L'Artisan, Serge Lutens, Frederic Malle, Montale and so many others.
Go for the perfume or eau de parfum if you can.