Tuesday, 13 June 2017

New In Primark Beauty...Is it actually any good?

I've actually been a bit of an advocate for Primark/Penney's beauty products for a while now. It's come a long way in the last few years but certain parts of the collection have always been good. One of their mascaras was my go-to for a long time as it had good hold and was quite subtle and natural. I knew others who wanted more curl, volume and drama but I'll go for subtle over clumpy any day and at a little over a euro, it was hard to beat the price. Similarly, I've liked their brushes a lot since the overhaul of the line in the past year or two. They are at a really good price point and are pretty damn good even by if measured against the standards of more expensive brushes. Oh, and they did a lipmarker (seems like it's no longer for sale, sadly) that DID NOT BUDGE and was great for doing a perfect gradient lip with a dark center inside the lips.

Considering the prices and the fact that they are cruelty free (as far as my research has told me), there aren't many brands that can compete with this level of cheap and cheerful on the Irish market. However, I've also had enough disappointments to be wary (the nail polishes are dire but, then, so are most super-cheap polishes and the nail polish removers, meanwhile, are actually quite good). All this considered, I am always keen to try their new and more interesting launches.

Their new sheet masks, for example, had me intrigued, especially as I'm a bit of a connoisseur. I was actually meant to test them out when they first launched but the samples got lost in the post and then I wasn't physically in a store until after the press day but I finally got my hands on some and I had a lot of thoughts and feelings after trying them out.

1. They're actually made in Korea which is nice to see and makes me immediately trust them more. Too often western brands copy the "idea" of k-beauty products but seem to have actually no idea what they're doing.

2. The packaging, however, is similar to Sephora's sheet mask line and I can't help but wonder why. Larger, rectangular packs are standard in Korea and most western brands following the trend have stuck with this. I can't tell if the choice to copy Sephora is a marketing thing to make them seem more appealing, if they are made in the same place (if so, drastically different price points) or if there is some other reason. Having tried one of the Sephora masks before I can say that both seemed to drip with essence less. They also have less space for the additional essence that most sheet masks leave behind and I which I schmear all over my arms and neck after using the mask...Maybe it's a cost cutting thing?

3. At €1.50, the price point pretty much matches the Korean standard and makes me happy. The idea behind Korean skincare and sheet masks, in particular, is that it should be affordable and you should be able to mask several times a week. Most western brands, however, jack the prices up (and the quality isn't even as good) - I'm looking at you, Garnier.

4. The mask itself is not made out of the highest quality material. It's definitely the kind I've seen from more western-focused versions before. It's stiffer and less pliable. As a result, it feels less comfortable to wear and I feel like it's less effective as it isn't molded to the shape of my face and really getting that essence in all over my skin. But, as I say, I've seen this before and it's not terrible, just less good.

5. It smells nice, if a little strong.

6. The size is quite good, not too big or small - even if the less pliable nature of the material used takes away from this somewhat.

All things considered, the masks are pretty good. The price and ease of access are two big pluses but the quality of the product could be better. I'd definitely use them again but I'll probably still reach for my Korean masks first - especially as the Asian supermarket where I often get groceries sells Korean sheet masks at Korean prices.

The lip scrub that I picked up, however, is a real revelation. I don't know when it launched or if it was recently but I love it. First of all, again, the price is great, at €1.50. Secondly, the stick/tube format is brilliant. My lip scrub before now has been a big, unruly tub of the stuff from Lush and, while I like it, I always felt like I made a mess when using it and that the application didn't work so well. I'd get a bit on my finger and rub it across my lips but it would fall off my finger when I moved it and just wasn't that effective. This Primark one, however, is super-handy. It's encased in a balm that smells great and once you apply a few layers, the grain of the scrub starts to come through with it. This is nice as the lubrication makes it gentler on your skin but it also means the product goes on directly without wandering away. The stick format makes it easy to direct and use. I've been using it a good bit and I'm already a fan.

Finally, these Unicorn make-up brushes were all over the gaff when they were first launched and, I'll admit, I mostly bought them because they were cute. However, I do really like their brushes in general. Having tried them over the weekend, I'll say that they're probably not as good as some others from Primark that I've used but - at 9 quid for 5 good brushes - they ain't half bad, either. Admittedly, I didn't try the foundation brush as I'm currently using a cushion foundation but I liked the powder brush and fan brush quite a bit. Both could probably be more densely packed but the looser packing of the bristles meant that they gave the very natural look that I favour, particularly the fan brush for the highlight. The eyeshadow brushes were grand, the flatter brush worked well for laying down a base colour and the blending brush did a nice job but, again, could have been more densely packed and a bit fluffier. Basically, if you're seriously into make-up, these brushes might let you down but if you want brushes that do a decent job, look cute and don't cost a lot, they work well.

Ultimately, these new bits reaffirmed my thoughts on Primark Beauty: it's inexpensive and decent. They make beauty trends accessible to everyone, no matter the budget, and are getting better all the time but for experts or professionals, they will probably always leave a little to be desired - I guess that's just a case of getting what you pay for. As I'm not a professional, a lot of their stuff suits me just fine. Plus, my new brushes look damn cute on my dressing table and isn't that all that really matters at the end of the day...?








(These items were purchased with a voucher gifted to me during the recent Primark press day. All opinions, however, are my own and I was not paid to review these products.)


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Friday, 2 June 2017

Primark (Penneys) AW17

If you've been trying to venture into a more colourful wardrobe (I mean, how easy is it to look like a funeral director?), then Primark AW17 is where it's at for you. In fact, AW17, in general, is going to be colourful if the runways have anything to say about it. And, luckily, they've taken that on board at Primark and are serving up some serious looks that will tempt even the most modest tonal dressers.

When I step into the neon box that is the Primark HQ press office, I get flashbacks to the Dilara Findikoglu show that actually took place in a Soho strip club, but only in the sense that the mood lighting is very red light district. The neon strip lights along the rails and rich atmospheric lighting immediately give you the sense that this is not your average bear. This beast is playful, sexy and spares no time for being drab or practical. Of course, there are grey and black pieces throughout but they tend to be wrought in vinyl or silhouettes that borrow from military or country estate origins ... it may well be the lighting but I'm seeing everything through a kink-tinted lens ...

It's probably the lighting. Because there is a lot of cute at hand. Particularly the prevalence of Gucci-esque pearl details and florals.

But it is hard to look past how sensuous it all it. Velvet is still here to stay, sheer panels and completely sheer pieces abound, embroidery (that invites touch to be read like braille) is all over the place, and there is a great variety of materials at play; vinyl, silky slinky fabrics, fluffy jumpers and fall-off-the-shoulder cardigans, stiff felt, a faux-leather beret, shaggy faux-furs.

In fact, the whole thing looks a little like a child's dress-up room, in the best possible way. There are endless influences, eras and quotations at play and they are all begging to be mixed and matched eclectically, playfully. AW17 is a time to take risks and have fun with your clothes.

So, whether you want to introduce winter boho, alpine cosiness, Chinoiserie, eighties metallics, sexy structures or slick streetwear into your wardrobe, Primark is the place to head next season.

Things to watch out for:

Accessories: They've outdone themselves this time. We're talking the plushest slides, cutest combat boots, luxe bags and an immense eye for detail.

Super-flares: They were everywhere at fashion week and now Primark are serving up some of their own. The black skinnies with pleated, cropped kick-flare and lace detail? Gorgeous.

Menswear: It's always a smaller display but I was super into the streetwear aesthetic. Think cool tees and sweats, more detail than menswear normally is afforded on the high street, bombers to throw on and amp up the cool of any outfit, and grungy knitwear.




















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Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Best Skincare Tips I've Ever Learned - The Philosophical

In the last post, I discussed the best practical tips I had learned about skincare in my almost five years of blogging and three years of commitment to a variety of trial-and-error skincare routines. In that time, my knowledge on the topic has increased exponentially - as well as my realisation that it will never be enough and something that I will always have to read up on more. However, one of the things that has changed the most in that time is my attitude towards skincare and my skin itself.

I used to think of skincare as a battlefield and my skin as a foe that was always out to defy me - something I had to best. Having imperfect skin stressed me out intensely as, foolishly, I thought that once I was no longer a teen, my problems with my skin would end. Imagine my shock and horror when this hypothesis was quickly debunked and proven to be 100% not true.

Admittedly, I've never had terrible skin. In fact, in retrospect, I actually fared rather well compared to many of my peers. But, as the case is with many of us, the bar I set for acceptable for myself and for others was quite different. Imperfection has never been good enough for me and, yet, I am incredibly flawed by standards even less strict than my own and, so, I've always felt lacking. My skin was just one thing I could focus on with the belief that I could, and would, improve it. Or, rather, I would perfect it.

And, so, I did silly things. I nicked the prescribed creams and face washes that my brother may not have been bothered using but had, in no uncertain terms, not been suggested to me by a doctor. I attacked any blemish with tea tree oil, zit creams and treatments, again and again, day after day, willing them to go away. It was a constant battle. When one batch would heal, hormonal shifts would ensure another quickly followed. Even when it stung, even when constant use of those creams desensitized a part of my face and left me with severe pins and needles for a fortnight, even when I thought the better of it - I attacked my skin in pursuit of perfection.

Of course, the stress that this all caused was utterly counter-intuitive and one of the worst things I could have done to my skin (stress is a big cause of breakouts). But I couldn't stop seeking perfection.

Then, I don't know how or remember quite when, I had an epiphany, a Eureka moment. It may have been while reading about skincare, I'm not sure. But I realised that skin is delicate and fighting fire with fire was just going to burn everything down. So, I stopped. I treat breakouts, sure, but I actually rarely use targeted blemish treatments anymore. Instead, I try to make sure that my skin is moisturised, isn't irritated and is happy with me. And the funny thing? The blemishes heal faster than they did with any spot cream - even with the noticeably slower turnover rate of skin renewal that I now have at twenty-five.

Hands down, the best product? Sudocrem. That magic gem of our childhoods. Soothes, heals, protects. All those buzzwords meant to sell the product to parents worried about nappy rash and bumps and bruises? Turns out that our skin likes them too - who would have guessed?

Skin isn't our enemy. Blemishes aren't the end of the world. Perfect skin doesn't actually exist. Imperfection is okay. Keep these things in mind and you'll be fine. I know my skin is clearer and happier for it.

I'm never going to have "perfect" skin and that's okay. I'll probably always have blemishes that even makeup can't cover fully.


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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Best Skincare Tips I've Ever Learned - The Practical

I think about skincare a lot. I read about it, watch videos about it and, when I'm indulged, talk about it ad nauseam. In fact, I recently went into a store to restock on toner and sunscreen and ended up chatting to one of the women working there about skincare for over an hour and a half. I'm not even exaggerating.

As a result of all this thought and research, I've come across some skincare tips and tricks that have really helped me and that I stand by. I thought it would only be fair to share in the knowledge. Here are the best skincare tips I've ever learned.

1. Commit to Sunscreen.

No matter how often I say this, most Irish women laugh me off, even women who are reasonable, even women who wear sunscreen on holidays and rarely let themselves get burned: sunscreen must be worn every single day. Every. Single. Day. 

Your skin may look fine now but, I promise you, it will remember how you treat it. Damage is happening whenever sun touches unprotected skin. Even through glass. Even if it is cloudy outside. Start protecting it now because I wear factor 50 every day and scans I had done at an event showed I had damage. You can only imagine how unprotected skin is faring. Plus, this isn't just a cosmetic thing, it is a health issue as well. Aging isn't fun but skin cancer is far worse.

2. No towels.

Another thing I get looked at like I'm crazy for: I do ever not use towels on my face any more. Ever. First of all, if you have to use them, make sure to pat not rub. The fibres are coarse in a towel and rubbing against the skin can cause damage, even if you can't see it. The skin on your face is delicate and needs to be treated as such. But I forgo using towels at all and, instead, carefully pat my face dry with cotton pads, avoiding any germy little camps that might develop even on supposedly clean towels.

3. Toner.

"What is toner? Why do I even need it? It's just another step."

These are things I often read and hear people saying and I used to be confused about it myself. Toner is basically used to rebalance the Ph of the skin after it has been cleansed and, often, is the first step in ensuring the skin is rehydrated. Avoid any toner with alcohol as this dries out the skin and is too harsh and be sure to apply as soon as possible after cleansing so that the skin isn't left thirsty for too long (it doesn't like that). Some people say that there's a 3-5 second window to do this but introducing any uber-stressful limitations on your skincare routine is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help.

4. The power of Massage.

Just slapping on products is a waste. A big tenet of Asian skincare is massaging products in, in order to increase bloodflow and relieve tension. I can say, personally, as possibly the tensest person in existence; massaging my skincare across my forehead helps ease the expression lines that crop up after a long day. Just remember to make sure your hands aren't completely dry when doing this, as you will drag the skin. Only massage when your hands are amply coated in a serum, cream or oil.

5. Don't forget to Exfoliate.

Exfoliating 2-3 times a week is a necessity for keeping the skin clear and smooth. However, do bear in mind that exfoliating should not be a daily thing (daily exfoliating face washes are the devil incarnate), should be done with a gentle chemical exfoliant rather than a super-gritty physical exfoliator and should never be done with washes with microbeads (also the devil incarnate - in this case, bent on ruining the planet).

These are the practical tips I've gleaned over the years but I've also gained a sort of philosophy and outlook on skincare and the idea of "perfection" that has been just as helpful in creating an effective and healthy routine for myself and my skin. This, I think, deserves its own post and the space necessary to properly elaborate on my thoughts. Look out for my second post in this series to read all about, perhaps, the greatest skincare tip of all that I have to offer.




(Some of my all-time favourite products)


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Saturday, 29 April 2017

Heathcliff as a band and Cathy as a fan: Alistair James AW17

Funnily enough, in spite of my fondness for Austen and period dramas, it was only in recent years that I finally interacted with any of the Bronte clan. Considering their moody and dark romance, it really is a wonder but I guess the taste was a little more Austen during my childhood and both have a tendency to be given rather dusty press that can put off younger readers.

Nevertheless, my introduction came with the release of Fukuraga's 2011 "Jane Eyre", starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. I remember insisting that my then boyfriend and his parents chose it among our options for something to watch one lazy evening and quickly became utterly absorbed and very bad company. However, it was "Wuthering Heights" that made me really fall in at the deep end.

I don't know why, really. Heathcliff is kind of everything I despise in a man and, yet... And, yet, in every adaptation and the original text he is utterly charismatic and I cannot help but be drawn to him and the gothic tale of passion, hatred, disaster, grief and pain that centres around his and Cathy's cursed love story.

So, during the brief moment I had to dash around the Designer Showrooms at LFW this season (only an hour), in my chaotic haze, my attention was immediately captured by a collection described as "'Wuthering Heights; if Heathcliff was a band and Cathy were an obsessive fan". I was sold immediately and the garments I was able to peruse there and then were right up my alley; gothy babydoll dresses, lots of black lace, elevated band tees. Upon nerding with one of the designers over the concept, I took a business card and some photographs as a reminder and went on my merry way.

I was feeling a lot of designers in the moment that day but that Bronte collection stuck in my head. So, I trawled through the photos and business cards and managed to find the name, weeks later, when the whirling around my brain refused to stop; Alistair James.

Alistair James is a two-man show; eponymously named after, and the brainchild of, Nicholas Alistair Walsh and David James Wise. The pair are a bit of dream team with Walsh being a womenswear designer who was worked with Gareth Pugh and Alexander McQueen and Wise a textiles designer who has worked at many labels, including Alexander McQueen.

Their AW17 collection takes inspiration from the Brontes, who lived a short distance from Walsh's home by the moors and was designed while staying there. Alistair James' girl this season is a "playful dreamer" and "lovesick consumed by her infatuation [sic]". With customised prints of abstract ladies frolicking in a winter garden and "Heathcliff" print, featuring lustful figures and lingering eyes, the collection is presented in tones of black, white, dusty blue and vibrant reds and pinks and includes a recurring silhouette inspired by Charlotte's "Thackerey" dress. Perhaps the most iconic element, however, are the Heathcliff slogan sweaters that are embroidered with phrases from the novel and give a nod to Heathcliff as a band.

Moody, sensual and cool, the collection is wearable and pretty with just enough theatricality and nods to the writers to keep fans of the works and fans of the aesthetic alike rather happy, indeed.




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(Images courtesy of Alistair James)


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Monday, 24 April 2017

Beauty isn't policing your body under a reign of terror

Adolescence affects us all differently and we all react differently accordingly. For me, it was not a case of not wanting to grow up but, rather, that the sudden and drastic changes in my body made me feel attacked, as if I was robbed of a great sense of self and given this utterly new strange form to inhabit. A form that was no longer naturally and childishly slender but curved and cumbersome with bits that got in the way of climbing things and running freely and being freely. It embarrassed me and made me super aware of myself. I was always quick to rid myself of any signs of these changes, of this new, foreign me, that I could.

Hair - or body hair, to be exact - was the easiest to shed and, despite being warned against it by all the women I knew, I began to remove the soft blonde hairs that covered my arms and legs very early on. In turn, darker, coarser hairs took their place and I was quickly stuck in an endless cycle. It seems exhausting and downright ridiculous to the adult me now but, for almost a decade, I shaved my limbs daily and with an almost religious fervour.

Today, with newly changed sheets and warmer weather lying in wait, I shaved my legs and nicked my ankle badly in the process, something that is not uncommon for little clumsy ol' me. But, as my policing of my body hair is no longer a frantic beast, it had been a while - especially since I had done such a thoroughly good job of it. It stung and rushed with blood that, I knew, would not stop for some time. I stared at the reddening water at my feet and the throbbing wound on my leg and a rush of memories washed over me. Memories of a thousand other nicks, of bleeding through multiple bandages and all over everything, of being embarrassed by the whole thing and lying about how I acquired the cuts, of carefully navigating them a day or two later to repeat my routine...How did I ever have so much time or energy to waste on such painful frivolity?

Of course, I don't believe in judging how others deal with their own bodies and it's not as if I am against hair removal or ready to embrace a life completely free of hair removal myself nowadays. In saying this I'm also no longer willing to be embarrassed by something completely natural, to waste endless additional hours in the shower removing hair, to actually bleed for some ideal of beauty.

Looking down at that blood made me realise just how far I had come. In fact, I have these realisations often. Realisations of the fact that I'm closer to the woman I'd like to be. And, while I will forever want to be liked and approved of, the approval and opinions of others bother me less and less. Cliché as it may be: life is simply too short.

So, yeah, sometimes my penchant for ankle-grazing trousers will reveal the fact that it's been a while between shaves but now it bothers me less that the dude across from me on the bus or the girl next to me might notice. I can't say I'm completely over it. I'll still wonder if they see it but I won't stress out about it and I'm not going back to daily shaving in case strangers spot an errant hair.

In the time that this blog went from a fashion blog to a fashion, beauty & other stuff blog and I went from barely washing my face (I kid - mostly) to full skincare regimes and relatively advanced knowledge of (if infrequent use of) cosmetics, I grew to focus on the beauty industry a lot more. I've worked with lots of brands and tried all sorts of products. I've gone through brief periods of overly intense scrutiny of self. I've grown up and let go of some (some) of my body and appearance hang-ups. And I've come to realise that there is no beauty in policing your body under a reign of terror.

It's perfectly fine to take care of yourself, to want to look good, to want to present and groom yourself well but "beauty" should never cross the line into obsession and there should always be breathing room. Humans are hairy, sweaty, porous creatures that have bumps and lumps and will never, ever be perfect - no matter how close to it some people make it seem. The sooner you embrace your humanity and imperfections, the sooner you'll have more time, headspace and peace.




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Monday, 3 April 2017

Wide-Eyed And Travel: 36 Hours In Cork

I am surrounded by great people, by people I love dearly and have a fantastic gang of friends and family. Much as I enjoy being in the midst of these groups of wonderful human beings, I am also a big fan of one-on-one quality time. Hard as it can be, I try my best to make sure and set aside time with my favourite people - no easy feat when I have so many. Cara - my college best friend, former housemate and wifey - and I had been talking about going away together, just us two, for ages. And finally, last weekend, we made it happen with 36 hours in Cork.

Despite the bus strikes and wildly increased train fares, we managed to make it down to Cork at just after eleven on the Saturday and, luckily, were able to check into the lovely Montenotte Hotel early. After dropping off our bags, showering and changing (neither of us expected it to be quite so hot), I was drying my hair when I got a text from our bus company saying that, because of the strikes and intimidation from drivers from other services, our bus back the next day was cancelled. Thankfully, we were able to resolve this relatively quickly and find an alternative service home but that twenty minute window of stress wasn't fun. Great way to kick off a weekend of relaxation! But we were determined not to let the whole mess ruin our entire weekend.

We hopped along to the English Market to browse the market itself and to grab lunch as I was getting hangry and that's really not a good look on me. Situated in the stunning historic market, upstairs above the central fountain and stalls, is the Farmgate Café, The Farmgate is over thirty years old and has two locations - one in Midleton and one in Cork City - and serves traditional, seasonal, regional and centuries old food. It is one of Cork's culinary constants and did not disappoint. After all the running around, travelling and panicking, I cannot overstate just how good it was to be digging into perfectly cooked hake and vegetables and sipping on an Aperol Spritz (with a little umbrella that they added and made us giggle!) on a balcony overlooking the sunny English Market.

Refuelled and happy, we wandered the market before heading on to the Crawford Art Gallery. One of my favourite galleries in the country, it is housed in the stunning former Custom House and became the local design school in the 19th century and then the art college shortly thereafter. Now it is a public art gallery and, currently, it has several excellent exhibitions on - it is easy to get lost for hours in the place. After leaving and strolling about in the sun and having a goo around some of the shops, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and then drinks on their incredible terrace as the setting sun painted the Cork skyline in vivid blush tones. Though we had only just dolled ourselves up for dinner, we promptly changed into our pajamas and popped into the in-house cinema for a movie.

Wholesome as our weekend was, we were both asleep by midnight and up before nine to go for a swim, steam and sauna. Once we'd packed up and left our bags at the (almost overly friendly) hotel reception, we went back down the town to pick up coffee for a friend and a pick-me-up for us in the famous Cork Coffee Roasters. Then we had a very tasty brunch in the cute and quirky little Brick Lane - who were incredibly helpful and kind about making the menu as gluten and dairy free as possible for Cara.

The rest of the day was spent on the stunning campus of UCC, exploring the beautiful architectural gem that is the Glucksman Gallery, drawing and colouring in the educational section (though it is, admittedly, aimed at kids), and walking along the riverside. We then found time to squeeze in some cake and tea at Quay Co-op before hopping on the bus back home.

The Montenotte is a beautifully decorated gem with amazing facilities and exceptionally helpful staff. One could easily spend the whole weekend there without stepping a foot outside the building; going to the cinema, hanging out at the pool, enjoying drinks on the terrace and eating in the restaurant. But, with Cork unfolded and lovely right before your eyes, exploring her architectural wealth, historical and cultural heritage and multitude of cool eateries and foodie havens is a must. We would, without a doubt, come back to check off the endless list of things we couldn't fit in this time around. In the mean time, I have to convince Cara not to leave me for the city, so enamoured is she by the place...























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