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making faces :: product review [nars summer 2011 collection]

i came, i saw, i hauled
well, as i promised yesterday, i do have some opinions and images to share regarding the new summer collection from nars. it's been on counters a few weeks now, but i seem to have been slow to make some choices. one of the things that i like about nars, actually, is the fact that i can take a little while to make a decision on which of their limited items i want without feeling like it's going to be sold out before i feel sure. [casts stink eye in mac's general direction.]

like all nars collections, this one is fairly small and combines limited items with items introduced that will be added to the permanent collection and a couple of "reminder" items that fit with the season but have already been available for some time. [in this case, those items would be their volumizing mascara, which i've never tried and taj mahal blush, an incredible shimmery burnt orange that i suspect would work as well as an eye shadow as a blush.] also like other nars collections, while there may be inspirations for specific items, there's no overall theme, nothing that ties the whole collection together. that's not a bad thing, of course, i think it's just the marketing person in me who desperately seeks to impose some sort of order, or the writer attempting to impose a narrative.

i'll say up front that i have a real love affair going with nars' eye shadows lately, so it should come as no surprise that these are the highlight of the collection to me. there is a new trio and two duos, all of which are extremely different from one another.

mayflower l/s, dogon e/s duo, new order blush
the most eye-catching of the shadows is undoubtedly the "cap ferrat" trio, inspired by the alpes-maritimes region of france. for those of you who didn't win the geography bee this week, the alpes-maritimes region is tucked away in the southeast of the country, next to the luxurious principality of monaco, along the mediterranean sea. although its largest city is nice, the region's best-known destination is the town of cannes. so close your eyes and imagine the colours that scenery inspires- the clear, cloudless sky, the crisp outline of the mountains and, of course, the sparkling riviera speckled with yachts and the beautiful people who populate them, whether from the world of film or an f. scott fitzgerald novel... i actually think that the colour combination most people would come up with would resemble the shimmery "cap ferrat" trio of a misty cool sea foam green, an icy-tinged teal green and a brilliant cyan.

the lady next to me reminds me of someone
all three colours are very shimmery and have a bit of a white sheen, which makes them cooler than they might be otherwise and also makes them less forceful than they might appear in the pan. i don't think that any of the three colours is completely original, but i will say that if you're looking to experiment with these sorts of shades, it's an excellent starting point.

the best part about the trio is that nars has finally caved to prevailing wisdom and physically separated the three colours. in their previous trios, they hadd arranged the shades in a rough degradé, which makes sense if you're planning on using them for a single look, but made it really difficult to use them separately and after a few uses, left you with a marbled mess. bravi nars for the improvement! to the best of my knowledge, this is a limited edition item.

i already posted a little sneak preview of the dogon eye shadow duo last week, since i just couldn't wait to try it out. for my tastes, this is the absolute rock star of the collection. nars duos are already a no-brainer as far as i'm concerned, simply because they all seem to well thought out and because they're a great value when you look at them compared to the single nars shadows. this one, however, is even more double plus good, because the colours are so particularly stunning. one of the things that i really like about nars' shadows is that the nuances that you see in the pan and swatched on your hand are generally apparent in use. sadly, i seem to have a number of eye shadows that look awesome on my hand and "meh" on my eyes, but this duo looks great both ways.

dogon eye shadow duo
dogon is named for a tribe from mali in western africa and the shades certainly do reflect the notions of the "dark continent" of western imagination. it's a duo that can be used perfectly to create a mysterious, slightly edgy smoky eye [in about two minutes' time, i might add]. the lighter shade is described as taupe with an icy green sheen and that's exactly what is is. although it's not similar in colour, the duo-chrome nature of the shade and the surprising contrast of the base and reflect colours reminds me a little of mac's "vex". it's a shade of fascinating depth disguised as a simple, everyday colour. the dark shade is a rich blue-black which seems to show either quite blue or sooty black depending on the light. both colours have excellent pigmentation, although the dark shade is just a bit powdery and harder to blend. i love how easy it is to make a pretty dramatic look from these two colours and i love that both are a step away from more standard shades.

getting an "exotic dance"
the second shadow trio, "exotic dance", was the one that i thought let the side down a little. a combination of a frosty silver-white and a warm metallic gold, the shades are nice and easy to use, but i thought that they were less interesting than those in "cap ferrat" or "dogon". although i've heard some people find the pigmentation on the white shade a bit uneven, i didn't notice it myself. what i did notice is that there is a lot of shimmer in both colours and that it will migrate, leaving you with shimmery residue on your face. personally, that doesn't bother me [if i'm wearing shimmer, i might as well be wearing shimmer], but just be warned that it is likely to happen.

completing the "eye offering" is "queen", one of nars' soft touch shadow pencils. these are essentially a big soft crayon for the eyes. they feel fun to play with because really, what is makeup application if not playing with crayons writ large and on your face? "queen" reminds me of that time in the eighties when they introduced glitter crayons. amidst the novelty of having glitter in convenient crayon format, it took a while to notice that what you basically had were bog-standard wax tubes that spread glitter in an imprecise arc around any point that they came in contact with. even as a child, i remember wondering what good they were and i have to say, i had much the same reaction looking at "queen". described as "citrus gold glitter", it basically functions just like those crayons of old, splattering glitter on your skin sort of randomly. i swatched it on my hand and my very first reaction was to think "there's no way i'm putting that near my eye". sadly, this was one of those products that seemed to be a "what were you thinking?" moment...

for the lips, this collection offers two matte products- one each of nars signature "pure matte" lipstick and their "matte velvet" lip pencil. i'm never 100% sure of the difference between the two of these products, i generally find them to be similar in terms of effect, which is, as you may have figured out, matte finish with a rich colour payoff. it's really more of a question of whether you find the convenience and precision of a pencil-type applicator outweighs the amount of product you lose in sharpening it.

mayflower lipstick
the velvet matte pencil is a bright melon pink [described, appropriately, as "cantaloupe" by nars] that reminds me a little of a more saturated vesion of mac's "playing koi" [from "quite cute"]. carthage, the pure matte lipstick shade is a bold, cool fuchsia. this is the product that seems to have been generating all the buzz from this collection [appearing on stars' lips, etc.] and, while it's a pretty enough colour, i found it a bit difficult to apply even for a matte product [it dragged a lot on my lips and felt especially dry] and i didn't think it was anything i hadn't seen before in terms of a fuchsia shade. i think that the excitement is that it's both a bold fuchsia shade and a matte, which seems comparatively rare [and which is very of the moment, at this particular moment]. for my part, though, i think that nars' permanent fuchsia offerings schiap and funny face are much nicer and, while they're not perfectly matte, they accomplish pretty much the same goals.

on the sheerer side for lips, there is a bright tangerine gloss called "wonder", which is almost irresistibly summery [and would look great paired with the "cap ferrat" trio, i think]. i think that this is a sure-fire hit, just because it's bright and cheery and at the same time, can be worn sheered-out for those who want something a little more understated. i also tried this one over "carthage" and the combination is stellar. personally, i think that they're much better together than either is on their own, but that's just me.

mayflower lipstick
the only traditional lipstick that's part of this collection is "mayflower" a semi-sheer strawberry-pink that is quite incredibly pretty. [nars describes it as raspberry-pink, but since it pulls warmer on my lips, we're going with "strawberry".] it's very close to the natural shade of my lips, so i find it gives a great natural lift and brightens my complexion, the way a good subtle lipstick should. i'm surprised, given that i usually worship at the altar of the statement lip, that in a collection filled with bold lips, this is actually the colour that appeals to me most. [by contrast, i wasn't as interested in "tzigane" the natural shade that was part of the spring collection.] maybe it's that i appreciate the value of a good understated shade or maybe i'm just mellowing in my old age. either way, i have to say that mayflower was my unexpected favourite of the lip products.

nars are known for their blushes, so it may have been a surprise to many that their spring collection didn't include a blush. what's funny is that the summer blush seems almost like it might have been a spring product that didn't get completed quickly enough, because it's a very light, powder pink with loads of silver and gold sparkle called "new order".

this review is long enough and i don't want to get too off-topic, but i feel like i should explain something about how i went so quickly from being a neophyte to being a worshipper with nars. the thing is, it's the product names. francois nars apparently has a penchant for naming his products after things that have a particular resonance for him. the thing is, francois nars is close to my age [a little older, i believe, although i can't find his exact year of birth], which means that many of the cultural touchstones that marked his life are similar to those that marked mine. aside from the fact that i admire his cheekiness in naming a blush "orgasm", it's the fact that his products so often reference things that were cultural landmarks for me. when i was a child, i once distinguished myself my telling a room full of people that i wanted to be marlene dietrich when i grew up. nars has five lipsticks that reference marlene dietrich movies. "night porter" is one of my favourite films and now, thanks to nars, one of my favourite eye shadows. there is something to be said about feeling that kind of connection. i've never met francois nars and it's likely i never will, but those references make me feel like i'm buying from a friend. believe me, the fact that there's an eye shadow duo called "blade runner" in the world that i don't yet own keeps me up nights.

back to topic! ok, the thing is, the fact that the blush for this collection is called "new order" went more than halfway to guaranteeing that it would come home with me. it just sort of works out well that i really, really really like the blush in and of itself. there are those who don't.

new order blush
new order blush and my pores...
the base colour of "new order" is pretty unobjectionable. i don't think that it would necessarily appeal to warmer-toned people and on darker skin tones it might turn a bit ashy, but there's nothing about the colour that's going to especially irritate people. however, the issue that people are going to have with this blush is with it's super-shimmery, glittery finish. while it's not the most glitter-heavy blush the nars has done [believe me, they can do glitter], the level of sparkle is going to be off-putting to some. in fact, i'll go so far as to say that this is what will be the deciding factor in terms of whether or not it works as a blush. the things is, really shimmery shades have a tendency to emphasise both pores and imperfections, which means that unless your skin is well nigh on perfect, the blush may give you second thoughts. that said, the colour is simply gorgeous and if you're a pale-type like me, it is perhaps the ultimate evening-out blush. it adds a little bit of a pink flush to the cheeks, but much of the effect is in its gorgeous, reflective sheen. even dom, who is not a blush aficionado, had kind words for this one. [i believe those kind words included the suggestion that it could be swept along the decolleté, which is a fantastic use.] like i said, with this one, it's all about the finish. you're either going to love or hate it and personally, i count myself in the former camp. sexy and subtly stunning.
my overall impression? i think there are at least a few irresistible elements for almost everyone in this collection. there are a few misses [queen] but the hits [dogon, mayflower, wonder] are such dead-on hits that it's easy to forgive nars their misfires.

finally, here are a couple of looks using products from the new summer collection, to give you an idea of how they might work in action.

"exotic dance"

this is the look that i got corinne to do for me after my facial care appointment. to be honest, when she started, i had a really specific idea in mind of what i wanted her to do, so i didn't give her a whole lot of leeway in terms of product choice [she chose the blush and bronzer]. it's funny, because i find it makes the point that both carthage and wonder can be used in a more understated way, considering that they're both pretty bright. i have to say that i keep looking at these photos and wondering where the heck the mascara is, but it was my fault, because i didn't ask her to use anything [having dictated pretty much the entire look]. i think this really shows how colourful and summery these colours can be. [thanks to dom for these photos.]

nars sheer glow foundation in mont blanc
nars concealer in vanilla

eyes ::
nars all about eve e/s duo
nars exotic dance e/s duo
there was another shadow used to create a line on my lower lashes, but i sorta forgot to ask...

cheeks ::
nars laguna bronzer
nars torrid blush

lips ::
nars pure matte l/s carthage
nars l/g wonder

ok, you can actually see the shadow duo in action on my "colour by letters" page under "d". but i loved the duo so much that i just had to use it again and besides, i had to show off the other products i got! this look, to me, comes very close to being my ultimate smoky-eyed look. you have the big, smudgy eyes and the understated, very feminine lips and cheeks to balance. what's interesting is that i think you can see far more of the blue tones in the darker colour in my original look, whereas in the photos here, it looks more like a standard carbon black. honestly, i felt it looked good both ways.

face ::
nars sheer glow foundation mont blanc
christian dior hydrating concealer
mac mineralize skinfinish natural light

eyes ::
nars dogon e/s duo
mac shadestick cakeshop [as liner along water line]
mac fluidline blacktrack
ysl faux cils mascara

cheeks ::
nars new order blush

lips ::
nars mayflower l/s

and for those of us who get the reference...

all products are available at nars locations [in canada, the bay, murale and sephora] and online [u.s. only] at


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in colour analysis, each "parent" season- spring, summer, autumn, winter- overlap with each other season in one colour dimension- hue [warm/ cool], value [light/ dark] and chroma [saturated/ muted]. autumn is warm, dark and muted [relatively speaking], whereas winter is cool, dark and saturated. so you can see that the points of crossover in palettes, the places where you can emphasize autumn's attributes, is in the darker shades.

it's unsurprising that as fall transitions into winter, you get the darkest shades of all. we've seen the warmer equivalent in the dark autumn look from last time, so from there, as with all neutral seasons, we move from the warmer to the cooler cognate...

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making faces :: bette davis lips

the inscription on bette davis' grave reads "she did it the hard way", which should tell you something about the kind of life she led. indeed, she was known as a fighter, taking on studio executives at a time when that simply wasn't done, unless you "never wanted to work in this town again". even when she lost a legal battle against warner brothers that forced her to see out her contract, she was able to parlay her return to the screen into better roles that secured her legacy as one of the greatest icons of the screen. she was the first woman ever to garner ten nominations for best actress at the academy awards and the first woman ever to be president of the academy of motion picture arts and sciences [the people who give out the awards].

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