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making faces :: the pleasures of excess and orientalism

the term "orientalism" was coined by edward said in reference to the fin-de-siècle european fascination with the cultural trappings of the near east and north africa. i say the "cultural trappings" rather than the culture because the fascination was very much with european ideas of the near east- the land of djinns and sultans, harems and spices. you can see the influence in the art and architecture of the time, but its imagery of the mysterious arab world persists even in the contemporary consciousness: we do still carry a romantic idea of aladdin, the moors and the rich palette that stems not from actual history, but from the nineteenth century imagination.

i'm surprised that more cosmetic companies haven't tapped into this for inspiration, since it does lend itself so easily interpretation through colour, but armani have leapt in with dual collections this fall/ winter and, being a sucker for both the subject and for armani, i've allowed myself to be swept away.


first of all, with the launch of their new mascara in the fall, armani released three limited shades of their rouge ecstasy lipstick: spice, sultan and orient. the three shades absolutely do capture the rich luxury of middle eastern silks and spices, each in its own way.

as a blanket statement, the rouge ecstasy formula is truly incredible. it feels like a rich balm, but it applies like an intense stain. the colour seems to cling for hours and fades slowly and evenly. [i find that many shades even leave a decent stain after eating.] i don't generally experience any bleeding or feathering around the lip contour and i do find that my lips feel better both during and after wear. the finish is like brushed silk- not matte, not glossy, but with a soft lustre that lasts quite well.the formula isn't completely opaque, but it is richly pigmented. they're unlike any other formula i've tried. see my original review here.

IT DEFIES BELIEF HOW MUCH MORE THERE IS TO THIS POST...



"spice" [#404] is a bright, fruity red, a sunny, happy shade that serves as a great pick-me-up during the dull winter months. i found the finish on this shade to be slightly more matte [although still not completely so] than others in the formula, but it doesn't actually feel any different on the lips.

404 spice
to my eye, it's a true neutral red, leaning neither warm nor cool, although it will look warmer or cooler depending on what is next to it. the closest comparison was to armani's own signature red "the 400" [available in all their lip formulas, but i've swatched the rouge ecstasy since it's the most direct comparison], which is a little cooler and deeper. ["the 400" featured in my week of red lipsticks, if you'd like to see it in use. this is one of those cases where i find the differences a little more noticeable in practice.]

l to r :: 404 spice, armani the 400
"sultan" [#405] was the shade that i was least confident i could pull off, but when i tried it on, i found it was much less troublesome than i'd imagined. it's a deep, fiery vermilion, orange with a great deal of red. it's just muted and warm enough that it falls securely on the orange side of the red/ orange divide, but the red tones will, i think, make it wearable over a wider range of complexions. it's very much in keeping with my expectations of the formula, slightly more glossy, perhaps.

405 sultan
something about this shade strikes me as quite exotic, possibly because there just aren't that many like it. bite beauty "cin cin" is lighter, more pink/ coral, while nars "autumn leaves" is sheerer and browner. [i originally thought that "sultan" and "autumn leaves" would be much more similar than they turned out to be.]

l to r :: bite beauty cin cin, 405 sultan, nars autumn leaves
"orient" [#406] is the final member of the triumverate, a deep, almost vampy berry. this was, of course, my first pick of the three and, despite my clear prejudice towards deep berry shades, i do think it is the best. that said, it's a very tight race. the colour of "orient" is a little more intense, in part owing to its being a dark colour, which makes it look more opaque. too often, it's difficult to find a deep shade like this that applies evenly, but this one is a dream. although it's dark, there's enough red in the berry mix that it still looks lively. it's cooler-toned than either of the others and while i think it would still work against a warm complexion, it's definitely going to favour pink or olive-toned skin.

406 orient
although it is my favourite of the three lipsticks released this fall, i also think it's the easiest to match to another colour. i picked the closest ones from my collection, but there are a lot of colours like this. yves st. laurent glossy stain "bourgogne artistique" is lighter, redder. rouge d'armani #608 is a little redder and deeper. [again, i find that you see more of the differences in use than in the swatches.]

l to r :: ysl bourgogne artistique, 406 orient, rouge d'armani 608
for their holiday collection, armani invoked an orient of a different sort. dubbed "orient excess", the collection harkens more to the asian steppes, the part of russia beyond the caucasus mountains, the land of wild winds and drifting snow once ruled by ghengis khan.

the jewel of the collection is the "orient excess" palette, a lovely oval housed in a little velvet clutch [which i forgot to photograph...], both in navy blue. this is a layered palette of the sort that armani has included before and which i personally love.





the top layer is a finely milled white powder that will add a delicate highlight wherever applied. it's suitable chiefly for light complexions, since i suspect it would turn ashy on anyone medium-to-dark, so keep that in mind when you're contemplating whether the palette is worth the investment. the finish of the powder is luminous but nearly matte- it's the colour that adds the highlight, not shimmer. that makes it exceptionally good for daytime use, or if you don't want to seem too dressy. despite the fact that it's a rather sheer powder, i didn't have any trouble seeing its effect on me.

orient excess highlight
the obvious comparison for me was with bobbi brown's "porcelain pearl", which has more intense colour payoff and which looked a little pink in comparison to "orient excess". i don't have hourglass "ethereal light", but having swatched it, i suspect it is quite similar.

l to r :: orient excess, bobbi brown porcelain pearl
the second layer of the palette is a trio of eyeshadows made with pigments that are meant to emulate the glorious texture of fur- sable, chinchilla and mink. they even refer to them having "fur colour pearls", which sounds like a load of marketing hooey to me, but i'm sure there's some kind of technology going on. [and as a note, i find the concept of furs nauseating, so i'm just choosing to think of the eye shadows as emulating the healthy, soft glow of fur on a living animal, not on a coat hanger.]

the shadows certainly do have a very nice, soft consistency, a little richer, i think, than the armani single shadows that were introduced earlier this year. the three colours are all neutral and shimmery to various degrees, although they don't look frosted on the lids. they blend very easily [a little too easily in one case] and last well, combining to form a softly smoky eye that's a little less dramatic than you would think looking at the palette itself.

first, there's a bitter chocolate brown with a hint of gold shimmer. this was the one that i found a little tricky to work with. the first time i used it, i patted in place with a firmer brush and was disappointed when it seemed to blend into almost nothingness after just a few minutes. [you can see that look here.] however, when applied with a fluffier brush [mac 217], the colour applied darker and stuck better. i don't know why. i try not to question these things.

orient excess #1
it's closest to rouge bunny rouge "umber firefinch", but the armani shade is a bit darker and has shimmer which pulls it warmer. 

l to r :: orient excess #1, rbr umber firefinch
second, there's a breathtaking blue grey. i kid you not, i'd consider buying the whole palette just for this shade. it's that unique. strangely, this shade worried me a little, because blue-greys aren't usually too kind to me, but this one is incredible. it's pigmented, but also looks lovely when lightly applied. i like using it to "fuzz out" the edges of the other shadows, so that they get softer and cooler around the edges.

orient excess #2
i compared it to mac "parisian skies", but the difference is so great that i shouldn't have bothered. and truly, that was the closest shade i had in my collection. magnifique.

l to r :: orient excess #2, mac parisian skies [l.e.]
finally, there's a tarnished bronze, the most intense of the shades when swatched, but one that can be applied lightly so that it looks more like a soft antique gold. the texture on this one is fantastic, very creamy and even, whether applied heavily or lightly.

orient excess #3
although there are lots of shades that should look like this one, i didn't find any that actually do. the deeper shade of nars "paramaribo" is lighter and has a more visible gold shimmer. rouge bunny rouge "abyssinian catbird" is also lighter, also has a more visible gold shimmer and is greener to boot.

l to r :: nars paramaribo, orient excess #3, rbr abyssinian catbird
whether this palette is going to be worth the price [$98cad] is going to depend on how much use you'll get from it. i will say that my original "neo-black" palette remains a staple in my collection. it's perfect for travel because it's compact and neutral and i think of this one in the same way.

also part of the winter collection are two different shades of lipstick, a bright red and a deep burgundy, each available in the rouge ecstasy and the lip maestro format. in a turn of events sure to shock everyone, i went for the burgundy, #634, in the rouge ecstasy formula.

interestingly, this shade is a lot more sheer than others in the range. armani is normally a model of consistency, so this strikes me as odd. it's not a bad thing just sort of surprising. i do think that they should have noted the difference in the colour description, especially since rouge ecstasy lipsticks can look sheer when swatched on the hand, but generally apply semi-opaquely. the difference with this one is only visible once you put it on your lips.

634 burgundy
it's a neutral wine that will pull warmer or cooler depending on your skin tone- more so than usual with this formula because of the sheerness. it's a great way to wear a dark colour without having to commit to the full-impact look. i was impressed that, given that the formula is softer than usual, there was no bleeding and the colour didn't migrate. i do think that this one is slightly less moisturising than other shades in the line, although it's definitely not drying.

in terms of comparisons, it's a shade that has a lot of close cognates at first blush, but the semi-sheer finish makes a huge difference. the only one that i could find that was similar in both colour and level of opacity was bobbi brown "black cherry", which is browner and darker.

l to r :: 634 burgundy, bobbi brown black cherry
i also thought i'd show a comparison of "burgundy" and "orient". their base colours have a lot of similarities, so you might want to try one or the other, however, the difference in pigmentation makes a substantial difference on the lips, as you'll see below.

l to r :: 634 burgundy, 406 orient
finally- yes, there's more!- i found a stray hanging around my armani counter. it's a rouge ecstasy [i don't search, they just find me] that was released on the armani web site for one day only in november. as far as i was aware, that was the only place it was available, but apparently it found its way to certain counters. it is also supposed to be making a comeback to the web site in the new year, so in case you want to check it out, i figured i might as well include it in this truly excessive glut of reviews.

the shade is called "urban nude" [#603], which does seem like an appropriate name. it is edgy and modern and i think on some darker complexions it could work as an odd spin on nude. on me, it's more like a spin on a dark neutral. it's a medium-dark purple shade with a lot of grey and a little brown mixed in. it's cooler and darker than the traditional pinky-brown shades that form the lion's share of nudes so, yes, "urban nude" seems about right.

603 urban nude
i was a little worried that the colour would be too cool for me to pull off, but when applied, i can see that there's enough red in the purple to make it workable for me. my complexion is about as neutral as neutral gets in terms of the warm-cool divide, so i think that people whose skin is warmer are going to struggle a bit with this one.

the uniqueness of the shade is appealing, but unfortunately i found this one fell short in terms of performance. it's a good deal slicker than the rest of the rouge ecstasy family, which means that it doesn't last as long and also that it's prone to feathering, something i've never experienced with any other shades.

it has a similar kind of look to mac's "goddess of the sea", but "urban nude" is deeper, grimier... more urban if you will. it's sort of like "goddess of the sea's" more dangerous cousin.

l to r :: 603 urban nude, mac goddess of the sea [l.e.]
my recommendation on this is to pick it up only if you really love the colour. it is distinctive, no doubt, but it's going to take more work than any of the others i've reviewed here.

finally, let's take a brief look at these beauties in action!

to start off, here's a look that i did with both "sultan" and the shades from the "orient excess palette".




i have the highlighter on my cheekbones [over yves saint laurent "pepper rose" blush] and forehead and all three shadows on my eyes. i used the bronze all over my lids, the deep brown on the outer angles and crease and the blue-grey around the inner socket and to soften the edges of the dark brown. [i'm also wearing urban decay "smoke" eye liner.]

and here's "spice", which doesn't need a whole lot to spice it up. snort. chortle. seriously, reds like this can carry a look on their own.

 


i'm wearing hourglass "suede" on my eyes, a perfect soft neutral combo of soft beige and taupe that's disappeared as they prepare for a new group of shadow palettes. [one of them was sold exclusively at barney's just prior to the holidays. you can see sara beautime's review of it here.] the eye liner is yves saint laurent "gold star", which has to be the most beautiful gold liner ever invented. i like that it's slightly tarnished.

one the cheeks, i'm wearing a combination of chanel blush in "rose écrin" [a delightful beige-pink] and rouge bunny rouge "as if it were summer still" bronzing liquid. yeah, that's right. this is what i look like with bronzer right now. and while i didn't slather it on or anything, i assure that it's not an inconsiderable application of bronzer. i was ready to be embarrassed at being too dark, but i guess i needn't have worried.

and here's my special berry friend, "orient". just look at how perfect it looks on the lips- no patchiness or blurry edges... i want to hug this lipstick, i really do.

 


on the eyes, i'm wearing a combination of rouge bunny rouge shades [golden rhea, lilac reef currasow and trumpeter koel] with urban decay "smoke" liner [again]. the blush is a combination of armani "eccentrico" with hourglass "diffused light" ambient lighting powder.

here's a look at "burgundy" #634 on the lips, where you can clearly see the differences between it and other rouge ecstasy lipsticks. i had originally thought that the sheerer formula was making flaws in my lips more obvious, which seemed reasonable enough, but afterwards i realised i had a crumb stuck to my lip. very classy, don't you think? anyway, you aren't seeing rough bits accentuated by a sheer lipstick. you're seeing leftovers.

 


the eye in this case is done with the four shades from guerlain "les sables" and the cheeks are a combination of diffused light [again] with yves saint laurent "passionée" blush.

finally, we have "urban nude". for reasons i cannot explain, it bothers me tremendously that i'm wearing yellow in both these last two looks. it's not that i don't like it, i just find that it looks weird, like i'm making it into some kind of uniform. but that's just me.

 


i've used "golden rhea" as a central colour on the eyes again, since it's absolutely my favourite shade of gold. deeper golds can work on me in isolated areas, but they look too heavy if i try to use them more liberally. i've combined it with orange-coral inglot shades #368, mac "creole beauty" and "manila paper" [a warm golden brown and buttercream neutral respectively]. the cheeks are, once again, "passionée", this time combined with hourglass "luminous light".

whew. i think the blog needs to be burped after all that. i think you can see where the "excess" comes in although, in my defense, some of these have been around for a while and i've just not gotten around to reviewing them. [i think you just defended gluttony with sloth. -ed.]

it continues to mystify me that armani receives so much less attention than other prestige brands. personally, i consider them one of the most exciting companies out there and getting more so with time. true, they aren't as widely distributed as other brands [although that's changing and ordering online is always a possibility in the united states and canada], but a brand like hourglass has even narrower distribution and gets much more hype [not that i begrudge them a bit of it- they're fantastic]. it's perplexing. but i'm perfectly happy to continue singing their praises as loudly as i can [provided they warrant it] and trying to win more people over.

all the products reviewed here are limited but still available except for "urban nude", which should be returning shortly. happy indulging!

p.s. :: the image at the top of this post is "the death of sardanapalus" by eugène delacroix.

p.p.s. :: armani isn't done with the orient orientation. snort. chortle. their spring collection includes a new range of eye shadows joined by a collection of nail and lip products called "fuchsia maharajah", which moves us a little further east...

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