Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Death of High End makeup?

With ELF's Studio line impressing even the harshest of critics, is the writing on the wall for high end makeup? Being a high-end purist, I never fully accepted MAC as 'high end', penalising them for their basic packaging and lower pricing. Yet their monopoly on the 'Pigments' and bright eye colour side of the business could not be challenged, and any makeup lover inevitably soon found themselves with a black compact to join the legions of gold, silver, or shiny laminated plastic in their burgeoning collection.

But now with the prevalence of mineral makeup, which invariably gives bold bright colour and often comes loose, pigments don't seem all that novel. Sleek (at Superdrug), although officially aimed at dark skin, have introduced eyeshadow compacts for under £5 and bring out new editions with a zestful urgency reminiscent of MAC. The Sleek 'Neon' edition gave drugstore buyers their first opportunity to get rich bright matte pressed eyeshadows - and sold out on impact.

Barry M, who previously held the answer to any MAC Pigment aspiration, have now enlarged their collection to include a full range of lipsticks, bronzers and blushers. The pigment jars (the famous 'Dazzle Dusts') have lost their uniqueness as Collection 2000 and GOSH, amongst others, now have very similar concepts. Their elegant NARS dupe bronzer compact and suddenly high price tag (around £10 compared to the usual under £5 price point) hinted that Barry M were ready to pitch their line to makeup connoisseurs rather than the makeup ingĂ©nue. However their most recent addition, the blushers, put paid to this by reverting to type: priced under £5, and packaged in gruesome flimsy plastic. Regardless of the quality of the blusher itself (which is very good actually!) packaging does matter. Enough for me to say that despite the very passable performance (very similar to MAC blusher in fact) I will not be getting any more - they undermine the finesse of my collection. And not in a 'functional' way, but in a cheap skint, 'I don't really appreciate makeup but I do own a blusher and a half chewed mascara somewhere' kind of way.

Into this threshold step ELF. They have organised their range to get the best of all worlds: the cheap nasty packaging is relegated to their £1.50 range, and the smart NARS packaging is lavished on the £3.50 Studio line; the Bare Escentuals sifter jars are adopted for the great ELF Mineral line. ELF have some astounding pieces which I and others have frequently waxed lyrical over. The extremely sturdy and useful ELF Compacts to put your B2M eyeshadows in, the Studio line brushes, Studio line Complexion Perfection (Amazing!!), the plumping lip glaze in 'Fire Coral', the beautiful mineral eyeshadows in 'Royal' (a sober amethyst) and 'socialite' (a taupey silver brown)... These are some of the ELF star products I have discovered so far and highly recommend.

And recently I visited the famous Charles Fox shop in London and realised for myself that Kryolan is cheap and brilliant. Their lipsticks are £5.65 and absolutely faultless: pigmented, lasting, non-drying, flattering. And they have blushers for £4 which seemed too good to be true. I picked up a palette with a selection of lipsticks, a brilliant buy. But, the best item I got was the makeup artist's secret weapon: 'Anti-Shine' loose powder. This was used in the Miss World pageants I was told, and works brilliantly on bald heads too, as used on TV! It is regularly put through its paces and with a mammoth 30g in a tub, the £12 price tag is an absolute steal.

With all my recent cheap but effective finds, if MAC don't have to adopt pretty packaging to be welcomed into the fold, I don't see why theatrical makeup can't easily replace my blind faith in all things high-end. I will always have a place in my heart for NARS and Estee Lauder (probably) but by the same token, I am confident a trip to Charles Fox every now and then can satiate my makeup lust without breaking the bank, and what's more without having to compromise on quality. I also prefer the atmosphere - treated as makeup professional, rather than a gullible spendthrift.

I would urge you all to investigate too! If everyone did, high end might realise they can't get away with quite such a mark-up... We all know that perfume and makeup sales give a fashion house extra revenue to plough into their designer collections (which get them the headlines, which get them the fame); and we all know high end makeup use the money for advertising campaigns or sponsoring events (which get them the headlines, which get them the fame). There really is ultimately no justification for a £20 lipstick. I am all for luxury but in the end it is about the performance. I just wish I'd known there was a solution all along. There's nothing like a credit crunch to make you think outside the box.


  1. Great post Gail - really enjoyed reading this. Finally something interesting and not related to PR freebies, bitching or contests. Hurrah!

  2. Lol - totally agree with Emma's comment above - Yet again, anoher well written and intelligent post - Now I really do need to go to Charles Fox with you! xxx

  3. I think you should reconsider your career choice and be a journalist! This was a really interesting and thoughtful piece, I love the fact that you have reflected so many thoughts that us make up junkies have. I for a long time have not been interested in any MAC collections and generally steer clear of beauty counters unless I know what I want for the reasons you've mentioned. I feel a change in the air, "high end" had better step up their game as there are many smarter companies snapping at their heels!

  4. @Emma
    Thanks so much! I guess that's one bonus to not being ivited to stuff and getting freebies (sob!)I read your overview on the Barry M blusher just now and you got it spot-on: makeup needs to uplift you, or at any rate not humiliate you with its "15 yr old's makeup" look! I could never take this anywhere public!!!

    Jen we SO have to go! I am going to try and convert you too! and thank you as always for your sweet comment!

    PS. Funnily enough I do have a bitchy blog post which might get published if I can't resolve it haha so I might join the club on that score...! (But fingers crossed it won't come to that)


  5. @OxfordJasmine
    HAHA I wish! That's my pipe dream! Thank you!! Yes ELF especially are destined to wake everyone up! This has gone on long enough! I'm proposing a boycott haha xxxxx

  6. Hello, I really enjoyed reading this post. I agree ELF have got some amazing products at an amazing price that really can compete with high end brands.
    When you can get a product that works, and looks good for £3.50 is there really any need to pay £20 for something similar by a different brand...?
    I think the problem is many people get suckered into buying into a brand or name (of which i am also guilty) which is what raises the price for chanel, dior et al.

    I think it's definately something to think about, and i've realised that sometimes it pays to be stingy and try 'drugstore' make up- as there are some genuinely good quality products on the market that produce an amazing finish and really can compete with high end while being purse friendly.


  7. I LOVE reading your blog!! You write so eloquently and beautifully Gail!! This was a great topic too and I completely agree with you, I think the lower end brands are definitely giving the luxury ones a run for their money :).

  8. Low end make-up is great as products can be bought along side the latest fashions and fads but it's also lovely to buy a luxuriously packaged lipstick as a frivolous treat now and then.

    Oh and I had to smile at "gullible spendthrift", its a feeling I experience every time a counter assistant feeds me some spiel about which shade of foundation I should wear. What's the problem with me buying the right shade of foundation? Do they get commission for every wrong shade they sell? That's probably the main reason I like cheaper "drugstore" brands, we're free to roam and browse to our heart's content!

  9. @Shell

    Hi thanks so much! You're right, they rely on you wanting a littl of the label's glamour to rub off on you.
    Checked out your blog and it's so cute xx

    Thanks so much! I'm a huge fan of yours too so that means a lot xx

    Thanks yes I think I probably agree with you, luxury will I suppose, never die. But it can be the exception, not the standard... xx

  10. This was such an interesting and well written piece. Thanks for sharing :)

  11. @Dazzledust25

    Thank you so much!! xxxx

  12. Such a well-written piece, Gail! As always.

    I think we still have to be cautious as there ARE still some cheap brands out there with dubious quality makeup. Big purchase regrets!But, yes, ELF has certainly paved the way in changing our mindset about 'cheaper' makeup brands. There is no longer any shame of being seen or associated with cheaper brands. Quality products at much more affordable and reasonable prices - customers are wising up!

  13. Great post Gail, thoroughly enjoyed reading it and agree. Saw your vid of this on YT a few weeks ago. You've definitely convinced me to pop into Charles Fox when I'm next in town. Have heard reviews that the staff weren't that nice which was putting me off, but good to hear you had a positive experience.

  14. You are a very smart cookie. And a great writer to boot! You always give me something worthwhile to think about after I read your blog :) In the past I have been much more the gullible spendthrift & I do still drool over the latest this-and-that. But now I have less $ to spend ,so I have been forced to be more choosey. Personally, I am very happy with a lot of low-end brands (ELF, NYX), but I know a lot of people disagree with me. We'd all rather flash the pretty expensive girly packaging, but really it's about whether it's quality or garbage--once it's on my face, I'm not worried about the gilt vs ugly plastic tube...