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Consider me a vanillaphile. Sheer vanilla love. And it’s easy to see why – over and over, fragrance studies mention vanilla as one of the most universally appealing scents. Depending on ancillary notes, vanilla-based perfumes can skew sweet or musky, innocent or sexy, sugary or floral. That little vanilla bean is just versatilely delicious.

Like any aficionado – or junkie, take your pick – I have brand-hopped far and wide to find my fixes. Laura Mercier’s Vanile Gourmande, Kiehl’s Vanilla Essence Oil, and the siren call of the Lavanila line  have all captured my attention and my wallet. But the creativity and modernity of Jo Malone’s Vanilla & Anise Cologne  might just blow them all out of the fragrance-infused water.

Should you see a woman walking down the streets of New York City smelling her wrists, go ahead and assume it’s me. I just can’t stop. The musky vanilla sweetness is still there, but tempered by the anise it becomes cleaner, fresher, and more complicated. Far from smelling like licorice, Jo Malone’s anise notes cut some of the sweetness and bring vanilla into the 21st Century. If Shalimar was the vanilla of the 1980s, then Jo Malone’s Vanilla & Anise has updated it for today’s woman – at once fresh and young but with the maturity of complex complimentary notes.

A scrolling gaze down the list of Jo Malone’s colognes piques my interest even further. Lime Basil & Mandarin, Nectarine Blossom & Honey, White Jasmine & Mint, Blue Agava & Cacao, Nutmeg & Ginger, to name a few, sound like they may reinvent the very notion of perfumery. If nothing else, they give a fragrance hound entirely new pairings to consider – and nothing is more modern than innovation.

Just over a year ago, La Mer launched an exciting new addition to its serums line, The Regenerating Serum, and now its latest innovative product debuts from the Max Huber labs, The Radiant Serum. I can’t wait to try this new product, a lightweight gel formula that boosts skin’s ability to reflect light while imparting exclusive ingredients that interact with cells to firm, plump, and illuminate complexion.

I’ve already become a devotee of the Regenerating Serum, whose ingredients are at the cutting edge of cell communication. In addition to a vital dose of La Mer’s patented Miracle Broth, the Regenerating Ferment relies on potent marine plant stem cells to renew and restore skin structure and integrity. Skin is encouraged to produce crucial collagen and elastin, without which skin loses strength and elasticity. An impressive and extensive list of antioxidants further repairs and prevents free radical damage, reinvigorating delicate facial skin.

The Regenerating Serum is more emollient than many serums I’ve used – a more moisturizing texture than primarily silicone-based formulas – and so it’s appropriate for dry or combination complexions. Given that the texture is so much more lightweight than many moisturizers, however, I consider it oily skin-friendly as well.

Results improve with continued use, and I relish knowing that this serum’s cooling, smoothing, refreshing feel belies the extreme potency of its rare and meticulously constructed ingredients. I can’t wait to see what the talented technicians at Max Huber labs bring us next!

Fresh understands skin tone

Real Girl is forever in search of impressive concealers to mask the inherited deep, dark circles under my otherwise bright green eyes. What so many cosmetics companies fail to clarify, though, is the importance of understanding your skin’s undertones. Clinique, for instance, though one of my favorite brands for skin care products, tends to feature colors that favor “cool” undertones, such as blue or pink. Many more ethnic skin types veer toward a warm yellow or olive base tone. Although my skin could be considered fair (when I’m not using bronzer or a dash of fake tanner), it gravitates toward warm shades–and I’ve found that sometimes they can be hard to find.

Enter the Asian market. Many of the top luxury brands are entrenched in an Asian-friendly fervor, hoping to crack or expand in this vast and fertile landscape. With the Japanese market already decently saturated, China leads the way to the future, and I wonder if Fresh has considered entering the far East fray. Upon trying their luxe and creamy Umbrian Clay Absolute Concealer, my first thought was how appropriate the colors seemed for ethnic skin, including mine. Though I have fair eyes (green, natural) fair-ish hair (highlighted, not), and naturally fair skin, I’m not a porcelain beauty. She would have a pink or blue base, and I wonder if a different brand would better match her skin (although perhaps Fresh’s #1 would suit). But for the Jewish, Italian, Asian, mediterranean skin tones, I think Fresh is a superb concealer choice to match and blend one’s own natural tone. Just the fact that Fresh delineates appropriate undertones for each color goes a long way toward knowing which of these delicate, charming little concealer tubes would work best for you.

I generally prefer a different concealer package, I confess: either a pot, like my dear Laura Mercier Undercover, or a wand like, say, Clinique’s Line-Smoothing Concealer. Both these options work well with a brush and allow you to better control product portion. My least favorite packaging is the tube; sometimes the product inside separates, becoming oily, and almost all the time one squeeze delivers way too much, both wasting the precious elixir and leaving you too heavily made up. For Fresh, however, I will make an exception. Its creamy formula does not separate, and I apply it directly to a makeup brush, squeezing ever so gently.

The effects are impressive. For someone with less prominent under-eye circles than mine, a few brush strokes of this fluid, easily blendable concealer will leave you looking more awake, brighter, happier, and healthier. For me, I use it as the perfect base. The Umbrian Clay claims to provide medium coverage, and I think it offers even a bit better than that. What’s more, its formula appears effortless. Porphyridium Cruentum adds hydration to the weightless formula, and provided you don’t use too much product, it will never look matted or caky. I would say Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Absolute Concealer has nudged its way into Real Girl’s list of top concealers–quite an elite little crew.

For the gal who needs a little extra coverage, Fresh has a companion product that when used in tandem with the Umbrian Clay boosts it just past this side of fabulous. I’ve become quite addicted to the next Fresh product I’ll be dishing about, so stay tuned for another skin-dazzling post soon.


Concealer colors appropriate for warm skin tones

Medium-to-full weightless coverage

Squeeze gently directly onto a concealer brush for best results

An old New York gem and the best smelling place in the city.

Visiting McNulty’s is a treat even for those who don’t drink tea or coffee–so just imagine what kind of pilgrimage awaits for serious connoisseurs of a fine hot beverage.

Conveniently just steps from the Christopher Street subway station, McNulty’s still remains a century behind its neighbors. What you notice first is the aroma: Freshly ground coffee of every kind mingling together to create a coffee scent’s Platonic ideal. And the grinding is always as fresh as can be, right there in front of you, measured out on the kind of old-fashioned scales you imagine McNulty’s has used for ages.

I discovered McNulty’s years ago while looking for a gift to give the woman who has everything. Considering her love for tea, I figured I’d head to Chinatown and find some exotic blend she’d never had before. But then I happened by this charming looking gingerbread house of a tea and coffee shop, and I knew I’d found my tea-lover’s gift. I’m sure the boxes and tins of teas that line the wooden shelves are all worthwhile, but the big glass jars at the heart of the store are irresistible. From black teas to green and white teas to the most colorful, potion-esque flavored teas, McNulty’s selection will be like none you’ve ever seen before. One can easily imagine this shop along Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, indiscriminately hanging out between the cauldron and the wand shop. My gift’s recipient was delighted with her simple brown paper bag filled with colorful, leafy tea seemingly straight out of 1895, when the store first opened its doors.

The experienced staff will advise you on your coffee needs should you seek their advice. Ask for a dark blend, a medium or light one, perhaps by region. The selection is endless, even including organic and flavored decaffeinated. I never stray far from my favorite (caffeinated) flavored option, coconut. McNulty’s coconut coffee is by far the best I’ve ever tasted. As soon as they pour the beans onto that big metal scale you can see why–actual shreds of toasted coconut intertwine throughout the beans, just waiting to be ground together into a silky, aromatic blend. Make sure to inhale. The fragrance  absolutely intoxicates.

The store itself manages to stay remarkably true to its turn-of-the-last-century origins without feeling overly quaint or fey. This is no Disney recreation of 1895. Instead, the atmosphere conjures a time when products were sold free of marketing or media or (self-conscious wink) blog recommendations. Of course that would be an illusion–advertising and marketing go back as far as merchants have been selling–but rather than conjuring a touristy version of charm, McNulty’s instead feels like it’s giving you the essence of coffee and tea. In a city sometimes skimming dangerously along the surface, here you find a bastion of authenticity.

I admit I have a coffee addiction. But oh–oh, McNulty’s sure turns what may be a vice into an emporium of delight.

I would love New York less without it.

Clinique says roll away puffy eyes. Real Girl says yes, please!

Every gal has her “thing,” and Real Girl’s is the under-eye area. My nemesis. My puffy, dark-circled, ever-concealed, genetically-induced foe. When a product purports to do away with puffiness and dark circles, my radar pings at high volume: “Must try! Must try!” Which brings us to the latest addition to Clinique’s All About Eyes line, the new All About Eyes Serum De-Puffing Eye Massage. Oh, Clinique. Roll away my troubles!

Like all of Clinique’s products, including the formerly reviewed Even Better Skin Tone Corrector, you can trust that the active ingredients have been chosen based on scientific testing indicating some extent of results. Here, the most potent ingredients are caffeine–widely used to combat puffiness, and in this product higher on the ingredients list than I’ve seen in almost all others–and a cocktail of established antioxidants, including grape seed and pomegranate extract. But also, like with any skin care product, you can’t expect miracles or the kind of correction provided by surgery.

So keeping my expectations moderate, I gripped the smooth, cool plastic applicator and started to glide. Mmmm. Gliding. The metal-ball tip feels delightfully cool, and it rolls smoothly over the delicate under-eye area, dispensing product without tugging that paper-thin skin. Unlike Clinique’s original All About Eyes gel-cream, the serum is not particularly hydrating. But that’s not a problem–this product is meant to be applied first, under all other moisturizers and sunscreens. Its job isn’t to hydrate, it’s to tighten. And tighten it does. Within minutes, the under-eye area retains its dose of cool refreshment and also, for lack of a better way to describe it, feels less puffy. Not uncomfortably, the caffeine feels like it’s taken that loose bagginess of puffery and reined it in a bit. Your skin feels better–you know antioxidants are protecting it from environmental stress, and I do think the serum’s active ingredients have worked well enough to substantiate most of the product’s claims.

I have not noticed a significant change in tint–my dark circles still look pretty darn dark. But using this product in the morning is just plain pleasant. Storing the elegant-looking tube in the refrigerator does enhance the chill of the metal tip, but I think the product then rolls on less effortlessly, and perhaps the applicator dispenses less. Even without refrigeration, though, that massaging little tip continues to feel deliciously cool against your fluid-filled puffiness.

Roll away, Real Girl says. My darling little Clinique All About Eyes Serum, you will never be able to depuff enough! But for now, I’m keeping you near and dear to my puffy heart.


Cool metal tip and massaging action manually depuff

Caffeine is listed high on ingredients list and has shown to fight puffiness

Very good antioxidants

Refrigeration optional–cooler tip but applies less product

To be applied first, under moisturizer and sunscreen. (However if you use a topical exfoliant gel or serum, then apply that first)

Or rather taking a milkshake. From Stand. Because it’s amazing.

You don’t even know. Unless you’ve been there, and then perhaps you do. And then aren’t you a lucky one.

Real Girl lives startlingly close to New York’s Stand, a burger joint west of Union Square. The burgers may be great–I can’t say because I’ve never sat down to have one. Instead, I find myself walking over to Stand when I’m in need of a guilty pleasure. And oh, such a pleasure: The Toasted Marshmallow milkshake. I’m not sure I’ll be able to write about it without strolling across the park afterward to suck down that rich, marshmallowy sweet, decadent cup of creamy ambrosia. Stand delivers, but I always drop by myself. I’m not sure how the milkshake would travel, and I’m not sure I can wait the extra 20 minutes it would take the delivery man to bring it to me. A toasted marshmallow milkshake craving is not like any other craving. It must be satisfied quickly or the taste bud Gods get very angry.

Here’s how you might see Real Girl in the Union Square area someday, perhaps walking east on 14th Street. First I remove the cup’s lid and eat the actual toasted marshmallows. I can’t save them ’til the end–they call out too loudly, flirting with that toasty golden wink. Then I plunge in the oversized straw, close my eyes, and inhale. What bliss. More than a hint of fine vanilla ice cream hits the senses first (Stand uses Laboratorio del Gelato), but then the notes of marshmallow meander on in. It’s like the highest quality marshmallow fluff zapped into milkshake form. My mouth remains glued to that straw until all too soon it’s over. So I’m that girl on 14th Street making slurpy sounds with her straw to lap up the final stubborn drops. And then I’m that girl on 14th Street taking out the straw and tipping the cup back to make sure I don’t miss anything. Wasting a drop of this elixir would be criminal, and I don’t know if I could handle toasted marshmallow jail.

If you’re able to let Stand offer you this marshmallowy goodness, I urge you to hightail it over there tout de suite. But if perhaps this delicacy is denied you for some reason, never fear. The recipe is listed online. And I’ll re-post it for you here. If you make this at a dinner party you will be the most popular host that ever sent out an invite. Trust.

Stand’s Marshmallow Shakes

3 scoops vanilla ice cream (they use Laboratorio del Gelato)

1 tablespoon whole milk

I large dollop, er, Wookstock Water Buffalo Milk yogurt (For the 300 million of you that can’t pick water buffalo milk yogurt up at your corner store, feel free to use a substitute yogurt—it’s just there to add a little more liquid and balance out the sweetness of the ice cream a bit)

5 Kraft Jumbo Jef-Puffed marshmallows

Whipped cream

1) Toast marshamllows under a broiler, or, if you’re frisky, over a flame until they just start to blacken evenly (the trick is to make sure it’s evenly toasted and dark, but not turned to charcoal).

2) Put the milk, yogurt, and then ice cream in the blender. Blend carefully, just until you get a “donut”—when you see the shake holding to the sides of the blender with a hollow core.

3) Add three of the toasted marshmallows to the blender, and whirl it just until they’re all broken up and distributed evenly. Be careful not to overblend it, making it too melty.

4) Pour shake into a glass, top with a dollop of whipped cream, break the last two marshmallows on top, and serve with an extra-wide straw.

5) Repeat if necessary. And it will probably be necessary.

When even a thong won’t do.

Very little ruins an outfit more than visible panty line. And Thong, I’m talking to you too. Obviously Real Girl does not condone the over-the-jeans thong line, but neither does she champion the hip-dimple. You know what I mean–picture a form-fitting dress, perhaps a gossamer silk, perhaps a clingy knit. Now picture the indentation where the thong hits at the hip. You’ve ruined your lines and dented your curves. Not so cute.

Real Girl’s solution to dastardly hip-dimples? Commando “better than nothing” underwear. Commando panties skim the body, barely hugging it, fitting like a second, silky skin. My Commando under-item of choice is the thong, but this is no ordinary thong. Not a hint of muffin will ever top it; the flat-seamed sides cling without puckering, leaving your dress line as smooth and sexy as if nothing were there at all.

Ladies, stay classy. Avoid thong panty line. Sip into your barely-there Commandos and let your undimpled curves speak for themselves.

Soft. Pillowy. Kissable.Real Girl’s lips have never felt more kissable, which means I must share–only with an elite few, of course. That few being you, who get to know the secret to all this pillowy softness: Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment. As for the elite few who get to experience these pouty, succulent lips first-hand? Consider that list too exclusive to share. 🙂

Fresh has lofty ambitions for its Lip Treatment, a bestseller in the cult “Sugar” line. In addition to moisturizing and repair, the Treatment purports to plump and protect. Black currant oil is indeed a plumping agent, but the effects are minimal, and the balm’s natural glisten will do more to enhance your lips’ appearance, leaving them healthy, dewy, and subtly luminous. But the real reason to invest here is the texture. Fresh’s Sugar Lip Treatment feels just lovely–lightweight, slippery, and silky. Unlike with a waxier Chapstick-type balm, the Lip Treatment won’t simply seal in the lip’s natural moisture–it bestows its own saturating dose of oil extracts that leaves lips utterly supple and cared for. And the signature Fresh Sugar scent–lemon tinged, sweet meringue meets verbena–remains pleasant without being overpowering.

Unfortunately I’m not over the moon for the sunscreen ingredients. Octinoxate and oxybenzone are chemical sunscreens that absorb mostly UVB rays. I would recommend layering a zinc oxide or titanium dioxide mineral-based sunscreen underneath the silky balm for wider-sprectrum protection. But Fresh’s elegant formulation hits spot on with its anitoxidants. Vitamins C, E, and A and grapeseed polyphenols are well-established, reliable ingredients to repair and prevent free radical damage.

For a hint of color, Fresh also offers tinted Lip Treatments, in Rose Tinted and the new, headier Plum Tinted, which Real Girl covets. I prefer to apply my Lip Treatment over my favorite stain to leave my tinted lips softer and more delicate, with a hint of ladylike shine.

I have been pampering my lips overnight with Fresh Sugar Lip Treatment several evenings in a row now, and I have never woken up with softer lips. But the true test will come this winter. Can the Lip Treatment prevent wind-blown chapping? Will Real Girl’s lips remain kissably supple even during the most biting winter months? We must reconvene then and see if this delightful find keeps my pucker tender and touchable.

Real Girl believes it will.


A lightweight, nourishing lip balm

Leaves lips delicately supple and soft

Antioxidants Vitamin A, C, E and grapeseed oil combat free radicals

Some amount of SPF sun protection

Real Girl will not be nearly the first to talk about what many have christened the “best burger in NYC.” The Minetta Tavern has become known for its two burgers, although really the regular Minetta burger is overshadowed by its beauty queen sister, the decadent Black Label. A shame for the delightful regular. She’s pretty and charming, and she only wears designer cheese. But her sister’s a stone cold knock-out. The Black Label doesn’t just turn heads–it captivates them.

I owe my trip to Minetta Tavern to the Blogfather, who had been preaching the merits of its burgers for weeks before we got there. He did not oversell their tender virtues. I let him order, both the regular and the Black Label for us to share, and he advised “it has to be medium rare.” I did not argue. I bit into the regular burger first, and I literally exhaled “oh my God” at first bite. How could the Black Label be better than this? Steak-quality meat, exquisite cheese, spongy, shiny Balthazar bun, that perfect fried tang of recently sizzling, premium meat.

But after my first bite of the Black Label, I knew there was no going back. This burger drips onto your tongue, like falling silk. She will seduce you, and oh, it’ll be good.

The Black Label burger is remarkably juicy, but “juicy” is too mundane an adjective for her. Plenty of burgers are juicy–The Black Label is, as A Hamburger Today called it in their excellent “Secrets of Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger” profile, “simply ethereal” and “succulent.” Picture meat as velvet–smooth and soft to the palette, luxe and sensually decadent. The Blogfather’s insistence that we order medium rare was spot on. The airy, velvety burger flushed a beautiful pink, more sexy than coy. This flavor does not wink coquettishly–it melts on the tongue, expanding on the palette like the notes of a fine wine. First there’s the buttery richness, robust yet not overwhelming, somehow both sweet and gently sharp at once. You experience the tang of caramelized onion, the mingled flavors and textures of the aged meat blend, the firm but giving, noble countenance of the bun. No flavor overpowers another; somehow the vast number of ingredients and textures that make up the Black Label Burger have combined to form ecclesiastical harmony.

In truth, the Minetta Black Label is an utterly sensory experience. You don’t go to Minetta to “grab a burger.” It grabs you. Leave the ketchup and mustard on the side, abandon the cheese however good it may be, and close your eyes. Now this is purity.

Make sure you have it at least once in your life. You’ll always remember your first time.

I want this.

Designed and hand-drawn by Chanel’s Director of Makeup, these fifty individual, limited-edition Chanel trompe l’oeil temporary tattoos were created for the 2010 spring-summer collection, and they might just be the ultimate accessory. Now this is party wear. Picture the New York girl with legs up to forever accessorizing a simple black minidress with Chanel’s iconic chains cascading down her leg. Or perhaps a less daring goddess would wrap her wrist with an ethereal bracelet tattoo. An innovative accessory, both delicate and edgy–I think it’s genius.

With imagination, these tattoos can become as demure as a single-strand necklace or as intricate as artisan jewelry. Whether bedecked across the clavicle, the upper arm, the upper leg, the wrist, the ankle, the foot–the possibilities are endless, and I’d love the opportunity to unleash my Chanel-driven creativity.

Chanel body art, I welcome the chance to be your canvas.

August 2020


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