…but, life sometimes interrupts the best laid plans. Literature Couture isn’t gone forever, but must be suspended for the present. I am happy to respond to individual beauty inquiries via email:
Happy trails to all.
It’s been an exciting 12 months in Beautopia. There were countless product launches, and not a few over-the-top trends. Some of the launches, however, gave us products that are suitable for all seasons, times, and occasions. Herein, my nominations for…
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- Slick over the lipstick you wore to the office for a nighttime look
- Add on top of eyeshadow for extra glam factor.
- Mix with powdered pigment to customize lip color
- Use as a dramatic highlighter on cheekbones and forehead
- Use as a primer or adhesive for body glitter
- run over fingernails for a very temporary glitter topcoat
- Add a dab to the center of your lower lip to make lips look fuller
- Dab right above the Cupid’s Bow to define and highlight it
- Run over collarbone for extra shine
- Portable body glitter replacement (leave the likely-to-spill shaker at home)
I present, courtesy of Esquire magazine, the full text of David Sedaris’ essay about the Dutch version of Santa Claus, “6 to 8 Black Men.” His reading of it is even funnier; it’s on his Live at Carnegie Hall CD (available at Amazon). No, this piece has nothing to do with beauty per se, but if laughter is the best cosmetic, this piece is better than any blush. Without further ado:
I’VE NEVER BEEN MUCH for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cabdriver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don’t really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They’re nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn’t tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.
What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What’s the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I’ve learned from experience that it’s best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I’ve heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn’t want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that’s become so homogenous, I’m reassured by these last touches of regionalism.
Guns aren’t really an issue in Europe, so when I’m traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. “What do your roosters say?” is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark “vow vow” and both the frog and the duck say “quack,” the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty “kik-a-ricki.” Greek roosters crow “kiri-a-kee,” and in France they scream “coco-rico,” which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says “cock-a-doodle-doo,” my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.
“When do you open your Christmas presents?” is another good conversation starter, as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It’s nothing I’d want for myself, but I suppose it’s fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.
In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.
Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.
One doesn’t want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn’t use to do anything. He’s not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate’s all wrong, and people wouldn’t appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn’t have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he’d most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn’t speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he’s not fluent, and he certainly doesn’t eat tapas.
While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I’m not sure if there’s a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.
“Is it just him alone?” I asked. “Or does he come with some backup?”
Oscar’s English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.
“Helpers,” I said. “Does he have any elves?”
Maybe I’m just overly sensitive, but I couldn’t help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. “Elves,” he said. “They’re just so silly.”
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as “six to eight black men.” I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always “six to eight,” which seems strange, seeing as they’ve had hundreds of years to get a decent count.
The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as “the small branch of a tree.”
“Yes,” he said. “That’s it. They’d kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they’d put him in a sack and take him back to Spain.”
“Saint Nicholas would kick you?”
“Well, not anymore,” Oscar said. “Now he just pretends to kick you.”
“And the six to eight black men?”
He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it’s almost more perverse than the original punishment. “I’m going to hurt you, but not really.” How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old-fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you’ve got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.
“Six to eight, did you say?”
In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it’s not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn’t too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He’s supposed to use the chimney, but if you don’t have one, he still manages to come through. It’s best not to think about it too hard.
While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you’re bad, he leaves you coal. If you’re good and live in America, he’ll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, “Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don’t know for sure, but we want you to be prepared.”
This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this sto-ry, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what’s not to love about being Dutch?
Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy—very good company—but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn’t help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don’t know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.
Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/ESQ1202-DEC_SEDARIS#ixzz1c5F0EwMN
(This series of posts give you ideas for gifts, stocking stuffers, and personal treats, all of which are under $25.)
Amazon.com is abuzz with budget beauty offerings this time of year. Here are some of my favorites:
Steamcream is a UK-based company that sells one product: a lavender-scented, highly moisturizing vegan lotion. The company uses steam heat to fuse ingredients together and then packages the cream into eco-friendly reusable tins. Get one (or several) for $18.
I’ve written about Besame cosmetics before; they’re a vintage-inspired line of prestige complexion and color products. You can get several items on Amazon, including this luxe 1940s matte lipstick ($22)
Too Faced Glamour to Go palette contains eight eye shadows, lip gloss, bronzing powder, and blush in a credit-card sized case; it’s perfect for evening bags or small purses ($21.95).
L’Occitane Cyprus Shower Gel ($20.00) is a wonderfully smelling men’s shower gel that lasts throughout the day.
US Vogue is the American fashion and style bible. Gift a one-year subscription for $15.
(This series of posts give you ideas for gifts, stocking stuffers, and personal treats, all of which are under $25.)
Spirit Beauty Lounge is one of my go-to sites for eco-friendly, sustainable, cruelty-free beauty products. Here are some great gifts at a great price from the site:
Lulu Organics hair powder ($10 for a travel-sized box) mops up excess oil from second-day hair while imparting a lovely, subtle fragrance. It also works to correct product overload on freshly washed hair if you’ve put on a little too much serum or argan oil. Choose from lavender and clary sage, pepper veviter, or jasmine.
I am obsessed with Tatcha Aburatorigami papers ($12 per pack for regular ones; $15 per pack for charcoal-infused ones). These gold-infused sheets get rid of T-zone shine, oily eyelids, or other complexion imperfections in seconds. They’re light, impossibly thin, and sized to fit into the tiniest of evening bags.
Scotch Naturals Non-Toxic Nail Polish Loch Ness Mystery ($14.99) is non-toxic, vegan, and free of petrochemicals. Plus, the pretty peacock shade looks great on pedicures.
Phoenix Botanicals Solid Rose Perfume ($22) is a heady rose scent tinged with subtle undertones of vanilla and sandlewood. It’s relaxing and reminiscent of an English garden in spring.
All the Better to Kiss You With lip balm trio ($14.99) offers three cute tins of deliciousness: Pepperminty, Chai Mandarin & Pomegranate. The lip balms are organic and the packaging is recycled.
RMS Beauty Raw Coconut Cream ($18) is not only completely sustainable and chemical-free, it’s also a true multi-tasker. It functions as a makeup remover (great for stubborn waterproof eye makeup), body moisturizer, deodorant, and face cleanser.
The items in this post are all much more expensive than ones I normally feature, but they also double as art objects for a vanity (or, heck, a coffee table). Note that I’m not listing limited edition six figure perfumes (like Clive Christian’s €170,000 bottle), but rather expensive luxury items that don’t cost as much as a house payment (or a house, for that matter). And before you ask, I don’t own any of these items; I just think they’re beautiful and worth noting.
The NARS Bento Box ($125) is a testament to elegant simplicity. The lacquered bento box opens to reveal two hand-poured, high pigment lip colors with a Kabuki lip brush for application. Get it at www.narscosmetics.com.
The Dior Blue Tie palette ($70) contains four eyeshadow shades in complementary blue, grey, and silver tones. The right half of the compact is lidded; underneath is a shell-pink lip gloss. The entire compact is heavy (it’s made of metal, not plastic) and reminds me of a glamorous 1920s socialite. Get it at Dior counters.
Cle de Peau Beaute cream eyeliner ($60) is an intensely gorgeous swirl of color in an elegant case. Get it from Bergdorf Goodman stores.
Bergdorf Goodman is also a retailer for Guerlain’s Nuit d’ Amour perfume ($250). This iconic scent was inspired by Klimt’s “Lady with Hat and Feather Boa” and comes in a 125 ml. bottle embossed with bees.
Finally, Chantecaille’s Tigers in the Wild palette ($78) has three gorgeous shades of eyeshadow and one blush, both of which complement all skin tones. The laser-etched Bengal tigers on the products would look amazing on a vanity. (Barney’s stores or www.barneys.com)
(This series of posts give you ideas for gifts, stocking stuffers, and personal treats, all of which are under $25.)
MAC is both a mainstream beauty brand and the object of cult-like devotion. It’s fashion-forward and changes inventory in the time it takes some people to change a sweater. Check out these offerings from the brand, all under $25. If you don’t live near a department store with a MAC counter, snag ‘em at www.maccosmetics.com.
Glitter and Ice Nail Lacquer in Unconditionally Fabulous ($16) is a Johnny Weir-created polish with serious sparkle. It’s also a limited edition, so get it while you can.
The classic MAC lipstick in Ruby Woo instantly adds dimension and color to the face ($14.50).
Lip Erase is a hydrating balm with a yellow undertone that helps lipstick stay true to color; it’s a must in my makeup bag ($18.50)
Pigment is a multi-use powder that can work as eyeshadow, liner, lip color, and more. It comes in 30 shades, including teal (shown) ($20)
MAC’s cosmetic brushes are second to none; I’ve got some that were born during the first Clinton administration. Fully synthetic brushes under $25 include #195 (concealer), #231 (small shading), #263 (small angle), #316 (lip brush), #318 (retractable lip brush; great for travel), #209 (pointed liner), #210 (liner), and #212 (flat definer)
Finish your wrapping job with Kids Helping Kids gift tags, designed by children affected by HIV/AIDS; every cent of the purchase price goes to the MAC AIDS Fund ($10 for 12)
The Badger Three Bold Balms gift set contains three full-sized tins of the brand’s popular products: Sore Muscle Balm, Sleep Balm, and Healing Balm. Plus, the packaging is hands-down adorable ($15.99 at drugstore.com).
Clementine Art makes all-natural art supplies for children, but that doesn’t mean adults can’t use this adorable crayon set ($4.49 at drugstore.com)
Scent your home naturally with Caldrea Holiday Fragrance Candle in Pineapple Cardamom ($24.99 at drugstore.com)
Philosophy’s Candy Cane Lane gift set includes a trio of peppermint-infused products ($22 at beauty.com)
Can’t afford a tropical vacation for a loved one? Help ‘em fake it with Stila’s travel palette in Wonderful in Waikiki ($14 at beauty.com)
Banish seasonal headaches with the aromatherapy benefits of Origins Peace of Mind headache remedy ($11 at beauty.com)
Stuff a little snark into a stocking with the vanilla-and-orchid-scented Tokoyo Milk skull soap ($11 at beauty.com)
Finally, the ITW Space Bag Eco Bag Shopping Trolley obviates the need to lug around tons of plastic bags. The best part? It collapses to fit in a purse ($9.99 at drugstore.com).
Now that UNC basketball season is upon us, I thought it would be a fine time to introduce you, faithful readers, to Limecrime lipstick in NO SHE DIDN’T. This vegan, animal-friendly tube of lipstick is Carolina blue and seriously, tremendously opaque. Check out the swatch, which is one swipe of the tube:
I really like this product for a few reasons. First, it’s opaque enough to be an actual lipstick and not a glorified gloss. The stuff lasts, as well. It will definitely get you though a game’s worth of shouting. It’s also creamy enough to work as an eyeshadow or base for a powder shadow. Although I wouldn’t wear it to work, its spot-on tint means it will be on my lips throughout March Madness. The only downside is the packaging, which is a little too girly for me:
However, I’ll overlook pink tubes for such a neat product. Get yours at Space.NK - an edited selection of the world’s best beauty products.
I have made my peace with the winter holidays, but that doesn’t mean I lose my all-pervasive sense of irony or my morbid sense of humor. I also believe that laughter makes anyone more attractive. Here, then, are some of my book picks for a funny but not saccharine holiday:
Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris: from “The Santaland Diaries,” which are based on the author’s former job as a Macy’s elf, to the bitingly wry “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family,” this book allows me to make it through the holidays.
The 12 Terrors of Christmas: with text by John Updike and the lovely-creepy illustrations by Edward Gorey, what’s not to love? (http://www.goreystore.com/shop/books/edward-gorey-twelve-terrors-christmas-book)
It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Zombies: Zombie Christmas Carols is pretty self-explanatory. (on sale for $4 at amazon.com)
A Rumpole Christmas by John Mortimer puts my favorite defense attorney smack in the middle of holiday foibles. (Bonus appearances by She Who Must Be Obeyed)
Finally, Travis Smith’s Kitschmasland brings us lavishly detailed renderings of Americans’ tacky holiday decorations from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Today is the third post in my series of the Twelve Products. For the next almost-fortnight, I’ll be offering a selection of twelve different versions of a classic makeup product. Today’s product: my favorite concealers. My criteria include a wide range of shades, different formulations for different skin types, and, of course, cruelty-free products. To wit:
Bobbi Brown Creamy Concealer is my absolute favorite concealer. It’s suitable for all skin types, comes in 14 shades, and matches beautifully with other brands of foundation.
If Bobbi Brown ever discontinues her creamy concealer, I have a backup in her equally amazing Tinted Eye brightener. This click-pen delivers the perfect amount of sheer liquid concealer with each turn.
Vapour Organic Illusionist Concealer contains conditioning agents that even combo/oily skin can love. It’s also super-blendable and covers invisibly.
Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer will cover just about anything…including tattoos. Dark undereye circles are no match for this baby. It also comes in 20 shades, most of which are available at Sephora.
Urban Decay 24/7 Concealer Pencil not only comes in a range of shades, its dry formulation won’t ever spill, is completely portable, and somehow goes on without crumbling or flaking.
Amazing Cosmetics Amazing Concealer is true to the adage “a little dab’ll do ya.” You only need a miniscule amount of this thick, full-coverage product to disguise anything that needs it.
Benefit’s concealers are so good I had trouble selecting one. I therefore present the kit, “Confessions of a Conceal-a-holic,” which contains six of their most popular camouflaging products.
Even though it only comes in six shades, for some reason Smashbox High Definition concealer manages to cover (literally and figuratively) just about all skin tones.
Nyx Concealer in a Jar comes in 9 shades and 4 color-correcting tones; it’s cheap; and one jar lasts basically forever.
On the other end of the price scale, Yves Saint Laurent’s Touche Eclat is one of the best undereye brighteners on the market.
Coastal Scent’s Camo Quads give you four tones of thick, almost solid concealer that are still easily blendable. They come in light, medium, dark, and correcting tone set.
Finally, check out for a cult classic that’s been reformulated to work like a charm.
I am a firm believer that makeup should be fun, not burdensome. There is no reason to lug 15 pounds of product and spend an hour in the office bathroom trying to get ready for the company party. With a little planning and a sandwich bag, you’ll be able to go from office to party in no time.
I chose a 1940s-glam look for this tutorial because I wanted something classic that would go with pretty much anything you could think to wear and that looks good on everyone. Feel free to experiment if the 40s aren’t your thing, but trust me: this classic look never looks dated, just sophisticated.
What to pack:
- 2 bobby pins
- a small box of cotton swabs
- pressed powder
- black eye shadow
- black mascara
- red lip gloss pencil
What to do:
- Pat the concealer under eyes, on any blemishes, and around the corners of the nose and mouth. Pat lightly to blend.
- Apply pressed powder to the T-zone and eyelids (who remembers to lug around eyeshadow primer during the holidays?)
- Take a cotton swab and saturate one end with the eyedrops. Dip the wet end of the swab into the black shadow. (You’re basically making a goof-proof impromptu liner.)
- Run the shadow-covered cotton swab on your top lashline.
- Saturate another cotton swab with eyedrops and run through the shadow. Use this swab to line your waterline. (The eyedrops ensure that even if you make a mistake and get shadow in your eyeball, you won’t have red eyes)
- Apply two generous coats of mascara.
- Slick on a bright red gloss pencil (it combines shine with staying power)
- Twist your hair into a loose bun or chignon. Secure with the the two bobby pins (if you have really thick hair, use a Goody Spin Pin instead). Pull a few pieces out to frame your face; you want it a little messy, a little “undone” to make the makeup look more modern.
- Use an eyedrop-soaked cotton swab to make any last minute corrections.
- Head out the door.
Here’s what I did in 5 minutes (yes, I timed myself):
Happy Boxing Day! Today is the second of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide. For the next almost-fortnight, I’ll be offering a selection of twelve different versions of a classic makeup product. Today’s product: my favorite essential oils.
1. Eucalyptus oil is essential for me in the winter; it clears my sinuses and allows me to breath a little more easily.
2. I temper the strong smell of eucalyptus oil with spearmint oil for a little pick-me-up and refresher.
3. Rose absolute is my go-to oil for anger management (seriously). I use it to make the world retreat for a little while.
4. The natural menthol in peppermint oil is so cooling, I call it my personal air-conditioner.
5 and 6. When I get a cold with chest congestion, I can easily make my own vapor rub using an ointment base and adding rosemary and ginger oils.
7. Bergamont oil is like olfactory caffeine; I use it in the morning to get going.
8. Lavender oil, while not my favorite scent, has so many medicinal uses that it’s a staple in my EO kit.
9. I burn basil essential oil when I really have to concentrate on a task (it’s great for studying or dissertation writing)
10 and 11. Clove 0and Cinnamon oils, when combined, make my entire house smell like Christmas.
12. The antimicrobial properties of Tea tree oil means I use it (properly diluted) in skin care preparations as well as wound care.
Happy Christmas! Today is officially the start of the Twelve Days of Christmas, or Christmastide. For the next almost-fortnight, I’ll be offering a selection of twelve different versions of a classic makeup product. Today’s product: my favorite red lipsticks.
Urban Decay Super-Saturated Lip Gloss Pencil in F-Bomb: Intense color and moderate shine, all in a portable, purse-safe package.
NARS lipstick in Heat Wave: an orange-red even the palest of the pale can wear.
Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Cherries in the Snow: beautiful product, beautiful price.
MAC Lipstick in Ruby Woo is a coral-red that’s perfect for medium-toned skin.
DuWop Private Red Lipstick changes hues depending on the pH of your lips for a personalized hue.
Clinique Long Last Lipstick in Red Red Red is a cream-based product that makes a great 1940s matte lip.
Bite Luminous Creme lipstick in Zivoli: made with food-grade ingredients, this lipstick is literally good enough to eat.
Guerlain Rouge G de Guerlain Jewel Lipstick Compact in Greta is luxury in a tube…
…as is Illamasqua lipstick in Box (matte brick red)
Make Up For Ever Rouge Artist Intense #8 lipstick has 50% more pigment than most brands, which means an intense lip for you.
NYX Matte Lipstick in Red is a little orange for me, but it’s beautiful on olive complexions.
Lipstick Queen Sinner 90% Pigment lipstick in Rust Sinner is a deep, intense, brick orange-red.