Monthly Archives: February 2016

The Joy of Face Masks

I only really got into beauty and skincare after the age of 40. Before then I didn’t wear much make-up and never put little thought into my very basic skincare routine. Now I’m making up for lost time and thought I could use the blog occasionally to share/gain information and this new found passion.

One aspect of skincare I really enjoy is the use of face masks. Unlike a lot of skincare it feels – argh, this word makes me cringe but I can’t think of a better one – pampering. I run a bath and have a soak while my mask/s of choice gets to work.

I have been quite the fan of “multi-masking”: putting more than one mask on at the same time. I use the Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant on my oily T-Zone and the Aveda Intensive Hydrating Masque on my cheeks and neck where the skin tends to be dry. But this winter I got the Mega-Mushroom Skin Relief Mask by Dr. Andrew Weil for Origins and it is LOVE.

This creamy treatment mask with Cordyceps and Reishi Mushrooms plus Ginger, Holy Basil and Turmeric instantly reduces visibly redness, blotchiness and reactivity.

I apply liberally all over and it tingles for a few seconds. I like this because it feels likes it’s actually going to do something. It’s also definitely a tingling, rather than a stinging, sensation. As per the instructions I leave it on for around 10 minutes and rinse off.

I notice the difference immediately. My skin feels firmer, less sensitive and even strengthened. Of course this is my impression rather than a measurable result. It’s like getting a new layer of stronger, healthy skin.

I don’t think I’m completely imagining this though because I felt this before I read on the Origins website that this treatment mask “helps revitalize and restore luminosity to stressed skin and rebuild a protective barrier to help avoid future flare-ups. Leaves skin calm and comforted.”

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It’s categorised as best for redness and sensitivity but is suitable for all skin types. At £37 for 100ml it’s not exactly a bargain but I do think it’s worth the money for the results it gives me. Especially at this time of year, when my skin is suffering the ill-effects of harsh cold winds and drying central heating.

Right now, I’m curious about the Korean sheet masks which are having a moment. Have you tried them and would you recommend them? Please tell me your thoughts in the comments and let me know whether you have a favourite face mask.

 

 

 

 

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Vanilla Smoke Eau De Parfum by Aftelier Perfumes 

Per fumum…

Notes: Yellow Mandarin, Siam Wood, Saffron Absolute, Vanillin, Vanilla Absolute, Lapsang Souchong, Ambergris, Coumarin

Shalimar, with its gorgeously smoky opoponax, is the closest I’ve come to loving a vanilla-focused perfume. The usual straight-up vanillas are just too cloyingly sugary for my taste and are often very simplistic.

The only problem with the Guerlain was it just felt too dressy most of the time. Reluctantly, I found loving homes for my little used bottles of the EdP and Shalimar Light.

So my interest was more than piqued when I read about the 2015 creation Vanilla Smoke by talented indie perfumer Mandy Aftel. Could this be the vanilla fragrance that works for me? An order from Surrender To Chance later and I was about to find out.

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On application, I get a shot of black tea but this is quickly overtaken by bright orange splashes of mandarin and saffron. Saffron is such a striking note with a luxurious feel, but I don’t like it in overdose. Here it’s mellow, savoury and sophisticated.

With usually weighty ingredients like vanilla and smoke at its core, you’d think Vanilla Smoke would be a heavy fragrance but it’s actually surprisingly sheer. This is what helps to make it incredibly easy and enjoyable for me to wear.

The smoke is provided not from incense but by lapsang souchong tea essence which has been extracted from tea leaves smoked over pinewood. This deep, complex accord wafts up beautifully as if from a piping hot cup and provides a lot of interest and depth in this deceptively simple composition. The lapsang souchong creates a definite fireside effect; it’s not an conflagration like Bois d’Ascese but smoke that rolls off a campfire in the darkness.

Rather than being upfront, the vanilla acts more as a backdrop, providing a beautiful contrast to the overlay of soft, smooth smoke. As well as the more typical vanillin, Mandy uses Madagascan vanilla absolute, with all its nuances. This natural material has facets of spice and woodiness, making it a thousand times more exotic than your run-of-the-mill vanilla fragrance.

While it lasts well, it’s pretty low-key, although there is also a Parfum concentration.

vanilla smoke

I find the smell of smoke grounding and add some unsweetened vanilla to the mix and you have my ideal comfort scent. It’s just the kind of thing I wish I had in my collection on drab days when I need a bit of soothing but want something with more warmth than incense can provide. It’s not just a scent to ease your worried mind though, it feels incredibly sensual too – I want to bathe in it.

Vanilla Smoke is more than just a  grown-up vanilla, it offers me the perfect smoky fragrance, being sensuous and wearable rather than austere and masculine. For this reason I feel more than justified in putting it on my Full Bottle Wish List.

Just when I’d got it down to zero too…

 

Have you tried Vanilla Smoke? Any Aftelier favourites?

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Venice Photo Essay

First I should say that this post contains no perfume. I packed just one decant of Cuir de Russie for the trip but it felt like too much sensory overload first thing in the morning. We only walked into one perfumerie but I wasn’t in the mood for testing anything and I’m not sure Portia was either.

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I thought I’d love Venice but it totally surpassed even my high expectations. I totally fell over heels in love with the place. Looking at the buildings from the water buses was like staring back in time. I’ve never been anywhere with such a vivid sense of history.

 

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Of course I knew the city was on the water but it was seeing a police boat speeding along the waterways with its siren blaring that made it really hit home how these canals are its streets. It’s mainly backstreets, alleyways and squares apart from that. It’s like walking through a beautiful maze. Anywhere else I’d feel uneasy but even late at night I felt safe and it was surprisingly clean considering the number of visitors.

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We arrived on Monday afternoon and checked-in at the gorgeous and ideally located Hotel Boscolo Bellini. Soon we headed off to St. Mark’s Square which is something else in real life. Television and photographs just don’t do it justice. Even at night and/or in the rain, it is stunning. We went inside St. Mark’s Basilica at one end of the square which is a majestic Italo-Byzantine cathedral.

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St. Mark’s Basilica in the background and Anna Maria in St. Mark’s Square in the foreground

We then had tea at a place in the colonnades that Portia and Jin had been to before,. Caffe Florian dates back to 1720 and while rather steamy that night, was a great experience. The tea was fit for a (drag) queen as you can see.

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That’s how to serve tea the Caffe Florian way.

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My buddy Jin and I at Caffe Florian

On Day 2 poorly Jin needed some rest, so Portia, Anna Maria and I went back to St. Mark’s Square to visit the Doge’s Palace. This was fantastic and as usual the audio guide really helped get the most out of it. Anna Maria and I crossed the Bridge of Sighs into the prison where we promptly got lost, leading us to agree that even if you managed the impossible and escaped from your cell, you’d never find the exit.

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The Doge’s Palace

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The Bridge of Sighs where we tunefully sang Madonna’s “Like A Virgin”

One room that took our breath away was the Chamber of the Great Council which is apparently the longest room in Europe without pillars. They only managed to construct it because of their immense expertise at ship building.

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The Chamber of the Grand Council

Across the south side of St. Mark’s Square was the Museo Correr which was once the House of Hapsburg, so this was great to see after experiencing the Hofburg in Vienna last year. After viewing the state apartments, it was amazing to see the rooms crammed with artefacts up to the 16th century, very few of which were behind glass, roped off or with someone watching over them.  It was as if Venice has more treasures than it knows what to do with.

In the afternoon we went with Jin to the Rialto bridge, which I didn’t actually realise had shops on it. Just over one side was Rialto 79, a little shop selling Murano glass jewellery where I picked up a small black and silver pendant. Portia got some striking earrings made from 1950s green Murano glass, while Anna Maria got a bracelet made to her specification right there and then.

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Jin, Anna Maria and me on the Rialto Bridge

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The Rialto Bridge

Thanks to recommendations from Antonio Gardoni and Lady Jane Grey, after dinner we went to Harry’s Bar which opened in 1931. We timed it just right because there was no one at the counter when we arrived. The Bar was frequented by the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Orson Welles and Charlie Chaplin. It was where the Bellini was invented, so although I don’t normally drink wine, it had to be done.

The dapper barman gave us his spiel and we lapped it up. I love how everything has been kept the same, even down to where the bottles are positioned on the shelves. I must say, that Bellini was delicious and went down incredibly easily.  The whole experience had us buzzing.

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Lining up those Bellinis at Harry’s Bar

On our last full day we took the water bus out across the lagoon to the island of Murano. We eventually found the shop owned by the family of the hotel receptionist, Patrick. His borther  made a glass ladybird (ladybug in the US) while we watched and his mother showed us some of her own creations in their shop next door.

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Anna Maria bought a striking black glass ring while Portia picked up some earrings and a necklace. I settled on what Portia described as “The Bluebird of Happiness” which is exactly why I picked it .

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My Murano glass Bluebird of Happiness at home in London

In the afternoon we went to see the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and oh my goodness did this blow me away. So much fabulous art packed into one space, inside the beautiful palazzo and outside in the garden. You name a great modern artist and chances are they are represented at the Collection. From Picasso, Paul Klee, Kandinsky and Francis Bacon to Rothko, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock and Magritte.

Portia had said how she was told off for blowing on the Alexander Calder mobile during a previous visit so I was surprised to see her do it again AND get told off again. Undeterred she did it again when we found another one and I must say that seeing it swing into action really made it come alive. In the future, I need to think “What Would Portia Do?” and do it. That shouldn’t get me into too much trouble.

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Portia breathing life into an Alexander Calder mobile

We had our last supper at a place recommended to us by staff at the hotel and id didn’t disappoint. Anna Maria has Italian heritage so went for Baccala done three ways, Portia and I both had Lasagne and Jin went for Spaghetti Bolognese. We shared a tiramisu and cheesecake was a very good decision on our part. After some shopping for family and friends back home, we ended our day and our truly wonderful time in Venice.

Heartfelt thanks to the wonderful Portia, gentleman Jin and the awesome Anna Maria for letting me tag along on this leg of their European tour.

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It was a trip I will never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m In Venice!

As you read this I am in Venice pinching myself because I can’t believe my luck. It will be cold in February but hopefully that will reduce the “aroma” from the canals and keep the number of other tourists down to minimum.

Venice-(Italy)

I’ve always wanted to visit Venice and mentioned this to Portia during our Skype chat over Christmas. She generously invited me to join her, the lovely Jin and their fellow Aussie mate, during their time there. They are on a European trip comprising 11 cities in 7 countries over about 5 weeks. I had just been on an expensive transatlantic trip but I’ve learnt that when an opportunity comes up in life I need to grab it with both hands.

If you missed it, you can catch up on some photos from Portia’s triumph at Perfume Lovers London last month here.

Portia and me

I won’t be around to answer comments until the weekend but feel free to share a destination that’s on your bucket-list or your own experience of Venice.

Ciao!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tango, Terralba, Luci Ed Ombre and Montecristo by Masque Milano 

Welcome to the Masquerade Ball

It might not have met my high expectations but I did enjoy trying Russian Tea by Italian niche brand, Masque Milano. It had an atmospheric mood and an appealing (if fanciful) backstory. I liked it enough to become intrigued by the other releases from the brand.

Below are my impressions of the four other fragrances currently in the line-up.

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Tango 

Notes of amber, jasmine sambac, Turkish rose, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, tonka bean, benzoin, sandalwood, guaiac wood, cedar and melilotus.

Opening with a liqueur-like red rose, Tango settles into an incredibly smooth and silky amber. It’s not ground-breaking but it’s seamlessly well done and high quality. There’s a nice sprinkling of spice and just the right amount of vanilla.

Tango could be worth investigating if you’re still seeking a wearable, classy amber fragrance.

Terralba 

Notes of clary sage, lemon, green tangerine, myrtle, thyme, curry leaves, everlasting flower, lentisque, juniper, cypress and cedarwood

Terralba was created to invoke the aroma of a Mediterranean shoreline where the scent of coastal shrubbery mixes with sea salt. Unfortunately it reminds me more of the old school fougères which were popular with my father’s generation.

I’m sure I’m doing it a great disservice but I find the association hard to shake. You may have better luck if you are a fan of green, herbal fragrances.

Luci Ed Ombre 

Notes of incense, ginger, tuberose, jasmine, moss, cedarwood and patchouli

I really enjoyed testing Luci Ed Ombre because it’s rather novel and the idea behind it is so effectively realised. The wearer is transported to the border of a bright field and a gloomy forest where a sense of foreboding creeps over them.

It’s brought to life using patches of moss, earth, gently indolic flowers and a touch of musty incense (which intensifies in the base).

Luci ed Ombre is the kind of white floral I can get on board with – one shrouded in darkness. My only reservation is that it’s a touch reticent.

Montecristo 

Notes of cabreuva, ambrette seeds, rum, tobacco leaves, celery seeds, cistus, benzoin, golden stone, styrax gum, gaiac wood, cedar wood and patchouli

Whoa. An opening of booze and barbecue smoke, that’s got my attention.

Montecristo calms into a distinctive smoky leather with old dry wood and a burnt facet. It’s not as harsh and manly as it sounds. There is some sweet resin in the mix, probably from the styrax, which counterbalances it.  Over time, it becomes increasingly sensual.

Interestingly, it features hyraceum (“Golden Stone”) which helps make Papillon Perfumes’ Salome so gloriously carnal. Here it feels more like animal hide than human skin.  Montecristo is chic, striking and not a little addictive.

woman wearing a venetian mask

Overall I’ve been impressed by the offerings from Masque Milano. The fragrances tend to have an intimate feel and plenty of character.

I particularly like that the line comes across as very Italian: stylish, sophisticated and sultry, with just a dash of machismo.

 

Do you own or admire any of the Masque Milano fragrances?

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My Favourite Bottled Leather – Cuir de Lancome

Hand me my leather…

Top notes of mandarin, bergamot and saffron, middle notes of hawthorn, jasmine, ylang-ylang and patchouli, base notes of birch, orris and styrax

Why was Cuir de Lancome discontinued so soon after its release in 2007? No doubt it didn’t appeal to the average Lancome customer. I know when a “civilian” friend of mine sniffed it on my wrist she didn’t say a word. She didn’t have to, the look on her face said it all. This tarry beauty was a beast to a fan of spring florals and D&G’s Light Blue.

However, to many of us who love leather, Cuir de Lancome is hide heaven. I’m sure if it had been released by a niche brand it would still be going strong. My EdP is down to about a third and I feel anxious at the thought of having to open my sealed back-up bottle.

I bought Cuir de Lancome for about £25 four years ago and the second bottle for about £35 a couple of years later. I’ve just checked on that same auction site and there’s one 50ml bottle for sale in the UK with a Buy It Now price of £90. The ones in the States aren’t much cheaper.

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For me, the reason Cuir de Lancome is so great is that combination of smoky birch tar, saffron spice and tender florals at its core. The saffron and flowers meld into the leather making it butter soft and super sophisticated. The contrast of one accord against another makes it addictive and I can’t get enough.

It leans more feminine than your average leather fragrance. It’s not a heavy-hitter but has enough throw for me to pick it up as I type – plus it lasts for ages.

Who doesn’t love the smell of an expensive leather handbag which has softened with age?

On days I wear it, like today when it feels cold figuratively and literally outside the front door, Cuir de Lancome warms, comforts and protects me.

 

You can read my full review from Olfactoria’s Travels here.

 

Do you have a favourite leather fragrance?

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