I Have a Plum Problem: MAC x Giambattista Valli Eugenie

By ordering Eugenie, a matte plum lipstick from the six-piece MAC x Giambattista Valli collection, I broke four of my cardinal makeup-buying rules:

  1. No limited-edition makeup, and especially no limited-edition products from MAC
  2. No makeup that I haven’t seen in person first
  3. No makeup that isn’t certified cruelty-free
  4. No near-dupes of anything I already have

Now, you may protestand rightly sothat I’ve broken all of these rules since starting my blog. Fair enough, but it’s rare that I break all of them at once for a single product. So what was it about Eugenie that compelled me to make my first MAC purchase in two years?

Well, I mean, look at it.

The Giambattista Valli collection comprises five bold matte lipsticks—peach, white-pink, fuchsia, red, and plum—and one sparkly clear gloss in a pot. Each item is named after a woman dear to Valli; Eugenie’s namesake is the Greek shipping heiress Eugenie Niarchos. The name means something very different to me: my undergraduate advisor is named Eugene (not that I ever called him by his first name; perish the thought). It’s a little strange to think of him every time I use this lipstick, but he’s one of my favorite people in the world, so it could be worse. He once ran into me in the campus coffee shop, opened his wallet, and handed me a photograph of his cat. “Keep it,” he said, and I did. It’s hard to sum up a person in a single anecdote, but that one is pretty representative. Note also that his cat was named after the Renaissance poet Torquato Tasso.

Left to right: Margherita, Bianca B, Tats, Charlotte, Eugenie.

In an interview with Refinery29, Valli explains the aesthetic behind his MAC collection: “The colors are a bit like the ABCs of Giambattista Valli—the reds, the pinks, the fuchsias, and the corals. They’re colors that always belong to the house and the imagination of the house.” Apparently, MAC has been doing the makeup for Giambattista Valli’s fashion shows since the house launched its first collection in 2005, so a collaboration was only natural. Valli is not a designer I’ve ever followed closely, though I do love the way he uses color, rendering fairytale silhouettes in unlikely neons:

Source: The Coveteur

And his F/W 2012 collection was neo-Elizabethan perfection: very Orlando. It’s a shame that he didn’t succeed in bringing back the ruff.

Source: Vogue

I wouldn’t have said no to one of the butterfly-bedecked full-head veils from that season, either:

Source: Vogue

In all these photos, you can see the same tone-on-tone color play that distinguishes the lipsticks in Valli’s MAC collection. Knowing MAC’s love for whimsical packaging, I’m surprised that the lipstick tubes came out so simple and streamlined (no butterflies?), but I’m not complaining.

Source: Allure

I first heard about the Valli collection at the end of last year, when posts like this one began making the rounds. I’ve seen a lot of MAC limited-edition packaging come and go: the water droplets of Alluring Aquatics; the cartoon-covered tubes and pans of the Simpsons, Archie, and Wonder Woman collections; the ombre tie-dye of Proenza Schouler. But this was the first MAC collection whose aesthetic really captured my attention. I filed the lipsticks into one of my mental folders reserved for makeup wishlists, and went about my business for the next eight months.

As the release date approached, though, my congenital skepticism kicked in. I avoid limited-edition collections in general, and MAC ones in particular, because of the time pressure they place on customers. I like to deliberate over my makeup purchases, but LE collections are designed to make us snap up items for fear of missing out on something good. Granted, some brands do keep their seasonal collections on shelves for months and add beloved LE items to their permanent lines. MAC, however, fosters a more anxious consumer experience. The brand releases at least a dozen collections per year, all of which sell out within days or sometimes hours. And because MAC knows that it has thousands of devoted fangirls and -boys who will buy pretty much any LE item, the seasonal and themed collections often sacrifice quality or creativity for sheer buy-it-nowness. I don’t like watching the online feeding frenzy, and until this month, I’d never been tempted to participate in it. Makeup is my hobby; I don’t want it to become yet another source of stress.

So I checked the reviews as they trickled out, and decided that if I could have any lipstick from the collection, it would be Eugenie. (Tats, Charlotte, and Margherita were too similar to colors I already owned, and Bianca B looked like it would flatter absolutely no one.) But I refused to wake up at an absurd hour on the release date to place my order; I just made a mental note to check the MAC website at some point on the morning of July 9. If the collection had sold out, no big deal; if not, I’d buy Eugenie. Then my sieve-like short-term memory let slip the mental note, and I completely forgot about the release date, remembering only that the lipsticks were coming out in the second week of July.

On the fateful morning, I was in the basement of the university archives, taking a break from filing letters and newspaper clippings from the early 1930s. The Bureau of Milk Publicity in Albany must have been one hell of a place to work:

On a whim, I navigated over to the MAC website and discovered that the Valli lipsticks were all available. Not knowing how long they had been or would be online, I ordered Eugenie, noticing that the site was moving very slowly and each page needed to be refreshed a couple of times. Later that day, I checked Specktra and found complaint after complaint: the collection had sold out almost immediately, the new website hadn’t worked properly, it was unclear whether the lipsticks would be restocked, and brazen Instagram and eBay resellers were already legion. In fact, it seemed that Eugenie had sold out minutes after I’d ordered it; I must have scored one of the last few. I started to understand why LE collections hold so much appeal: there’s an undeniable childish thrill in knowing that you have something lots of other people want.

A few days passed, and Eugenie arrived on my doorstep. I was very excited, and I took many photos. The packaging was even more perfect than I’d been led to believe. Not only did the box sport a grayscale rendition of the flowers from the promotional images…

…but the box’s lining and bottom panel matched the color of the lipstick. If that’s not classy, folks, I don’t know what is.

MAC describes Eugenie as a “dark cherry with blue undertones.” It’s a little more purple than the color most of us imagine when we hear “dark cherry,” but it has a fair amount of red as well—and, come to think of it, the darkest cherries do lean purple.

Eugenie is the second matte MAC lipstick I’ve tried (the first being Candy Yum-Yum). I love Candy Yum-Yum’s formula, but Eugenie is a little drier and waxier; if you’ve tried the Retro Matte formula, it’s closer to that than to the traditional (or, rather, modern?) MAC mattes. My lips are especially parched at the moment, because the archive where I work is kept cool and dry to prevent the papers from decaying: talk about unexpected workplace hazards. Eugenie doesn’t do much to disguise or soothe the dry bits, but it also doesn’t desiccate my lips further. I’d recommend applying Eugenie over balm if you suffer from dry lips.

Arm swatch. Look at that rich, bright plum! It makes me impatient for fall.

It looks a bit redder and darker on my lips. I’ve been thinking recently how strange it is that disembodied lip swatches are de rigueur on beauty blogs when no one in polite society actually gets such a close view of your mouth. But here’s a lip swatch anyway:

Did I need Eugenie? Well, no: I have more plum lipsticks than any other color. But makeup is unnecessary by definition, and as I’ve said before, I’d rather own multiple shades of a flattering color than buy an unflattering one to fill a gap in my collection. Here’s Eugenie swatched with just a few of its plummy cousins. Left to right: Revlon Black Cherry, Eugenie, Topshop Get Me Bodied, YSL Belle de Rose.

I expected Eugenie and Get Me Bodied to be pretty much identical, but Eugenie is noticeably brighter and cooler. The real color resemblance here is between Eugenie and Belle de Rose, though BDR has a much shinier finish. Also, how did Black Cherry escape my first Journey through Purge-atory? I never wear it because it’s so slippery and uneven.

Here’s Eugenie with my Inglot gold duo and Illamasqua Zygomatic blush. I’ll probably return later and replace this photo with a better one; I took this selfie in a post-shower hurry and didn’t have time to perfect my angles (or wait for my hair to dry). [Update, 5/5/21: I did not return later.]

Eugenie outside:

And here is where the story turns tragic, and where I become the very embodiment of #firstworldproblems. Eugenie’s first excursion into public was to a cocktail bar a ten-minute walk from my building. Because I’d been there innumerable times over the past two years without getting carded, I’d fallen out of the habit of bringing my IDwhich meant, of course, that a new bartender saw fit to card me that night. Despite my protestations that I was a regular, the dude stood firm, and I had to slog back to my apartment. As I approached my building, I fumbled in my purse, and







I picked it up and inspected the damage. It was slightly scratched and dented, but in my agitation I concluded that it was ruined. I actually cried. I’d bought this lipstick for its gorgeous tube, I’d waited on tenterhooks for it to arrive in the mail, and now I’d fucked it up like the clumsy ass I was. But, on further reflection (and after a couple of cocktails back at the bar), I realized that I’d learned a few valuable lessons that night. If you’re as accident-prone as I am, you really shouldn’t buy makeup for its packaging. When all is said and done, lipstick is a bit of goo inside a piece of plastic, and probably not worth crying over. Always take your ID to bars, even if you’re a haggard grad student who is so obviously over 21 that it hurts. Oh, and Eugenie is a pretty great lipstick.

Did you get anything from the Giambattista Valli collection? What do you think of limited-edition collections in general?

25 thoughts on “I Have a Plum Problem: MAC x Giambattista Valli Eugenie

  1. You look absolutely great in this lipstick! You know, you're quite fair and you pull off really dark lipsticks very well, it doesn't look particularly dramatic on you (like if you're attendig a funeral). For me, even though I believe we're close to the same shade, dark lipsticks all look very stark on me, like I'm trying Really Hard. Also, Eugenie is an absolutely lovely name. I first encountered it in the count of monte cristo. I am thinking of naming my second daughter that, although it might be a bit too old world? Haha


  2. Aww, I am so sorry to hear that the beautiful case is now dented. I must agree it is the most gorgeous MAC LE presentation!The collection didn't interest me at all but now I want a few colors after reading this post. I guess that's your writing, not the lipsticks, though.And yes! What is is with Black Cherry??! I feel the same way. I can barely wear it as a stain but having it in my lipstick collection is weirdly satisfying. Hope it didn't turn bad.


  3. That colour looks lovely on you! Dropping an LE lipstick and denting the case is exactly the kind of thing I would do, which is why I have a dedicated makeup pocket in my purse, which I either use two hands to rummage in or only look in when sitting.


  4. You're right, something about my coloring makes dark lipsticks look less dramatic than you'd expect! I think it might be my dark eyebrows or deep-set eyes that balance out the dark lips. The one dark lipstick that does look really vampy on me is & Other Stories Droguet Purple, which is much more blue-based than Eugenie. I want to experiment with dark browns this fall, since they're so popular right now.Are you expecting a second daughter?! If so, congratulations! I think Eugenie is a beautiful name. 🙂


  5. It's not actually dented that badly; it just looks like the normal wear and tear that a lipstick gets after a few months. I showed my boyfriend the damage and he was like \”you're crazy, I don't see anything.\” But I wanted to keep it pristine for as long as possible! D:I just tried on Black Cherry over my ColourPop lip primer and it went on more evenly, but I'm still not sure I want to keep it. It's so high-maintenance, and I have so many similar colors with better formulas…


  6. My problem is that I almost never use a purse; instead, I carry a tote bag with a makeup pouch inside it. I have one fancy going-out purse, and it's too small for my makeup pouch, so I have to just let my lipstick and concealer rattle around inside it. There's got to be a better system.


  7. Oh. My heart broke for you a little. I'm so sorry to hear about the packaging! To be, the range are basically the platonic ideal of the main lipstick colour families. I almost wanted to get the whole collection just for that… But I was too late. I did ring around, though, and it seems Harvey Nichols may be stocking them in August — they sold out on the first day in Harrods and Selfridges. I'm not holding out hope, but… Well, I can't help but hope.


  8. I'm not, but I might have one just for the name. :p I also realised this is a lot redder than the other dark lipsticks you have. I think that makes it more flattering too. The very black or blue shades can make people look vaguely dead (perhaps the inspiration for my funeral thought?) Bianca B is like the worst colour ever. If Christine can't look good in it nobody can. :p


  9. You're absolutely right about them being platonic ideals! I'm not so sure we needed a platonic ideal of whatever color family Bianca B belongs to (off-white?), but from what I've read online, that's the most popular color in the range. I guess MAC knows what it's doing, at least on the commercial side of things. I hope you manage to get your hands on at least one of them! And no worries about the repeat comments.As for the dented tube, it's honestly not that bad. I should have posted an \”after\” photo just to make it clear how much I was overreacting!


  10. Haha, I get that! I already have baby names picked out even though I don't want children for a long time yet. :DYou're right, Eugenie is redder than my other plums. I'm just going to go ahead and pretend that means I absolutely needed it! And I don't know what MAC was thinking with Bianca B. I've seen quite a few swatches online and I have no idea what complexion it would suit. I get that it's the sort of editorial color that's not meant to suit anyone, but you know…there's editorial and then there's EDITORIAL.


  11. I actually don't own a single product from MAC because their LE collection business model bothers me so much. I've wanted some of their permanent eyeshadows for years but the brand just really turns me off. I think way back in the day I had a Paint Pot because I was desperate to keep eyeshadow from creasing and primers hadn't made it onto my radar, but it did absolutely nothing for me and that disappointment has lingered. You look fabulous in plums, they really make your eyes stand out!


  12. Jesus. I damn near had a heart attack by the time you got to DROPPING IT ON THE GROUND part. God, Eugenie is beautiful though. And loving it for the packaging is totally cool. I avoided this just to fall for one of the damn Bite Beauty Maples.


  13. I own a few lipsticks from the permanent collection and love them all (Up the Amp is still one of my favorites after three years of use), but the constant LE releases make it hard for me to get excited about the brand as a whole. I'd rather MAC released a few collections per year and focused on improving/revamping its existing formulas, but I get that it's not that kind of brand. I wonder if they've always had so many collections per year, or if this is a more recent development to try and take advantage of online hype.


  14. The ending! My heart sank for you. I don't care for packaging but I know exactly how this feels. I dropped a new lipstick, cap off with the bullet fully-extended.I should quit MAC lipsticks but I like them because they last 5 years without changing scent or texture.


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