Monday, August 31, 2015

Now for a Crush Worth Crushing On: Revlon Balm Stain in...You Guessed It

What were the odds that I'd review two lipsticks named "Crush" in three days? Pretty good, actually, since drugstore beauty brands love to name their lip products "Crush." There doesn't seem to be any color theme linking them together, either. Milani's Amore Matte Lip Creme in Crush is dark brown; Maybelline's Coral Crush lipstick is, well, coral; Rimmel's Crush lipstick is a peachy nude; and my most recent beauty purchase, Revlon's ColorBurst Balm Stain in Crush, is a vivid magenta plum. I swear each brand has a hat full of names evoking positive and vaguely romantic/sexual emotions—"crush," "flirt," "kiss," "embrace," "tease"—and a bored-to-hell intern assigns each new product one of those names at random, then goes back to posting on Kik or whatever the kiddos use in 2015. We're a long way from NARS' Goodbye Emmanuelle lipstick.

Whatever induced me to buy this particular Crush last week, it wasn't personal experience. I'd tried two Revlon Balm Stains previously: lavender Darling, which was almost invisible on my pigmented lips, and fuchsia Smitten, which I found horribly drying. I'll be honest: the primary reason for my purchase was a $3 CVS coupon for Revlon. But the secondary reason was legitimate: I'm heading into a semester in which I might not be able to touch up my lipstick every hour (that is, a semester with actual responsibilities). I've always valued comfort over longevity in my lipsticks, but recently I've found myself gravitating toward formulas that promise longer wear. I don't expect my lipstick to look pristine for an entire day, but I do like to feel confident that it hasn't smeared onto my chin or faded into the Ring of Doom on the outer edges of my lips.

Oh, and there was a third reason. Nearly two years of k-pop fandom have brainwashed me into wanting a lip tint for the gradient look, as seen here on one of my favorite k-pop ladies, Hani of EXID:

On a recent visit to San Francisco's Japantown, I was stunned to find three new Asian beauty stores: Tony Moly, The Face Shop, and a third shop that sold both Korean and Japanese brands. I came very close to buying a Peripera lip tint at the third place, but I couldn't find a salesperson to ring me up, and so they lost the sale. I think I'll wear Crush more often than the bright pink tint I almost bought, anyway.

You know the drill, but I'll go through it anyway: the Revlon Balm Stains, like the Matte and Lacquer Balms, are housed in chubby twist-up tubes that match the color of their contents. I know that some people find the crayon format childish, but I quite like it. I don't have the steadiest hands or the most patient approach to lipstick application, and I welcome any product that caters to these weaknesses. All of Revlon's crayon balms ("balms," rather) are mint-scented, but Crush smells less strongly of mint than the matte and lacquer balms I've tried. It applies very smoothly and evenly, with a lightweight, almost waxy feel; the shine lingers for a couple of hours (less, if you happen to eat during that time), and the stain for a couple more.

Beauty bloggers can't seem to agree on Crush's exact color. I've seen Crush described variously as "deep, berry wine," "pinky-red...cranberry or burgundy," "darkish purple-y pink," and "deep berry red." To my eye, Crush is nowhere near red. It looks like a dark purplish plum in the tube and a brighter pinkish plum, almost magenta, on my lips. I have lipsticks in many different shades of fuchsia, purple, and plum, but I swear they all seem to verge on magenta when I wear them. Luckily I like magenta.

There is a fine shimmer visible in the tube and in arm swatches, but it completely vanishes on the lips, so the sparkle-averse need not avoid Crush. I don't know why Revlon bothered adding shimmer to some of the balm stains if they look identical to their shimmer-free siblings when worn.

Left, one pass; right, two passes. I wanted to make the arm swatches wider than usual so you could see the tiny sparkles and the difference in color opacity, but they just look sloppy. Oh, well.

Now for lip swatches! One layer, freshly applied:

Two layers:

Two layers three hours later, after salad and iced coffee:

Six hours later; by this point, I'd had some water and used a clear lip balm.

As you can see from the last two photos, Crush is a bit drying. All stains are, though; it's just their nature. The nice thing about the Revlon stains (as opposed to, say, matte liquid lipsticks) is that you can apply some clear lip balm over the stain after the shine has worn off. And despite being drying, Crush doesn't emphasize my vertical lip lines or cling to dry spots. The color does shift to a brighter pink as it fades, but I don't think the change is as dramatic as some have claimed.

Here's Crush with no other makeup except concealer; I love how this shade of pinkish plum brightens up my face. By the way, my skin has been a lot better recently. After reading Monika's recent skincare post, I've begun double cleansing at night, and I think it's made a difference! (The light in my new apartment is also better, I'll admit.)

And here's Crush with two shades from the custom palette I made at theBalm's San Francisco store (review to come!). I'm also wearing ColourPop Lunch Money highlighter.

This is more color than I usually wear on my face at one time, but I just couldn't wait to try that duochrome blue/purple.

I also tried out a gradient lip with Crush, but couldn't get it quite right. I need practice!

In other news, I've been feeling so acquisitive recently. I've bought four lipsticks, two nail polishes, and an eyeshadow palette in just the last five weeks, and I still want MAC Antique Velvet and Essie Leggy Legend. I need to reread Liz's excellent post about her no-buy, or just gaze meditatively at this Jenny Holzer installation piece:


Friday, August 28, 2015

Brown Is Back, Bitches: Milani Amore Matte Lip Creme in Crush

If you distilled all of 2015's lip-color trends into a single product, you'd come up with Milani Amore Matte Lip Creme in Crush.

Crush ticks all the boxes: it's a dark brown (check) liquid lipstick (check) that dries to a flat matte finish (check). Interestingly, it's also a marriage of high-end and low-end trends. Matte liquid lipsticks have been everywhere in the last couple of years, but the brands popularizing them have been largely indie or drugstore brands: NYX, Lime Crime, ColourPop, Kat Von D, Jeffree Star, LA Splash, and now Milani. Kat Von D is the obvious outlier in that listher Everlasting Liquid Lipsticks go for $19 at Sephorabut as befits a former tattoo artist, she pays more attention to street style and Instagram than to runways. The trend is trickling upward, though: MAC is releasing its own line of Retro Matte Liquid Lipsticks this fall, and who knows what other brands will launch their boats on the liquid matte river?

I'm not sure how I feel about the super-matte look. I love matte lipstick, as any reader of this blog is well aware. But there's a difference between the look of conventional matte lipstick, which usually has a hint of shine to give it depth, and the powdery look of liquid mattes. The flatter the finish of a lipstick, the more saturated the color appears. This is fine if your base makeup is also super-matte, but I never wear foundation and prefer a dewy look for my skin, so I don't necessarily want a lip color that reflects no light at all. I wonder if this is yet another trend designed to look better in Instagram selfies than in real life.

Brown, on the other hand, has gained a following outside Instagram. Brown lip color has been creeping back into fashion for a few years, softened by sheer formulas or artfully disguised in brick reds and plums. This year, though, it feels no need to hide. Since late 2014, almost every new lipstick range, high- or low-end, has included at least one true brown. NARS Audacious has Deborah; the recent MAC matte collection has Antique Velvet; Chanel's fall collection has Mélancolie [and the Infinite Sadness]; Urban Decay Matte Revolution has 1993, which I swatched out of curiosity at the San Francisco Ulta a few weeks ago:

Top to bottom: Bittersweet, 1993, Rapture.

1993 is a true '90s brown, midtone and warm, but my own tastes run to deeper, vampier browns. Beyoncé's presence at the 2014 Met Gala was overshadowed by her sister's elevator attack on Jay-Z, but her gorgeous makeup deserves to be remembered:

Looking back over press reports from the 2014 gala, I notice an odd reluctance to describe Beyoncé's lipstick as "brown" instead of "aubergine" or "burgundy." Yes, the color has hints of red and plum, but it's brown, people. Nor is it "goth," to quote one source; it's meant to evoke the '20s or '30s, in line with the 2014 Met Gala's Charles James theme. This is the kind of brown lipstick I favor. I don't mind lighter browns if they're a bit sheer, like Revlon Coy; but if I'm going to wear an opaque brown, I want it to be more Beyoncé than Cindy Crawford.

This is not to say that no one wore dark brown lipstick in the '90s: I know that MAC's Film Noir was a popular color back then. My sense is that lighter browns were everyday shades and dark browns like Film Noir were suitable for evening. The very name of the lipstick suggests that the '90s saw the color as slightly other: a retro, not modern, brown. Even after picking up Crush in New York, I toyed with buying Film Noir or Antique Velvet, going so far as to swatch them at the MAC store next to the cable-car turnaround in downtown San Francisco:

L-R: Instigator, Antique Velvet, Film Noir, Heroine, Matte Royal.

But thrift and common sense prevailed: I felt sure I wouldn't wear a dark brown lipstick more than a handful of times, so I contented myself with Crush.

So, a bit about Milani's Amore Matte Lip Cremes. There are eight shades in the limited-edition line: three nude/mauve pinks, one bright red, and three vamps. They're available on Milani's website and at Walgreens and Duane Reade stores; my understanding is that they're not sold anywhere else, though I could be wrong about this. (Update, 10/5: I just saw a display of them at my local CVS, so yes, I was wrong.) Milani charges $8.99 for them, but I paid less than that at Duane Reade: not more than $7, as I recall. Also, on a pedantic note: I heard about these lipsticks back in July, when very few bloggers had reviewed them. The scarcity of written reviews led me into a territory I usually avoid: the dark realm of YouTube vloggers. The first thing I noticed about the video reviews was that almost no one pronounced "Amore Matte" correctly. Milani claims to be "inspired by Milan," and the Italian amore has three syllables. But almost without exception, the YouTube reviewers pronounced the word "a-moor," like the French amour. Come on, people! If a brand has sent you an entire range of lipsticks for free, the least you can do is pronounce the name correctly! But I digress.

The Amore Matte packaging is sturdy, almost bulky, with Milani's signature gold accents and a stiff doe-foot applicator.

Crush has a thin formula, not watery but not exactly creamy, either. There's a strong, sweet scent that reminds me of a root-beer float, of all things. The brown color may have contributed to this impression, but I can't un-smell it now, even if I close my eyes and think of fuchsia. The scent fades quickly after application, and I don't dislike it, but it certainly makes itself known when I open the tube.

Milani describes Crush as a "warm brick brown," which is about right: it's a very dark brown with a bit of red and plum. It's a very close dupe for Antique Velvet, actually, though I think AV is a touch cooler. For comparison's sake, I've swatched my entire collection of brown lipsticks, first in shade, then in direct sunlight. Left to right: Maybelline Crazy for Coffee, Milani Crush, NYX Enamored, Revlon Coy.

Crazy for Coffee and Coy fall into the subtle "rosewood" category. Crush is just about as dark as Enamored, but it's much redder. One coat gives me near-total opacity with just a bit of streakiness; I find that I need two coats to make the color look even. This arm swatch is a single pass:

One layer of Crush on my lips—my front-facing camera didn't manage to pick up the slight patchiness, but I promise it's there:

Two layers:

Two layers, different lighting:

As I'm sure you can tell from these photos, I have some difficulty applying Crush (hence my oft-broken rule: no liquid lipsticks, damn it). The color is very dark, the formula dries down to matte in just a minute or two, and the applicator doesn't produce the most precise of lines. I always find myself doing a bit of hasty finger-smoothing to ensure that the color doesn't creep outside my lips and the shape doesn't look wonky as hell; my upper lip is especially challenging because it's so small. For me, the best technique is applying one coat, letting it dry, then brushing on another. If you're used to liquid lipsticks, applying Crush might not be a problem for you, but it certainly is for me.

I'd heard a lot about the longevity of liquid matte lipsticks, so I was eager to put Crush to the test. I wore it to my mom's birthday dinner at the Slanted Doorcan you believe she's lived in San Francisco since 1995 and had never been there until this month? Since I was wearing a vaguely '70s-esque dress on our outing (high neck, flowing sleeves, big floral pattern), I went a bit '70s with my eye makeup, using Maybelline Bad to the Bronze and one of the deep browns (Silly, I believe) in theBalm's Nude 'tude palette. In retrospect, I think I could have done a more colorful eye to complement Crush: plum and green would both look nice with the deep brown.

Like Enamored, this color is challenging for me to wear because it makes me look incredibly pale. I mean, I am pale, and I don't mind being pale, but the pure dark brown can give an ashen cast to my skin if I'm not careful. That said, I put it on today with no other makeup (I'm in the process of moving into a new apartment, so Looks have fallen by the wayside), and I was surprised that it didn't look horrible. Maybe the light was good or something.

At the Slanted Door, Crush stood up to my water and cocktail: there wasn't the slightest trace of lipstick on either glass. After a few bites of food, though, I could tell that the color was coming off. I glanced in the mirror after the appetizer and noticed that quite a lot of the lipstick had disappeared from the center of my mouth. It wasn't pretty, and I was forced to wipe off the rest, which was a task in itself; I feel sorry for the person who had to wash my napkin after that dinner. Crush is also not terribly comfortable to wear. It's not as drying as Enamored, but it's not a lightweight product, either. When I retested it today, I had to take it off after a couple of hours because my lips felt so dry. Dabbing my mouth with a tissue did nothing, and I discovered that Crush really needs to be removed with an oil or balm (I ended up using Palmer's cocoa-butter lip balm).

My verdict: meh. I'm certainly not tempted to buy another liquid-matte lipstick, and I'd return this one if I still had the receipt. My biggest issue with Crush is that it doesn't fade naturally. It seems to come off in chunks, so it needs to be removed before eating—fine, except that the removal process takes as much time as the application process. Another problem with the formula is the lack of versatility. A traditional lipstick can be sheered out, used as a blush, blended with other colors, or worked into the lips as a stain. Even a liquid lipstick with a satin finish leaves some room for experimentation. But there's only one way to wear Crush: on its own, on the lips, at full opacity. I usually wear my lipsticks at full opacity anyway, but it's nice to feel like I have some control over the color saturation, and Crush seems to have a mind of its own. Maybe it's just too scientifically advanced for me. Will the AI takeover begin with liquid lipstick? I shudder to think.

By the way, I still want Antique Velvet.

Monday, August 24, 2015

K-Pop Makeup: The Products

My love for k-pop is no secret. And as luck would have itgood or bad luck, you decide I started this blog mere weeks before I fell down the k-pop rabbit hole. Many of us can blame Kate of Drivel about Frivol for one obsession or another; for me, that obsession was k-pop, which I'd never encountered before reading her post about Spica's retro-fabulous "You Don't Love Me" music video.

For a beauty junkie like me, k-pop was a wonderland. Spica's makeup was so thoughtfully designed and immaculately executed that I imagined they must be one of the most successful groups in the industry. But as I soon discovered, Spica has been trying to break into the mainstream for several years and is best known for being "underrated." The visual aspect of k-pop is so important that even a group as cash-strapped as Spica will hire a nationally famous makeup artist to design their '60s-inspired cat-eye liner.

The music videos from richer entertainment companies may be more elaborate, with multiple sets, costume changes, and special effects (you can read about the insane production costs for k-pop MVs here), but it's rare to see bad or even boring makeup in any group's videos. After all, good makeup costs a lot less than a fake tank spray-painted pink. There are many other reasons why I love k-pop (the abundance of immaculately produced '80s-throwback songs, for one), but the attention paid to makeup and beauty is a huge part of the attraction for me. Korea has been in the vanguard of the beauty world for years, so it's only natural that their music industry should follow suit. Western media won't shut up about Taylor Swift's red lipstick (NARS Dragon Girl, don't you know), while k-pop makeup is off in a completely different universe.


As a rule, the k-pop industry makes little effort to hide the artifice that goes into creating the perfect girl or boy band. Idol groups don't develop organically; the members are selected by their entertainment agencies after a rigorous training process that can take over five years, during which time the trainees are largely cut off from the outside world. Idols are discouraged from dating, and certainly from dating openly. News of a singer having dinner with someone of the opposite sex can cause a scandal, even if that news is derived from a photo showing the reflection of someone's head in a spoon. It's all part of manufacturing a flawless image for fans who want to believe that they have a chance of one day banging/dating/marrying their favorite idols. The Western pop industry is also based on artifice, of course, but the artifice tends to be dissembled; in k-pop, it's right there in the open for anyone who cares to notice. So (if you'll forgive the glib amateur anthropology) it's no wonder that the k-pop industry prizes makeup, and no wonder that beauty products often feature prominently in Korean MVs. In fact, "prominently" might be an understatement.


The phallic shape of lipstick tubes is not lost on MV directors, I assure you.


One of my favorite activities while watching girl-group MVs is to try to identify the products that flit by in the frequent making-up scenes. (Boy groups wear makeup too, and even endorse it, but I have yet to see SHINee or Big Bang primping at a vanity table in a music video.) Some of these product shots are sponsored placements: if a corporate logo appears in a video, money has almost certainly changed hands. The lingering closeup of Thierry Mugler's Angel perfume in Nine Muses' "Wild" video is a good example:

Sometimes, though, the line between paid endorsement and "let's just use this lipstick we have lying around" is fuzzier. My understanding is that if only a monomaniacal screencapper can make out the brand of the product being featured, it's not a deliberate product placementand these appearances, of course, are much more exciting. Over the past few months, I've compiled a small treasury of product cameos in music videos, as well as product shots from other kinds of videos (variety shows, behind-the-scenes clips, etc). Warning: very photo-heavy! Let's start with the MV for one of my favorite k-pop songs ever:

T-ara, "Why Are You Being Like This?" (November 2010)

For both product porn and quality of discography, T-ara is hard to beat. Early T-ara videos often had vaguely "retro" settings; this one is set in a club in the '80s. In one of the opening shots, Boram is applying an orange-red MAC lipstick:

Another shot reveals that 1) this is a limited-edition MAC lipstick with what looks like a gold bow on the tube, and 2) Boram has had a lot of plastic surgery and skin-lightening work since 2010. I could barely recognize her in this video.

I've done a truly embarrassing amount of research on the MAC collections that came out in 2008, 2009, and 2010, but I haven't been able to find this lipstick anywhere. Any idea what collection this might be from? Maybe something Asia-exclusive, or at least not sold in the US?

Later in the video, Jiyeon joins Boram at the mirror and puts on one of the dozens of pinky nudes available from MAC. The '80s setting would make the modern MAC tubes anachronistic, but k-pop MV directors don't care about such things, neither did Renaissance artists, and neither do I.

TaeTiSeo (Girls' Generation), "Twinkle" (April 2012)

In 2012, Girls' Generation announced its first (and, to date, only) subunit: the unimaginatively named TaeTiSeo, featuring main vocalists Taeyeon, Tiffany, and Seohyun. "Twinkle" is yet another getting-ready-while-being-fabulous video, featuring some of the most shameless product placement I've ever seen in a k-pop MV. First we see Taeyeon applying a perfume called "Girl"...

...and then, a few frames later, we get a banner ad for that very perfume! Subtle, no?

More interesting are the vanity tables littered with anonymous products, including what look like liquid lipsticks:

Also interesting is the dramatic irony hanging over this scene. In one of the biggest k-pop scandals of 2014, that guy in the middle, a member of boy band EXO, ended up breaking the hearts of thousands of fangirls when it was revealed that he and Taeyeon (in blue) were dating. Apparently, it's unthinkable that two adults in the same industry, and indeed in the same entertainment company, should have a romantic relationship.

T-ara, "Lovey Dovey" (May 2012)

In the bathroom of another club, a girl applies another MAC nude, this one a peachier shade like Myth or Creme d'Nude:

Wait, what's that noise?

Spoiler alert: it's zombies.

Glam, "In Front of the Mirror" (March 2013)

If any music video is going to abound in beauty-product porn, it's a video called "In Front of the Mirror"—and indeed, this video delivers. The song is great, too.

So much stuff! I spy three MAC eyeshadow quads: the abundance of MAC in k-pop videos is interesting, given how many domestic brands are available in Korea. I'm thinking the lipsticks might be YSL, but I don't recognize the little pans of blush. There's also an eyelash curler, a triangular beauty sponge, and some creams and sanitizing sprays and brushes.

Idols accrue mountains of debt during training and don't see much (or any) income unless their group hits it big, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised that one member of Glam was convicted last year of blackmailing an actor. The group has since disbanded.

Nine Muses, "Wild" (May 2013)

I like this song, and Nine Muses is one of my favorite k-pop groups in general, but the video is...not my thing. It's a montage of nine women striking alluring poses and applying liquid lipstick, mascara, perfume, and nail polish as sexily as possible. I'll be honest, the sexiness is lost on me.

I'd say that I'm probably not the target audience, but the video doesn't seem like your typical straight-male-gaze bait either. I mean, those jeweled lips in the lower left corner aren't exactly inviting:

Not sure what brand the red liquid lipstick might be, but it's interesting to see a really opaque red in a k-pop MV, since so many of the lipsticks in videos are applied sheerly for a tint effect.

Red Velvet, "Ice Cream Cake" (March 2015)

Filmed in Southern California, this video has a Burning-Man-meets-Tumblr-meets-retro-ghost-town aesthetic. In one of the first scenes, member Wendy sits at a vanity table littered with MAC eyeshadows or blushes, a MAC Wonder Woman mascara from Spring 2011, and a red lipstick whose packaging I don't recognize:

Wendy, don't you know that you shouldn't use a four-year-old mascara even if it looks cool?

miss A, "Only You" (March 2015)

The plot of this video is, once again, hot women getting ready to go out. Min certainly has a lot of nail polishes there. Alas, I'm not sure of the brand(s).

So there you are: the fruits of my time-consuming screenshot habit. But music videos aren't the only sources of product porn in k-pop: there are also behind-the-scenes videos, like this one for Nine Muses' "Drama." I can see some NARS eyeshadow duos and blushes, a Bobbi Brown bronzer (?), and some stuff from 3CE, RMK, and a few Korean brands I don't recognize (who makes the clear packaging with the squiggly white lines?).

Korean TV shows often have pop idols offering their opinions on makeup. On the web show "The Ranking Is Up to Me," Solji of EXID ranks five different lipsticks from Korean brands Aritaum, Etude House, The Face Shop, Nature Republic, and Tony Moly. (Watch with subtitles here.)

With Aritaum's Wannabe Cushion Tint in Trinity, Solji demonstrates how to sheer out a dark color for a subtle gradient:

I won't tell you which lipstick won, in case you want to watch the episode yourself. No spoilers here!

In another recent show, three members of Girls' Generation present their favorite makeup products and routines. The video has been removed from YouTube since I took these screenshots several months ago, but I'm sure you can hunt down segments of it if you're determined. Born and raised in California, Tiffany reveals an impressive cache of American products, including three Revlon balm stains (I think that's Lovesick and Cherish on the right, and Crush wedged into the middle):

While Hyoyeon and Yuri marvel at her massive collection of red and pink lip colors, Tiffany offers the product junkie's classic excuse:

She's got some YSL Glossy Stains and Rouge Pur Couture lipsticks, a few MAC lipsticks (I'm going to guess Angel, Ruby Woo, and Creme Cup), and three Etude House Fresh Cherry lip tints. Yuri shares Tiffany's love for the Glossy Stains:

In a later post (much later—it took me forever to upload all these screenshots), I'll cover my favorite k-pop makeup looks. For now, let's give the last word to Yuri, the face of Urban Decay's upcoming Korean launch:

Yeah, we know.