A cornucopia of thoughtful holiday gifts

Now’s the time to finalize your gifting for the holidays! Of course, you want to give the impression that you took your sweet time to select something perfect, rather than a generic obligatory hand-off. Here are some luxe ideas for wellness and beauty, any one of which will make your recipient loved and special. I was happy to be hosted to experience them!

Clear, beautiful skin is the foundation of all attractive looks, even minimalist. But that doesn’t mean getting it has to be clinical or chore-like! Skincare can be fun and attractive enough to give as a holiday gift. Grace & Stella is a line that brings back the fun of self-care. It’s also vegan and cruelty-free, because being kind to living things is important. The company envisions using their products with friends, enjoying a night in. Why not!

Their F balm, this works! cleansing balm is a gentle makeup melt, with its own spatula fitting right in the lid. That’s a thoughtful innovation: most other products with spatulas just stick them in the box — boxes can get wet and soggy in the bathroom. You emulsify a quarter-sized blob in your dry, clean hands, working the liquid into your face to break down makeup, sunscreen, oil and dirt. I tried it with metallic, glittery and even dark-staining eyeliner and it got rid of everything. They do recommend a “2-step” cleansing process — use your regular cleanser after it. That’s appropriate, because it has synthetic beeswax, which should be washed off to keep your complexion clear.

Spray all day is a non-stinging skin freshener, with goodies like aloe, rosa rugosa flower extract, castor oil. Use it after cleansing, after makeup application, to refresh during the day, whenever!

Here’s something that will improve any other moisturizer you’re using, boosting its efficacy to be like high-end products: Say “hi” to hydration. Hyaluronic acid is known to attract moisture in the environment to keep your skin glowing. This acid is found in the very best skincare products. It’s a very thin fluid and after letting it dry, it will not interfere with makeup application. You only need only 2-3 drops, before your other creams.

In that pajama party spirit, Grace & Stella have many, many masks, including 3 kinds of eye masks! It’s like an energy drink for your eyes are individually foil-wrapped eye gels that your place below your eyes for 20 minutes. No need to rinse! You just pat the leftover gel into your skin. These are great for in the bath, in the hot tub, nighttime airline travel, commuting, etc. This particular mask is good for puffy eyes and dark circles. You could keep them in the fridge for even more efficacy.

Merle Norman has been one of the classic brands “in the know” for like, forever. If you want to do “new” without the trend doing you, this is where you should be looking. But did you know they’ve got fabulous makeup brushes? Long ago, I started collecting makeup books by artists like Pablo Manzoni and Way Bandy, reading how they’d trim brushes from art stores to suit makeup application. I, too, tried getting out the little manicure scissors to make makeup brushes: don’t bother. I ended up having to use sable brushes to re-shellac fake pearls. Their brushes have nice, long handles, which makes a difference in how they balance in your and the pressure applied. Think of how the length would apply to drumsticks or chopsticks.

If you haven’t been using a special contour brush for your eye contour, you’re kinda working with both hands tied behind your back. A soft, specially sculpted brush really cuts that puffy look and gives your expression elegance. Makeup Artistry Eyes # 3 is properly made of natural hair. Do you know how to use one? After you get some dark, matte shadow on there, tap it on your hand. Then, lightly poke, poke, poke in the hollow of your eye, don’t apply like a windshield wiper. You will see a total difference! Use a different brush to lightly blend.

Makeup Artistry Face #8 has synthetic hair, which is what you want in a concealer brush. The point of concealing is you need rich pigment deposits. This one has short and long hairs and is angled: you can get at recesses on the face like around your nose. This is what they say: “The versatile shape and size allows for varied application techniques including stippling, swirling and quick back-and-forth depositing. Use with concealers, foundations and even powders.” The softness of the bristles still allows for subtle blending and softening of edges.

If you don’t have a brush like Makeup Artistry Eyes #5, you’re doing a very boring and un-customized makeup, sorry. It’s a natural brush that has a very tiny, flat, squared-off head. It’s softer than many other similar brushes, which has its plusses and minuses. The plus side is that it won’t irritate your eyes when you get in there to apply or soften eyeliner. Some people like a firmer head for laying down sharp lines. This is what they say about it: “creates and blends precise color at the lash line with all formulas of eyeliner, eye shadow, brow powder and lip liner.” Do you know how to do your brows? This is how I was taught by a makeup artist I consulted with before going on tv: Draw your basic brow shape with a brow pencil matching your brows’ color. Don’t reshape or go beyond what’s there. Then, take a dark beige/light taupe eye shadow (on a brush like #5) and go over the wax line. This is where you can do some slight re-shaping, with the subtle powder.

Makeup Artistry Eyes #5 is an angled blush brush. If you don’t have a brush like this, don’t do contouring. Period. This is shaped with fine natural bristles to get at the spot under your cheekbones for creating angles and you don’t want dark powder anywhere else. I mean, you wouldn’t polish your nails with a spoon, would you?

Another Merle Norman gift that combines the best of both world: Merle’s Pearls. This is a holiday packaged gift — really just stick a card on top! — that houses translucent powder and a special powder brush. The cap on the powder jar is like a giant gem. Beautiful for a vanity table! Inside the cap is a sponge, if you prefer to apply powder like that or use the soft, angled brush. It houses an Italian-made multi-toned powder, to work with all skin tones. Goof-proof! So, if you know, you know: This is a great dupe to a nose-bleed expensive powder and just as lovely.

Looking for a cute stocking stuffer or 8th night gift? White Glo is a teeth whitening company — including toothpaste — developed for Australia’s actors and models. It used to only be available to industry insiders, but now it’s available to all of us! Their White Glo Professional Choice toothpaste — there are several — comes with a brush incorporating a polishing tip. That’s how important they say having a new toothbrush is.

They note the 6 points of what a good toothpaste should address: enamel safe whitening, cavities and decay, plaque and tartar, bacteria in mouth, gum health and ultra-fresh breath. This is a proper toothpaste you can feel good about giving! I notice it’s been keeping my dental work clean and has an invigorating flavor — not that flat taste that you sometimes get with toothpaste made overseas.

Tocca is the Italian word for “touch”, hearkening back to the American company’s clothing heritage, using special fabrics and embroideries. Now, they are a super-luxe fragrance house for people and their homes. I first was introduced to Tocca many years ago, when I went window shopping at a now-gone exquisite store in NYC. I wanted to absorb the creme de la creme! Today, you can treat yourself or a loved one.

They offer many scents and several products within each fragrance. I tried some items in “Florence”. This is how they describe it: “Notes in bright bergamot, lush pear and delicate gardenia.” I noticed that the various products have different emphases in their scents.

Travel Fragrance Spray is packaged in a beautiful coffret, making a great presentation like jewelry. It has an antiqued bronze color cap and carved glass bottle. I noticed gardenia at first, with a fruits and powder middle. It dried down to a white pear flesh with salt. It’s soft and very feminine, but not sweet.

Scented Dry Body Oil is a luxurious way to end bath time. It sprays with a perfume atomizer: so nice to apply and at all angles! It’s dry — not greasy — I wasn’t staining bed linens or lingerie. It has vegan argan, jojoba and Vitamin E oils.

If you really want to create a romantic atmosphere, match your fragrance with one of Tocca’s “Candelas”! It’s hand-poured into hand-cut glass, very heavy and substantial. Unforgettable!

Robert Piguet was the phenomenal head of his eponymous 20th century fashion house, which started the careers of Christian Dior, Hubert de Givenchy, Marc Bohan, Pierre Balmain, and James Galanos. He started a fragrance line in the 1940s that set very high standards forevermore. This is what they say about it: “(They)have a particular feel very characteristic of his trademarks: Strict adherence to good taste, true luxury, a horror of the commonplace and an innate sense of seduction.”

I was first introduced to Fracas this way . . . I couldn’t make this up. I have a very glam aunt who has been a professor around the world, as well as a consultant to corporations and White House transition teams. One time in an extended family visit to a high-end department store, she made a beeline to the Fracas display and sprayed it all over herself. “It’s the only perfume I wear,” she intoned.

Their new Discovery Set is perfect for those of you who may not know exactly what she wears or what you should be wearing. It has 5 sample sizes in a quietly elegant pull drawer box.

I experienced Fracas as spicy-floral, zippy, sassy. The dry down is powder and bourbon vanilla notes. They describe it as “white floral”.

V (formerly known as Visa) is very attractive. I experienced orchid and tropical fruit juice. It’s glamorous, but you still lean in: it’s not obvious. I also noted light, toasty sandalwood, sea salt and skin accords. They describe it as “amber woody”.

Oud is an Arabic wood that under certain conditions, produces a resin with a warm and woody scent. With Oud Delice, I noticed oud wood, smoky, but sweetened by flowers, drying into light wood and vanilla. They describe it as “amber woody”.

I experienced Casbah as bright, could work as unisex, pepper, exotic oils, cedars, herbs. They describe it as “spicy amber”.

They describe Notes as “chypre floral”. This fragrance can also be unisex, that I experienced with spice, fir tree, aquatic notes.

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