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making faces :: choose your lips [2016 edition]

i'm a big lipstick fan, but even i'm at the point of waving the white flag in the face of the army of lipsticks that's been marching towards us in the last several months. nars was ahead of the curve with their audacious lipstick formula, introducing a shocking thirty shades at once. givenchy and dior seem to be introducing a new formula every other week [the rouge dior family is getting revamped this fall]. mac added a large number of new shades this summer, including some of those coveted "oddball" colours. bite discontinued their luminous cream formula and replaced it with the brand new amuse bouche lipsticks in thirty-four colours [take that, nars!] earlier this year, and has already introduced a half dozen new shades [a couple of them limited], plus two online exclusives. makeup forever has just revamped their entire artist rouge lipstick line. not to be outdone by anyone [and no one should try], urban decay reformulated and re-launched their lipsticks in 120 different shades [20 exclusive to sephora and 20 exclusive to other retailers, which in canada means the u.d. website. so no one has more than 100 shades.]

as you have probably deduced, i am a lipstick lover. i mean, other women enjoy lipstick. they like having a variety of colours to suit different circumstances or moods. i, however, am in a long-term, committed relationship with lipstick. to the point where i talk about lipstick in public, which isn't something most of my friends do. back in 2011, i made a list of recommendations about who had the best selection among each colour group, but that was eons ago in makeup terms, and almost every single collection has changed over at least once since then. in addition, i've explored a lot more brands, so i'm more informed than i was then. [i'm also more responsible about not taking photos in low light.]

since that post continues to get hits almost daily, i feel it behooves me to do an update that reflects what's actually on the market right now.

i don't really have a scoring system, per se, but when i'm talking about who does certain colours best, i'm taking into account the range of colours available, the range of finishes/ formulas available, the originality of those colours and the quality of the formula[s]. clearly, those criteria favour brands who have a lot of colours; rouge bunny rouge with a dozen colours spread across two formulas cannot compete with urban decay's one hundred. but i have tried to make a note of it where i think a brand with a narrower selection has covered a lot of potential territory with relatively few choices.

i've added a separate category for "berry" lipsticks, whereas i had earlier just lumped them in with reds or pinks or purples. and, because there is a sudden resurgence of interest in strange and unusual colours, i've added an "oddball" category. there isn't a lot of competition here just yet, but it's coming.

and now... the lips!

armani rouge ecstasy 400
best :: guerlain. ok, the fact is that every cosmetic company has at least one really brilliant red in their assortment, so you're likely to find something good anywhere. guerlain has a number of red splashed across their la petite robe noire and kiss kiss collections, with a good assortment of warm and cool tones. [although the discontinuation of the rouge automatique line robbed us of some beauties, including "liu", possibly the best, boldest and baddest cool red lipstick around.] but if you're going to go for a spectacular red, go all the way and get a rouge g. yes, they're expensive, but they're top of the line in terms of quality and colour. these are like the platonic forms of red lipsticks, the ones that all others aspire to be.
runner up :: armani. for years, with every lipstick formula they've introduced, one thing at armani has remained a constant: the 400. that's not a bad sequel to the 300, it's their signature, perfectly balanced, all-class red. i have it in three different formulas myself, because they have different finishes, but there is a nearly perfect continuity in the base colour. of course, armani also has a selection of other reds, including very warm and very cool ones, deeper ones and sheerer ones. [and i haven't even tried one of their new reformulated rouge d'armani lipsticks yet!]
personal favourites :: guerlain garconne, guerlain genna, armani 400 [any formula], rouge d'armani 402

pink [natural/ neutral/ soft/ muted] 
best :: mac. every lady wants an easy-to-wear pink lipstick that she can throw in her purse and depend on in any situation. mac gets that. while they've received more attention for the strange shades they've included in recent permanent line extension, mac have made sure to fortify their collection with a dizzying array of what i call "comfortable" pinks. these will always be at the heart of a lipstick offering, but no one has so many options in terms of undertone, finish and opacity. they're not all equally good, but i'd be surprised if you couldn't find one that you liked in here.
mac blankety
runner up :: guerlain. guerlain has taken a rather girly turn in the last couple of years, while at the same time maintaining their classy-lassie top of the line showstoppers. that's equated to a nice variety of sheerer, fresher pinks at a lower [for guerlain] price point with their "petite robe noire" line, deeper, more ladylike shades in their "kiss kiss" line and, the crème de la crème, their rouge g lipsticks.
personal favourites :: mac sweetie [sheer cool pink], mac mehr [deep neutral pink, not too brown], guerlain gracy [gorgeous warm medium pink with a red undertone]

neutral, brown
best :: nars. this isn't a colour group that works well for me as a rule, and yet i can always find something in the nars ranges that suits me. i think it comes from the fact that they generally offer a range of cooler and warmer tones, even in a colour group that's overwhelmingly warm-toned. can you really have a cool brown? maybe not entirely, but chances are that nars will come close.
runner up :: mac. mac were one of the first companies to really start working with a range of neutrals for different skin tones [including browns, which are neutral for dark-skinned beauties] and they have retained a solid selection despite how many trends have passed in the meantime.
personal favourites :: nars pago pago [pinky beige with a bit of shimmer], nars vendanges [purple-brown], mac blankety [deep beige-pink], mac naked paris [pink-brown with shimmer]

orange, peach, coral
best :: yves st. laurent. one of the few selections that's unchanged from last time, i feel that this is a range of shades that ysl continues to nail just a bit better than everyone else. i thought about dividing this category, but the fact is that it should really be called "coral and associates", because the bulk of the available shades fall into that category. and one of the things that distinguishes ysl is the fact that they cover the entire orange spectrum pretty well.
nars brigitte
runner up :: nars. nars doesn't have quite the colour selection of others, but what they have is harder to duplicate than most. they're one of the few brands to have a really autumnal brown-orange in their permanent collection, something which is rare enough that it almost belongs in the oddball category.
personal favourites :: yves st. laurent le orange [bold orange, exactly what you'd expect from the name], yves st. laurent corail urbain [clear, bright pinky-peach], nars brigitte [neutral peach with pink undertone], nars autumn leaves [orange on the cusp of brown]

purple/ lavender
best :: urban decay. i haven't even had a chance to go through all the new offerings in their line, but one thing is clear: urban decay have identified a near black-hole in the market and they have stepped up. purple is shockingly underrepresented at makeup counters, at least for the lips, usually trotted out for a limited run, or something that actually looks more pink or magenta when applied. they may not be the edgy brand they once were, but they've taken purple to heart and their new collection has everything a purple lover could want, from an ultra-matte lavender to a vampy plum.
runner up :: yves st. laurent. who says purple can't be high end? not ysl, who have been purple pushers for years. every one of their formulas [including their is-it-a-gloss-or-a-lipstick glossy stains] has at least a couple of purple options. they're the only prestige brand at the moment to feature a very dark, cool purple in their permanent lipstick assortment [although i've seen it disappear and reappear from their site a few times...] and the only ones who treat purple like it isn't a crazy choice amid other, more sophisticated options.
ysl pourpre divin
personal favourites :: urban decay speedball, yves st. laurent pourpre divin

pink [hot/ magenta/ fuchsia/ bright]
best :: bite beauty. boy, do they ever love their pops of pink and fuchsia. if you want to go bold, bite are your one stop shop. of course, they also have deeper, more restrained looking fuchsia shades, which are a great way to do a classic look without falling back on our old friend red. fuchsia and hot pink have a part to play in every formula they offer.
runner up :: armani. what ysl is doing for purple, armani is doing for hot pink and magenta. in keeping with their signature red, armani has introduced a couple of other signature shades that appear across formulas: bright magenta maharajah and eye-searing pink eccentrico. again, i love seeing a prestige brand throwing these shades in amongst the nudes and muted plums, because lipstick should be fun, dammit, at every age and price point.
personal favourites :: bite beauty radish, armani rouge ecstasy maharajah

best :: nars. in this hard to define range of colours, nars has a number of hard to define colours on offer. they get great marks for having a large range of finishes and opacity levels, but the best of the best can be found in their audacious lipstick line, where there are some truly unique beauties.
runner up :: bite beauty. they don't have nearly the range that nars does, but the berry shades they have- generally leaning towards the deeper end, so to speak- are very well done. i'd love to see them build on what they've got.
personal favourites :: nars vera, nars vivien, bite beauty beetroot

bite beauty kale
best :: bite beauty. there isn't ever going to be a huge number of ultra-dark lipsticks in any one brand's collection, but bite still has a healthy selection and accomplishes something no other brand does: introducing peculiar colours through the relative comfort of darkness. although they lack a true black, they do have shades of thedabaratastic vamps in blue, green, purple, brown, berry and red.
runner up :: mac. even in their inexorable drift towards the mainstream [a trend which seems to be reversing, or at least slowing], mac maintained a goodly selection of dark shades. in recent months, they've expanded on that. their selection of dark colours is actually better than anyone's, although not all formulas are created equal.
personal favourites :: bite beauty kale, bite beauty black truffle, mac dark side

best :: mac. it couldn't really have been anyone else, could it? i've long rued the loss of their lovably strange old shades, but they have gone back to the multicoloured well lately. and i appreciate the fact they've added more than just a couple of eye-catching decorations, but have really invested in providing a meaningful selection of offbeat colours with different qualities [matte, sheer, glittery, etc.]
runner up :: urban decay. i was a little surprised that u.d. didn't try to go toe to toe with mac on this, because if anyone was going to compete in the field of "wow" colours, it would be urban decay. the battle for the fringes was between urban decay and mac as far back as the nineties, and now it seems to be headed back in that direction. mac is winning, but the new vice line from urban decay does have some hints of blue, green and gold and they arguably go farther than mac on the shimmer front. 
personal favourites :: mac matte royal, urban decay junkie

so that's the roundup up of where to look for what in terms of colour. i'll probably have changed my mind on half of this within a month, and don't think for a minute that the lipstick revolution is over. dior is about to launch their reformulated rouge dior lipsticks, with a new matte formula as well [and, rumour has it, a dark blue shade included]. nars will be adding a few new shades to their audacious line [if only to try to keep pace with bite]. and hourglass' femme rouge lipstick, a staple in their line for all eternity, is disappearing, shade by shade, from the sephora web site. it's not going to be a hundred-shade launch [seriously, urban decay, wtf?], but i'm certain they're not just going to pass on the standard lipstick market. i think i might start applying lipstick to my ears, to ensure that all the colours in my collection get used regularly.

p.s. :: yes, i'm aware that i haven't actually reviewed any of the urban decay vice lipsticks yet. it's coming...


I share your new-lipstick fatigue: the huge collections have actually made me less engaged with the brands releasing them. My brain just can't deal with 120 new shades; I'm far more likely to buy a lipstick from a collection with one-tenth that number. But I suppose the tactic of overwhelming the consumer with choice must work on some people, or we wouldn't see every brand doing it. I guess it makes sense on some level: you feel a lot more virtuous buying two lipsticks from a 120-shade line than from a 12-shade one.

MAC Antique Velvet is the closest thing I've found to a truly cool-toned brown. And speaking of brown, which NARS brown-orange are you referring to? Autumn Leaves, I'm guessing? I so wish I liked the Audacious and Amuse Bouche formulas more than I do, because I'm on the lookout for a pinkish berry and NARS and Bite really do have some beautiful ones.

"Thedabaratastic" is my new favorite adjective, by the way.
...oh whoops, I just reread your post and you do in fact name Autumn Leaves. I complain about my students' seeming inability to read the syllabus and then I do stuff like this...
Kate MacDonald said…
At the beginning of this year, it was difficult for me to justify buying yet another lipstick. And then this year has been virtually nothing but lipsticks. I'm seriously starting to be scared when I hear a new launch is coming...
L.P. said…
Argh, Armani reformulated Rouge d'Armani?! My heart sinks. I love the "old" formula, it is pretty much perfection. Despite trying other lines (Nars audacious, BB Luxe, Charlotte Tibury Matte Revolution, Surratt), nothing works as well. I have my eye on Rouge 404 Flamboyant...

Anyway, terrific and informative post, as always.

as long as you're here, why not read more?


ok, so i've been lax about posting here. i apologise. there are reasons. i don't know if they'ree good reasons, but they include:

i've had a lot of work to do, which is nice because i'm a freelancer and things tend to slow down in the summer, so the more work i get now, the less i have to worry about later [in theory].i started watching the handmaid's tale. i was a little hesitant because i didn't actually like the novel very much; i found it heavy-handed and predictable. the series relies on the novel for about 80% of its first season plot but i nevertheless find it spellbinding. where i felt that the novel beat readers with its politics, the series does a better job of connecting with the humanity in the midst of politics. i'm dithering on starting season two because i am a serial binger and once i know damn well that starting the second season will soon consign me to the horrors of having to wait a week between episodes. i don't know if i can han…

i agree, smedley [or, smokers totally saved our planet in 1983]

so this conversation happened [via text, so i have evidence and possibly so does the canadian government and the nsa].

dom and i were trying to settle our mutual nerves about tomorrow night's conversion screening, remembering that we've made a fine little film that people should see. which is just about exactly what dom had said when i responded thusly:

me :: i agree smedley. [pauses for a moment] did you get that here?

dom :: no?

me :: the aliens who were looking at earth and then decided it wasn't worth bothering with because people smoked even though it was bad for them?
come to think of it, that might mean that smokers prevented an alien invasion in the seventies.

dom :: what ?!?!?

me :: i've had wine and very little food. [pause] but the alien thing was real. [pause.] well, real on tv.

dom :: please eat something.

of course, i was wrong. the ad in question ran in 1983. this is the part where i would triumphantly embed the ad from youtube, except that the governmen…

making faces :: a lip for all seasons [summer edition]

this may seem like an odd time to think about summer, but not to think about coolness. it can be hard to wrap your head around the idea that summer is considered "cool" in colour analysis terms and, in my opinion, reads as the coolest of the cool, because everything in it is touched with the same chilly grey. winter may have the coldest colours, but its palette is so vivid that it distracts the eye. everything in summer is fresh and misty, like the morning sky before the sun breaks through. in my original post on the season, i compared it to monet's paintings of waterlilies at his garden in giverny and, if i do say so, i think that's an apt characterisation.

finding lip colours touched with summer grey and blue is, as you might expect, kind of tricky. the cosmetic world seems obsessed with bringing warmth, which doesn't recognise that some complexions don't support it well. [also, different complexions support different kinds of warmth, but that's another…