My favorite moisturizer - indeed, the ONLY moisturizer I have ever loved - was Nina Ricci's Le Tiente Ricci Extrait de Jeunesse. Nina discontinued her beauty product line a few years ago, and I was devastated. CRUSHED, I tell you.
I have oily skin. Well into my 30's, I break out like a 13-year old. Always have. I never use moisturizers unless it's the dead of winter, and then only on my cheeks. The only reason I even tried Nina Ricci's stuff is that, one day, while wandering through Sak's Fifth Avenue, I wanted a makeover, and the Chanel counter was snobby.
It was the spring of 1996. Kristin was getting married in a few months. She had asked me to be a bridesmaid, and to sing at her wedding. I was depressed.
Kristin's older brother was the love of my life. We dated on and off for five, long, frustrating years. I was a lousy girlfriend, and he wasn't the best of boyfriends, but I was desperately in love with that short, blonde, blue eyed idiot. Kristin was there the night we met, at a New Year's Eve party. The guy had nowhere else to go on New Year's eve, so his little sister let him tag along to our party at Lisa's place. I was there with another guy. Kristin was in her usual star-studded party mode, but her brother was slopping drunk by the time I arrived, and, well, had no inhibitions. Little did I know how unusual that was for him.
Five years later, when we finally broke up for good, everything inside me shattered. (blah, blah, sad breakup story, get to the Nina Ricci part.) I moved to New York, went through the performing arts academy, got a new boyfriend. Whole New Life.
Kristin asked me to be in her wedding, scheduled for October of 1996. I knew her brother would be there. It would be the first time in over a year that we had seen each other - the first time since the breakup. I knew I was going to feel something.
I was terrified. I knew I was still in love with him. I'd been dating anther guy, and I was still aching for the emotionally stunted short blonde underachiever from Springfield. I cried a lot, working through conflicting emotions. I called Lisa and cried on her shoulder. "I'm scared of how I'm going to feel when I see him, and I'm scared of how I'm going to react." Lisa listened sympathetically. "Just do your best, Didi. We'll be there for you."
About a week or so before the wedding, there came a day when I had nothing to do. Peter had punched up my red hair a few days prior. I had my gorgeous, tailored Oleg Cassini bridesmaid's gown and the matching strappy spike-heeled sandals ready to go. I knew the song I was to sing, and I'd been a bridesmaid before, so I wasn't concerned about myself in an official capacity. I was looking forward to seeing my girlfriends, and my family and their families. I was trying to be calm about the prospect of facing HIM.
I was also, however, feeling more than a little lonely. The guy I'd been dating for the last year was flaking out on me. Glamgal was in her first year at the Actor's Studio and usually too busy to hang out. The other few friends I'd made at the academy had left New York. So for that day, I was on my own.
I busted out of my tiny apartment. I jittered down the sidewalks. I clenched and unclenced my jaw so often, I remember my face hurt that day. I was fidgety, physically and mentally. My mind kept playing possible scenarios over and over like CNN newsreels of things that haven't happened yet. I worked myself into a frenzy of worry. I sweated in the unseasonbly hot late September sun.
I had done everything I could think of to make myself feel like a force to be reckoned with. I needed to feel that way, facing the worst rejection of my life. I wanted to show that I was more than ok - I was skyrocketing into an exciting future. I needed to look gorgeous. I needed to show everyone - no, I needed to show HIM - that I was more than ok without him. I was better off.
So here I am on that day, fresh out of Performing Arts school, underweight, underfed, nearly broke, in a long thin flowery skirt and a tank top, no makeup, no jewely, my hair in a bad-hair-day braid, feeling terrified that the real me might - just might - show through my disguise when I have to do the wedding.
Suddenly I felt like having a makeover. I'd never had one before. New makeup! And I would invest in nice makeup, not drugstore stuff. I had a credit card. I walked all the way from Ninety-Fifth Street and Columbus over to Saks Fifth Avenue. I remember I got there in surprisingly little time.
I walked in the doors and aimed myself at the cosmetics counters, an archipelago of eyeshadow palettes in a sea of women with lacquered nails and designer clothes. It was a weekday. I was surrounded by people who didn't have to work for a living. I looked down at my thrift-shop outfit. Fuck them all, I thought to myself, I've got Visa.
As I approached, a tall, handsome, blonde young man, very thin, with blue eyes and a McDonald's smile brayed "How are you doing today!" at me.
I just looked at him. God, he was cute. God, he was gay. "Fine, thanks," I quipped.
He made a sad face. "You look like you've had a long day."
"I've had better ones," I growled.
"Are you here for a makeover?" I nodded. "Oh, it's just the thing! Lancome is having a special now on all their skin care products. This is their new fragrance." He brandished his atomizer like Vanna White displaying a vowel.
I took a slight step back "Actually, I'm not really good with perfume. I'm allergic to most scents."
"Oh, my sister is the same way." He looked closer at my face. "Are you a singer?"
Really! "Why yes, I do sing, but I'm not famous," I answered, flutting my eyes and blushing slightly. "Not yet anyway."
"Oh, I could tell by your voice. You have a beautiful voice!"
*swoon* "Thank you," I said. His teeth were so white my eyes hurt. "I think I'll go get that makeover."
"I promise, it'll make you feel better!" the pretty little bird chirped. I gave him a smile over my shoulder as I disappeared into the crowd.
I cruised by the Lancome counter, but they were mobbed. Must be some special. I tried Chanel, but they were so snobby I couldn't tolerate them. They looked down their noses at me while they informed me that a minimum $100 purchase was required with a makeover. All their customers were older women who exuded wealth. I walked away.
I considered Clinique - too boring. Shiseido? Too exotic, and likely overpriced.
"Can I help you with anything?" a voice sang out.
I looked over, and it was coming from the Nina Ricci counter. A perky twenty-something blonde with brunette roots and way too dark lipliner beckoned me over. Their counter wasn't completely empty, but it wasn't mobbed either.
"Actually, I'd like to get a makeover." I leaned on her counter a bit, feeling tired.
The gal laid her hand gently on my shoulder. "Let us help you with that. George?" An older man seemed to materialize from out of nowhere. "This young lady needs a makeover."
"This beautiful girl?" George said. "She doesn't need anything but a smile."
Oh, now this is what I need, I thought to myself, smiling obligingly. The older man looked at me. He cupped my chin and squinted at me like I was in a petrie dish. "It's warm out there, isn't it?" he asked me.
"Yeah," I sighed. "Pretty hot."
"I have something that will cool you off."
He clearly enjoyed working on my face. He used an astringent cleanser that did indeed cool me off very quickly. "Your brow is wrinkling," he murmured. "What's on your mind?"
"I've just had a really long week," I confided. "My best friend is getting married, and I'm in the wedding.
"Oh, we have a wedding to prepare for!" He announced to the entire world. The gal at the counter beamed. "Perfect time for a makeover!" she affirmed.
"How old is your friend?" George asked.
"Twenty-five," I responded. George lifted his eyebrows at me. "I'm twenty-four." I heard the girl behind the counter say awww.
"And where is the wedding?"
"Chicago," I sighed.
"Oh," George clucked. "Is that where you grew up?"
We chatted about my friend's wedding. I said nothing about the real source of my visible angst, but I think everyone could tell I was hiding something.
While George was smoothing a moisturizer on my face, I breathed in a zing of citrus, and felt something lifting off of me, like shrugging off a heavy coat. "That smells incredible," I said. What is that?"
It was Extrait de Jeunesse Moisturizer. It was a peach-colored, cloudy gel. It was impossibly light and not the least bit oily.
My skin didn't feel a thing as it absorbed in, no heaviness, no stickiness, nothing I usually got from moisturizers. I touched my cheek, and it was soft as 300-thread count cotton. I'd never felt anything like it before. It came in a pretty little jar with a pump, and only a drop dispensed at a time, on the tip of my finger. Two drops were plenty to quench the thirst in my skin.
Two drops were enough to quell my nerves with a tropical sniff. Two drops of calm. Two drops of spoiling myself. Two drops of something you could never buy in the midwest. I later discovered that Le Teinte Ricci was not available in Chicago.
I bought a jar of it that day, in addition to some eyeliner in two colors, some under-eye concealer, and some pale-as-a-ghost foundation, which made my face glow like porcelain. I felt gorgeous. I felt well-prepared. I felt... like maybe I really was just fine without that boy.
In addition to my purchases, George and his Counter Girl threw in all sorts of free makeup samples. They gave me a discount too, for no apparent reason. They hugged me goodbye. I clutched my little bag of treasures, thanked them for a lovely day, and floated toward the exit.
I passed the Perfume boy again. "Oh, you look beautiful!" he sang. "I knew a makeover would cheer you up!"
"Yes," I said to him, "You were right."
"Oh... but it's not Lancome," he remarked sadly, pointing to my bag.
"I'm sorry," I said, "I just went to the first counter that wasn't Chanel."
He laughed. "Aren't they awful!" He whispered conspiratorially. "You look wonderful. Is there someplace you're going?"
"My best friend's wedding in Chicago," I replied. "It's next week. I'm a bridesmaid and I'm singing in the ceremony."
The boy pressed his hands together and squealed. "Oooh, what are you singing?"
"One Hand, One Heart from West Side Story," I admitted. He looked confused. "They're pretty traditional out there in the midwest."
"Oh," he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm sure you'll sound beautiful!" He gushed.
"Thanks," I giggled
He stuck his hand out. "My name's Brian. What's yours, in case I see your album at HMV someday?"
I shook his hand. "It's Ouiser," I said. "It's nice to meet you. Thanks for the conversation."
"It's been nice talking to you," he said, pumping my hand. "And have a great time at the wedding. Do you have a date?"
"No," I said, leaning in, "But neither does my ex-boyfriend." I allowed a giggle to escape my lips.
"Oh, you are going to make him one sorry man!" Brian crowed.
"I hope so," I said, a warm glow filling me from top to toes. "Thanks."
I walked out into the glare of a late summer sun, feeling ready for anything.
The wedding was beautiful. HE was there, and it was as difficult as I had feared. I handled it by not speaking one word to him, or even looking in his direction for the entire two-day affair. It wasn't the best strategy... I felt him there. At times, I felt him looking at me. Once, I caught his eye, and he waved at me. He appeared to think we might be able to talk, say hello. I quickly looked away.
I made it through the ceremony. I sang ok. I was paired up with a smart-assed groomsman, which I appreciated, for his humour. As we were recessing out of the church, the emotional release of the close of the wedding seemed to release my own self-control, and the tears began flowing. I sobbed as my groomsman led me out of the church. Unfortunately, everyone noticed.
As we entered the anteroom behind the chapel, the entire wedding party (including HIM) was looking at me. "Are you ok?" asked Kristin's Mom.
I stood on one foot and grimaced. "It's the SHOOOOOOEES," I wailed. Everybody cracked up laughing. I laughed too, and my tears subsided.
My parents were proud of me for doing it. I felt good about it. And I never used another moisturizer again.
When I finally ran out of Extrait de Jeunesse - almost two years later - I went back to Saks to buy another jar. I couldn't find the Nina Ricci counter anywhere.
I asked the information desk. "I'm sorry," the latin boy with the beauty mark said, "We don't carry Le Teinte Ricci anymore."
My heart stopped. "You're kidding," I said.
"No, we just stopped carrying it a few months ago."
My head reeled. The only other places in the United States that sold Le Teinte Ricci were Dallas and Los Angeles. I just stared at the guy.
"Sorry..." he repeated.
When I got home, I went online and searched for any information I could find about Nina Ricci cosmetics. I learned that Nina Ricci had discontinued the entire product line. My heart sank.
Years later, when my Grandmother's health was declining rapidly, and she was living with my parents, my Mom and I went shopping for Christmas presents for her. Mom bought her some Lancome Bien Fait moisturizer for about sixty bucks. I had to admit that it was lovely, but I didn't buy it for myself. Eventually I bought some Neutrogena Oil-Free SPF15 moisturizer, which is a very similar formula to the Lancome, but I was never in love with it like I had been with L'Extrait de Jeunesse. Nothing had that amazing, uplifting, energizing-and-soothing-at-the-same-time scent. It feels good on my face and doesn't clog my pores, but it's a less than thrilling experience.
Friday night, for my birthday, this Beauty Queen gave me some of this:
Origins "A Perfect World" White Tea Skin Guardian
This morning, after my shower, I smoothed some of it on my cheeks. It's a pale white cloudy gel with a peachy tint.
The smell hit me instantly. Orange. Then florals - mimosa and bergamot. Lusciousness beyond compare. I actually sighed as I smoothed it over my cheeks this morning, much to my boyfriend's amusement. It took strength to resist the urge to use more than two tiny drops on my face... and two drops, again, is all it takes. My spirits lifted and I laughed. "This is AMAZING," I said out loud.
I don't feel ten years older than I was when I discovered Nina Ricci. I don't think I look ten years older either. But I am ten years wiser. And after ten years, the specter of HIM is long gone. I don't cry over tight shoes or men who don't appreciate me anymore. I have a new love now that is better than anything I could have imagined back then. And now I have a new happy-smelling moisturizer too, given to me by a new friend.
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