Friday, May 30, 2014

Postcards from Italy

Apologies for both my Beirut allusion and my ten-day absence from this blog. I was writing my second conference paper of the month, and then I was in Venice, drinking Campari and soda.

I'll probably never like Campari, even if I drink it while sitting in a Venetian campo watching little Italian boys kick a football against a centuries-old wall. But I liked the Campari-soaked olive that came in the glass, and I liked everything else about Venice, too. Except the fake-designer-purse vendor who shoved me aside while fleeing the police.

This was my second time in Venice; my first was the better part of a decade ago, in March 2008. During our spring break from Oxford, my friend Maud and I spent ten days touring Venice, Rome, and Florence, living on smoked mozzarella and hazelnut wafers from the grocery store. In the subsequent six years, I'd often describe our stay in Venice as two of the best days of my life. But after I arrived this time, I realized that I couldn't remember what we'd done. I had a vague sense that we'd been to the Accademia and the museum of eighteenth-century art in the Ca' Rezzonico, but when I visited them earlier this week, they didn't feel at all familiar. Neither did the inside of the Doge's Palace, or the Rococo jewelbox of the Gesuiti church, or the Titians and Tintorettos (Tintoretti?) at Madonna dell'Orto and Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. When I really thought about it, I came up with only a few clear memories of those two days: buying matching bead necklaces in Murano, looking at a fashion magazine in the room of our bed-and-breakfast, eating chocolate-hazelnut gelato on a bridge at night. Memory is strange, and Venice is very good at playing tricks on it. You might say it's a city of diffused effects, not discrete experiences. Or you might say that I'm not very observant. In any case, I was determined to remember more this time.

My conference was held in a palazzo in Cannaregio, the northernmost (and least touristy, not that that means anything in Venice) of the six sestieri or neighborhoods of the city. Yes, the British university that hosted the conference owns a palazzo in Venice, and yes, this was the view from the balcony:

Inside, there was a huge, beautiful mirror that I photographed on the second morning of the conference, when, true to form, I got lost on the way, showed up after the panels had started, and had the main room to myself:

The mirror is an appropriate symbol for Venice, because it's a city that stares back at you. There are faces carved everywhere, tucked into niches and looming over façades. I lost count of the number of times I glanced up and met a pair of marble eyes. The eyes of this lady, for instance:

And this gatekeeper (saved on my computer as "doorbeardo.jpg"):

And the multitude of faces on this sixteenth-century ceiling in the Accademia:

This visit also rekindled my unhealthy love for needlessly ornate Baroque sculpture and architecture. Until the seventeenth century, Venice was a perfectly nice Gothic-Renaissance city with lots of Middle Eastern and Byzantine influences. The Ca' d'Oro, built between 1428 and 1430, is one of the best examples of this quintessential Venetian look:

Then the seventeenth century happened, and Venice collectively decided that every structure needed a marble façade or gate or altar bristling with angels, crosses, and bronze sunbursts.

Looking through a window at a private courtyard in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

"Seriously, why use one color of marble when we can use four?"

 Monument to Girolamo Cavazza in Madonna dell'Orto.

"Is it even a church unless it has at least three marble people balancing on the roof? Yeah, I didn't think so either."

 1709 façade of San Stae at dusk.

I never took an art history or architecture class in college, and Venice made me wish I'd had some kind of formal training. I need to find a reliable book on Baroque and Rococo architecture, at the very least.

Speaking of adornment, let me admit before we go further that I bought no makeup in Venice. I wanted to, but I didn't see a lot of places that sold it. Every farmacia's beauty selection seemed limited to things like cellulite balm and plantar-wart cream. One evening we walked past a store advertising Diego Dalla Palma's summer collection, but it was closed, and I never got the chance to go back. As a sad consolation prize, I did manage a photo:

But Marks and Spencer also carries DDP, and they're a five-minute walk from where I'm staying in England, so I don't feel too deprived. My went elsewhere, mainly to gelato.

This cone of glory, from a place called Gelateria il Doge in the Campo Santa Margherita, contains "nocciotella" (nocciola, or hazelnut, plus Nutella) and "crema del Doge," an orange-creamsicle-custard flavor studded with candied orange peel and chocolate bits. Needless to say, I insisted on having gelato every day but one.

Another theme of my trip: dogs. I saw far more dogs in five days in Venice than I did in two and a half weeks in England. This shaggy creature was dozing on the piazza where we ate our gelato.

I even saw a man take his little dog into a restaurant bathroom, though I suspect that was an extreme example of Venetian canophilia.

Though I didn't buy makeup, I did wear it. For my conference presentation, I even wore a red lipstick: NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red, my favorite matte blue-red forever and ever, or at least until the pencil gets sharpened into oblivion. I wasn't even the only red-lipsticked woman at the conference; there was an Italian academic wearing a vibrant, glossy blood-orange shade. And yes, I picked up one of the ubiquitous lacy tourist scarves. I thought it gave my outfit a nice mid-seventeenth-century touch befitting the subject of my presentation. Please excuse awkward angle and hotel lighting.

I'm still hoping against hope that NARS makes Mysterious Red permanent, since their matte lip pencil range needs a blue-red that isn't a white-based near-neon (Dragon Girl) or a dark berry (Cruella). I never allow myself to buy backups of makeup, but I do sort of wish I'd bought a second Mysterious Red last fall.

On my nails I wore my favorite polish of all time, OPI Eurso Euro. It's a rich lapis blue that lasted four days without chipping, which is absolutely unheard-of for me. I'm impressed when a polish lasts two days on me, even with base- and topcoat; four is firmly in dark-magic territory.

After the conference, I revisited a look I'd played with in this post: NARS Lhasa and Habanera on eyes, NARS Coeur Battant on cheeks, and NYX Butter Gloss in Peach Cobbler on lips. I thought the bright watery tones were perfect for a city of lagoons and stained glass. The earrings are from Anthropologie and, like the scarf, are part of my ongoing attempt to channel a van Dyck or Lely painting.

It was a wonderful trip, full of more beauty than the human mind could absorb or process. Luckily I had my robot mind, i.e. my iPhone, to help me out. We're all cyborgs now, after all.

I should be back to a regular posting schedule this week--that is, as "regular" as my posting gets. It's been a while since I've bought any new makeup, and I just got paid; see you when my consumer lust is satisfied. Ciao!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Beauty Abroad, Part 3: Guerrilla Swatches from Topshop, Rimmel, and Illamasqua

Two weeks after I arrived in England, I finally set foot in the huge mall near my boyfriend's apartment. It's a ten-minute walk away, so I'm not sure what was holding me back except my congenital fear of spending money. I needn't have worried, because I wandered for three and a half hours and still came away empty-handed. I know: what kind of blogger am I?

Well, not quite empty-handed: here be swatches.

I was very excited to explore Topshop's makeup selection, especially their blushes. They don't have a huge selection, but I liked the shades I tried out. Top to bottom: powder blushes in Dream Phone and Let Her Go; cream blushes in Flush and Head Over Heels. All the blushes are £7, I believe.

Dream Phone is a neutral plum-tinged pinky brown; Let Her Go and Flush are pink corals, but Flush is slightly cooler; Head Over Heels is a peachy orange very similar to Sleek Life's a Peach. I think I'll end up buying Dream Phone eventually--I don't have a neutral brownish pink blush, and this particular one is cool-toned enough for my complexion and, with its plum tones, perfect for fall and winter. I told myself at the time that Dream Phone was too similar to NARS Mata Hari, but I think I was lying. I'm not a good liar.

Also, check out Topshop's massive WALL OF POLISH, and my obnoxious floral jeans.

Most of the polishes are £5, though the glitters at the bottom are £6. I'll probably go back for Clique, an avocado green; it's the third color from the left in the second row. I've been hunting for a chartreuse nail polish for a while, and this one looks perfect.

Moving on to Boots, I played with Rimmel's Apocalips Lip Lacquer, a range of liquid lipsticks. These are available in the States, though not very widely. Their American name is "Show Off Lip Lacquer," perhaps to avoid offending the great number of Americans who believe the apocalypse is nigh. I've read mixed reviews of these lipsticks, but I was certainly impressed with their pigmentation. Top to bottom: Luna, a pale orange; Stellar, a super-saturated red-coral; Apocaliptic, a fuchsia almost identical to Milani Pink Rave; and Across the Universe, a lush 1940s-style browned dark red.

By the way, I've been pleasantly surprised that the drugstores in England have makeup testers. In America, testers are strictly for higher-end stores like Sephora; there's no way to test makeup in a drugstore except by opening and mauling a pristine item (which, believe me, many people do).

Finally, I headed to the beauty department at Selfridges, where I saw something I had never seen before: a giant Illamasqua counter. I made a beeline for the cream blushes (£21.50) and swatched the four that had been on my radar in recent months: Dixie, a peachy pink; Libido, a red-orange; Rude, a lighter, warmer peach than Dixie; and Zygomatic, a pink-beige.

My favorite turned out to be Zygomatic, which reminded me of Dream Phone; I was really feeling the cool-toned pink-brown neutrals today. Liz will kill me for not buying Dixie after mentioning it in so many posts, but I don't know, I just thought it would be more coral and less pink? I'M SORRY.

I did, however, try it on. I was already wearing Life's a Peach, but not much of it, so what you're seeing here is almost entirely Dixie. In weird dressing-room light:

Back home, in normal light:

There was also a Suqqu counter! Part of me had always believed that Suqqu was a mythic brand accessible only to demigods and royalty, so I was taken aback. Unfortunately, the lady at the counter was so pushy that I couldn't stay more than a few seconds. I also saw the Dior Fluid Sticks in person for the first time ever, which was more exciting than it should have been. Today my cheapness won out, but I'm sure there will be a next time. Until then, I have my two-dimensional images to console me.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Experiments with theBalm's Nude 'tude Palette (Part 2: Looks and Field Notes)

My face has emerged from the shadows!

 My previous post on theBalm's Nude 'tude palette was devoted to swatches and mini-reviews of the colors. As promised, this post features four looks I've concocted since then, plus an alternate use that isn't a look per se. I began by pushing myself to focus on the shades I use least often, but fell back for the last two looks on my favorites: gray-taupe Selfish and brown-taupe Sophisticated. All of the eyeshadows were applied over NYX HD Primer.

For a refresher on the colors, here's my palette after almost two years of abuse.

1. Rose Gold, or: Who Needs Naked 3?

 Shades used: Stubborn, Snobby, Stand-offish (sic)

Application: Stubborn all over the mobile lid, Snobby blended into the center as a highlight, Stand-offish in the crease and on part of the browbone.

Field Notes: I like this more than I thought I would, and I'd use it again as a tonal complement for other peaches and/or pale pinks. (In the photo above, I'm wearing NARS Coeur Battant blush and Revlon Super Natural lip gloss.)

The pink of Stubborn makes my eyes look greener, but I wish it contrasted more with my skintone; as you can see above, it almost disappears in certain lights. The difference between Stubborn and Stand-offish is more apparent on the eye than in the pan: Stubborn remains (stubbornly) pink, but Stand-offish loses much of its pinkness and goes more peachy. But I still can't figure out why this palette needs both pinks. I would have loved an antique gold or light gray in place of Stand-offish. In fact, why doesn't any neutral palette have an antique gold? Why won't my cough go away? Why isn't anything in Britain open after 6 pm? So many questions.

2. Exit, Pursued by a Dragon

 Because bronze + burgundy = dragon, at least if you grew up with Michael Hague's illustrations for The Hobbit.

Shades used: Seductive, Sexy

Application: Seductive on the inner two-thirds of the mobile lid; Sexy on the outer third and the lower lashline.

Field Notes: Sexy, a rich bordeaux matte in the pan, becomes disappointingly muddy once applied. The red tones are still there, but the overall effect is reddish brown instead of burgundy. Seductive is a fine bronze color, but so warm that my skintone gives it nothing to mesh with. It sits atop my lids instead of blending with my complexion.

 That said, I don't walk around with my eyes closed:

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the color combination set off my green eyes. Something to return to, I think.

3. The One I've Actually Worn in Public 

Shades used: Selfish, Sophisticated

Application: Selfish all over the lid, Sophisticated blended into the outer third and up into the crease, and applied along the outer third of the lower lashline.

Field Notes: A refreshingly normal, utterly uninventive cool-toned taupe look. Which, with two more shadows and a glittery eyeliner and a good deal more blush, turns into...

4. Edwardian Cyborg

Shades used: Selfish, Sophisticated, Sassy, Serious. I also cheated and added NYX eyeliner in Jewel, a purple with pink glitter.

Application: Selfish all over the lid, into the crease, and up to the browbone. Sophisticated on outer third of upper lids, then blended into the crease and the outer corner of the lower lashline. Serious to line the lower lashline. Sassy as an inner-corner highlight. Jewel on the upper lashline. Blush is Coeur Battant, this time applied '80s-wise along the cheekbones and up to the temples. Lipgloss is NYX Raspberry Tart.

Field Notes: I based this look on a Pinterest find:

Makeup artist Troy Jensen explains that his inspiration was Sean Young as the cyborg Rachel in Blade Runner; I see that, but there's also something disheveled-Wharton-heroine about this look. In Blade Runner, Young was dressed and made up in a very '80s interpretation of the '40s look (which I know because I was Rachel last Halloween and studied her costume closely before imitating it haphazardly). So what we have in this image is a 21st-century adaptation of an '80s version of '40s makeup for a futuristic android, plus a dash of Gibson Girl. Very Neal Stephenson.

Bonus: Brow Powder

Shade used: Sleek

Field Notes: As you may have noticed, my eyebrows don't need much help in the fullness department. During my junior year abroad, my sorority-sister friend teased me endlessly about my "Brooke Shields" brows, once going so far as to hold me down and pluck them. Clearly, hanging out with a bushy-browed friend was harming her image; she almost seemed to think that I'd grown them to spite her. But that was in 2007 or 2008, at the end of the thin-brow trend that had begun in the late '90s. Times have changed, and my ship has come in, bitches.

But the bushiest of brows can look uneven, and when mine do, I turn to Sleek. I just put some on my finger and pat it in, following the direction of the hairs. Sometimes, if I want more precision, I use the liner brush that comes with the palette. In general, though, I don't like my brows to look too "done." No beauty trend baffles me more than the heavy, sharp-cornered, stenciled-looking brows that have popped up on a myriad of foreheads in the last year. Some people can pull off this look, but it's not for me. Here's what I ended up with instead:

So ends my Nude 'tude experiment. I ended up using ten out of the twelve shades in the palette; the only ones I couldn't incorporate into any of my looks were Sultry, the warm matte medium brown, and Silly, the red-brown with copper glitter. Those two might be lost causes. Sultry will never not clash hideously with my undertones, and though Silly is beautiful in its pan, the glitter just doesn't translate onto the skin, even over primer.

Would I recommend Nude 'tude? Yes, with caveats. The eyeshadows are of almost uniformly excellent quality; the only exception is Silly, which is dry and uneven with poorly incorporated glitter.  Eleven out of twelve is pretty good, especially in the world of large palettes, which almost always have a couple of dud shades. That said, if you need to dress up as an Edwardian cyborg in order to make eyeshadow interesting, the eyeshadow you're using is boring. Let's all take that as a rule.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to catching up on the latest half-season of Adventure Time. Speaking of dystopian futures.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Beauty Abroad, Part 2: Barry M Nail Paints in Sugar Apple and Shocking Pink

Sorry for the infrequent posting recently! No sooner had I recovered from jet lag and returned from my conference in York than I was felled by a bad cold. It's now been six days; the fever is long gone, but the hacking cough and general malaise remain. We went to Oxford yesterday, my first time back since I finished my study-abroad year in 2008, and though it was a glorious sunny day of cathedral-climbing and ice cream and Pimm's, I exerted myself more than I should have. And now I have to write another conference paper by next Saturday, which is plenty of time but would feel less daunting if I were less sick.

Excuses, excuses. Let's talk about nail polish.

I mentioned that I'd bought two Barry M nail polishes: Sugar Apple, a bright pastel aqua, and Shocking Pink, a fuchsia that always photographs too warm, despite my best efforts. I trust I don't have to tell you which is which:

The first one I tested was Sugar Apple, new this spring. I'm 99% sure that Sugar Apple, in name and hue, is a ripoff of Essie's Mint Candy Apple. But I don't actually own Mint Candy Apple, despite eyeing it for the past three years, so whatever.

Sugar Apple is part of Barry M's "Gelly Hi-Shine" line, which implies that the polish will have, well, a jelly texture and a high shine even without topcoat. No and no. It's a standard white-based pastel polish: opaque in three coats and slightly matte before topcoat (I use Revlon Quick-Dry, though my bottle is getting old and tending more toward Slow-Dry). Despite these false claims, Sugar Apple is a great polish. It applies easily, dries quickly, and wears well. Most nail polishes chip within two days on me, but Sugar Apple lasted nearly three days with no flaws before I removed it.

I'm not usually drawn to stark near-neon pastels like Sugar Apple; they stand out from my skintone (and most other skintones, I'd assume) in a way that can be unflattering. But in the unrelenting rainy gloom of last week, I appreciated the incandescent brightness of Sugar Apple; it practically glows in the dark. And in the sun, of course, it glows even more:

Despite my well-documented love for fuchsia lipsticks, I didn't own a fuchsia creme nail polish before Shocking Pink. I've never been crazy about red and pink polishes; give me a murky green or mannequin nude any day. But fuchsia is one of those staple colors that I felt I should own, so I decided to give Shocking Pink a try.

Ironically, Shocking Pink is more deserving of Barry M's "Gelly Hi-Shine" label, while Sugar Apple merits the epithet "shocking." There's nothing shocking about this raspberry fuchsia, but it's a shiny crelly formula that doesn't really need a topcoat--the photo below was taken without one. I had to adjust the color balance to make the pink true to life, which had the unfortunate auxiliary (ahem) effect of zombifying my skin.

There's nothing shocking about the color, but there is something shocking about the formula: how easily it chips. I always use Sally Hansen Hard as Nails as a basecoat, and when I first painted my nails with Shocking Pink I used a topcoat as well. The polish began wearing away at the tips after a few hours, and the chips were very noticeable after a day. This seems to be a common flaw with smooth, self-leveling nail polishes: the easier they are to apply, the more readily they chip. (Chanel Tapage and Essie Play Date also come to mind.) Conversely, polishes like Sugar Apple may apply more unevenly, but they wear remarkably well. It's the rare polish that manages both smooth application and long wear; some examples I've found are OPI Eurso Euro, Essie Stylenomics, and China Glaze Ruby Pumps. Has anyone else noticed this pattern?

One more photo of Shocking Pink, this time with topcoat:

My overall impression of Barry M: decent for the price, with a truly impressive shade range. The formulas of Sugar Apple and Shocking Pink are so different that I suspect Barry M is one of those brands with a lot of quality variation between shades, which is frustrating when you're in a drugstore and can't look up reviews online. Also, the name "Barry M" will never not make me think of Barry Manilow.

Coming soon: a travelogue post, and some musings on British beauty preferences. Plus, the second installment of my Nude 'tude miniseries, which has been suspended due to constant pallid sickface.