Tuesday, 8 February 2011

We Didn't Start The Fire

We Didn't Start The Fire..

Last week I attended the highly anticipated launch of Topshop Make-Up's Spring / Summer 2011 Sandstorm collection in the penthouse suite of The Sanderson hotel. In all honesty I had not paid that much attention to this line since its debut last year, bar an initial play when they took over one of the prized "A" sites in the beauty hall of London's Selfridges. I recall thinking that the lipsticks had more pigment than I assumed they would have, with a delightfully creamy texture. I had also been impressed with the eyeliners, which were soft and smudgy (a dream base for the perfect smoky eye). The powder eye shadows, blushers, bronzers and highlighting powders were in my opinion less successful. Their chalky texture and lack of pigment intensity was a disappointment.

So naturally, when the opportunity arose to have an exclusive preview of this season's offerings, I was intrigued to see how the products had progressed (if at all). I have to say that on the whole, I was pretty impressed. One of the first guests to arrive, the striking campaign shots immediately caught my eye. Featuring the ethnic diversity found in Topshop's fashion campaigns, the three images displayed showcased three different faces, two white models and one black (I suppose that some diversity is better than none). Each image was styled completely differently, showcasing the breadth of looks one can create with the collection's products. Inspired by the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada's remote Black Rock desert, the official Press release states:

"With eye shadows and cheek duos that conjure images of a glowing sunset nestled on the faraway horizon, Sandstorm captures a playful form of self-expression found at Burning Man. The capsule collection is a crossover of versatile products and formulas that blend, build and burn from dusk until dawn. The collection encompasses colour for lips, eyes and nails. Sorbet shades contrast against washed out vibrancy from eyes in Meteoric through cheeks in Desert Sun, to lips in Ablaze with gloss and matte finishes".

Scroll down to read my thoughts on the collection's hits and misses.

The official description of the lipsticks reads:

"Designed to achieve a matte, creamy lip finish that can be applied as both a sheer or block colour. Lip shades can be worn with either a peachy eye or together with a metallic sheen for a grungy not-so-done look".

Shades: Tawny & Daze

Well, on the whole I think the lipsticks are beautiful. The formulation meets the above description and there's a good colour depth. Viewing the image above (from left to right), I'd recommend investing in shades 1, 4, 5 and 6. The tawny nude shade (1) would work especially well on tanned skin, especially with a smudgy, smoky eye. Shade (4) is the perfect soft rosy pink, (5) is a superb orange-coral shade that would really pop on fair skin, while (6) is more of a peachy nude that would be ideal for anyone who favours a nude lip with just enough colour to prevent you looking washed out (see the campaign image at the top). I would have liked to see some on-trend brights here (like the matte fuchsia lip James Kaliardos created for Diane von Furstenburg's SS11 catwalk show) but alas they were nowhere to be seen.

The liquid eyeliner (pictured above) was a definite hit. The pigment content was high, with an easy gel texture and waterproof long-wear finish. If I had to suggest one product for the festival circuit it would be this, because it's bound to last as long as you do. For effortless and precise application, it is best applied with an eyeliner brush (which rather handily can be found in the capsule Topshop Make-Up brush range).

The highlighting sticks (pictured above) were without doubt some of my favourite products from the night. I overheard someone say that these were "inspired" by a high end French brand (which to you and me means they copied the NARS Multiple). I'm never the type to beat around the bush. Everyone knows that Topshop has an ability like no other, to speedily reproduce catwalk trends and have them on the shop floor within weeks. This is the essence of Topshop. Why would anyone be surprised if they did this with their make-up line? If you're going to copy something, at least have the decency to copy it well (which for the record, I'm pleased to say they have).

Francois Nars created The Multiple after doing a shoot with a model, on which he used exactly the same shade on her eyes, cheeks and lips. The texture of these sticks is very similar to the NARS ones, but at a fraction of NARS prices. Cream and cream-to-powder formulas are not only a dream to blend, they're ideal for holidays as they can be applied easily with fingers without the need for precision (great for the girl-on-the-go). They also tend to withstand water and perspiration (ideal for festivals). The bronze shade (left) was one of the products I wish I'd gone home with, but sadly all the goody bags were long gone by the time I'd taken all my photos and spoken to all the resident experts.

Out of all the products pictured, the only thing I walked away with to test at home was a smudgy eyeliner (which I'm grateful for as it is beautiful). Perfect for summer, it will transform any festival attendee into a bronzed babe. I suggest blending it with your fingers, focusing on the areas the sun would naturally tan, ie temples, down the bridge of the nose and to contour the cheekbones. It would also work well blended on collar bones, arms and legs for a subtle highlight. If you're more pretty than punk, opt for the shimmering pink shade.

Pictured above is a group shot of the Sandstorm collection's key pieces. On the right you can see the eye crayon and metallic liquid liners that have been layered to great effect on the model pictured below. My client Alexandra Burke would be mad about these as her feline eyes are framed to perfection with a slick of winged eyeliner.

The model pictured above is truly exquisite, I have a feeling she may share my Ethiopian heritage as her features are very East African. The styling is perfect for the Burning Man theme with her cornrows, brightly coloured feathers and ethnic jewellery combining to create a striking tribal look. This is definitely a look I'd want to rock at Burning Man, just look at the dramatic graphic winged eyeliner (which by the way would be so easily replicated with the products in the range). The nude lip and contoured cheekbones create the perfect balance for the strong eye shape.

What would a festival be without wet wipes? These essential 3-in-1 wipes will cleanse, tone and moisturise more than just your face (well let's face it, showers aren't likely at a festival unless you're attending the mud-fest that is Glastonbury). It's one thing to channel Native American Indians, but literally "going native" is an entirely different ball game. I say stay clean and serene no-matter what your festival scene (it's only respectful of the other people sharing your tent).

Every make-up artist worth their salt knows that a flawless finish is dependent on the right tools. It was great to see that a capsule brush range has been included. While some brushes had a single function (ie the Concealer and Eye Shadow brushes), others were dual purpose and double ended (Face & Eyes and Smokey Eyes).

The cream blushers pictured above were another hit. With a supremely blendable gel-cream texture, they had just the right amount of pigment to deliver a sheer wash of colour to the cheeks. My dear friend Tricia Woolston (make-up artist to Denise Van Outen and Nigella Lawson) was also crazy about these. We compared the formulation to Stila's Convertable Colour (which we sorely miss since they started having distribution issues here in the UK).

The marbleised, domed eye shadow duos were nothing that I hadn't seen before (MAC Mineralize anyone?). In fact, The Body Shop have already taken inspiration from MAC with their versions of these products. Given Topshop's reputation for catching trends early, I would have expected them to release a product like this before a brand like The Body Shop. Personally, I would have done this last year and moved on to something fresher. My friends and I noticed some fall-out from these when playing with them dry, which was a little disappointing. Though, in fairness, used wet, the colour payoff and texture was closer to the mark.

Pictured above is another knockout campaign image. Notice the model's uber-cute gap toothed pout, she's like a mini hybrid of Georgia May Jagger and the lioness that is supermodel Lara Stone. There's also an element of US pop star Ke$ha with the "I've just been to a three day rave" eye make-up, subtly bronzed cheeks and nude lolita lips. The random blue streaks in the model's hair further enhance the rebellious teenage allure (you know you're getting older when you find yourself pining for your former clubbing days - sigh). The bird's nest hair completes the look and is reminiscent of an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, specifically a limousine journey that featured this classic line from Lisa Vanderpump; "I feel like I've been shagged through a hedge backwards". Only a Brit could come up with a line like that, and in this instance, nothing I could write could sum up the model's look more succinctly.

The nail colours featured above certainly ticked the pastel and colour-block trend boxes, but as with the lipsticks, I felt that the uber-brights were sadly absent. With rainbow hued Barry M and Illamasqua varnishes both available at Topshop Oxford Circus (the former at the Barry M concession and the latter used exclusively by Wah! Nails), one would have thought that they would have used the opportunity to observe their colour palettes, but this doesn't seem to be the case. I'm not saying that the nail colours aren't good, I just would have liked to have seen more choice.

Though I've been a little disappointed by the core nail colours, these trend varnishes are bang on for this season and bring innovation to the mix. I especially love the aqua, hot pink and metallic gold shades. Used traditionally, or applied in a crazy "dip-and-marble" fashion (see the picture below), I think these will be as hot for nails as the Barry M cracked varnishes and Minx manicures were last season. My moles at Illamasqua told me that they were rather peeved that Barry M had brought the cracked varnishes to the market before they did, as they had stumbled upon the supplier at approximately the same time. It just goes to show that the early bird catches the worm.

If you take your sweet time bringing something fresh to the market, one of your competitors is bound to get in there before you and capitalise on that particular niche in the market. So far, this "dip and marble" technique is something I've only ever encountered in book-binding classes (don't ask, the stench of the glue still haunts me). I'll be curious to see if any other brands bring something similar to the market in the months to come. If they do, I'll be the first to say that Topshop Make-Up did it first.

Here you can see the resident nail artist in action. I (and everyone else), watched in awe as he poured a little of each shade into a bowl of water, dipped the client's hands in it and cleaned the edges of her fingernails to create a Pucci-esque print. This may be one of the occasions where I envisage yummy mummies stealing from their daughters, rather than vice versa. After all, what better way to accessorise your Pucci kaftan in Ibiza this summer, than with bespoke retro-printed nails (now that's what I call chic). I just hope that Topshop get with the program and start creating some make-up tutorials on their website.

Turorials can be found everywhere online from niche brands such as Illamasqua, to prestige brands such as Bobbi Brown. If the brand is smart, they'll do some research and start working closely with prominent bloggers and their own make-up artists to create these video formats to educate and inspire their customers. It's not like nail marbling and professional make-up is on the national curriculum. Consumers want to be given the tools and resources to re-create and emulate the looks they love.

The Topshop Make-Up Spring / Summer 2011 Sandstorm Collection consists of 20 products, with prices ranging from £5-£12.

Available at selected Topshop stores and online at:


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