Samples of the next État Libre d’Orange (Archives 69), By Kilian (Incense Oud), Cartier (Cartier de Lune) and Frapin (1697) are sitting on my desk, the last almost entirely depleted since its launch was delayed. Serge Lutens’ upcoming Jeux de Peau will soon be making its way to me. All will get reviewed in due course but for the time being, it’s become more of an effort to blog as I move forward with the book – the intellectual and emotional muscles required for a marathon are not those I use for sprinting through a blog post, and I’m not always in the mood to shift gears.
Stepping back from blogging has given me a rare opportunity to enjoy at leisure things I’ve already reviewed (in the milder Parisian weather, La Traversée du Bosphore and L’Heure Fougueuse have succeeded my Canadian incense binge). But I’ve found myself going commando more and more often: in fact, I seldom wear perfume when I stay at home to write, though I do burn candles on occasion (Iunx Gomme Arabique alternates with Avignon and Encens Flamboyant), also a rare luxury since I never scent the house when I’m testing something. It is, perhaps, a way of blocking out the chatter at a time when I’ve drastically reduced my online life – even emails will go unanswered for days – as I make time for books or simply staring into emptiness as phrases make their meandering way from my brain to my fingers…
But I do sheathe myself fragrance when I go out, as I must quite often since the advance on royalties is obviously insufficient to keep body and soul together: I have to work. Not wearing perfume when I expose myself to the world is as unthinkable to me as not wearing makeup: applying them gives a stylized form to the inchoate mess of my features and mind as I emerge from dreamland. It is, in a way, a courtesy extended to those who will meet me not to present them with the rawness of my unadorned self. A narcissistic gesture, of course, but also a ritual bordering on the sacred. As far as cosmetics and perfume go, I have always been resolutely Baudelairian in the bid to transcend Nature, and “In Praise of Cosmetics” has been bedside reading since the time I earned enough pocket money to beg my aunt to bring back from Paris a Le Multiple compact by Dior that served as eyeshadow, blusher and lip tint…
"Who would dare to assign to art the sterile function of imitating Nature? Makeup has no need to hide itself or to shrink from being suspected; on the contrary, let it display itself, at least if it does so with frankness and honesty. (…) I content myself with appealing to true artists as well as to those women themselves who, having received at birth a spark of that sacred flame, would tend it so that their whole beings were on fire with it."
The man who designed Le Multiple was of course Serge Lutens, and though he has stated he’s bored to death with the endless recycling of Baudelaire’s stance by makeup artists and marketers, there’s no denying his own makeup range barely strays from the French poet’s definition of cosmetics – powder to give the skin the grain of a marble statue, black to frame the eye, red to ignite the face with a supernatural fire.
Present post apart, I’ve no intention of expanding this blog to include makeup, especially since I’ve been using his Beauty Essentials exclusively since a very sweet friend (entirely non-affiliated to the brand) offered me the eyeshadow palette, khol and mascara as a gift: since then, I’ve added the Teint Si Fin compact foundation and one of the lipsticks to the range and put everything else I owned away (I was a makeup fanatic for years, and have got the stash to prove it).
The range is extravagantly costly, granted: but apart from the fact that the eyeshadow applicators are unexplainably cheap, and that the red lipsticks all veer towards to blue, it truly lives up to its designation.
The Teint Si Fin, though probably not suitable for dry skin, is fine-milled, velvety and does a fabulous job of covering up any slight blotches or broken capillaries. The Eye Khol Liner, though you need to get the hang of it (I give a blast of blow-dryer to make it more supple), barely budges all day save in the inner rim of the lid.
The eye shadow, a palette of black, aubergine, brown (with a subliminal blue tinge to it) and vanilla is very densely pigmented and fine-milled: again, you need a bit of technique and good brushes to apply it well. I use the Mac 214 Short Shader brush to line along the lashes (I also do the lower lid, skipping the central part, for a true Lutensian smoky eye) rather than the slender sponge applicator included with the palette; the rest I do with Shu Uemura N°10.
The Eye for Eye mascara is remarkably supple for a waterproof, and has been known to survive a (short) night’s sleep with very minimal smudging and no flaking whatsoever: in fact, only the Lutens eye makeup remover will make it budge.
Finally, the lipstick has the very best texture I’ve ever tried, densely pigmented but practically impalpable. Beige Compliment is the first nude tint I’ve ever bought – I tried it out from the sample palette one day because I wanted to balance out the very smoky eye with pale, all-my-lipstick’s-been-kissed-off lips – and I realised why after trying to find a less costly equivalent: it’s got the very slightest shade of copper to it, and more importantly, no discernible white pigment, which is what give me that washed-out, dingy look with most beige lipsticks…
Now my only question in the bathroom, most every morning, is whether to apply black, brown or aubergine eyeshadow: the rest has been wonderfully simplified. Which helps when you’ve got dozens of perfumes to choose from.
Illustration: ad from the Dior Le Multiple campaign, 1974, conceived and photographed by Serge Lutens, and found on Okadi (hence the watermarks).