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threefloor
Clothing, Designers & New Labels

Fashion label to watch: Three Floor

Three Floor is one of my favourite fashion discoveries of the past 12 months. The young London-based label is currently only available online (through the official website, at ASOS and a few other boutiques). It’s the brainchild of Central St Martins graduate and designer Han Chong and Managing Director Yvonne Hoang. With only a handful of seasons under its belt, Three Floor is very much a label in its infancy, but already it’s drummed up a huge following from fashion fans, bloggers and celebs (Kimberley Walsh is a massive fan) who love the quirky tailoring, cool texture and amazing mix of colours and finishes. The best thing is the surprisingly reasonable prices – at about £100 – £150 per dress this is a brand that requires a bit of saving up for, but compared to what you’d get for a similar price at a high end high street store like French Connection or Reiss, you’re actually getting a lot more bang for your buck, as Three Floor is all about statement pieces, plus you’re supporting young independent designers on their way up!
Dresses by Three Floor SS 2013

The Spring 2013 collection is my favourite so far, and I can’t help but compare the cutout dresses in heavy fabrics with jewels, metallics and peplums to designers like Miu Miu, Marni and Marc Jacobs. I love the styling with the jewelled cap (you can buy that too) and the really exaggerated shapes and great fabric choices. If the peplums and cutouts and colours together are a bit much, there’s an ASOS exclusive dress that brings it down a notch which I’m sure will be a big seller. Personally, I love the most ostentatious pieces the most!

Dresses by Three Floor AW 2012

Previous collections were just as cool, and you can still snap up loads of Autumn / Winter 2012 stock on the website (though I’m crossing my fingers there’s a sale soon). The ‘lace up’ mini dress in pink or black is my absolute favourite. If full-on lace is too much, ‘Night Cat’ teams the same top with a faux leather skirt. Also look out for the far more modest ‘hidden Gem’ dress – this is the style that got me hooked on the label…and not just because it’s the perfect name for me!

Shop Three Floor at ThreeFloorFashion.com or ASOS. Right now they only make sizes 6 – 14, but hopefully as their popularity grows, so will their size range!

30dayshred
Gemma Recommends, Health & Fitness

The 30 Day Shred: Before, after and in the future

30day_hero

I wasn’t going to write about the 30 Day Shred. I’ve done it a couple of times now and always recorded my results on tumblrs that nobody reads, partly because I don’t like showing off my tummy even after the Shred is over, but also because I didn’t think anyone would care. But then I discovered that various people have found this site by searching for ‘Gemma Cartwright 30 Day Shred’, so maybe you care more than I thought?

For those few inquisitive souls, and indeed for anyone who thinks that ‘fitness’ is a dirty word, I decided perhaps it’s time to share my experiences of this much-loved and well-worn fitness DVD. In February I’ll be tackling it for a third time, so if you want to join me, I’d like to give you a taste of what you’re letting yourself in for! I’m also doing Frugal February again, so this focussed 20 mins a day will keep me sane and take my mind off the fact I’m not allowed to spend any money!

What Is The 30 Day Shred?

The 30 Day Shred is a workout DVD by The Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels. It takes 20 minutes a day, and you do it every day for 30 days. None of this ‘three times a week’ rubbish. If you want to Shred, it’s all or nothing. The moves are simple and easy to follow, and all you need to do it is a bit of floor space, some weights and a mat if you’re working out on a hard surface. You do a mix of cardio, strength and abs moves in short bursts, with no stopping in between, to keep heart rate up, but vary the workout to target different areas.

There are three levels to the Shred, so you start at level 1 and work up to 2 and 3 when you’re ready, meaning you’re not doing the same workout for 30 days (which would get very boring very quickly). I did 10 days of each level, despite the fact I thought on day 1 of level 1 that I’d NEVER get to 2, let alone 3. It’s amazing how quickly you see a difference in your stamina. The idea of the Shred is to get dramatic results quickly, meaning the workouts are really tough if you’re starting out with a low level of fitness (as I was).

But it’s worth it. Why? Well, I’ve never known anything make such a difference to my body in such a short time. I’ve done plenty of what Jillian calls “phoning it in at the gym” and seeing no difference to my body. In as little as ten days of the Shred I could see a difference in my upper body, and after 30, my stomach, back and shoulders had completely changed shape. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’m breathing in and sucking in my belly as much a I possibly can in the ‘after’ photos to make them more dramatic, but I promise you I’m not. Yes, I’m standing up tall and straight, but the Shred just has that effect on your core – you can’t help but breathe in! The only thing I will say is that between day 1 and day 10 I got a decent sports bra, which I’m sure you don’t need me to point out! Ladies, buy one before you start. Your girls will thank you.

My 30 Day Shred Results

30dayshred_before_after

The Digits

Measurements: 5.5″ loss in total

Full Bust Before Shred: 38.5″
Full Bust After Shred: 37″

Waist Before Shred: 29.5″
Waist After Shred: 28″

Hips Before Shred: 40″
Hips After Shred: 38.5″

Upper Thigh Before Shred: 22″
Upper Thigh After Shred: 21″

Weight: 7lb loss

Before Shred: 11st 5 lbs / 159 lbs
After Shred: 10st 12 lbs / 152 lbs

Though I lost 1.5 inches off each of the three main measurements, the biggest difference was in my upper body, around my back, bust and upper arms, even though I didn’t actually lose inches on the arms. For the first time in my life, my collarbones were visible and my shoulders felt defined. I think much of this was down to the fact the Shred helps your posture; you’re doing a lot of core strength moves and upper arm reps with low weights, which helps you to sit up straight and stand correctly. Obviously, my stomach flattened significantly too, and I got my waist down to the 28 inches, the lowest it’s ever been (it didn’t last long!).

The Cold, Hard Truth

    • A lot of the text on the DVD box and in the marketing material pushes this DVD way to lose weight fast (“lose up to 20lbs in 30 days” etc). For me, it’s more about fitness and muscle definition than dramatic weight loss. You’re building muscle and burning fat – but muscle is denser. I don’t think the biggest results you’ll see will be in your weight, unless you’re also on a controlled diet. When I did the Shred above, I was also following the Weight Watchers diet plan, so please bear this in mind when you see my results. If you’re not eating well as you exercise, your results might not be as dramatic as the blurb on the box suggests.

 

    • When I started the Shred, I was basically starting from zero. My fitness level was very low and when I did the first day’s workout, I honestly didn’t think I’d make it through the first week, let alone the 30 days. But it DOES get easier and you have to have faith in yourself. Conversely, if you’re incredibly fit already, you probably won’t find level 1 particularly taxing. I feel like this DVD is designed to get unfit people motivated, not to get very fit people even fitter. Jillian has other DVDs (Ripped in 30, for example) that may be better for those with a higher fitness level.

 

    • The workouts involve quite a lot of jumping around, especially in the later levels. If you live in a top floor flat like I do, you do have to consider your neighbours and work out at reasonable times. But don’t let this be an excuse – it’s only 20 mins, of that only 5 or 10 mins is jumping! The only reason the jumping should cause a problem is if you have weak knees, but Jillian has modifications for most moves to help with this.

 

    • I never believed the stuff about exercise releasing endorphins and people getting hooked on it. I’ve always hated exercise, and I still blame that on horrific PE lessons in school. But I am being 100% honest when I tell you that the Shred motivated me in a way I didn’t know was possible. I finished it and promptly went on holiday – and I ended up packing trainers and my sports bra so I could use the gym in my hotel to keep up the good work. And I actually DID IT! I did eventually fall into bad habits on returning home, but I try to do the Shred once a year to get my motivation back. I sleep better, feel less stressed and have more energy when I do this workout, and I really mean that.

 

  • The second time I did the Shred, my starting weight was a bit higher, as were my measurements. My inch loss was virtually identical, losing about an inch and a half off each measurement by the end of the 30 days. So it wasn’t a one hit wonder.

But isn’t Jillian A Freaking Nightmare?

No! I think one of the reasons why I’ve got through the Shred twice is that I really like Jillian Michaels as a trainer. She is no nonsense and pretty hardcore, but she’s not nasty. She’s not a fat shamer (at least in this particular DVD). She doesn’t spend the routines telling you you’re worthless if you can’t finish a move. She just reiterates again and again that you CAN work out at this level, no matter how unfit you are to begin with. She doesn’t really talk about weight, she talks about fitness and hard work and honing your body through grafting, which I really respond to. The workouts are also very well scripted so she says exactly the right things at the right time. Just as you’re thinking she’s insane, she pre-empts you “I know you’re thinking that I’m a crazy person…”

And you will, but after 30 days, if you’re anything like me, you will worship this woman!

I’ll be doing the Shred again in February. If you’d like to join me, let me know. I’d love to have a little Shred team to help push that motivation even further! You can order the DVD at Amazon for £8 or from £6.92 at Play.com. It’s worth every penny!

powjumper
Gemma Recommends, Uncategorized

Three designer inspired items I’m crushing on…

I always feel a bit naughty buying cheaper high street versions of designer clothes, but the truth is I’m never going to shell out £500 for a jumper that’s a one-season wonder, or blow £500 on shoes that I’ll only wear twice. If I had the disposable income to buy designer clothes all the time, maybe I would (I suspect I’d still love trawling the rails of Topshop, though). But right now, my designer purchases tend to be the things I know won’t date so quickly – handbags, coats, retro style dresses and so on. When it comes to trends and seasonal styles, I have to budget, which means fast fashion. I think so long as the items are designer inspired, not fakes being sold as if they’re the real thing, they only strengthen the brand they’re emulating by drawing more attention to the specific look or style. Besides, a lot of the designer pieces don’t hang around for long, and I’m sure Victoria Beckham isn’t sweating the fact a few cut-price retailers are selling low cost alternatives to her sold out dresses.

So on that note, here are three designer-inspired looks I’ll be sporting this season…

The Primark ‘Pow’ comic book jumper

You know when you see something in a shop, carry it around for a while, then put it down thinking ‘no, I don’t need this’, only to find yourself thinking about it for days afterwards, wishing you’d just gone ahead and bought it? That happened with me and this jumper. I didn’t buy it because I’d already bought two slouchy jumpers for Autumn and thought three was overkill. But when I saw it at The LOOK Show last weekend (pictured), I knew I’d made a mistake. I’m hoping my new ‘local’ store (the huge new Oxford Street East branch, which is 3 mins from my office) will still have it in stock so I can pop it on and pretend I’m wearing the 3.1 Phillip Lim it’s based on. This is going to become my weekend wardrobe – I’m getting more and more lazy and casual as time goes by.

Buy it: Pow! Jumper £14 at Primark Stores

Boohoo’s Cat Face Wedges

I already have the flat version of these, and I’ve just ordered the ridiculously cheap and stupidly high £15 wedges as well. Though I wish I could afford to fork out the £500 the Charlotte Olympia real deal would cost me, I just can’t, so I’m forced to go for the cheap option. The flat shoes get comments wherever I go in them. I recently wore them to go on holiday and even the tour group of pensioners on my flight asked me about them. So for £15, I thought I’d give their sister shoes a go. I’ve never been scared of things that are twee and a bit childish, and these really are big offenders in those stakes, but I think they add a sense of humour to a more grown-up outfit. Provided I can walk in them, I’ll be teaming the wedges with pencil skirts and blouses to avoid looking too ‘sexy secretary’, and with skinny jeans for the longest legs ever!

Buy it: Suky Cat Face Suedette Wedges £15 at Boohoo

Everyone’s collar-detail bodycon dresses

Where Victoria Beckham goes, the high street inevitably follows, which means this Autumn / Winter there are loads of fitted dresses with cuffed sleeves and high collars. I love Internacionale’s burgundy dress with black stripe detail, and obviously so does everyone else as the £19.99 bargain is sold out at the moment in everything but the smallest sizes. Loads of brands have versions of the drop-cuff dress in blue and khaki. Goddiva offers the best price – £28 for both colours. If you’re looking for larger sizes, the Contrast Collar & Cuff shift dress from M&S goes up to a size 22. My only concern is how this style will work with bigger boobs, as the high collar and fitted shape might end up giving the shelf-boob effect. I will be investigating this and doing some trying on!

hairhistory
Gemma Recommends

A history in hair (and a new beginning)

Let’s talk hair, shall we? Throughout my life, my hair has been my ‘thing’. When I was a kid, I was about 90% hair. My thick, frizz-prone blonde locks (ok, not that blonde any more) have been my security blanket for a very long time. After that ill-advised bob at 15, I’ve never really gone short again. 2000 was the last time I truly saw my natural hair colour (dishwater blonde). But though things never change too dramatically, even I have had my moments. 2008, as you’ll see, was the time when my personal instability was reflected in my hair. Um, that and I couldn’t afford to get my blonde highlights done on my blogger’s salary. After a night in with a box of Casting Creme Gloss, I got to experience chocolate, caramel and even a bit of ginger in the following months.

This is much better illustrated than explained in text. So here you go – my life in hair up until the end of last year. You’ll notice 2009 was a photo-lite year!

Why am I talking about this now? Well, last month, this happened.

I was invited by Dove to take part in their Colour Radiance Challenge, which involved a bit of a hair makeover courtesy of Sophia Heffer from the incredible Kennaland salon, and a 4 week trial of the new range of Dove Colour Radiance products. I got the first full head of highlights I’d had in about 5 years, though the colour I ended up with was probably slightly subtler than my usual blonde as there were more natural shades woven in to stop the blockiness. I think the Dove ‘before and after’ photo is slightly misleading due to the lighting – it wasn’t quite so blonde before and the change was actually more subtle.

I stupidly agreed to this in the middle of the big house move and the hottest days of the year so there were days I looked pretty awful (the heat brings out the natural curl) but I did still manage to submit daily cameraphone photos showing how the products worked on my hair. Here are some of the snaps from the four weeks following the colour.

Overall I found the Dove products worked well on my hair. I’m not loyal to any haircare other than my beloved Moroccanoil, and I chop and change shampoo and conditioner every time I finish a bottle, as I do believe your hair gets accustomed if you use the same stuff for too long. Switching to this seemed to revive the curl in my hair. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I’m not quite sure – I like the messed-up, beachy look but even I have to admit my hair looks a lot more groomed when it’s straight!

I try not to mess with my hair and put it through too much stress when it’s newly coloured. I always struggle with my hair post-colour; no matter how brilliant the stylist is, highlights always strip moisture from the hair and the newly-bleached strands create a horrible, tangled halo that needs some serious moisture before combing. The key product for me was the treatment conditioner, which I used almost every wash in place of the regular conditioner to add a serious moisture boost. I’d definitely recommend this after colouring to help lock in the shine and the colour together.

I also liked that the Colour Radiance shampoo is much lower in sulphates than most brands. We’re all addicted to lather which is why so many chemicals are crammed into drugstore shampoos, but the truth is lather is a useless by-product (it’s the reaction of the cleansing ingredients with air, rather than dirt / oil) so we should learn to live without it. The Dove shampoo is a good compromise. You get lather, but only just enough, not the handfulls you often find with stronger brands.

You can buy the Colour Radiance range at Boots from £2.49

Once the challenge ended, I went a big mad. It’s already washed out, sadly.

Disclosure: As part of the Colour Radiance Challenge I didn’t pay for the hair makeover and the products were provided free of charge for testing purposes. I received no other payment and I wasn’t required or obliged to write a post about my experience.

vegas2
Gemma Recommends, Travel

A Brit Abroad: My Girl’s Guide to visiting Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a city you either love or hate. I’m firmly in the ‘love’ camp, and could ramble on for hours about how to get the most out of your trip, where to stay, what to do and how to get there. So I thought I’d do just that!

I am well known amongst my friends for my Vegas obsession (I’ve been 8 times). I’m often asked for advice on visiting – especially when it comes to where to stay and where to shop. I felt it was worth a blog post I can direct people to in future – and hopefully this will also be useful to others who fancy a fashionable trip to Sin City. Please bear in mind my last trip was in 2016 so while I’ve tried to keep this updated, some things may be a little out of date – this city moves fast!

Vegas is a city where money rules, and if you really want to make the most of it it’s worth saving up before you go. That said, there are plenty of ways you can have fun without spending big bucks. The first time I went I was 21, living on a shoestring and staying in one of the cheapest hotels on the strip, but I still had an amazing time. The joy of Vegas is there are options for everyone. If you have the cash, eat at Nobu. You don’t? $10 Lobster dinner special coming right up!

But before we talk about what to do when you’re there, how about getting there in the first place?

Travelling to Las Vegas from the UK

If you’re willing to book flights and accommodation together, nine times out of ten I find Expedia.co.uk to be the cheapest option overall. Obviously if you want it all done for you, you can try a holiday company like Virgin Holidays and add in extra stops too. I always try Trivago too as a comparison, and check that flights aren’t available cheaper using SkyScanner. If you’re booking the two separately, most hotels offer great rates direct, so follow your favourites on Twitter, sign up for their mailing list and check out their facebook page for good deals and freebies like meal credits or show tickets. Be aware of any charges you may incur for booking in dollars though – some credit cards will add a fairly large fee for foreign transactions. Plus most hotels add a circa $25 “resort fee” per night when you arrive (though playing the “polite but clueless British person” card can sometimes get this waived.

You can fly to Vegas a number of ways through various transport hubs. I’ve done both direct and indirect flights depending on cashflow. Be sure that if you book an indirect flight you have adequate time to make your connection. On your first entry point into the USA (your connection airport) you’ll need to collect your bags and clear immigration with them before you drop them back off and go to the gate for the Vegas connection. One flight I looked at this year had a 40 min connection time – I can tell you from experience that this is not enough time to run through a big US hub like Chicago O’Hare!

You can also connect in Europe or Canada, but be aware this may mean you may have to clear immigration twice, once as you connect and again when you get to Vegas. This all adds time to your already long journey of 12 – 16 hours.

Now for the fun bit. Once you’re there!

My top 10 Vegas Experiences

1. Stay in the best (or most ridiculous) hotel you can afford

Vegas isn’t exactly short of accommodation options, so you may as well make the most of it. Stay on The Strip! As far as I’m concerned there’s no point staying in a motel miles off the strip, or scrimping on a super-cheap option Downtown if you want the proper Las Vegas experience (unless you like sharks – see number 7 below). Though you’ll have fun no matter where you stay, it pays to pick a strip hotel in the centre of the action. The whole of Vegas life (as a tourist) centres around these huge hotel / casino / entertainment / shopping complexes and you’ll never get such a good hotel room for such a cheap price. There’s a hotel to suit everyone, from tropical decor at Mandalay Bay and The Mirage to rococco excess at The Venetian and Italian glamour at The Bellagio (above). For that reason I’m not going to go too much into personal recommendations. One woman’s dream is another’s nightmare. I do like the Flamingo for its gardens and pool and eye-popping pink, I love the Mirage because I’ve had so many good times there, and I think TI is in a perfect location for a short trip. If you don’t fancy the madness of a themed hotel, a lot of the newer hotels (The Wynn and Encore, Aria, The Cosmopolitan etc) have more of a generic ‘luxury’ feel, with no detail overlooked, and I hear The Hotel at Mandalay Bay is a beautiful option for those with cash to splash. With the exception of Circus Circus and the Stratosphere (too far up) there aren’t really any strip hotels I’d strongly advise against – even a cheesefest like Excalibur has a certain trashy appeal (and a surprisingly good pool complex) if you’re on a tighter budget.

2. Visit the Grand Canyon (preferably by helicopter)

You’ve come this far, you may as well take a day trip to one of the Wonders of the Natural World. If you’re renting a car then it’s a cool drive (possibly taking in a bit of Route 66) to the Canyon. But there are loads of tours from Las Vegas too, and if you’re tight for time one of these might actually work out better. As dramatic as a drive to the rim and skywalk is, I thoroughly recommend splashing out on one of the helicopter tours. Not only is it much quicker (a matter of minutes to the Canyon, rather than the 4 hours it’ll take most coaches) but it’s also one of the most dramatic journeys you’ll ever experience. The flight takes you over the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, and most will then land in the Canyon for a final touch of drama. This kind of trip will cost about $300-$400 per person – I booked my last one through All Las Vegas Tours and had no complaints. I will warn you though – they weigh you and your bags to make sure the weight is distributed evenly for the flight!

3. Shop ’til you drop at the many malls

Las Vegas is a shopping mecca. Everything is represented here, from young fashion stores like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters to designer labels like Chanel and Louis Vuitton. The top shopping destinations were, for a long time, The Fashion Show Mall (Mid-strip, next to TI and opposite The Palazzo), The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, The Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood and the shops of The Venetian. Now you can also add Crystals at CityCenter, a high-end designer shopping mecca that includes Miu Miu, Bulgari and Bottega Veneta, plus the ever-expanding designer shops at Bellagio, Palazzo and the Wynn to the list. These are malls like no other, themed beyond belief. Ever seen a spiral escalator? Head to the Forum Shops and you will. Fancy shopping under the stars no matter the time of day? Try the Miracle Mile. Want to punctuate your shopping with some street theatre or a gondola ride? Head to the Venetian! My top haunt as a girl on a limited budget is definitely the Fashion Show Mall, which makes up for lack of theme with the sheer amount of stores for all budgets, including Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Dillards and Saks Fifth Avenue department stores. You can see me outside the Fashion Show in the pic above, way back in 2004 on my first trip to Vegas!

TIP: When it comes to individual shops, my first stop is always the retro reproduction store Bettie Page Clothing (branches in the Miracle Mile and Forum Shops) for wiggle dresses and polka dots a-plenty in a huge range of sizes. I’ve never been in there and come out empty-handed.

4. Gorge at the brilliant buffets

Photo by bryanh @ flickr

Apparently there are people who don’t like buffets. They think there’s too much choice, a bad atmosphere, the promise of lifelong indigestion. They think that getting up and down all the time for food is annoying, that the food is sub-standard, and that it’s greedy to keep on shovelling it down your throat just because you can.

These people are no friends of mine.

I love a good buffet, and Vegas does them brilliantly. Especially at brunch. I used to be a fussy eater, so a buffet was good because I could always find something I liked. Now I love them because after all those years of not eating stuff, I want to eat it all, but I can only do that if I have very little bits of everything. My favourite Vegas buffets are mostly more expensive ones; The Wynn, The Bellagio, The Mirage. You do get what you pay for. I’m desperate to try Wicked Spoon at The Cosmopolitan on my next trip. Along with many others I also really rate the off-strip treats at The Rio and the good international cuisine at Flavors at Harrah’s. For budget eats that aren’t greasy and lukewarm, you can’t beat a trip downtown for the Garden Court Buffet at Main Street Station. Plan your buffets in advance – you definitely won’t want to eat nothing but buffets for your entire stay. Not only will you go home unable to fit into your clothes, but Vegas is full of incredible restaurants you’ll want to try too. Just promise me you’ll give in to the tack factor and try one or two buffets if you can, if only to get the full Vegas experience.

5. See the dolphins & big cats

photo by Andrew Ressa @ Flickr

When explaining Vegas to non-believers, I usually find that explaining the sheer size and scope of what is available away from gambling is the way to go. Most people usually get interested around the time I say “and one hotel has a ZOO inside it!” It might be a bit of an exaggeration to call it a zoo, but Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat at The Mirage is definitely worth a visit if you want a break from the clinking of slot machines. The secret garden is home to Siegfried and Roy’s big cats (white tigers, white lions, panthers and leopards) plus a few surprises, while the dolphin habitat is a really well-designed home to a family of bottle-nosed dolphins. In true Vegas style it’s a bit over the top but very well done, and definitely worth a couple of hours of your time, if only because it’s one of the only places where you won’t hear the familiar jingle of slot machines!

6. Hit the outlets & shop for bargains

photo by Judy Baxter @ Flickr

My first trip to Fashion Outlets Las Vegas was a revelation. Diane Von Furstenberg dresses for $90 and skirts for $50! A Marc by Marc Jacobs bag for $200 and a top for $40! I could have spent thousands, but each trip I’ve limited myself to only a few purchases. This particular outlet mall is a good 40 minute drive out of Vegas, reached by car or a $15 shuttle from various points on the strip. If you enjoy a designer shopping bargain, it’s definitely worth the trip. I prefer it to the other big outlet chain (Las Vegas Premium Outlets, found north and south of the strip) for the simple reason that it’s in a covered mall that’s air-conditioned, which is a big selling point when you’re in the desert! It’s also the only one with a Neiman Marcus Last Call, where I’ve found 90% of my best buys. If you’re holidaying with someone who’s not a shopper, the outlet is right next to Primm Valley Resorts, so they can head there to kill time if need be. This hotel is worth a look even if you’re shopping – it’s like a Vegas homage to the Hotel Del Coronado from the film ‘Some Like it Hot’. There’s also Buffalo Bills, complete with amusement park, just over the road.

7. Take a trip Downtown

Downtown Las Vegas is the bit you’ll recognise from all those old movies (not to mention the brilliant Swingers). Before huge theme hotels started appearing on Las Vegas Boulevard South, there was Fremont Street, a hotel and casino-filled street in Downtown Las Vegas that earned the nickname ‘Glitter Gulch’. The area has seen better days, but remains a must-see. Head down at dusk and grab the cheapest dinner ever at one of my favourite off-strip hotels, Main Street Station, then take the covered walkway to the California for cheap beers before taking in the Fremont Street Experience free light and sound show on the covered walkway over the main stretch of Fremont Street. It’s really great fun. Pick up your tacky souvenirs here too – they’re much cheaper than the shops in the malls on the strip. If you do decide to stay Downtown, the Golden Nugget Hotel has a big selling point – a heated pool with a water slide that takes you through a shark tank!

The best way to get Downtown is by public transport, just jump on The Deuce bus from anywhere on the strip.

8. Take advantage of the freebies

Vegas can quickly become an expensive place to visit, even if you take advantage of the cheap deals and budget options. But the good thing is there are still a few fabulous things you can do for free, mostly when it comes to entertainment. See flamingos at the Flamingo, the Rio’s Masquerade Show in The Sky, the huge aquarium in the Mirage lobby, or the Forum Shops talking statues to start! For a long time, top of my list was the ridiculous Sirens of TI, which used two mechanical pirate ships moored in the grounds of the resort to put on a live show with Pussycat Dolls-style dancers. Now that’s gone, there’s still the Mirage’s Volcano, The dancing fountains at the Bellagio and the Wynn Lake of Dreams show to keep you entertained.

9. Have a ridiculously expensive night out

pic via XS website

It’ll come as no surprise to anyone that Las Vegas isn’t exactly short on nightlife. The coolest club changes with every new opening, meaning the last one I went to is not even worth mentioning now. But they all offer up incredible nights out if you’re young enough to appreciate the atmosphere. I currently have my eye on XS at Encore (above) which has its own pool, outdoor patio and blackjack tables. I’m sure next week I’ll find something else that looks even better. One thing they all have in common is that a night there can quickly set you back a lot of cash, and will undoubtedly involve long waits if you don’t plan ahead. If you want to sit down, you’ll need to book VIP table service which will run into hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars as the night progresses. There are nightlife hosts / concierge services that can organise stuff for you but that too comes at a price. A cheaper option if you don’t mind standing and waiting is to look out for free entry cards around Vegas (try cool fashion stores in the malls, or ask a hotel concierge or taxi driver. There are also touts on the street who’ll hand over a pile of them for a tip. Whichever way you do it, go out for cheaper drinks first, dress up and be prepared for a pricey night. The good news is girls get the best freebies – if you’re a group of ladies together, you can blag almost anything.

If you don’t fancy the huge clubs, there are plenty of lounges and bars that are almost as rowdy. Look for ‘ultralounges’ in your hotel or hunt down the cheesiest bar you can find. My guilty secret for a guaranteed good night out is Coyote Ugly at New York New York. Yes, it’s essentially a box hidden in a corner, made to look like a trashy movie set, and the clientelle is mixed to say the least. But it’s cheaper than the clubs, the naffness makes it fun, ladies are treated well (if you’re brave enough to dance on the bar you’ll get free drinks) and the jukebox has loads of British music on it. I’ve never had a bad night here.

My favourite bar in the entirety of Vegas was Mix, which sat at the top of what used to be The Hotel with the most incredible views (even from the loos). This is reopening in late 2015 as “Skyfall”, attached to a chic new restaurant in what is now the Delano. It’s number one on my list for my return trip!

10. People watch from the casino floor

Photo by TI

If you’re gambling a decent amount and willing to tip, waitresses will circulate and offer free drinks. But this can often be a pricey way to soak up the atmosphere if you don’t win along the way. I’m not a big gambler, which people find odd considering how much I love Vegas, but I hope by now you’ve realised there’s so much more than slot machines in this city! If you’d rather not risk your hard-earned readies, I suggest heading for the many bars / lounges that sit right on or just off the casino floor, where you can watch other people and see how it’s done. On my last trip, bar-hopping these places became a daily routine. My favourites include Breeze at TI, Centrifuge at MGM Grand, Laguna at The Venetian, Eyecandy at Mandalay Bay and Le Cabaret at Paris Las Vegas. There’s also the gorgeous 3-floor Chandelier bar at The Cosmopolitan which serves the best (white) Cosmo you’ll ever drink. This is just a drop in the ocean though – all you need to do is step into a casino and walk until you hit a bar – they all have one and they’re all surprisingly good for watching the world go by.

I feel like I could go on for another ten, there’s so much more I want to touch on. But this post is long enough, and hopefully this gives you a taster of what Vegas has to offer. If you tire of the food, drinks, shopping and tourist traps, there’s always the high-octane thrills (rollercoasters and rides at New York New York, Stratosphere and Circus Circus) the pools and spas, and the hundreds of amazing shows to continue to keep you occupied.

If you’re a Vegas fan too, let me know your top tips below!

Photos are mine unless otherwise credited.

makeuptop
Beauty, Gemma Recommends, Makeup

Summer 2012 beauty essentials (old friends & new finds)

I haven’t done a beauty post in a while, but don’t let that fool you into thinking I haven’t been using all kinds of weird and wonderful products! In preparation for moving into our new flat, I’ve been sorting out my makeup drawers (yes, plural – perks of the job). Most of this has involved chucking out dried-up old products and giving away bits I know I won’t use, but it also meant I rediscovered a few great products I haven’t used in a while. Throw in a few new bits I’ve tried and fallen in love with, and it’s the perfect excuse for a bit of a beauty update. So without further ado, here are some of my favourite beauty bits at the moment…

top beauty products

Inika All Natural Mineral Bronzer in ‘Sunkissed’ £19.40

If you want a bronzer that’ll give you bang for your buck, this is the one to go for. To say a little goes a long way is an understatement. Just the tiniest sprinkling of this on the Inika kabuki brush (I’ve spoken about that before) is enough to give a gorgeous glow. Because it has the same formula as mineral foundation it needs to be buffed into the skin rather than brushed on – if you brush it, it’s too heavy, but the result once it’s blended properly is a lovely ‘glow from within’ look. I love mineral products because they’re so gentle on the skin and don’t clog like some powders can, and Inika is one of my favourite brands because they also do a good range of colours.

Topshop Nail Polish in War Paint £5

The nail polishes are definitely the stand-out products in the Topshop makeup range, and this is the ultimate nail polish colour for Summer. I got it in a goodie bag and I’m now completely obsessed with it. it’s the perfect orange-red-pink coral mix with a really flourescent pigment, and two coats is enough to get a smooth finish. I love a really strong coral shade for toenails, especially with a tan (fake, of course) and this has totally eclipsed my previous favourites (M&S ‘Flame’ and Revlon ‘One True Coral’). I’m going to be wearing this on my toenails all Summer. It might even make it to my fingernails if I can keep them out of my mouth for long enough to grow them.

Boots 17 Berry Crush Lip Stain £4.99

I’ve had limited success with these pen-like lip stains – the Max Factor one I tried was dry as a bone – but I really rate this bargain 17 version. It’s got great staying power and it’s not as drying as some of the other brands. It has a felt tip pen style applicator with the tint in on one end, and a clear balm on the other to give a glossy sheen. This lasts longer than I expect but it does need topping up. The tint stays on for ages and the colour is really bold, so I love this if I know I’ll be eating or drinking. It also makes a good base for lippy. Annoyingly there’s no shade name on the tube but I believe the one I have is ‘Smokin’ Hot’, and it looks like this on…

Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Carina $22

Stila is one of my favourite beauty brands of all time (you’ve seen me rave about Diamond Lil eyeshadow before), and I’m really excited about some of the new products that are coming later in the year. This is one of them, a lipstick in a gloss tube that packs a serious amount of colour with a really modern matte finish. It feels almost powdery when it’s dried so it does need some lipbalm underneath, but it’s not as drying as you’d expect and the colour payoff is worth it. Carina is a hot coral, but I’m after the bold red next! It’s available in the US already and will be coming to the UK soon. Here’s how it looks on the lips…

Trish McEvoy Eye Base Essentials in Bare £21

With products like mineral eyeshadow and MAC pigment, an eye base is essential to provide a smooth, even canvas and help to ‘grab’ the colour. I was given this product about a year ago but I’ve only recently started using it, and I love the way it works to prolong eyeshadow wear and to brighten the eye itself. Sometimes I even use it without shadow to cover any redness or uneven colour around the eye. But where it really comes into its own is as an eye primer with bold or shimmer colours to make sure they last as long as possible. A little goes a long way, which hopefully justifies the price, but if it’s too much for you, e.l.f do something similar for £1.50 – it’s not a patch on the Trish McEvoy version, though.

Rimmel Lash Accelerator Mascara £8.99

This is another thing that’s been floating around my makeup drawer for a while (as you can probably tell from the fact the words have rubbed off the side). I wasn’t so sure when I bought it that it would give enough length and volume for me – I love a big, fat lash and this is more of a day mascara. But recently I’ve been using it every day and I love the fact that the black is really, really dark and strong. Though it isn’t massively volumising, it lengthens without clogging, and as a plus it’s got ingredients that are supposed to encourage lash growth. I haven’t seen great results from that, but I’m using it in conjunction with Rapidlash at the moment and hoping the two together will give me killer lashes by September! I’ll keep you posted.

Max Factor Xperience Foundation in Light Ivory £9.99

I’ve always rated Max Factor foundation – since the days of Panstick the brand has always made great base. I use mineral foundation most of the time, but when I want something more dewy, or if I’m using liquid products over the top (like cream blush or highlighter) I use this. It gives really good coverage without a heavy feeling and has an SPF (only 10, but it’s better than nothing). It’s incredibly lightweight, it lasts ages and the shades are great – light ivory is perfect for my pale, pinkish skin. I apply it with a foundation brush (from The Body Shop) to ensure even coverage.

Urban Decay 24/7 Glide On Pencils in Covet and Lucky £13 each

Most eyeliners that claim to ‘glide’ do nothing of the sort. They drag and catch, clogging on any tiny crease. These liners, however, do exactly what they claim. They’re a gel-like formula, super-soft and creamy, and they go on brilliantly. I love the variety of colour that Urban Decay offers. Right now I love Covet, a shimmering emerald green, and Lucky, a bronze/brown. Here they are together (Covet on the top lid, Lucky on the bottom) with the mascara and eye primer mentioned above.

Disclosure: I bought the 17 lip colour, Rimmel Mascara and Max Factor foundation. The other products were press samples.

gifts
Gemma Recommends

Not a gift guide: 10 recent shopping discoveries

It’s that time of year when everyone starts filling their publications with festive gift guides, but I’ve decided I’m not going to do that here. Mostly because I’m doing loads for work, but also because I think, most of the time, a gift guide on a blog is really just the blogger’s wishlist. So instead of telling you what I want for Christmas and pretending I’m trying to help you, I’m going to do something a bit different and show you all ten things I’ve bought or used recently that I think would make a good gift or stocking filler, or would be useful for Christmas parties (or the aftermath). There’s only one item in this list that I don’t own myself, and yes, that item is on my wishlist…

Snow Fairy Shower Gel from £3.25 at Lush

Some of you may already know I’m a former Lush employee and while I don’t use as many of their products now as I did back in 2004 when I worked there, I still eagerly await the Christmas collection so I can stock up on Snow Fairy, which is truly the best shower gel in the world. It’s not for the faint-hearted, of course. Lush products are notoriously strong when it comes to scent, but this isn’t like the herbal / hippy smell you get when you walk past. It’s sweet and fruity instead – like pear drops and dolly mixtures. I’m a quarter of the way through my bottle already, and will be grabbing another one before the end of the year!

Larysa long-sleeved jersey maxi dress £18.99 at Missguided

When I saw this bargain dress I couldn’t resist it, even though I wasn’t sure I’d ever have occasion to wear it. Luckily, a chance invitation to a party last week gave me the perfect opportunity to show it off. It’s the perfect mix of simple and glamorous, with the covered-up top and split skirt, and is surprisingly easy to wear given how fitted it is. The only thing I would say if you’re thinking of investing is think carefully about your underwear – the jersey is quite thin and my nude bra showed through. I solved this by popping on a (very short) black slip underneath. I then added my much-loved gold and black belt from Accessorize, and a knotted headband from Dorothy Perkins. The dress looks much better without tights but I’m afraid it was just too cold last week to risk going bare-legged!

Kleenex Facial Cleansing Wipes £2.99 at Superdrug

I try not to use cleansing wipes as a replacement for a proper cleansing regime, but let’s be honest, there are days (or should I say nights) when all you want to do is get home, take your makeup off and get into bed as soon as you possibly can. So I always have a pack of cleansing wipes on my dresser for quick mascara removal, and from now on they’ll always be Kleenex wipes. Seriously, these things are amazing. Where most cleansing wipes are a bit scratchy and thin and feel very synthetic and fibrous, the Kleenex ones feel like smooth cotton or very soft, wet tissue. They’re much nicer to use around the eye area, and though they take a little while longer to remove all signs of makeup, they never cause redness or feel rough. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ll ever use another brand having tried these. Texturally, they’re unlike any other cleansing wipe I’ve tried. As a bonus, they’re also more environmentally friendly, and they’re only £3 a pack!

Yankee Candle large housewarmer jar in ‘Crisp Apple Strudel’ £16.99 at Scented Candle Shop

I’m a Yankee Candle obsessive and burn them all the time at home. Though I’m very fond of Midnight Jasmine, I usually tend to go for the more foodie smells, and this one is my favourite so far. Yankee do loads of limited edition scents and special editions, and this year they’ve done a series of candles inspired by the song ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music. While I wasn’t so sure about ‘Blue Satin Sashes’ or ‘Warm Woolen Mittens’, I had to give this one a go as apple and cinnamon are two of my favourite smells in the world. It really does smell of apple strudel; sweet pastry and sharp apple and lots of spice. It’s beautiful. Yankee candles are really good quality – the scent is strong throughout (not just a layer on top), and they burn evenly with no wastage so long as you let them melt right across each time before you blow them out. I always buy from Scented Candle Shop – there are good discounts and delivery is usually free (because I buy so much)!

Immortelle Divine Cream £65 L’Occitane

Yes, it’s stupidly expensive and if I hadn’t had to try it out for my old job, I’d probably never have discovered this stuff. But I did, and now I’m hooked. Divine Cream is technically an anti-ageing product so at 28 I’m not really the target market, but there’s no harm in starting early, and at this time of year my skin goes really dry and I need a heavy duty moisturiser. This one is dreamy. The packaging is lovely (a heavy glass jar), it has a lovely texture that sinks in well, and the smell is, ahem, divine. Perhaps the thing I love about it the most is that it prompts my boyfriend to say “you smell nice!” rather than the usual “What have you put on your FACE?”

If you have the cash to splash, I’d absolutely recommend this. If you don’t, next time you’re near a L’Occitane store (or stockist) get busy with the tester and see what you’re missing.

Linea Pelle Dylan quilted chevron large speedy in Midnight $465 at Linea Pelle

What, you thought just because I finally bought my beloved Dylan Medium Tote after about four years of banging on about it that I’d finally shut up about Linea Pelle bags? Pah! No chance. If anything, finally getting my hands on that buttery soft piece of turquoise gorgeousness has only served to fan the flames of my LP love, and now I’m after my next LP bag. I love the fact these bags are beautiful quality, but they’re not covered with logos and mongrams, and because it’s a little-known label, the designs aren’t obvious and likely to go out of fashion in five minutes. The next bag on my list is the new Dylan Chevron speedy. It’s tempting to go for classic black, but I also love the new Midnight colour, a sort of blue/indigo. Santa, if you’re listening…

Wonderbra Ultimate Strapless bra in beige £33 at Figleaves

I’d heard nothing but good things about this bra and held out such high hopes for it, but when I first tried it on I just couldn’t get on with it at all. It felt so weird on and sat so low down! I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who didn’t get on with it, so I decided recently to give it one more chance. There was a bit of messing about trying to find the right size (I advise going down a cup and possibly a band size) but when I did finally get round to wearing it for an evening, I finally saw what all the fuss was about. You just need to get used to how it works. It feels a bit odd when you put it on – because of the design, which features internal ‘fingers’ that hold your boobs up the way your hands would – it’s quite thick around the bottom, the underwires are placed differently, and the band sits really low which feels odd. But once you get used to to the odd feeling of a bra that comes down 2 inches lower than all your others, you can’t really fault the lift and support. It really does feel like someone’s holding your chest up! It stays up all night and easily provided enough support even for my larger cup size. I don’t think I’ll ever wear a different strapless bra after finally discovering what all the fuss is about with this one!

Black clutch with chain strap and bow detail £12.99 at H&M

I bought this bag in a last minute H&M dash when I had an event to go to after work and I didn’t want to carry my big leather bag the whole night. Like so many of those emergency purchases, it’s turned out to be a really great buy, and I’ve already used it half a dozen times. At 30cm across, it’s much bigger than most clutches and is deep enough to easily hold my wallet, phone, makeup and whatever else I need to carry, unlike most evening bags which won’t even hold one of those things. As an added bonus, it has a chain strap so you don’t have to hold on to it all night if you don’t want to. Plus, there’s a huge bow. Who doesn’t love a huge bow?

Parker Ingenuity Slim Brown Rubber pen £135 at Penshop.co.uk

One of these hit the Catwalk Queen desk in September with a note suggesting we use it to take notes during London Fashion Week. Parker pens remind me of school, when fountain pens were still de rigeur and having ‘ace’ handwriting was super-important. But this pen is miles away from the £5 jobbies I used back then. It takes advantage of Parker’s new 5th generation technology, which aims to combine the ease of a rollerball with the effect of a fountain pen, and it truly is a thing of beauty. I didn’t realise when I started scribbling with it that this pen comes in at a whopping £135 but I’m glad I didn’t misplace it before I found that out! It’s truly a lovely pen to write with, moulding to your writing style as you write. Refills cost about £5, but I’ve been using mine since September and haven’t needed to buy one yet. I’m not sure I’d splash out this much on a writing tool given that I don’t write much by hand any more, but I’d definitely recommend this if you love gorgeous stationery and writing letters. The rose gold is gorgeous and the soft-touch rubber shell gives good grip.

Stila Dream in Full Colour supersized palette £25 at Beauty Bay

Last time I did a rundown of my top beauty finds, I mentioned a Stila eyeshadow. So it’ll come as no surprise that I’m going to do the same thing again, but this time it’s not one eyeshadow but 29! Plus some cheek colours too. This amazing palette from Stila’s festive range is such unbelievable value that I didn’t hesitate to click ‘buy’ the moment I saw it. It works out at less than 70p per colour, and they’re all beautiful, wearable shades with dreamy textures, not horrible, chalky brights you’ll never wear. You also get a waterproof eyeliner (worth £13) plus a booklet that explains how to mix the colours to get all kinds of looks. The compact is the size of a plate and though the slightly retro stained glass design might not be to everyone’s taste, you can’t argue with the value for money!

Disclosure: The Parker pen, L’Occitane and Kleenex skincare were PR samples. All other items were bought by me. I wasn’t paid to write about any of the products, samples or otherwise.

beautybooty
Beauty, Gemma Recommends, Makeup

Top Ten: Beauty Booty (the things I love right now)

My day job at Latest in Beauty means that I’m constantly reading about, looking at and testing new beauty products. And I really do believe the LiB mantra that it’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the choice on offer. In the last month alone I’ve been introduced to three premium haircare brands, all of them lovely, and the beautiful high end moisturisers I get to test out have made me a bit of a skincare snob, every month or so finding a new ‘miracle’ product that sucks me in! But I also know a lot of it is just clever marketing and a few extra ingredients, and while I love the pricey stuff, I also loving hunting down a cheaper ‘dupe’. As a result, when it comes to my own beauty regime I have quite a mixture of favourites, from £8.50 fragrances to £125 serums. And while I have few old faithfuls, I often change around and use new things as inventive new products are launched. So here are my top ten finds of late (with a couple of very old faves thrown in for good measure). I’ve tried to keep these on the cheaper side, so now £100 products here. The priciest is a £35 cleanser that’ll last you months and months…

Lee Stafford Hair Growth Treatment £7.99

I’ve been using this for a month or so and my hair has never looked or felt better. It’s not that it suddenly gives you Rapunzel-like lengths (though my hair did seem to grow very quickly in the last month – perhaps that’s all the wishful thinking?) but massaging it into the roots once or twice a week between shampoo and conditioner will get your hair into really good condition and stimulate the follicles so it has the ability to grow longer and stronger before it falls out. The pink treatment gives amazing shine and softness, and I have definitely noticed more hair growing through – I have little ‘sideburns’ where the sides are growing, an area where my hair has always been a bit finer. The little £8 tub doesn’t last very long, perhaps 6 – 8 treatments max, but it’s often in Boots 3 for £12 deal so you can stock up for a bit cheaper.

Eyeko Graffiti Eyliner Pen £5.50
I got this at random in an Eyeko surprise bag, and having always favoured gel / cake liners, I wasn’t expecting to use it very often. But after playing around a bit, it’s got me hooked on the sharp, defined line you can get from a liquid liner and I’m finding I reach for this quite frequently when I need to quicky ‘do up’ my face. I try not to wear loads of slap to work because my skin is at its best when I don’t mess with it, but this is a good one to chuck in my bag for emergency dolling up! It’s also got great staying power, so great for Summer when smudgier liners can melt off far too quickly.

L’Oreal Volume Million Lashes £11.29

Pardon my French, but I bloody love this mascara. Every time I wear it, someone asks “are they your own lashes?”. It’s the business for a really wide-eyed, false lash look. And when it comes to mascara, I don’t do subtle. I like drama, or nothing. L’Oreal are the unspoken heroes of the drugstore mascara world (even if the mascaras are over a tenner each). My formerly beloved Maybelline The Falsies, Lash Stiletto and Colossal have languished in the bottom of a drawer since I bought this stuff, which gives me ridiculous length and loads of volume with only a few coats (ok, four) and barely a clump in sight. Seriously, buy this stuff. Buy it now. If you go to Boots and spend £15, you get all kinds of freebies at the mo.

Monu Cleansing Balm £35
Thirty five quid may sound like a ridiculous amount of money to spend on a cleanser, but please bear in mind that £35 gets you a tub the size of your head, stuffed to the brim with amazing, gooey, melty, oily goodness. I use this to remove makeup at night. I can’t be doing with messing around with rubbishy lotions and scratchy cotton wool, and I find facial wipes don’t even begin to remove all my mascara. So given the choice I will always go for an oil-based cleanser that ‘melts’ off makeup and makes my skin feel properly clean without being stripped of moisture. To apply this balm, you just scoop up a finger-full, spread it gently over the face and then remove by massaging the face with a muslin cloth soaked in hot water and wrung out. I find it’s fine all around the eye area and I apply it liberally to my lashes, but more sensitive folks may find the perfumes too strong so be careful. It smells absolutely delicious and as you only need a little, a tub lasts ages and ages.

Vita Liberata Sheek Silken Mousse £20.50
I have tried countless fake tans over the last few years, and for me formula is the most important thing. Spray is too messy to apply, lotion takes too long to dry. Wipes – ha! Streak city! Tinted mousse is a dream to work with. It’s easy to apply without missing anywhere, it’s almost impossible to apply too much and it dries really quickly. Though I don’t fake it that often, when I do, it’s always been with St. Tropez mousse, and I never thought another brand would steal its crown. But Vita Liberata has done it. Essentially, the two products are almost identical, but the guide colour is slightly lighter and the end result slightly darker with this baby, which it why it wins out. There’s also an intense version if you like an even deeper tan. Last time I used this (applied with a mitt to avoid orange hands) there were absolutely no streaks or patches. Not even on my feet / ankles. It faded quite evenly too, and the DHA smell is minimal. If the only fake tan you’ve tried is Johnson’s Holiday Skin, it’s time you upgraded. You won’t regret it. I also really like Beautylab Peptide Tanning if I have more time to let it soak in.

Organic Surge Overnight Sensation Cream £7.99
I’ve been spoiled over the last year or so having access to some amazing high-end products through work, and I have a tendency to recommend ridiculous products that no normal person would ever spend £125 on. So this time I’m going to sing the praises of this £7.99 pot of wonder instead. The Organic Surge range is a real hidden gem. Easy enough to find (in larger Boots stores) but often overlooked, it offers really well thought-out products with high quality ingredients at stupidly low prices. This night cream is really gorgeous and a joy to use. If you like rose oil, you will love this. It sinks in beautifully and isn’t too heavy, and my skin feels really soft by morning. I use this after I’ve used the monu cleanser above, for that final boost of essential oils without as many chemical ‘nasties’ as some or more affordable beauty brands.

Inika Cosmetics Kabuki Brush £23.50
I’m a slave to mineral foundation. I love the coverage, the weightless feel and the fact it doesn’t cause breakouts on my skin. I’ve tried various brands and to be honest, most of them are pretty good (though I sway towards Bare Minerals) but when it comes to application, there’s only one brush that’ll do. In fact, I love this kabuku brush so much I now have two. Inika is a reliably great Australian mineral brand that offers a whole range of great colour cosmetics and tools. The foundation is a bit on the shimmery side (see my review here) but the brush is just perfect. Densely-packed but incredibly soft, it’s perfect for buffing without scratching the skin. And it’s synthetic, so it’s ethical too. I also use it to apply Inika’s bronzer, another big winner in my book!

Stila Eye Shadow Compact in Diamond Lil £13
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I think this is the best eyeshadow in the world. Everyone needs a great taupe in their makeup kit and as far as I’m concerned this is the ultimate. I’m onto what I think is my third pan of this now, having hunted it down on eBay when Stila was pulled from the UK a couple of years ago. Now the brand is back, and you can get Diamond Lil in its own little compact. I will be stocking up, because without this, I couldn’t do a good smoky eye, I couldn’t do my standard ‘corporate’ makeup, and I couldn’t do my ‘today I actually bothered to wear makeup’ look. I reach for this at least once a week. It’s the most beautiful, soft, easy to apply shadow in a gorgeous multi-purpose shade. It verges more on the silver than the brown (beauty bloggers call it ‘mushroom’) with lots and lots of shimmer, but no harsh glitter or foil finish. It blends like a dream, lasts ages and looks amazing on just about every skintone. I also absolutely love ‘Golightly’, a shimmery mid-brown.

Boots Essentials Roly Poly £5.36 (also comes in blonde in store)
Right now, in the world of Fash-on, topknots are ‘the thing’. If you go to an event, you are likely to spot at least one willowy girl sporting a dishevelled bun right on the top of her head. Sadly, I have yet to work out how to pull off this look. I look like a complete idiot. So instead, I’ve toned it down a bit to something that’s a bit more ‘me’. My take on the fashion topknot is more of a dishevelled ballerina bun. And for that, to build lots of volume and give me some support, I need a ‘roly poly’. There’s also a version without the popper called a ‘donut’ which is equally as useful, but I find once I’ve put my hair in a ponytail and backcombed it, it’s almost impossible to get a donut ONTO the ponytail. A roly poly you can clip around the base of a backcombed ponytail, then just wrap sections of fuzzy hair over the base and pin then underneath. Et voila, bad hair day hidden, fashiony hairdo achieved. Don’t forget to add half a can of hairspray for hold and ‘texture’ too.

Harajuku Lovers Sunshine Lovers G Fragrance £8.50
I’ve been wearing this super-cute, super-cheap perfume loads recently for the simple fact that it smells just like holidays. There are three perfumes I associate with this scent, and ironically they’re all celeb fragrances (the others are Sean John Unforgivable Woman Black with notes of Pina Colada, and Jennifer Lopez Miami Glow which smells like suntan lotion). This one, from Gwen Stefani’s adorable Harajuku Lovers line mixes coconut with apple, jasmine, mandarin and all kinds of other lovely stuff in a really nice, affordable Summer fragrance. On Sunny days, I always reach for this to make me feel a bit more like I’m on a beach in the Bahamas, rather than a bus in Balham!

Disclosure: Monu, Vita Liberata, Organic Surge, Inika and Harajuku Lovers products were press samples. Others I bought myself.