Thursday, August 25, 2016

China Miéville Lipstick: NYX Velvet Matte in Midnight Muse

I just finished The Scar, the second book in China Miéville's Bas-Lag trilogy, which takes place in and around the diverse, sprawling, corrupt city of New Crobuzon. I love fiction about cities—not just set in them, but about them—and Miéville clearly shares my passion. The Scar centers on the linguist Bellis Coldwine, ex-girlfriend of the protagonist of the first Bas-Lag novel, Perdido Street Station. Fearing that New Crobuzon's militia will arrest her for knowing too much about the catastrophic events of Perdido Street Station (though in fact she knows nothing), Bellis flees the city for one of its far-flung colonies. But her ship is captured and taken to Armada, a floating pirate city built entirely on boats and ruled by a vampire, a pair of sadomasochistic lovers, a council of women with scarabs for heads, et al. So much is contained in that "et al": Miéville has an astonishingly fertile imagination, and while that occasionally works against him in Perdido Street Station—lots of self-indulgent set pieces that divert the reader but fail to advance the plotThe Scar is shorter and tighter, yet still overflowing with invention. (I assume Miéville got a better editor in the two years between Perdido Street Station and The Scar. God bless good editors.)

Miéville's worlds are fleshed out exhaustively, and his eye for detail extends even to Bellis Coldwine's makeup. Bellis is blunt, unemotional, and standoffish, and her lipstick signals as much. In Perdido Street Station, we learn just three things about her: she's a brilliant linguist, she left the protagonist due to his flightiness, and she always wore dark purple lipstick. The Scar reveals that her taste in lipstick has stayed remarkably constant over several years. In a letter, she describes her "[l]ips and hair stained the cold purple of bruises," and a teenage boy mentions that "[s]omeone had told him about 'a scary lofty lady in black with blue lips' working in the library." The novels were published in 2000 and 2002, and something tells me that Miéville's girlfriend wore at least one of the weird MAC shades that were available in the late '90s and early '00s. Something like this, maybe:

It was pure coincidence that I started reading The Scar shortly after trying on Kat Von D Poe, but that coincidence got me thinking more seriously than ever about acquiring a navy-blue lipstick. Maybe the beauty industry has also been reading Miéville, because this has been the summer of the navy lip, with almost every quirky beauty brand (and a couple of the more buttoned-up ones, like Maybelline) releasing at least one blue lipstick. I wasn't crazy about Poe's formula and didn't want to spend $21 on a lipstick I might not wear often, so I began casting around the interwebs for a cheaper alternative. My search led me to NYX Liquid Suede in Foul Mouth, a grayish navy blue. But when I went to San Francisco's lone Ulta to check it out in person, I discovered that in addition to expanding the Liquid Suede collection, NYX had released at least three new lipstick lines, including "Turnt Up" (shudder) and "Velvet Matte":

I was taken aback by the Velvet Matte lipsticks, since NYX didn't seem to have discontinued their perfectly good matte lipstick line (they expanded that line in January, actually). But the Velvet Matte line offered some interesting colors, including a navy called Midnight Muse, so I had myself a swatch. And, um...the formula sucked overall. Most of the shades were dry and patchy, far from the "highly pigmented" and "super soft" formula that NYX promised, and far from the quality of NYX's original matte collection. Below, I've swatched eight of the 12 Velvet Mattes next to a couple of the new Liquid Suedescheck out the dramatic difference in pigmentation:

Left, top to bottom: Violet Voltage, Charmed, Beach Casual, Unicorn Fur, Midnight Muse (two coats), Foul Mouth (Liquid Suede). Right, top to bottom: Duchess, Foul Mouth again, Alien (Liquid Suede), Midnight Muse (one coat), Disorderly.

I chose Foul Mouth over Midnight Muse, but when I tried it on at home, I discovered that it was almost indistinguishable from the Liquid Suede in Stone Fox, which I already owned. Here's Stone Fox on the left and Foul Mouth on the right; SF leans more gray-green and FM more blue, but they're similar enough that I don't need both:

And here I am wearing Foul Mouth. I was surprised at how gray it appeared on my lips:

Not bad, but not the color I was expecting. So I went back to Ulta and exchanged it for Midnight Muse (they're the same price: $6.99), which turned out to be much closer to the color I wanted. It's a pretty dead-on dupe for KvD Poe as well, though of course it lacks the pink sparkles that make Poe unique.

The Velvet Mattes and the OG NYX mattes come in similar no-frills black-and-clear tubes, though the black of the Velvet Matte tubes is, well, more matte. Here's Midnight Muse atop a postcard with an 1890s image of the now-ruined Sutro Baths: vaguely Miévillian, I thought.

Arm swatches—one pass on the left, two on the right:

When my mom (from whom I get my coloring and my love for weirdo drugstore makeup) saw me wearing Midnight Muse, she liked it so much that she went out and bought a navy lipstick for herself: Maybelline Loaded Bolds in Midnight Blue. L-R: Midnight Blue, Midnight Muse, Stone Fox:

Midnight Blue is brighter and more purple than Midnight Muse, which contains a bit of gray. MB looks more opaque than MM in this photo, but its slippery texture actually makes it a bit streaky on the lips, and it fades quickly. My mom is a germaphobe and wouldn't let me try on Midnight Blue, so I'm working off what I observed when she wore it to dinner one night.

We're outside in the early evening here, so the light is pulling everything a little warm.

Unfortunately, Midnight Muse's formula leaves something to be desired. It's not as patchy on the lips as it looks in the arm swatches above, but it needs two or three coats for full opacity, and I have a hard time getting it to adhere to the inner part of my lower lip. The dryish texture gives it more lasting power than a slick lipstick like Midnight Blue, but it does fade with eating and drinking (though it doesn't transfer much), and faded navy lipstick isn't cute. It also feels a bit tacky when I press my lips together, which I don't mind but some people might. However, I'm happy to report that though Midnight Muse is dry and almost totally matte, it's not drying: in fact, it's comfortable to wear and leaves my lips slightly hydrated. And even with all these caveats, Midnight Muse is no worse than Poe. Almost any bullet lipstick in a weird dark color is going to be somewhat high-maintenance. It's up to you to decide whether the color is worth the maintenance; for me, it is. None of the problems I've listed is a dealbreaker for me, as extreme dryness or slipperiness would be. 

Here's a couple of coats of Midnight Muse on my lips, first indoors...

...then outdoors:

Midnight Muse in context, indoors (feat. some relics of my childhood)...

...and outdoors, before cocktails at the Slanted Door (the light glinting off the bay clearly washed me out a little). These photos were taken on the same day; I'm wearing NARS Lhasa eyeshadow, Kiko Intense Colour Long Lasting Eyeliner in Black, Illamasqua cream blush in Zygomatic, and probably a bit of ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter.

As with Stone Fox, I'm surprised at how comfortable I feel in this offbeat shade. I've long gravitated toward dark lip colors—plum, mahogany, burgundy—and Midnight Muse seems closer to those colors than it does to lighter, brighter blues. Unlike Bellis Coldwine, I won't be wearing my navy lipstick to the library this fall, but I suspect it will get a fair amount of wear. Even though I don't live in a floating pirate city—yet. 

Given the subject of this post, I'd be remiss not to mention one of the best items in Sephora's current end-of-summer sale. The Studded X Mini Lip + Nail Polish Duo ($7.50, reduced from $15) features a mini Kat Von D Studded Kiss lipstick and a matching Formula X nail polish. Poe is still available, as are Coven (matte lavender) and Slayer (matte black). I ordered Mercy (metallic berry) last night, but it has since sold out. Despite my misgivings about Kat Von D as a person, I've been curious about her brand for a long time, and I've been impressed with both of the Formula X polishes I've tried. Worth a look if you're drawn to navy lipstick but don't want to splurge on a full-sized one!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beauty Shopping in San Francisco's Japantown

I've spent the past two weeks in dissertation jail, bouncing between several of San Francisco's fine coffee shops while completing an extensive rewrite of my Hobbes chapter. With the help of massive doses of caffeine, sugar, and k-pop (I'm good, I'm hot, I'm fresh, I'm fly!), I wrapped up the damned thing yesterday and sent it to my committee. I started writing this post a week ago and have been typing a few lines a day in my spare moments, but it feels so good to finally have enough time to finish it. Of course, I have to start reworking my job materials almost immediately after this, but today is a day of freedom.

My daily view while waiting (sometimes up to 20 minutes: SF's transit system is notoriously dysfunctional) for the streetcar.

As many of you know, I grew up in San Francisco and come back twice a year to visit my parents. The city has changed dramatically (mostly in the direction of aggressive gentrification) since we moved here in 1995, but a surprising number of my old haunts have clung to life. One of those haunts is the Japan Center, a mall in Japantown where I spent many an afternoon in high school, eating crepes and buying elegant notebooks and cat-shaped erasers. Most of the stores I remember from ten or twelve years ago are still around, but my interests have shifted since then. I didn't care much for makeup when I was 16, but in the last two years I've discovered that a number of stores in Japantown carry Asian beauty products that are hard to find elsewhere in the States. I spent some time there with my high-school friend Jenny last week, and I thought it might be fun to give you a virtual tour of what San Francisco's Japantown offers devotees of sheet masks, lip tints, and nail stickers. Warning: this will be a photo-heavy post!

Our first stop in the Japan Center is a place I've been visiting since high school: the San Francisco branch of the Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya. I studied Japanese for nine years, from sixth grade through sophomore year of college, and though I'm nowhere near as fluent as I was at the age of 19, I still like buying the occasional Japanese fashion or beauty magazine to help refresh my vocabulary.

Leafing through Nylon Japan, I found the exact haircut I want for this fall (according to the caption, the bob conveys a "classic mood"):

This time I bought the beauty magazine Voce (pronounced the Italian way: "vo-chay"):

In Japan, such magazines often come with skincare samples, but since many Asian skincare products haven't been approved by the FDA, Japanese magazines usually reach American shelves stripped of their samples. Because, you know, all Americans have a God-given right to stockpile assault rifles, but heaven forbid we come into contact with a foreign moisturizer. Speaking of contraband skincare, I managed to find Bioré Aqua Rich Watery Essence somewhere in the Japan Center (I ordered my first tube on Amazon, it took three weeks to ship from Yokohama, and I just ran out). Since I'm pretty sure it's technically illegal to sell that divine sunscreen here, I'm not going to name the store where I bought two precious tubes for $15 each. Just know *conspiratorial whisper* it's available.

Our second stop is the deceptively small Candy Doll, which sells mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and cosmetics:

This suggestively posed manga girl behind the counter creeped me out a bit:

The sheer quantity of products crammed into this tiny space is almost overwhelming. There's an entire wall of false eyelashes:

Allll the lip tints (marked up significantly, alas). Clockwise from top left: Berrisom My Lip Tint Pack, Peripera Peri Tint Gloss, RiRe Lip Manicure, Peripera Peri's Ink and Peri's Lip Balm:

As adorable as these tints are, I wonder why the shade ranges are always so predictable: fuchsia, orange, pinky red, maybe a plum if you're lucky, but nothing too dark or purple or brown. I saw a price sign for the wine-bottle-shaped Labiotte lip tints, which I've been curious about for some time, but the tints themselves were nowhere to be found.

I was also drawn to Candy Doll's vast array of sheet masks, some with horror or folktale or horror-folktale themes (that green monster is a kappa, for instance):

First prize for cutest packaging goes to these It's Skin BB creams...

...though the Brigitte Pure Cats eyeshadow palettes are a close runner-up. I've never heard anything about this brand; I suppose Paul & Joe is hogging the cat-lady spotlight.

Now for a rather mysterious establishment, K-Pop Beauty:

As recently as January, this was an official Tony Moly store crowded with life-size posters of the brand's international ambassador, Hyuna of k-pop girl group 4Minute. Here's a photo I took in Januaryyou can see the Tony Moly sign behind Hyuna's head:

Since then, the storefront seems to have undergone the same fate as 4Minute, which disbanded in June. All of K-Pop Beauty's merchandise is by Tony Moly, but the posters on the walls have "Tony Moly" very obviously crossed out, and of course there's that odd name change. I would have asked one of the employees what was up, but I assumed their lips were sealed.

My best guess is that this particular franchise of Tony Moly lost its license and is now trying to liquidate its stock and get the hell out of Dodge (that would also explain the cardboard boxes piled in a corner of the store). Interestingly, Sohyun, the youngest member of 4Minute, was recently spotted selling her former group's merchandise at a flea market. The parallels are uncanny. Here's a question, though: if K-Pop Beauty is trying to get rid of all its lip tints and sheet masks, why hasn't it followed Sohyun's lead and lowered its prices? 

Let's move on to a more legitimate business: The Face Shop

This brand's current campaign involves Kakao Friends, the animal characters from the Korean social-networking site Kakao. Never having used Kakao, I can't say I'm very enthusiastic about the new products, but they certainly are cute:

There's also some non-Kakao-related merchandise, such as these lipsticks. I didn't look too closely, since the last thing I need is a new lipstick and the colors seemed to be the same old pinks, oranges, and reds:

Our final beauty-related stop is the Japanese discount store Daiso, which specializes in offbeat housewares and other tchotchkes, almost all for $1.50. I don't know of another place where you can buy lacy sun-protection sleeves, metallic skulls, decorative nori punches, and plastic banana cases under the same roof:

All this would be enough to warrant a visit, but Daiso also carries everything you need for a Japanese-style manicure. I've never seen so many Kleancolors polishes in one place:

There are also lots of nail-art tools, stickers, gemstones, and even hand creams:

I couldn't resist buying the glitter stars in the photo above, as well as a pink nail-dotting tool with which I've already done two manicures (post to come).

If you're feeling peckish after all that beauty shopping (and even if you're not), no visit to Japantown is complete without some fresh mochi from Benkyodo, a bakery and diner that's celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. (Quick vocabulary lesson: "mochi" is the glutinous rice paste itself, as well as an umbrella term for the confectionery made from it; "daifuku" is the round, filled sweet that most of us think of when we hear the word "mochi.") The summer is a particularly good time to visit Benkyodo, since they often have daifuku filled with fresh strawberries or blueberries along with the usual sweet white-bean paste. I've eaten a lot of mochi in my life, in Japan as well as the US, and Benkyodo's strawberry daifuku is the best I've ever had.

Top row: age (donut filled with adzuki-bean paste), daifuku with adzuki bean, daifuku with fresh blueberries. Bottom row: green daifuku colored with mugwort, filled with sweet white bean paste, and topped with kinako (roasted soybean flour); blueberry daifuku.

And that concludes our tour of Japantown! I doubt the Japan Center can hold a candle to, say, Toronto's Pacific Mall for sheer variety, but it's still a great place to poke around if you're a beauty lover passing through San Francisco. Have you ever visited?

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Low-Buy Progress Report #7: July

After my little spending spree in the UK last month, I decided to go on a replacement-only makeup/polish no-buy for the month of July. I'm happy to report that I didn't need any makeup or polish replacements and had no trouble avoiding new purchases. I don't know why, but it's much easier for me to stick to a no-buy than to a low-buy. If I restrict myself to two new items per month, I'll inevitably end up with three or four. But if I restrict myself to zero items per month, I'll buy zero. Granted, I don't have a huge breadth of experience hereI've never tried to maintain a no-buy longer than two monthsbut in general, moderation is not my (black-and-white-striped) bag. Anyway, here's the damage for July:

New Makeup/Polish: none, bitches!

My mom picked up an e.l.f. lip stain in Nude Nectar at some point in the last several months. She can't remember when or why she bought it, but she has never used it and conjectures that "I probably bought it for you," so it's mine now. It's one of those old-school marker-style lip stains with a felt-tip applicator and a watery formula:

The color is nowhere near nude on my skintone: it's a deep, ruddy terracotta brown, a slightly redder version of Revlon Matte Balm in Fierce. From left to right, here's one coat of Nude Nectar, two coats of Nude Nectar, and one swipe of Fierce:

These arm swatches look smooth and even, but it's much harder to apply the product evenly to my lips, because the formula is so liquidy and it dries so quickly. The firm, pointy applicator is good for outlining the lips, but much less good for filling them in (I sort of smush the sides of the felt tip against my lips instead). The end result (below) looks a bit patchy, but I plan to play around with Nude Nectar a bit more, because I do think it has potential. It would make a nice long-lasting base for Fierce or another brown lipstick.

Makeup/Polish Replacements: none.

Haircare Replacements:
Lush Honey, I Washed My Hair shampoo bar and Big conditioner: £14.90 ($19.71) total

New Skincare:
Tony Moly I'm Real Moisturizing (Aloe) and Pore Care (Red Wine) sheet masks: $3 each.
It's Skin Firm & Glow (Honey) sheet mask: $3.

The pores around my nose and cheeks have become more prominent recently (or so my crazybrain tells me), so I also bought and returned a tube of The Face Shop's new Jeju Volcanic Clay Nose Mask, which cost $8 at Urban Outfitters. I wish I'd taken a photo of the tube before returning it, but it's an unremarkable gray plastic squeeze tube, so whatever. The mask itself is a pink floral-scented goo with the consistency of very thick marshmallow fluff. I was looking forward to feeling the product suck the grossness out of my pores, but that never happened. When I applied a thinner coat, the clay dried around my pores, leaving little holes all over the mask. When I applied a thicker coat, the mask never dried fully and pulled almost nothing out of my pores. And when I returned the mask, the saleswoman said she'd tried it and disliked it, too. Don't bother, guys.

Total for July: $29 (rounding up because I know I paid tax on those sheet masks)

Wishlist for August:

1. Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Crème in Rei of Light ($30)

I've found it! My perfect Danish Girl burnt-orange lipstick (named after Rei Kawakubo, no less) from a cruelty-free brand. Having tried So Sofia earlier this year, I knew I liked the Le Marc Lip Crème formula, but I tried on Rei of Light at Sephora this week to make sure the color suited me. I think it does! It also looks good with cobalt, one of my favorite colors for clothes:

And now I can stop mentioning my search for the platonic rusty orange in every post I write, so you win, too.

2. NYX Liquid Suedes in Brooklyn Thorn and Foul Mouth ($7 each)

I've worn Topshop Boardroom a few times this year, but the formula is always so disappointing: thin, patchy, and slippery. Brooklyn Thorn is a very similar greige color in a formula I trust. And since I've been wanting a navy lip color as well, I might as well pick up Foul Mouth, a suitable lipstick name for me if there ever was one. (One day I'll tell you about the time I got chewed out by a fellow grad student for saying "for fuck's sake" under my breath. It was weird. Grad school is weird.)

3. Floss Gloss Donatella and Con Limon ($8 each)

For some reason, I often find myself buying makeup and nail polish in pairs. Donatella would be the perfect companion for Rei of Light (another odd habit of mine: buying lipstick to match polish and vice versa), and I've been eyeing Con Limon for years. But I know perfectly well I shouldn't hoard polish, so we'll see.

And that's it! The less I buy, the less I want to buy. It's enough to make me contemplate going on a no-buy for the foreseeable future, but...nah, I'm good.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Bunches of Swatches

I've been in three different time zones in the past week, and I feel weird. I originally planned to write this post two evenings ago while my skin absorbed the dewy coolness of a Tony Moly aloe sheet mask. Instead I fell asleep with the light on and my face unwashed. The same thing happened last night. Tonight, though, I will triumph over jet lag. And I'll be in one place for the next couple of weeks (I'm in San Francisco for my biannual visit), so I'll be posting a bit more frequently. That said, I'm working on my dissertation and preparing for another go at the job market, and I feel guilty when I use my precious and finite amount of writing energy on anything non-academic. I know it's irrational; I know that the energy I put into my blog isn't interchangeable with the energy I put into my academic writing. But it's so hard to relax these days. I haven't even been visiting my favorite websites very often. I used to read almost every article on xoVain and Into the Gloss, for instance, but in the past month or so I've been hard-pressed to read two or three articles per week (which might be for the best, given the variable quality of both sites). All this is to say that posts will appear when they appear. I'm not planning to quit this blog or take an extended hiatus, but I need to finish my doctorate, guys. I'm so tired of being an grad student.

Right now, though, I've got my aloe mask on and at least an hour of wakefulness left. Let's do this.

Travel doesn't lend itself to beauty experimentation or well-lit product photos, so all I have for you today is a collection of lipstick swatches from my visit to the Del Boca Vista Boca Raton Sephora four days ago. Here are some Urban Decay Vice and Kat Von D Studded Kiss lipsticks:

The reddish orange at bottom left is Urban Decay Temper. Left row, top to bottom: Urban Decay Crank (a dead ringer for NARS Angela), Backtalk, Vanity Kills, Oblivion, ignore those two tiny swatches, After Dark. Right row, top to bottom: Kat Von D Chula, Coven, Lolita (?). I tried on Vanity Kills, but it looked terrible. The name of that lipstick is apt: I need to stop immolating myself on the altar of white-based pastels. 

Here we have three rusty oranges, one rusty non-orange, and one non-rusty orange. Top to bottom: Kat Von D Solo (I can't imagine a complexion this shimmery nacho-cheese shade would flatter, but what do I know?), Kat Von D Archangel (?), Urban Decay Hitch Hike, Smashbox Always On liquid lipstick in Out Loud, Kat Von D Chula. Of these five, Out Loud is closest to my platonic rusty orange, but it's a little too brown. I still think MAC Chili is a better match.

Finally, I tried on a lipstick I'd been eyeing since its release in 2014: Kat Von D Studded Kiss in Poe. 

Granted, I applied Poe hastily with one of Sephora's disposable sponge-tip lip brushes, but I still feel confident saying the formula isn't perfect. It went on a bit patchy, refused to adhere to the inner part of my lower lip, and faded more quickly than I would have expected of such an intense color. The glitter also felt slightly gritty, though the formula itself wasn't drying despite its matteness. It did look pretty great from afar, even in a bleary-eyed car selfie:

Navy is one of my most flattering colors, so it's about time I embraced it in lipstick form. I was surprised to find that I didn't feel as weird or conspicuous in Poe as I do in NYX Stone Fox, but maybe that's because dark blue lipstick has been entering the mainstream recently. I can think of quite a few non-indie blues off the top of my head: MAC Matte Royal, Urban Decay Heroine, Kat Von D Poe and Echo, Bite Squid Ink, the two blues in Maybelline's Loaded Bolds collection, and three of the new NYX Liquid Suedes. I think I'll have to pick up a navy lipstick when my no-buy ends in a few days. I'm leaning toward NYX Liquid Suede in Foul Mouth, because I know I like the formula and I don't want to pay too much for such a weird lip color, but I'd welcome suggestions!

Finally, a swatch of Revlon Super Lustrous lipstick in Violet Frenzy, which my mom bought last year, didn't like, and passed on to me. I guess I didn't like it much either, because I left it at my mom's house in January and forgot about it until I returned this summer. But since metallic and pearlescent lipsticks are apparently the Big New Trend, I've decided to give Violet Frenzy another chance. We haven't missed a beat in moving from the mid-late '90s to Y2K, have we?

Like many an old-school vampy lipstick, Violet Frenzy lacks in opacity. It's a dark reddish purple with silver pearl, and it looks very dramatic in the tube, but swatches tell another story. Here's one swipe on the left and three on the right:

Violet Frenzy applies less patchily than my Super Lustrous nemesis, the absurdly overhyped Black Cherry, but it feels just as slippery, and the frost emphasizes every dry patch on my lips. I will say that it looks better from a distance than it does in a close-up lip swatch:

Remember when all the purple lipsticks on the market looked like this? Just four years ago, Violet Frenzy was the closest thing to true purple you could find at CVS. You'd go home with a tantalizingly dark and grapey tube, swatch it on your arm...and damn it, just another plum or merlot. You kids with your Milani and Maybelline and NYX purples, your Bite Lavender Jam and MAC Heroine and Snapchat and Pokémon Go, you have no idea how hard we 28-year-olds had it when we were 24!

Speaking of, I discovered recently that Seventeen Statuesque eyeshadow is a perfect complement to Lavender Jam; I also got a nearly undetectable haircut. I'm planning to go significantly shorter for the fall, though: I feel less like myself with shoulder-length hair.

Here's hoping for a bit more coherence in my next post!