Sunday, June 25, 2017

Glossier Birthday Balm Dotcom (Plus Another Rant)

Glossier keeps coming up with new marketing strategies to put me off and new products to tempt me back in. No sooner had I planned a post on Glossier's MLM-esque rep program than they released a fucking birthday-cake-scented lip balm with sparkles and holographic packaging. I have a price, and Glossier knows it. So this post will be a two-parter: a review of Birthday Balm Dotcom, followed by one of my usual rants against the marriage of social media and late capitalism. Who says we can't have our cake and eat it too?

*** PART 1: THE REVIEW ***

Birthday is Glossier's collaboration with Milk Bar, the dessert arm of the Momofuku restaurant empire. The pairing makes a lot of sense: like Glossier, Milk Bar sells overpriced, overhyped products in small portions, but damned if its aesthetic isn't on point. Here's the "Cereal Milk" soft-serve I had last October in Williamsburg; it was tasty, but who wants soft-serve without a cone? Give me Mister Softee any day.

Like the other flavors of Balm Dotcom, Birthday is permanent and retails for $12, though Renee kindly sent me one with her Glossier store credit (and I was planning to buy one with my own store credit!).

It comes with a sparkly balloon sticker that's so cute I'm tempted to put it on my laptop, even though I don't like using my person to advertise products (yes, my computer counts as part of my person; we're all cyborgs now).

Seriously, the people who designed the packaging for this product deserve a raise. Say what you will about Glossier, they know how to put hearts in their fellow millennials' eyes.


The Birthday Balm Dotcom comes in the same squeezy tube as the original BDC, and it has the same thick, unctuous formula, which lasts several hours on my lips if I don't eat. A little goes a long way!

Are we allowed to use the word "holosexual" anymore?

The Glossier website copy for Birthday promises "subtle shimmer," and that is indeed what you get. Here's a hand swatch in indirect natural light:

In direct sunlight:

I was pleased to discover that the sparkle is actually visible on the lips. Here's a lip swatch in two lighting situations, both natural/indoors:

From a regular distance, the balm looks more like a slightly milky gloss, though you can detect a hint of sparkle if you look closely. In true Glossier fashion, I'm wearing no makeup except undereye concealer and Birthday BDC:

I wasn't terribly impressed with the original Balm Dotcom, which I found too thick and insufficiently moisturizing. Birthday does feel more moisturizing than the original; really, though, I'm just here for the glitter.

One final detail to keep in mind is that Birthday has a very strong scent. It's supposed to smell like Milk Bar's birthday cake, and it is indeed redolent of vanilla and butter. The smell lingers for about an hour after application. I quite enjoy it, but if you hate strong fragrance (especially vanilla fragrance) in your lip products, watch out for this one. Once the vanilla wears off, the regular petroleum/lanolin Balm Dotcom smell replaces it. The balm is slightly sweet if you get it in your mouth, which is odd but not inappropriate, I guess.

By the way, does anyone remember those sparkly Lip Smackers with jewels on the caps? I had a vanilla one c. 2000 and it smelled almost identical to Birthday, with similar silver holographic packaging. Here's a photo of another one I still have, in a boysenberry flavor:

Feat. genuine Y2K-era butterfly clips.

Happy early 30th birthday to me!

*** PART 2: THE RANT ***

And now for (more than) a few words on Glossier's rep program.

By posting about any product on social media, you're providing free advertising content for a brand: that's just the nature of the beast. Glossier was one of the first brands to harness that beast by making every customer a de facto Glossier affiliate. When you place your first order, you receive a link through which other people can purchase products. First-time customers get 20% off, and if they use your link, you get $10 in Glossier store credit, for a maximum of $500 per year. (Update: as of July 2017, that amount has been reduced to $5.) Hence all the "get 20% off Glossier!!!" spam on Instagram, though the spammers fail to mention two facts: 1) all first-time customers get 20% off, whether or not they purchase through an affiliate link; 2) buying further products through a link doesn't bring further 20% discounts. If you've already ordered from the Glossier website once and you decide to make another order through my link, I'm the only one of us who benefits monetarily, to the tune of $10 in store credit. (You benefit if you enjoy my snarky Glossier posts and would like to see me review more products, and I'm very grateful to the four whole people who have clicked my link so far.)

Last year, Glossier took this arrangement to another level by inaugurating its rep program, which gives Glossier representatives a small monetary commission on every product purchased through their link. Instead of store credit, Glossier reps earn cold hard cash, and they get products sent to them in advance. From what I understand, the commission increases over time, depending on how many products a rep manages to sell. Needless to say, this encourages aggressive sales tactics: Reddit users have reported that mentioning Glossier in a comment can bring a flurry of private messages from reps eager to move some product. Initially, Glossier handpicked a small number of customers as reps, but now anyone can apply through email to join the program. I have no idea how rigorous the screening process is or how many Glossier reps are out there, but these days every Glossier post on Instagram seems to come from a rep eager to tell you that she NEVER used sunscreen before Invisible Shield.

If all this sounds familiar, you've probably come in contact with LipSense or Younique or another multilevel-marketing brand (MLM). These companies operate as pyramid schemes: distributors order a large amount of product directly from the brand and sell it at a markup to people in their area, often friends and family. But the real money comes from recruiting other distributors, who then pay commission on their sales to the person who recruited them. I have a morbid fascination with MLMs and their predatory tactics ("we empower women to run their own small businesses!"), so I've done a lot of reading on the cultish mentality surrounding these companies. MLMs prey on women who are already financially vulnerable, and often require them to buy huge amounts of product before they start selling: LuLaRoe, renowned purveyor of pizza-printed leggings, demands an outlay of $5-6k. (John Oliver has a great segment on MLMs if you'd like to learn more.)

To be clear, Glossier is not a true MLM: reps don't earn money by recruiting other reps, they're not required to buy product wholesale from Glossier, and potential customers can purchase directly from Glossier's website instead of going through a distributor. And so far as I know, Glossier isn't promising its reps that they can quit their day jobs and pull in a living wage shilling Haloscope and Boy Brow. But the rep program is more than a little MLM-y: it fosters a relentless positivity and a cult mentality (when was the last time you saw a negative Glossier review?), and it encourages customers to turn their social bonds into cash flow. New reps announce their affiliation with Glossier through eerily similar blog posts:

Make no mistake, Glossier knows exactly what it's doing. This Quartz article breaks down the mechanics of the rep program ("Mary Kay for the new millennium") and includes a revealing interview with Emily Weiss, founder and CEO of ITG/Glossier. Weiss says that Glossier operates on the "idea of every single woman being an influencer," and that for most Glossier reps, money is a secondary concern: "'I would argue that there are more important things than money,' she said. 'It's about the ability to have a voice and the ability to be a thought-leader.'" Can we just think about this quote for a second? She's saying that the real reward for Glossier reps is the privilege of being associated with Glossier. A massively wealthy woman uses her customer base for practically free advertising and pays reps less than minimum wage to splash her products all over their social media, "but there are more important things than money." Sure, Emily. I bet you paid for your pre-wedding colonics and microcurrent facials and your custom Narciso Rodriguez gown with Instagram likes.

Look, I get it: if you just want some free Glossier product and pocket money, the rep program might be a good deal for you. But you're still getting paid so much less than you would if you were a real Glossier employee producing the same amount of content. It feels shady to me, honestly. It feels exploitative and anti-feminist. The rep program has made me think twice about giving Glossier any more of my money, though I do genuinely love some of their products. I hope the brand dials down this program eventually: it's at odds with the effortless-cool-girl vibe they try so hard to project, and it's ethically sketchy at best. Is it a full-scale moral outrage? Of course not, but it leaves a taste worse than birthday cake in my mouth.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Kiko Velvet Passion Matte Lipstick in 319 Chocolate

My boyfriend recently left his job in the UK, which is great news relationship-wise: we met in my former graduate program and have been long-distance since I transferred to my current school seven (!) years ago, and now we'll actually be able to live together for more than a couple months at a time. On a shallower level, however, this will be my last transatlantic makeup review for a while. Before my boyfriend returned to the US earlier this month, I sent him to the Kiko store in the Birmingham train station, where he very kindly swatched a few shades of the Velvet Passion matte lipstick line. (Weirdly, there's another Kiko store five minutes away, in the enormous mall attached to the station.) Here's the full display of the lipsticks, which launched last year. Each one retails for £7 (about $9).

The shade I chose was 319 (Chocolate), a medium plummy brown that feels very Jazz-Age-casual to me. The Velvet Passion lipstick bullets have an odd squared-off tip that resembles a fountain pen; this review points out that they look identical to the Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution lipsticks, and I wouldn't be surprised if they were made in the same factory. Overall, the lipstick looks and feels more luxe than I'd expect from a brand with drugstore pricing.

The lipstick has a mild vanilla scent reminiscent of the signature MAC fragrance.

The two-toned tube is (partly) real metal, with a magnetic cap. I associate magnetic tubes with higher-end brands like NARS and Marc Jacobs, so it was a thrill to find a magnet in my Kiko lipstick. It's a little weird that the cap overlaps the tube but doesn't extend to the bottom, but I appreciate the cyberpunk distinctiveness of the design. I can imagine Rachael in Blade Runner pulling this tube from her purse.

In the past, I've written about lipsticks with good formulas but subpar packaging. Kiko 319 has the opposite problem: the lipstick itself doesn't quite live up to its exterior. This isn't a bad lipstick by any means, but the pigmentation is lacking. Here's one swipe on my arm:

I feared that 319 would be a dupe for MAC Whirl, but it's much more purple, especially on my lips.

L-R: NYX Liquid Suede in Brooklyn Thorn, Kiko 319, MAC Whirl.

I can get decent pigmentation if I build up the color on my lips, but the formula clings to dry spots instead of smoothing them over: exfoliation is important! Here's two coats of 319 on a good lip day:

Because of the slight sheerness of the formula, 319 seems to look different on everyone. I've seen reviews in which it pulls brown or greige; on me, though, it's a brown-tinged purple reminiscent of (but much warmer than) NYX Up the Bass. (Interestingly, the brown and nude shades in Charlotte Tilbury's Matte Revolution formula seem to have the same translucency.) 319 isn't patchythe product applies pretty evenly, without a lot of slipbut it doesn't have the color payoff I'd expect from a MAC or Urban Decay matte lipstick. For that matter, its finish is closer to satin than true matte. It feels comfortable on my lips, but it transfers easily onto cups and straws and needs touch-ups almost hourly, which is a pain. I think I'll try layering it over a mauve lip liner and update this post if that helps.

For the look below, I used ColourPop Super Shock Shadow in Dance Party all over my lids, blending out the crease with ABH Buon Fresco and adding some more Buon Fresco to the lower lashline. My blush is Urban Decay Rapture. The bluer purple of the eyeshadow clashes with the warm purple of the lipstick, but I don't really mind:

Dance Party is a sheer purplish black with fuchsia and blue glitter. I included it in my last ColourPop order because it was so pretty in the pan, but spent an entire month figuring out how to wear it. Glitter eyeshadows in lighter colors are easy to usepop them in the center of the lid or the inner cornersbut dark glitters are trickier. Initially, I tried a smoky look with a few more Modern Renaissance shadows, but it came out weird and muddy. Clearly, I was overthinking it.

In my next attempt, I used Dance Party as a sheer wash of color, and was pleased at how understated it looked. Let me know if you've come up with a better way to wear similar shadows, though, because I'm stymied.

Another full face:

I don't think I'd run out and buy another Velvet Passion shade (though the bolder colors do seem more pigmented overall), but I'm pretty happy with this one. I'm also happy that I haven't bought any new makeup in over a month! I'll write a low-buy update soon, but for now I'll say that since I stopped obsessively recording and planning my beauty purchases, I've found it much easier to resist temptation. Strange how the mind works, isn't it?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Magenta Madness: MAC Rebel and Wet n Wild Nice to Fuchsia

Most makeup collectors have their color kryptonite, particularly when it comes to lipstick: pinky nudes, corals, blue-based reds. For me that color is, and has pretty much always been, magenta. Or whatever you want to call it: bright plum, dark fuchsia, anything that walks the line between purple and deep pink. I just did a lazy Google search for "magenta," and here's the image that comes closest to my Platonic ideal:

Magenta isn't a particularly trendy color these days. It evokes 1980s excess, and can read especially '80s if paired with blue or green. For proof, here's my own vintage '80s dress, which I can't wear in public because I'm a somewhat self-respecting adult, but also can't get rid of because look at it:

Detail of the pattern:

There is something tacky and hedonistic about magenta, but my natal decade was not the only tacky, hedonistic one in history (though it sure came close). In fact, magenta is a nineteenth-century color, a product of the Industrial Revolution. Created in 1859 from an aniline (i.e. synthetic) dye called fuchsine, it was subsequently renamed to celebrate the Battle of Magenta, in which the French and Sardinian armies defeated the Austrians near the town of Magenta in northern Italy. We have a natural tendency to imagine the nineteenth century in sepia or black and white, but check out this stunning dress from c. 1869-70. I've been lucky enough to see it in person at London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and yes, it really is this bright:


Back in April, I went to the Cooper Hewitt's Jazz Age exhibition (well worth visiting if you're in NYC before August 21) and spent a few minutes ogling this French sidewall pattern from the late 1920s:


Nor is magenta strictly a Western color. I've been following the world of geiko (Kyoto geisha) and maiko (apprentice geiko) for several years now, and I've seen a surprising number of magenta kimonos and obis. Here's maiko Masaki, one of my faves, in 2013:

The original source on Flickr has been deleted, sorry.

I like magenta not only because of the color's historical associations, but also because it's one of the most flattering shades for my cool-toned skin, dark hair, and green eyes. I currently own two lipsticks that could be described as "magenta": MAC Rebel, a gift from a friend last year, and Wet n Wild Liquid Catsuit in Nice to Fuchsia, which I bought last month.

The two shades look almost identical on my arm. Rebel on the left, Nice to Fuchsia on the right:

With a few other magenta- and plum-adjacent lipsticks:

L-R: MAC Eugenie, Rebel, Nice to Fuchsia, Revlon Balm Stain in Crush, Glossier Jam (one swipe each).

On the lips, however, it's another story. Obvious formula differences aside, Nice to Fuchsia (right) is brighter and pinker, while Rebel is closer to plum than to a true magenta. Excuse the laughably bad application, thx.

Since I've worn each of these lipsticks several times at this point, I thought I'd give a review of each, starting with the classic MAC shade Rebel. I'd been considering buying it for years, so when my friend offered to buy me a lipstick of my choice in exchange for my mailing her some books and papers, I didn't hesitate to request Rebel. Here it is in unspoiled condition, back in October:

I have an easier time using negatives than positives to describe the color of Rebel: it's lighter than plum, more purple than berry, yet redder than a true purple. I've categorized it as "berry/plum" in the record I keep of my lipstick usage (Nice to Fuchsia is in the "pink" category), but I'm not entirely happy with that. Here I am wearing Rebel outside last fall, just before the election. Happier times for sure, though I have more effective sunglasses now.

Before Rebel, I'd tried one other lipstick in MAC's Satin formula: Pink Nouveau, which had a semi-matte finish that I found quite comfortable. Unfortunately, Rebel is very different. As you can see from the two photos above, it has a fairly shiny finish. And like other magenta lipsticks I've tried (Revlon Crush, NARS Angela), it seems to separate into two layers on my lips. On top, there's the darker, glossier layer that lasts a couple of hours and transfers easily onto cups. Below that, there's a brighter fuchsia layer that sinks into my lips, dries them out a bit, and stains them for a disturbingly long time. In fact, Rebel might be the most staining lipstick I've ever worn. I can remove Rebel at the end of the day, wipe my lips with Vaseline (which I use to remove matte liquid lipsticks), exfoliate them with a washcloth, and go to sleep, and my mouth will still be bright pink when I wake up the next morning. There must be some specific magenta pigment that does this, because it doesn't happen with any other color of lipstick. In any case, it's annoying as hell and ensures that I wear Rebel less often than I'd like. Why doesn't magenta love me back? :(

Let's move to a slightly happier subject. Nice to Fuchsia is my third Liquid Catsuit shade, after Missy and Fierce and Nudist Peach, both of which I reviewed here. In terms of opacity and comfort level, I'd put NtF above Nudist Peach but below Missy and Fierce, still the best liquid lipstick I've ever tried. After one layer, NtF is a bit streaky if you look closely. I doubt anyone you encounter out and about would notice, but you will probably notice, and it will annoy you. Here it is after I've evened it out a bit:

Not bad, though the touched-up spots don't dry down as fully as the single layer. Otherwise, though, I have no complaints about the formula. It looks perfect until I eat a full meal (I always remove my lipstick before meals anyway), and it's not drying AT ALL. And if you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have very dry, sensitive lips that react badly to formulas other people praise as moisturizing. I still can't comprehend how Wet n Wild has managed to produce a fully matte, non-drying liquid lipstick formula for $4.99 (and I got this particular shade for $2.99, score!). I can't guarantee that it will work so well for you, of course, but I continue to be deeply impressed.

In my experience, the best way to nudge a magenta lipstick out of '80s territory is to pair it with warmer tones on the eyes. Below, I'm wearing Seventeen Statuesque eyeshadow and Urban Decay Whiskey eyeliner, along with ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter and a light application of NARS Mata Hari blush:

Side view (this is as close as I come to ~GLOWING FOR THE GODS~):

My one real problem with Nice to Fuchsia has nothing to do with the product and everything to do with me: after six years of wearing makeup, I still can't apply a liquid lipstick properly. My upper lip is on the thin side, so it's almost impossible to outline my Cupid's bow precisely with any applicator. My lower lip is fuller, so it should be easier to cover with lipstick, but somehow it's not. On my first attempt, I always draw the lower lip too small. Then I go over it and end up overlining my lips. Then, because the excess product has dried down and I can't simply remove it with a finger, I go back in with a twisted-up tissue dipped in Vaseline. Of course that takes off too much color, so I draw the outline again, and suddenly one side of my lower lip is larger than the other, as if I've been punched. Then I start wondering why the hell I have a blog about makeup. I suppose because I enjoy it, and because you keep reading it. (Thank you.)

Thursday, June 8, 2017

FOTD: Faked Heat

(You have to read "faked" with two syllables, as if this is a Donne poem, or the title won't make sense.)

In the past two days, swatches and reviews of Urban Decay's new Naked Heat palette have been making the social-media rounds. (Here's a sneak peek from Temptalia and a review from Makeup and Beauty Blog.) Like many people, I can't help feeling that the palette is doubly redundant: it's not only the eighth Urban Decay Naked palette in seven years, but also the 93,458th orangey-red eyeshadow palette since mid-2016. Plus, it shares a weakness with the ABH Modern Renaissance palette: several of the medium-saturation shades look very similar to each other, which will make it difficult to achieve any look that's higher-contrast than a smoky wash of orange. I do like that '80s-throwback packaging, though.


Since I already struggle to use the warmer, bolder colors in Modern Renaissance, I have no plans to buy Naked Heat. However, I can't deny that the shades look beautiful, as do the eye looks I've seen so far. Today I felt inspired to use the orange eyeshadows I already owned, and I was really pleased with the final look! I've fallen out of practice with eyeshadow in the past few months, and this was the first look in a while that I felt proud of.

Orange is much easier for me to wear on my eyes than on my lips, because I can blend out orange shadows and tone them down with browns. Though that hasn't stopped me from plotting to swatch Rituel de Fille's Bloodroot lipstick (reviewed by Kate here) at the earliest possible opportunity...

All but one of the shadows I used in this look came from Modern Renaissance. After applying primer, I used Burnt Orange (a sleeper favorite for me this spring) in the crease, followed by the richer, brighter Realgar in the outer part of the crease and blended out past the outer corner. I used Tempera to buff out the crease colors toward the eyebrow. For a halo-ish effect, I placed Antique Bronze on the inner and outer corners of my lid, with a metallic orange from my theBalm custom palette in the middle, and Antique Bronze again on the lower lashline.

L-R: Tempera, Burnt Orange, Realgar, Antique Bronze, theBalm #21

The rest of my face, entirely by chance, was ColourPop: Lunch Money highlighter, Shop eyeshadow as blush, and Blotted Lip in Drip.

And a library-carrel selfie:

I think this look has convinced me that I have quite enough orange eyeshadows to ride out this trend. Now back to refreshing the Guardian's liveblog of the UK election with increasing enthusiasm...