Notorious NYCK
Earth Shattering Beauty, Style and Health News from a Neurotic New Yorker

Style Secrets of an Unlikely Fashionista

by Notorious NYCK August 20

When I was 26, I got a job at Women’s Wear Daily (WWD), a.k.a. the fashion and beauty bible. It is the publication for learning what’s happening in the fashion, retail, and cosmetics industries. I’ve written before about how terminally uncool I’ve always been. So it may not surprise you that for the entire four years I worked there, I was petrified of getting dressed. The best I could do was adopt a  “uniform.” I figured that since I was meeting with cosmetics industry executives to report on sales and marketing strategies, I should wear a “business suit.”  So I trolled the “bridge” floor at Macy’s for Jones New York and Liz Claiborne pants suits. I did OK with the business executives but drew a lot of snarky looks and comments from the fashion world. It’s a tough crowd. In fact, when I had job interviews at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, both interviewers felt compelled to critique my suits ( navy cotton twill Esprit for the former and black linen Banana Republic for the latter).  I was told that a suit is only fashionable if it is made by Chanel, Prada, Armani or Yves Saint Laurent. And then, only if you “break up” the pieces.  These are not my rules. So please don’t shoot the messenger.

In 1996 at 30, I became beauty director at YM magazine. At last I could retire my suits and “have fun with fashion.” But once again, I was completely flummoxed on how to do it. Kilts and Doc Martens? Crazy.  So thank goodness for our fashion director, Rondi.  “Kagan,” she would yell down the hall after me. “Visible panty lines suck. Get a thong.”  A few hours later, several Calvin Klein versions would materialize on my desk. What Rondi lacked in tact, she made up for with her generosity. She convinced me to trade in pegged-leg pants for the more flattering and of-the-moment boot-cut styles and dressed me for two years. “I see you in a wrap Chambray top with that skirt,” she would proclaim, and then order me one from BCBG. Those were the days.

Unfortunately, Rondi and I lost touch some time ago, so once again it’s been on me to navigate this style stuff. Suffice to say I am not always successful-- as the clothes in my closet with the tags still attached attest. But I do have some new fashion gurus that have made life a little easier.  First up, there’s “What Not To Wear’s” Clinton Kelly and Stacey London who have completely re-defined “age and body-type-appropriate” fashion for me.  I also love Lucky magazine. To me, its editors are absolutely the clearest and least elitist about breaking down fashion trends by aesthetic, size, shape and price point. Lastly, there is Deborah  Koenigsberger, owner of the greatest boutique ever, Noir et Blanc…Bis on West 25th Street in New York City (noiretblancbis.com). Deborah is the most stylish and one of the warmest and most giving women I know.  Everyone leaves her utterly chic and charming shop, no matter what their age or size, looking and feeling fabulous. She also runs the amazing Hearts of Gold Foundation to help women in shelters (heartsofgold.org).

To spare you some of my personal agonies, here is a cheat sheet of the the best tips I’ve gleaned from my style posse:

If you have to sport a strapless bra with a top or dress and you wear over a B-cup bra, do not buy it
Nothing looks or feels worse than a strapless bra in an above-average size. First off, it never stays put. Secondly, it gives a really unflattering uni-boob effect. Lastly, strapless bras almost always create back fat and spillage on even the fittest of girls. The amazing woman who actually granted 32D me beautiful options in formal wear is Shoshanna Gruss nee Lonstein. Many of the dresses in her Shoshanna line (shoshanna.com) have built-in boning and bras so you can safely and comfortably wear strapless and spaghetti-strapped styles.

Go Shorter with Straight Leg and Skinny Jeans
Unless they hit just above your ankle bone, or even a little higher, straighter pants will “bag” at your ankles and calves, giving you a bulky, stunted leg effect. And never underestimate the power of a belt to lift up sagging trousers and create a sleeker look.

The Wider the Leg, the Higher and Fatter the Heel
I have the worst feet ever so I live in flats, and I truly prefer a boot-cut leg to skinnies. But flairs with flats give new meaning to the word “frumpy,” especially if you’re petite. Wedge heels help anchor wider pants and make legs look longer and leaner. I love stilettos (even if they cripple me) but they drown under voluminous pants. So I reserve them for formal wear, pencil skirts and medium-legged trousers. And while this next statement may piss some people off, I’m just going to say it:  I abhor stilettos  with skinny jeans--probably because I’m still traumatized by that God-awful ‘90s “mall” trend of stirrup pants with pumps.

When in doubt, leave it out and unbutton an extra button:
Unless the shirt is shapeless (and then you may want to reconsider its purchase) or you work in a really corporate environment, everyone looks better when they don’t tuck their shirt into their pants or skirt. It just gives a trimmer line. And while I am not advocating exposing the “girls” to the world, unbuttoning a shirt a little more than I think is “proper” always looks hipper, sexier and more youthful than when I have an attack of modesty. In fact, I think Noir et Blanc’s Deborah has spent the last 13 years pulling my shirts out of my pants and opening the top three buttons. Lucky for me.

Loose, Shapeless Clothes are Never Slimming
Sloshing around in baggy clothes has always seemed the perfect solution to “fat” days. But trust me, wearing those ensembles don’t do anyone any favors. Ever. Everyone looks their best wearing clothes that fit. Period. If you do want to wear something loose and flowing, pair it with another piece that’s slim or add a belt to give your body shape and definition.

Colored or Printed Denim has to be Super Straight or Skinny 
I’m probably not the best person to ask about either of these trends, because, to be blunt: I don’t like them. It could be because neither one is especially flattering to my short, muscular legs. But personally, I just don’t find these pants to be all that chic. If you’re tall, leggy or slim, they can be ok. But here’s the thing: Bright colors and prints only work with straight or skinny jeans. If there’s too much fabric flapping around, Bozo and the pre-k set will want their pants back. Incidentally, I have no problem passing this trend by. In fact, foregoing an unflattering style, no matter how hot it is, is the best fashion advice I’ve ever received. Fur vest on my 4’11” busty bod? No thanks. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.

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The Notorious NYCK Summer in the City Survival Kit

by Notorious NYCK August 8

hot-sun-thermometerEvery time I go back home to NYC, I am amazed at how crazy loud it is. I have to turn the volume on my headset way up just so I can be one of those annoying pedestrians obliviously chattering away on the phone. One noise that is noticeably absent, however, is the mellifluous tone of swishing corduroy pants, which appears to be the soundtrack of a summer in San Francisco.  Nearly all of the city’s inhabitants are forced to wear them, as well as Uggs and fleece, from June through the end of August. No, this is not some anti-fashion movement (even if it feels that way to me).  It’s because summer in San Fran is cold, grey and gloomy. But this info. appears to be top secret, as evidenced by the scads of tourists shivering in tank tops and shorts on trolley cars come July. Summer in Oakland (where I live), however, is pretty perfect. It’s in the mid-70s and sunny nearly ever day. Still, it is the sixth most dangerous city in the country. But we hella <3 Oaktown and are proud it’s no longer in the top 5.

But back to the Big Apple. Lucky for me, I am not all that bothered by the sweltering heat and humidity that is the norm there this time of year. It feels sultry and kind of sexy to me, which makes sense since I am of mostly Mediterranean descent. Plus it lets me wear strappy sandals and sundresses at night, which you definitely can’t do in the East Bay, since temps drop into the 50s or lower once the sun sets. (Did anyone start singing that Corey Hart song from the 80s just now,  or was that just me?) Still, when the humidity makes it feel like it's in the triple digits even I start to melt, and the effects aren’t pretty. So lucky for me and the people who sit next to me on the subway, I’ve amassed a pretty amazing beat-the-heat beauty kit.

Clarins UV Plus HP Day Screen High Protection Tint SPF 40, $40 (sephora.com)
This could be my favorite beauty product ever. And I’m apparently not alone in my ardor, because it sells out faster than a New York minute. Two Sephora stores in the Bay Area were out of stock a couple of weeks ago and so was nordstrom.com. Lightweight and non-greasy, this liquidy lotion warms up my sallow complexion and provides a nice, natural coverage that evens out my skin tone and somehow makes everything look smoother and fainter (pore-size, lines and wrinkles, blotchiness, dark circles, etc.). Because Clarins uses mineral sunscreens, this product doesn’t irritate my skin and offers immediate sun protection. (You have to wait at least 15-30 minutes for chemical sunscreens to kick in.)  And bonus!  The tint doesn’t drip down my face when I’m  standing on an un-air conditioned subway platform. The one caveat is that it is really, really hard to remove (unless it is rubbing off on the neck of your shirt). So repeated, thorough, cleansings and pre-treating any “tinted” clothes are the order of the day. But they are well worth it.

L‘Oreal Sublime Sun Liquid Silk Sunshield for Face SPF 50, $10.99 (drugstore.com). Silky, non-greasy, fast-absorbing and long-lasting, this is my nirvana of sunscreens. It even has antioxidants to safeguard skin against free radicals. Because it’s formulated with chemical sunscreens, I can’t use it on my face. But it’s awesome everywhere else.

Revlon Just-Bitten Kissable Balm Stain, $8.99 (drugstore.com) Lipsticks and gloss can feel so heavy in the heat, not to mention the fact that they can both migrate out of your lip contours and give you the dreaded ring-around-the-mouth—never an attractive look. This chubby pencil lays down just the perfect amount of moisturizing stay-put pigment. “Crush,” a grapey/plum shade, never fails to draw compliments. But there are 11 lovely and virtually universal shades. I intend to score all of them.

M.A.C. Blot Film, 30 sheets for $15 (maccosmetics.com). Now that I’m 46, I don’t seem to be particularly troubled by excess oil in my T-Zone. (Hooray for middle age!) But most people need some kind of shine-sopper in the the summer.  MAC makes the gold standard. Each sheet completely absorbs grease without messing up makeup, drying out my skin or leaving a powdery film in its wake. I still carry them around with me, “just in case.”

Herban Essentials Towelettes, $15 for 20, (herbanessentials.com). These ingenious individually-wrapped wipes are saturated in amazing-smelling, germ-killing essential oils. I use them to freshen up my hands, the back of my neck--and ok, truth time, my underarms--when I am feeling extra hot and grimy. I also swipe them over not-so-clean surfaces before I sit down. Each of the 5 fragrances--orange, lavender, peppermint, lemon and eucalyptus—have other more aromatherapeutic usages. You can check out the website for particulars.

Giovanni Cool Mint Lemon Salt Scrub with Crushed Mint Leaves, $14.99 (drugstore.com).  This heavenly-scented body-slougher not not only seriously softens and smooths, but is also infused with cooling mint that actually seems to sink into the skin, serving almost as a portable air conditioner throughout the day.

Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo, $24, Conditioner, $24 and Nourishing Styling Cream, $26 (livingproof.com). Traditional frizz fighters contain silicone, which leaves my fine, wavy hair flat and greasy looking. But Living Proof incorporates a molecule called OFPMA, which was designed to coat hair evenly, keep hair cleaner, longer and control frizz--without added weight. This trio of products transforms my frizzy flyaways  into bouncy, shiny, well-defined curls. Word on the street is this a great product line for straight-haired girls, too.

Secret Fresh Effects Invisible Solid in Cucumber/Aloe, $5.95 (drugstore.com). Let me preface this entry by saying, “I don’t really think this antiperspirant/deodorant is any better than any of the others out there.” First off, it has “invisible” in the title, which means it is destined to leave white marks on your clothes (and it does). And secondly, it doesn’t appear to have any magical powers that keep me dry and sweet-smelling above and beyond the competition. That being said, this product does a decent job, has a really nice, subtle scent (no over-powering sickly sweet floral fragrance, like its counterparts) and blends into skin well. So to me, it’s one of the least offensive solids out there. But the best sweat-proof trick I’ve ever learned (and this really does work) is to apply deodorant/antiperspirant mornings and nights. Trust me. You and your neighbors will thank me for this intel.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


Not By the Hair On My…

by Notorious NYCK July 10

Spoiler alert: This is Notorious’ least sexy blog post ever. And it may actually be the least sexy blog post of all time from anyone. Today’s topic? Chin hairs. And boy, fair-skinned, dark-haired part Turk that I am, I’ve  struggled with them since my ‘30s. And while I may have had an issue before, now that I am on Tamoxifen, it’s pretty much  off the charts. And some of my dear friends have been experiencing the same darn thing.

So what’s a girl to do? As I’ve told you in the past, I am a huge fan of Laser and Intense Pulsed Light hair removal for the body. IPL has given me 10-plus years of a no-shaving-required bikini line and underarms. But in my experience, and according to my San Francisco derm Dr. David MacGregor, neither method works as well for chin hairs. It seems that unlike body hair, chin hairs and other facial hair are the result of fluctuating hormones. So even if you kill existing facial hair follicles with a laser, every time your hormones ebb (or is it flow?) they stimulate growth in new follicles.

Not knowing that these hairs wouldn’t respond in the same way that my underarm and bikini  hair did to laser treatments,  I submitted to six excruciating Diode Laser sessions on my upper lip and chin. Even after sitting with numbing cream on these areas for a full 45 minutes, this procedure was one of the most brutal experiences I have ever willingly (not so willingly) experienced.  I honestly didn’t think anything could hurt that much. Surprise! It can.  I did get about 18 life-changing months of being chin-hair and mustache-free for my trouble. But for that kind of pain and expense I had hoped for “forever”, or at least the 10 or so years I had experienced with other body parts.

The good news: Some five years later, my upper lip still requires very little tending to. The bad news: My chin is pretty much back to square one. And the hair is so coarse there that neither waxing, tweezing nor shaving seems to help. In fact, for the most part, the first two methods just seem to break the hairs in half and cause in-growns. This post just keeps getting hotter and hotter, doesn’t it?

But there is hope. Dr. MacGregor recently prescribed me Vaniqa--a cream designed to “reduce the growth” of unwanted facial hair.  And it actually works. It contains a drug called, “Eflornithine”, which  blocks the enzyme ornithine decarboxylase (ODC) that fuels hair growth in the follicle. FYI, when injected or taken orally, Eflornithine is used to treat African Sleeping Sickness. Now you know everything. Vaniqa ain’t cheap; it costs about $90 a tube. But if you go to vaniqa.com, you can score a coupon for up to $25 off. You still have to tweeze or shave or whatever, but it’s no longer a life or death situation. In other words, you don’t have to carry a tweezers with you everywhere you go, which, not surprisingly, is quite liberating. Plus, this remedy doesn’t hurt like a mother. So I’m on board.

But here’s the rub, you’re supposed to use Vaniqa twice a day every day for life, but it made my chin break out like mad (a known side-effect). So through trial and error I have found I can keep blemishes and chin hairs at bay by using Vaniqa just once a day (mornings) and Dr. Dennis Gross’ All-Over Blemish Solution, $42 (dgskincare.com), at night. This salicylic-acid based preparation does a splendid job of keeping pores clear without drying out skin. When I need to drag out the heavy anti-blemish artillery, I use Mario Badescu Buffering Lotion, $17 (mariobadescu.com). It’s a tad irritating, due to its high concentration of isopropyl alcohol, and it’s actually meant for cystic acne, but I’ve found it clears up chin breakouts practically over night.

So there you go. A post that’s about as un-erotic as it gets. But the world may be a more glamorous place because of it. And I promise, my next post will be positively steamy. In fact, if I have my way, it will make you blush. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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The Denim Suicides

by Notorious NYCK June 20

So after a year of starving myself and exercising like a mad woman, I have lost most of my Tamoxifen weight and am back in my regular size 26 jeans—considered a 2  by most standards, sometimes a 4. I still have some more weight to lose and a lot more toning  is in order (when did my knees start to sag?) but progress is progress. So to celebrate, I decided to take myself shopping for jeans. And I am here to tell you, right here, right now, as God and the salesgirl at Nordstrom are my witnesses, if you are shorter than 5 ft. 7, weigh more than 100 lbs. and are over the age of 40, jeans shopping is only second to bathing suit shopping in terms of total and utter demoralization. I am certain there is a special ring of hell devoted to denim designers and to the architects who created the fitting rooms at the Nordstrom in Union Square in San Francisco, where I spent yesterday afternoon.

Picture if you will, a small, airless cubicle with a three-way mirror and fluorescent lighting so deplorable that it actually gives you cellulite across your cheekbones. I will not even discuss what it did to my thighs. At home, my room is flooded with unforgiving sunlight and my mirror is huge, wide and stretches from the floor to ceiling—it is as horrifying as it sounds. But not anywhere near as horrifying as the set up in the Nordstrom fitting room, where I tried on 30, yes 30, pairs of jeans yesterday. So here’s the good news: my size actually fits, and in some cases is even too big, except in J.Brand. I couldn’t even get one leg into one size up much less my own size. Bastards! Now here’s the bad: Not one pair, not one stinking pair, looked good on my 4 ft. 11, 108-lb. body. In fact, most pairs looked so terrible that the salesgirl, may she burn in Hades forever, suggested I try a line for more “mature” women. Mature? Why don’t you just call me, “M’am” and poke me in the eye with a sharp stick? I wanted to tell her 28-year old sadistic self to kiss my once nearly perfect now slightly sagging 46-year-old ass. Instead, I tried on the damn jeans. These were desperate times. Turns out the smallest size pair was too big, and they rise so high the waistband practically came up under my neck. I guess I am “immature”... take that! bitch salesgirl!

So here’s what I’ve learned from my devastating day at the mall:

Whiskering sucks and everyone does it:  Vicious denim companies market this technique as “strategic fading around the hips and thighs for a slimming effect.” Are you kidding me? It is basically painting  wide white horizontal stripes around the fullest parts of most women’s bodies. Whiskering actually makes me long for the acid-washed technique of the 80s, and trust me, I never, ever thought I’d say that. Seven for all Mankind seems to be particularly guilty of this transgression. It also has this extraordinarily unflattering practice of making the thighs lighter than the rest of the jeans. In fifth grade art class I learned that light brings things forward and dark causes them to recede.  Did the designers at 7 not learn this?  How many women want to emphasize their thighs?

“Curvy Fits” are for hourglass figures, not fuller lower bodies: Now this seems like a contradiction. But it’s not. I have a muscular build so my thighs are not tiny. Before I got weak and fatigued from this breast cancer treatment nonsense, I could leg press more weight than some of the guys at my gym.  But “strong” legs do not put you in the “curvy” camp.  While the Seven for All Mankind Kimmies curvy fit was passable (except for the frigging wash), the Joe’s Jeans Curvy Honey jeans were the stuff nightmares are made of. I did not fare any better with any other styles made for “curvy girls.” Curvy styles of jeans are for women blessed with tiny waists and rounded hips, butts and thighs. They are not for straight, athletic types. Funny that I have an athletic build considering I was always the very last person picked for a team in gym class. Actually, that’s not so funny. And is it just me, or does the term, “bootylicious” make you want to punch someone in the face? Just asking.

Big pockets equal smaller butts unless they are long, then it’s best to not check out your rearview: I’ve read many times to look for more generous pockets on jeans if you want to streamline your butt and tinier ones if you want to emphasize it. But what’s with the extra long pockets that actually fold underneath the crease? Is this just happening to me because I am short? The effect is stunningly awful. It makes your posterior look long, low, and wide. Paige Denim and Hudson Jeans seem to use this pocket style a lot.

Mid-rise jeans are the devil: Ok, Ok. I stand corrected. High-rise jeans are the devil. If you want proof, just take a look at Demi Moore in About Last Night or re-watch any John Hughes film. So I guess mid-rise jeans aren’t as bad. And they are good for concealing muffin-tops. But they seem to make the lower body assume epic proportions. Now granted, super low rise jeans don’t do anyone any favors. But a nice, mid-low rise (low-mid-rise?) is the most flattering for me. And just see if you can find that.

Stretch is something to be taken lightly: Since I’ve moved to the East Bay, it’s made me crazy that the hipster boys all wear these super tight skinny black jeans that are ridiculously snug in the leg yet somehow baggy in the rear (I know I sound like my grandmother.) Well after slithering in and out of all of those denims yesterday, I realized that too much stretch is to blame. It allows you to easily wedge yourself into super-tight jeans. Somehow the stretch sort of hugs your thighs (which if the jeans aren’t the wrong size can be flattering). But super stretchy fabric just can’t seem to maintain its shape around your derriere so your jeans look tight and baggy at the same time. Meanwhile, the jeans feel so comfortable you don’t realize how dreadful you look. With their stretchy fabrics, Paige and Hudson do slim the thighs, but man they bag in the butt.  Citizens of Humanity is another butt-bagger, plus it does that horrible whiskering thing so it is off the table.

Bootcuts and flares are not slimming: I love the way boot cut and flare jeans look—so ‘70s rock star. And to me they work the best with any shoes since they don’t buckle over the tops, like straight legs and skinnies do (don’t get me started on skinnies.). Plus,  they look great with my Puma California’s.  You would think since both styles are fuller in the lower leg, they would balance out a body with a fuller upper leg. Not so. I learned yesterday that flares and bootcuts are actually cut narrower in the hips and thighs than other jeans and taper at the knees before fanning out. Jeans that taper at the knee are about the least flattering thing I can think of (pegged ankles are pretty bad too) unless you have super sleek, long legs. And if you do, God bless you. Straight legs are more forgiving in the thighs, don’t taper at the knee and don’t constrict the calves like skinnies. They literally run down the  length of your leg in a straight line. But unless you hem them slightly shorter than I would like, they bunch up over your footwear and they don’t work at all with wide shoes like my Pumas. They look ok with Converse sneakers (especially the high tops), ballet flats, sandals and ankle “Beatle” boots. Yes, I admit to having several pair of Beatle boots and Converse All Stars (though I am iffy about wearing them).

I wish I could tell you that I had better luck with Current Elliot, True Religion, Big Star, Jag, Jolt, AG and Blue Essence, or that my trip to the Lucky Brand store in the same mall was fruitful. But at the end of two hellish hours of mortification and self-flagellation, I was pretty much s#it out of luck.  It turns out, though, that the answer to my prayers was, as Dorothy would say,  “right in my own backyard”-- a pair of faded, not whiskered, totally untrendy, stretch-free straight legs from J.Crew that I had stuffed in the back of my closet  when I put on my Tamoxifen weight. Well those babies fit now, and even if I can’t wear my Pumas with them and run the risk of sanctifying the hipster movement by having to sport them with my Converse, I have at least one pair of jeans that look good on me.  Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


To Eddie Van Halen with Love and Thanks

by Notorious NYCK June 5

edcropWhen it comes to being “cool,” the deck has always been stacked against me. As a kid I was short, round, nervous, anxious and humiliatingly un-athletic. I also cried at the drop of a hat, got glasses in the fourth grade and braces in the fifth. There’s more. My mother, who equates the decline of Western Civilization with the abolishment of the dress code in schools, forbade my brother and me to wear jeans and t-shirts, except at camp. So throughout elementary school I was clothed in knit stretch pants and nylon tops--well-past the acceptable pre-school years. And sneakers were totally out, except for gym class. Because of our “flat” feet, my brother and I had to sport lace-up oxford shoes with orthotics. You may not be surprised to learn that I was picked on mercilessly.

I got my first pair of jeans in 1977 when I was 11. One day,  J.K., the prettiest, most popular and precocious girl in the fifth grade handed me an outgrown pair of Wrangler straight legs in a brown paper bag when she thought no one was looking. “Here”, she whispered furtively. “If you wear these instead of those awful pants, maybe people won’t make fun of you so much.” 

In sleep away camp later that year I met  A.L, a fiery, funny and incredibly fun native New Yorker who seemed unbelievably sophisticated to me even though she was a year my junior. (I was from Teaneck, N.J., after all.) At 10 she had already tried cigarettes, wore all the right clothes, was in constant trouble and never seemed to care what other people thought about her. Together, we balled up the pink and white gingham dress my mother had packed for the final social dance, ankle socks (girls our age only wore knee socks) and Danskin shorts (only the hand-me-down cut-offs from my cousins were acceptable) and gleefully threw them in the big round metal garbage can in front of our bunk.  “Tell your mom the camp laundry lost all of your uncool clothes,” she advised. A.L. also counseled me to start wearing my older brother’s cast-off rock’n’roll tees (he had rebelled against my mother’s dress code years earlier). The Grateful Dead, Hot Tuna, Santana and Quicksilver were totally not my thing, but wearing those shirts seemed to give me that little bit of street cred that I desperately craved. It was the summer of my life! I lost my 10 lbs of “baby fat,” got the lead in the musical, started dressing the way I wanted to and made my very first best friend.

My triumphant return home as a completely different person was instantly overshadowed  when I saw how my mother had redecorated my bedroom. The plain yellow walls were now obscenely covered with floral wall paper paired with matching ruffled curtains. How could I ever be perceived as cool with a room like that? To retaliate, I plastered every square inch of space with pictures of the bad boy rockers I was now obsessed with. Until my mother sold the house 10 years later,  The Stones, Hendrix, Morrison, Aerosmith, Led Zep and Van Halen were my constant companions— smirking, brooding, glaring and glowering at me from every angle of my bedroom. Only Eddie Van Halen smiled. I loved him. Joe Perry may have been my crush because of his undeniably sultry good looks and did I ever love Keith Richards. But with his million-dollar smile, Eddie was my favorite.

Once in my teens,  I asserted myself at home and had my fashion prohibition lifted. But now the big problem: most of the clothes that my tall and skinny friends wore looked awful on short, busty me. So  I cobbled together a kind of  hippie-cum-rocker look that I thought my rock star “boyfriends” would approve of, and it felt right to me. It was not fashionable, and it certainly didn’t make me any more popular, but it was mine. My outfits centered around my brother’s hand-me-down baggy Levis and concert tees. And as I started to go to concerts myself, I collected my own shirts. To round out my wardrobe, I picked up Indian print skirts, gauze blouses and batik sun dresses at the local flea markets. I donned Wallabee shoes, Frye boots (they could fit orthotics) and cork wedge sandals in the summer (they offered enough support that I could actually walk in them). At the same time I had a penchant for pastel angora cowlnecks and corduroys in fashion colors like raisin, olive (they called it loden, then) and silver. Secretly, I also still listened to James Taylor, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and The Beatles--I was a good girl at heart.

One would think surviving my school years as a fashion outcast would have been enough. But no, nope, and no again. I decided to embark on a career in the fashion industry. And what hell that wrought. First off, no trends have ever been designed for my body type. Next up? I have curly dark hair, and when I first entered the industry, everyone was into stick-straight blonde strands. Meanwhile, my crappy feet make it virtually impossible to wear the stilettos that were requisite then and even most of the wedges that are “in” right now (although to my delight I discovered that orthotics actually fit into some low-heeled Jimmy Choo boots). So I spent years feeling “wrong”  and definitely not cool. It was almost as fun as seventh-grade gym class.

But something wonderful happened when I turned 30 and I started to write about fitness in addition to beauty. I hit the gym hard and gained a fitness level and self-confidence that I had never known before. This freed me up to develop a fashion style I felt good in and surprise, surprise--I went back to my rock star “roots” with black boot-cut pants, flare low-rise jeans, camisoles, wrap tops, cropped cardigans, leather jackets,  vintage tees, studded belts and ankle boots. Once again, I was not “a la mode,”  but I was ok with that.

This look stood me in good stead for nearly 15 years. But then around two years ago, it all started to feel terribly wrong. Whereas in NYC my style was seen as youthful and hip, In the East Bay of California it felt “old”, though I can’t put my finger on why.  Also, the trends have shifted.Tops are way longer than the cropped styles I favor and pants are skinny with higher rises, which look beyond hideous on me. Plus, as a result of my breast cancer treatment, I’ve put on weight and had to cut my hair shorter. And I am also older—closer now to 50 than 40. Frankly, I am at a style standstill.

So it was with great trepidation that I dressed for the Van Halen concert the other night. I couldn’t figure out how to look cool. At last I decided to keep it low-key with a black t-shirt, straight leg jeans and high-top Converses. And low and behold, so did Eddie. There he was, one of the greatest rock n roll guitarists of all time, in one of the hardest hitting bands ever, on stage, in totally basic clothes. And just like me, he was rounder and softer than he was in his heyday with way shorter hair. But he was grinning his trademark grin for all he was worth and having the time of his life. And so did I. And I didn’t even think for a minute how I looked to other people. OK, maybe for just a minute. But still, that’s pretty cool. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


Beauty Tips: The Dirty (Baker's) Dozen

by Notorious NYCK May 28 Beauty

Over the years I have received a fair amount of beauty advice and information. And let me tell you, not all of it has been beneficial. In fact, sometimes well-intentioned counsel uttered with the utmost authority has left me with beauty dilemmas way more disastrous than the original problems I was hoping to solve. Granted, some of these dramas may have occurred due to my own ineptitude—I am not terribly handy or coordinated. But sometimes, free advice is worth exactly what it costs. So I’ve compiled a list of some of the doozies past and present in the hopes of sparing you the same agony.

The Notorious NYCK 13 Worst Beauty Tips Ever

  1. Brush your lips with a damp, old toothbrush to rid them of flakes. I really can’t tell you the origin of this tip. It’s certainly cost-effective, but can I just say, “Ouch”? A soft washcloth works just as well and is way less irritating. Or you can use my favorite lip slougher, Body Shop Lip Scuff, $12 (bodyshop.com).
  2. Apply moisturizer to damp skin. The theory is that the the lotion will seal the water into your skin for extra hydration. But in reality, the moisturizer just slides off my still-slick face, as does any makeup I apply on top of it. But there is also some solid science behind waiting a few minutes for skin to completely dry, post-cleansing, before applying moisturizer: lingering water droplets can prevent some active ingredients, like prescription Retinol and anti-acne medications, from being absorbed into skin.
  3. Wear matte and muted tones once you’re out of your 20s, since bright and dark colors can wash you out, and shimmer can emphasize lines and wrinkles. The second half of this statement is true for me. But the first half is a joke. Nothing, and I mean nothing, sucks the life out of my 46-year old face like drying matte textures and washed out neutrals. True, some shimmer can settle into lines and wrinkles causing them to stand out in bas relief, and super bright or intensely dark hues can look ghastly.  But removing all texture and color from my makeup kit yielded even more disturbing results. So I am all about velvet and satin textures, which are creamier than matte but without any sparkle,  in shades that can best described as “soft” and “fresh.” And note to us girls of a certain age: a subtle shimmer on cheek and brow-bones can still look really lovely.
  4. Lipstick and lipgloss can double as eyeshadow or blush: It’s very alluring to think that a few quick swipes of one product can make up your whole face. Think of the time and money you can save! But lipgloss and lipstick are specifically formulated for your lips (amazing, I know). They contain emollients that aren’t in blush and eyeshadow, since your lips are  prone to dryness due to their lack of oil glands. These added moisturizers make lip items way too greasy for cheeks and even more so for eyelids, which are replete with natural oils.
  5. You can mend split ends: No matter how luxe the product or extravagant the claims, it just ain’t true.   But this beauty rumor persists. In fact, I just read an ad that says its products, “Bind up to 92% of split ends back together in one use.” Save your money; the only surefire way to get rid of splits is to snip them off. I know, I know. It often means going shorter than we want to. And I’m not telling you, you have to. But I am telling you the truth.
  6. Use a big fluffy powder brush to apply blush and bronzer for the sheerest, most natural-looking effect: This idea has merit because big and fluffy brushes deposit a diffuse wash of color rather than a concentrated splotch like smaller tightly-packed ones. But the color can be so diffuse that you can barely see it. Or worse still is ending up with an overall too-pink or muddy-looking complexion, since the product gets spread out all over your face. I like to use a blush brush with densely-packed bristles that are just long enough to be flexible without being floppy. This way, I can control where I put the powder so I can define my cheekbones, highlight around my eyes and add an extra pop of color to the apples of my cheeks
  7. Preparation H is a miracle under eye de-puffer: I haven’t seen this tip around lately, thank God. But it was huge in the 90s through the early 2000s. But just in case you see it again, repeat after me, “There’s just one place Preparation H is meant to go and that’s not underneath the eyes.”  Yes,  this hemorrhoid remedy does contain ingredients that soothe inflammation, a key cause of puffy eyes. But bags are also caused by fluid retention, allergies and genetics, which this cream doesn’t address. Plus, other ingredients in Prep H are drying to the skin and could really sting if they migrate into your eyes. My favorite eye de-puffer du jour is MAC Fast Response Eye Cream, $30 (maccosmetics.com). It works almost immediately and makes the whole eye area look lighter, brighter and less swollen.
  8. Nails need to breathe, so go polish-free whenever possible: Since the nail is only alive at the part that is below the skin,  there is actually no living and breathing going on where you can see it. In fact, removing polish in the hopes of giving your tips oxygen to lengthen their lifespan will only hasten their demise, since they will be left unprotected from bangs and bumps.
  9. Apply Rogaine to Help Grow Back Over-Plucked Brows:  While its exact mechanism isn’t fully known, Rogaine is believed to work by enlarging the hair follicles on the scalp that can shrink with age, hormonal shifts and heredity, to help prolong the hair’s life cycle.  But Rogaine has neither been tested on nor is intended for usage on the eyebrows.  And it burns like hell if it gets into your eyes.  Besides, Rogaine doesn’t grow hair back uniformly, so you can end up with random bits of fuzz. That growth pattern isn’t tragic when it’s in your scalp, but it looks pretty strange when it’s in your eyebrows. A better bet?  Brow powders and pencils to fill in sparse areas. Some pros like to use both for added staying power. Use the pencil first and then retrace your steps with the powder. Try Dior Powder Eyebrow Pencil with Brush, $29 (dior.com) and Clinique Brow Shaper, $15 (clinique.com).
  10. Pop an Ibuprofen or two prior to waxing or laser hair removal: It may help deaden some of the pain, but since Advil thins the blood, it can increase your chances of bruising and redness. But I’m not suggesting you simply tough it out…I certainly don’t. Before I get my bikini line done,  I always spray on Gigi Anesthetic Numbing Spray, $10.99 (sallybeauty.com). Trust me, this spritz is life-changing.
  11. Flip your head over when you are blow drying for non-stop volume: This technique actually gives your hair width (think: Bride of Frankenstein) not height. For maximum oomph, start with a really good volumizing shampoo and conditioner.  I am simply mad for  Living Proof Full Shampoo, $24 and Full Conditioner, $24 (livingproof.com). They make hair beautifully shiny and bouncy without drying it out or stripping the color like most volumizing products do. To style, lift sections of hair toward the sky as you blow-dry, directing hot air toward your scalp. This dries the roots in an upright and lifted position.
  12. A drop of hand cream or facial moisturizer tames flyaway tresses in a pinch: Anytime I try this tip, I end up with greasy, matted down locks. These products are just too emollient for anything but desert-dry hair.  Hairspray seems better suited to emergency smoothing than either lotion. Spray a tiny bit into the palms of your hands and lightly pat the outer surface of your hair to calm any rebellious strands.  Nexxus Comb Thru, $9.96 (walmart.com) is a good one.
  13. For incredible shine and softness, brush your hair 100 strokes a day: This suggestion is ancient. Vigorous brushing was probably used as a way to remove the dulling residue that the overly alkaline cleansers of the distant past left in the hair and scalp. But today’s shampoos, for the most part, are designed to rinse out cleanly and completely. So this step is unnecessary.  Brushing the hair can be a  good way to help distribute the scalp’s natural oils throughout the length of the shaft, which can impart shine. But over-brushing (and anything more than 10 or so daily strokes falls into that category) actually stresses and weakens hair follicles, which leads to breakage, split ends and frizz.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


What a Bargain!

by Notorious NYCK May 18 Beauty

Years ago, Marie Claire invented a fabulous column called Splurge vs. Steal that showed delicious, drool-worthy designer products paired with their far more realistically priced doppelgangers. And it was genius! Everyone and their brother knocked it off. (Lust vs. Must, anyone?) No one had ever had the balls to say, “There is cheap stuff that looks just like the expensive-as-hell-stuff. And here it is.”  Talk about pissing off high-end advertisers. But somehow it worked, and I don’t think there were too many casualties.  Some people, though, didn’t get it. I remember one grande dame in the PR industry saying to me, “I think that column is ridiculous, why would anyone buy the expensive version when they can have the cheaper one? They should call the column, Smart vs. Stupid. I mean, no one is that stupid.”

OK--truth time: I am that “stupid.”  I not only prefer to make the “stupid” choice, I revel in it. I just happen to like (ok love) designer and expensive. With beauty products (and don’t get me started on shoes and handbags), the packaging is always more gorgeous, the makeup pigment richer, the textures more luscious, the moisturizers more moisturizing, the fragrances finer and the effects more profound. I know these thoughts aren’t rational because there are tons of mass market beauty products that are really, really good—probably, great, even. I just don’t get the same rush slogging my way through poorly-stocked and disarrayed drugstore aisles or even Target (sacrilege I know)  as I do blissfully strolling the beauty floor of Bergdorf Goodman. And I have a love/hate relationship with Sephora. Even though it has fabulous products, the place is always a mess, badly-stocked, crowded, noisy and deplorably lit. I feel like I am doing battle every time I go in there, unless I am meeting my star beauty advisor Zoe at the Powell Street store in SF.

But my allegiance to all things expensive is no longer feasible now that the cosmetics companies aren’t sending me all of their latest and greatest products (and my daily staples) for free. So here Notorious NYCK sits—a girl with champagne tastes on a beer budget. But with a little digging and a whole lot of resolve, I’ve found a few reasonably priced versions of my extravagantly-priced addictions. And while they don’t elicit the same passion, these cheaper products do get the job done--and I am only suffering slightly as a result of the substitutions. I know, I know, everyone should have such problems!

Splurge: Clarins Water Comfort One-Step Cleanser with Peach Essential Water : $32.50 (clarins.com) 
This is a beautiful cleanser. It’s fast, gentle, thorough and moisturizing. And Its heavenly peach fragrance makes it a pure pleasure to use.

Steal: Sephora Collection Triple Action Cleansing Water: $14
The only drawback to making this switch is missing out on the sublime scent of the Clarins version. This cleanser is every bit as good. Promise.


Splurge: Dior Snow UV Shield SPF 50: $50 (dior.com)
I’d like to pause and just take a moment to worship at the temple of Dior. I am obsessed with its beauty products; they are just beyond gorgeous. This sunscreen is silky, moisturizing, non-irritating, applies like a dream and is completely imperceptible on skin. Plus, its sleek white tube with black accents is perfectly portable and incredibly chic. And while it does contain some chemical sunscreen, Snow UV Shield’s key defensive ingredient is zinc oxide, which is great for sensitive skin. An added bonus is that natural sunscreens like zinc and titanium dioxide provide immediate protection against the sun since, they are physical blocks. With chemical sunscreens, you need to wait at least 30 minutes before their protective powers kick in.

Steal: Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer Pure Screen SPF 50: $11.99 (Neutrogena.com)
The tube is nothing to write home about and the consistency a little less velvety than Dior’s, but this product is a good, daily 100% natural sunscreen with moisturizing properties that blends well and doesn’t leave a preternaturally white sheen on skin like 100% natural sunscreens can.


Splurge: Nars Monoi Body Glow II: $59 (nars.com)
God I love Nars. It is impossibly glamorous. If I could eat it, I would.  I first got turned on to the tinted version of this product (Body Glow) by this young gorgeous European couple who used to summer next door to us on Fire Island. Both he and she would frolic in the sand and surf in low SPFs and tiny bathing suits. At the end of the day, they would anoint each other’s sun-kissed skin with this divinely-scented, shimmery cocoa-colored oil. (This act was only a little less pornographic than it sounds.) They looked so golden and gleaming, I had to try this magic elixir myself. What I got for my efforts were brown streaks (I am glow-in-the-dark pale so the color didn’t blend) and stained clothes. I am also impatient and not interested in “drying time.” But I am obsessed with the clear version of this product. It makes skin crazy soft, lends a subtle shimmer and imparts a flowery coconutty scent. 

Steal: Monoi Tipanie (tahiti-iti.com, $7.98):
I am pretty darn proud of myself for finding this bargain-priced version. It looks, smells and feels just as good as the Nars product.  And while the packaging is less chic, it’s sort of retro and kitschy with a Gauguin-style Tahitian woman on the label, so you can’t help but smile every time you use it. Monoi oil was originally created in Tahiti, BTW. It’s comprised of pure coconut extract macerated with the bud of the tiare flower (Tahitian gardenia), which supposedly infuses the oil with nutrients as well as a delicate, fragrance. The Tahiti-iti (God, don’t you just love that name?) website offers several different scents of Monoi oil, but the one that most closely resembles the Nars product is the Tipanie, or Frangipani variation.

Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


Stick It

by Notorious NYCK May 6

acupuncture_needleNow that I’ve got your attention…brace yourself boys and girls because I am going to talk about the Big C. So I may have mentioned once or twice that I had breast cancer last year. And it was and still is a huge pain in the ass. BTW, I  do know that if the worst thing I can say about my cancer is that it’s a pain in the ass, I am a very lucky girl. And I am; my cancer was stage 1 and I only needed a lumpectomy, which went off without a hitch. I was also lucky enough to miss out on chemo. My treatment consisted of 7 weeks of daily radiation. And since my cancer was estrogen-positive, I am now on the anti-cancer drug, Tamoxifen, an estrogen-suppressant, which, when taken for five years, can reduce the risk of reoccurrence by 50%.

The thing is, radiation and Tamoxifen suck and no one really prepares you for how loudly they do. After just three days of radiation, my breast swelled up to epic proportions, got unbelievably sore and painful, completely sunburned and started to blister and flake like mad. The worst part, though, is the fatigue.  I absolutely never knew that you could be that bone tired. I was so tired that I had to rest on every step leading down (forget about walking up) to the treatment center and sleep three hours every afternoon. I was told that these symptoms would clear up three months after treatment. They did not. While no one could really explain the lingering fatigue (two-hour long afternoon naps are a necessity), the pain and swelling was due to a condition called Lymphedema. Basically, the radiation compromised my lymphatic system, and quite possibly my nervous system, so the breast was no longer able to “drain.” Lymphedema more regularly occurs in the arms of breast cancer patients who’ve had lymph nodes removed. But it can happen in the breast, too.

I started wearing compression pads in a sports bra every night and embarked on daily lymphatic drainage treatments. They’re basically light, kind of creepy massages that are supposed to coax the body to open up other lymph channels to re-route the lymph out of the breast. But unfortunately, the treatments didn’t make all that big a difference, and the multi-hour-a-day commitment became a huge time suck. So a full year after I completed radiation, I had made very little progress. The affected breast was still a full cup-size larger than the untreated one and hurt like hell most of the time. I consulted with several doctors to see if the issue could be surgically corrected. All of them shook their heads, seemingly flummoxed by my condition, and noted that when the tissue is severely compromised from  radiation, surgery is never an option because of bleeding issues and complications with healing.  Not comforting.

The Many Joys of Tamoxifen

Now, let’s add Tamoxifen into the mix. The manufacturer lists the following “common” side-effects:

  • bone pain
  • constipation
  • coughing
  • hot flashes
  • muscle pain
  • nausea
  • tiredness
  • weight loss

The last side-effect made me laugh! “Weight Gain” is more like it. Everyone I know has gained weight on Tamoxifen, and it is completely crazy-making because it is nearly impossible to control.

TamoxifenBut wait there’s more! According to Tamoxifen’s manufacturer, you may also experience severe allergic reactions (rash, hives, itching, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue, and unexplained hoarseness); abnormal menstrual periods;  chest pain; coughing up blood; decreased sexual desire or ability; depression; fever, chills, or persistent sore throat; groin or pelvic pain or pressure; loss of appetite; loss of balance or coordination; missed menstrual period; new or increased breast tumor or pain; new or unusual lumps; one-sided weakness; pain or swelling in one or both legs; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin; severe or persistent tiredness or weakness; shortness of breath; skin changes; stomach pain; sudden severe headache; swelling of the arms or the legs; unusual bleeding or bruising; vision or speech problems; yellowing of the eyes or skin.

Patients also report: sleeplessness, crippling nocturnal leg and feet cramps, thinning hair and chin hairs. Tamoxifen isn’t exactly a party in a pill. And after being on it for nearly eight months, roughly the time it takes for the full gamut of symptoms and weight gain to set in, the prospect of taking it for the recommended five  years has many women--including myself--totally freaking out, because it just makes you look and feel like crap all of the time.

I am writing about all of this now—when it’s not even Breast Cancer Awareness month--because about five weeks ago, I started to get better—dramatically better, as in I ran six flights of stairs with my trainer better. And I am almost 100% sure that the reason is the weekly acupuncture sessions of I’ve been getting at the Alta Bates Cancer Treatment Center in Berkeley with Dr. Amy Matecki. Now I am not “alternative,” “ayurvedic” or holistic in the least. Bacon and diet coke are my favorite food groups, meditating gives me panic attacks and I am a total wuss about needles.  In fact, I had a consultation with Dr. Mateki last year in the hopes of alleviating my fatigue, but chickened out when it came time to schedule an actual session out of sheer terror. But desperation is the mother of invention—not necessity, it turns out. So I found myself back in her office at the end of this March.

WhiskersI had heard somewhere (Where?) that acupuncture needles are as thin as cats’ whiskers. They are not. Sewing machine needles are a more likely comparison. And while some people find their sessions relaxing, I hate every second of my treatments. The needles hurt, and I am bored to tears and beyond agitated as I try to lie still for 45 minutes thinking “happy thoughts.” But a day or so after the first session I noticed a huge improvement in my mood. I felt noticeably less depressed and more energized. And as I continued to get weekly sessions, I began to feel better and better, my nocturnal leg and feet cramps disappeared, my naps shrank down to 45 minutes and my breast swelling and pain started to recede. In fact, I am now nearly able to fit back into my regular bras, though sometimes I swell up toward the end of the day. We are now cutting me back to bi-weekly sessions.  Dr. Matecki is optimistic that in another few weeks I can continue to achieve results by going just once a month.

Dr. Matecki is keen on supplements and she has me on a rather expensive regimen from NuSkin.  It centers around Lifepak Nano packets of six daily pills ($152 for 60 packets), which include a ton of antioxidants, fish oil and the usual suspects of vitamins and minerals. I also take three Ageloc Vitality Capsules, which contain mushrooms, ginseng and fruit extracts ($63.90 for 90 capsules), plus two ReishiMax capsules filled with powdered mushroom extract ($87.30 for 60 capsules).  Typically, Dr. Mateki has her patients take this regime twice a day, for a total of 22 pills. But I am holding fast at one—the indigestion brought on by these pills is no joke and the cost is prohibitive. It averages out to about $152 a month. But it’s all worth it to me in the end, even being pricked with all of those damn needles. Because for the first time in a long time, I feel like myself. And that is, as they say, priceless. Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


At Your Service

by Notorious NYCK April 23 Beauty * General

You know what really grinds my gears?  Those “helpful” suggestions in magazines like:  “Instead of eating pepperoni pizza, why not have a rice cake with string cheese, sliced tomato and one teaspoon of bacon bits? Why not? Because a rice cake, which is god awful in and of itself, topped with cheese that has the taste and consistency of plastic, is misery incarnate. Even with bacon bits(!) That’s why not.

Just the other day,  I found the mother suggestion of them all: Instead of French Fries, slice up some parsnips; spritz with non-stick cooking spray, sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 30 minutes. Yup. That should do it. Craving quashed.

Hyperbole also gets my undies in a twist. I just read somewhere that hearts of romaine is “chock-full of vitamin C.” A quick internet search reveals that six leaves offer a mere 4% of the USRDA for vitamin C--not exactly “chock full of” proportions.

But what really chaps my rear is poor customer service. And in the last few weeks, I have run into some stunning examples of it. But rather than bitching about how mean everyone is to me, I am going to accentuate the positive. So here, the Notorious NYCK hit list of my best customer service experiences, ever. (Clearly, hyperbole is fine when it comes from me.)

murad.com: Your products arrive super fast— roughly three days--with free samples in mini- tubes or bottles instead of those creepy paper packettes that get all wet and slimy when you try to use them. Plus, there’s always gift-with-purchase and free-shipping offers depending on how much you spend and what products you buy.

nordstrom.com: I had been lusting over an Autumn Cashmere cropped cardigan since before Christmas and it finally went on sale last week. But the site no longer had my size. Bastards! The customer ratings all said that it “ran really small.” So against my better judgment, I ordered the medium. I am seldom, if ever, a medium.  When the sweater was delivered, I was so overjoyed at how freaking cute it was, I cut the tags off and threw out the prepaid return label even before I tried it on. I recognize this is not the behavior of a sane person. But awareness is the first step to recovery, right? Not surprisingly, the sweater was too big and had to go back. But the gracious customer service rep emailed me a new return label in a matter of minutes and assured me I could make the return without the tags attached. (I put them in the box.) BTW, all shipping and returns at nordstrom.com are free.

Tiffany in Union Square, San Francisco: The lovely salesgirl  let me return a necklace that was given to me a year ago without a gift receipt or any evidence of the sale in the system, since the item was still in “saleable condition”  and in the original blue box and shopping bag.

piperlime.com: Neurotic woman that I am, 30 minutes after I placed an order, I changed my mind about it. The website clearly states, however, that you cannot change or cancel an order once you hit the “confirm” button. But to my surprise and delight, the customer service rep on the phone gave me the jeans in question at 50% off  to “make it up to me.”

bluefly.com: Just one day after I ordered a sweater, it went on sale. Chalking it up to bad timing and not expecting much of anything, I called customer service and explained the situation. Lo and behold, Bluefly makes price adjustments up to 10 days after a transaction.

tweezerman.com:  Tweezerman amazingly sharpens any Tweezerman tweezers for free.  Just slip a clean pair into a padded envelope and mail to its New York headquarters. The site states that it takes six-to-eight weeks for the process. Unfortunately it took a good 10 weeks for me to get mine back, which is a dangerous thing for a girl on Tamoxifen since the always-glamorous chin hairs are a common side effect.  So I had to hit the Walgreens and purchase another Tweezerman tweezers in the interim. But my refurbished tweezers arrived this week, all four of them, beautifully sharpened and neatly lined up in a clear plastic case with their ends capped to preserve their points. The best part? The company picked up the tab for the return shipping and sent me a package of purple “itty bitty” nail files as a gift. All is forgiven Tweezerman! Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


Retinoids Redux

by Notorious NYCK April 10

After years of denim overload, the fashion media is proclaiming the “return of the trouser,” which I’m all for; there is nothing more flattering than a pair of well-fitting pants. But for my body, the new trouser trend is  problematic. The reason? All of today’s pants seem to be skinny and cropped. And since I’m 4ft11 with muscular calves, this style totally sucks for me. So I got to thinking about my favorite pants ever.

One of the biggest regrets I have is succumbing to fashion peer pressure and ditching my Chaiken and Capone Maggie Boot Cut pants in 2000, right after I started at Elle as Beauty Director. They had been my and every other editor’s go-to pants in the mid-90s--a great cotton twill stretch with the perfect rise and a nice baby boot leg. But as with so many things, the fickle fashion industry turned on Chaiken & Capone and they became beyond “out”. High-end consignment stores actually posted signs: “No Chaikens” and an extremely fashionable industry friend harangued me to stop wearing them. So I bundled them up and brought them over to a women’s shelter. I’d kill to have them now. 

baguetteI was smarter about another high-fashion trend: The extraordinarily glamorous Fendi Baguette, which came and went in much the same manner. Vogue says it’s back and I am thrilled beyond. I kept mine when everyone else was letting theirs go. Of course I have no place to wear it out here in hippie and hiking country but I remain hopeful.

Retinoids’ Return?

retinaI’ve also been reading about the “Return of Retinoids,” which makes me smile. I wasn’t aware that Retinoids went anywhere, and if they did, they shouldn’t have. Studies have shown beyond a doubt that these vitamin A derivatives stimulate the production of new skin cells and inhibit collagen breakdown. Retinol is the non-prescription, less irritating and less potent wrinkle-fighting form. Prescription-strength tretinoin, which is the key ingredient in Retin-A and Renova, is a powerful line and wrinkle eraser but can cause inflammation and peeling.

Despite the great research behind Retinoids, in recent years other ingredients have been stealing the spotlight. Some of them have promising findings behind them, such as Lycopene, Green Tea Extract, Resveratrol, Genistein (from soy), Co-Enzyme Q-10,  Coffee Berry, Grape Seed Extract, Idebenone, and Copper Peptides. But the research isn’t as solid on any one of these puppies as it is for Retinoids and even for Vitamin C,  which has proven to be one of the strongest catalysts of collagen growth. C’s also a reliable antioxidant, can fade pigmentation spots and impart radiance. But like Retinoids, it can be irritating and increase sun sensitivity, both of which accelerate the signs of aging. So it’s a delicate balance to get the maximum benefits from these two ingredients with the least amount of irritation.

But Retinoids, for now, appear to be the hardest hitting weapon in the anti-aging arsenal. In fact, my new San Francisco derm, David MacGregor, said that along with daily use of an SPF 30 and some form of antioxidant protection, the single best thing that I could do to stop the clock was up my Renova usage from once a week to two or three times—even if it means backing off my Vitamin C, O.T.C. Retinol and exfoliating acid products to avoid irritation. It’s pricey ($210/tube) and my skin was a little angry the first week, but since then it seems to have calmed down. And I am seeing serious improvements plus I can now resume, what I and many experts believe, my killer regimen. Why is it killer?  It not only incorporates vitamin C and Retinoids but many of the other ingredients mentioned above. To me, using as many anti-aging ingredients as possible is like chicken soup for the skin: As long as I avoid irritation and wear sunscreen,  it’s unlikely those extras are going to hurt me and far, far more likely (as some research indicates) that they will help.

The Notorious NYCK Anti-Aging Night-Time Regimen

Mon-Wed-Fri:
Dr. Dennis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peels
, $78 (multi-exfoliating acids, green tea extract, chamomile, anti-oxidant vitamins A, C, E, Co-Q10, retinol, genistein and resveratrol); Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin C Serum, $95 (18% Vitamin C Complex) and Dr. Dennis Gross Firming Serum, $95 (green tea extract, vitamins A, C, E, peptides, moisture power-house hyaluronic acid, genistein, lycopene and Co-Q10).

I use the peels as directed on clean, dry skin (water droplets can inhibit the absorption of active ingredients), wait a few minutes and then apply the two serums, after first mixing them together in the palms of my hands. I try to engage in this ritual at least one hour before bed so the serums don’t rub off on my pillow.

Tues-Thurs-Sat:  Renova. Again, apply to clean, dry skin, at least one hour before bedtime, you don’t want this cream to slide into your eyes when you lie down; it burns like hell.

Sunday: Rest! I just cleanse and slather on a basic moisturizer to let my skin recover from all of the active ingredients I use throughout the week.

By day, I  keep it simple to avoid stressing my skin: Aveeno Active Naturals Smart Essentials Daily Nourishing Moisturizer with vitamins A, C, & E, $12.47. If I’m going to be outside for an extended period of time, I’ll use Neutrogena Healthy Defense Daily Moisturizer SPF 50 Purescreen, $11.19.

This is a pretty aggressive anti-aging regimen and sometimes my skin gets flaky,  dry and/or red from it, which means it's time to back off.  So then I use the Renova just around my eyes and on my lip lines, instead of all over my face and switch to Dr. Dennis Gross regular Alpha Beta Peels instead of the Extra-Strength variety.

For those seeking non-prescription strength Retinol products, I love Glow by Dr. Brandt Overnight Resurfacing Serum, $85. It contains 2% Retinol, which is high by over-the-counter standards and delivers really respectable results. I recently picked up Vichy Laboratories Reti-C Intensive Corrective Care SPF 15, $42 from the drugstore. To be honest with you, I’m not crazy about the smell and its moderate SPF 15 (I layered my Aveeno SPF 30 on top) but I love that it combines both C and Retinol to smooth wrinkles by “10% in 28 days.”

puma-californiaSo as far as Notorious is concerned, trends may come and go, but at least three things remain forever fashionable: Chaiken & Capone Maggie Bootcut pants, the Fendi Baguette and Retinoids. And Puma California's, which the company has somehow stopped making. So I am fiercely hanging onto mine. And hear this industry peeps: No amount of peer pressure is going to make me give them up!  Ciao for now my friends. Stay happy and healthy.


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