Beauty Abroad, Part 18: Ancient and Modern Beauty in London


A lot has happened since I last posted. I’m still stunned and depressed at Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. It was surreal to watch the whole thing unfold around me, and painful to have no way of affecting the outcome. It’s not my nation or my fight, but I’m still heartbroken at what this means for Britain and Europe in general. It’s clear by now that we live in an age of paranoid nationalism, and if you can think of anything good that paranoid nationalism has ever produced, do let me know. I’ll just be over here reading Hobbes and glancing obsessively at the BBC.

You know what? Let’s talk about makeup.

I’ve been in London for the past week, and have found myself wearing less makeup than usual. My boyfriend’s parents and sister are visiting, and they’re no-makeup WASP types who can go from pajamas to out the door in ten minutes. Since they’ve been generous enough to let me travel with them for nine days, I’ve done my best to adapt my morning routine to theirs, which has meant stripping down my makeup significantly. For the past few days, my daytime look has comprised Glossier Boy Brow, mascara, undereye concealer, two swipes of Illamasqua Zygomatic blush on each cheek, and a lip color. I can slap all that on in under five minutes, and it’s been refreshing to take a break from more involved looks. Here’s the combination yesterday, featuring NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red (not the ideal lip color to wear to Borough Market, where I consumed black-truffle tortelloni, a Pimm’s cup, and a raspberry-cream donut in quick succession):

No, my eyes aren’t as defined as I’d prefer, but I’d rather have ten extra minutes to wander the streets of London than spend those ten minutes blending out eyeshadow. That said, I haven’t neglected makeup in my peregrinations, though I’ve bought only one item in London (Topshop’s duochrome eyeshadow in Holograph). Last weekend we went to Harrods, where a quotation from Shelley’s “Ozymandias” frames the entrance to the womenswear section, and if that’s not ironic I don’t know what is:

Here’s the perfume hall on the ground floor (not to be confused with the sixth-floor Salon de Parfums, which we didn’t get a chance to visit):

Fornasetti candles, which I can’t afford but wish I could:

Harrods has two cosmetics sections on the ground floor: one with mid-range brands like MAC and Shu Uemura, and another with high-end names like Chantecaille, La Mer, and Suqqu. Here’s the daunting Christian Louboutin display in the latter section:

I’ll just say it: I would never pay $90 for a lipstick. Having tried quite a few brands over the years, I do think you get what you pay for with lipstick, but only up to a certain price point—and in my experience, that price point is between $20 and $25. A NARS or Urban Decay lipstick is probably, but not definitely, going to have a higher-quality formula than a Wet n Wild or Revlon lipstick. But beyond the mid-range price point, you’re paying for brand name, pretty packaging, and an overall aura of luxury. To be clear, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with paying for those things, if you can afford to do so. The entire makeup industry is based on illusion: a Rouge Louboutin might not be “worth” $90, but I don’t think a NARS Audacious lipstick is “worth” $32, either, or a MAC lipstick “worth” $17. I’d wager that almost all makeup is vastly overpriced if you take into account how much it costs to produce. That said, a $90 price tag for a lipstick pisses me off. It’s insulting. And I don’t want my lipstick to resemble a heavy gold sex toy, you know? It’s just not practical.

Out of curiosity, though, I did swatch a few shades. And they were nice! But not $90 worth of nice (though I don’t know what “$90 worth of nice” would look like, tbh). Top to bottom: Survivita, Zoulou, no idea, Private Number (?), Loubeach, Miss Loubi, Pluminette (?). Apologies for weird indoor lighting and faulty memory.

Harrods has the only Marc Jacobs Beauty counter I’ve seen in the UK so far, so I couldn’t resist swatching a few Le Marc Lip Cremes I hadn’t examined before. L-R: Je t’aime, Rei of Light, Blow, Editrix, Willful:

Editrix and Willful are new for summer 2016; Editrix looks like MAC Antique Velvet and Willful like NARS Angela. Incidentally, I wore Angela today and was reminded of how incompatible I am with the NARS Audacious formula. It’s drying, it stains my lips so badly that I have to scrub them with a washcloth, and it somehow manages to creep outside my liplines. If I get around to selling any of my makeup this summer, Angela might have to go, much as I love the color.

On Monday I had a very different beauty experience at the British Museum, where I spent a lot of time in the galleries devoted to Roman Britain. Rome governed Britain from 43 to 410 CE, leaving behind walls and roads that still survive today, as well as countless artifacts of daily life. I was particularly fascinated by these “cosmetic grinders”:

So many! I wish the museum had given us a diagram of how they actually worked. I guess the pigments were ground between the two pieces?

Not makeup, but check out this badass gold body chain found in Hoxne, Suffolk. The two chains are joined in the back by a coin from the reign of Gratian (367-383):

On Wednesday we did some shopping in the Regent Street area, and I swatched four Surratt lip colors at Liberty. L-R: Automatique Lip Crayons in Séductrice, Mahogany, and P.O.C.; Lipslique in Lady Bug. Pretty colors, but I didn’t see anything truly original. I think I’ve come down with lipstick ennui…

…which explains why I didn’t bother swatching lipsticks in the giant Oxford Circus Topshop! L-R: Mono Eyeshadow in Holograph; Glow Highlighters in Polish and Gleam; Glow Stick in Heat.

The Glow Highlighters are dense, pigmented cream highlighters in glass pots. The texture is thick and gooey, and a little goes an extremely long way. I was briefly tempted by Gleam, the dark gold, but it looked straight-up yellow on my face. Polish is a bit pinker than it looks here, and the Glow Stick is a bronzer with large sparkles. The Mono Eyeshadows are sparkly duochromes, some more opaque than others. I also swatched Spaceport (below), but it was very sheer.

Holograph, on the other hand, is dazzling! Its pinky-blue flash reminds me of NARS Dual Intensity Eyeshadow in Cassiopeia. I can’t wait to use this color on my inner corners:

I’ve been in the UK for almost a month and have already bought six pieces of makeup: a lipstick, an eyeshadow, and four nail polishes. So I doubt I’ll be picking up any more before I head back to the US, though you never know: that Barry M black lipstick is tempting. I’ll try to review some of my new products once I’m back to a less hectic schedule, which should be soon, since we’re leaving London tomorrow. I might also write a post about my travels: I feel a bit silly blogging about lipstick swatches when I’ve also been photographing sixteenth-century tapestries and 2,000-year-old lighthouses. Would that interest anyone?

10 thoughts on “Beauty Abroad, Part 18: Ancient and Modern Beauty in London

  1. YES. WRITE ABOUT IT. I will read anything about lighthouses, though, so maybe I'm not that representative of the will of the people. (And on that note, I am also deeply saddened about Brexit.)Those cosmetic grinders are so cool.


  2. So many gems in this post! I'm on a mental health hiatus and I've missed a lot of blogging I feel too guilty to comment on – like I'd pull us all back in time or some absurdity. The entire Louboutin beauty line is baffling to me in exactly the way that I interpret to mean I am not the target market. I've read reviews to the tune of \”this is truly the best lipstick ever tried, worth every penny,\” but Lipstick Queen is still in business so OBVIOUSLY that isn't the case. Holograph is so stunning!! It's even bluer than Cassiopeia, seriously gorgeous. I thought I'd reached eyeshadow ennui but I wretchedly glanced at Buxom's new fall offerings and a small part of my soul fluttered away. I second the motion for lighthouses, with the additional request for more sheep. I haven't been to the UK since '06 and I'm always ready for more sheep.


  3. The Brexit result is so depressing. I have a lot of friends over there who are devastated. Obviously since I lived in Glasgow a lot of my UK friends are Scottish, which is doubly painful. And on a selfish personal note, I have no idea what this means for me going back there for grad school! Everything is so up in the air. (But the exchange rate is more favourable for us, I guess?)I love Harrods! There's this creepy Di tribute in the basement that is kind of fascinating. I was there when they were all done up for Christmas, so it was especially cool. And the food hall!The British Museum looks awesome! So far I have not made it there in my journeys to London, but it's on my list, as a museum-lover/archaeology minor. I'd love to read about more of your travels! Your Instagram posts make me wish I was over there.


  4. I absolutely love your Beauty Abroad musings! Would definitely want to read your travel stories :DAlso, I don't know how else to put this, do you just go to counters and ask the sales assistant, \”Hey can I swatch ALL the colours?\” Of course, I totally love your swatches and I find them super helpful, but I was also curious on the process of swatching. IDK, hahah maybe this is just me and my \”I'm so shy and scared to talk to any SA\” attitude (still working on that!)I've been to British Museum once, planning another visit next month! My favourite part of the museum, and really any other museum is the ceramics section. No particular archaeological/historical interest yet, just a keen observer on patterns and colors on ceramics by different societies through time!


  5. This makes me want to return to England for a holiday and also swatch all of my lipsticks…I love seeing posts from abroad, goodness knows I'd like a holiday but seeing all of your posts will suffice 🙂


  6. Mental health hiatuses are important! I hope yours has helped. <3I assume the target market is people who have significantly more money than I do, but not quite enough money to buy Louboutin shoes–but then some people seem to buy several Louboutin lipsticks at a time, which would be enough for a pair of shoes, so who knows. Certainly the target market is people for whom the name \”Louboutin\” means more than it does to me. (If Meadham Kirchhoff ever started a makeup line, though…)I've owned Holograph for a week now and have yet to wear it because I'm so intimidated by its fairytale beauty! I think it would make a cool highlighter, too.


  7. I'm holding out hope that the process of leaving the EU may never actually begin (which seems possible, given the legal quagmire that Brexit has led the UK into). I assume your grad school prospects wouldn't be affected unless you were planning to apply for a fellowship from the EU, but who knows. What a mess.I never made it to the basement, alas. I was also planning to visit Bompas and Parr's jelly stall that's apparently somewhere in the store, but I completely forgot. I need to go back! And the British Museum is great, though it can get VERY crowded, especially if the weather is bad (as it was when I went last week).


  8. In department stores, I can usually get a sense almost immediately of which beauty counters are swatch-friendly and which aren't. If it's a high-end brand with a deserted counter and one or two attentive SAs, I won't bother swatching anything unless I'm contemplating a purchase. Social-media-friendly mid-range brands (e.g. Urban Decay, MAC, Illamasqua) are usually more welcoming to people who want to spend some time playing with colors. I certainly don't overstay my welcome or swatch 57 lipsticks all over my arms, but I think there's nothing wrong with testing colors and finishes. The testers are there to help YOU get to know the products, even if you don't make a purchase then and there. Most SAs will leave you alone if you say you're just looking, and if they don't leave you alone, you have every right to walk away. The British Museum is amazing! I've been there four times now and haven't even come close to seeing the whole thing.


  9. Travel post to come! Though I think I'll be reviewing a couple of new products first. And I love swatching products I've had for a while: it helps me recapture the excitement of using them when they were new.


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