A tip off the old block

Want to know how to create movie-star eyelashes? Chanel will show you - for pounds 24;

The Bad Girl is back. Pretty Woman has faded with the summer and now we're all supposed to look like Tallulah Bankhead in a tantrum. And for that you need mascara - lots of it.

To create those movie-star lashes, some cosmetic houses have re-introduced block mascara - the sort that comes in a solid form, which you have to wet and apply with a mini-comb. Sounds complicated? It is. But it's worth it, especially if you're using Cils Contraste Noir et Blanc by Chanel.

Now, pounds 24 might sound like a lot, but this is a product for make-up junkies. It comes in the signature Chanel, patent black compact with little white logo. Inside, there are two compartments of block mascara - one white and one black - and a couple of tiny brushes. The idea is to paint the lashes first with the white mascara to thicken and elongate, then add the black. You can keep building up layers of black for a "sootier" look.

The first time I tried this, I looked like some rare breed of Panda. The black mascara got everywhere and the brushes had minds of their own. So, how on earth do you apply it? Make-up artist AlexSandra Byrne, who has beautified Tori Amos, Helena Christensen and Sophie Dahl, was game enough to have a go. I took along a block mascara by Miners for pounds l.99 for comparison.

"The Chanel block mascara has a much denser pigment, it looks almost like an acrylic paint," says Byrne, "the Miners one does have a nice brush, and it does a good job, but there is no comparison really. The Chanel has a darker, thicker look all together.

"It comes off easily," she says removing a tiny blot with a wet cotton- wool bud. "It's definitely worth the money, because an ordinary mascara will dry out within a month. The Chanel block mascara will last a lot longer."

So, what does Chanel say? "The Cils Contraste Noir et Blanc is part of a limited series for autumn 1997," explains a spokeswoman. "We produce these twice a year to coincide with the shows and to reflect what's going on on the catwalk. Black is very much the key colour."

Yes, but why does it cost pounds 24? "We don't really talk about why products cost what they do," she continues, "but if you buy a cheaper product, the powder crumbles, whereas we bake them to a point where they just wouldn't."

Both block mascaras didn't blot like ordinary brush-on mascaras and they stayed well fixed to my eyelashes throughout the day. The Chanel lashes looked thicker and darker than the Miners, but I'm still not convinced that the difference was worth pounds 22.

However, the glamour factor comes into play. The Chanel product looks wonderful compared with the cheap, plastic, Miners compact - and I think that's worth the investment.

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