Monday, December 29, 2014

2014 in Review, Part 2: My 14 Favorite Beauty Purchases

Greetings from San Francisco, where I've spent the past few days recovering from jetlag and dissertating at neighborhood coffee shops. With three days of the old year remaining, it's time to post a list I've been compiling for the past month or so: my 14 favorite beauty purchases of 2014! A few notes before we begin:
  • These are new-to-me products (not repurchases) that I bought in 2014. Only three of them actually came out this year; the others belong to their brands' permanent collections. I don't chase the limited-edition rabbit unless his pocket watch is especially shiny. And I find that when I buy makeup because it's new, I'm more often disappointed than not.
  • These are not necessarily the best-performing beauty products I bought this year; they're just the ones that I've enjoyed the most. Of course, nothing truly bad made this list, but some of the products listed below have minor flaws, and there are some technically flawless products I bought in 2014 that don't show up in this post. I'm not pretending to be objective here.
  • I haven't included anything I bought in December, because I haven't had enough time to test those products thoroughly and distinguish between the thrill of newness and the steady glow of true makeup love. (Accordingly, next year's best-of list will include purchases made from December 2014 to November 2015.)
  • I've included both makeup and skincare in this list, because I didn't buy enough new skincare to make a separate post. I'm using the same moisturizers and cleansers that I did last year, and until my skin complains, I'll probably carry on doing so.
  • I've listed the products in the order in which I bought them, since I like them all too much to rank them by preference. I've also linked to full reviews where they exist.
  • Instead of posting the photos I took when the products were new and unsullied, I've opted for photos that reflect their current amount of wear, to give you an indication of how often I use them. In some cases, the answer is "very often"; in other cases, it's "not all that often, but I feel great every time I do." Not everything can be a staple product, and not all of my staple products made it onto this list. It's all about the amount of delight I feel when using each one.
  • I'm absurdly shade-loyal and shouldn't bother buying anything that doesn't contain some element of plum.
The sticks (roughly speaking):

The pans:

The polishes:

1. Revlon Matte Balm in Sultry

This was my very first beauty purchase of 2014, as well as my hardest-won. I visited at least half a dozen drugstores on both coasts before locating a tube of Sultry that hadn't been opened and smeared on some vulgarian's hand. But every minute of the search was worth it, because I think I wore Sultry more than any other lipstick this year. And yet, despite my great love for it, I still can't describe the color in fewer than nine words. "Dark rose with hints of brown, plum, and red" will have to do for now. Sultry's formula is matte yet plush; applying it feels like brushing a teddy bear's paw across my lips, and the color payoff is intense and even. I wish all the Revlon Matte Balms had such a great formula, but the other two I tried this year, Shameless and Mischievous, were patchier.

2.  NARS Duo Eyeshadow in Habanera

Who knew that an eyeshadow duo composed of frosty mint and sparkly plum would turn out to be so versatile? That's the genius of Habanera. In my earlier review, I called the duo "Arthurian-enchantress magical," and I stand by that epithet. The two shades look great together, but I tend to use them separately, in combination with neutral colors. The super-pigmented mint shade pairs well with taupes and grays, while the sheerer plum side complements browns and bronzes. I was initially disappointed that the plum lacked the pigmentation of the mint, but that just makes it more adaptable. Applied in one layer without primer, it's a demurely smoky neutral; when I build it up over primer, the minute particles of turquoise glitter come through.

3. Chanel Le Vernis Nail Polish in Tapage

2014 may have been Pantone's year of Radiant Orchid, but I found myself drawn this year to all things coral-red. Tapage is a juicy pinky red just warm enough to deserve the name of coral, but not so warm as to pull orange. It applies smoothly and dries quickly, though it chips more easily than I'd like. But it's such a juicy, happy, summery color that I couldn't leave it off the list.

 4. Maybelline Color Sensational Vivids Lipstick in Vibrant Mandarin

Vibrant Mandarin looks distinctly orange in the tube, but its jellied semi-sheerness allows my cool-toned lip color to peep through, creating a pinky corally red reminiscent of Tapage. Like the other Maybelline Vivids I've tried, Vibrant Mandarin is lightweight and hydrating; it's also longer-wearing than one would expect of such a shiny lipstick. Vibrant Mandarin accompanied me all over the world this year, from an academic conference at the University of York to a brunch place in Hollywood to a dinner with my boyfriend and his undergraduate adviser in Birmingham, and it never looked out of place. It also pairs perfectly with Habanera.

5. Sleek Blushes in Life's a Peach and Flushed

2014 was indubitably my Year of Blush. I began the year with just two blushes, both cool pinks from NARS, and ended it with seven (!), from five different brands. These two blushes from the British drugstore brand Sleek are every bit as pigmented as my prized NARS blushes, and almost as finely milled. Life's a Peach (left) is a matte soft orange that looks pinker when applied; I like using it to warm up my complexion when I'm wearing a warm-toned lipstick. Flushed is a red-plum that I've been wearing almost every other day this fall and winter. It has a tiny smattering of sparkle, just visible in the pan but undetectable on my cheeks.

6. Illamasqua Cream Blusher in Zygomatic

Another British blush! This one was a formidable £21.50 at Selfridges, but I've never once regretted the expense. Zygomatic is a subtle nude-pink in a lightweight, eminently blendable formula. It's the blush I rely on when I'm wearing a bold lipstick and want just a hint of color in my cheeks. I do have to apply more of it than I do of my other blushes, as you can see from that glint of pan (after just six months!), but that's the only drawback I can think of.

7. Zoya Nail Polish in Neve

I never reviewed the three nail polishes I ordered from Zoya back in July, which is a shame, because I ended up loving them all. Zara is a lavender with gold fairy microshimmer, photographed here; Yara is a gold-flecked olive green; and Neve, my favorite of the three, is a navy blue with shimmer so fine that it creates a glowing metallic finish. Zoya became one of my two favorite polish brands this year (the other being OPI). I've bought six of their polishes in the last year or two, and haven't been disappointed in any of them. Plus, they're cruelty-free.

(By an odd coincidence, my favorite polish of 2013, OPI Eurso Euro, was also blue.)

8. NYX Matte Lipstick in Alabama

Here's a good example of an imperfect product that still made it onto my best-of-2014 list; it even beat out Rimmel Apocalips Lip Lacquer in Across the Universe, a similarly colored lipstick in a superior formula. It turns out that I just don't like liquid lipsticks very much: they're fussier than traditional bullets, especially when they're as saturated as Across the Universe. Alabama is a more toned-down brick red than ATU, which makes it more versatile. And though I wish it felt less dry on my lips and didn't tug during application, I can't resent the lipstick that taught me how to use a lip brush. Plus, I bought it in the state of Alabama, which is just too perfect.

 9. NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer in Vanilla

It finally happened: I found a concealer capable of reducing, if not hiding entirely, the dark circles I've had since early childhood. Vanilla is too dark for the rest of my face, so I've kept my old reliable CoverGirl for spot concealing, but I use the NARS under my eyes almost every day. It's opaque without being cakey; it blends well, but stays put once blended.

10. Fresh Citron de Vigne Eau de Parfum Rollerball

I bought this perfume in August, a few days before I drove from San Francisco to Los Angeles with my boyfriend. I'd coveted Citron de Vigne for at least a year before that, dabbing it on my wrists every time I entered a Sephora, but I think I'll always associate the scent with August of 2014: with the vineyard we visited outside Santa Barbara, and with our few days in surreal, dazzling LA. It's fitting that Citron de Vigne is linked to a particularly boozy episode of my year, since Fresh describes the fragrance as "a sparkling citrus scent inspired by France’s Champagne region." I'm a novice at writing perfume reviews, but if I were to choose one word to characterize Citron de Vigne, it would be "clear." It's fruity but not quite sweet; it feels breezy, modern, and nonchalant. I wish the scent lasted longer on my skin, but I think its ephemerality is part of its charm. And how cute and travel-friendly is that sturdy cardboard tube?

11. Sephora Brightening Rose Mask

This mask, which I applied in a motel room in San Luis Obispo after a dusty day of driving (or, in my case, sitting: I can't drive), introduced me to the wondrous world of sheet masks. It revived and smoothed my parched skin, not just for that evening but for the entire next day. In the four months since my epiphany, I've become a sheet-mask evangelist, pushing masks on my mother and boyfriend. I've tried a few other masks since August, but Sephora's rose mask is still my favorite, despite its relatively high price ($6, compared to $3-ish for Tony Moly and Skinfood).

 12. Topshop Matte Lip Bullet in Get Me Bodied

I know I said earlier that I couldn't choose a favorite from these 14 products, but this deep plum lipstick might be my favorite. It's the most unproblematic matte I've ever tried, it lasts a long time and fades evenly, and its color is autumn distilled. Dark red in some lights, magenta-purple in others, beautiful in all. I've received more compliments on Get Me Bodied in the last few months than I have on any other lipstick ever. I just wish it looked more attractive in the tube: it has to be one of my least photogenic beauty products. It's almost impossible to prevent the lipstick from smearing onto the white packaging--I did a quick cleanup job before taking this photo.

13. Revlon Lacquer Balm in Coy

There's a brown lipstick for everyone, and Coy is mine. The Lacquer Balm formula doesn't last as long as I'd like, and it's less kind to dry lips than a product with "balm" in the name should be, but this sparkly plummy brown just makes me happy. Coy has multiple qualities that I used to find distasteful in lipsticks: it's a chubby crayon (strike one) in an unambiguously brown color (strike two) with shimmer (strike three). Look at me, conquering my prejudices in order to buy more lipstick! How praiseworthy. Plus, as I noted recently, Coy is the closest match I have for Marsala, Pantone's color of the year.

14. OPI Nail Polish in First Class Desires

Are first-class desires not middle-class desires by definition? Probably, but that doesn't stop me from loving this nail polish from OPI's Holiday 2014 collection. Dark eggplant with a vein of gold shimmer, like the gold that dances in the dreams of every bourgeois philistine. Slavoj Žižek could base an entire three-hour lecture on the name of this polish. I've seen him base three-hour lectures on less.

Finally, a grab bag of looks featuring some of the above in different combinations:

Habanera (mint side, layered over NARS Lhasa), Life's a Peach, and Vibrant Mandarin:

Habanera (plum side, plus Maybelline Bad to the Bronze [?]), Flushed, and Sultry:

 Habanera (both sides), Zygomatic, and Coy:

Habanera (plum side, with NYX Iced Mocha), Flushed, and Get Me Bodied:

Enjoy these last few days of 2014!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lipstick Chronology #31: NARS Mysterious Red

Name: NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Mysterious Red

Date Purchased: November 2013

Grade: A

Notes: How excited am I to write this post? So excited that I broke my (never very strict, let's be honest) Lipstick Chronology rule in order to review Mysterious Red out of order. It's the holiday season, after all: what better time to feature my staple red lipstick, the one I can trust to flatter me whenever I wear it?

Mysterious Red was released as part of the NARS fall 2013 collection. Assuming that it was limited edition, I used it sparingly for an entire year, mourning the transience of earthly things every time I sharpened it. But on my birthday this November, while browsing the NARS display at Sephora, I noticed that Mysterious Red had been made permanent! It felt like an especially nice birthday present from NARS to me. Plus, now I can review it without apologizing for praising an unavailable lipstick.

A year ago, I realized that I'd never found the perfect matte red lipstick. I had a few satin reds, but didn't wear them very often. To my eyes, a red with any hint of shine reads as "sexy," and I wanted a more businesslike red: pure pigment, no distractions. I was also curious about the NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil formula, which seemed to be many people's matte-lipstick holy grail. Wary of buying a limited-edition lipstick that I might fall in love with and never be able to replace, I tried on two cool reds from NARS' permanent line: Dragon Girl and Cruella. But white-based Dragon Girl was too bright, almost neon, while Cruella was darker and purpler than my Platonic matte red. Finally the SA suggested that I try Mysterious Red. The second I put it on, we both agreed: yes, that was the one.

How to describe the sensation of connecting with a lipstick? Not putting it on and thinking "it'll do," or "this will look good when I have a bit of a tan," but "holy shit, I just got ten times more attractive"? It's sort of like falling in love, except it's not free. (It's $25, in Mysterious Red's case.) Or maybe it's like reading a book and seeing your own experiences and memories reflected back to you, made brighter and warmer by the author's powers of perception.

Love is a great mystery, but perhaps the greatest mystery of Mysterious Red is the matter of its undertones. Various bloggers have described it as "subtly warm-toned" (Temptalia), "warmish brick red" (Makeup and Beauty Blog), "a real wow red [with] a nice blue lean" (Perilously Pale), and "perfect cool red" (Beautezine). I notice that the bloggers who describe it as warm and cool are themselves warm- and cool-toned respectively, which might explain the divide. Personally, I see Mysterious Red as a neutral red leaning very slightly cool; then again, I'm neutral leaning cool. Maybe this is the sort of magic red that adapts itself to everyone's complexion. Though I usually roll my eyes when I see a lipstick described as "universally flattering," I can't imagine a skintone that wouldn't harmonize with Mysterious Red.

To shed some light on the undertone problem, I've made a few comparison swatches below. Left to right, warm to cool: Revlon Fire and Ice, NYX Alabama, Mysterious Red, Maybelline On Fire Red, NYX Bloody Mary.

Mysterious Red is cooler than both Fire and Ice and Alabama, but warmer than cherry-red On Fire Red and pink-red Bloody Mary. It also sits in the middle saturation-wise: more subdued than Fire and Ice and Bloody Mary, but more intense than Alabama and On Fire Red. Mysterious Red is just red, no qualifiers needed. Not particularly bright or dark, warm or cool. Mysteriously un-mysterious. Bafflingly simple.

Anyway, here it is on my lips. This photo was taken outdoors in late-afternoon indirect sunlight.

As you can see, the NARS Velvet Matte formula is very matte indeed (though with a hint of sheen), which means it feels a bit dry when worn. It glides on smoothly and deposits a spectacular amount of pigment, but it does make my lips uncomfortable after a few hours, which I expect from any lipstick with a finish like this. Mysterious Red doesn't come off when I drink, and it stands up decently to food as well. It's completely scent- and taste-free. The one big drawback to the NARS lip pencils, which many others have noted, is that they don't twist up. Sharpening them wastes product, and fishing the shavings out of the sharpener and smearing them on one's lips is a lost cause. I've just had to resign myself to feeling a pang whenever I hear the sharpener's blade rasp against the wood of the pencil.

Over the past year, I've taken a truly embarrassing number of selfies featuring Mysterious Red. Let's pretend that I've done this for the sole purpose of showing you how the color looks in various lighting conditions. How admirable of me! First, a photo from today. Taken outside, in the same cloudless late-afternoon light as above:

November morning, on a train:

Back in March, at night, with artificial lighting and pixie cut:

These three photos reveal, first, that I wear too much black; second, that Mysterious Red is always intense but never showy. I think NARS must have added a hint of brown to mute what would otherwise be a screamingly bright red. Because of this effect, I feel comfortable bringing Mysterious Red into polite company: in fact, I wore it to give a conference paper in May.

So far, I haven't been tempted to buy another NARS lip pencil, because they really are expensive for their size and for the amount of product that disappears with each sharpening. But I suspect I'll repurchase Mysterious Red when it runs out. It's my red, a red I don't have to think about. It just works. Few things in life just work; when you find something that does, it's a good idea to keep it.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2014 in Review, Part 1: My 14 Most Disappointing Beauty Purchases

Well, I guess that was an eight-day hiatus! It crept up on me, as such things do. First the weather was gloomy for days on end, so I couldn't take decent photos. Then I took an overnight trip to visit a friend in another city. Then I spent a couple of days in DC for research, which was very pleasant until Wednesday afternoon, when I tripped over a curb in Capitol Hill, face-planted on the sidewalk, slammed my knee against the concrete, shattered my phone screen, and started sobbing, mostly from embarrassment. Now I'm back home, nursing my various bruises and preparing to leave for winter break tomorrow.

In addition to the physical clouds that have interfered with my photography, I've had a cloud of writer's block hanging over me for at least a month now. The writer's block is mostly academic, but it's also cast a shadow over my beauty blogging. In both cases, it's not so much that I don't know what to write; in fact, I have all too many ideas. The problem is that I don't trust myself to put those ideas into words. I write a sentence, think, "There must be a better way to say that," delete the sentence, and never write a new one. I start a post, save it as a draft, start yet another post, save that one as a draft, and never finish either draft. With regard to my academic work, my impostor syndrome is nothing new; but it's strange how I slip into that mentality even while blogging, given how low-stakes the process is. I don't know whether the solution is to take a break and hope for inspiration, or to plug away sentence by sentence and force myself not to hit the delete key, no matter how my writing sounds to my inner critic. At the moment, I'm opting for the latter. Let's see how this goes.

I've had a series of year-in-review posts planned for a while now. To ensure that I end the series on a high note, I'm starting my retrospective with a bit of a downer: 14 beauty purchases that disappointed me in some way or, indeed, in all ways.

Not all of the items on my list are pictured above, because I've returned or given away a few. Most of the things I've kept have at least some redeeming qualities (and I'm not sure why I still have the ones that don't...). I can't find a clear pattern to my disappointing purchases, unless it's that I didn't have a chance to test most of them in person. But there are plenty of great products that I bought this year without swatching, so I don't know what to tell you. No more drugstore eyeshadows, is the only rule I can take away from this.

Below, I've listed the items in the order in which I bought them throughout the year, and linked to my own reviews where possible. Let's begin with my second beauty purchase of 2014...

1. Urban Decay Revolution Lipstick in Streak 

Am I the only lipstick fiend in the world to have been disappointed by Urban Decay's wildly popular Revolution Lipstick? I think I might be. Streak is a beautiful peachy pink, but it's more sheer than I was expecting, it clings to dry patches on my lips, it wears off within an hour or two, and despite its creaminess, it's drying over time. The lipstick rattles around within the metal tube when I apply it, and I detect a half-musty, half-metallic scent and taste every time I put it on.

What really frustrates me is that I actually tested Streak in Sephora before buying it. I wore it around the city! I gave myself a whole week to contemplate the purchase! And yet, somehow, I struck out. My experience with Streak has dissuaded me from buying any of the other Revolution Lipsticks, even though I've been tempted by Jilted for over a year now.

2. Maybelline Color Elixir in Vision in Violet 

Maybelline's Color Elixirs are trendy lipstick/gloss hybrids along the lines of Dior's Fluid Sticks and Revlon's HD Lip Lacquers. I actually like the Color Elixir formula, which is opaque, non-sticky, and hydrating, though I could do without the strong floral scent. The problem with Vision in Violet is the color. It's my own damn fault: I wanted an opaque blue-toned purple gloss, and I got it. I just don't look very good in it.

Vision in Violet gave me my first inkling that I might not be unambiguously cool-toned. I kept it in case I ever needed a vaguely science-fiction-y makeup look for a costume party, but so far I've used it solely to scare my boyfriend.

3. NYX Hot Singles eyeshadows in Dayclub, Burlesque, and After Party

I've maligned these eyeshadows ad nauseam over the past nine months, so I'll keep this short. The Hot Singles are a recent reformulation of NYX's eyeshadow line, which meant that I couldn't find any detailed reviews of them back in March. I decided to take a chance and order three. Not only did the colors not match their descriptions on the NYX website (go on, tell me the middle one looks like an "iridescent dark purple"), but all three shadows were coarsely milled and practically invisible on my skin. I missed the return deadline and had to toss them. So it goes.

4. Milani Brilliant Shine Lip Gloss in Sweet Grapefruit 

Returned this without a second thought. I don't like thick, sticky glosses, and this one was the thickest and stickiest I'd ever tried. When I wore it, I could actually feel my lips gumming together (ew ew ew I'm cringing as I write this). Sweet Grapefruit was one of my first Milani disappointments, but it would not be my last. FORESHADOWING.

5. Boots No. 7 Poppy King Lip Gloss in Seduction

Earlier this year, my school store abruptly stopped selling Clinique makeup and started selling Boots No. 7, an odd choice for an American university. I bought Seduction in May, when the Poppy King glosses were on sale. What could go wrong, I thought, with a gloss bearing the imprimatur of the Lipstick Queen herself?

Quite a lot, it turned out. I couldn't bring myself to wear Seduction for more than a few minutes, due to its strong orange-spice scent. It was also much sheerer than it had looked in the tube, and it barely darkened my lip color.

This one goes on the purge list, I'm afraid.

6. Barry M Nail Paint in Shocking Pink

Having tried a few Barry M polishes during my stay in England, I confess that I don't get the hype. Yes, Barry M is a very cheap brand with a wide range of colors, but some of its formulas straight-up suck, and it's impossible to predict which ones will disappoint. Shocking Pink is an unexceptional fuchsia creme that chipped within a day.

7. Rimmel ScandalEyes Eyeshadow Stick in Blamed Blue 

This wasn't technically a purchase, since I got it for free in a 3-for-2 sale at Superdrug, but I still regret choosing it over, I don't know, ANYTHING ELSE. It's a beautiful shimmery teal, but it's too thick to use as eyeliner and too stiff to use as eyeshadow, and it will. not. wash. off. It tints your skin turquoise for a whole day. If you make a mistake with it--which, due to the uncooperative formula, you almost certainly will--there's no way to erase that mistake. Plus, it turns out that I don't like how teal looks against my complexion. Another future purge, since I can't in good conscience give Blamed Blue to anyone I care about. Or, for that matter, anyone I don't.

8. Topshop Nail Varnish in Clique 

This creamy avocado green looked so pretty in the bottle, but it turned more yellow than green on my nails. Every time I glanced down at my hands, I half-thought I had a fungal infection. Luckily I have a friend who likes ugly-pretty polish colors more than I do, and she was happy to adopt Clique.

9. Revlon Matte Balm in Mischievous 

As I commented on Liz's recent review of MAC's silver-taupe Viva Glam Rihanna 2, "I've been seeking out strangeness in my lipsticks recently, too. I think it might be that I have every normal color at this point, and now there's nowhere to go but weird." This was certainly the impulse behind my purchase of Mischievous, a pale creamsicle orange. Instead of listening to the reviews that panned Mischievous for its unevenness and tendency to settle into lip lines, I decided I had to have it. Surprise: it applied unevenly and settled into my lip lines. It looks all right when my lips are perfectly smooth, but that happens about twice a year. What is it with pale orangey lipsticks and weird formulas? Is it just my luck, or is it some indelible pattern in the tapestry of the universe?

10. Milani Bella Eyes Eyeshadows

When you have a beauty blog, you sometimes feel a responsibility to test new makeup releases "as a favor to your readers," i.e. "because you have an addiction and can't justify it any other way." Such was my reasoning when Milani released Bella Eyes, a range of 30 eyeshadows in three different finishes. (I guess 2014 was the year of mediocre eyeshadow reformulations or something.) The Bella Eyes shadows are much better than the NYX Hot Singles, but they're still coarser and less blendable than I'd like. Even worse, the domed bit is prone to breaking off in transit, as evidenced by the cratered remains of Bella Charcoal above.

11. & Other Stories Lip Colour in Droguet Purple

It pains me to put Droguet Purple on my worst-of-2014 list, because I think the color suits me and I feel nostalgic for the day I visited & Other Stories in London. But the lipstick is just too patchy and slippery to wear without a liner underneath, and even then it fades quickly--and longevity is essential when you're wearing a just-shy-of-black purple.

12. Tony Moly Cristal Blusher in Milky Violet

Where on earth can I find a purple blush that is 1) actually purple, not cool pink, and 2) not practically invisible? Tony Moly Milky Violet fulfills the first criterion but not the second. Having seen it worn by another pale person here, I assumed it would show up just as clearly on my own face, but Alyssa's warm complexion seems to provide a sharper contrast to the white-based lavender than my cool-neutral skintone does.

13. Revlon Lip Butter in Lollipop

A million times meh. This sheer, shimmery fuchsia just wasn't special enough to keep. It did feel quite moisturizing, though, and I might have held on to it if I didn't already have several superior fuchsias. ("Superior Fuchsias" will be the name of my glam-rock band, which I will found once I teach myself to carry a tune and play an instrument.)

14. Revlon Moisture Stain in Barcelona Nights

It's moist, but it's not really a stain. It's a very pretty color, though, so I've kept it. That might turn out to be a mistake. It's the end of the post and I'm running out of words. I should probably stop typing.

I'll try to post regularly from now on, though I can't count on having reliable Internet access for the next few days, and it's not easy to take photos with a phone whose screen is shattered to hell. Luckily I'm due for a new phone soon! In the meantime, let me know, because I'm curious: what was your most disappointing beauty purchase this year? Indulge my schadenfreude! It's almost Christmas, after all.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Lipstick Chronology #30: Milani Sangria

Name: Milani Color Statement Lipstick in Sangria

Date Purchased: August 2013

Grade: C+

Notes: In my experience, sangria is almost always a mistake. I can't stomach the taste unless I'm tipsy to begin with, which means that when I find myself drinking it, it's already too late to escape a hangover. The first time I tried sangria was at a tapas restaurant on Little Clarendon Street in Oxford. A guy spent the entire evening hitting on me in front of his girlfriend, presumably to make her jealous. I guess it worked, or didn't work, because they're still together nearly seven years later. Men are the worst. So is sangria, but you don't see anyone using the hashtag #notallsangria.

Buying Milani Sangria, a bright matte plum, was only slightly less of a mistake than drinking its namesake. I'd already tried two other Color Statement lipsticks, Flamingo Pose and Sweet Nectar, and had found them both drying. But I wanted a dark matte lipstick for fall, and I reasoned with myself that because Sangria had a different finish from the other two (matte, as opposed to creme), it might be easier on my lips. Never mind that matte finishes are not, as a rule, a welcome break from other lipstick finishes. What, you expected me to be reasonable when a plum lipstick was involved? You expected me to base a purchase on my personal experience? I don't think so. Plums and dark fuchsias will always be my weakness.

I was somewhat disappointed on both counts. Because Sangria's formula isn't entirely opaque, it becomes a deep bright fuchsia when swatched or worn, and not the witchy vampy shade I had hoped for.

Sangria also has a dry formula, as the lip swatch below makes painfully clear. The lipstick drags when I put it on, and it clings to every dry spot: I might as well be applying a glue stick to my lips. And despite all this, it's not even a true matte! Semi-matte, yes, but not very different in appearance from Milani's creme formula. Oddly, I do find Sangria less drying than my two other Color Statements, but it's still uncomfortable to wear, and it has the cloying watermelon scent common to all Milani lipsticks.

That said, I showed Sangria a lot of love last fall and winter: in fact, I used up about half the tube. I put it aside for spring and summer and didn't pick it up again until I was preparing to write this post, at which point I decided to wear it for a day to see if we had been unfairly estranged. My standards for lipstick comfort have evidently gotten higher in the last year, because I couldn't bear to wear Sangria for more than a few hours. Nor is it terribly unique in my collection: I have three similar plums, all of them more comfortable on my lips. Left to right: Revlon Plum Velour, Topshop Get Me Bodied, Milani Sangria, YSL Belle de Rose.

Sangria is the brightest and pinkest of the four, but it doesn't look dramatically different from a sheered-out Get Me Bodied when worn.

Other elements of this look: Kiko Infinity Eyeshadow #251 (lavender glitter) over NARS Lhasa; NARS Mata Hari blush; cold December morning light. I look disgruntled because I haven't had my coffee yet.

Writing this post has made me decide to give up buying Milani. (Except for the occasional nail polish: I like their recently discontinued formula and have been wondering about their new one.) I've tried quite a few Milani products over the last two years, but have yet to be deeply impressed by any of them. It's a shame that I can't continue to support one of the only cruelty-free drugstore brands, but so it goes.