Jo Malone Boutique Launch and Giveaway!

More fragrance adventures! This Tuesday, I was invited to attend the launch of the Jo Malone fragrance pop-up boutique at Kirkcaldie and Staines here in Wellington. Of course, I went!

They’ve carved a corner out of the second floor of Kirk’s. It’s not the the serene sanctuary of the Jo Malone boutique in Auckland, but it is enough room for the full Jo Malone range, and it’s next to the cafe to allow time to make fragrance decisions. We were pampered with flutes of bubbles or juice, delicate canapes chosen to offset the fragrances, and the soothing tones of a harpist.

MaloneLaunch-partyThe full Jo Malone range was there -26 fragrances and additional home scents for candles and diffusers.


The full Jo Malone fragrance line within reach

Based on the crowd, the powers that be might have underestimated Wellington’s appetite for Jo Malone. Tuesday night, after two days of operation, they had already sold out of the Cologne Intense of Tuberose Angelica.


A tremendous crowd around the Jo Malone brand ambassador (center, floral dress)

In the Jo Malone line, the standard colognes have fewer notes than other lines – the idea is that you combine and layer two or three of the colognes to create your own scent. But I enjoy a simple fragrance with clear notes, and I think they’re very wearable on their own, especially in New Zealand.


The promise of elegance in serried ranks of bottles – the 30ml sprays are well within reach

I asked the Jo Malone acolytes what they would recommend for…

  • Someone just getting started with fragrance? The clean and crisp international favorite of the line, Lime Basil Mandarin.
  • Someone femme? “Peony and Blush Suede layered with Wood Sage and Sea Salt.”
  • Someone intense and edgy? One of the Cologne Intense line. These seem to be less for layering – even on the sample slip they were oily and strong. Once sprayed on the skin, these weren’t going anywhere.

Blue Agave and Cocoa wasn’t in the forefront but it’s the sample slip I keep coming back to. Wood Sage and Sea Salt is just made for New Zealand. And there’s a green tomato scented candle??


Trying to choose a scent diffuser: challenge accepted

I look forwards to going back to revisit some of these – the pop-up boutique is open until the end of December. Mark Conroy (our scent sommelier from here) also says that there are going to be some other interesting new fragrances launched at Kirk’s in the lead up to Christmas.

Thanks to the Jo Malone brand ambassador I have a FABULOUS giveaway for you – a boxed Pomegranate Noir candle. MaloneLaunch_candleThis is 200 grams of lush, ripe fragrance deliciousness with a 45 hour burn time. I will be selecting the winner at random this Friday night. To be in to win, leave a comment on this post telling me when you would light up this candle. Getting ready for a glam night out? A romantic night in? A decadent party? Telling sad, romantic ghost stories?

The winner will be selected at random from the comments. You can enter until 6 PM Friday the 10th, New Zealand time. This giveaway is only for people with a New Zealand mailing address.

The only problem with the Jo Malone approach emerged later in the evening. I was at a gathering of friends. Someone said, “You smell nice. What perfume are you wearing?” And, after the fragrance layering, the answer was complicated…


The Linguistic Curve

Maggie Chascarillo from Love and Rockets is, like us, perpetually perplexed by bodies of substance. Drawn lovingly by Jaime Hernandez.

Over the past several months, I’ve had a some thought-inspiring exchanges about the language of the body – specifically, the slightly deviant body, bodies that skew from the ideal-that-is-and-is-not-an-ideal.

The first one happened at a workshop I was giving about burlesque personas. As part of this, I handed out an exercise sheet, full of adjectives and descriptors to help performers spotlight what made them special. A fast-reading attendee asked, “What’s this one mean? Jolie-laide?”

I said something like,”Jolie-laide is a French phrase that translates directly as pretty-ugly. Like a pug dog, or a sexy broken-nosed boxer. Imperfect but appealing. Like, I’d say that I’m jolie-laide rather than – ”

Instant denial from the person who’d asked! “Oh, no, no, no! You’re pretty! You’re beautiful!” I…what? I was touched, flattered and also baffled. There’s realism in admitting I don’t look like a model, and there’s a freedom to jolie-laide, as Susie Bubble writes.  This New York Times article tries to talk Americans into appreciating jolie-laide. It’s disturbing how jolie-laide isn’t even part of our cultural dialogue anymore – no more movies called “Funny Face,” no more lyrics growling, “She ain’t so good lookin’, but she can lay that lovin’ down.”

The second one happened two weeks ago. A male friend of mine who admires the female form in all its volumes asked, “Is there something I can say, or should say, besides “curvy”? “Curves?” Is there anything women like better?” A good point, since, apparently, every single woman in America is now curvy.  I set out to examine the state of this area of linguistics, and found myself upbraided at every turn.

In the US, there’s thick. Google swears that one of the more popular related terms is “want thick body”, courtesy of J. Lo, Coco, Buffie Carruth (who modeled as Buffie the Body and is now a fitness trainer), and the women of Love & Rockets. Thick, along with “curvy”, has quickly come to connote a specific figure type, an hourglass with some sand in it – a body type that is, oddly, becoming rarer. In the US, the term thick is contentious enough. When I mentioned the term to my Kiwi friends, I got yelps of denial, because, “In New Zealand, thick means stupid, first and foremost. You can’t call someone thick!!”

What about the Yiddish term zaftig? “No, no, I wouldn’t use that,” says a Jewish friend, her mouth downturned. “It doesn’t have good connotations.”

Romance languages to the rescue. The German term vollschlank, often translated as “chubby,” literally means “full-slim” and once denoted sex appeal. Everybody I asked liked vollschlank – a pity, then, that the Germans themselves don’t seem to, anymore. There’s rondeur (French for “curvy”) or being une ronde- see the Miss Ronde competition. Which sounds good, but France isn’t a curve-positive country overall.

Hilda was a defiantly curvy pin-up of the 50s and 60s, created by Duane Byers and collected by Les Toil.

There’s the language that women use to refer to our own bodies, and the language that our admirers use to praise us – which is what my male friend was asking about. This week, Roger Ebert’s death drew attention to his articulate, afffectionate, and admiring words about his wife and her “voluptuous figure,” which enticed him at first sight. (The writer Yvonne Taylor has more thoughts on this here.)

“Voluptuous” doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue – at four syllables, it’s not a convenient signifier. But, since we live in a world where curvy, thick, zaftig, vollschlank rondeur isn’t treated simply, those extra syllables show that the body is considered; that it deserves more than a drive-by-shout of a compliment.

Your own thoughts on this are welcome!


Friday Follies: Flowers for Mr. Benson

It’s a new year and the fridge where I work is overflowing with well-meaning salad lunches. Bless! It’s that time when we all go and re-read my favorite women’s fitness site, Stumptuous. A serious, no-nonsense, feminist, weight-lifting fitness blast of freshness.

We change more than we think we will: Why You Won’t Be The Person You Expect To Be.

The fabulous Lily Burana writes about body aspirations, judging Miss Exotic World, and not quite fitting into your dream pinup dress in Sexy Dresses That Barely Fit. “Darlings, it’s later than you think. Always. But there’s still plenty of time. Slip the red dress from the hanger. Tuck the silk flower behind your ear. Hide the scale and head out the door. The rest of your one and only life is waiting.”

I only beg to differ about the silk flower. Last year I wanted to hang recycled bullet necklaces on everyone…this year, I’m convinced there’s a leather flower for everyone. Rockabilly red roses, goth black and blue roses, adorably retro vintage leather flowers, quirky NZ pohutukawa and kowhai, ragged modern chrysanthemums.


Clockwise from left: leather pohutukawa, NZ Petalcraft; leather rose from Latvia: leather flower choker and shoe clips from Leatherblossoms; soft leather brooch from Jewelry With Taste; vintage leather trillium. See links below, all on Etsy.

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Eight Nights of Stylish Presents

Ah, the holidays. The time of year when feminine women are subjected to….loads of awful tat. “It’s pink and sparkly! I thought of you!” Mmmm, you shouldn’t have. You really shouldn’t have. What femme hasn’t forced a smile when presented with a jereboam of petroleum-product based moisturizer, a so-not-you necklace, a cheap perfume?

It’s also a time of year when, for me, being half-Jewish comes up. More about that in a minute. So, here, on the first of the eight nights of Chanukah, are my recommendations for eight nights’ worth of stylish and modestly priced gifts that won’t wind up “regifted” by June.

  • Under $10 – Quality natural lip balm –These are the flash drives of our beauty kits, you can never have enough of them.
  • Under $20 – Scullys rose or lavender hand creams (a favorite with my friends overseas).
  • $15 to $35 – Interesting tights – peach-toned fishnets, Iwi stockings, a chic shade of Columbine opaques. A We Love Colors gift certificate is great if you’re not sure of the size.
  • $20 to $45 – An eyeliner brush, a good one. $45 on an item slimmer than a pencil? I  use this wee brush almost every day.
  • $25 to $60 – Vintage bead necklace – 18 inches is a great wearable length. Graduated beads, i.e., beads that go from small to large, are more polished looking. Look for glass and semiprecious stone, in a favorite or classic color.
  • $40 to $60 – FranceLuxe hair clip or other hair ornament. My caramel FranceLuxe claw clip is 8 years old and still going strong.
  • Variable – Something truly personal that deviates from the mall stereotypes of ‘a gift’. Last year two young men gave me a squeaky rubber chicken that delighted me far more than ghastly moisturizer.

Some families have a Chanukah tradition of giving the children a gift each night. Note that a kazoo is an appropriate gift for the lady or gentleman in your life for all occasions – Christmas, Chanukah, Valentine’s Day.

Ah, being half-Jewish. In this era of Sarah Silverman and Palestinian recognition, being half-Jewish remains awkward – at one point an Orthodox Jewish boyfriend broke up with me because I wasn’t Jewish enough. Apart from that, my flash point of awkwardness is the December holidays. Where I was brought up, in the Northeast of the US, Christmas and Chanukah were on an even footing – or so it seemed to me . Because my mother was (is? Mom, any updates?) Anglican, we were on the Christmas side of the festivities. Our Jewish friends came over to help decorate the tree and join us at Christmas dinner. Later, I moved to New Zealand, and … something wasn’t right. I felt it most in December, despite an incident one October where I said, “I made a challah for Rosh Hashana,” and the response was, “You made a what for who?” No outdoors menorah lighting? No Chanukah invitations? NO LATKES??? I acquired my own menorah and the Joan Nathan Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and took it from there…alternating annually between Christmas and Chanukah parties for my friends. After all that, it’s a Christmas year at my abode! But I’ll be making a few latkes and lighting some candles soon.

A heartwarming moment from Santa’s First Chanukah with the team from Geltfiend sweaters. Click to view more.

Queenie May Cold Cream

Queenie May Skin Care and the Burlesque Challenge

The Product: Queenie May Vanishing Cream and Queenie May Cold Cream.

The Challenge: Two nights of emceeing in stage makeup + a busy life had stressed my skin. Could the new vintage-themed skin care line Queenie May successfully remove stage makeup after a burlesque show with the Cold Cream, and soothe my battered hide with the Vanishing Cream?

History Distracts Me: What are cold cream and vanishing cream, anyway? My last memory of cold cream was confidently recommending it for Halloween makeup removal in a Bryn Mawr College bathroom in 1991. And vanishing cream was, for me, tangled up in the same fuzzy romantic realm as lace curtains and bowls of potpourri. To the Internet!

In the dawn of the modern era, when powder was the most a respectable woman ventured, lipstick was required yet unsubtle, and pancake foundation was strange and new, the base color and tone of the complexion were vital to beauty. Vanishing creams and cold creams, soft, fragrant, and emollient, had lots of appeal – so much that they were undermined by their own success, as this historical article describes.

"Erasmic", it's like you'll be orgasmic at the flaws erased from your skin

The vanished dream of vanishing cream. Ad from 1918

The literature for Queenie May purrs seductively, “Everything about this cream, the jar, the label, the thick inviting cream, suggests that you take time to indulge in a glamorous night time ritual.” -fans self- Gosh, Queenie, we just met!

And yet, a jar of vanishing cream in my hand reminded me more of a line from S.J. Perelman in his 1937 classic Strictly from Hunger: “I suddenly detected a stowaway blonde under the bed. Turning a deaf ear to her heartrending entreaties and burning glances, I sent her packing. Then I treated my face to a feast of skin food, buried my head in the pillow and went bye-bye.”

All-natural, historical, multi-purpose, AND referenced by S.J. Perelman? This, I had to try.

The Test: Queenie May lauds its lovely packaging. Let us observe:

The jars seemed to like this settingThere is more to the Queenie May line than frosted glass jars and pretty labels.  I’m the kind of person who flips a product over and reads the ingredient list. The creams are 100% botanical, built on olive and jojoba oil extracts, glycerine, and Damascus rose oils. With a nod of approval, I finally opened the jars. Inside the Vanishing Cream is tender and fluffy, and the Cold Cream shows us that it’s aereated.

Inside the jars

Vanishing Cream to the left, Cold Cream to the right. Note the vivid whiteness of the cold cream – just like it used to be.

Saturday afternoon, between shows, I tried the Vanishing Cream on my dry, tired, sad post-show epidermis. It felt rich, but not unpleasantly so, and it did indeed sink in neatly, leaving me soothed and fresh. The slight gloss it left on my skin may be what is described as “dewy.” Four hours later, when I did my stage makeup for a night of emceeing, my makeup came out twice as well as it had the night before. Hm.

Then, close to midnight, after the show, it was time for the Cold Cream to take off that makeup. Armed with cotton pads, I opened the jar. Bubbles! This, too, was aereated, and its agreeable rose scent was stronger. I dipped a finger in and smeared the light, vividly white cream around my eyes. Three swipes with a cotton pad later, the near-geological layers of primer, foundation, and shadow were cleared from one eye. Four cotton pads later, my face was makeup-free, save for mascara, and feeling soft instead of stressed. A night or two later, I tried the Cold Cream on a normal day’s makeup, with similarly good results (and going through a similar amount of cotton pads.)

Any negatives? With the Cold Cream, its one shortcoming as a makeup remover is that it isn’t great for removing modern waterproof mascaras. And while I like the Vanishing Cream in the classic role of a “night cream”, I prefer a lighter pre-makeup moisturizer. Also, I can’t stop putting the Vanishing Cream on my hands.

Creams and Oil Cleansing: My skin is naturally oily and prone to breakouts. After trying these oil-based emulsified beauty creams, I braced myself for post-moisturizing zits that…never came.  What alchemy was this? It turns out that natural oils are kind to even difficult skin like mine.  Oil cleansing has made a comeback as a gentle, surprisingly acne-suppressing method of skin care. Sally at Already Pretty praises oil cleansing here and Crunchy Betty describes the essentials of oil cleansing here. And, oooh, look! The Queenie May ingredients – olive and jojoba oil – are among the recommended oil-cleansing oils. So Queenie May cold cream is basically a single-source, user-friendly oil cleanser.

Showgirl Comments and The Final Test: I took the Vanishing Cream jar out for some of the dames before the burlesque show. The pretty frosted jar encouraged us all to play. From the lips of showgirls:

  • “It really does vanish! So soft!”
  • “$40 for all that? That’s really good.” Especially, I noted later, compared to Lush’s Vanishing Cream in its black plastic tub at  $42.00.
  • “Look at that jar. Mmmmm! Everything comes in white plastic pottles nowadays. But packaging does matter!”

There was one last test. Claire Gormly, proprietress of The Vanity Case and creator of the Queenie May creams, had told me, “The idea is to have jars that you’re proud to put on your retro dresser, to put some of the glamour back into beauty.” Little did she know that I had a glass 1930s dresser set at home. How do the Queenie May jars look in situ?

Queenie May Vanishing Cream in its natural environmentThe Queenie May jars are indubitably swanky with my retro dresser items. For aesthetics, I switched the lids on the Cold Cream and Vanishing Cream jars. The Cold Cream is in the bathroom, where I can dispose of the  post-cold-creaming cotton pads easily. And the Vanishing Cream, the gold lid matching the perfume bottle tops, is tucked on the 1930s crystal dresser tray, waiting for an idle moment.

Vintage atomizer? Check. Vintage pearls? Check. Queenie May? Check. Nicely done, Queenie May! My face is looking forwards to its next feast of skin food. I’m wondering if we can’t have travel-sized jars – maybe little metal tins? – for showgirl makeup bags. And a hand cream, please…

Disclaimer: Queenie May provided samples for my review. Believe me, if I’d gotten zits, you’d know about it.


I Am Loving, Or Am Horrified By, These Things

Caitlin MoranHorrified: In the fashion spotlight: all the clothing we’re not wearing. Ecouterre “U.K. Consumers Own £30 Billion Worth of Clothing They Never Wear” article here, and Vixen Vintage on the new book  Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion. I had a clothing swap three weeks ago, and when we were done, we took the remaining clothes to the Lower Hutt Women’s Centre, which continues the swap as women and girls take the clothes directly.

Loving: I’m not the only one to notice the stylish women in tech – see this article. Related: fashionista uses chemical heat pack technology to stay warm in designer clothing.

Loving: Thanks to my friend Phoenix Flame I have joined the legions of fans of Caitlin Moran. Phoenix thrust her book, How To Be A Woman, into my hands. She’s a feminist voice for the Twitter age. A romp of an interview with her is here.

Loving: This lady is my blog crush of the week: Grown and Curvy. I love her use of color and proportion, her beautiful grooming. Her enchanting smile captured me and then I read this post of hers and learned what’s behind that smile, and I’m nearly in tears.

Horrified And Loving At The Same Time: Illamasqua is petitioning to reduce inflated cosmetic prices in Australia. Hey, we have to deal with this here in NZ, too. And…why a petition? Why not just reduce the prices? They’re the retailer, yes?


A beauty in her boudoir

A Burlesque Boudoir

I’m in a Terribly House and Garden phase here. And yesterday, I had a real treat; visiting the delicous burlesque dancer Bon Bon Rocher at home, and seeing her burlesque boudoir.

A boudoir…a powder room…a dressing room…a ‘retreat’ of over-the-top, unapologetic femininity, to one’s personal taste. Bon Bon’s own words describe the charm of the boudoir. “It’s like a little piece of the things you used to see – your mum getting ready at the dressing table in the bedroom, not standing up in the bathroom. I get ready in there before I go out anywhere.  Instead of being “oh god, I have to rush,” at a dressing table, I find time to sit and reflect and celebrate being a girl, having such wonderful opportunities. I do everything there, hair, makeup, cleansing.”

A beauty in her boudoir - BonBon Rocher says hello

Bon Bon had a very clear vision of what she wanted for a boudoir: a space for her wardrobe, costumes, accessories, and grooming. And, sharing the rest of the house with her partner and teenage son, she took the opportunity to create a space that expressed her femininity. An essential part of this was finding a graceful Queen Anne dressing table, complete with stool and side tables. Bon Bon found the perfect set – in Christchurch, via TradeMe. The room’s ample natural light, the petite dressing table, and the wide mirror combine to create an ideal space for getting ready.

Before its femme transformation, the room was one of those awkward small bedrooms featured in older New Zealand houses, a mere 2 meters x 3 meters. Bon Bon and and her partner renovated the room in one weekend. The paint color is Resene Cupid, and her skilled partner affixed the vinyl decal onto the wall. Along with the dressing table and a matching drawer set, a clothing rack and clever use of existing storage complete the space.

The vinyl decal adding wall interest

The room is “full of memories and friendship.” The lamp from Shady Lady was a cherished Christmas present. “And people gave me lovely things when they heard I was setting up a boudoir – this perfume atomizer is from a friend.”

Lace, roses, perfume, and BonBon Rocher's hands

This lamp has better legs than I do.

Future plans for the room include some art and, of course, a chandelier!

We lingered in the pretty room; the space was just right for two women to chat, the afternoon light gentle through the lace curtains. Bon Bon reflected, “I think I dress better, more thoughtfully, because I have my boudoir. It’s inspiring, and it’s easier to organize my clothes and costumes.”

BonBon Rocher at home

Bon Bon will emerge from her rosy retreat, groomed to perfection, to perform at the Glitter Party in Wellington on January 22nd, and she’ll have more news soon at her Facebook page.

For more dressing room inspiration, here’s a post at Apartment Therapy with eight modern dressing rooms, and another gallery with nine dressing rooms. None of them seem to be having as much fun as BonBon, though!

A natural mouth in natural light. By photographer Andy Savill.

The Elements: Face Care 101

Your face is a wonder of biological engineering and neuroprocessing in a dermatologically delicate case. With your face, you see and are seen; you express yourself to the fullest. Even if you never wear a speck of makeup as long as you live, you will carry an air of finish and polish if you take care of your face.  5 minutes of grooming in the morning, 7 minutes of grooming in the evening, and some periodic attention to your brows and eyeglasses will bring you a tremendous return on your time and attention investment.

Hair on your face should be there with intent*. With this as your base principle:

  • Acquire a pair of clean tweezers and shape your brows. This, alone, will upgrade your entire visage.  Ladies, your instructions are here. Fellas, check out this article and this video.
  • Those little stray hairs…you know the ones…pluck or shave them.
  • If you have a fringe/bangs, make sure it’s trimmed.

Wear glasses? Keep the frames and lenses exquisitely clean. Evaluate once a year if it’s time to freshen up your look with fresh frames. Inexpensive, stylish glasses are available online now, and I can vouch for their optical quality.

Now that your face is tidy and well framed, here’s a day of face care:

  • Everybody wear sunscreen! Sun damages and ages your skin. I’m sure you know that, but…it takes 1 minute to apply face sunscreen. You deserve that minute.
  • During your day, drink water. Yeah, yeah, you’ve heard that one before, too. But it works.
  • Skin-hair-and-nails vitamins. If things are unsettled dermatologically, or you want an extra boost, try them.
  • Remove all makeup meticulously before you sleep at night. A cotton pad and makeup remover from the grocery store or drugstore are fine.
  • Wash your face with a terry cloth and some face wash (regular bar soap is too harsh).
  • Moisturize around your eyes at least once a day. At night before bed is good.
  • When you lie down to sleep, make sure it’s on clean pillowcases. Think about this: your face is going to be up against that fabric for the next 8 hours.

“Facial” treatments. Somebody gave me one for a gift once. It consisted of having 5 different products lavishly applied to my face to a soothing New Age soundtrack. I was supposed to relax. I didn’t do that very well (“what, more moisturizer?”) but I thought a facial was a fine way to try a bunch of products.

A natural mouth in natural light. By photographer Andy Savill.Your mouth benefits from some specific grooming.

  • Apply lip balm/lip moisturizer once in a while.
  • Check your teeth. Don’t like what you see? For two weeks, floss daily and brush with a serious whitening toothpaste (Pearl Drops, Rembrandt) twice daily. Then, check back. Better?
  • If your gums bleed when you floss, be gentle but continue. Also, eat 1/2 a raw carrot or a raw apple once a day. Both of these are great for your gums.

Now your brain and personality have the communicative sensorium-casing they so richly deserve! Go forth unadorned, or apply all the makeup you desire. The end result should be that when someone looks at you, they see…not the extra bristle, not the chapped lips, not the bit of spinach between your incisors…but you.

* Just a note to say that if you are a bearded lady by choice, I am all for your choice. Linda Medley’s graphic novel The Castle Waiting has a great bearded lady plot line.

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Butterfly Girls

I’m on my way to a burlesque dress rehearsal after a rather serious week – politics, work, health issues for my Little Old Lady. But there’s a time and a place for a little frivolity, yes? And with that in mind I was irresistibly reminded of a favorite Nell Brinkley drawing and text. Sentimental as all get-out – perhaps this is why the Victorians and Edwardians, living in grim times and the shadow of industrialization and the workhouse,  found consolation in sentimentality, too. The text below the picture is typed out for your reading pleasure.

Butterfly Girl by Nell Brinkley, from Trina Robbins' "A Century of Women Cartoonists."
Butterflies go with the ending of summer – butterfly girls go with the ending of the gay night that is their lives. Butterflies grow rare and at last do not flicker gold anywhere, when the sumac turns scarlet and the aspen on the far hills changes into little golden coins; butterfly girls are no more dimples and sparkle and laughter when there is no more fun to have, when the lights are out and real work comes. But I love a golden butterfly in the sun, and who doesn’t enjoy to watch the butterfly girl dance her way through the sober faces and the earnest!

Somebody said, “A butterfly lives but a day – AND WHAT IF THAT DAY IS RAINY?” So, little butterfly girl, whose day is so short, may it be sunny and clear.

Face detail of the pretty, pretty butterfly girl by Nell Brinkley.

Technically public domain but known to me thanks to Trina Robbins, writer, cartoonist, artist, and herstorian!