Sunday, August 17, 2014

La Vita è (Not Exactly) Bella: New Milani Eyeshadows in Bella Taupe and Bella Rouge

Damn it, Milani! You've done it again. Lured me in with the promise of a revolutionary makeup formula at an implausibly low price point, only to deliver mediocrity. Will I ever learn?

(These containers remind me of portholes on a ship.)

Look, Milani's new Bella eyeshadow singles are perfectly decent. I'd give them a B or B-minus; they're like the student essays on which I write, "You make some interesting points that don't quite cohere." I don't feel that I've wasted my money. Each eyeshadow costs $4.69 (though I bought these two during a BOGO sale at CVS), and they're actually better than what I'd expect for that price.

What does annoy me is the misleading name of the product. "Bella Eyes Gel Powder Eyeshadow" leads you to expect some sort of cream-to-powder formula with a moist consistency, and Milani's ad copy heightens that impression: "What makes it a gel powder? Well, the formula starts as a gel and then is transformed by a special process into a stunning powder eyeshadow with pure color and power wear." I assume that "starts as a gel" means "starts as a gel in the manufacturing process," but anyone could be forgiven for thinking that the eyeshadows start as gels when applied, then dry into a powder finish on the lids. Luckily I did my research before buying Bella Rouge and Bella Taupe, so I wasn't surprised to discover that they were standard powder shadows. You've been warned.

The Bella Eyes range contains 30 shadows in three different finishes: satin matte, shimmer, and metallic. Bella Taupe (05) is classified as satin matte, and Bella Rouge (19) as metallic. Bella Taupe is a gray-leaning matte taupe, and Bella Rouge is a rich reddish magenta with a metallic sheen. I trust you can guess which is which.

Swatched with just one swipe, they're decently pigmented, though Bella Taupe in particular looks dry and powdery at the edges.

 Two swipes. Here you can really see the powdery quality of Bella Taupe, which I'd recommend layering over a primer to prevent fallout (though I wear a primer with most of my powder shadows anyway). Isn't Bella Rouge pretty, though?

Let's start with the more versatile of the two: Bella Taupe.

Since I've become one of those Beauty Bloggers Who Love Taupe Eyeshadow, I had three comparisons at hand. Left to right: Maybelline Tough as Taupe, theBalm Selfish, Bella Taupe, and NARS Lhasa. Tough as Taupe is a cream shadow; the others are powders.

Color-wise, Bella Taupe is warmer than Tough as Taupe, darker and cooler than Selfish, and darker and warmer than violet-tinged Lhasa. What really strikes me about this photo, though, is the difference in consistency between Bella Taupe and the other two powder shadows. See how smooth and finely milled Selfish and Lhasa look by comparison? The color coheres perfectly, and there's no loose powder at the edges of either swatch. Granted, Bella Taupe is much more pigmented than Lhasa (that's two swipes of Milani and three of NARS); but unlike Bella Taupe, Lhasa can be built up layer upon layer without compromising the integrity of the color. Unfortunately, that's the difference between a $5 eyeshadow and a $25 one. Even if the $25 one is criminally overpriced. (Which it is.)

Bella Taupe is not a perfectly flat matte like Tough as Taupe, but it doesn't have the sheen of Selfish or Lhasa, either. It's what I'd call an "atmospheric" color: designed to fade into the background, like easy-listening music. Here it is applied over NYX HD primer and paired with NYX Slide On eyeliner in Jewel:

Over primer, it lasted all day with very little fading; I haven't tried it without primer, though.

Next, a closer look at Bella Rouge.

I don't own many eyeshadows that are close in color to Bella Rouge. If I were back in my own apartment, I'd compare it with Maybelline Pomegranate Punk and the matte fuchsia from Wet n Wild's Spoiled Brat palette (swatched here by Makeup Withdrawal), but I don't have either of those with me in San Francisco. All I have are a couple of plum shades that emphasize how PINK! Bella Rouge really is. Left to right: right side of NARS Habanera duo, Bella Rouge, theBalm Sexy.

By the way, I think Bella Rouge is a pretty close dupe for Urban Decay Woodstock, in both color and finish. If you want to try a bright pink metallic shadow for $5 instead of $18, this is your chance!

I bought Bella Rouge because of the old saw that reddish eyeshadow emphasizes green eyes, which turns out to be true. (It also emphasizes my undereye pigmentation and all the red tones in my complexion, but hey.) Here I've applied Maybelline Bad to the Bronze over my entire lid, then blended Bella Rouge into the outer half. The metallic finish of Bella Rouge keeps it from looking like pinkeye, or so I flatter myself.

Another angle:

If Bella Taupe is easy-listening music, Bella Rouge is--I was going to say "glam rock," but it's a little too subtle for that. Glam rock played at a lower volume than its creators intended? There we go.

The Bella Eyes formula has inspired a lot of enthusiasm in the blogging community, but I'm not ready to hail it as The Best Budget Eyeshadow Ever. Yes, these eyeshadows are smoother and more pigmented than most drugstore shadows I've tried (cough, NYX, cough). But that's a pretty low bar, since drugstore brands still seem to lag behind high-end ones when it comes to eyeshadow formulas. (This is odd, given how many high-quality lip products have appeared at the drugstore in the last few years. Are smooth, pigmented eyeshadows more costly or challenging to produce than smooth, pigmented lipsticks? I can't figure it out.) In any case, I should have trusted my own experience, in which no Milani product has ever blown my mind. But no, I had to see for myself.

Overall, I'd recommend the Bella Eyes line for unusual statement colors like Bella Rouge. There are many such colors in the range, from pale orange to deep metallic navy. For staple colors that you plan to use constantly, though? Save up for something a bit more special.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good Taste, Bad Taste, and the Fear of "Too Much"

For a long time now, I've thought of myself as someone who takes risks with beauty. I know relatively few people who wear color makeup regularly, and even fewer who wear unconventional colors regularly. When you're the only one in your group of friends who owns multiple purple lip colors, you start to feel smug about your offbeat taste.

Recently, though, I've been reconsidering that smugness. It started on Monday, when I was making myself up before what proved to be an abortive trip to the Asian Art Museum to see this summer's special exhibit, an exploration of the idea of "gorgeous." (The museum is closed on Mondays, which, true to form, I realized only after taking the train all the way across the city.) I'd been feeling guilty about neglecting the Kiko eyeshadows I bought in London two months ago, and had resolved to use one of them in that day's look. I patted NARS Lhasa eyeshadow all over my lids and blended my glittery purple eyeshadow stick from Kiko into the outer half and along my lower lashlines. Some mascara, some neutral cream blush, a coat of semi-sheer red NARS Flamenco lipstick, and--wait. Something was wrong.

It was Too Much.

I felt uncomfortable wearing that much color on my face, even though Flamenco was my most muted red lipstick and I'd mixed the sparkly purple eyeshadow with a staid neutral. I didn't change my makeup before I went out, but as I waited for one of San Francisco's reliably unpunctual streetcars, I wondered where my idea of Too Much had come from. There was something WASPy and puritanical about it, and though I'm descended from real-life 17th-century Puritans, I was surprised to find this hidden vein of primness deep in my psyche.

Over the years, we all develop personal makeup rules far stricter than the ones we find in magazines. I suspect that all of us, no matter how eccentric or open-minded we think we are, have a deeply felt sense of aesthetic decorum. Our own aesthetic decorum, mind: a set of standards we apply to ourselves but not necessarily to others. In an interview with Into the Gloss, Dita Von Teese expresses this idea more vividly than I can:

"I discovered early on that people have their 'drag'...and very few people really, truly want to stray from it. Generally, and I include myself in this, I have my drag and I don’t want anyone messing with it. I remember when I was little, I was watching the Phil Donahue show or something—that shows how old I am—and they were doing makeovers and they took all these ladies that had been wearing the same makeup for 20 years—you know, the green eye shadow, red lips, bouffant red hairdo, that type of lady. These were ladies who had never had their hair and makeup done any other way. I remember seeing the final makeovers and I was so devastated by how boring they made these women look…and how they looked kind of deflated, kind of disappointed, like they didn’t want to be made-over. Don’t take a lady’s green eye shadow away."

I first read this interview almost two years ago, before I started writing a beauty blog or wearing much makeup at all. But it resonated with me then, and it still does. Though I often wear makeup that others might consider risky or experimental, I don't usually wear makeup that I consider risky or experimental. The amount of makeup I wear has changed over the past few years, as have the colors and placements I favor and the people from whom I draw beauty inspiration. But the fundamentals of my aesthetic haven't changed at all. And I've been guilty of using the phrase "good taste" as shorthand for those fundamentals, and "bad taste" to describe what makes me uncomfortable to wear.

Over the past few days, I've been making a list of all the makeup techniques, finishes, and combinations that I've been avoiding, consciously or not, for the entirety of my makeup-wearing life. It's a pretty long list. I should emphasize that I don't usually judge other people for favoring these items; they're just things that I've filed away in the folder marked "too much for me."
  • Non-neutral color makeup on both eyes and lips, even if that makeup is sheer or otherwise understated.
  • Heavy mascara.
  • More than one swipe of blush. 
  • Bright eyeliner.
  • Perfectly matte skin.
  • Overdrawn lips.
  • Contouring.
  • Heavily filled-in eyebrows.
  • Eye looks with more than three different shadows.
  • Full-on smoky eyes.
  • Matte eyeshadow in bright colors.
  • Bronzer and fake tans.
  • Most shimmery or glittery lipsticks.
When I wear any of these, I feel less like myself than usual. You'd think a purple eyeliner would produce the same level of comfort as a purple lipstick, but the latter feels like an extension of myself, and the former feels like part of a costume. Or, put another way: purple lipstick feels like part of a costume I designed (my drag, if you will), and purple eyeliner feels like part of a costume designed for someone not quite my size or shape. My aversion to the items listed above is different from my aversion to, say, orange lipsticks or warm brown eyeshadows, both of which I'd wear if I didn't think they were unflattering to my complexion. I'm sure contouring and matte cobalt eyeshadow and the right shade of bronzer would be flattering; they would just feel...wrong. Too Much.

For the sake of contrast, here's my face from from yesterday, when I stayed well within my comfort zone (as proof of which, you've seen all these products on the blog already):

Here we have theBalm Sleek eyeshadow smudged gently into my eyebrows; Maybelline Bad to the Bronze all over my lids, with the shimmery plum shade from NARS Habanera in the outer corners; a light coat of Maybelline One by One mascara; Illamasqua Zygomatic on cheeks; MAC Up the Amp on lips. I'm also wearing NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla under my eyes, but I've been sick since Sunday and my dark circles are winning, guys.

That's my makeup uniform: bold (or bold-ish) lips, neutral eyeshadow, very understated blush and mascara. In fact, I almost always wear Up the Amp with this shirt, and I almost always wear Bad to the Bronze with Up the Amp. I put those colors together and feel confident that I'm in good taste--good taste for me, for my character and lifestyle, for the persona that I choose to project into the world.

At the same time, I suspect that a lot of what I perceive as "good taste" or "bad taste" has to do with skill. Drivel about Frivol was the first beauty blog I read regularly, and I remember marveling at Kate's ability to make the most counterintuitive color combinations look natural. "Natural" is probably the wrong word. Organic, maybe? Nothing she wore ever read as Too Much, because it was so much a part of her. Likewise, some people can wear multicolored cat eyes and black lipstick and pass it off as a part of them. Maybe it's really about confidence, not skill. Maybe I'm rambling.

I thought about all this today while wandering through the four rooms that comprised the Asian Art Museum's "Gorgeous" exhibit. Yes, I finally made it to the museum, after stopping at the hospital for a strep-throat screening; at Sephora for a rollerball of Fresh Citron de Vigne perfume; at CVS for two of the new Milani Bella eyeshadows (Taupe and Rouge!); and at the Ferry Building for a grilled cheese sandwich with Cowgirl Creamery cheddar, caramelized onions, and maple mustard. Five days of the sore throat from hell, plus every conceivable period symptom, will put you in a self-indulgent mood. (Speaking of good taste...)

"Gorgeous," which features artworks from both the Asian Art Museum and SFMOMA, is organized around the idea that gorgeousness is beauty with something off. Gorgeousness can be tacky, grotesque, excessive, or surprising; it's almost always Too Much, except when it's Not Quite Enough. Shiro Kuramata's Streetcar-inspired "Miss Blanche" chair from 1988 was one of my favorite pieces:

I also lingered in front of this 16th-century (?) Japanese pot, deliberately misshapen and mis-glazed:

And Félix González-Torres's "Untitled (Golden)," from 1995:

Definitely worth a visit if you're in San Francisco between now and Sep. 14.

What is "too much" for you, makeup-wise? And where did your notions of good and bad taste come from? I've come to realize that I have next to no idea where mine originated, and that's a little unnerving.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pistols at Dawn: NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla vs. AB's Dark Circles

Being a True and Compleat Account of a Recent Affair of Honour. Pistols at dawn, or swords, or concealer wands...

I've had reddish-purple undereye circles since early childhood. Most of the time, I don't even think about them. They're not caused by diet choices or sleep habits, which means they're not going anywhere; they're as much a part of my body as the freckled birthmark on my right hand. But just as my freckles get darker when exposed to sun, my dark circles do grow bigger, puffier, and more prominent when I'm sleep-deprived or under stress. Here I am a month ago, for instance, during a particularly arduous period of writing. I think I was wearing concealer that day, believe it or not:

Sure, there's a certain midnight-oil glamour to this, but I've always wanted the option to not look like I haven't slept in a week, you know? Until very recently, the only concealer I'd ever used was CoverGirl Fresh Complexion concealer in either the fairest shade (Ivory) or the second-fairest (Classic Ivory), depending on what was available at the drugstore. That concealer was fine for hiding the occasional hormonal breakout, but it did almost nothing for my dark circles, and so I came to believe that they just couldn't be disguised. I felt uniquely cursed. I've always had a genius for feeling uniquely cursed.

Earlier this week, my mom and I were doing some shopping downtown. Under the harsh fluorescent lights at DSW, I caught a glimpse of myself and winced. I looked positively haggard. I'd slapped on some CoverGirl that morning, but it had done nothing for me. This, I decided, was the day that I would try NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer. I'd been hearing about its virtues for at least a year, and we were headed to the nearby Sephora anyway. I was curious to see whether a high-end concealer could really do what my trusty drugstore concealer couldn't.

At the NARS display, I asked a saleswoman which shade of concealer she thought would suit me. (Protip: always approach the Sephora salesperson with the best eye makeup.) She recommended Vanilla, the second-lightest color in the Radiant Creamy Concealer range. I let her apply the concealer under my eyes; it was the first time anyone else had ever put makeup on me, and it was an odd sensation to feel the brush doing its work. When she stepped back and let me look in the mirror, I was stunned. I had never seen my face without its dark circles, and the effect took some getting used to. My first impression was that my eyes looked smaller; I'd never realized that the purplish shadows had an enlarging effect. After a few seconds, though, I liked what I saw. The shadows weren't gone completely, but they were greatly reduced. My mom bought me the concealer, which was a momentous event for her, too: it was the first time she'd purchased a beauty product outside a drugstore. If a lifelong CoverGirl and L'Oreal devotee can be persuaded to drop $29 on a concealer, you know it's good.

I've been playing around with the Radiant Creamy Concealer for four days now, and here are my impressions so far:

Packaging: A sleek-looking tube with a matte black cap. Very NARS (thus very dust-and-grime-attracting, alas):

It has a standard doe-foot applicator:

Color: NARS classifies Vanilla as "Light2," the second-lightest color in the ten-shade range. Here it is swatched on my arm:

The very lightest color in the range is Chantilly, which is also warmer than pink-tinged Vanilla. I've heard from various sources that pinkish concealers are more effective than yellowish ones on red-purple undereye circles, so it's no wonder that Vanilla works so well for that purpose. I've also tried Vanilla for spot concealing, but have been less impressed. It's a little too dark to match the rest of my face, and I suspect that Chantilly would work better. Luckily my CoverGirl concealer is very similar to Chantilly, so I won't be getting rid of it quite yet!


The Radiant Creamy Concealer (which I always want to abbreviate as "RCC," before I remember that that's the accepted acronym for "Roman Catholic Church") is pigmented and almost entirely opaque. My CoverGirl Perfect Complexion looks like watered-down milk next to it. You can also see the difference in undertones--NARS on the left, CoverGirl on the right:

Because the NARS is so much more pigmented than the CoverGirl, I tend to use too much of it, which can make my undereye area look cakey and powdery. I have to keep reminding myself to use less product than I'm accustomed to and apply it in thin layers. Dotted on and blended in, Vanilla melds seamlessly with my skin. Despite the epithet "radiant," I'd say that the formula dries semi-matte; "radiant" implies "glowing" to me. Not necessarily a problem, but something to keep in mind.

I mentioned that Vanilla's color makes it less than ideal for spot concealing, but I think the opacity of the formula works against it, too. I find it difficult to blend the product into such a tiny area of skin: no matter how little I use, it always feels like too much. As for my undereye area, my ring finger seems to work perfectly well for blending. The saleslady at Sephora used both a brush and her fingers to blend the concealer, and I almost dropped $20 on the Sephora-brand brush she'd used, but I decided against it. So far, I don't regret that decision. Mo' brushes, mo' problems.


There's no better way to explain a concealer's effectiveness than with photos. Even I can admit that. Note that I don't wear foundation or tinted moisturizer, so I'm applying the concealer over bare skin; you might get a different effect if you wear base makeup under your concealer.

No concealer under the left eye (my right, your left); Radiant Creamy Concealer on the right.

Full-face side-by-side comparison (click to enlarge). No concealer on the left, RCC under both eyes on the right.

This morning I thought I'd do a little experiment and apply the NARS under one eye and the CoverGirl under the other. First, a terrifying closeup of my eyes with no concealer at all:

 CoverGirl on the left, NARS on the right:

Yeah, that's quite a difference. And the eye on the right is actually the one with the darker circle! This is not to say that the CoverGirl is useless for the undereye area; in fact, I think it has a silkier, more glowing finish. Plus, there are days when I don't want full coverage. But if I want to look more awake with almost no effort, I'm going to reach for NARS.

(I should mention that even when I apply the Radiant Creamy Concealer at full force, my dark circles aren't 100% disguised. This is because I'm not two-dimensional and when the light hits my face, it produces shadows. What the concealer does disguise are the blood vessels under my ultra-thin undereye skin.)

Finally, here's my face with both concealer and color makeup. The lipstick is NYX Alabama, which I can't stop wearing during these cloudy San Francisco days.

So is NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer as good as everyone claims? For me, for a specific purpose, yes. Granted, I've tried only one other concealer in my life, but that doesn't mean I can't recognize when a product is doing its job. I like Vanilla's opacity and blendability, and when finances permit, I might pick up Chantilly for the rest of my face.

Do you have any experience with the Radiant Creamy Concealer? What's your favorite weapon against undereye circles?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NYX for Eyes and Lips: Slide On Pencil in Glitzy Gold and Matte Lipstick in Alabama

It's Christmas in August! By which I mean, it's been so gray and gloomy in San Francisco that wearing gold eyeliner and brick-red matte lipstick--together, even--seems perfectly appropriate in early August.

These are both recent purchases: I bought the eyeliner at a CVS in New York and the lipstick at an Ulta in Birmingham. I get around.

NYX Slide On Pencil in Glitzy Gold is a yellow-gold metallic pencil eyeliner that needs to be sharpened (in my case, with a NARS dual sharpener that I forgot to bring to San Francisco, of course).

 The Slide On formula was already familiar to me: I reviewed Jewel, a reddish purple with pink sparkles, here. Like Jewel, Glitzy Gold is soft, yielding, and easy to apply and blend, but it's not perfect. It draws a very fine, surprisingly subtle line. When it comes to eyeliner, I like subtle, but Glitzy Gold verges on easy-to-ignore subtle. It goes on about 90% opaque, but I like to wait 30 seconds for it to set and then go over it again, which results in this:

One big caveat: I wouldn't recommend Glitzy Gold for anyone with especially oily eyelids, since the formula is so soft. I have dry lids and even on me, the color does fade a bit after several hours. I've also tried it on my lower lashline but haven't been impressed, since it gets a bit smeary there. For me, this is an upper-lashline-only product (I don't wear liner on my waterlines at all, since I wear contacts and the thought of putting makeup so close to my eyeball squicks me out). But as an upper-lashline-only product, Glitzy Gold is great! I've been wearing it almost every day for the past week and a half. I think gold is a great summer-to-fall transition color, since it works equally well with bright fuchsias and corals and muted plums and berries.

NYX Matte Lipstick in Alabama is a brick-red true matte.

Color-wise, it's close to Rimmel Apocalips Lip Lacquer in Across the Universe:

Alabama is more matte, of course (though the Rimmel lip lacquers set semi-matte), and I also think it's warmer, browner, and more muted. Do I need both? Probably not. Put another way: yes, absolutely.

The only NYX products I'd recommend with zero reservations are the matte lipsticks. I now have two (including Bloody Mary, a bright pink-red that hasn't shown up on the blog yet), and both of them are true mattes that are also non-drying and comfortable to wear. Alabama is not my longest-lasting matte lipstick, and it won't withstand a meal, but it does leave a lovely red-berry stain as it wears off. Here it is at full force:

Finally, Glitzy Gold paired with Alabama. Sorry about the inconsistent light throughout this post; the sun has come out in this neighborhood once in the last week, and it's like a cave indoors unless I stand directly in front of the window.

Alabama also prompted me to buy my first lip brush! I'd always scoffed at the idea that a lipstick bullet and some concentration and dexterity were insufficient for applying certain colors, but Alabama convinced me otherwise. The NYX matte formula isn't drying, but it's certainly dry, which gives me less control over where on my mouth the color ends up. So I finally picked up a lip brush at Sephora, and it's a revelation. I love the ritualistic feeling of painting on my mouth; I love the precision and control that the brush gives me (no one is more horrified than I am at the thought of overdrawing her lips). The only problem is that my brush lays down very thin layers of pigment, so I have to apply three coats of Alabama before it's opaque enough for my liking, and then pat the bullet over my entire mouth to make sure the color is completely even. Not a process I'll undertake on days when I have to dash out the door, but still a vast improvement over my previous lip-brush-free existence. I suspect that the magic of lip brushes is old news for most of the people reading this, but I still might write a separate post on it.

Yesterday at Sephora, my mom was nice enough to buy me a tube of NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer, which I'll review soon. I also managed to swatch three products from the NARS Fall 2014 collection. Top to bottom: Satin Lip Pencils in Bansar and Mondore; sparklebomb blush in Unlawful.

I'd be tempted by Mondore if I weren't already waiting with bated breath for September 1, when NARS will release a 40-piece lipstick collection in its new Audacious formula. There's been some speculation that the Audacious lipsticks are meant to replace the existing line, but I have a hard time believing that NARS would get rid of classics like Heat Wave and Schiap. We'll see. In the meantime, I have my eye on Audrey, a "red currant":

Be still, my heart.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Lipstick Chronology #25: Maybelline Vivids, Pt. 1 (Vivid Rose and Brazen Berry)

Names: Maybelline Color Sensational Vivid Lipstick in Vivid Rose (875) and Brazen Berry (905)

Dates Purchased: May and June 2013

Grades: A, A-

Notes: Since I don't have all my lipsticks with me in San Francisco, I'm writing my Vivids reviews slightly out of chronological order. I bought one of my five Vivids, Fuchsia Flash, before either of the two I'm reviewing today, but Vivid Rose and Brazen Berry were the two I brought from home, so here we are.

When the Vivids came out in the spring of 2013, they were welcomed with the same rapture that had greeted the Revlon Lip Butters in late 2011. I read somewhere that beauty brands like to release at least one bright lipstick in every new collection because the bright colors draw customers in, even though the bestsellers are almost always the neutral lipsticks! So I suppose Maybelline was taking a risk with a collection composed entirely of brights, but people certainly fell for the hype, and by "people" I mean "yours truly."

If you came here hoping for a post debunking that hype, you'll be disappointed. The Vivids are my favorite drugstore lipstick formula, and one of my favorite lipstick formulas ever. The other Maybelline Color Sensational lipsticks I've tried (e.g. Ruby Star, Nude Lust) haven't blown me away formula-wise, but the Vivids are smooth, shiny, pigmented, long-lasting, and beautifully moisturizing, even on my sad, desiccated lips. I'm not crazy about the packaging (all the Vivids have those bright, tacky orange caps, and as you can see in the photo above, the silver paint has begun to wear away from the bases), but for me, at least, cheap-looking packaging is a minor problem.

That said, I have to add that I wish Maybelline were cruelty-free. If they were, I'd probably get a picture of Vivid Rose tattooed on my butt. As it is, I feel hesitant to recommend these lipsticks wholeheartedly. I know, I know: my stance has been very inconsistent over the past few months. I think it was February of this year when I decided to buy cruelty-free beauty products whenever possible, and though I've done a decent job of holding myself to that promise, I've had a few lapses. Part of the problem is that cruelty-free drugstore makeup is almost non-existent here. So far as I know, Milani is 100% cruelty-free, but the other big drugstore brands have all compromised themselves in some way. NYX was just acquired by L'Oreal. Revlon sold in China until this year, but even though they've pulled out of the Chinese market and their products aren't currently being tested on animals, they reserve the right to sell in other markets that require animal testing. Maybelline has never claimed to be cruelty-free.

My position on all this is constantly changing. I realize that ethical consumption is impossible in late capitalism blah blah etc. I try to patronize cruelty-free beauty brands, but many of those brands (with the exception of smaller indie companies) are owned by giants like L'Oreal or Shiseido. The meaning of the phrase "cruelty-free beauty" varies from source to source. It's all very difficult to puzzle out, but it's a constant source of worry for me. In any case, I bought these two lipsticks over a year ago and plan to use them until they run out, so let's carry on with the review.

Brazen Berry is a bright pinky purple (very Radiant Orchid), and Vivid Rose is a deep raspberry fuchsia. All my lipsticks eventually acquire this pointe-shoe shape.

Arm swatches, same order:

The only other fuchsia lipstick I have with me is MAC Candy Yum-Yum, which is brighter, bluer, matte-er, and more neon than Vivid Rose. Candy Yum-Yum on the left, Vivid Rose on the right:

Vivid Rose on lips, directly in front of the window (with this neighborhood's unrelenting cloud cover making the color read bluer than usual; I swear I had year-round SAD when I was growing up here):

Indirect light:

Full face from a few weeks ago, plus NARS Lhasa eyeshadow:

I love wearing fuchsia lip colors, and Vivid Rose is one of my favorite fuchsias (its only rivals being Candy Yum-Yum and Revlon Fuchsia). I don't wear it terribly often, because the color is so intense, but I wish I had more occasions to pull it out. Here I am wearing Vivid Rose at a wedding reception last year:

Brazen Berry is my lightest, brightest purple lipstick. From left: Brazen Berry, NYX Butter Gloss in Raspberry Tart, MAC Up the Amp, and a custom-made lipstick from the Bite Beauty Lab. Pardon the wonky swatches; I ran out of left-forearm space and had to use my left hand to swatch on my right arm. The horror.

 On lips, in front of the window:

On lips, indirect natural light:

Full face:

Brazen Berry goes on translucent and needs two coats for full opacity (which is why it got an A- instead of an A), but the slight sheerness actually works in its favor. It's one of my most-worn lipsticks, and certainly my most-worn bright lipstick, and I think the sheerness is the reason. Brazen Berry is unmistakably purple, not one of those cowardly purple-tinged pinks, but it does let your natural lip color peep through. My mom loves it, too! I recommended it to her after Up the Amp gave her an allergic reaction, and I noticed yesterday that she's bought two backups of it. :D She likes layering it with Revlon Berry Haute, a mauvier purple, to tone down the brightness.

I'm now settled in San Francisco for the next two and a half weeks, and the jet lag was less bad than I feared (though I did fall asleep before 7 pm that first night). Today, on my way back from a neighborhood coffee shop, I passed a chalkboard sign advertising cupping, massage, and past-life regression. It's good to be back.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Summer Lovin' Tag

Hello from South Florida! I took this photo yesterday evening, toward the end of a thunderstorm.

It's hard to adhere to a regular blogging schedule when your location changes every few days, but I couldn't resist doing this meme from the lovely Liz at Beauty Reductionista.

1. Summer lipstick you're loving?

I've been enjoying sheer and semi-sheer reds, both cool and warm. And on days when I just can't be bothered with color makeup, I reach for my favorite (and recently repurchased!) MLBB. Left to right: Maybelline Vibrant Mandarin, Revlon Lip Butter in Candy Apple, NARS Flamenco, and NARS Dolce Vita.

Swatched in the same order:

2. Summer nail polish you're loving?

All Essie, as it happens! For my fingers, Lollipop (cherry-red jelly) and Fashion Playground (mint green with faint silver shimmer); for my toes, In the Cab-ana (swimming-pool blue).

3. Summer blush you're loving? Illamasqua cream blush in Zygomatic (I'm sure you knew I'd say that). I can't remember the last time I bothered with a powder blush in this sticky heat, and pink-beige Zygomatic goes with absolutely everything.

4. Favorite summer drink? Iced coffee by day, mojitos by night.

5. Favorite fake tan? The world of fake tans is a total mystery to me.

6. Favorite summer song? I like wistful, self-indulgent songs in the summer. Two of my favorite singers, La Roux and Lana Del Rey, have just released new albums, and I've been enjoying La Roux's "Let Me Down Gently" and LDR's "Old Money." But my all-time favorite summer song is Duran Duran's "Rio." 

7. Favorite summer accessory? With the exception of earrings, I'm not really an accessories person: lipstick is my favorite accessory! But I've been wearing these new earrings from Anthropologie almost every day.

8. Favorite summer fragrance? I don't wear much fragrance in the summer, but when I do, it's usually Lush's Tuca Tuca. It's a violet-based perfume, but sexier and less sweet than most violets (e.g. my favorite spring fragrance, L'Artisan Verte Violette). Tuca Tuca smells vaguely of incense, like something a Victorian spirit medium would wear.

I'd like to write more about fragrance on this blog, but I find it intimidating in the same way that I find writing about wine intimidating: one needs a level of expertise that I'm pretty sure I lack. I can tell you what scenes or memories a perfume evokes for me, or what notes I detect, but it's all so subjective that it might not help you at all. Plus, inexpert perfume writing often resembles a bad prose poem, and since my writing tends toward bad-prose-poem ornateness anyway...well, you understand my reservations. I like violet perfume and purple prose.

9. Summer book you're loving? What makes a book a "summer book"? Is it just a book you read in the summer? Anyway, the book I've enjoyed most this summer is My 1980s and Other Essays, by Wayne Koestenbaum, the middle-aged male version of me (neurotic, vain, pretentious, and given to obsessive regret).

Someday I'll do a makeup look based on that photo of Debbie Harry.

I've been recommending this collection to everyone in my life, even to people very unlikely to read it. I can't remember the last time I was such a wild-eyed zealot for a book. This is partially an egoistic thing (his flaws are exactly my flaws: it's incredible), but he also writes brilliantly about photography, poetry, pop culture, and figuring out adulthood in a society ravaged by AIDS. Read My 1980s for, if nothing else, the essay "Advice to the Young":

"I have turned literature, like every love, into a harness. The discursive situations I confront--audience, reader--hold me like a vise, and so I end up not speaking, rather than trying to begin the awful, necessary work of accommodating myself to that confinement, learning the dimensions of prison so I might transform it into a nursery."

10. What are you most excited to do this summer? 

In late August, my boyfriend and I are driving down Highway 1 from San Francisco to Los Angeles! I haven't been to LA since I was eight, and I don't think I've ever been on Highway 1. And before that, I'll have a few weeks in San Francisco to see my parents, catch up with old friends, and eat delicious food. (And finish my article. Damn it. Being in one place for more than four days at a time will be such a relief.)

Feel free to do this tag, if you'd like! I'd love to hear what you've been enjoying this summer.