A Day at the Makeup Counter

Today was one of the coldest days on record in Boston, so cold that all sense of vanity went out the window. I had a morning meeting, then had a couple hours to kill before meeting someone else. Just staying indoors and relatively warm was my main objective.

To kill that time, I did something I never do: I went into Saks Fifth Avenue, the only department store in the area to carry MAC Cosmetics. I ended up in the chair of an Yves Saint Laurent salesperson named Lilly Alekel, someone so invisibly good at what she does, you quickly forget that she's a salesperson. It could be training, a natural ability, but most likely it's that magical combination of the two.

Saks has always intimidated me: It is so high-end and expensive, I've imagined the doors would instinctively lock upon my approach: "Too poor for us. Go away." They have valet, for pete's sake. Or if I was lucky enough to get in, I'd get a little posturing as they tried to send me back to Target.

Lilly asked me to take a seat with such polite ease, I sat down as if at at friend's for tea. As we talked, I could see her looking me over with a subtle but skilled eye. Then she asked if she could do some touch ups and took a bare foundation brush to my face, just whisking at the makeup I'd already applied. "I knew the weather would be so bad, I didn't bother putting much makeup on today," she said. I took note of my faux pas.

She held up a mirror, and I gasped a little: I looked so much more polished with that simple step. We talked about colors that would suit me. She pulled out Yves Saint Laurent's Rouge Volupte in #4, which is the perfect nude I've searched for all my life. It looks like silk; it feels like silk. For a woman, this is like solving the Sphinx's Riddle. It is such a tricky find: Bare enough to blend in, but contrasting enough not to erase your mouth.

Then she pulled out the famed Touche Eclat, a highlighting pen heralded in many beauty magazines. She went straight for her target: around the eyes. Her demeanor and technique were as delicate as the product itself. Once finished, she held up the mirror again.

All signs of a bad day - a bad year, even - were erased.

I'm a huge advocate of saving money, especially when it comes to cosmetics. But I will say with all honesty, the YSL products I tested gave such a polished, refined finish, all sense of Yankee pride went out the window and I wanted to buy the line out. Lilly has been selling this high end line for years and can explain its virtues without pretense. Her natural ability with people makes it feel like you're chatting with a girlfriend who just happens to run your credit card after the conversation.

Will I go back to Saks or Lilly anytime soon? Should an addict hang out in a bar? Still, the consultation and the products were the balm to a bitterly cold day.

Disclaimer: I paid full price for the products, wasn't paid to write this, never met Lilly before, and am in no way connected to Saks or YSL. Believe me, they wouldn't want me to be.


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