Saturday, November 26, 2016

Kat Von D + Formula X Studded X Duo in Mercy

In general, I don't trust beauty brands, religious sects, or political movements with extremely charismatic figureheads. The kind of person who attracts fanatical devotees tends to be the kind of person who wants fanatical devotees, who lives for adulation and drama, who needs to be the center of attention at all timesa narcissist, in other words. Once you've known one narcissist you've known them all, and you become wary of anyone who displays the symptoms of narcissism, whether it's Donald Trump, Jeffree Star, or that professor who gave a talk in my department last week and unbuttoned his shirt a few inches too far.

Kat Von D is another charismatic figurehead who has always set off my narcissist detector. I've been hearing great things about her makeup for years, but I've also been hearing terrible things about her for years. (I don't feel like rehashing all her controversies here, though they're easy enough to find if you're interested.) What bothers me about brands like Kat Von D is that the founder's reputation and personality are so intimately bound up with the products. When I buy a lipstick, I don't want to have to think about whether Kat and Jeffree are friends or enemies this week. I simply don't give a shit. At Whole Foods a few months ago, I complimented the cashier's bright purple lipstick. Instead of just saying, "Thanks, it's by Kat Von D," she began gushing at length about how great Kat was. I'm not sure I trust any beauty brand that stirs up such passion. I just want some good makeup, you know? I'm too old and cynical to worship the person who makes it.

So I never bought anything from Kat Von D until this past summer, when Sephora reduced the price of their Studded X Duos from $15 to $7.50. Each duo contained two minis: a KVD Studded Kiss lipstick and a matching Formula X nail polish. I knew I liked Sephora's Formula X brand, and I'd long been curious about the Studded Kiss line, which had received mixed reviews but featured a range of unconventional matte and metallic shades. By the time I found out about the Studded X sale, there were four shades left: Coven (matte lavender), Slayer (matte black), Poe (metallic navy), and Mercy (metallic berry). For once in my life, I ordered the color I was most likely to wear:


It's cute that the drawings on each box match the shade inside! I'm not a huge fan of Kat Von D's 2EDGY4U aesthetic, but I do appreciate well-thought-out packaging.

What is this image tho.

Unfortunately, these Studded X duos are no longer available, but you can buy Mercy as a full-sized Studded Kiss lipstick for $21. Whether you should, well...keep reading.


I'm a total sucker for miniature beauty products, and these are done very well. Here are the Mercy lipstick (1.2g) and nail polish (4ml) next to a MAC lipstick (3g) and Essie polish (13.5ml) for scale:


When closed, Mercy doesn't look much smaller than a full-sized MAC, but the bullets tell a different story. I don't mind that the mini Studded Kiss tube is deceptively bulky: that makes it friendlier for a clumsy, large-handed person like yours truly. I love the stud pattern, by the way. If that makes me tacky, well, tell me something I don't know.


The Mercy lipstick has a rusty berry base with fuchsia shimmer. In an arm swatch, you can see the individual sparkles, but on the lips Mercy looks more like a berry/fuchsia duochrome. I detect a very faint vanilla smell, but no taste.


L-R: NYX Cabaret lip pencil (more on that in a second), MAC Eugenie, KVD Mercy, NARS 413 BLKR, Revlon Red Velvet. Essentially, Mercy is 413 BLKR with a fuchsia shift, but it reads much cooler on the lips because the shimmer is so pronounced.


After the first wear, I was forced to confront reality: I needed a lip liner. Now, I am the most anti-liner of lipstick addicts. I will go to incredible lengths to avoid scribbling all over my mouth, ingesting a woody taste that brings me back to second-grade art class, and inevitably drawing one side of my top lip larger than the other. So when I say a lipstick needs a liner, it really needs a liner. On its own, Mercy is a bit patchy and feathery. Like Poe, which I tried on in July, it doesn't want to adhere to the inner part of my lower lip. It doesn't look terrible from a normal distance, but it wears off more quickly than such a dark color should. Here's Mercy without liner, in direct artificial light (top) and indirect natural light (bottom):


Not terrible, but not great. Because of my anti-liner stance, the only lip liners I owned at the time were dark purple, mauve-brown, and metallic orange, so I checked out the NYX section at CVS and found a liner that looked similar to Mercy: Cabaret, a muted wine red. (I swear NYX meant to name this shade "Cabernet.") It turned out to be slightly warmer than Mercy, but no big deal: I just wanted a thin layer of a similar color. Here's Cabaret on its own, above, and under Mercy, below:


Layered over Cabaret, Mercy is surprisingly long-lasting. It barely transferred at all onto a cup of coffee, and it even stood up to an apple, though this might speak more to the efficacy of Cabaret in holding the lipstick in place. The NYX formula has a very slightly sticky finish that grabs lipstick well.

Here I am wearing the Mercy/Cabaret combo, along with Urban Decay Cover eyeshadow and Whiskey eyeliner, Sleek Flushed blush, and ColourPop Might Be highlighter. I assumed Mercy would look more dramatic than it actually did, hence the painfully boring eye makeup:


The nail polish is burgundy (less brown than the base color of the lipstick) with very fine burgundy shimmer. I'm disappointed that Formula X didn't make more of an effort to match the lipstick: a wine-red polish with fuchsia shimmer would have been beautiful. As it is, the Mercy nail polish is nice, but nothing more. It applies smoothly, dries quickly, and reaches opacity in two coats. Unfortunately, the shimmer gets lost on the nail unless it's in direct light (right). In the shade (left), Mercy just looks like a very shiny merlot:

I hate how short my nails are, but they've been breaking like crazy lately. :(

I could live with all this if the polish were not also very prone to chipping. The usual caveat appliesfew polishes stay pristine on my nails for longer than two daysbut I found myself with a couple of large chips before 24 hours had passed. And when I say "large chips," I mean that half the polish had somehow fallen off one of my nails.

That said, I'm happy with the Mercy duo overall. The nail polish is pretty, if not what I expected, and the lipstick alone is well worth the $7.50 I paid, though I doubt I'd drop $21 on a full-sized version. That beautiful fuchsia shift elevates Mercy above the "dark red lipstick for the holiday season" category. But with this experiment over, I'm back to avoiding the Kat Von D brand: her personality is radioactive enough that I wouldn't feel great about patronizing her further. Do you share my distaste for brands headed by big personalities?

23 comments:

  1. I think you summed up very well why so many of us feel discomfort over Kat Von D and other cult of personality-based brands. The thing is, you do look great in the lipstick. Maybe this is crazy, but seeing this lipstick, I suddenly wondered what you think of a lipstick on the opposite end of color saturation, Clinique Raspberry Glace. Have you ever swatched it?

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    1. I've actually never used anything by Clinique, but Raspberry Glace does look pretty!

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  2. I was auditioning perfume choices at a couple of department stores to buy for myself at the end of the year (a treat for a good year and all the hard work that went into 2016) and was annoyed at the proliferation of celeb scents. It's not limited to celeb-fronted brands, I generally feel distaste for any beauty brand overly dependent on celebrities. I find celebrity "brand ambassadors" quite patronizing, almost as though the brands believe that just because a celeb is fronting a product, we will be so much more willing to part with our money and less likely to care about product quality.

    Yes, I feel this way even though I work in marketing. Especially since I work in marketing, actually, since I have to listen to all the breathless claims that "influencers" help brand awareness and your business. Ugh!

    Sorry for the rant! Anyway, I took a sniff of Diptyque Florabellio and I like it and find it intriguing! But I might just get yet another bottle of Do Son as that perfume is the closest scent match to my personality so I am deeply attached to it.

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    1. I hate the word "influencer," shudder. And yes, it seems that when beauty brands partner with, say, YouTube gurus to create LE products, those products are of lower quality because the brand is relying on the big name to sell the collection. It blows my mind that people are paying so much money for Kylie Jenner's lip kits when they're just repackaged ColourPop.

      Congratulations on your good year! I'm with you--I get attached to certain perfumes and don't buy new ones on a whim.

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  3. Yeah, I'm not into KVD either, and the Poe duo was the first thing from her line I'd ever bought. I haven't even really been tempted. I don't like liquid lipsticks, and I'm not interested in the liquid liner--those seem to be the main things that people claim are somehow better than other brands. The aesthetic really, really isn't me, and while I don't usually buy things for the packaging, I will avoid having to look at Hot Topic style (or cutesy Too Faced), all other things being equal.

    It sounds like this is the exact same formula as Poe, which won't stick to the inner half of my lips either without help. I haven't worn that one again yet . . .

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    1. I was tempted earlier this year by her liquid lipstick in Bauhau5, but I know myself by now: I'm exponentially more likely to wear a bullet lipstick than a liquid one in the same color. And yes, there's something very "mall goth" about her aesthetic. I like the Studded Kiss tubes because they're plain black and it's the shape that's distinctive, but I don't like the fonts and images she uses.

      Having tried both Poe and Mercy, I can attest that the formulas are pretty much identical. I found Poe a bit patchier, though. Have you tried a blue lip liner? I know NYX makes a few.

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    2. I don't have a blue lipliner, but I do have a soft gel eyeliner that matches Poe almost exactly, so that works! I just live a boring life and need to branch out in my lipstick wearing more.

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    3. Yeah, I certainly haven't worn my own navy lipstick in a while...

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  4. I've seen way too often what having an owner so closely aligned does to a brand, and so I'm especially wary of it in mainstream makeup, because those people have money and power, whereas indies just have obnoxious Facebook and reddit drama. Plus, the KVD aesthetic is too much for me.

    I'm not surprised Mercy is difficult to work with, but still a steal for $7.50. Had they been in stock on Sephora Canada, I would have probably picked one up.

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    1. Yeah, that's another reason I've never gotten into indie makeup: the personalities are front and center and the drama level is just too high. Don't get me wrong, I love certain kinds of drama, but I don't want it anywhere near my makeup. (Which is not to say that larger brands can't generate controversy, of course.)

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  5. Kat Von D irks me no end, for a variety of reasons. Her aesthetic isn't my jam, and she doesn't sound like a very nice person. WHICH MAKES IT VERY ANNOYING that her makeup is so well-loved -___-

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    1. Okay, the all-caps might be an overstatement.

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    2. Don't worry, this blog is a safe space for capslock! I don't judge people for buying KVD's makeup, but it does surprise me that more potential customers aren't turned off by all the bullshit she's spouted over the years.

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  6. The lipstick looks really cool over lip liner! I'm surprised I'm into the metallic/frosty stuff these days since I used to find it so unbearably '90s. I think that shade suits the finish.

    I'm definitely not a fan of KVD herself and I usually avoid personality-driven brands. (I MOST CERTAINLY avoid "influencer" [shudder] brands and collabs.) But I have to admit that her makeup line is solid. The Shade and Light eyeshadow palette is worth the hype. I probably won't buy anything else from her brand because I don't really like giving my money to people who I don't care for, but I can't deny that her shit is good. Anyway, thx capitalism for being a minefield of unethical choices that we must navigate.

    (Also, her aesthetic is not mine, but I do like that she does all the lettering and artwork herself.)

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    1. I've been liking the metallic stuff, too! But for me, there's a subtle distinction between "frost," "duochrome," and "metallic" lipsticks. Frost lipsticks have a silver or white sheen, no matter the base color; duochrome lipsticks have a sheen that contrasts with the base color; and metallic lipsticks have a sheen that matches the base color. Am I too hung up on classification? Probably.

      I've heard really good things about many of her products, particularly the Shade and Light palette and the liquid lipsticks. In fact, if I'd known about Shade and Light last year, I might have chosen that over the Naked2 Basics.

      In a perfect world, all brands would be cruelty-free, would offer a wide range of shades and formulas, and would be run by great people. Alas.

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  7. The whole Jeffree Star/Kat von D drama was ridiculous. I unsubscribed to Jeffree after the debacle (not that I was ever an avid fan, but I watched him occasionally when I was in the mood for a dose of flashy OTT 'personality') because he just seemed a bit too shady and petty for me. Plus his act gets old. There's an inauthenticity about it that makes him not only unrelatable, but unenjoyable. I'm a little less iffy about Kat von D but she probably just manages her PR and brand better. I think I've only tried one Kat von D product (one of the single eyeshadows in Thunderstruck) and I may have gotten carried away a bit with the colour which I use as a highlighter. I love the shade but on the face it can appear chunky and harder to blend. Still, I think this set is a good deal, patchiness aside. At least you found a way to make it work and opted for the sensible colour choice. I probably would've been inclined to pick the cool-toned lavender or something and end up never wearing it outside the house.

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    1. I'll be honest, Jeffree Star's channel is a guilty pleasure of mine. Like, extremely guilty. I'd never give him my money, but he's one entertaining son of a bitch. I also think it was pretty calculating of Kat to attack him in public after a few anti-Jeffree videos had already come out: she saw that he was losing public favor and immediately distanced herself. Frankly, they both seem like hot messes, and I think most of the people who worship them have never known a narcissist personally.

      I was tempted by the lavender, but I looked up reviews and it's apparently very patchy. It seems like there are a few great Studded Kiss lipsticks and the rest are mediocre to bad.

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  8. Mercy is a pretty color and it suits you beautifully. Nowadays I find it hard to appreciate pretty colors if the formulations are not great. Glad to hear you've found a way to make the lipstick work for you! I know very little about the brand or the person behind it, but Kat Von D has never interested me. I would have bought this adorable mini duo for myself, though. :)

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    1. I've gotten more picky about formulas, too, but this is such an unusual color that I'm willing to work with it! If it had just been a plain burgundy, I think I would have returned it.

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  9. I really enjoy reading your posts! They're well-written, fun, complete. I'm trying to look more into the beauty products I buy and use and I find your blog to be a super valuable resource. Also, I was never into beauty (I know nothing about it tbh) but your posts fascinate me sooo much!

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    1. I'm so glad I can help you as you explore makeup and beauty! I consider my blog to be a record of my own (occasionally bumbling) explorations, so it's always nice to hear that others get some value from it. :D

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  10. I completely agree with you about these cultish brands. I feel like ill but something and the next thing you know I'll be moving out into the desert to await the mother ship.

    The colour is lovely on you, but, like you, I'm not a liner girl, and I can't picture myself having the patience to deal with a two step process.

    I have tried one of her single metallic shadows, and that is very nice, but I don't know if I'm willing to embrace cult life just yet.

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    1. Is it just me or has the beauty world gotten more cultish with the advent of online-based brands like ColourPop and Glossier? Some people seem to take personal offense if you criticize a brand or product they like. It creeps me out, honestly.

      I go through phases of buying liners and swearing off them entirely. I like them for layering under patchy lipsticks, but not for defining my lip line, which I find easier to do with the lipstick itself.

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