Sunday, August 28, 2016

I Guess I Wear Eyeliner Now: Urban Decay 24/7 in Demolition and Kiko Intense Colour in Black

Longtime readers of my blog will know that I've struggled with eyeliner for my entire makeup-wearing career, which now spans six years. One of my first ventures into makeup involved a black Maybelline pencil eyeliner, with which I drew awkward, thick lines across my upper lashline. To my credit, I soon figured out that this looked terrible, but my second attempt wasn't much better: I spent a good three years trying on and off to perfect a cat eye with a black liquid liner, Maybelline Line Stiletto in Blackest Black. I was eventually forced to conclude that the outer folds of my eyelids would always foil my attempts to wing out my liner. Cat eyes were just not going to happen for me, no matter how many articles and YouTube tutorials swore that everyone—yes, everyonecould achieve Elizabeth-Taylor-in-Cleopatra perfection. Finally, I settled on black or dark brown eyeshadow smudged along my lashlines with a narrow brush. That gave me a bit of definition without the challenges of a pencil or a felt-tip applicator, and I resigned myself to not being an eyeliner person at all.

But the existence of bona fide eyeliner was a constant thorn in my side. Here was a whole category of makeup that, along with crop tops and empire-waist dresses, I'd decided I simply couldn't wear. Would my eyeshadow looks always seem unfinished due to my avoidance of eyeliner? Would I never know the joy of swiping on a simple black liner to set off a red lipstick? I was a beauty blogger, for fuck's sake: wasn't it was my duty to master a product as basic as eyeliner? So last November, I bought Urban Decay's 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil in Demolition, a cool-toned dark brown...and then avoided it for seven months, as if it were That One Guy in my graduate program whom I always pretend not to see in the local coffee shop. (There's more than one That One Guy.)

I swear I photographed Demolition when it was new, but of course I can't find the photo now. This is what happens when you wait nine months to review a product, kids. Here's Demolition today—it's about half gone after two months of frequent use (3-4 times a week):


I didn't start wearing Demolition regularly until my visit to London in June, when I came to appreciate it as a crucial component of a quick semi-smoky eye. Because the 24/7 formula is so soft, it's easy to finger-blend Demolition into a shimmery eyeshadow like Seventeen Statuesque and deepen the crease with a matte brown like Cover from the Urban Decay Naked2 Basics palette:


After coming to terms with Demolition, I found myself wanting a black liner to go with cool-toned eye looks. The cruelty-free Italian brand Kiko Milano recently opened a store in Birmingham's Bullring mall, so of course I paid it a visit. After sorting through what felt like dozens of options (Italian ladies must love their black pencil eyeliner), I settled on the Intense Colour Long Lasting Eyeliner in #16 Black:


 Demolition on the left, Black on the right—they haven't been sharpened in a few days:


Though I started out smudging these two pencils along my upper lashline, I've since worked out a technique that I think approximates tightlining. Maybe it really is tightlining? I don't know. My understanding is that tightlining involves the upper waterline and, as a contacts-wearer, I shudder at the thought of putting pigment there. Instead, I pull my mobile lid taut and draw the thinnest line possible along my lashline, making a series of little dashes and working the color into the spaces between my lashes. This was very difficult at first (unsteady hands, uncontrollable blinking), but after a month of practice, I'm getting it right almost every time. Ironically, I've returned after all these years to a refined version of the first eyeliner technique I ever tried.

Now for a couple of mini-reviews of the two liners I've been wearing almost every day since June:


Demolition ($20 at Sephora) has a very soft and pigmented formula. The texture presents challenges as well as advantages. When I smudge Demolition along my upper lashline, some color always leaps with ninja-like stealth to my lower lashline, if not immediately then in a couple of hours. I'll be congratulating myself for executing a decent eye look for once in my goddamn life, and then I'll notice that half the pigment has managed to transfer itself to the already-dark spaces below my eyes. This was the problem that forced me to work out my tightlining technique, and when I don't smudge the liner, it stays in place almost all day. But I think $20 is a high price to pay for an eyeliner that disappears as quickly as Demolition does (soft formula = more frequent sharpening), and after I use up Demolition, I might cast around for a cheaper alternative.

Here's a quick look from last week's trip to LA: Seventeen eyeshadow in Statuesque, an unsmudged line of Demolition, Illamasqua Zygomatic blush, ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter, MAC Antique Velvet lipstick, and a seatbelt because sitting in a car is a huge part of any visit to LA and you might as well take selfies while stuck in the inevitable traffic (and no, I still can't drive):


Black ($8 on the Kiko website) is similarly pigmented but less soft, despite coming with a sponge tip meant for smudging the pigment:


I was excited about this nifty little feature until the first time I used it, at which point I realized that the sponge is too firm and rough to do more than chafe my eyelid and remove the product that's already there. Sometimes I smudge the liner with my finger, but more often I just draw a thin line and go on my way. Here's a swatch of Black smudged with the sponge, to give you a sense of how ineffective it is (and this is on my arm, a much firmer surface than my eyelid):


Here's an unsmudged line of Black with theBalm Selfish, the taupe in the Nude 'tude palette:



Full face, with Sleek Life's a Peach blush and Revlon Fire and Ice lipstick (I'd just seen Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief and was captivated by Grace Kelly's taupe and coral makeup). As you can see, Black doesn't read as EYELINER! here so much as a bit of extra definition. Since my eyes are large and quite deep-set, too much definition can throw off the balance of my face.


Black has a more impressive wear time than Demolition: I wore it to the gym on a very hot afternoon two days ago, and though some color had transferred below my eye by the end of my workout, my upper lashline was as dark as ever. Below, I've used a cotton pad to rub my swatches of Black (top) and Demolition a few times; the difference is obvious:


I can remove Demolition with my usual cleanser, Lush 9 to 5, but I need bigger guns for Kiko: namely, Vaseline on a tissue. Forget micellar water, coconut oil, whatever you kids are using these days: there's no more effective eye-makeup remover than plain old petroleum jelly (I don't even buy the name brand).

And there you have my adventures in eyeliner for the last nine months or so. I'm still a bit sad that cat eyes continue to elude me, but I'm glad to have found an eyeliner method that works for my eye shape and aesthetic preferences and doesn't slow me down when I have somewhere to go. What are your favorite pencil eyeliners?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

China Miéville Lipstick: NYX Velvet Matte in Midnight Muse

I just finished The Scar, the second book in China Miéville's Bas-Lag trilogy, which takes place in and around the diverse, sprawling, corrupt city of New Crobuzon. I love fiction about cities—not just set in them, but about them—and Miéville clearly shares my passion. The Scar centers on the linguist Bellis Coldwine, ex-girlfriend of the protagonist of the first Bas-Lag novel, Perdido Street Station. Fearing that New Crobuzon's militia will arrest her for knowing too much about the catastrophic events of Perdido Street Station (though in fact she knows nothing), Bellis flees the city for one of its far-flung colonies. But her ship is captured and taken to Armada, a floating pirate city built entirely on boats and ruled by a vampire, a pair of sadomasochistic lovers, a council of women with scarabs for heads, et al. So much is contained in that "et al": Miéville has an astonishingly fertile imagination, and while that occasionally works against him in Perdido Street Station—lots of self-indulgent set pieces that divert the reader but fail to advance the plotThe Scar is shorter and tighter, yet still overflowing with invention. (I assume Miéville got a better editor in the two years between Perdido Street Station and The Scar. God bless good editors.)

Miéville's worlds are fleshed out exhaustively, and his eye for detail extends even to Bellis Coldwine's makeup. Bellis is blunt, unemotional, and standoffish, and her lipstick signals as much. In Perdido Street Station, we learn just three things about her: she's a brilliant linguist, she left the protagonist due to his flightiness, and she always wore dark purple lipstick. The Scar reveals that her taste in lipstick has stayed remarkably constant over several years. In a letter, she describes her "[l]ips and hair stained the cold purple of bruises," and a teenage boy mentions that "[s]omeone had told him about 'a scary lofty lady in black with blue lips' working in the library." The novels were published in 2000 and 2002, and something tells me that Miéville's girlfriend wore at least one of the weird MAC shades that were available in the late '90s and early '00s. Something like this, maybe:


It was pure coincidence that I started reading The Scar shortly after trying on Kat Von D Poe, but that coincidence got me thinking more seriously than ever about acquiring a navy-blue lipstick. Maybe the beauty industry has also been reading Miéville, because this has been the summer of the navy lip, with almost every quirky beauty brand (and a couple of the more buttoned-up ones, like Maybelline) releasing at least one blue lipstick. I wasn't crazy about Poe's formula and didn't want to spend $21 on a lipstick I might not wear often, so I began casting around the interwebs for a cheaper alternative. My search led me to NYX Liquid Suede in Foul Mouth, a grayish navy blue. But when I went to San Francisco's lone Ulta to check it out in person, I discovered that in addition to expanding the Liquid Suede collection, NYX had released at least three new lipstick lines, including "Turnt Up" (shudder) and "Velvet Matte":



I was taken aback by the Velvet Matte lipsticks, since NYX didn't seem to have discontinued their perfectly good matte lipstick line (they expanded that line in January, actually). But the Velvet Matte line offered some interesting colors, including a navy called Midnight Muse, so I had myself a swatch. And, um...the formula sucked overall. Most of the shades were dry and patchy, far from the "highly pigmented" and "super soft" formula that NYX promised, and far from the quality of NYX's original matte collection. Below, I've swatched eight of the 12 Velvet Mattes next to a couple of the new Liquid Suedescheck out the dramatic difference in pigmentation:

Left, top to bottom: Violet Voltage, Charmed, Beach Casual, Unicorn Fur, Midnight Muse (two coats), Foul Mouth (Liquid Suede). Right, top to bottom: Duchess, Foul Mouth again, Alien (Liquid Suede), Midnight Muse (one coat), Disorderly.

I chose Foul Mouth over Midnight Muse, but when I tried it on at home, I discovered that it was almost indistinguishable from the Liquid Suede in Stone Fox, which I already owned. Here's Stone Fox on the left and Foul Mouth on the right; SF leans more gray-green and FM more blue, but they're similar enough that I don't need both:


And here I am wearing Foul Mouth. I was surprised at how gray it appeared on my lips:


Not bad, but not the color I was expecting. So I went back to Ulta and exchanged it for Midnight Muse (they're the same price: $6.99), which turned out to be much closer to the color I wanted. It's a pretty dead-on dupe for KvD Poe as well, though of course it lacks the pink sparkles that make Poe unique.

The Velvet Mattes and the OG NYX mattes come in similar no-frills black-and-clear tubes, though the black of the Velvet Matte tubes is, well, more matte. Here's Midnight Muse atop a postcard with an 1890s image of the now-ruined Sutro Baths: vaguely Miévillian, I thought.


Arm swatches—one pass on the left, two on the right:



When my mom (from whom I get my coloring and my love for weirdo drugstore makeup) saw me wearing Midnight Muse, she liked it so much that she went out and bought a navy lipstick for herself: Maybelline Loaded Bolds in Midnight Blue. L-R: Midnight Blue, Midnight Muse, Stone Fox:


Midnight Blue is brighter and more purple than Midnight Muse, which contains a bit of gray. MB looks more opaque than MM in this photo, but its slippery texture actually makes it a bit streaky on the lips, and it fades quickly. My mom is a germaphobe and wouldn't let me try on Midnight Blue, so I'm working off what I observed when she wore it to dinner one night.

We're outside in the early evening here, so the light is pulling everything a little warm.

Unfortunately, Midnight Muse's formula leaves something to be desired. It's not as patchy on the lips as it looks in the arm swatches above, but it needs two or three coats for full opacity, and I have a hard time getting it to adhere to the inner part of my lower lip. The dryish texture gives it more lasting power than a slick lipstick like Midnight Blue, but it does fade with eating and drinking (though it doesn't transfer much), and faded navy lipstick isn't cute. It also feels a bit tacky when I press my lips together, which I don't mind but some people might. However, I'm happy to report that though Midnight Muse is dry and almost totally matte, it's not drying: in fact, it's comfortable to wear and leaves my lips slightly hydrated. And even with all these caveats, Midnight Muse is no worse than Poe. Almost any bullet lipstick in a weird dark color is going to be somewhat high-maintenance. It's up to you to decide whether the color is worth the maintenance; for me, it is. None of the problems I've listed is a dealbreaker for me, as extreme dryness or slipperiness would be. 

Here's a couple of coats of Midnight Muse on my lips, first indoors...




...then outdoors:


Midnight Muse in context, indoors (feat. some relics of my childhood)...



...and outdoors, before cocktails at the Slanted Door (the light glinting off the bay clearly washed me out a little). These photos were taken on the same day; I'm wearing NARS Lhasa eyeshadow, Kiko Intense Colour Long Lasting Eyeliner in Black, Illamasqua cream blush in Zygomatic, and probably a bit of ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter.


As with Stone Fox, I'm surprised at how comfortable I feel in this offbeat shade. I've long gravitated toward dark lip colors—plum, mahogany, burgundy—and Midnight Muse seems closer to those colors than it does to lighter, brighter blues. Unlike Bellis Coldwine, I won't be wearing my navy lipstick to the library this fall, but I suspect it will get a fair amount of wear. Even though I don't live in a floating pirate city—yet. 

Given the subject of this post, I'd be remiss not to mention one of the best items in Sephora's current end-of-summer sale. The Studded X Mini Lip + Nail Polish Duo ($7.50, reduced from $15) features a mini Kat Von D Studded Kiss lipstick and a matching Formula X nail polish. Poe is still available, as are Coven (matte lavender) and Slayer (matte black). I ordered Mercy (metallic berry) last night, but it has since sold out. Despite my misgivings about Kat Von D as a person, I've been curious about her brand for a long time, and I've been impressed with both of the Formula X polishes I've tried. Worth a look if you're drawn to navy lipstick but don't want to splurge on a full-sized one!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beauty Shopping in San Francisco's Japantown

I've spent the past two weeks in dissertation jail, bouncing between several of San Francisco's fine coffee shops while completing an extensive rewrite of my Hobbes chapter. With the help of massive doses of caffeine, sugar, and k-pop (I'm good, I'm hot, I'm fresh, I'm fly!), I wrapped up the damned thing yesterday and sent it to my committee. I started writing this post a week ago and have been typing a few lines a day in my spare moments, but it feels so good to finally have enough time to finish it. Of course, I have to start reworking my job materials almost immediately after this, but today is a day of freedom.

My daily view while waiting (sometimes up to 20 minutes: SF's transit system is notoriously dysfunctional) for the streetcar.

As many of you know, I grew up in San Francisco and come back twice a year to visit my parents. The city has changed dramatically (mostly in the direction of aggressive gentrification) since we moved here in 1995, but a surprising number of my old haunts have clung to life. One of those haunts is the Japan Center, a mall in Japantown where I spent many an afternoon in high school, eating crepes and buying elegant notebooks and cat-shaped erasers. Most of the stores I remember from ten or twelve years ago are still around, but my interests have shifted since then. I didn't care much for makeup when I was 16, but in the last two years I've discovered that a number of stores in Japantown carry Asian beauty products that are hard to find elsewhere in the States. I spent some time there with my high-school friend Jenny last week, and I thought it might be fun to give you a virtual tour of what San Francisco's Japantown offers devotees of sheet masks, lip tints, and nail stickers. Warning: this will be a photo-heavy post!

Our first stop in the Japan Center is a place I've been visiting since high school: the San Francisco branch of the Japanese bookstore chain Kinokuniya. I studied Japanese for nine years, from sixth grade through sophomore year of college, and though I'm nowhere near as fluent as I was at the age of 19, I still like buying the occasional Japanese fashion or beauty magazine to help refresh my vocabulary.


Leafing through Nylon Japan, I found the exact haircut I want for this fall (according to the caption, the bob conveys a "classic mood"):


This time I bought the beauty magazine Voce (pronounced the Italian way: "vo-chay"):


In Japan, such magazines often come with skincare samples, but since many Asian skincare products haven't been approved by the FDA, Japanese magazines usually reach American shelves stripped of their samples. Because, you know, all Americans have a God-given right to stockpile assault rifles, but heaven forbid we come into contact with a foreign moisturizer. Speaking of contraband skincare, I managed to find Bioré Aqua Rich Watery Essence somewhere in the Japan Center (I ordered my first tube on Amazon, it took three weeks to ship from Yokohama, and I just ran out). Since I'm pretty sure it's technically illegal to sell that divine sunscreen here, I'm not going to name the store where I bought two precious tubes for $15 each. Just know *conspiratorial whisper* it's available.

Our second stop is the deceptively small Candy Doll, which sells mostly Japanese and Korean skincare and cosmetics:


This suggestively posed manga girl behind the counter creeped me out a bit:


The sheer quantity of products crammed into this tiny space is almost overwhelming. There's an entire wall of false eyelashes:


Allll the lip tints (marked up significantly, alas). Clockwise from top left: Berrisom My Lip Tint Pack, Peripera Peri Tint Gloss, RiRe Lip Manicure, Peripera Peri's Ink and Peri's Lip Balm:


As adorable as these tints are, I wonder why the shade ranges are always so predictable: fuchsia, orange, pinky red, maybe a plum if you're lucky, but nothing too dark or purple or brown. I saw a price sign for the wine-bottle-shaped Labiotte lip tints, which I've been curious about for some time, but the tints themselves were nowhere to be found.

I was also drawn to Candy Doll's vast array of sheet masks, some with horror or folktale or horror-folktale themes (that green monster is a kappa, for instance):


First prize for cutest packaging goes to these It's Skin BB creams...


...though the Brigitte Pure Cats eyeshadow palettes are a close runner-up. I've never heard anything about this brand; I suppose Paul & Joe is hogging the cat-lady spotlight.


Now for a rather mysterious establishment, K-Pop Beauty:


As recently as January, this was an official Tony Moly store crowded with life-size posters of the brand's international ambassador, Hyuna of k-pop girl group 4Minute. Here's a photo I took in Januaryyou can see the Tony Moly sign behind Hyuna's head:


Since then, the storefront seems to have undergone the same fate as 4Minute, which disbanded in June. All of K-Pop Beauty's merchandise is by Tony Moly, but the posters on the walls have "Tony Moly" very obviously crossed out, and of course there's that odd name change. I would have asked one of the employees what was up, but I assumed their lips were sealed.


My best guess is that this particular franchise of Tony Moly lost its license and is now trying to liquidate its stock and get the hell out of Dodge (that would also explain the cardboard boxes piled in a corner of the store). Interestingly, Sohyun, the youngest member of 4Minute, was recently spotted selling her former group's merchandise at a flea market. The parallels are uncanny. Here's a question, though: if K-Pop Beauty is trying to get rid of all its lip tints and sheet masks, why hasn't it followed Sohyun's lead and lowered its prices? 

Let's move on to a more legitimate business: The Face Shop


This brand's current campaign involves Kakao Friends, the animal characters from the Korean social-networking site Kakao. Never having used Kakao, I can't say I'm very enthusiastic about the new products, but they certainly are cute:


There's also some non-Kakao-related merchandise, such as these lipsticks. I didn't look too closely, since the last thing I need is a new lipstick and the colors seemed to be the same old pinks, oranges, and reds:


Our final beauty-related stop is the Japanese discount store Daiso, which specializes in offbeat housewares and other tchotchkes, almost all for $1.50. I don't know of another place where you can buy lacy sun-protection sleeves, metallic skulls, decorative nori punches, and plastic banana cases under the same roof:


All this would be enough to warrant a visit, but Daiso also carries everything you need for a Japanese-style manicure. I've never seen so many Kleancolors polishes in one place:


There are also lots of nail-art tools, stickers, gemstones, and even hand creams:





I couldn't resist buying the glitter stars in the photo above, as well as a pink nail-dotting tool with which I've already done two manicures (post to come).

If you're feeling peckish after all that beauty shopping (and even if you're not), no visit to Japantown is complete without some fresh mochi from Benkyodo, a bakery and diner that's celebrating its 110th anniversary this year. (Quick vocabulary lesson: "mochi" is the glutinous rice paste itself, as well as an umbrella term for the confectionery made from it; "daifuku" is the round, filled sweet that most of us think of when we hear the word "mochi.") The summer is a particularly good time to visit Benkyodo, since they often have daifuku filled with fresh strawberries or blueberries along with the usual sweet white-bean paste. I've eaten a lot of mochi in my life, in Japan as well as the US, and Benkyodo's strawberry daifuku is the best I've ever had.

Top row: age (donut filled with adzuki-bean paste), daifuku with adzuki bean, daifuku with fresh blueberries. Bottom row: green daifuku colored with mugwort, filled with sweet white bean paste, and topped with kinako (roasted soybean flour); blueberry daifuku.

And that concludes our tour of Japantown! I doubt the Japan Center can hold a candle to, say, Toronto's Pacific Mall for sheer variety, but it's still a great place to poke around if you're a beauty lover passing through San Francisco. Have you ever visited?