Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Book Review: Fragrant, Mandy Aftel

I picked this up from the library, because I love reading books about perfume (there are several on my wishlist, including The Book of Scented Things, which is a collection of poetry). Mandy Aftel is the perfumer behind Aftelier Perfumes, which are all made by hand from "pure and natural essences" in small batches - they contain no synthetics, although they are not, as far as I can tell, vegan.
[image source]
I haven't read any of her earlier works (either the chef collaborations or her earlier books on fragrance), and I've never sampled any bottled scents from Aftelier Perfumes, although I gather that Aftel is a much respected and lauded artisan. Fragrant is arranged around five key notes - cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris, jasmine - and their histories, purposes in fragrance blends, and the questions (and answers) that they inspire. The book is an easy read, filled with interesting trivia, perfume and edibles recipes, and musings on how each of these notes - and the experiences tied to them - have shaped Aftel's craft and leanings as a natural perfumer. There is much said about the composition of fragrances - the intensity and volatility of individual notes, how they must string together like a chord, how dilution is important and what each family of notes is known for. I took notes as I read, because I do write about perfume here, and I often take notes as I read, both fiction and non-fiction.

However, I can't say that I whole-heartedly loved this book. Some of it does come off as preachy (repeated criticisms about the cheapness and shortcomings of synthetic molecules without balanced statements about their use or invention, an elevation of all things "natural" without really clearly defining the criteria for such) and I don't respond well to that. For example, extractions of florals to create "natural" absolutes are commonly performed with hexane (alternatives do exist, although to be honest, I don't know what a "benign" solvent is. Solvents are sort of like venomous creatures - a scale of nasty to nastier).

I will fully admit that I don't know much about the perfume industry, but the creation of the juice does boil down to chemistry - recipes and formulations, extractions, distillations, dissolutions - and I don't think the "natural world" (whatever that means) can be separated so easily from that of scientific method and advancement. I heartily support the locavore movement and creating art, sustainable food and eco-conscious lifestyles - and S. and I do try to buy local, support CSAs and farmer's markets, cook at home most days with fresh produce - but I would have appreciated a more balanced view in this book. I also found her treatment of animal-derived essences a little lacking; that is a big issue (and made me appreciate vegan perfumeries that much more) but it was breezed over rather quickly without a large mention of the controversies behind it (she does mention that many of the animals originally used for cultivation of such essences are seriously endangered now, like the musk deer). But I can understand that it would be like opening the proverbial can of worms, and that wasn't necessarily the point of the ambergris chapter.
Yeah, that's not a beaker - it's a graduated cylinder.

Lastly - this annoyed me. It's a small detail, but all introductory chemistry courses go over basic glassware. I point this out because the precision allowed with each type of glassware is different; calibrated micropipets are the most accurate, then volumetric flasks, then graduated cylinders, and beakers are really only good for holding and mixing solutions. One might argue that this book is intended for the masses, and who cares? But there's no reason at all for it to be mislabeled; if you're going to call it something - call it by its correct name. Especially if you are going to suggest that someone purchase one. [Edit: The author clarified that the images in the text are aesthetic only, taken from early 19th century textbooks. My comments about the precision of glassware are still relevant, though.]
[image source]

Despite these complaints, I did still enjoy the book immensely and found it full of interesting information and poignant questions about human nature and our perceptions of beauty and luxury and art. You might be thinking, oh Larie, get your jaded scientist self out of all this art, but seriously, I do appreciate the complexity and resourcefulness of devoted natural artisan perfumery, and the invocation to appreciate the beauty - fleeting as it is - of the world around us. The indie perfume movement is an important one to the industry and the art, and I can't deny that Aftel is a significant contributor. I would definitely recommend Fragrant to anyone who has an interest in perfume, or even just a fragranced take on investigating human nature. I've put her earlier book, Essence & Alchemy, on my list.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Winter Lip Love Picks

[Products marked * were gifts from fabulous friends!]

We just finished a #30daysoflipstick tag on Instagram, so I thought it'd be an appropriate time to do a round-up of my current winter lip favorites. While autumn was predictably vampy, for some reason, I'm feeling both really bright shades (just picked up MAC Toxic Tale, as well) and barely-there neutrals this winter.

L-R: Dior Golden Rain Addict Gloss*, It Cosmetics CC Lip Serum in Love*, Maybelline Color Elixir in Intoxicating Spice, Joe Fresh Baie Sauvage*, Maybelline Vivids Color Sensational in Vivid Rose, Shiseido Lacquer Rouge in 319 Pomodoro.

To go with my spunky hair, maybe?
The basic look I'm going with this winter. I think that's Dior Enchanted Rose. Dior glosses are also nicely hydrating, which helps in the winter weather.
It seems like I can get away with heavier makeup with short hair, but because the style is so youthful, I find myself aiming for understated looks, as well; this calls for neutral glosses, to go with a fresh-faced "just in from the cold" appearance. But neutral glosses also go well with super sparkly smoky eye looks, like this one (wearing Maybelline Intoxicating Spice over MAC Pander Me).

What are your favorites this winter? Are you reaching for "marsala" shades yet?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

This Answers the Question...

...just how bright is MAC Toxic Tale?
Eye-searing, teeth-brightening coral in a satin-finish. It is neon.
Re-promoted with MAC Red Red Red; at counters and online now.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Holiday Look: Inspired by Dianna Agron

[Products marked * were gifts from friends. ** Were provided by PR for review.]

Loosely inspired, that is.
[pinned here - sorry, can't find the original source]
Girl is gorgeous. I ain't about Glee, but Dianna Agron has killer taste in music and her fashion and makeup looks are always on point. I wanted to do a holiday look inspired by this photo, even though I don't have pretty copper glitters to really make it sing. But, I have fluttery ESQIDO mink lashes**. So we'll see what we can do.

Since I couldn't find a photo of this look with her eyes open - ARTISTIC LICENSE TIME. (Really, all I took from the above look was GLITTER, bronze, and a soft lip).
Lips: MAC Pander Me + Maybelline Intoxicating Spice Color Elixir.
These are the Esqido Voila lashes** (reviewed here, with application tips). Currently, Esqido is holding a giveaway (until Dec. 12) to launch their new Holiday Lash Guide. I tried it out and it matched me to two pairs I already love, so I think it's pretty handy, ha!
On eyes: Marc Jacobs The Enigma palette (Shades 1 & 6), Fyrinnae Fire Opal and a Shu Uemura gold glitter (from the Mint &Vanilla palette) over NARS primer, and Esqido Voila lashes**.
I tried to keep the lip more neutral, because if you're going to eat food (and trust me, I will), you don't want it to be too obvious that your lipstick has floated away with the hors d'oeuvres. I layered Maybelline Intoxicating Spice over MAC Pander Me just to soften the matte finish; I didn't want something super glossy to compete with the glittery eyes.
Base is Dior Nude BB Cream (02) and Sephora Sculpting Disc.*
These earrings are Nadri; I wore them on my wedding day. I don't really have any holiday parties to attend, but I like to dress up on Christmas, anyway, so I may pull this look out on the day.

What are your holiday plans? Do you have a look ready?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things...

I always watch that movie during the holiday season. It's a sap-fest, I know, but Julie Andrews is gorgeous and c'mon, we all had childhood crushes on the Captain, didn't we?


Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens...
Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens...

Brown paper packages tied up with string...



these are a few of my favorite things.