Empties Marathon

All you list-freaks, count your blessings. I have spent the last six months saving every single beauty- and cosmetics product that I have successfully managed to finish between January and July, just to be able to share this information with you. Initially I was kind of curious to find out how much stuff I really use, but of course the list below is not about that – many other products were used, below just the ones that were finished. 

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Pits, Lips, Legs

Cheerio and apologies for the radio silence. Suddenly things started piling up on my plate and messed up with my carefully crafted scheduling. But hey, I’m here with a London edition for pits, lips and legs. I did a short visit this weekend, part pleasure, part work. I miss the UK terribly and the looming Brexit does very little to alleviate the pain. Every visit since about 2016 has been clouded by the inevitable “is this the last time I’m doing this without a bloody visa?”

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The Heady Smell of Summer

The season has changed and so apparently should our scent. Because it is summer, there’s an excuse to sell us season-appropriate stuff, and the marketing people would like to convince all of us to smell of coconut with a hint of fruits rouges, and to generally lighten up on the perfume front. 

Not so fast. If ever there was a season to go all out on the heady and heavy perfume department, is it not summer? It is fabulously refreshing to wear an insanely crisp vetiver or citrus during the Christmas season when everybody else smells of turned potpourri and vanilla. Equally, whipping out the most potent of white flowers (I’m thinking tuberose in particular) in the summer heat makes all the sense in the world. 

Weleda’s shower cream (the one that does not make you lose weight) for this summer is ylang ylang mixed with copaiba (fyi, I also had to google what copaiba is). The cream delivers a bit more oomph than your regular mid-priced citrus deal, and quickly became my absolute favourite amongst the natural shower creams. It is limited edition, so go get yours asap, I have pretty much raided all shops within a 10km radius from Brussels centre, so try your luck. 

We shall continue with limited edition products. Swedish Byredo have recently done interesting collaborations, and Elevator Music with Virgil Abloh (men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton) is one of them. It is available basically nowhere, except maybe on eBay for an extortionate price, I got mine at Byredo’s shop in Stockholm last year where it was sold out soon after (I’m not being very helpful here I realise). In terms of scent it is very woody: bamboo, burned woods, amyris, that sort of thing, but also it is very light, as in it is not wintry in the obvious “chestnuts roasting on an open fire” –manner. My latest thing with Elevator Music is layering it with…

… ​Floral Oud Gardenia by LA-based flower-wizard Eric Buterbaugh. We are talking about semi-serious niche-geekery here: it was an in-the-know friend who tipped me about this brand and off I scooted to Saks NY, which is the only place outside Los Angeles where Buterbaugh’s juice is made available to people who are not Demi Moore and/or ​Naomi CampbellEverything in this brand is so over the top (the cult-following, the price, the fact that he was flown to the Windsor Castle to do the flower arrangements for Princess Beatrice’s 18th birthday party because really, why not) that I cannot not like it: the perfume is sublime, and also I like exclusive things that come with an off the wall side-story. 

So yeah as the name says, it’s an oud, a lovely one, with gardenia (duh). It’s mixed with my perennial (flower pun!!) favourites of santal and tuberose, and it is absolutely beautiful. The bottle is a heavy crystal-deal with an old-fashioned topper so it does not travel at all, but also you don’t want to travel with it unless it has its own insurance policy and a first class seat. I decanted mine. 

Speaking of tuberose, the ultimate summer-night scent is Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion for the Frédéric Malle Collection. Chosen the sexiest perfume in the world by many people (including a few whom I personally take seriously, such as Sali Hughes, though I otherwise find it strange to rank the sexiness of something so personal). Carnal Flower contains the highest concentration of tuberose in the perfume industry, it’s a spectacularly heady deal.

Top tip: Do like I did and buy a couple of bunches of tuberose at the market, wait for the blossoms to open and spritz yourself with Carnal Flower. Sensory overload if ever there was one. 

Oldie but goldie: Diptyque’s Philosykos. My first niche-perfume, so it will always have a special place in my heart, reminding me of the bygone era of computer labs where us students could send email. I was drenched in Philosykos those days and remember being complimented on my perfume in the computer lab of Edinburgh University. The bottle cost me many a night shift as banquet waitress, but the compliment: priceless

Anyway, Philosykos is a classy fig scent, however without the often overpowering sweetness of fig. The base notes are much more on the woody side again – cedarwood and sort of trees? It’s a very green scent for me personally, many people are wary of sweet perfumes and fig often is. This one isn’t. 

I’m Really Busy Right Now

For reasons I cannot fully explain I continue to be obsessed with finding out what kind of daily routines interesting people have. Therefore imagine my delight as I ran to ​Daily Rituals – Women at Work this weekend. It’s a compilation of habits of 143 female authors and artists by Mason Currey, whose first book on the habits of great minds concentrated on men, and he wanted to make amends with the second book dedicated to women. 

My work does not allow me to fully be the master of my calendar and I live in a busy-culture. With busy-culture I mean the kind of culture where people ask “Are you busy?” instead of “how are you?“, and you’re expected to reply by assessing your busyness on the scale of “yes, very” to “it’s fucking killing me”. You must be busy, otherwise there’s something very seriously wrong with you or – and this is the worst – you are not very important. The busier you say you are, the better you are allowed to feel about yourself. 

I’m interested in habits and routines because I believe they must be the key to creating more space for thinking. Hands up everyone who has taken part in an office brainstorming session where people are seated in a meeting room with a numbingly meaningless consultant-speak slideshow on the background and those who are not jumping up and down, excusing themselves for “having to take this call” are checking their social media feeds on their phones?

Our brains are required to produce creative ideas in the most absurd of circumstances.

While (successful) creatives might have the autonomy to decide on their daily comings and goings, I thought I could still get some transferable inspiration. Herewith some of my favourites:

Coco Chanel’s team would spray a mist of Chanel No. 5 near the entrance of the rue Cambon offices every day so that Coco could walk through the cloud of her own signature scent when she came to work. There was an alert from the Ritz when Mademoiselle was on her way so that the perfume-spritzer could get ready. 

– Elsa Schiaparelli was famously punctual to the minute. She rose every morning at eight, had a glass of water with lemon and a cup of tea, read the papers and tended to her private correspondence. Oh, and gave the menus of the day to the cook.

– Songwriter ​Carole King found that the key to not having a writer’s block was not to worry about it. Ever. “If you are sitting down to write and nothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back and do something else. Then you come back and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back.”

– Writer ​Susan Sontag believed it would be the best to write every day, but she barely managed this herself, usually writing in “intense, obsessional stretches”, often motivated by “an egregiously neglected deadline that she finally couldn’t ignore any longer. She seemed to need the pressure to build to an almost intolerable level before she could finally begin to write”. 

– Virginia Woolf valued privacy and “space to spread her mind out in”. This meant problematic relations with real people. ​”The truth is, I like it when people actually come; but I love when they go”. Woolf’s friends remembered her as an inattentive and borderline rude host, to which she responded “I wake filled with a tremulous yet steady rapture, carry my pitcher full of lucid and deep water across the garden, and am forced to spill it all by – someone coming.” 

– In the acknowledgement section of her novel NW writer Zadie Smith thanked two pieces of Internet-blocking software called Freedom and Self Control for “creating the time”. Smith does not use any social media.

– Artist Tamara de Lempicka strived to have a regular routine for the sake of her daughter. After she had put the child to sleep, Lempicka hit the Parisian nightlife in search of her preferred drugs: pellets of hashish dissolved in sloe-gin fizzes, or hits of cocaine sniffed from a miniature silver teaspoon – together with anonymous sexual encounters. She claimed “it is an artist’s duty to try everything.” Returning home, she would paint nonstop for hours. To calm her nerves for sleep, she turned to herbal supplement valerian. No matter what, she made sure to be up in time to have breakfast with her daughter, regardless how little sleep she’d gotten.

– The French novelist, playwright and screenwriter ​Francoise Sagan did not want to fall into habits: “The material problems of day-to-day living bore me silly. As soon as someone asks me what we should have for dinner I become flustered and then sink into gloom.”  

As various as their approaches to their creative processes were, there’s the one thing they all have in common, and Sagan put it very simply: “I had a strong desire to write. I simply started it.” 

There’s another excellent book about writing by Stephen King, and his message is very much the same as ​Sagan’s. In his book he discusses his writing routines at length, but what I loved best was his reasoning why writing retreats are not all that: 

​It is the dab of grit that seeps into an oyster's shell that makes the pearl,
not pearl-making seminars with other oysters. 

From On Writing by Stephen King.

Ten Poolside Reads

I know, no one has time to read because everybody is busy. Therefore it is good for us Europeans that the law forces us to take some time off during the summer months. Because everybody is busy, I have put together a short reading list to ease the holiday prep. Not everything is hot from the press, but all of them are fairly recent, all written by women, and every one of them will give you instant street-cred when you take to your poolside lounger the way the Meisterstück When Life Gives You Lululemons never will. 

I have written about some of these books earlier and have linked to those blogposts. Herewith ten contemporary, indie reads:

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Despite the cover blurb announcing that this book will make you cry, consider it still (if not for hiding your tears, what else are large sunglasses for, anyway??). It’s a collection of self-reflecting short stories by the wonderful Irish Emilie Pine, and I call her wonderful despite not knowing her, because she’s had a remarkable life and has an extraordinarily touching style to tell us about it. Nearly every aspect of woman’s life will be dealt with. I repeat, this is not a tear-jerker, but a very good book about being a woman. 

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We shall move on with a stylish take on modern society by the British Olivia Laing. Crudo is a beautiful book (I was initially drawn to it because of the cover) about summer of 2017 when writer Kathy is getting married, Trump’s tweets are bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war and the Brexit has paralysed the UK (funnily the book is a novel, not a documentary). Crudo is kind of a real-time account of the apocalyptic summer and the protagonist, who is also the alter ego of the real-life Kathy Acker. Very difficult to put into words, but the book is really funny, and pairs extremely well with chilled rosé.

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Maggie Nelson’s Bluets is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. Despite it being rather a quick read given its form, I am quite sure you will keep going back to it. The narrator builds sort of a pillow book around the colour blue, and observes depression, sickness, alcohol, desire, and the end of a relationship through the colour and its appearance in various associations, such as music. Despite this highly shaky descriptions, Bluets is not at all some pretentious shit woodoo. It is a beautiful book, I really do recommend it.

Talent by Juliet Lapidos is a surgically poignant take on procrastination, wasting talent and meeting your full potential. Set in the world of academia, it will fulfil also the needs of those who gravitate towards campus-literature. Talent is hilarious, not funny ha-ha, but excellently to the point. I read a large part of the book while eating lobster ravioli with some rosé , and can thoroughly recommend this combination. 

For some reason I have photographed also my La Bouche Rouge -lipstick. I will share thoughts about that venture very soon.

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I wrote about Liar earlier, and am including some comments here: 

Set in Israel, the book tells the story of 17-year old Nofar who would like to spice up her teenage life, but is not quite sure how. Then a life-changing chain of events takes place in the ice-cream parlour where she works during the school recess, and she becomes a national celebrity overnight. Only her celeb-status is all based on a lie, or rather other people’s assumption she did not correct on time.

Things spiral out of control and it soon becomes evident to her that it is impossible to unscramble the scrambled eggs. And the fame feels delicious! The interviews, the attention, the free clothes, the sympathy! Her schoolmates’ interest! She’s finally someone!

The book is very summery, therefore perfect for the poolside. Don’t let the fact that the protagonists are teenagers scare you off. 

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If the first book on the list is going to make you cry, We are never meeting in real life. will most definitely make you laugh. Samantha Irby records her coming of age in a hilariously self-deprecating way, I recommended this one earlier and am much looking forward to reading her latest. If this book were a word cloud (why am I even coming up with examples like this? I hate word clouds) it would feature ​feminism, body image, race, sexuality, social standing, having a horrible cat for a pet. 

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If you watched Orange is the New Black, you will like Rachel Kushner’s Mars Room. It’s also set in women’s prison, or ​Women’s Correctional Facility, but as with “Orange”, it’s so much more. There’s the undercurrent of the events that led to Romy’s two consecutive life sentences in California. There are intelligent, not in your face -references to the struggles many women face as they are trying to muddle through their lives.  Kushner is a masterful writer and Mars Room a fantastic, entertaining, funny and dramatic summer read.

If you liked Donna Tartt’s Secret History (by show of hands, who did not like Donna Tartt’s Secret History???) you will likely enjoy Tangerine by ​Christine Mangan. It’s set in Tangier, Morocco and it’s constantly hot in there, so this book screams summer read. There’s a bit of psychological drama and suspense, and frankly I’m still not quite sure whether the two leading women were not in fact just one. An easy read that you will wolf down with some crisps and rosé. 

If you live on this planet, you will have noticed the hype around Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation. The author was on a book tour in Brussels the other week and I went to listen to her talk about this book, which I loved. It’s basically about a young American woman who wants to fall to medicated sleep for an entire year, and almost reaches this goal with the help of one of the most incompetent psychiatrists in the world. Despite the subject matter, the book is not depressing. It might have a  slightly millennial feel to it, but on the other hand it takes place in 2000/2001, so it’s fantastically free from social media references and such. “My Year” was, and continues to be much hyped, but ​Moshfegh deserves much of the hype because her writing is excellent.

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Finally, you will want to pack My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite. It is kind of a murder mystery/thriller-y deal, but without some of the traditional suspense. Set in Nigeria, it tells a story about two sisters, one of which turns out to be a serial killer who rather routinely does away with her lovers citing self-defence. Then, as luck would have it, the sisters fall for the same guy. Who gets the guy and who gets to live? Also, what is the role of family and family tradition? Less about slashing throats, more about sisterhood, the book is a mixture of family saga, loyalty, satire and slapdash – especially towards the end.