Monday, 30 April 2007

#16 Bloody Cheek...

It’s fashionable to have a good old rant nowadays. If you moan and whinge and say rude, obscene, controversial things, chances are you’ll be embraced by the British public and topical debate shows will be falling over themselves to get you into a plastic chair in the hope that you’ll say something incendiary and send the ratings meter into overdrive. This crotchety new climate rather scares me, but having spent a fair few years working in the media it is, regrettably, a climate that has managed to dampen my natural, implausible cheeriness. Yes, it’s all very Devil Wears Prada, but I was once a lowly unpaid intern at the biggest magazine of all and it was during this time that I learned my first valuable and unforgettable media life lesson. If you are a ‘liker’, then my dear, I am afraid that you are deeply, whisper-inducingly uncool. The worst (and most successful) breed of Mag Hag runs around hating everything and everyone. Vitriolically, passionately, biliously dissecting and descrying all in their eye-line. C words are spat out more frequently than full-fat lattes and celebrities, icons and artists are all ugly, or fat, or stoned, or gay, or sleeping-with-the-boss; clubs are crap, restaurants ridiculous, the play du jour is dross and the book that everyone is reading is tasteless, dull and pedestrian. I was terrified of my new workplace – an office of silence, punctuated with piercing, self-aggrandising squawks. Thankfully, further down the line, there were other offices too – friendly, cake-eating, chatty ones – and it became apparent that it was possible to write for a magazine, smile a lot of the time, eat chocolate buttons with your editors and utter the words, ‘She’s so beautiful,’ without being shot down. And, though I might be prone to the occasional super-sized spleen vent, most of the time, I’m a lover, not a hater. So, on this sunniest of spring days – here’s some positivity: Shu Uemura Glow On in P Red 14. A bloody crazy Pete Burns breed of colour – it’s the antidote to all the blushers out there with names like Caress, Whisper or Sigh. In the packet it is pink-in-heat and a generous dusting will create a loud cry of colour across the cheekbone. However, it can also be blended down to give a 'less likely to scare the boys away' pinched-cheek pink. It’s my current NBF – New Best Find - and we're inseparable.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

#15 Message Scent...

I've never succumbed to the idea that a woman should have a signature scent. It seems to be just the sort of thing that is advised by Debrett's, or Coco Chanel, or eccentric ex-Vogue fashion directors who wear the same precious musk every day and leave notes in their wills about getting doused with the stuff before being buried in it. Personally, I can think of nothing worse. How I wish to smell is dictated by one thing only - my mood. Today I was a Chanel No.19 girl. I needed a classic floral with a grown-up twist to counterbalance my girly sundress and topaz heels. Spot on. Yesterday, I wanted to feel sexy and as it was a little black dress night, I went for Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir - a scent that hooked my nose in seconds. On really happy days, when the sun is shining, but it's not too hot, I make a beeline for Miller Harris Fleur du Matin - I've sprayed it so many times that it's absorbed into the towels and tiles of my guest bathroom, for which I always receive compliments. When I want to lift my spirits or if I'm feeling slightly unwell and can't bear to wear a prim perfume, it's the new Aveda Yatra PureFume. It is how you'd expect to smell after a deep, calming Aveda massage. It uses a blend of four essential oils, two of which (rose and sandalwood) are among my favourites and also crop up in the glorious Aromatherapy Associates Rose & Sandalwood Facial Oil - which I've been known to rub on my wrists and neck in place of parfum.

I love them all - and hundreds more - Prada, Vivienne Westwood, Cerruti, several Miller Harris, Nina Ricci, Antonia's Flowers... Each one will smell 'correct' on a different day and not a single one is fitting all of the time. The joy is in deciphering the day's mood and matching it to the scent. The result can be harmonious - or disastrous. I once wore Miller Harris Citron Citron on a very dark day. A bad mood, bad weather, bad hair day. All day long it jarred - it was hitting major, sharp, citrus notes, while I wanted to be left alone to stomp around in the minors. I should have chosen something smoky, something musky or, perhaps, nothing at all. Then, at least, I wouldn't have had a beautiful scent sullied by my shady temper. But, you see, that is what I love about perfume. It requires a decision to be made that will not only have a visceral effect, but will ultimately also reveal a lot about you to the world at large. It's as communicative as a slash of red lipstick, an Amnesty International bumper sticker, a swastika. And the idea that a single bottle of scent could encapsulate my myriad moods or aptly express my everchanging mental state is nothing but ludicrous. Yet, because I've been asked to name my favourite scent so many times (even during a particularly odd job interview), I almost cultivated a fake one. No one would've known. No one but me...

No, for me, a signature would be nothing more than a fughese, a fake - a forgery.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

#14 Arden Admirer?

OK. I might as well get it all out in the open. I don't like Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream. Now, this is neither meant as a provocative outburst, nor as a privately-proud I want to be a black sheep kind of statement. The truth is, I'm flummoxed by its success. Utterly bamboozled. Year after year, there it is: in the Award Halls of Fame and on the tips of the expert tongues, packed in the bags of Beauty Directors and teetering atop the bestseller lists... it's the ultimate, omnipresent product and its popularity never wanes.

I, on the other hand, have a few rational reasons for not being sold on the subject. It has been a poetic eight years since I first tried the eight hour cream. I remember thinking that it was really gloopy - a good thing, because as far as balms are concerned, gloopiness is often in direct proportion to durability, but the problem was, I never went more than an hour without reapplying. It wasn't that it rubbed off, it was more a case of my lips chapping at an alarming rate when they weren't millimetrically wrapped up in the stuff - as though my skin was getting hooked and couldn't get by without regular top ups. The more I used, the more I seemed to need... and yet, my lips always seemed slightly sore and continually cracked. I put it down to a bad winter (it was spring) and dehydration (I was downing two litres a day). I was so determined not to malign the magnificent or to reach a conclusion that bordered on profane (if beauty mythology is anything to go by), that I just kept on using it. Day after day, week after week.

By the end of the affair my lips were a right old mess. I accepted the obvious. It just did not work for me. A make-up artist mate suggested I use the remainder as a gloss on my eyelids instead. 'Do you use it on the models?' I asked. Yes, he did, but conceded that it could sting if it accidentally migrated into the eyes. No surprise there, I thought, given that the product smells like my primary school sick-room - a powerful, medicinal pong.

Then, about a week later and during a sleepy, mid-afternoon smooch, Mr Malcontent pulled - nay, whiplashed - away from me and shot me a look of pure, eye-popping horror. 'What the hell is that on your lips?' he gasped. Not only had it failed to hit the sensorial spot, but apparently, it also tasted like lighter fluid (and 'Withnail, ahem, Mr Malcontent would know', I teased). Laughter aside, I knew he was right. So that was it. The final nail in this particular cosmetic coffin.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

#13 Spleen-Clean...

Today I'm suffering. 90 minutes of gruelling, lymph-draining massage has left me lightheaded and bed-ready. I'd like to retire with a cup of white tea (which I'm hoping will help my body do battle with the emancipated toxins that are apparently dancing through my blood), but I'm already dreading the nightly five-step Dermalogica regime. Yes, five steps. Which, on a good night, when I'm still relatively bushy of tail and bright of eye, is just fine. But on a night like tonight (when my grubby grammar would've landed me in hot water, were I still being schooled by my indefatigable Latin teacher), I can barely spell, let alone pre-clean, cleanse, spritz, boost and moisturise.

So, I've jacked it in. I'm back on the balm. Before, it was always Eve Lom. Yes, that really expensive one. But I'm currently trialling The Sanctuary Hot Cloth Cleanser instead. The concept is identical: gets rid of all make-up, is steamed off with a cloth and needn't be chased with water (nor toner, nor cream). So far, so good. The formulation (which uses mainly organic ingredients, including Beeswax, Hemp Oil, Cocoa Butter, Jojoba Oil, Chamomile and Gold of Pleasure Oil) also bears similarities to Eve Lom (which also uses Hops, Chamomile and Cocoa Butter). It doesn't come off as convincingly as the Eve Lom balm, in fact, I get the impression it's trying to sink in, rather than lift away dirt, which I don't really like. But then I discovered that once you've added water to the equation (try carrying out the facial massage with moist hands) - it emulsifies well. It is also very moisturising and skin is left balm-y, clammy, spongy afterwards, which if dry and neglected, is no bad thing. It's been three nights on the trot and I'm actually rather impressed. The fact that it is also 4.8 times cheaper than Eve is more than enough reason not to be lead back into temptation. Well, not until payday at least...

Monday, 23 April 2007

#12 Cheap Stakes PART ONE

If I think about the hundreds of items of clothing that I've returned over the years - everything from a pea-green coat that my sister called 'catalogue-y' to a pair of Miu Miu sandals that were sexy in the box, but made me hobble with premature decrepitude after five minutes - it strikes me that if the same returns policy applied to cosmetics, I'd be considerably richer, and far less cynical now. I was a student, living on £30 a week, convinced that I needed a Clarins face cream and cleanser. I bought MAC make-up and Shu Uemura curlers and Kanebo concealer. I gorged on Ruby + Millie lipgloss, Stila bronzer, NARS blusher. I was an utter fool - a broke fool - with a burgeoning make-up bag to match the escalating overdraft. So I stopped. Cold turkey. Boots was banned, all Superdrug stock sequestered. Never again. And I stuck to it. Back in the black, things improved. I'd taught myself the art of cosmetic control - I didn't need the £50 face cream or £80 cellulite gel or £20 blusher. In fact, I'd learned that it didn't really matter what kind of crap I slapped on my face - you don't get good skin from spending lots of money. You get it from being happy and healthy. Yawnsome, but true.

So, today my outlook is rather different. There are yummy, luxurious, decadent, effective things that can be bought with notes - of course - but not one of them will change your life. And, I don't know about you, but when I discover a fabulous, but pricey product, I can't stop the mental calculations in my head for long enough to enjoy it - "£60 a month, £720 per year - Blimey! I could buy premium gym membership for that! Or take an amazing holiday.... or... or." You get the guilt-tinged point. So, in the spirit of exuberant economy (the mantra being: spend less, get more, have fun!) I've come to like my little trinkets cheap and interesting. That way, if they're good - as many affordable cosmetics are - it's far more satisfying.

Here are the staples that have been floating my boat (and keeping my afloat) for some time:

1. Burt's Bees Lemon Butter Cuticle Creme. Less than a fiver, smells like fresh, sharp sherbert and lasts for ages. In fact, I've got a two year old pot that's still going strong.

2. 17 Sheer Shine Eye Cream, £3.79. Good stuff that's very easy to use. Comes in a series of nice shades with a subtle, shimmery finish. Tigerlily is a favourite.

3. Boots Coconut & Almond Leave-In Conditioner, £1.79. I go through a bottle in the summer. I saturate my ends, or spray it all the way through damp hair if I'm doing a senorita-style-bun, comb it through and go about my business. Smells like you'd expect it to, which is no bad thing.

4. Rimmel Special Eyes Eyeliner Pencil, £2.99. It's firm (so you don't get that awful melted-chocolate consistency that you often get with expensive soft kohl) and it doesn't crumble, smudge or melt.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

# 11 Day of Rest...

Living slap-bam in the centre of the London Marathon route, I spent the day out on my balcony, shouting out the names of strangers - 'Go Fred! Go Kath! Go Katie! Save the Rhino!' - in an effort to 'respeck' the throngs of fit, thumping thighs pounding past me. Yes, it is remarkable. 26 miles. Wow. Cor. Fantastic. Wish I could do it. I think I might try for it next year. Etc etc.

An hour later, and after further torment (i.e. one too many glimpses of the cocoa-butter-bods on T4's Shipwrecked), I was on my way to enquire about membership at the local gym. Timing wasn't great on my part. Rather than revving up the inner resolve, the whirring treadmills, sweaty dumbbells and shiny Swiss Balls left me cold, languid, and within twenty minutes I was back at home, snoozing on the sofa. In my defense, it's a bad time of the month and I'm currently doubled up in agony, typing in the foetal position. And when things get this bad, there are a couple of tried and tested remedies that I like to pull out of the Doctor's bag:

1. Elemis Lavender Neck Pillow. This was a limited edition gift with the Luxury Dream Journey Traveller and it comes in a sneeze-inducing gets-up-your-nose-and-all-over-your-clothes faux-fur pillowcase. I take the grain-filled bag out of the 'Kerchoo-Case, stick it in the microwave for two minutes, stuff it under my jumper and spend the rest of the day walking around like a deranged woman who's playing at being pregnant. No, sexy it isn't, but the natural lavender aroma combined with the steaming heat is just the tonic for sore tummies and that is all I care about.

2. Aromatherapy Associates De-Stress Muscle Bath & Lavender Oil. If muscles are tight or cramp has set in, I take a small amount of this potent oil and rub it directly onto the skin. The ginger, rosemary and lavender oils warm the area, tingling slightly. Follow with a hot shower. It really takes the edge off the pain.

3. Dr Hauschka Lavender Bath. I'm not really the bathing type and prefer the slap on the back of a high-pressure shower, which is why this grass-green oil is a bathroom staple. The steam from running hot water vaporises the liquid within seconds, filling the room with a knot-loosening, tension-reducing fog that works wonders on even the most pernickety of schwitzers.

The problem is that with all of these somniferous scents floating around the house, it's impossible to get anything constructive done - there'll certainly be no heavy machinery operated in the Malcontent household tonight. In fact, had today been an ordinary working day, I, like millions of others, would simply have deployed a time-honoured, straightforward and foolproof pain management plan. The same course of action that men and women have been taking for decades: drugs, lots and lots of drugs. But as it is Sunday, my one day of rest, I'm actually enjoying these half-lids and heavy hands... and sometimes it feels nice to remind myself that the solution needn't be swallowed every four hours. Sometimes, it just comes naturally.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

#10 Pong Whiffy…

I remember my first PSE lesson at school, which long before the inflatable tampon and condom + banana tricks, involved a lesson in the body and its natural, well, pungency. We were taught that once we had all reached puberty, our bodies would start to produce stronger smelling secretions and if we were not careful, if one did not have a can of Sure about their person at all times, that one of us – any one of us – might well fall victim to the dreaded, toe-curling, whisper-inducing, ‘B.O.’. Having B.O. at my school was the most rapid and assured way to commit social suicide. Two well-developed twelve year olds took it upon themselves to sniff out the offenders every morning – laughing and yelping, rolling on the floor with pinched noses, if they caught a whiff of anyone who had forgotten their daily spray. We all lived in fear, no, terror, that one morning, or, god help us, after a triple sports lesson, our bodies would plot against us and produce a malodorous current, picked up by a particularly well-tuned nose, that would result in immediate and non-negotiable dismissal from the group. It is for this reason, I believe, that I have a mortal fear of my own smell. Mr Malcontent – ever the smoothy – once called it ‘soupy’, ‘but,’ he said, trying desperately hard to redeem himself and his chances of late-night-loving, ‘I really like soup.’

Nowadays, I take no chances. I love the sea-fresh smell of Bionsen Spray and Roll-On – spring breezes can waft my armpits at will – I smell good. The same, however, cannot be said of all. B.O. I have learned, is not just a social stumbling block for pre-teen girls. It is also a common characteristic of the overworked and underwashed professional man.

Too many summers have passed and I can remain charitable no longer. The weather is getting hotter, tubes sweatier and BY GOD, the men in their manmade fibres are stinking up the entire carriage. It’s April 21st and already, there have been five culprits – all ages, all sizes, all suited and booted and half-asleep – wreaking to High Holborn. The problem, I have come to realise, is not necessarily personal hygiene. It is, rather more simply, a matter of laundry. Many men are not washing their work clothes often enough and a large percentage are wearing the same shirt, suit, tie and coat from Monday to Friday. Which means that if you happen to find yourself on a tube in Friday morning rush hour, packed into a burly bloke’s armpit – trying desperately hard to shift your olfactory centre in another, less savoury direction – you are, in fact, privy to a week’s worth of recycled reek. Nice. So, come on guys, get your households in order, stock up on the suds and do a wash once in a while. It'll be worth it. After all, The Lynx Effect is one thing, but in reality, there’s nothing sexier than a freshly laundered, crisp, clean, white cotton shirt. Now that’s my kind of Bom Chika Wah Wah.

Friday, 20 April 2007

#9 No rest for the wicked...

Last night, things went awry in the Malcontent household. Excessive alcohol consumption led to loss of keys, diminished dexterity and a Kowalski-esque holler that woke up half the bloody (and, at that time of night, bloodthirsty) neighbours. Yes, Mr Malcontent locked himself out. Idiot. Being wrenched from golden slumbers at the heart-stalling time of 3.30am did nothing for my mood, my mind or my complexion. This morning, having managed just four hours of semi-decent sleep before my embarrassingly polite alarm clock ‘Tweet Tweeted’ at 8am, I looked a right ol’ mess. Puffy eyes, dark circles, pores, well, poreifying. Now, being a beauty editor, I should technically be armed to the hilt with bottles of beauty miracles that would magic away all unflattering signs of sleeplessness. In truth? Come on, who are we kidding? There isn’t a single product on the market that will turn a corned beef complexion into plump, well-rested, Pampers-baby-bottom type skin overnight, and certainly not within 10 minutes. It just isn’t possible. But, as I had a morning meeting, something had to be done. Something drastic:

1. SK-II Facial Treatment Mask. Bloody hell these things are expensive, but when you’ve had a late night and your eyes are all ringed and bulgy, these sopping, pre-soaked, moisture-boosting masks are good. I want to stress that they don’t work wonders – I didn’t develop an LA glow or radical radiance or skin as soft as Mischa Barton’s earlobes, or any other such nonsense – but they did leave my skin feeling softer, more hydrated and looking far less irritable.

2. Vaishaly Day Moisturiser, Normal/Combination. Simple, easy, sinks in without residual oiliness. With calming essential oils and SPF. One of the best face creams I’ve tried.

3. Lots of Liz Earle Superbalm. On lips, dry patches, under eyebrows.

4. Dermalogica Total Eye Care. Reliable in a Homebase-Hubby, 'takes care of everything' sort of way. Leaves no residue and also has SPF.

5. Some Guerlain Bronzer, Bourjois Eyeliner, Shu Uemura Lash Repair, Clinique Almost Lipstick in Almost Blush and a swipe of old faithful, Giorgio Armani Sheer Cream Blush, No 5.

After all that, you’d expect something great, something head-turning, wink-inducing – a makeover on par with Ally Sheedy's legendary Breakfast Club metamorphosis. The truth is, I didn’t look amazing, or fresher-than-fresh, or particularly radiant. I looked fine and, crucially, as though I'd had a decent night's sleep. A darn sight better than most of the working week’s survivors – especially the woman who almost lost an eye tweezing between Southwark and Bond Street! - and for a Friday morning, that was more than enough for me.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

#8 The Zit Zapper...

I’ve been getting spots. Very odd and very British spots. They queue, waiting quietly and patiently beneath the surface, for the preceding pimple to die away, before stepping up and taking the prime spot for themselves – the centre of the forehead. They do not crowd the space, they do not jostle for attention – no, they wait their turn, and one by one, they appear, back to back, in single file, like some sort of nightmarish cloning experiment. They are not angry, weeping, pustular spots – thank god – they are small, raised, rather red spots. I am not a dermatologist, so I have absolutely no idea whether or not they have a specific name, whether they’re a mild form of acne, or just common garden variety growths that will die down within their own time. For the most part, I leave my face alone. I completely ignore it during the day – make-up goes on in the morning and it is cleansed off at night. There is no eye-rubbing, chin scratching or mouth-wiping. Things stay put, skin stays calm and all is good with the world. But then, about a month ago, these little turrets of torment popped up on the bloody forehead and because I don’t have a fringe, I have nowhere to hide them. They are there and my mind is on them.

So when I received the gadget du jour, Zeno Acne Clearing Device, which costs a scientific-research-justifying £129, I thought, ‘Haha you bastards. Die! Die!’ Except, it’s not that simple. First you have to identify the spot that you have.

You have to press your nose into the mirror and pick the label that fits:
Are you?
No Acne – in which case, why the bloody hell have you bought Zeno in the first place?
Subclinical Acnevisible only on close examination. So nope, not me.
Comedonal AcneBlackheads and Whiteheads with inflammation. Nope, no heads to speak of. Again, not me.
Mild Acne Several inflamed red pimples. Well, I only have one. Is this me? Anyone?
Moderate AcneMany inflamed pimples and pustules. Oh god, definitely not me.
Severe Nodular AcneInflamed pimples and pustules and deep nodular lesions (solid mass like a knot, felt under the skin). Blimey, I might have a very small, very lonely deep nodular lesion.

You’re only able to use Zeno on the Mild and Moderate Acne, so if you’re worse off, you’ve spent £129 that you probably can’t refund for hygiene reasons, and if like me, you need ‘An Idiot’s Guide to Spots’ rather more urgently than you need an expensive electrical device, you’ll be too scared to zap away in fear that a single impulse will send them all multiplying – like all good modern Sci-Fi movies, where ‘nuking them’, only ever results in increased strength, speedier growth and greater breeding capacity.

But, to hell with it, I DID try the device. I’ve used it six times and counting, on two different spots. I used it ‘at the first signs of a new pimple’ as instructed, did everything I was supposed to do and I really can’t say whether or not it made a blind bit of difference. Said spots still appeared. They still took several days to clear, and despite being clear-headed at present, I fear I haven’t seen the last of the dastardly dots. I'm sure Zeno is amazing if you know what you're doing and I'm sure it's working for millions of people the world over. I'm sure it's all my fault, because I must have incorrectly identified said species of spot. AND therein lies the problem.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

#7 The Goody Bag

I get sent so many products that sometimes, before opening them, I hope that I won't like them. If I don't like them, I'm at liberty to pile them into pretty paper bags and give them to my friends and relatives - who lap them up like Augustus Gloop in the chocolate river - and save me some more space in my bathroom cabinets. It's not that I'm ungrateful (even though I must sound it), it's that I've become worn out by the fickle falling-in-love affair that happens every single day when you're a beauty editor. It's like a rather shallow case of Stendhal Syndrome - that sort of palpitating ecstasy that one experiences on witnessing a catalogue of beautiful, sublime things (in Stendhal's case, Art in Florence), but on my part, it's bag upon bag of new scent, new shade, new skincare. And when the sensation passes, you're left feeling rather numb.

So when I begin to feel numb, I take a rifle through my goody bag. Things I've kept aside for myself - after they've been shot - to test and trifle with. It cheers me up, it invigorates me, and it reminds me of why I like this little game and how fun it can all be. Something, I've certainly not forgotten yet. It's also a very democratic little bag. Big fish mingle with little fish, hefty tags with measly sums, drugstore cowboys beside park avenue princesses... here's the rundown:

1. DuWop Shadowlift in Heat. A shadow that is supposed to lift and tighten eyelids. That sounds David Gest scary. I felt nothing. What I saw, however, was a smooth, highly-pigmented layer of creamy shadow that illuminated my eyelids. This shade's a killer too. A burnished, pink-bronze, that looks devastatingly good when worn with jet black maccy + liner.

2. Urban Decay Deluxe Eyeshadow in Shag. Name aside (is it supposed to be a conversation starter?) this is IT. Admittedly, it is rather similar to the shade above, with more gold and less pink, but it has an unusual, spongy-powder texture that glides onto lids and really takes root. It loves the light too and is therefore ideal for any night when you're planning to flirt like a brazen little hussy. Oh, I see, there was method in the naming madness...

3. Bourjois Lovely Brill in Coquillage Rose. The smell, oh the smell, takes me back in a two-second swipe to my very first nicked lipstick. There was a rubbed down stub of a shade that my mum saved from the seventies - it was glittery, and bright and pink and HORROR, frosted. I wore it every day until a cotton bud was unable to extricate one last atom of colour from the hollow casing. Now, I've found this. In the tube, it looks completely different, then I smell it and the rose-y confectionary whiff - Pez crossed with Fruit Salads - makes me think it might work. And then I apply it - what do you know? If the 70s stub had grown up and had illicit sex with Chanel's Rose Baby, this would have been their lovechild.

In June 2007, Bourjois will be launching a selection of four new lip care products, called Lip Clinic. They'll include a lip scrub (mini exfoliating brush) and moisturising balm duo; a nourishing night balm; a lip-plumping gloss and a clear mint-scented gloss. Packaging, as ever with this cute little piece of french fancy, is pleasing and the products will take some beating too.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

#6 Hot List

Today has been a long day.... this is what I like:

1. If you haven't already seen Shiseido's new collection, make it your next make-up mission. The Hydro-Powder Eyeshadows come in pots perfect for finger dipping and shade H9 (Glistening Sand) is universally flattering.

2. Vivienne Westwood Boudoir Sin Garden. Scent is utterly objective, so there's no point in trying to sell your favourite to anyone else - one woman's signature could be another woman's sewage. Suffice it to say, the new twist on the Boudoir theme comes in a lovely, neat, chunky bottle and I've been wearing it all week.

3. Kiehl's Simply Mahvelous Lip Glosses. They soothe and hydrate, without the usual lip-sticking-to-teeth-and-hair scenario. Goldenberry is an odd name for a bright, cheery red. My favourite.

Monday, 16 April 2007

#5 The Top Tan...

My problem with self-tanning is not the colour produced, but the actual sensation of the product on the face. Most sit atop the skin, feeling oily and unnatural - or they are so heavily scented that it's impossible to forget you're wearing them even for a second. Two new launches are good, but still come with problems. Biotherm Self-Tanning Face Gel for fair skin, doesn't feel too bad. The packet says 'ultra-natural looking radiant tan freshness' - word vomit alert - and feels nice and cool on contact, but once dry, it feels sticky. In fact, I can always tell when Mr Malcontent has been at it, because it feels as though his face has been tacky backed. It also has an overwhelming smell - chemical-citrus. The colour it produces is good though. Then there's Lancome's Flash Bronzer Custom Colour Tinted Self-Tanning Lotion. Good because the colour it initially deposits onto the skin is the same colour that develops beneath it. But despite using a fair amount - swiped across the nose, tops of cheeks, below hairline - it gave me nothing more than a faint whisper of a tan. And after cleansing and exfoliating the next day I was back to shade one. It would, however, certainly be a good investment for lily skins afraid of tango tints. It smells rather nice too - delicate, powdery, soft. Neither is the holy veil I was searching for, which is why make-up is the only alternative. Which is no bad thing considering the wealth of brilliant bronzers out there.

I've never been a Guerlain Terracotta fan - sacrilege I know! I was always too scared of the deep, earthy bronze of their powders and feared I'd look like an unfortunate extra from One Million Years B.C. But since the launch of the Light Sheer Bronzing Powders, I've never looked back. The Harmonie Blondes 01 formula, combines gold and pink powders, without any unflattering glitter or obvious shimmer - just fine, sophisticated, light-as-air colour.

Another great option - especially for olive or tanned skins - is Origins Sunny Disposition. It isn't new, but I trialled it for the first time at the weekend and was seriously impressed. A tiny amount of the deep brown fluid blended over brow and cheek bones and the bridge of the nose creates the sort of healthy burnish that you'd normally get from a festival weekend. Like it.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

#4 Face Facts...

Heavy feelings often plague the deskbound. There's nothing profound about it - it comes from sitting around all day and eating unnecessarily. Today it was a belated Easter egg - a Dairy Milk one that my partner picked up from the reduced bin in the supermarket. I've been busy all day - it took me two hours after waking to wash my face - chasing emails from New York, waiting for PRs to confirm plans, trying to finish a feature that I've been batting around for hours, like a morose cat with a ball of string. It's not like I've just been sitting on my arse (she says, defensively). I have managed a walk down to Marks & Spencers in between sending manic emails and making phone calls. Sometimes though, this doesn't seem like a real job. I get things sent to me - today, a large crate of Volumising products from Garnier, an amazing batch of the new Shu Uemura Summer colours and the new Vivienne Westwood Boudoir Sin Garden - and I play with them, sniff them and eventually come to write about them - which I will of course do later - but in between, I'm at chronic risk of letting my days slip by without human contact. None at all. I even 'IM' my sister - we save our talks for the weekend. I called my mum and was surprised to find that she has found the energy to visit her local shopping compound and stock up on early summer swag. What I should of been doing today - I'm ashamed to say - is popping into a series of press days. There was the Halpern one - where the fabulous Japanese brand Suqqu was on show - but this morning I realised that my face and body are quite simply, not in 'meeting the world' mode today. Brows need to be plucked, skin masqued and body depilated. I do not feel footloose - not one bit - I have let this lovely life get the better of me and resolve to make it all better tonight. And when I am in need of beautifying, nothing beats this lengthy, indulgent ritual:

1. Make-up removed with Dermalogica Pre-Cleanse
2. Face washed with Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel
3. If my skin is having a bad day, looks uneven, feels rough to the touch, I use Liz Earle Gentle Face Exfoliator. Partly because of it's subliminal power - the eye-watering eucalyptus convinces me it's really purifying my pores.
3. I then layer on an oil-free moisturising mask. Dermalogica Skin Hydrating Masque is wonderful - but the pack instructions mendacious. A thin layer does nothing at all. Dry skin sucks it up in miliseconds and then you're left with nothing but residual tightness. No, I drench my skin in the stuff, glooping layer upon layer, around the eyes too - and leave it on for 10 minutes. Normally while showering.
4. If bathing, Elemis Skin Nourishing Milk Bath is good stuff. I was cynical at first - well, I'm allergic to milk - but this left my skin slippery-smooth. It also soothed the odd eczema patch - which is odd, as consuming milk does quite the opposite.
5. Then, if I'm planning a sexy night and want to pounce on Mr Malcontent later on, I heat up the Elemis Exotic Frangipani Monoi Moisture Melt and drizzle it all over my body. The super-sweet scent isn't quite me, more my exotic other self - my Bertha, my erotic woman in the attic. If Bertha is feeling shy or sleepy, I use Dr Hauschka Lemon Body Oil. It has a real sherbertiness and is wonderful in the summer.
6. Most nights, it's my Brown Earth Shea Butter - which really is dividing people at the moment. I love the moist, ever-so-slight tackiness it leaves behind - but my sister, mother and best friend are having none of it. It seems that, for most people, the mark of a good body moisturiser is it's ability to sink in and leave no tactile trace behind. I disagree. For me, there's nothing nicer than a clammily soft limb - it reminds me of my grandmother, who at 72 also happens to have the softest skin I've ever felt. She's used nothing but Nivea for 5o years...
7. Once out of the bath or shower, the masque is rinsed off. Skin spritzed with Dermalogica Multi-Active Toner or Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic, followed with whatever night potion I feel my skin is in need of. Good ones? Vaishaly Night Nourisher (if skin's feeling normal); Decleor Aromessence Essential Balm (if congested); Liz Earle Skin Repair Moisturiser (if feeling delicate). At the moment I'm also trying to use Estee Lauder's best-selling Advanced Night Repair Concentrate - I really can't say much about it as yet as I'm too fickle to follow a regular routine. I'll give it a fortnight and let you know if I've seen any marked improvements.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

#3 Dr No

Dr Hauschka is one of the most celebrated skincare brands in the world. Celebs, models, actresses and IT-girls alike, are eternally extolling the virtues of this biodynamic German range. But the last time I tried to ‘convert’ – and I persevered for 8 weeks on one occasion – my skin went completely crazy. I used every product recommended to me. The cleansing milk, then cleansing cream, toner, moisturiser and in the PM, the Rythmic Night Conditioner. The result?My face was flakier than a coconut snowball and spottier than it’s every been. When I quizzed the educational whiz behind the range, she told me it was because my skin was expelling a variety of toxins and would eventually settle down. Now, I might not be Gillian McKeith, but I don’t drink, smoke, eat wheat or dairy, but I do always get at least 3 to 4 pieces of fruit/veg a day & 2 litres of water, and a moderate amount of exercise. Yes, I’ve still got a penchant for chocolate and stodgy cakes, but c’mon, that shouldn’t translate into a face that was duller than John Major’s Spitting Image effigy. So maybe, just maybe, it ain’t my hard-living (as if!!) liver, but just the fact that Dr H isn’t for everyone.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

#2 Forget the faff, just give me a facial...

There are those who subscribe to the gentle, faffy, smelly breed of facial – myriad oils, soft tapping fingers, Enya-esque music – and then there are those who consider such gentle and cosseting carefulness to be deeply annoying. I’m firmly rooted in the second camp. A facial for me, should signify a great extraction, fantastic exfoliation, a premium mask and a thorough cleanse. Anything else is pointless. I’ve had hot stones placed on my temples, electric rollers all over my face, five different face masks in 45 minutes, aromatherapy steam inhalation – all of it perfectly acceptable, but none of it was doing what I wanted – improving my skin. The best facial I’d ever had – prior to all of these jingly jangly ones – was the Face Mapping Treatment at Leonard Drake. But last year, Leonard Drake closed down and never reopened and I was left bereft and questing after a new alternative. Thankfully, late last year, the new Dermalogica Skin Centre opened in it’s place. I visited last week and had the customised Face Mapping Facial, where every individual receives a thorough, expert skin analysis and is then treated to a tailormade treatment. My skin was unbalanced, simultaneously oily and dry, a bit spotty and rather lacklustre – in my defence, I’d had a hard week with only 20 hours sleep in five days. Within an hour – and I am never prone to exaggeration – it was satin-soft, clear, glowing and as moist as a saturated sponge. The next day I didn’t even need to bother with base – mission accomplished. Dermalogica, 8 Lancer Sq, 0800 345 7546

Up until the end of April, Dermalogica are running FREE skincare classes. Taught by professionals, with skin analysis and expert guidance, they’re holding everything from Spot Fighting Solutions to Ageing Skin seminars. Best of all, every attendee receives a free skincare kit… such generosity!
(0800 345 7546)

NYLON beauty director Fiorella Valdesolo has just launched her first book, PRETTY. It's penned in the same wry, witty style that Valdesolo’s become famous for and expands on the magazine’s popular Beauty Queen premise – taking icons from past and present, quirky and classic alike – and celebrating their unique style. Forget soporific step-by-steps – this is the first beauty book that breaks the rules: it’s good-looking and good reading.

Friday, 6 April 2007

Misadventure #1

Working for a magazine is not glamorous. I’ve just vacated a building – HQ of one of the world’s largest publishing companies – that had dead mice in drawers and after-hours rodents rummaging through Ryvita boxes, Gucci gowns and Hermes handbags alike. Keeping my space clear and clean was an impossibility – just minutes after my daily desk-disinfection ritual (Dettol spray, antiseptic wipes, kitchen towels and tea tree oil), the post would arrive. Padded envelopes would split and yield lung-choking dust, bottles crushed in transit would leak and spray their contents and the paper mountain would grow yet again. But everyone loves Mr Postman and I’m no exception. On my left hand side, I’d keep a row of products that didn’t piss me off. That smelt good, felt good, looked good and were, well, good. But on my right hand side, in the bigger pile that would be dumped into the deepest drawer, were the disappointments. The sticky residues, lumpy textures, garish scents and vomit-inducing vanity projects…

In the left corner we have …
Bourjois Effet 3D Les Nudes Lipgloss. Because Bourjois know that a nude ought to have a hint of pink – or your kisser will look cadaverous.

Brown Earth Shea & Cocoa Butter Body Cream. We’re used to getting a heady, artificial sweetness from cocoa butter – a saccharine, treacly, buttery, choco-waft. This is nothing like it. It smells like Play-do. Really. But it cocoons the skin, keeps it springy and softens back-of-arm bumps like nothing else I’ve ever tried.

Benefit Creaseless Cream Shadow Liner in My Date’s My Brother. From the new, Love Your Look range, this delicate shimmering pink feels like it would melt off eyes within seconds. Then it sets and doesn’t budge all day. I just love it when things surprise me.

And in the right corner…
Danielle Steele Eau de Toilette. The first novelist to launch her own fragrance. Everything you need to know is encapsulated in the previous sentence.

Paris Hilton ‘Heiress’ Eau de Toilette. If I liked it, I would be the first to admit it. Part of me even wanted to like it – to go against the crowd and be the black sheep of scent sniffers. I happen to like a lot of unfashionable fragrances–some from The Body Shop, a cheap £5 bottle I bought from Boots when I was 13, rose bases and lavender notes all. I even love the fake-fresh smell of cheap deodorant and sometimes spray a bit extra in place of perfume. So in a bid to bypass the snobbery surrounding scent, I wanted to rave about this. But one spritz and I was decided. Awful, awful, awful. And like all really bad scents, it takes an age to dissipate when sprayed in the office. Eugh.

I’ve found my perfect mascara match. A gorgeous, silky, rose-scented stick that leaves lashes tinted with a delicate gloss and luminous colour – I love it. The problem is, it’s made by Chantecaille and costs £29. TWENTY-NINE-POUNDS. The same amount as a Topshop summer dress, a pretty tasty dinner or a darn good face cream. I am neither rich nor mad, so once this dalliance has dried up, I have no choice but to end it and move onto a more stable, sustainable relationship.

Cult brand K├Ârner will be launching a lip treatment later this year. The formula’s still being tweaked, but I’m betting this will be one lip-smacking and non-tacky tub of goodness.

...miss malcontent's marvellous misadventures in make-up

Within my office there is barely space to draw breath... barely space to type this. Bookshelves and cabinets house boxes, bottles, jars, tubes... beguiling, bewitching beauty products - lipsticks & lotions, gels & creams, bottles of base & tubes of gloss. Why? Because I am a beauty editor. That is how I earn the crust. And because it is one of the best jobs in the world - besides being Artistic Director of a theatre, movie maker, explorer or tennis player- I shan't complain. What I shall do instead, is attempt an experiment. With no advertisers, no sponsorship, no wrist-slapping editors or panicky marketing managers to meddle with me - I propose to test every single product that crosses my threshold and get unapologetically and publicly excited about the best ones, and thoroughly pissed off with the rest. If it doesn't fulfil a promise, it's binned. If it does, it's going in the cabinet (bathroom, not trophy - although in beauty ed's world, they're on level pegging). Every day brings something different - a toning treatment, a skin elixir, a pheromone-rich scent - every day it's tried, tested and laid bare. Trips beckon, where I'll be pummelled, patted, pricked, prodded and powdered - if it's good, I'll let you in on it. If it's bad, I'll warn you off - arms waving and guns blazing. Stick with me kid... this could be the start of a beautiful friendship...