Happy Holidays!

Photo by Rodney Smith, courtesy of Brabourne Farm

2009 has been a good year for me, but also a very tiring one. I desperately need a break, which is why Solo Lisa will be on hiatus from today until January 4, 2010. I'll be relaxing and spending time with friends, family, and the boy, doing some shopping (those sales are awfully tempting!), and--most exciting of all--going on a little road trip to Portland!

Here's hoping you and your loved ones have a wonderful holiday and a happy new year!

Now that I've told you what I'll be up to while I'm MIA, care to tell me what your plans are? :-)

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Sequins

It's the day before Christmas Eve, which means today's post is also the last installment of my Luxe Or Less Gift Guide! I hope you've enjoyed perusing my gift picks as much as I enjoyed choosing them.

Item: Sequined goodies
Good for: Party girls and fashionable folks
Why sequins: Like the clutches, sequined clothes and accessories would be excellent for social butterflies and will get plenty of wear at New Year's Eve parties and well into 2010. Avid trend watchers would also appreciate a sparkly addition to their wardrobe, whether it's a little something to dress up a daytime look or a showstopping frock for the evening.

Go luxe: This Hervé Léger sequined bandage dress ($1,250) is admittedly not for everybody. But if your gift recipient has the figure to pull off a tight body-con silhouette, crisscross sequin detailing, and winter white, this dress will look absolutely stunning--and leave more than a few admirers picking up their jaws off the ground as she saunters past them.

Spend less: Add some sparkle to casual everyday ensembles with these gray jersey sequined fingerless gloves ($4.80) from Forever 21. Can you imagine how cute they'd be with a boyfriend blazer, skinny jeans, and tall leather riding boots? Pick up a pair as a stocking stuffer for your girlfriend and maybe a pair for yourself while you're at it!

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Jewelry Boxes

Item: Jewelry boxes
Good for: Well, lots of girls, but especially those who love to stay neat and organized.
Why jewelry boxes: I love the idea of keeping your jewelry in a beautifully designed, thoughtfully organized case that protects your baubles and complements your decor. Choose a jewelry box with compartments that suit the recipient's needs. For example, if she loves cocktail rings and doesn't wear necklaces very much, get a case that has lots of little compartments and cushiony ring slots so she has her favourite jewels at the ready.

Go luxe: I stumbled across the ingenious Wolf Designs jewelry cases ($175-435) at Fine Finds in Yaletown, and every time I go into the store for a quick browse, I'm mesmerized by the sight of them. With sectioned drawers, a built-in mirror, a travel-size case that pops out of one compartment, and patented technology that keeps silver from tarnishing for up to 35 years, Wolf jewelry boxes are truly the cream of the crop. These are sizable cases with enough storage capacity to keep every treasured piece of jewelry safe and sound.

Spend less: The Mirror, mirror jewelbox ($38) from Urban Outfitters features small sectioned compartments on the top tier and unsectioned drawers on the bottom for larger items. It also has lined interiors and a gorgeous etched mirror facade, and is sure to make a lovely addition to any dresser top.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: For The Hopeless Internet Addict

She's a social media junkie who camps out at the local cafe (the one with the free wi-fi and great lattes), reading her RSS feeds and working on her blog. Or she loves checking her email and tweeting on the go. Sure, these are things that she can do on her smartphone, but would she really want to hardcode HTML with her thumbs alone? Keep these gifts in mind for the stylish techie gal in your life.

Go luxe: My HP Mini 10.1" netbook ($329.99) has ventured where my more unwieldy laptop fears to go, and after having used it for a couple of months, I think this would make a terrific gift for an Internet addict who needs a smaller computer for on-the-fly work. Although it tends to struggle with loading HD videos, it more than suffices for blogging, email, Twitter, Facebook, and instant messaging--basically the things I use my regular laptop for anyway. Weighing in at 1.31 kg, this little machine is super portable and perfect for overnight stays, lengthy voyages, jaunts to the local cafe, meetings on the go, and mobile blogging. For the university students among my readers, think about what a godsend this would be for notetaking in lectures and word processing as you're cranking out the term papers in the library. Although there are smaller models and pricier ones, the larger keyboard on this model makes it ideal for those who expect to do a lot of typing.

Spend less: If you don't have the funds to supply your hopeless Internet addict with a shiny new netbook, shell out for something to keep her current laptop/netbook safe, sound, and stylish when it's being transported. The SlingTravel purse ($46) by BorsaBella uses thick foam and fleece to cushion the netbook from scratches and blows, and features a detachable strap so she can use it as a purse or a netbook sleeve. Check out BorsaBella's Etsy store for more beautiful handmade bags to stow your electronics in.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: For The Jet Set

Today's Luxe Or Less Gift Guide deviates from all the other installments by focusing on a specific type of recipient rather than an item! Here are my top picks for the frequent traveler in your life.

Go luxe: My passport is slightly warped, and I think it was because I put it in my bag with a wet umbrella at some point in time. Save your gift recipient's passport from a similarly sad fate with the Coach metallic leather passport holder ($98). I love the sleek and luxurious look of the trompe l'oeil detailing and silver against the black leather.

Spend less: Cut down on baggage carousel confusion with a bright, quirky luggage tag that will make their generic black suitcase stand out from all the others. This Avian Carrier luggage tag ($13.99) from ModCloth should do the trick.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Clutches

Item: Clutches
Good for: The social butterfly and the girl who's always the life of the party
Why clutches: When I go out in the evening, I like to travel light and be as unemcumbered as possible. Clutches are useful for stowing your lipstick and cell phone, and they add a glam touch to your party outfit. Give this gift before the holiday party circuit goes into full swing, and you can be sure it'll be appreciated on New Year's Eve and beyond.

Go luxe: Chanel's wallet on a chain is my Holy Grail of clutches. Open it up and you'll find smartly designed pockets for cards, cash, and blotting papers. An accordion compartment in the centre expands and accomodates my cell phone, digital camera, keys, and lip gloss with ease. There's also a hidden zipper compartment just under the flap that extends down the flap and the back of the clutch. With a delicate yet strong chain strap that can be rearranged and worn different ways, this clutch is the ultimate marriage of practicality, versatility, style, and elegance. It's available in different materials and styles; the one I bought myself for my champagne birthday had camellia petal-embossed lambskin pattern and silver hardware.

Spend less: Kitson's round studded clutch ($48) is a stud lover's dream and can be held in your hand or worn on your shoulder with the detachable strap. The lining features a zip pocket and a cell phone-sized pocket to keep your essentials organized and accessible.

Parts By Heather Jewelry & Accessories Sale

Check out the Parts By Heather sale this weekend for 12-24% off some truly unique pieces. For those of you paying heed to my gift guide, PBH is also a great local designer for statement necklaces.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Fashionable Reading

Item: Fashion books, tomes, and magazines
Good for: The sartorially obsessed
Why fashionable reads: This gift idea combines two great loves of my life, fashion and books. Plus, there's nothing quite like the feeling of snuggling up under a blanket or throw with some hot tea within reach and a good book!

Go luxe: Chosen as one of Time magazine's top 100 design influences, The Sartorialist's Scott Schuman released his much anticipated book this year. It's one thing to see his photos flood my Google Reader everyday, but quite another to see them all in this volume which showcases his impeccable eye for style. Splurge and get that special someone the "bespoke" hardcover edition for $110.25 from Amazon.com.

Spend less: Although I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy yet, I have no qualms recommending Closet Confidential: Style Secrets Learned the Hard Way ($18.99) by Winona Dimeo-Ediger as a gift. After all, how can you go wrong with a book written by the hilarious blogger behind Daddy Likey?! I've been following her blog for years and, well, I should probably stop talking before this post dribbles away into a random string of superlatives...

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Luscious Lashes

Item: Luscious lashes
Good for: Mascara addicts and adventurous beauty junkies
Why lashes: For myself and many other girls, mascara is a daily beauty essential. I appreciate how it defines my lashes, widens my eyes, and makes me look awake and alert--and as weird as this sounds, looking awake actually makes me feel more energetic in the morning. A mental boost and a jolt of confidence--not bad for something "artificial" and "cosmetic."

Go luxe: A gift certificate for Noir Lash Lounge, one of the premiere lash extension destinations in Vancouver, will guarantee the mascara addict in your life a set of long, fluttery lashes for weeks on end. If the recipient is no stranger to lash extensions, she'll definitely appreciate your gift on her next visit to Noir.

Spend less: The Sephora Brand Lash Stretcher mascara ($16) is the only mascara from my Lash Stash sampler that I'm truly crazy about so far. The formula contains fibres intended to build up your lashes while the brush defines, lengthens, and curls without ever clumping. The medium-sized curved brush also helps me reach every last lash without getting any mascara on my eyelid. Best of all, the formula stays put and relatively smudge-free but washes off easily with warm water and facial cleanser.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Pajamas

Item: Pajamas
Good for: People who like to wear clothes when they go to sleep. Seriously, if the recipient you're thinking of prefers to slumber in the buff, this gift idea will probably go unappreciated.
Why pajamas: There are all sorts of reasons why PJs make a great gift at this time of year. They keep the recipient warm and comfy on cold winter nights. They make awesome loungewear for those days when you stay at home fighting off a cold or the flu. You can roll out of bed on Christmas morning in cute PJs, open your presents, and have a late pancake-and-waffle breakfast--all the while feeling equal parts adorable and cozy. For winter pajamas, I prefer loose-fitting, classic cotton or flannel matching sets with an all-over print for that extra cozy feeling. Although Christmas-y options abound at this type of year, I recommend getting a season-neutral print that can be worn beyond the festive season.

Go luxe: The navy/white colour combo, piping detail, and pocket embroidery make these Lauren by Ralph Lauren classic pajamas ($98.14 Cdn) from Nordstrom the epitome of preppy chic. Slip them on, have a mimosa with your Christmas brunch, and pretend you're on the set of Gossip Girl.

Spend less: La Senza has always been a reliable standby for affordable bras and sleepwear. Their tailored flannel PJ ($19.50) comes in a variety of prints and is sure to bring the wearer sweet dreams without bringing you nightmares of the post-holiday credit card bill.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Statement Necklaces

Item: Statement necklaces
Good for: Fashionistas, whether they've had to be frugal this year and therefore haven't tried this trend yet, or they're head over heels in love with this look already and on the lookout for another necklace to add to their growing collection.
Why statement necklaces: Saying statement necklaces are a huge trend this season is a bit of an (ironic) understatement. High- and low-end options are plentiful. My favourite looks for this trend include multiple strands of chains, beads, and pearls woven together; oversized chain links; floral embellishments, interwoven silk ribbons, grosgrain bows, and other textile-based embellishments (they soften metallic elements and add a feminine vibe); bib necklaces featuring sequins, rhinestones, and large gems; and vintage-inspired pendants on long chains. The sort of necklace you decide to give the fashionista in your life is entirely up to you and her style.

Go luxe: The Sachin + Babi 'Bowery' necklace ($325) is handmade and features a luxe-looking juxtaposition of many different elements: grosgrain bow, feathery chiffon pieces, distressed silver beads, a chunky polished chain. From any angle, the necklace has interesting visual details and strikes a balance between feminine chic and edgy attitude. Shopbop styled this number as a mid-length necklace, but can you imagine how good it would look tied a little tighter on the neck and worn as a choker? Wear it with a tee, boyfriend blazer, and skinny jeans, or with your favourite LBD.

Spend less: This segment rhinestone necklace ($14.80) from Forever 21 reminds me of Cleopatra and ancient Egypt with its polished black stones and elaborate beads and chains. Like the Sachin + Babi necklace, this one would pair well with a casual outfit for a bit of added polish or with an LBD for a night on the town.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Makeup Palettes

Item: Makeup palettes
Good for: Beauty product junkies, makeup newbies
Why makeup palettes: Guys are often astonished to learn that even "no makeup, looks completely natural" girls wear makeup (surprise!). I myself used to go bare-faced and fare just fine, but in the last couple of years I started applying concealer, mascara, and blush before I leave the house. It makes a huge difference in making me look refreshed and energetic when I'm feeling less than stellar!

Makeup palettes are easy to tote for on-the-go touch-ups or travel. Beauty product junkies will appreciate having new colours and products to try, while makeup newbies will love a palette for providing them with some necessary basics all in one place. Everyone has their own preferences, but I look for the following characteristics in my perfect palette:

  • Small and sleek so I can put it into a handbag or makeup case
  • Flattering colours that can be blended or used on their own
  • Hues suitable for daytime or nighttime looks
  • Eye, lip, and cheek colours
For makeup newbies, I highly recommend buying a set of brushes to complement the palette as well. I swear by the Ecotools bamboo handle makeup brushes--decent quality, affordable, and available at most drugstores.

Go luxe: I'm salivating over the NARS Wild At Heart Anniversary Palette ($75). The eyeshadows can be used to create a soft neutral look for day or a smokey eye at night, and the lip colours are varied and blendable. To top it all off, this palette also includes two of NARS's legendary products, The Multiple (available here in South Beach, a shimmery apricot hue) and Orgasm blush. The compact itself is smooth, sleek, and sturdy enough to withstand being toted everywhere, while the mirror inside makes touch-ups a breeze.

Spend less: The Sephora Brand Makeup Palette To Go ($15) would make a great affordable stocking stuffer. This palette is available in cool and warm tones and features a solid selection of neutral shades that can be layered or worn on their own.

Luxe Or Less Gift Guide: Cufflinks

Another year, another round-up of holiday gift ideas! From now until my year-end hiatus, I'll be highlighting one gift idea each day with stylish picks for different budgets. If you're still stumped about what to get someone, you might find your answer here in the days leading up to Christmas!

Item: Cufflinks
For: A brother, a guy friend, a significant other, a father with a sense of humour
Why cufflinks: The right cufflink can add sass, style, whimsy, and humour to even the most staid of business and formal wear ensembles. Dapper dressing on popular TV shows such as Mad Men (the camera loves close-up shots of crisp French cuffs) and Gossip Girl (think Chuck Bass) have made cufflinks even more covetable among the young and trendy.

Go luxe: I've had my eye on Wendy Brandes's sterling silver memento mori cufflinks ($1,000) for as long as I can remember, and coming from a girl who's not really into skulls, that's really saying something. The intricate shading and detail lend depth, sensuality, and a unique character to a design motif I'm otherwise rather indifferent to. If you can afford to drop the dough, these are an excellent option.

Spend less: Looking for a quirky choice that won't break the bank? Etsy has cufflinks with everything from Lego storm troopers to vintage clockwork mechanisms; most are under $60. The ones that caught my eye and won my heart are these silver-plated Transformers cufflinks ($20) from Sydney-based Fink Studio. Featuring carved Autobots and Decepticon faces, they'll appeal to the recipient's inner nerd and garner a laugh of astonished delight.

Product Review: Laura Mercier Thickening & Building Mascara, Smashbox Lash DNA Mascara

I'm still making my way through Sephora's Lash Stash Mascara Deluxe Sampler, trying out each one and writing product reviews every two months as I go along. However, I tried two mascaras I disliked so much that I decided I couldn't wait two months for my next review.

First up, the Laura Mercier thickening and building mascara ($20 for the full-size version) promises to volumize and condition lashes with vitamins A, E, and C. Reviews for this mascara were only so-so on the Sephora website, and once I started trying it out, I could see why. The small wiry brush, while allowing for the utmost control, didn't do much for my lashes at all. After swiping a couple coats on, I squinted at the mirror trying to discern the minimal--if any--difference it made. As the day wore on, I decided I wasn't really wearing mascara, that I must've gotten a dried-out dud sample--and that was when the smudging began. At least with Benefit BADgal Lash, I had enough benefits to make the smudging worthwhile, but the Laura Mercier mascara was just all-around awful. I persisted valiantly for a week before I gave up and chucked it in the trash.

After my Laura Mercier disappointment, I approached Smashbox Lash DNA Mascara ($19 for the full-size version) with high hopes only to be let down once again. Boasting lash-boosting proteins and amino acids, Smashbox Lash DNA claims to create "mega length and curl while conditioning and rebuilding former lash damage." It also features a signature double helix brush intended to grab every lash and lengthen and separate even the teeniest ones. Unfortunately, in my experience, these were lofty claims the product did not meet. The brush clumped like mad and left black smears on my eyelids. (I guess I should've known better than to expect fabulous lashes from an applicator resembling a miniature version of what the chimney sweeps used in Mary Poppins.) Like the Laura Mercier mascara, as the day wore on I was left with severe undereye smudging. Fed up, I tossed this one after three days.

I know some of you are probably thinking, "If your mascara smudges so badly, why not go for waterproof?" Truthfully, I'm very lazy about using makeup remover. I also know there are formulas out there that come off easily with warm water but stay put and are relatively smudgeproof throughout the day. (Cover Girl Lash Blast is one of them.) In fact, I'm trying out a mascara from the Lash Stash Sampler right now that more or less fits this description, but you'll have to stay tuned for that review in an upcoming post!

Have you tried the Laura Mercier or Smashbox mascaras? What do you think of them?

Today's Outfit: The Name Of The Game...

...is staying warm and being comfortable. When the temperatures drop, all I want to do is stay at home in pajamas with my hands curled around a big mug of hot tea. A sweater dress and leggings are the perfect pairing for days when I want to hibernate somewhere cozy and my schedule allows me to do anything but.

  • Sweater dress (Lady Language)
  • Leggings (Forever 21)
  • Boots (Miz Mooz, via LF Boutique in New York)
  • Toque (H&M)
  • Arm warmers (Spank)
  • Squirrel necklace (Wendy Brandes)

Product Review: Soak Wash

As fun as shopping is, what good is finding that Holy Grail item if you don't take good care of it post-purchase? I'm a huge proponent of following label instructions on clothes and giving your wardrobe a regular once-over and some TLC if needed: shaving the pills off knitwear, brushing lint off a winter coat, spraying stain repellant on a pair of leather boots before their first outing of the season on slushy, salted sidewalks. In keeping with this outlook, today's Product Review veers off the beaten path of beauty products and focuses on a clothing care item, Soak.

When a publicist first contacted me about Soak, I became curious. This gentle detergent promises to be a convenient, easy handwash solution for your delicates without requiring you to scrub or mangle them. Simply put a spoonful of the gentle formula wash in cool water and let your delicates soak for 15 minutes, then pull them out and squeeze the water out gently. No rinsing is required and your clothes dry residue-free. Does this sound too good to be true? It did to me, which is why I wrote back requesting product samples--I had to see this product working with my own eyes.

A parcel arrived in the mail a month later which included sample sizes in Soak's four scents--flora, aquae, citrus, and unscented--and a 130 mL bottle of Soak in the aquae scent. I conducted my product test with the unscented sample, although I sniffed the other scents to see what they were like. The aquae formula has the least obtrusive scent after the unscented formula. The flora scent is very light, and the citrus scent is the strongest of the four but still pleasant.

Let's see how this went down in photos, shall we?

I used the unscented sample to wash my Malene Grotrian bustier, a piece that had delicate fabrics, intricate stays I didn't want to undo, and wire boning I didn't want to bend--all in all, the perfect candidate for a date with Soak.

Following the instructions as closely as possible, I filled the sink with cool water and squeezed all the unscented Soak out of the packet. Suds formed and I dropped the bustier in, then decided on the spur of the moment to drop in a garment that had a small stain on it.

After 15 minutes, the suds all but disappeared. I pulled the bustier out; the water and the fabric didn't have that slippery, soapy feel that I get when I handwash things with normal detergent, thereby living up to the "no rinsing required" claim.

The sink full of dirty water is proof enough for me--this product works! However, I was disappointed to find that the stain in the other garment remained. Obviously a bit more elbow grease than hands-off soaking was required.

Final verdict: Soak is a handy product to have for gently soiled delicates, especially if you're strapped for time and can't be bothered to handwash items individually. However, extra effort is required in some cases to get your garments truly clean.

Blanche Macdonald 2009 Grad Show

Last week, well-wishers and fashion fans gathered at the Westin Bayshore to congratulate another group of Blanche Macdonald fashion design grads while admiring their collections. Titled "Line and Form," this year's show was the largest in the school's history with forty-nine graduates exhibiting 2-3 outfits each. After seeing last year's show and covering it for Style By Fire, I was eager to attend again, this time covering the show for Solo Lisa. Although the collections were so different it was hard to pick out as many themes as I did last year, overall I did see some recurring motifs.

Damsels in distress

In keeping with the rocker chic trends ruling runways and fashion blogs, many of the grad collections featured distressed finishes and rips and tears. Natalie Ng sent asymmetrical jean shorts with tears down the runway, while Breanna Reid created laddered zip-up leggings that gave the appearance of rough n' tumble rocker chic to the entire ensemble. Mickell Orbe's collection juxtaposed distressing with artful draping, chiffon detailing, and two au courant trends (the strong shoulder and the harem trouser), all done in khaki tones.

Hip, hip, hooray

Trousers, skirts, and dresses in several student collections accentuated the hip with draping, stuffed panels, and other techniques. Adrienne Larocque did a twill high-waisted skirt with a side cowl, while Letitia Velasco and Sarah Beverly Runnalls both designed dresses that emphasized the hip. Kelsey Shein created a cream hemp silk pantsuit with wide-hipped pants.

Strong shoulders

Blanche Macdonald grads one-upped Balmain's strong shoulder craze by referencing a strong shoulder look from the turn of century: the leg o' mutton sleeve. Desiree Henke's collection included a dark olive hoodied jacket with stuffed shoulders down the runway. Kelsey Shein chose to do a chocolate brown leather jacket with leg o' mutton sleeves.

All in one

Jumpsuits were prominent in many of the collections shown that night. Katie Bedford (one of Stylefinds's own girls and my front-row companion at Vancouver Fashion Week) had one that combined chocolate brown linen, teal silk insets and piping, and a lily applique detail. Sayaka Toyoda's version featured raglan sleeves with a black waistband and exposed gold zippers. Gisella Macabeo's blue low-cut jersey jumpsuit with a yellow-lined hood and a cutout back was dramatic and memorable.

French femmes

Some students turned to classic chic and femininity for inspiration. Katie Bedford's collection combined whimsy with well-executed ladylike silhouettes full of darling details--a pleated placket down a skirt, contrasting fabric insets, and floral appliques. Desiree Henke accessorized her collection with berets and knee socks which, when combined with the lightweight coats and pleated skirt, evoked images of a chic Parisian school girl. Marianne Chow's collection of black and ivory evening wear separates with exquisitely executed ruffles was reminiscent of Chanel.

Fun, fun, fun

Some designers demonstrated such a cheeky sense of humour and wonderful creativity it was hard not to grin. Lindsay Dobson's collection of evening dresses--seemingly inspired by high school math class-- featured sculpted hemlines reminiscent of sine/cosine curves, pyramids, and cones. Andrea Bagnas created a "tea party table" ensemble complete with tea bag tags dangling from a full tulle skirt and a teapot purse. Mady Bone channeled Tim Burton (and her own surname) with a collection featuring black and purple stripes and skeletal embellishments. (I actually laughed out loud at the black pencil skirt with two bony hands cupping the butt.)

Ladies of the night

Fans of evening wear, rejoice! Here are my favourite dresses from the night. Nadine Chong's strapless "peacock" cocktail dress was trimmed in hand-appliqued peacock feathers. The peacock green backless gown with appliqued pleating crisscrossing around the front and back of the dress and cutout details by Nina Liu took my breath away and demonstrated her mastery of a difficult technique.

All photos in this post by Wayne Mah.
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