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making faces :: the fourth annual more like space shrunken head awards for achievement in beauty

it's time! every year, usually in mid-january because i need some time in the new year to collect my thoughts, i present the shrunken head awards. i've played around with the format a little in the past, but i think that last year's is still pretty functional, so we'll go with that.there are a couple of categories where i have to plead "no contest", because one girl cannot always afford to test every release on her own. i've also opted to provide a runner up or honourable mention only where i feel it's warranted, since last year's lists were getting a little too expansive.

if you're not familiar with the shrunken heads, it's a tradition that i inaugurated in honour of the fact that beauty is fleeting [all the more reason to remember it] and reflecting on the year in beauty is also a way to preserve it. [get it? preserve? why are you backing away from me like that?]

the theme of the past year seems to have been "renewal". rather than focusing on entirely new products, there were a lot of existing lines that got revamped. dior, chanel and yves st.laurent all introduced updated versions of their eye shadow palettes. armani updated their single eye shadow collection. yves st. laurent and armani updated their blush offering [dior did their last year]. chanel updated their rouge allure glosses with a new formula and shades and guerlain did the same with their kiss kiss lipsticks. while it's always nice to experiment with new technology, it also meant that this year meant a lot of sad farewells to old favourites. [looking into my crystal ball, i would say that we should expect this trend to continue in 2015.]

of course, that doesn't mean that there were no "new new" things this year. the most anticipated and the most successful was, i'll venture, nars launch of their audacious lipsticks. i don't think i've ever seen the sort of excitement about any product as i saw over these lipsticks. speaking to a nars associate a little while ago, it seems that even the company was caught off guard and they'd anticipated a successful launch. on a much more subdued note, yves st. laurent launched a new line of glosses early in the year. and we're all thankful that both brands opted to have the new line be its own thing, rather than a replacement for an existing product. [we'll see how long that lasts. -ed.]

that's the preamble... now let's give out some shrunken heads!!!!!!!

category one :: formulas

complexion products

best new product [liquid, cream or gel] :: yves saint laurent, fusion ink foundation

i don't review foundations often, although i do try to mention them when i get them. my fallback for the last couple of years has been urban decay naked skin, which suits my mixed complexion just fine [i'm dry enough that very matte foundations become aging, but oily enough that foundations with "glow" make me look greasy], but when i met fusion ink, i knew i'd found a new love. it's perfect for a mixed/ medium complexion like mine, a sort of goldilocks blend of "not to slick, not too dry" and i love the soft radiance and even coverage it brings to my complexion. i even love the faintly art deco look to the packaging.

best new product [powder] :: n/a

this is one of those categories where i've chosen to take a pass. i haven't had a lot of time to test a lot of highlight powders and the fact is that those i've tested haven't done anything to dislodge last year's favourites- hourglass ambient lighting powders and nars light reflecting setting powders from my heart. 2013 was a great year for these sorts of products, so it stands to reason that brands spent a lot of time this year reaping the benefits of their achievements.

eye products 

best new product :: yves saint laurent shadow palettes

a dozen new palettes with a nice mix of neutrals and colour, different finishes and an elegant design. even the packaging is an improvement on previous efforts and longtime readers will know that that's been an issue for me. the offering is exceptionally well thought-out, with a lot of options open to achieve different looks.

honourable mentions :: guerlain and rouge bunny rouge

both of these brands introduced new formulas without introducing new formulas. guerlain added matte shadows to their repertoire with their fall collection and, while they didn't make a big deal of it, the results were excellent. rouge bunny rouge introduced a molten metallic finish with their fall "chronos" palette and while it accounted for only some of the shades in the palette, those shades did tend to steal the show. i sincerely hope that both brands continue to explore these avenues.

cheek products [blush, bronzer, highlighter]

best new product :: hourglass ambient lighting blush

these seven [including the exclusive palette shade] new blushes really do combine the magic of their cult favourite ambient lighting powders with a healthy dose of pigment. i've scooped up five of the seven and have every intention of adding the other two to my collection. yes, they do favour those with neutral to warm complexions, but still, they are simply sublime. [see also here and here]

honourable mention :: yves saint laurent blush volupté

a well-edited selection of shades with a glorious satin finish and buildable pigmentation. the nine available colours span warm and cool, bright and soft. they have excellent lasting powder and while it might be a little finicky to use the central square, the concept is intriguing.

lip products 

best new product :: nars audacious lipsticks

duh. duuuhh. duuuhhhhhh. this is wicked obvious, i know, but really, the new formula is pretty incredible. the pigmentation is out of this world and the colours, while they might look simple [generally no shimmer or sheen, which often translates to being easier to duplicate], the shades are remarkably unique. i really appreciate the fact that nars released a lot of shades that are "similar but different", allowing any woman [or man] to find the exact perfect shade for her skin. [or find a family of subtly different shades that work and proceed to purchase all of them. -ed.] i hope 2015 will see the range expanded a little to include some cooler reds, a few warmer pinks and some lighter berry/ plum colours, but i hope it won't be before the fall, because it's going to take me at least that long to buy all the shades i want from the current collection. kudos to nars as well for thumbing their nose at convention and using 68 year old charlotte rampling as their model. [see also here]

honourable mention :: yves saint laurent gloss volupté

so surprising! i'm not a gloss girl as a general rule, but boy did these go a ways to converting me. they do exactly what a gloss should do, which is provide light to medium colour, brightness and and hint of light to the lips [either through reflective shine or sparkle]. their "kiss-shaped" applicator screams gimmick, but is surprisingly functional. love this little guys enough to suppress my gag reflex at that ysl fig scent, which is saying something.

category two :: collections

i feel the need to inject a brief preamble here, to say that i found this year's seasonal collections to be weaker than i've seen in years. last year, i said that i thought seasonal offerings would become increasingly irrelevant and i think that 2014 bore me out on that front. i think that we'll continue to see more capsule offerings centred on product launches, with a few "extras" thrown in to fill out a display and make things a little better rounded. maybe it's better like that, but part of the appeal of cosmetic products is the fantasy around them, creating a theme around a certain palette and tempting people to buy into the dream [figuratively and literally]. it also becomes a way of suggesting new looks, new application techniques, basically all the things that can be a bit intimidating for a woman confronted with increasingly massive and confusing product offerings. on line gurus may be filling that void, but it would be in the interest of cosmetic marketers to try to lead on that front.

that said...

best spring collection :: chanel

i have a weakness for collections that lean a bit unexpected and chanel's complement of spicy plums and red-pinks with the expected shades of delicate peach helped warm me up when i most needed it.

best summer collection :: mac [alluring aquatic and moody blooms]

i see these two as a pair, really, expressing two different takes on summer. the first is refreshing, but also a bit murky and muted, things one rarely sees in a summer collection [and very different than the mermaid-like armani summer collection that was the recipient of a shrunken head two years ago]. the second is exotic, with bursts of tropical colour splashed around the landscape, like a stroll through the amazon rainforest. [also here]

best fall collection :: mac [artificially wild]

you don't have to scream to be heard should have been the theme of this collection. but it didn't really need an official theme, because it was so damn well-edited that it spoke to you without needing any embellishment. there were a few gems plucked from the permanent collection [always a nice idea, in moderation, since it can allow you to see an existing item in a new light], like yash lipstick, but the real stars were the limited edition products. the splashy and unimaginative "rocky horror picture show" collection might have stolen all the glory, but the true beauty aficionado knows that the most exciting things are the ones that demand a closer look to fully appreciate them.

honourable mention :: guerlain

the relaunch of their kiss kiss lipstick line was accompanied by some quiet but lovely eye shadow palettes that really stole my heart. the new formula was a lovely surprise, with a nice range of fresh-looking shades to accompany the soft, sometimes smoky eyes. [also here]

best holiday collection :: armani [orient excess]

instead of offering three dozen items, armani decided to do a couple of things really well. and it worked. the lustrous shadows and delicate finishing powder of their siberian-themed collection were perfectly complemented by the rich lipstick colours that accompanied them in two different formulas. i tend to include the mid-fall selection of lip colours and mascara with the holiday goodies, since both were featured in the display at my armani counter from november until now. they weren't a single collection, of course and i'd still give the nod to armani even without them, but i feel the need to remind everyone of those spectacular lip shades again.

category three :: best of the best [single items]

ah, always the most difficult shrunken heads to award, but also kind of satisfying.

best eye shadow [single]  :: rouge bunny rouge rain dove 

jaw-droppingly gorgeous, a little different on everyone, subtle but unforgettable. the perfect neutral. rbr remains my very favourite eye shadow formula and one that seems to grow more impressive with each new shade.

honourable mention :: rouge bunny rouge rufous-tailed weaver

inseparable in my mind from its lighter sister, this shade is that eye shadow unicorn: the yellow-toned brown. some people report flashes of green and bronze, which i think has more to do with the skin's undertones and the ability of the shade [both spring launch shades, really] to blend with a range of complexions.

best eye shadow palette :: rouge bunny rouge chronos

clearly, one brand just dominates the eye shadows. this was the first pre-made palette from the wonderful bunnies and there remains the tantalizing promise that it won't be the only. for a palette that's dominated by mid-tones, its versatility is remarkable. the shades combine well together and with other shadows. more please, and quickly.

honourable mention :: nars dolomites

argh. every year i do this. there's always one item i haven't reviewed yet that i can't in good conscience leave off the list. by the time i got my little paws on this beauty, it was already sold out, so it seemed sort of bitchy to review it. then i thought that i could talk about it and com up with some good substitutes to suggest, but when i looked carefully, there are none, which made reviewing it seem like an even worse idea. the combination of shimmery, brown-tinged rose and reddish, earthy brown was, sadly, a limited item, but i'll offer the following advice, which worked for me: sold out doesn't always mean sold out. ask your sales associate to have a look for you, because sometimes there are stowaways that got mixed in with regular stock.

best blush :: hourglass luminous flush

there is so much to love about the hourglass blushes, but this one is just such a wonderful, natural pink rose with that touch of radiance that the ambient lighting powders bring. for me, it's the perfect companion.

honourable mention :: yves saint laurent passionée

pinky coral perfection with just a hint of warmer sheen, thanks to the"heart of light" at the centre. probably the shade i've reached for the most since it launched in the fall.

best highlighter/ bronzer :: n/a

i'll admit that i snoozed and lost on the holiday chanel highlighter, which looked divine, but the fact is that i am still so in love with hourglass and some of the other highlighters in my collection that it was difficult for me to justify buying a lot this year, especially since facial powders like highlighters and bronzers tend to be among the most expensive products on offer.

best lip gloss :: yves saint laurent rose orfèvre

now here is something truly astonishing. a light, sparkly pink gloss tops my list of favourites. so many shades like this are so much the same that i almost glaze over them and instinct would have directed me towards the fuchsia shades in this line, but a sample pack made me realise that this is like the platonic ideal of light sparkly pink lip glosses: this is what all the others aspire to be.

honourable mention :: chanel murmure

i never got around to writing an official review of this one, either, because it was summer by the time i got it, but unlike "dolomites" this one is still available. it's a very delicate peachy pink. or pinky peach. whatever you want to call it, it's beautiful and clearly i'm getting soft in my old age.

best lipstick :: guerlain rose grenat

guerlain rouge g remains my favourite lipstick formula and no wonder. the colour is intense, the shades are deeply nuanced, which makes them impossible to replicate with any exactness, they make my lips feel better and they double as a weapon. [please stop making that joke. you make it every year. -ed.] guerlain revamped the line this year, removing some and adding others, but none were prettier than this incredible pink-red that was sadly limited edition.

honourable mention :: armani orient

i save the lipsticks for last not just because they're the last thing that i apply but because it's the hardest one for me to decide. my instinct was to place one of my nars audacious lipsticks here, but while i love every shade that i purchased, it was difficult to choose just one that excelled in a field where all were so excellent. and i feel that armani is perpetually, unforgivably overlooked among prestige brands, especially when it comes to these miraculous lipsticks. as a devotee of rich, deep berry shades... well, i could hardly have asked for more. to find such a beautiful shade that also makes my lips feel better and that applies evenly without a brush... well that's just crazy talk.

category four :: the big one

this wasn't the easiest year to pick a best brand, since i felt that a lot of brands had one or two things that they did spectacularly well, but didn't necessarily maintain that consistency throughout the year. however, a quick perusal of the choices above indicates that there was one brand that seemed to quietly plug away, launching and refreshing their lines to keep them modern and coming up with new and exciting formulas to try.

brand of the year :: yves saint laurent

congrats, ysl, you've earned this!!!

i should mention that an allergy prevented me from enjoying the brand's new "kiss & blush" lip and cheek formula, as it prevents me from using any of their much-loved rouge volupté lipsticks. i also missed out on their edgy fall shadow palette, which got a lot of rave reviews. even given that, there was no brand that impressed me as much as ysl this year. each time i tried one of their new product offerings, i was pleasantly surprised and each time i looked at the range of colours available, i was happy to see a mix of reliable, everyday tones and bolder, wilder choices. ysl are probably the bset prestige brand when it comes to including more colourful and unpredictable options and they've stayed true to that with every launch this year.

i normally end the "best of" post with a recap of my new year's eve look, but i already posted that, so i'll wind up instead with a few glances into the future.

lets start with what we know, because it's happening now:

  • hourglass have discontinued their eye shadow duos and are replacing them with seven palettes containing five shadows each and the palettes look like skor bars.
  • armani is launching new "eye tints" a liquid formula that seems like a more refined version of their potted "eyes to kill" shadows. following on the heels of this launch will be a spring collection [lips and nails] bursting with fuchsia and purple shades. i'm going to be spending a long time at the armani counter.
  • nars' spring collection is still something of a mystery, in that we don't have official details yet, but we do know that they are releasing matte shadow pencils, two regular eye shadow palettes [one warmer and one cooler in tone] and one palette of their recently-launched dual intensity, wet/ dry shadows. they're also launch dual intensity blushes. their spring colour collection has more nudity than a porno. 
  • yves saint laurent has an arseload of new skin products coming, as well as a new line of single shadows [which i'm told will replace the existing ones]. their spring collection is pink and sparkly. it's like barbie had a kid with my little pony, but classier.
  • rouge bunny rouge are revamping their "succulence of dew" semi-sheer lipstick line. there are five all-new shades and a new formula. some of the shade names are the same as ones that exist, or have existed previously in the line, but the shades don't appear to be the same. if you want to back up any existing shades, get on that now, because the new babies are coming. 
  • chanel is relaunching and reformulating their rouge coco lipsticks. this is my favourite chanel formula, so i'm a little hesitant to embrace change, but the line does absolutely need some new life injected into it. almost all the colours are being discontinued from the existing collection, so grab 'em while you can. chanel's spring collection is already on counters and is very ladylike, because it's chanel. 
  • dior has gloss reformulations coming and have just launched their new "rouge balm" formula, which is like a tinted balm with more emphasis on the tint than usual. there's also even more new skin products. something has to give here, because dior have way too many formulas of almost everything. and yet they wouldn't make their gorgeous cream blushes permanent. their spring collection looks colourful at first glance, but is generally softer and pastel, as their spring collections always are. 
  • guerlain's spring collection is also very pastel, but the star products are really the pressed meteorites powders and the "baby glow" skin perfector that's like liquid meteorites. it's more than a primer, less than a tinted moisturiser and because guerlain are such masters of skin, they'll fly off the shelves. thankfully they're permanent, so they'll fly back. 
  • there was some concern that, having launched their revamped kiss kiss lipsticks, that guerlain would abandon their rouge automatique formula. apparently, that's not the case. however, the rouge automatique line is being pulled from certain retailers [shoppers drug mart in canada and mostly from sephora]. some shades have already disappeared from those retailers and others will leave as stock is depleted. 
  • mac is sticking to their "four thousand launches per year" schedule. some of them look interesting, some of them less so and honestly i find it exhausting to think about. there are more celebrity/ movie/ designer tie-ins, but i'm more interested in knowing what they'll do on their own. the big spring collection, which will launch in february, does look very colourful, especially compared to what else is on offer.  
  • laura mercier has a palette inspired by rainy, misty shades for spring, which is something i've always wanted to see. my understanding is that it's exclusive to certain retailers, so we'll see if i can get my hands on it. sephora will not be carrying it as far as i know. 
  • marc jacobs is discontinuing/ has discontinued their gel lipstick line and will be replacing them with another full-coverage formula. they've also quietly introduced new seven and three shade shadow palettes and a couple of new blushes. nice marketing there, marc.

that's more or less everything i know for certain, but here are a few predictions for the coming year, which you can take or leave, or mock me for when none of them turn out to be true.

  • seasonal collections will continue to dwindle in importance. 
  • the rage for big, bold lip shades will gradually start to wane and more muted and deeper colours will increase in number. i expect that we won't see that happen  in a meaningful way until later in the year.
  • pastels are going to be everywhere. we already see that with spring, but i wouldn't be surprised to see it continue into fall. 
  • skin perfection will continue to be huge and there will be more powders this year than last. 
  • chanel will continue to struggle a bit. since losing creative director peter philips to dior last year, chanel does appear to have stalled. it's not that many of their products aren't lovely, it's just that there is a samey-ness from one collection to another. given how far in advance collections have to be planned, i don't know that they'll break that streak any time soon, but if they are to return to their former lofty position, they need to kick out the jams by late this year. 
  • dior will look different by the end of the year. the collections for later this year will be the first where philips' creative control will be really evident and that means that dior, who themselves are known to suffer from samey-ness from one year to the next [especially spring and holiday collections], will want to show his stamp in 2015. i'd expect him to do something unorthodox to catch people's attention- summer smoky eyes or sheer nudes with shimmer for the holidays.
  • nars will have something big in the fall. cosmetic companies- all companies really- fulfill their obligations by offering growth over the previous year at the same period. in order to accomplish this in 2015, nars needs to mark the anniversary of the audacious lipstick launch with something that will equal or better those sales numbers. it could be one big new product line, or it could be a multi-part fall collection with some sort of unexpected kink [i consider that a very good term to use where nars is concerned].

i'll leave it there, but you just know you're going to see me pontificate on lots of things throughout the year.

any favourites from 2014 that i didn't cover here? any wishes for 2015? any mistakes i've made in here that should be corrected?

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