Yesterday I turned 23. It's the one time a year when I reflect on how much my life has changed over the course of 12 months. Every year I think to myself, wow it can't get crazier than that... But guess what? It does. With every increment of my age, I learn new lessons from life. Important lessons that will stay with me for a long time.
I'm older, but not wiser - in fact, my foolishness grows with each passing day. Being an adult doesn't necessarily mean that you have your life sorted out. Growing up should be a liberating experience. It means to be able to accept the things you cannot change, and live with positivity and gratitude. It means to learn whose opinion matters and whose doesn't. It means to break free from conformities and compromises. It means to be bold enough to live on your own terms and never apologise for it.
Thank you to every single one of you who has taken a moment of your precious time for this underserving fool. Your presence, physical and digital, were the best presents I could ask for. Your hugs, phone calls, comments, Instagram posts, text messages, tweets, video calls, Facebook posts and snapchats have filled my soul with so much joy and I am ever so grateful from the bottom of my heart.
Sorry to break this to you, kids - contrary to popular belief, no matter how blessed you may be in the genetics department, modeling isn't just about good looks. Ok, maybe it is a little bit, and you may land a commercial or editorial job here and there, but is that all you want? If you plan to be in the game for the long run, if you really want to be remembered as a person and not just as a living mannequin, what you need is personality. Repeat after me, kids. It permeates through the lens and shines off the pages of a glossy magazine. Or a computer screen. Or most probably from a smartphone if you're living in 2016.
Personality is exactly what Layla here has - and not in a loud, boisterous, "look-at-me" sense. She's soft-spoken and she's quirky, but she isn't afraid to strike up a conversation and put her best foot forward. She's got that 90's laidback, IDGAF attitude, but without coming off as pretentious. In fact, she was eager to learn. Layla possesses a strangeness and charm that's both infectious and intoxicating. And guess what? This particularly humid morning was the first time Layla was on the set of a shoot. For someone to make such an impression on their maiden journey into the world of modelling, the future looks hella bright for her.
Despite the naysayers who insisted that my first time in Italy should be somewhere "nicer" (like Venice or Rome), I decided that a visit to Milan completely warranted my time - so I spontaneously booked my flights and the rest was history. In the land where culture meets commerce, you'll find hidden treasure on every street, between iconic landmarks and esteemed establishments. It was four days of wandering on foot (with the occasional Metro ride here and there), experiencing Milanese flavours, and falling in love with a culture full of romance. Here are some snaps from my time there and a list of places you really ought to visit.
Photo assistance - Aditi Dhanu
Look 1: & Other Stories - Shirt // Zara - Jeans // Givenchy - Patent Oxfords // Prada - Sunglasses // Topshop - Denim jacket, with 'fixated' embroidery by Hand & Lock
Look 2: & Other Stories - Shirt // Acne Studios - Trousers // Givenchy - Patent Oxfords, scarf // Moschino - Bucket bag
Look 4: & Other Stories - Shirt // Vintage - Linen chinos // Bottega Veneta - Leather weave bracelet // Prada - Sunglasses
Ain't no shame in looking after your skin and grooming yourself. In the same way as what you wear, it's a weapon in your arsenal to up your confidence game. I've compiled the staples on my top shelf that make me feel invincible. Together with generous amounts of water, a nutritious diet, sufficient sleep (who am I kidding? It's almost 4am as I type this) and a cheeky smirk, you'll be ready to survive whatever the world brings your way. Or in my case, whatever sticky situation summer will bring for my oily skin.
Unlike most people I know, who have to deal with dry and sensitive skin during the colder months, my skin is at it's peak in winter. With just a simple cleanse and a dollop of moisturiser, I'm good to go. Only when it starts getting warmer does it spell trouble for me. Growing up in a tropical climate meant I had to deal with stubborn skin on a daily basis. And thanks to acne that sprouted from nowhere during my teen years, I just couldn't win. After years of trial and error, I've discovered how to keep my face at its prime.
Everybody's skin is different and various problems can have a whole range of causes and cures. For me, despite numerous visits to dermatologists and trying every topical treatment out there, nothing seemed to alleviate my acne. But four years ago, as soon as I gave up dairy, my skin cleared up like magic. Since then, I've found that cheese, yoghurt, ice cream (YES!!!), etc don't affect my skin - it's only when I consume milk that my skin breaks out. Thank heaven for soy chai lattes, right?
Other than my skincare must-haves, I've also included some of my other daily essentials and tips & tricks. This post is not just for those with oily skin, neither is it just for the boys (or girls) - after all, skin is skin, regardless of what corporate advertisers and marketers want you to believe. So gather round and get your notepads out, kids. It's time to start taking notes. Please hit the comment button if you've got any questions (or complaints) at the end of this slightly lengthy read.
1. SHU UEMURA porefinist oil cleanser - "oil-free" is probably what your gut tells you to go with when dealing with oily skin, but it's not necessarily the case when it comes to cleansers. Before discovering the oil cleansing method in this little book several years ago, I struggled between cleansers that either dried out my skin too much or didn't seem to clean it at all. For the moment, this is the perfect cleanser for me, leaving my skin feeling supple and fresh. When I first started cleansing with oil, I used my own mixtures consisting of jojoba, olive and grapeseed oils. The best part of cleansing with oil? When you cleanse your face at the end of a long day and feel all the dirt that's built up just slide right off. Pure satisfaction.
2. CLINIQUE chubby stick sculpting highlight - when you have a million things to do and sleep isn't at the top of that list, you can start to resemble a zombie. In a perfect world, I'd get 8 hours of rest and drink 2 litres of water, and my skin would look like a baby's butt. Unfortunately, I don't have that luxury all the time and it ends up taking a toll on my skin, leaving it dull and flat. Put a little dab of highlighter on the brow bone, the middle of the eyelids and cheekbones. Small steps for big results. Although labelled as a highlighter, I find this to be more of an illuminator - it reflects light rather having a lighter pigment on your skin, so it works for all skin types and colours.
3. DIOR lip glow - having naturally dark lips can automatically make your face look dull. But fear not, Dior to the rescue. This balm doesn't have a specific colour, instead it reacts with the chemistry of each individual's lips to create a natural flush. It's so silky and feels divine on your lips. Plus it's nourishing and has SPF10. What more could you ask for?
4. SUGAR SCRUB - while on the topic of dull lips, here's a tried and tested recipe that I use every now and again when time permits. I usually eyeball it, so my measurements are estimated. Just go with the flow. 1 teaspoon coconut oil, 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar and 3 drops of lemon juice. Scrub lips gently in a circular motion, rinse with warm water, apply number 13 from this list.
5. THE BODY SHOP tea tree oil - as a spot treatment, I used to go through bottles of these like nobody's business when my acne was at it's peak. Just a few drops on a cotton swab or pad against your problem area for a minute or less and poof - it will clear up by the next morning. Or the morning after that at most. The sooner you treat a problem area, the faster the effects take place. If you have dry skin, don't leave it on for too long as it can be quite drying. Tea tree oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties, and can also be used on pesky mosquito bites. I continue to apply this stuff even after my spot has cleared because of the scarring I'm prone to. It helps reduce the redness and fades scars over time. Make sure to check the concentration of the oil before applying to your skin - this one is 15%, but many bottles sold elsewhere are 100%, so don't forget to dilute it first.
6. ANTIPODES divine face oil - speaking of acne, this one is another saviour when it comes to treating scars. Consisting of avocado and rosehip oils, this concoction is rich in antioxidants and fatty acids. It's basically a buffet for your face. In addition to invigorating stressed skin, it combats the appearance of lines and other discolouration. I've been wearing glasses for 16 years now (shit, I'm old) and I've gotten dark patches on either side of my nose bridge from where they sit. They have been dramatically reduced (along with more recent acne scars) ever since I started using this. I apply 4 to 5 drops a few times a week before bed as a moisturiser and always wake up the next morning feeling rejuvenated.
7. ALOE VERA - this is by far the miracle worker of skin care. It lightens scars, hydrates skin and increases elasticity. It's completely natural and won't break your bank. Although you can buy 100% aloe vera gel in bottles, I prefer to get my own directly from the plant. Either keep your own potted aloe plant or buy the leaves from a market as and when you need it. Simply halve a leaf lengthwise and scoop out the gel inside - you're ready for action. Slather it onto your skin after a good cleanse and rinse it off 30 minutes later. Got leftovers? No problem. Use it as a hair conditioner after shampooing. Mix with some water, lemon juice and ice and you've got yourself a healthy beverage.
8. CLINIQUE charcoal mask - part of the pore refining solutions range, this squeeze-tube of grey goo really does the job. Let's get things straight first - you can't actually change the size of your pores. What this clay mask does is that it draws out dirt from deep within your skin and absorbs excess oil, making your pores appear smaller. That's still music to my ears. It's fragrance-free and gentle enough for use on sensitive skin. It's a nice little treat every now and then, but most of the time I just like to prepare my own mask with ingredients from the kitchen. A tablespoon of yoghurt, a half teaspoon of turmeric, a dash of honey, olive oil and lemon juice, and 15 minutes on your face. Et voilà - all you need to hydrate, heal and brighten your skin. Word of caution - turmeric can and will stain everything it touches, so make sure you're not in your favourite white shirt. And as with all things you put on your face, be sure to test it first on your forearm to check for any adverse reactions. For example, honey can cause redness and stinging if your skin is sensitive to it.
9. CHANEL mask déstressant pureté - back in the day, Chanel's pureté range used to be all that I used. Cleanser, toner, moisturiser, the works. Until it got discontinued (except in the US). If you're quiet enough, you can hear my bank balance heaving a sigh of relief. All I have left from this range is this mask, which I use sparingly before special occasions for that extra glow from within. Chanel skincare isn't suited for everyone though. I personally have zero issues, but many people I know find the fragrance overwhelming or irritating on their skin.
10. BIOTHERM biosource clarifying exfoliating gel - personally, I don't have an exfoliator that I'm staunch with - I switch it up now and then. This one from Biotherm leaves my skin feeling soft and clean, and I use it maybe twice a week. It might be a bit harsh for those with dry, sensitive skin. But as long as you exfoliate, with a product that's gentle for your skin, on a regular basis, you're good to go. As a rule of thumb, if an exfoliator is suitable for your body, it's definitely not suitable for your face (looking at you, St. Ives). You wan't to stay clear from overly chunky exfoliants. Sometimes I like to use a mixture of sugar and olive oil, but make sure that the sugar is fine enough, or you can damage your skin. Don't forget to exfoliate your lips as well (see number 5)!
11. DIOR hydra life sorbet crème - they say that the eyes are a window into a person's soul. But the area around the eyes are the window into your age. More fragile and prone to sagging, discolouration and wrinkles, it's the first place to show signs of ageing. It's important to find an eye cream that suits your skin type and your needs, whether it's to combat puffy eyes, dark circles or the appearance of lines. The perfect eye-cream that I used to use from Chanel has very unfortunately been discontinued *insert Kim Kardashian crying face*. But fear not, Dior to the rescue.
12. CLINIQUE superbalm lip treatment - lip balms, especially of the twisty tube variety, are arguably at the top of the list of things that just go missing. Missed, however, they are not. Most lip balms only serve the purpose of moisturising lips by preventing water loss - so it's not really hydrating. This superbalm from Clinique however, hydrates, nourishes and repairs chapped lips. I just have to put it on once in the morning and my lips don't get dry throughout the day - unlike other balms with which you have to keep reapplying throughout the day. It did take a while to get used to though, with its thick consistency, but I assure you, it's totally worth it.
13. HADA LABO tamagohado oil control face wash - amazing price, amazing results. I've been using this cleanser for many years now, with a few switch ups in between, but I always come back to this. It cleanses thoroughly without leaving that tight, dried up feeling. In fact, it leaves your skin feeling extra supple. I do like to alternate between the original and the oil-control alternative of this cleanser.
14. EMBRYOLISSE lait-crème concentré - does this even need an introduction? This miracle-in-a-tube has been around since the 50's and owes its popularity to its many uses. It can be used as a primer, moisturiser, make-up remover, repairing mask and after-shave cream. And it's full of vitamins and other goodies that your skin will thank you for. It's hydrating enough for dry skin, yet light enough for combination to oily skin. As you can see, I always have a replacement at hand even before I'm done with the first. If I were trapped on an island, this would be the only thing I'd need for survival. And sunscreen.
15. PESTLE & MORTAR pure hyaluronic serum - hyaluronic acid has reached such a cult status in recent years that it's hard to come by a product without it. And why wouldn't it, considering the fact that it can hold over a 1000 times its weight in water. This substance occurs naturally in our bodies, mostly in the fluids of our eyes and in collagen. When applied topically to the skin, it improves hydration, stimulates collagen production, maintains elasticity and acts as an antioxidant. If this ingredient isn't anywhere in your skincare routine, get to it! Pestle & Mortar's so-called "pure" serum isn't really just a bottle full of 100% hyaluronic acid... but that's what's so amazing about this magical little serum - it contains aloe juice, cucumber extracts and vitamin E. Yes, yes and yes.
16. MAC face protect lotion spf 50 - let me tell you, finding an SPF lotion for oily skin was the most difficult thing in life. For several years I avoided all forms of UV protection for my skin because I simply couldn't find one that didn't feel like I was slathering vaseline on my face - even the ones specifically meant for oily skin just killed my skin. But please don't make the same mistake as me and make sure you wear sunscreen religiously. Even on a cloudy day or when you're spending time indoors, you need protection against UV rays, or risk sun spots and premature wrinkles. This lotion from MAC is unlike any other one I've tried (and I've tried a whole lot) - it's actually light and doesn't leave a greasy layer of film or white streaks on your face.
Inconspicuously nestled among pastel coloured buildings on an unassuming street is a place where you can have lunch in a flower shop - need I say more to entice you? Flowers and food are two things guaranteed to put a smile on my face. Extra points if they're both present at the same time, which is precisely why Potafiori is the one place that I recommend to everyone visiting Milano. This flower shop, restaurant, cocktail bar and live music lounge hybrid always has something to offer everyone, even if you're not there to grab a bite (you really should though). Just as the variety of flowers that they sell, their menu full of fresh, seasonal ingredients is always changing according to the time of year. During my recent trip to Milan, the dishes that made it to the table included a fresh garden salad topped with edible flowers, a steamy soufflé, seafood conchiglie, gnocchi in cream sauce and an exceptionally divine mango panna cotta. I just drooled a little while typing that out. Add this one to your bucket list, kids. It's worth it.