Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Day To Night: Festive Holiday Attire

The festive season is fast approaching and most of us will face the dilemma of how to transform our professional look to a glamorous evening look when we have no time to rush home in between to change.

But never fear, with a little bit of time, the right accessories and fresh makeup, you can be out the door on your way to dinner and drinks in just about 20 minutes.

A good way to start is to choose a simple but elegant day dress, one that is feminine but not too revealing. For instance, a pretty summer day dress with spaghetti straps can be worn with a carefully selected T-shirt underneath that can be removed before leaving the office. Of course a great choice would be the indispensable LBD--the little black dress. If it is sleeveless, wear it with a cardigan and flats and come dinnertime, remove the cardigan and swap the flats for heels.

Absolutely essential is a complete redo of your makeup. Remove it all, tone and moisturize your skin (see Clarins’ Instant Beauty Perfectors Essentials Kit) and then apply your makeup. Since evening indoor lighting is subdued, accentuate your makeup a little bit more.

Next step is your hair. With your head down, brush it thoroughly to add volume. Personally, I prefer my hair to move freely. However, of you prefer to be ‘bien coiffé’ use a light hair spray.

And then it’s time for earrings. Yes! Earrings will be your best friends for the night. They work like magic as they can impact your outfit and your face greatly. And since it is usually your face that one sees first, especially in a crowd or sitting around a dinner table, be sure to make a great impression with a stunning pair of earrings that suit the shape of your face and complement your look. Should you choose to wear ‘chandelier’ earrings, keep your other accessories limited. No necklace. No cocktail ring. No big bangles. If you opt for the cocktail ring, wear no other jewelry except discreet earrings.

Of course I am taking it for granted that you had placed a clutch handbag in your big hobo before leaving home. Ensure that it contains one credit card, your driver’s license, a $20 bill, red lipstick, a hand mirror and a handkerchief or tissues and that’s it. Sleek and chic!

As for shoes, high heels but ONLY if you are able to walk straight and tall. Otherwise a pair of elegant low-heels or flats. No stockings if your legs are in great shape or wear black sexy ultra sheers. They are always flattering to one’s legs. I highly recommend that you check out Chloe, Chanel and the latest Wolford Catalogue because leg wears are everywhere and hot, hot, hot for this winter.

Think carefully about the coat you wear that day. You may think that nobody will see you in your old cover up. Mistake! What if a gentleman wants to accompany you to your car or hail you a taxi?

Finally, there is nothing like beautiful red lips, high heels, a clutch and an attitude to make a great entrance. So, own your space, walk tall and erect. Heads will be sure to turn!

Enjoy the party!


Friday, November 14, 2008

Sow the Seeds of Style, Grooming and Good Behavior!

It is said that young people don’t know how to dress because they do not have good role models. Prove the naysayers wrong!

As we all know, we are attracted to people with whom we can identify and who have qualities we admire that we aspire to have ourselves. Subconsciously, these people serve as our role models. No matter our age. And as we see everyday, the young look to the superstars of sport, film and TV as their role models and idolize them in ways that can make our hair stand on end. But never underestimate the subliminal impact we have on our children. As mothers, sisters, aunts or just good friends, we have a profound influence on the young people around us in spite of all appearances to the contrary—especially during those crucial transition years from puberty to the teens right onto that sometimes perilous path to adulthood.

I call these crucial years the ‘seeding’ time. Every single seed we sow will grow sooner or later even though at times that is really hard to believe. Just think that each scattered seed is like a boost and eventually those young people around us will reflect on what they have witnessed and learned and more likely than not, we will reap the harvest of our efforts.

I say this with confidence as my children, now young adults in their early twenties, are finding their fashion legs and creating their own style. I am constantly delighted and surprised as I witness the sprouting of the seeds I sowed all those years ago. How proud I was when two years ago my son Nicholas, 21 at the time, asked for an Armani suit as a Christmas present. I was the happiest of Moms!

It is essential therefore, that we look at ourselves and ensure that as we pass on to our children our ethics and modes of behavior, we also pass on good grooming habits and a sense of style and appropriate dress. Even while our kids are idolizing super stars, they still look to their Moms and Dads to set the bar for them. We are after all their first teachers and role models and as a rule, children are more affected by what we do than what we say!

Think about it, we are the ones who buy the food they eat and the clothes they wear. As tough a battle as it was I never had food or drinks in the house that I didn’t want my children to consume. Needless to say I was not always the most popular mom on the block and, I had to put up with constant complaints that our fridge only contained healthy food and that it lacked sodas!

It was the same when it came to clothes. I never bought clothes for them that I considered inappropriate. I recall a morning when I was driving my younger son, Greg, to school and saw a girl dressed so down that my eyes just about popped out of my head. I mentioned this to Greg and to my amazement, he said, “Mom it’s ‘Pajama Day.’ I would never come to school in Pjs. I think it’s degrading.” That was an “Aha” moment for me as I realized a style seed had taken root.

Being consistent in setting examples is very important. If you tell your child to dress appropriately for his or her age and for the situation and then you go to the supermarket in pajama bottoms, your child will become confused by the mixed signals.

Being a role model for our children is one of the most important and rewarding things we can do for our children. As Mireille Guiliano wrote in her book “French Women for All Seasons,’” French women rarely give up on themselves and let themselves go. I feel fortunate to have these genes and that I am able to count myself among these women but, I must confess, it takes mindful self-discipline. (The good thing though is that self-discipline eventually becomes a habit.)

There is no doubt that being a role model to our children is a difficult path to follow, especially these days, but teaching my children how to be self-confident and decent human beings by respecting themselves and others is my legacy to them and the generations to come.

Michele Benza

Thursday, October 9, 2008



D I S C I P L I N E is the secret! Be disciplined about your life style, eating habits, exercise program and skin care regimen, and you will feel vital and wonderful. AND you’ll receive many compliments about how great you look!

Here are my anti-aging rules:

1. Good posture makes you look 10 pounds thinner and 10 years younger. Consult a posture specialist to help you improve your posture.

2. Regular exercise is an absolute necessity. It builds endurance, flexibility and muscle. Develop the discipline to keep to a daily physical regimen of at least 40 minutes. When your routine becomes boring, change it. Walk. Swim. Bicycle. Practice yoga or Pilates. Do weight training. Challenge yourself but listen to your body. Take off one day a week. My favorite taskmaster of the moment is the Bar Method, www.barmethod.com. If there is one near you, try it! It’s amazing how the body can change after only a few weeks of this regimen. Be warned though, it’s boot camp!

3. A balanced and nutritious diet will help you maintain a trim figure, which takes years off your appearance. The secret to success is portion control. Keep a mental (or written) log of everything you eat AND the quantity. At the end of the day, review the list and note where you went off the rails. Eat slowly. Use a smaller plate and put less on your fork.

4. Skincare promotes a glowing skin. I asked two pros in the cosmetic industry for their opinions:
• Caroline Chu, CEO and Founder of Caroline Chu Cosmetics, (www.carolinechu.com), says that quality, non-abrasive exfoliants and hydrating products help rejuvenate the skin and are effective anti-aging treatments, as are products that contain Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and other antioxidants such as green tea and Vitamin C.
My recommendations: Caroline Chu’s AHA Renewing Mask, Antioxidant Green Tea Serum and the Eye and Night Creams.
• Shelley Constantine, CEO of BellaPelle, (www.bellapelle.com), is a firm believer in chemical peels. But as she noted, it is important you receive a chemical peel appropriate for your skin. She added that because skin care technology has made a quantum leap, even people with sensitive rosaceous skin can receive peels. A great one to start with is BellaPelle’s Benefit Peel. It contains L-Retinol AGP--the safest form of topical vitamin A--as well as purified Vitamin C and enzymes. It provides a super dose of anti-oxidants that makes the skin glow.
As I have said many times before in this column, a daily skin care regimen that includes cleansing and toning is de rigueur as is having a regular facial. If you are in the San Francisco area, I highly recommend BellaPelle Skin Studio. I have tried their treatments and love them.

5. Update your makeup at least once a year. Go for a natural look that enhances your skin tone and your style. Don’t get caught up in fashion fads nor get stuck in a time warp. As Kathy Thorpe of Shades of hue (www.shadesofhue.com) says, the worst mistake a woman can make is not to take time to reinvent her look. As we get older, our eyes might need a new eye-lining technique or we may need to use a different textured eye shadow. “Talc based powders are no longer necessary and lips outlined with a darkish brown is the biggest no-no,” she added. Just as you should update your makeup, you should do the same for your hairstyle and color. Personally, I prefer a large salon in a big metropolitan city where hair stylists and colorists usually are trained up or attend continuing education courses. I know it is comforting to go to the same hairstylist all the time, but I strongly urge you to take the plunge and try someone new who will look at you with fresh eyes.

6. Groom your eyebrows. Unkempt eyebrows are aging! Consult a pro in eyebrow shaping. A few carefully selected hairs plucked from under the eyebrows will open the eyes.

7. Think LIFT! Gravity is our enemy, so lift everything you can. Think about lifting your bust by shortening your bra straps; it will elongate your waist.

8. Smile. Speaking of lifting, nothing lifts your facial features more than a big smile. A beautiful smile=healthy teeth. Have you visited an orthodontist lately to check on your teeth alignment? With age our teeth shift and with a little bit of help from your orthodontist your teeth can be realigned in a few months. If you have not done so, whiten your teeth.

9. Watch the way you sleep. Wrinkles are very often born of tension in the face. Before falling asleep, make sure your facial muscles are completely relaxed: the forehead, the eyelids, and the jaw. When sleeping on your side, don’t curl-up; this creates nasty wrinkles in the chest area, you know the big “V”?

10. Your Hands Count. Adieu fake long nails. Go natural. Short, clean nails coated with a light colored nail polish are preferable for hands that are bony and veined and have age spots. Have a manicure every week. Protect your hands with an SPF sunscreen during the day especially when you drive.
11. Stop smoking as it not only creates wrinkles around the mouth but also gives the skin a yellowish/brownish appearance that ages smokers.

12. Limit sun exposure. Apply sunscreen and lounge under a parasol. Just think about those sunspots that are hard to cover up not to mention, damaging UV rays.

13. Dress appropriately for your age. Jeans, yes but NOT your daughter’s. Check www.martinandosa.com. Great fit. Choose well-cut jeans, not clingy. Buy a couple of trendy pieces but don’t be a fashion victim! Your best bet is to accessorize: buy a trendy pair of sunglasses that suit the shape of your face, a great clutch bag, a stylish pair of shoes, and striking but not over the top jewelry. Watch your hemline. Too long=too old. Best hem line falls around mid-knee level.

My final thought: Welcome the years as they come. We are getting wiser after all! So step into your day with a FABULOUS smile that will lift your mood and appearance!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Watch Your Back! Beware of Visible Bra Lines

A few weeks ago I was strolling along the streets of San Francisco when I caught sight of a lovely woman of a certain age walking out of a luxurious department store, holding many shopping bags. She was elegant, slender, perfectly coiffed and her accessories were well chosen. Then she turned away from me and I saw her from behind. Being an image consultant I cannot help but immediately notice the small details that enhance or ruin a person’s look. And in the case of the latter, my mind automatically assesses what can be done to remedy a problem. This woman’s problem was her back.

Do you check yourself in the mirror before you leave the house or in store windows when you walk down the street? More importantly, do you check your profile and your back? I would say that more often than not, most of us probably forget these two crucial facets of our appearance.

I can never insist enough how essential it is to view ourselves from all angles just as our friends, family and co-workers do. You can do this with the help of two mirrors. If you don’t have two full-length mirrors, use a large hand held mirror just as hairstylists do!

I am sure the woman mentioned above would have been shocked if she had applied my two-mirror trick before walking out the door that day. There is no doubt that she prided herself in her style and taste as it was evident she had taken care to ensure every detail was perfect. But if she had’ve but just glanced at her back, she would’ve realized her jacket was too tight and that her bra line was not only visible through the fabric, but had created small rolls of excess skin along the edge of the bra, especially near the arm pits. Clearly she had VBL (visible bra line).

Most people I meet in my professional life have never learned the basics of ensuring a proper fit. Or if they have, they ignore the signs of an improper fit simply because they love the style, color or fabric. Remember, a garment fits when it conforms to the contour of your body without pinching, sagging, or bunching. If a piece of clothing causes parts of the body to bulge, it does not fit. If your body is encased like a sausage, it does not fit!

To eliminate the unsightly visible bra line use adhesive bra cups, a corset or an underwire torso trim (www.sassybax.com)

Also remember that when buying a bra, if your breasts spill over the top and/or the sides, it’s not the right size for you. The back straps that join together must be completely horizontal across your back and must not pinch or cause even a hint of a bulge! Once you have decided on a bra, make sure it is comfortable and try it under your clothes before buying it. I highly recommend that you be fitted by a pro on a regular basis as our bodies change considerably as we age.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Quoi de Neuf a Paris? (What's New in Paris?)

I have a confession. My trip to Europe last month was all about me, me, me and it felt really good! I did however take time to meet my fellow image consultants of AFIPP (Association Française pour l’Image Personnelle et Professionnelle). But being away made me realize the importance of claiming time for oneself. It’s not only good for the morale but recharges the batteries and helps one better serve one’s clientele.

I’m telling you though, after this trip, I have designated myself as the QUEEN OF PACKING! (The subject of another column soon I promise!) In my one carry-on bag, I managed to pack both business and pleasure attire that served me very well in three countries for fourteen days along with my cosmetic essentials!

After brief stays in London and Belgium where I worked with colleagues, I arrived in one of my favorite cities of the world, beautiful Paris. I was somewhat disappointed though, as it seemed the gray winter skies kept all the stylish dressers under wraps. All I saw were lots of hats, scarves, umbrellas and dreary raincoats.

But all was not dull. I met and shopped with clients and then took a few extra days to stroll the streets of the “City of Lights” to savor delicious delicacies, feast my eyes on dazzling designs in the splendid stores and of course--how can one resist--indulge in a little bit of shopping therapy. (Nothing like the limit of having only one carry-on suitcase to curb one’s spending!)

Day One. I hit Paris’ chi-chi shopping areas: Avenue Montaigne, Avenue des Champs-Elysées and Saint-Germain-des-Près. I visited Le Bon Marche (Paris’ first department store), Céline, Sonia Rykiel, Hugo Boss, Les Petites and Max Mara. As I was staying in Saint-Germain, all these stores were within an easy and pleasurable walking distance.

The historic and elegant Le Bon Marche has been wonderfully renovated. When I stepped inside, I entered a world of colors, femininity, and fluidity. For me these two “f’s”--la féminité and la fluidité--epitomize this spring season. Why? Because the collections are all about flowing movement, layers of gossamer fine fabrics, vibrant colors and exquisitely detailed accessories. Surprisingly, only fifty percent of the spring collections had been delivered to most of the big houses. Unlike us Americans, Europeans live much more in the moment and find it almost unthinkable to want to purchase spring items so early.

Céline, in fact, is only expecting its entire collection to arrive early April. However, previews of Ivana Omazic’s debut collection for Céline, indicate that fluidité is key to the drape of her dresses and circular skirts. Movement and suppleness make for very feminine and flattering clothes. Her collection is pure and clean with lots of white and subdued gunmetal interspersed with contrasting and striking colors¬ like vermillion and emerald green.

Sonia Rykiel’s new two-floor store on Boulevard Saint-Germain is stunning and a visit there is an absolute joy. I simply had to take a picture. The spring collection here is also all about color. The company will celebrate forty years of success this October!

Day Two found me walking under storm clouds, yet again, on the Boulevard Hausmann where I visited Les Galleries Lafayette. I then continued on to the famous Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré to Lanvin. Luckily the day I visited, the house was having a spring trunk show. Here marvelous colors also reigned: saffron yellow, dusky rose, jade green and smoky blue. The accessories alone deserved a standing ovation like this one, an instant favorite.

Hermes was a huge surprise. The store has been completely renovated and is three times the size it was when I last visited in July 2007. The famous house is progressing on all fronts. I took the opportunity to inquire about my dream bag, a 35cm Birkin in Hermes rouge. To my amazement, it takes less than six months to make it! (I’m still trying to persuade my husband to buy me one for our 25th wedding anniversary!)

Day Three. I returned to Boulevard Haussman to Le Printemps’, which apparently has the largest beauty department in the world. Then it was time to stroll back to the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to visit Guerlain’s gorgeous store, browse through its amazing collection of flacons de parfum and have a whiff of some exquisite fragrances.

The highlight of the day, and of my visit to Paris, was shopping at Louis Vuitton’s new Champs Elysees store. It simply was the best shopping experience ever. After having made a very small purchase Christine, the sales associate who had assisted me, offered me a personal tour of the new store and accompanied me through all the different departments. She then graciously invited me to relax on the upper floor with a glass of champagne! Needless to say, when I left, I had a sparkle in my eyes and a spring in my step despite the gloomy skies.

Day Four. I always allow time to wander through the historic and very charming Montmartre quartier, home to edgy artists and artisans. Not to mention that it has wonderful little cafes and restaurants. And a visit to Les Marais is also a must. Even though it is in the heart of the city, it still has a village feel with its narrow streets. Les Marais is very hip and fun and has many eclectic boutiques where one can find unique clothes and handmade jewelry.

But finally I had to bid adieu and return home. I ate too much but who cares, I am back on my Pilates reformer!


Michele Benza - Completely Confidential Image Consulting Featuring European Style and elegance. www.michelebenza.com

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Now is the time when it seems that winter is endlessly dragging on and the mirror is not so kind. A quick glance and I pale even more at the sight of my pallid complexion. And those dark blue circles around my eyes make me look tired and older and send a shudder up my spine that is not from the cold!

But take heart, there are things we can do to add luster to our complexions and eliminate those dark circles. For one, developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise is a very good place to start, not to mention getting enough restful sleep. And for another, sticking to a daily skincare regimen mornings and evenings with a scrub and mask twice a week is de rigueur!

The skin around the eye is extremely delicate. It is four times thinner and more transparent than on the rest of the face, so the blood vessels are more apparent and can appear to be a deeper shade of blue. This area is particularly sensitive to lack of sleep, alcohol, tobacco and pollution. Dark circles generally are an indication of poor blood flow and people with olive skin and dark hair tend to be more prone to shadowed eyes. Some of us, unfortunately, are also susceptible to puffy bags under the eyes that are due to water retention and fat buildup.

Here are some solutions to consider.

If dark circles are the result of sleep deprivation and/or a meal with too much wine, the solution is simple---lower your alcohol consumption and get a couple of nights of sound sleep.

On the other hand, if dark circles are the norm for you, you may need to examine your skin care program. Are you using an oily eye makeup remover or an eye cream that is too rich for your sensitive skin? These are both no-nos. Change to lighter creams and lotions. Ask for sample eye creams at your favorite beauty counters and experiment. And remember, if any residue from eye makeup remains on your skin before going to sleep, chances are you will wake up with puffy eyes.
My preferred eye makeup remover is from Shades of Hue (www.shadesofhue.com).

A couple of remedies to get rid of dark circles and reduce puffiness are straight out of the pages of grandma’s notebook. Prepare an infusion of chamomile. Once cooled, dip cotton pads in the infusion and apply them over your closed eyes. Leave on for 10 minutes. Alternatively, if you have cucumbers on hand, slice a couple of pieces and apply as above.

Another option is to use an eye cream like La Roche-Posay’s Active C Eyes (www.laroche-posay.com) that drains puffy bags. Use religiously twice a day on clean skin. This anti-wrinkle dermatological treatment contains vitamin C that is great for the skin.

There are many concealers available but because the skin around the eye is so fragile, be very careful when choosing one. Look for those with new improved formulas that not only conceal but also rehydrate the skin by stimulating the blood flow to the area under the eyes. Shades of Hue’s Liquid Mineral Concealer, made from natural ingredients, is a good choice. (Shades of Hue 415-982-4408.) If the laugh lines surrounding your eyes look dry once you have applied makeup like mine do, gently and sparingly dab on some carrot oil, made from carrot seeds, to the area. You will be delighted at how effective this treatment is.

When buying a concealer choose a color slightly lighter than your natural skin tone. If the concealer is too dark it will accentuate your dark shadows. On the other hand if the concealer is too light, it obviously will not cover them. Apply the concealer with a light touch, starting from the inner corner (near the nose) towards the external corner.

Another product I love and use almost every morning is an eye mask. My preference is Guinot Eye Mask (www.guinotusa.com). It is recommended that you keep this mask in the refrigerator. Apply a thick coat on your closed eyes and around the eyes (to the top of your cheekbones), leave for 10 minutes and remove. You won’t believe the difference and the sensation of bien-être.

And finally, there is another option that is a very personal choice and should be carefully considered– esthetic surgery. There are a variety of techniques that you should discuss with a plastic surgeon. An injection of collagen will diminish wrinkles and a small incision underneath the eyelash of the lower lid (Blepharoplasty) will reduce puffy bags. A chemical peel could also refresh the eye area.

As always I thank you for forwarding this message to your friends. If you know of anyone who could benefit from this column, please pass along my information.

Michele Benza