Musings of a self-confessed beauty addict from the heart of London!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

All about Yves

It's funny how some things come full circle. I remember one particular evening sitting in my gran's kitchen with my family, I must have been about 9 or 10,  and whilst they were all talking and passing food across the table I had immersed myself in yet another catalogue which I had found lying around. This one belonged to one of my aunts, and I remember this particular evening because it was the first time I had ever seen anyone else take even vague interest in a catalogue. As I mulled over the pages of perfumes and bath pearls, my aunt was there with me, also showing an interest and flicking through the pages herself. I was so excited at the idea that she might buy something and that I might get to try it too. This was one of the first cosmetics catalogues I'd seen and what I remember was the sheer variety of products on offer with extremely exotic sounding names and all the special offers that they advertised in order to lure you to buy.

The company was called Yves Rocher and was not available in shops, only via mail order. I therefore had resigned myself to the fact that I would never get my mitts on anything from this company until I received my first cheque book. And by the time I did, I'd totally forgotten about them. Roll forward 15 years and I'm living in a country where there is an Yves Rocher store on every corner! I guess it's kind of like The Body Shop of the continent with it's 'natural' & cruelty-free ethos, although like The Body Shop it's products aren't exactly 100% natural. Of course The Body Shop is here too, but Yves Rocher is a bit different. It's more like a club. Of course anyone can walk in and buy the products and their special offers are open to everyone. But if you have a club card (it's free), you get even more offers and free gifts. So, being me, what was one of the first things I did on arrival in Belgium? You guessed it.
I have to say that I up until recently I didn't go there that often. I was lured by the club card, but after that I never really bought a lot of things. That was until I received a 'birthday card' from them a few months ago with various offers on it. I thought I'd pick up a few bits on my way back from French. So impressed was I by the hair-reducing body lotion that I re-purchased. I NEVER repurchase unless I really feel it's a fantastic product, I'm too much of a fickle product junkie to want to buy the same product twice. Hence all my re-purchased stuff is pretty much HG (Holy Grail) territory. This gave me more confidence to go ahead and make more experimental purchases. So today, armed with yet another bonus offer card, I bought a coral plumping lipgloss and a little pot of sparkling gold pigment powder which is supposed to be 100% natural. Everything in store was 50% off, so it was a good time to be experimental. And my bonuses? A bauble ring, a matching stretchy bracelet and a watch (I paid an extra 2 euros for the watch, but it was worth it). It was like Christmas! I unwrapped the watch on the tram on my way home like an impatient child, but it gave me so much pleasure.... and just 2 euros! Believe me when I say that it does not look like a 2 euro watch, I'm not sure the photo does it justice.

Shiny, pretty things...

I like that you can see exactly what time I took this picture....

As for the products I bought? Well, they are just lovely. Seriously, I'm impressed. The plumping lipgloss strangely feels cooling rather than hot and prickly like most other lip plumping products, and the colour is really fresh  and pretty. It's a bit sticky but so far it's adhered to my lips for the last 3 hours with no sign of budging. Not sure my lips look plumped, but hey, I bought it for the colour not because I want a trout pout. The pigment powder  (confusingly called Pigment Pearls) can easily rival the famous MAC pigments and looks absolutely stunning. The colour range is a bit limited but for metallic shades I don't think you can do better. For cruelty-free, bargain beauty it's probably worth checking out. Happily there is also a UK site

In my excitement I've put everything on at once, gold pigment sparkles from my eyes as I gaze down upon my new baubles, bangles and beads.... Mr Pandora is going to think that I've had a fight with a Christmas tree and lost.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Blossoms and Brownies

Today I was awoken (or rather, was dragged kicking and screaming into a false sense of consciousness) by the insistent splatter of rain on the skylight above the bed. If it wasn't for the fact that I had my French oral exam today, I would have lolled around in bed until noon. I dreaded having to speak French today. I dreaded having to arrive there all soggy and damp, umbrella dripping all over my coat, mascara splogged down my face, hair looking like I'd stuck my finger in a socket. None of these things exactly contribute to clarity of thought.
But hey, it's over now and it wasn't as bad as I dreaded. There were indeed brutal crimes against tense, gender and conjugation but I managed to negotiate my way through the tasks without as much brain ache as I first anticipated. By the time I emerged from the exam room, the rain had cleared and I noticed the first tree in blossom I've seen this year. The little pink petals screamed Spring amidst the drab and tragic bare trees that surrounded it. My mood lifted. My heart sang. And I skipped down the street with a spring in my step and a sparkle in my eye!

Methinks I had slightly overdressed for my exam today,...

As if..... Mary Poppins I am not. But anyhow, simple creature that I am, I was delighted to see something pink in an otherwise sea of brown and grey. It's probably premature to say that spring is round the corner, but the spring collections certainly are. Even if spring doesn't come to me, I will certainly come to spring, ready and waiting with the new seasons make-up plastered all over my face and painted on my nails. I will make a stand in the depths of the march snow, decked out in pastel colours, shimmering in pale pink, lilac, and sheer shades of moss and aquamarine. I will freeze in light layers of silk and cotton, but I will BE spring.
Which brings me to the question of what colours can a girl wear in such a transitional season? It doesn't feel right to continue the wintery Christmas themes highlighted with gold and sparkle . It also doesn't feel right to launch straight into pastels and brights. Ok, so obviously there is no real right or wrong answer, but today two of my favourite things in the world collided to create one happy inspiration. On thursday there'll be a little end of term gathering of our French class and traditionally everyone brings something to eat. I had promised to bake brownies. It was while thinking about the brownies (because that's what I do, I think about brownies...) that I saw the blossoms, et voilà! Chocolate and make-up combined.... soft pinks and and warm, shimmery browns.... how can that not work? It brings the depth of colour we require in the winter with the lightness and softness that we crave come January/February time. Plus the two colours are very easy to play with both together and individually. Winter light is harsh and unforgiving, especially in northern Europe, so whatever we wear on our eyes during the day must be well defined or else the daylight will bleach out the colour completely, which means that in your efforts pack on the colour to make it visible outdoors, indoors you end up looking like a clown. The pink-brown combo is ideal because even just a wash of colour over the eyelids will look beautiful, provided you add a little softly sumdged liner to the roots of the upper lashes, and a generous sweep of mascara. You can also create a very ballerina-like look, retaining that softness of pink all over the socket, defining the lashline and crease line gently with a dark brown which you can flick slightly at the ends. Very Black Swan, and therefore very now. I can't imagine an eye-colour this wouldn't work on. 

The ridiculously beautiful Natalie Portman teams a luscious chocolate-shimmer smokey eye with fresh pink cheeks and lips.

So, think chocolate, coffee and cherry blossom, and you're halfway to bringing spring around just a little bit sooner. In the meantime, those brownies aren't going to bake themselves...
The perfect ballerina ... bet she doesn't eat a lot of brownies.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

This is not Paris

Well, I've been a busy bee this week, revising for French exams, frantically cramming infinite irregular verbs and trying to memorise pronoun usage. It's not easy when all you want to do is hibernate and eat baked goods until April. Still, the world seems to go on even in January, and so I somehow managed to shift my sorry self to do some revision and try and pretend that I have a life to get on with by leaving the flat on occasion. And it's very disappointing leaving the flat. In January. In Brussels. The sales have been quite abysmal. Almost 3 weeks in and they're still trying to flog a load of sorry looking tat at only 20-30% off. How??!  Anyway, I digress.... so, the French exam was quite tough. Not because it was particularly difficult, but because my brain failed to fully come out of hibernation mode and was chugging along at leisurely speed refusing to focus. The sad thing is that I was far more focused when I was making myself up for the day:
Mascara application = 100% functioning brain capacity
Conjugating verbs into the subjunctive = 50% of brain switched on
100% brain capacity utilised

As painful as it was to force my braincells to shift up a couple of gears, I finally managed to get through  the majority of exercises with only a partial degree of humiliating responses. First part is now safely out of the way whilst part deux, the oral, will certainly be linguistic carnage on an unprecedented level. On my way home I felt like indulging in a little "swatch 'n' sniff' shopping. Basically I trawl drugstores, perfumeries and department stores spritzing various parts of my arm with perfume and swatching lippies and eyeshadows on the back of my hand. At the end of each expedition I end up smelling like a tart's boudoir and looking like I've trapped both my hands in a door, so smeared are they with various products, but I love this pass time all the same. It's my hands-on-catalogue chill out time and I wouldn't have it any other way. So, my first stop post exam trauma was the glamourously named Ici Paris XL.

This store, a Belgian chain of perfumeries, promises so much and, you guessed it, doesn't quite manage to deliver. It's not that the range of products isn't good, it's just the atmosphere and the more than blasé attitude of the sales assistants which makes the whole shopping experience as seductive as doing the weekly shop at the supermarket (and don't even get me started on the supermarkets here...) The perfumes line the walls and the make-up is displayed in the centre and back of the store, not as counters but as stands all lined up next to each other. Behind and underneath the counters is the skincare, well out of reach one might say.

As someone who absolutely needs to feel the texture of a product and test it's scent before purchase, this tester-less system is just a no goer for me. On the few occasions where I've braved the counters to inquire about a face mask or a cream, I've had various products shoved at me without any interest whatsoever or particular recommendation for my skintype.

Me (in dodgy French): Hello, I'd like a purifying face mask please.
Sales assistant: (picks up the first box she sees behind her and places it on the counter) This one says it's purifying.
Me: Erm, do you have a tester?
S.A: No
Me: Erm, so what else would you recommend? I have combination skin.
S.A:(Turns around and picks up another box, obviously not further than arm's reach) There's this one.
Me: Er, ok. How is that one different? Is it better?
S.A: It's a different brand.

So you get the drift.... You have to know absolutely what you want to buy before you go in and then ask for it. The make-up is displayed openly at least, which means I could still go in and swatch happily without being interrupted. Despite the fact that it's named Ici Paris (Paris is here), Paris is definitely not here. You can take the products out of Paris, but you can't take the service (or lack thereof) out of Belgium... And it's funny, because I googled the brand just to find out a bit more and discovered that they are actually owned by the same group who also own Superdrug and The Perfume Shop in London. But what really cracked me up was in their profile page for Ici Paris XL:
  The secret of the brand's success is in the service. When customers want information they are never overwhelmed by too many assistants or choices. (
Well, they certainly took that part seriously. Giggles over, I ended up finding some gorgeous eyeshadows by Helena Rubinstein (sadly no longer available in the UK) which swatched beautifully. The textures were soft and creamy, and the colours just divine. Unfortunately the prices, even in the sale, were not so heavenly, and after a good 20 minutes of swatching my hand until it was shimmering all over in silver and pink I left Paris just that little bit deflated.
Ici Paris... :)

Thursday, 13 January 2011

January blues? Join le club

Immediately after recovering from the first virus of 2011 I've been struck down with a nasty bout of stomach flu, so it's not exactly been glamour central chez Pandora this week. Not being able to move much from the realm of the sofa, I installed a little network of supplies about me so that I may negotiate the suffering with distraction. Surrounded by mobile phones, remote controls, the laptop and endless cups of honeyed tea, I wiled away the hours watching antiques shows, makeover shows (both home and human) on tv and youtube, and by browsing online catalogues. Now, I do realise that I could have been doing something much more meaningful with my sofa time; leisurely study some French, or finish reading one of many novels I've only half read, or even watch something a bit more challenging than Cash in the Attic. But on days like these the one solace I crave is a good old catalogue!
Oh the lure of the catalogue... all those wonderful things that could be mine placed side by side, filling the pages with promises and my heart with desire! Ok, maybe that's a bit much, but seriously, as a child I got excited by every new Argos catalogue that somehow materialised in our house. I remember pouring over the catalogue slowly, to savour every item and make my fantasy selections which I then meticulously cut out and stuck into a scrap book. Back then at the tender age of 7 my preferred sections were jewellery (courtesy of the grandly named Elizabeth Duke) and Barbie dolls. So my scrapbook was filled with enormous diamond cluster rings, monstrous cubic zirconia necklaces, and Barbie cars.
The Barbie bit I guess is pretty normal, but when I look back on my jewellery choices, however, the phrase 'pimping it large' comes to mind. Oh the shame...
Argos Catalogue circa 1984, featuring the Crystal Barbie doll which I possessed for a mere 4 days before she was brutally stamped on by my brother. I never got over the trauma...
Still, every time a catalogue pops through the door, or is handed out in shops, or displayed online, I'm seriously engrossed in a way which makes my husband think that I may be missing a neuron or two. I think it's because I love the idea of choosing, of making selections, of thinking about how this new product can enhance my life and bring me joy. When I browse a catalogue I actually find myself imagining I have the item I'm looking at and assessing it's value to me. It's basically another form of window shopping. I love all sorts of catalogues, but my absolute favourite has to be the Lush catalogue. Printed like a newspaper, I'm ashamed to admit I'm more likely to be reading the Lush Times rather than The Observer. It's just the way they describe the products, they create an image which is almost edible, and I end up craving the scents like I crave cupcakes. Despite my little catalogue obsession, I rarely end up buying anything. I do have a good deal of self-restraint (although I'm sure hubby would agree to disagree)! There was however one catalogue that I fell victim to time and time again. It came as a beauty supplement in one of the many magazines I used to buy in my late teens and it was called Le Club des Créateurs de Beauté.

Yes, it was French! Oh the glamour! There was skincare, haircare, bodycare, make-up, accessories.... all with that highly desirable French touch. I couldn't resist, and seeing as I had just received my first cheque book, I placed my first order for some Cosmence skincare products and a few bits of Agnès b make-up. It was like Christmas when the parcel arrived, but the joy was short-lived when the morning after I had used the all-in-one cleansing lotion which had promised radiant, poreless skin I had my first (and only) major reaction. My entire face apart from my eye area was red, angry and swollen, like it had been burnt. I was gutted. I looked like a red panda for about 5 days until the redness had subsided. I wanted radiant, not radiating...
Still, the make-up was nice. And I got good use out of the liquid eyeliner and lip lacquers. When Le Club had special offers on I ordered some gimmicky stuff too, like coloured mascaras (a total swiz) and jewel-toned eyeliners which I didn't really know what to do with back then. I continued to browse the skincare with interest, but once bitten twice shy, and I never took the risk again. I realised after about a year or so of ordering stuff I didn't need, that I loved the Le Club catalogues so much more than the products. The real joy for me was in the imagining what they would be like and in the fantasy selection process. It was always lovely to open up a much anticipated parcel of beauty products but somehow they never really lived up to the hype I created all on my ownsome. Le Club des Créateurs de Beauté  is still running in Europe, although they have unfortunately ceased operations in the UK. I had a quick peek at their French online catalogue just now for the first time in years, and what do you know, they have a sale on...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Putting on the Ritz

Today my lovely husband took me to Belga Queen for lunch. We've been in living in Brussels for almost 3 years now, and I'd never yet had the opportunity to go there until now. With it's swanky art deco surroundings and magnificent stained glass ceiling it's one of Brussels' most well-known hot-spots. It certainly didn't disappoint, and we dined lavishly on a tower of seafood amidst the tall columns and scattered displays of modern art.

Going to such a lovely place meant that for the first time in ages I actually got to think about what to wear (Brussels isn't exactly a fashion capital and I've been getting away with slobbing about in jeans and Converse for far too long... booooring!). So, I opted for a 50's look with a tweed, ruched pencil skirt with a cute little cardi and high-heeled Mary-Janes. I only wish I could have gone to town with my make-up. At the moment I have a horrible bout of conjunctivitis and so I've been in glasses with no eye make-up for the whole of this week which was fine because I was at home nursing a cold, but when I go out I feel naked with nothing on my eyes, especially if I'm going somewhere a bit posh.
Since I first discovered at the age of 13 how the simple application of eye shadow can alter the face (both when applied well and atrociously) I have always felt naked without some form of eye make-up. Of course, at the age of 13 I applied it atrociously, and liberally, and in the the wrong colour, but I thought I looked great! I certainly felt amazing when I had it on and my eyeshadow of choice (pilfered from my mum's rarely used make-up bag) was a garish emerald green shimmer by Charles of the Ritz.
Before the days of Prescriptives, Charles of the Ritz offered custom blended face powder

Charles of the Ritz!! Such a great name, and sadly the company no longer exists, probably due to the fact that it was born in a bygone era (created in 1919 by the hairdresser Charles Jundt of the New York Ritz) from which it couldn't quite escape and develop. I myself had never heard of Charles of the Ritz outside of the little eye-shadow in mum's make-up bag and apparently it existed right up until 2002!
Wikipedia states that Charles of the Ritz criticized Estee Lauder's practice of giving away free samples and gifts with purchase, saying "you will never go anywhere in this industry." No comment...
A Charles of the Ritz counter

Saturday, 8 January 2011

This is a story...

...about a girl who spent almost every Saturday of her teenage years in Superdrug and Boots stroking eyeshadows, swatching lipsticks and sniffing anything that had a scent. This girl was an advertiser's dream, eager and willing to believe the promises of a happier, radiant and more beautiful life that came with purchasing anything from a shampoo to a lipgloss. She wanted all of it. Everything that was on the shelves and beyond the shelves, everything in the magazines and on the TV. If only she had that lipstick that she always saw in Just Seventeen, then she too would suddenly be as gorgeous, glowing and grown-up as the impossibly beautiful teen model; the one who obviously had the perfect handsome teen boyfriend who would take her out to dinner (not to McDonalds, but a to "real" restaurant, like Pizza Hut) and then to the cinema to see Return to the Blue Lagoon. She hankered after a clear, peachy complexion as promised by Clearasil and Aapri, she craved the silky straight hair promised by Salon Selectives and Vidal Sassoon, she desired long, elegant,  almond shaped nails promised by every nail polish advert she laid her eyes on....
Just Seventeen, June 1991 (That's 20 years ago folks!!!)

So.... fast forward 20 years, and obviously the girl is me and while all the above is true, please forgive the somewhat melodramatic and lyrical intro! Indulge me a little! It's been a long time coming that I write about my passion for all things beauty, and indeed, all beautiful things. I've been itching to re-live my past via a journey into retro-beauty land, and to perhaps re-awaken a little of this nostalgia in others.

I can map my way through my life so far using perfumes, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos.... etc. They are my milestones, anchoring memories firmly in my mind with their scents, textures and colours. Products that I use now on a daily basis are becoming part of my history as I write this, and in 2, 5, 10 years time they will evoke this particular era in my life. Of course, I'm always looking for ways to add to the memories, so to speak, hence nurturing the continuous desire for the new and innovative and the old but untested.... that's a long-winded way for me to say I'm still shopping a lot!