Saturday, February 28, 2015

Should Beauty Be Effortless?

In the last few years, I've noticed two different beauty ideals emerging on the Internet, or at least in the corners of the Internet that I frequent. The first is "effortless beauty": glowing skin, almost no color makeup, and an overall air of having something better to do. The second is what we might call "Instagram beauty": the heavily contoured, shaded, and blended look exemplified by the Kardashians and their followers. It's odd to see the beauty world so polarized, and I've been wondering how these two very different aesthetics developed.

When I think of "effortless beauty," I think of Into the Gloss, a blog I've followed for about three years now. In ITG's most beloved feature, The Top Shelf, staff members interview celebrities, models, creative types, and otherwise unremarkable rich kids about their beauty routines. Product junkies like Lindsay Lohan and Dita Von Teese show up occasionally, but if you scrolled through the Top Shelf posts and took a shot every time a French fashionista or LA-based juice mogul proclaimed that "I don't wear much makeup," the room would be spinning before long. The Top Shelf interviewees often imply (or, in some cases, declare outright) that piling on the color is a bit vulgar. You can wear bright eyeliner or blush or a red lip, but more than two at once is just Too Much.

This take on beauty is everywhere. In contrast to the "heavy neutral" look of the '90s, the 2010s seem to be embracing "light neutral": endless refinements of textures and finishes in a limited color palette. The guiding idea of Glossier, ITG's recently launched product line, is "skincare as makeup." The NARS Spring 2015 collection is an assortment of nudes. Responding to the looks at last fall's Fashion Week, exhorted us to "ditch the makeup—or at least look like you did." And the no-makeup-makeup trend seems poised to continue throughout the year. The focal point of Rodarte's Fall 2015 makeup was a tiny strip of Swarovski crystals just below the lashline...

 ...while at Proenza Schouler, the models' faces looked almost bare, save for smudges of matte black pigment at the inner corners of the eyes and along the creases.


I can think of a few reasons for the emergence of this look, including developments in skincare technology; the influence of Asian beauty trends; the "French girl" ideal (bare face, red lipstick) that has held the American imagination captive for too many years; and the desire to make one's face as smooth and poreless as one's triple-filtered Instagram selfie. But underlying all these phenomena is the idea that not trying, or giving the impression of not trying, is cool. This is nothing new: effortlessness has been cool in Western culture since at least 1528, when Baldassare Castiglione described the Renaissance ideal of sprezzatura in The Book of the Courtier. The perfect courtier, writes Castiglione, must "seem whatsoever he doth and sayeth to do it without pain, and (as it were) not minding it...Therefore it may be said to be a very art that appeareth not to be art." Or, translating this to the current beauty ideal: put effort into your appearance, but dissemble that effort as much as possible.

What Castiglione doesn't mention is actual lack of effort. If you're at court, or attempting to become a courtier, you're already invested in your appearance, manners, and speech. You've eaten of the fruit of knowledge; you can't go back. Real effortlessness may have been yours once upon a time, but that door is closed to you now. Likewise, if you follow beauty trends closely enough to know about the effortless look, you can achieve only the semblance of effortlessness. Back in college, when I cut my own bangs and the only makeup I owned was concealer and lip balm, I wasn't cool--or if I was (I wasn't), it had nothing to do with my refusal to wear makeup. Because I neither knew nor cared about color makeup, my bare face won me no sprezzatura points. If I'd known perfectly well how to put together a smoky eye and matte purple lip but had confined myself to a slick of mascara, it would have been a different story. Perhaps sprezzatura consists in appearing to undervalue something you value greatly.

Oxford, 2008. There is an actual viscount in this picture.

But is this what the people want? Into the Gloss's focus on "natural" looks has caused some dissatisfaction recently. Every new Top Shelf featuring an artfully disheveled woman who "doesn't wear much makeup" is met with complaints from readers: Show us the lipstick hoarders! Show us people who use foundation and have imperfect skin! Meanwhile, on xoVain, readers are invited to post selfies in the "Look of the Week" thread; the looks that garner the most compliments and upvotes are inevitably the most offbeat and striking looks, the ones that betray the thought and effort behind them. It makes sense: the point of a LOTW is to show off a creation, not an unadorned face. The problem with the effortless look is that it can be, well, boring.

There's also something undemocratic about it. Good skincare is far pricier than good makeup, and it's cheaper to change your look with a new lipstick than with a new outfit. You may have worn that pilled Target blazer more times than it deserves (she wrote, glancing at the just-washed blazer hanging on her bedroom door to dry), but if you throw on a red lip, who will notice? The effortless look, bolstered by serums, essences, and moisturizers that run to hundreds of dollars each, is the province of the rich. Plus, the elaborate "Instagram look" evolved from traditionally marginalized subcultures--including drag, as Renee pointed out in her comment here--and the brands that cater to this look, like MAC, NYX, and ColourPop, tend to be mid- to low-end.

I've made a lot of generalizations in this post, but I'd wager that most people reading here fall somewhere in the middle of the two extremes: not willing to spend an hour blending and contouring, but too attached to their color makeup to be content with a splash of micellar water. In a later post, I'll consider the evolution of Instagram-esque makeup, but for now I want to know: what are your thoughts on "effortless beauty"?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Milani Moisture Matte Lipstick in Matte Naked, or How I Became a Vampire

But first, how my local CVS crushed my lipstick-collecting dreams for the 837th time.

But first, how I ended up at the CVS, a place I do my best to avoid, for the 837th time.

I was lying in bed a few nights ago, lamenting the state of my skin, when it hit me that I'd had my current tube of concealer for almost two years. Suddenly it all made sense. How could my complexion clear up if I kept applying two-year-old concealer to my blemishes? I also realized that I couldn't remember when I'd bought my tube of mascara. July? August? Maybe that explained why it had stopped working.

The next day, when I popped into CVS to replace my concealer and mascara, I noticed that they were having a 2-for-3 deal on almost all makeup. Perfect! A chance to get Revlon Matte Balm in Unapologetic, a neon coral I'd been vacillating over for almost a year. But the two tubes of Unapologetic in stock had been opened and smeared on someone's hand, and the same turned out to be true of the two Lacquer Balms I'd been considering buying eventually, and there was nothing else I actively wanted. This pissed me off. Civic responsibility, people! The impulse that makes some people swatch and ruin a lipstick without buying it is the same impulse that makes them refuse to shovel in front of their houses after a snowstorm, forcing pedestrians to hop into traffic to avoid the iced-over sidewalk. Or the impulse that makes grocery shoppers leave a cart in the middle of the parking lot instead of wheeling it 20 feet to the nearest cart receptacle. Hobbes was right about human nature: most people will thoughtlessly follow their own self-interest, and instead of trying to change them, we should adjust our expectations accordingly.

Which, for me, meant adjusting my lipstick desires. I was going to buy the concealer and mascara anyway, so I couldn't just turn down the offer of a free third item. I wandered to the back of the beauty aisle and noticed a display of the new Milani matte lipsticks: a surprise, as this particular CVS usually takes several months to stock new releases.

Longtime readers of this blog will be familiar with my ambivalence about Milani. It's one of only three cruelty-free brands stocked by my local CVS (the others being NYC and Physicians Formula, neither of which appeals to me), so I've tried my hardest to like its products. Unfortunately, few of them have impressed me. The Color Statement lipsticks dry out my lips and reek of synthetic watermelon, the Lip Intense Liquid Color lipsticks never quite set on the lips, and the Bella Eyes eyeshadow singles are coarser and more powdery than I'd like. Samuel Johnson described second marriages as "the triumph of hope over experience," and my purchase of Milani's matte lipstick in Matte Naked was a similar triumph. Except that it was a fourth marriage, and unlike many fourth marriages, it turned out for the best.

Matte Naked is part of Milani's eight-shade range of Moisture Matte lipstick. You may wonder why Milani has released a new matte formula when its regular Color Statement line already has several matte shades (one of which I've reviewed). I see this as Milani's tacit admission that its original matte formula needed some serious revamping. They certainly seem excited about the new formula, if the blurb on their website is any indication:

"Meet your matte. Your fantasy matte. The matte that not only feels great (yes, you read that right – it’s actually comfy) but also lasts for hours and has 'a-mazing Instagram selfie' written all over it. Infused with grape seed extract imported from Italy, this smear-proof lip soother delivers mega color that won’t budge, even after a close encounter with a cappuccino cup. In eight luxe, go-the-distance shades, from the oh-so-sweet, pale pink Matte Innocence to the va va voom, fiery-red Matte Passion. This matte? So major."

Oh, geez. They've been taking copywriting lessons from the folks at ColourPop. But let's grit our teeth, try to ignore the phrase "a-mazing Instagram selfie," and analyze these claims one at a time:
  • "Feels great": True. It's a real sheen-free matte, but it glides on smoothly, rather like a Revlon Matte Balm, and it doesn't dry out my winter-parched lips further. In fact, they feel a tiny bit better after I've worn the lipstick for a few hours, which for me is almost unheard of. This isn't an especially lightweight lipstick, but it is comfortable, especially for a matte. Milani has really improved on its Color Statement formula. Oh, and the watermelon scent has been replaced with a light MAC-esque vanilla! Well done, guys.
  • "Lasts for hours...smear-proof...won't budge, even after a close encounter with a cappuccino cup": False. I can't speak for the darker or bolder colors, but Matte Naked definitely comes off on coffee cups, to say nothing of food. No big deal for me, but worth noting.
  • "So major": Half-true, if "major" means what I think it means (revelatory, revolutionary, generally mind-blowing). There are lots of cheap, comfortable matte formulas these days, like Revlon's Matte Balms and Topshop's Lip Bullets, but there wasn't a comfortable Milani matte formula until now. Major for the brand, then, if not for the lipstick-collecting world at large. I think these would be a great alternative to Maybelline's much-lauded matte lipsticks if, like me, you prefer to buy cruelty-free makeup. I also hope Milani makes more shades in this formula, since the eight available now aren't particularly original. 

Matte Naked is a deep pinkish brown, the sort of color you'd reach for if you wanted #kyliejennerlips (damn it, that writing style has infected me, too). I chose it because, while I already had a few nudes and MLBBs, I had none in a matte formula. Matte Naked might be a nice "concealer nude" for someone with a deeper skintone than mine; on me, it definitely falls on the MLBB side of the neutral-lip spectrum.

I swatched Matte Naked with some of my other nudes and MLBBs: left to right, Revlon Pink Truffle, Matte Naked, Maybelline Nude Lust, and L'Oreal Fairest Nude.

Matte Naked is darker and cooler than Pink Truffle, and much darker and browner than beige Nude Lust or mauvey Fairest Nude. (Incidentally, Fairest Nude is my holy grail nude lip color, but I hate the smell and feel of the L'Oreal formula. If anyone can recommend a similar cool-toned nude in another formula, I'll be forever in your debt.)

I was dismayed to see a hint of peach in my arm swatch, but Matte Naked became cooler-toned on my lips:

In recent weeks, I've been experimenting more with my eye makeup, which has given me a new appreciation for the nude and neutral lipsticks I tend to neglect. Here are two looks I put together with Matte Naked, both of which I felt comfortable wearing in academic situations. In the first look, I'm wearing NYX Jumbo Pencil in Iced Mocha and ColourPop Super Shock Shadow in Bae on my eyes, and Sleek Flushed on my cheeks.

With its abundance of teal glitter, Bae definitely pushes the boundaries of "work-appropriate," but I'm trying to enjoy all my glitter before I take a real job. The great part of being a grad student is that you're often more or less invisible. Wait, maybe that's the bad part of being a grad student...

I did have a good deal of glitter fallout with Bae, so I might try using a primer next time. And I'll certainly never use it on my lower lashline again, unless I want to look like I've been making out with Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie.

My second look was more understated: ColourPop Bill and the plum half of NARS Habanera on my eyes, and Illamasqua Zygomatic on my cheeks.

Bill is so great, you guys. I love neutral-with-a-twist shadows, and this soft matte lilac-taupe applies and blends flawlessly and stays put all day without primer. If you're going to order one thing from ColourPop, order Bill.

Oh, wait: I was going to tell you how I became a vampire. On the day I wore the first Matte Naked look, I went to the bathroom just before a department event and found a smear of dried blood on my neck. Further inspection revealed two tiny, close-together cuts resembling a vampire bite. I had to run into the department office, clutching a paper towel to my neck, and ask for a bandaid. I even looked vampiric, with my reddish eyeshadow and washed-out lips. It was a very strange day.

Anyway, I guess I'm immortal now, which means I'll live to see many formulas of matte lipstick rise and fall. Have you tried Milani's?

Friday, February 20, 2015

FOTD: Feels Like Negative Thirteen (feat. ColourPop Bill)

It occurs to me that "Feels Like Negative Thirteen" would have been a great name for an early-'00s pop-punk emo band. What it is not, however, is a phrase I want to read on just before I walk to the library in the morning.

Anyway, this is a quick addendum to yesterday's review of four ColourPop eyeshadows. Today I used Bill, the lone matte shade I ordered, so I wanted to give you a sense of how it performed. Bill looks like a midtone pinkish brown in the pan...

This photo also gives a good idea of the texture.

...but on my eyelids, it softens into a pale dusty pink with a hint of lilac and almost no brown. Neutral yet distinctive, and very soft and pretty.

Who would have guessed that Bill would turn into that color when worn? So strange. I'm not complaining, though, since this is the color I hoped for when I ordered Bill, and I was disappointed to see that murky brown when I opened the pot.

It took me a long time to get interested in matte eyeshadows, but I've been enjoying them as a contrast with glossy or shimmery lip colors. (I know I've bitched about Milani's Bella Eyes shadows, but Bella Taupe has been another matte favorite recently.) For today's FOTD, I added theBalm eyeshadow in Sophisticated, a nearly matte cool brown, to the crease, the outer corners, and the lower lashline. Blush is Sleek Flushed; lipstick is Revlon Lacquer Balm in Coy.

One word of caution about Bill: it has a much softer, fluffier texture than other cream eyeshadows I've tried. It feels a bit like damp powder or whipped cream cheese. This means that it's easy to pick up too much when applying, but also too little if you don't apply enough pressure to the pan. On the lid, it takes on a light, powdery finish. I wish the Super Shock shadows were firmer, like the Maybelline Color Tattoos. But this is a small quibble, especially as the softness makes the ColourPop shadows much easier to spread, blend, and smoke out.

Apologies for the fluorescent lighting and hat hair in this shot. Stay warm, everyone!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

ColourPop Reviews, Part 2: Super Shock Shadows in Bae, Bill, Krinkle, and Sequin

I'm back with my second round of ColourPop reviews! (Here's my review of CP's Lippie Stix and Lippie Pencil in Frenchie.) This review would have gone up earlier, but my parcel was delayed due to last week's bad weather, and it was only today that I got to try on the four eyeshadows I ordered almost two weeks ago. Clockwise from top left: Bill, Bae, Sequin, and Krinkle.

In my previous ColourPop review, I discussed my thoughts on ColourPop's aggressively ~edgy~ branding and Urban Dictionary-inspired product names, so I won't repeat myself here. Suffice to say that the more time I spend on ColourPop's website, the more convinced I become that I'm not their target audience. That doesn't preclude my enjoying my makeup, though, so let's see how these eyeshadows perform! Unboxed, same order as above:

Each Super Shock eyeshadow ($5 each) is housed in a screw-top pot with a transparent lid. The containers are taller than my other eyeshadow singles, but I wouldn't recommend depotting the shadows, given the delicacy of the cream formula. There's even a warning on the box:

Here's the ingredients list for Bae, if you have more patience and chemistry training than I do:

The Super Shock formula is a lightweight, easily spreadable and blendable cream. ColourPop seems to make two eyeshadow finishes: matte and over-the-top sparklicious glitterbomb. There aren't a lot of options for people who favor eyeshadows with subdued sheen, as I do. ColourPop does describe some shades as especially sparkly, but I didn't buy any of those, and I can't imagine eyeshadows more sparkly than the ones I got.

Bae is a dark reddish plum with teal glitter. Or, according to the CP website copy: "Ay Bay Bay, this rich eggplant purple with an emerald, and turquoise, glittery duo chrome metallic finish is legit better than anything else." I wouldn't call this shade duochrome or metallic, exactly; it's one color of glitter in another color of shadow. It is seriously pretty, though.

Bae looks like a bluish purple in the pan, but it becomes much redder when swatched. Look at that glitter! I could almost believe that ColourPop designed its eyeshadows to be photographed, not worn.

Bill is the most boring, thus most versatile, of the four: a matte dusty pinkish brown (ColourPop calls it "a muted plum beige"). I expected it to be more pinky-plum than brown, and it does look pinker in person, but the brown definitely predominates here.

Krinkle is the shadow I was most excited to see in person: a grayish tealish light blue with an abundance of silver and gold sparkle.

"When you put it on, it’s a lot like that feeling you get on Christmas morning," says the ColourPop website. Can't argue with that.

Sequin is a metallic copper with tons of matching glitter.

I'd expected a more subtle metallic finish, but here's a good rule to follow in all your dealings with ColourPop: never expect subtle.

Swatched, left to right: Sequin, Bae, Krinkle, Bill. As you can see, the glitter in Bae is finer and more sparse than it is in Sequin or Krinkle. The base colors may not look very intense, but they're surprisingly pigmented: when I wiped off the glitter with a paper towel, the pigment barely budged.

I don't wear glitter eyeshadow very often, so deciding how to place these on my eyes was a challenge--but a welcome challenge, given how boring and monochrome my eye makeup has become recently. I have to make an active effort not to smear NARS Lhasa all over my mobile lids and call it a day. I used Bae and Krinkle for my inaugural look, and was proud of myself for coming up with that combination until I realized that I was ripping off the NARS Habanera duo. It turns out that Bae and Krinkle are sparkly versions of the two sides of Habanera; Bae even has the same combination of red-plum base and teal glitter, though Habanera's plum has more purple. I am really, really bad at buying eyeshadow colors I don't already own. Here are some comparison swatches; forgive the goosebumps. "Room temperature" has long since become a fairy tale this winter.

L to R: Bae, Habanera plum, Krinkle, Habanera mint.

For the look below, I used a matte cream shadow, Maybelline Color Tattoo in Tough as Taupe, as a base all over my mobile lids. I layered Krinkle on the outer half of each lid, used Bae to shade my lashlines and darken the outer corners and creases, then added a bit more Krinkle on top. I found the most effective application method to be with the fingers: a smudging motion to apply one layer, and a patting motion to replace the glitter that had been smudged off. I did use a brush to blend one color into another and diffuse the edges. I've been wearing this combination for a few hours now, and I've seen no fading and very little glitter fallout (though some is inevitable, and I don't really mind it).

Milani clear brow gel on my eyebrows; CoverGirl LashBlast Length on my lashes. I can't remember when I bought this tube of mascara, which means it's probably time to buy another.

And a full face. I'm wearing Sleek Flushed blush and Revlon Plum Velour lipstick to harmonize with the plum of Bae. Not my usual look, but I like the change. I also had nowhere to be today, hence no fear of looking unprofessional. And hey, check out my haircut!

And the same look with Maybelline Nude Lust lipstick, despite my strong suspicion that I should stay far away from concealer nudes:

And just for fun, a better close-up view of the glitter; it made me feel like a fairy.

Overall, I'm much more impressed with ColourPop's eyeshadows than with their lipsticks and lip pencils. I doubt I'll be ordering more Super Shock shadows anytime soon, since most of them are too glittery for my usual taste, and cream eyeshadows don't have the longevity of powders. I wish ColourPop had decided to make powder eyeshadows instead. Maybe they're harder to get right than cream ones? At any rate, I really like the Super Shock shadows I already have. I don't anticipate using the glitter shades on their own; I'm more likely to use them as top coats for more subdued shades. I do think Bill has workhorse potential, though. I'll try to post a FOTD with Bill and Sequin eventually, so you can see what they look like on a human eyelid. (Update: Bill FOTD here.)

So ends my brief flirtation with ColourPop. Part of me thinks I might actually be too old, or at least too staid, for their glitter-and-Instagram shtick. I love a sense of play in my makeup, but I also want the fun, sparkly colors to be anchored by more versatile shades. I want adventurous colors in subtle textures, or subtle colors in adventurous textures; I don't want all party all the time, which is the aesthetic they seem to be catering to. If that happens to be your aesthetic, though, you could do a lot worse. I'm curious to find out whether ColourPop will make it to the mainstream like NYX, or whether the brand will fade into obscurity after the hype dies down. We'll just have to see.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scattered Words for a Windy Sunday

The past week has been unusually busy, so I haven't had a chance to take photos and write paragraphs and all that. But I've had a series of fugitive beauty-related thoughts, none of them quite substantial enough for an entire post, and I thought I'd compile them here before the wind blew them away.

1. My boyfriend is visiting for the week, and we had an early Valentine's Day tapas outing on February 13 and spent V-Day itself on such thrilling tasks as walking to the grocery store in the snow...

...and making vegetarian chili from this recipe (plus 1.5 tablespoons of cocoa powder, and minus the celery because who puts celery in chili). I marveled at the alien symmetry of the innards of a bell pepper:

2. My Valentine's Day nail polish was Zoya Gilda, a fuchsia microshimmer that gives an almost foiled effect on the nails. Unfortunately, Gilda is something of a problem polish: it takes a long time to dry completely, it starts chipping within a day or two, and it's thin enough that I can see my nail line even after three coats. But look how pretty!

3. I'm right-handed, so why does the polish on my left hand always chip first?

4. On the aforementioned visit to the grocery store, I discovered that Betsey Johnson's bankruptcy has driven her to sell her name to Kleenex. This made me sad, but it also made me buy a box of her zipper-printed Kleenex.

5. With wind chill, it's currently -6° F. Today we ventured into town and my face got so numb that I couldn't talk properly, as if I'd been injected with novocaine. Last summer, I noticed that very hot days sapped my motivation to put on eye makeup, because I knew that part of it would melt off; this winter, very cold days have had the same effect, because I know that my eyes will tear up whenever I step outside. My FOTD, if you can call it that, was MUFE Smoky Extravagant mascara (last year's Sephora birthday gift), NARS Coeur Battant blush (totally unnecessary on a day when the high winds guaranteed a strong flush), and Revlon Colorburst lipstick in Fuchsia:

6. My endless appetite for lipsticks both awes and terrifies me. I have so many, yet I can always think of a color that my collection lacks. Lately I've been wanting a trashy white-based pastel pink like MAC Saint Germain, a hot coral-pink matte like Revlon Unapologetic, and a neutral mauve-pink like NARS Anna or MAC Pink Plaid. I also suspect that Bite Cava is the cool-toned nude I've been pursuing for years now. Four lipsticks! How is that possible?

7. I've been thinking a lot about the disconnect between two current ideals of beauty: the "effortless beauty" that we encounter on sites like Into the Gloss, and the obviously effortful beauty popular on Instagram: multicolored ombré lip art, eye looks with a dozen different shadows blended perfectly into each other. How did these two extremes develop? I'd like to write a post about it sometime.

8. On Tuesday I'm getting my first haircut in seven months, and it can't come soon enough. A blunt-cut long bob is still my ultimate goal, but for now I'm going to have the longest layers cut off so that everything can grow out more evenly. I hope to end up with something like this...

...and eventually, something like this:

9. After an overnight visit to an out-of-town friend this week, I realized that I have three styles of makeup: understated but visible, for professional situations; experimental, for days when I'm not likely to see anyone I know and can float anonymously in and out of crowds; and almost completely bare, when I'm with people I love and trust. Making myself up before going to see close friends feels like an insult to them. But why should I attach this moral significance to makeup? Do I, despite my third-wave-feminist protestations, make myself up for others' eyes and not my own? Is there really a difference in the end? Maybe not. No one lives in a vacuum.

10. I've mentioned a few times that I never wore makeup in college. One of the chief reasons was my desire to impress my professors with my intellectual seriousness. I had a horror of seeming immature. Over the years, I've lost some of my unquestioning reverence for the academy and its pretensions, and my makeup has gotten brighter and more playful in response. Two years ago, I had lunch with one of my undergraduate professors, who looked askance at my lavender nail polish: "What color are your nails?" I was surprised to find that his reaction gave me a small sense of triumph. It took me a long time to learn how to be young. I'm still learning.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

ColourPop Reviews, Part 1: Lippie Stix and Lippie Pencil in Frenchie

If you've had Internet access in the past year, you've almost certainly heard of ColourPop, a small online-only brand with a formidable range of lipsticks, lip liners, and cream-to-powder eyeshadows, each a mere $5. Launched just last year, the brand has risen to prominence almost overnight, largely through partnering with popular bloggers and YouTube gurus. I first heard of ColourPop last fall, when Temptalia began reviewing their eyeshadows and lipsticks, and my curiosity grew as more and more bloggers raved about the products (which, as a bonus, are cruelty-free and made in LA). When I mentioned wanting to try Frenchie, a lipstick described by ColourPop as "[b]right warm neon red in a matte finish," Renee of Bad Outfit, Great Lipstick very kindly offered to send it to me. She'd ordered both the lip pencil and the lipstick (every ColourPop Lippie Stix [shudder] has a matching pencil), but hadn't loved the color. You can see her review of Frenchie and four other Lippie Stix--Frida, Cake, Fancy, and Pony--here. For my own impressions of Frenchie, read on!

ColourPop's origins are shrouded in mystery, which has led to some entertaining speculation on Reddit. The branding does seem a bit slick for a new indie company, and there's no face of ColourPop, no obvious creator (though there is a reference to "our fearless leader" here). Does this mean that ColourPop is "a diffusion line for someone big," or "a shell company created for some creepy nontraceable cosmetics incubator," as Redditors have proposed? I dunno, maybe. But I also think the beauty-junkie community displays an odd resistance to the idea that a brand might have entered the market to, you know, make money. I'm being very glib here, but let's be honest: capitalism is shady and we're always being hustled somehow. If you applied enough scrutiny to any beauty brand, you'd probably find something unsavory. Show me evidence that ColourPop is ordering hits on Fyrinnae and Lime Crime employees, and then we'll talk.

I do want to discuss ColourPop's brand identity for a second, because I find it fascinating in a cringey way. Every aspect of ColourPop is designed to appeal to bloggers, Instagrammers, and their followers. This is apparent in the product descriptions ("True cool toned lavender in a satin finish"), in the oh-so-hip lingo that peppers their copy ("This sh*t is soo neon it practically glows in the dark"), and in their allusions to Kylie Jenner's lips and Iggy Azalea's lyrics ("Makes you fancy…but you already know"). "Beauty for cool kids," proclaims ColourPop's Instagram account, and they're trying so hard to prove it. This kind of marketing tends to leave me cold, because I know very well I'm not cool. Yesterday I burst out laughing at something Thomas Hobbes wrote in the 1640s. No duochrome eyeshadow is going to change this--not even "the F**king Queen of shadows."

C'mon, guys.

Anyway, let's review this F**king sh*t, shall we?

I really like ColourPop's packaging: the white tubes with silver holographic lettering and blocks of identifying color are sleek but playful. The caps snap neatly onto the tubes: no fear of a lipstick coming unlidded in your purse. Note that the pencils do need sharpening, despite being made of plastic. I couldn't find my sharpener before taking this photo, of course.

As Renee points out in her review, the Lippie Stix may be cheap, but they're also very small. At 1g each, they're about one-third the size of your average lipstick (~3g), half the size of Tom Ford's "clutch-sized" Lips and Boys series (2g), and two-thirds the size of the miniature MUFE lipstick I got as a Sephora birthday gift last year (1.5g). Don't be deceived by the length of the tubes: it's best to think of the Lippie Stix as minis. But if you want to try a mint or aqua lipstick without committing to a full tube, ColourPop is a great choice.

I almost never wear lip liner, but Renee is a classier broad than I am, which means you get comparison swatches of the lipstick (left) and liner. The pencil is a true old-fashioned matte, while the lipstick has some sheen, and the pencil is a bit warmer than the lipstick.

I'd hoped that Frenchie would be a matte version of Revlon Fire & Ice, and I wasn't disappointed. To my eye, Fire & Ice is slightly brighter and lighter than Frenchie, but they're pretty darn close. Below, left to right: Fire & Ice, Frenchie lipstick, Frenchie pencil, and a cool red for comparison (Maybelline On Fire Red).

First I tried on the pencil alone. It has a dry texture and drags on my lips slightly, though it's less dry than my two drugstore lip liners (by NYX and Barry M). As you can see, the texture emphasizes imperfections and doesn't adhere to the inner edge of my lower lip. I wouldn't wear the pencil alone unless my lips were in perfect condition, which they never are. But if you have smooth lips, this is a great matte warm red.

Then I layered the lipstick over the pencil. Much better, though not quite matte.

Because the lipstick is so slender, it's easy to get a precise application even without the liner in place, which is useful for a bold color like Frenchie. The Lippie Stix matte formula is soft and thick, like a slightly heavier version of the Revlon Matte Balms. Unlike the Matte Balms, however, Frenchie has a finish I can only describe as "gummy." When I press my lips together, I can feel them lightly sticking to each other. The gumminess wears off eventually, as does the faint (and, to me, pleasant) vanilla scent. I'm afraid I didn't get to test the layered combination for longevity, because my lips were screaming for moisture after about two hours. But here's how the Frenchie pair looked on me when freshly applied. I was extremely lazy with the rest of my makeup that day: I'm wearing concealer, MUFE Smoky Extravagant mascara, and a bit of Illamasqua Zygomatic blush.

Contrary to the description on ColourPop's website, I don't see a lot of neon in Frenchie. Granted, my lips have the talent of pulling bright, warm lipsticks cooler and softer (see also NARS Grace), but the word "neon" to me implies a white base that Frenchie just doesn't have. Nor do I think Frenchie is quite pink enough to fall into the "coral" category, though coral is such an ill-defined color that I'm not sure anyone has the authority to distinguish corals from not-corals.

Today I took mercy on my lips and applied the Lippie Stix without the pencil. This produced a slightly cooler and brighter red--a red much like Fire & Ice, in fact. Once again I got the gummy effect, but the lipstick wasn't drying, and it withstood coffee and a snack. If you prefer lightweight lipsticks, this one isn't your best bet, but it's smooth and pigmented in just one swipe, and it does stain the lips.

I think the lipstick on its own suits my complexion better than the pencil-stix combo.

Please note that I managed to apply black liquid eyeliner without smearing it all over my eyelids, which happens about twice a year. Revel in that tiny flick, my friends. You probably won't see it again for months.

Though ColourPop has gotten a lot of hyperbolic praise over the last half-year or so, Frenchie doesn't quite live up to the hype for me. Both the lipstick and the liner are solid budget options, but the formulas are nothing special, and I don't think I'll be ordering any more ColourPop lip products unless I want a really unusual color. I still have high hopes for the eyeshadows, though, and I'm currently waiting for four to arrive in the mail. Stay tuned for Part 2 of my ColourPop reviews!

Finally, I should note that the name "ColourPop" always makes me think of the eccentric k-pop girl group Crayon Pop. Could they be the marketing geniuses behind this enterprise?

Have you tried anything by ColourPop? What do you think of the brand? Thanks again to Renee for her thoughtful gift! <3