Because It’s Not 2016 Yet: NARS Mini Lip Pencils in Cruella and Rikugien

Odds are good that if you’re reading this, you fall into one of two categories: either you’ve already collected the 2015 Sephora birthday gift, or you don’t have access to Sephora and are annoyed to see the millionth review of the 2015 Sephora birthday gift pop up on your feed. In fact, I’m tempted to skip the review entirely and instead give you a detailed account of a dream I had last night, in which the entire city of Rome was disintegrating due to various apocalyptic circumstances and I had to enlist the financial backing of Big Bang’s TOP (a noted patron of the arts) to rescue Rome’s most important cultural artifacts and house them in a colossal climate-change-proof building. But this blog is also a personal makeup diary, a chance for me to record my purchases and my impressions of them, so I suppose I’ll continue with the review (after all, it will be even more useless in 2016). You probably don’t want an exhaustive tour of my subconscious, anyway.

2015’s birthday gift for Sephora Beauty Insiders was, in my opinion, a vast improvement on 2014’s (minuscule samples of a mascara and a dated-looking pinkish brown lipstick from MUFE). This year, Beauty Insiders got a duo of mini NARS lip pencils in Cruella, in the Velvet Matte formula, and Rikugien, in the Satin formula.

The first lip pencil I tried was Rikugien. Each of the NARS satin pencils is named after a different park or garden; Tokyo’s Rikugi-en (六義園) was constructed between 1695 and 1702 and designed according to the six () principles () of waka poetry.

The lip pencil is a soft, sheer brownish rose with a subtle frosty finish (I used the pencil before taking these photos, sorry). It looks almost mauve below, but in swatches and on the lips, it pulls warmer and peachier.

Most makeup lovers will already own at least one lipstick similar to Rikugien, and I can’t help wishing Sephora had chosen a different shade from NARS’ Satin range. What about Het Loo, a very on-trend medium brown, or Yu, a vivid fuchsia? I know, I know: Rikugien is probably the most “wearable” of the satins. But it’s just so generic-looking, as witness the comparison swatches below. L-R: Revlon Pink Truffle, Rikugien, NARS Dolce Vita, NARS Last Tango (LE).

Rikugien and Dolce Vita are almost identical to each other (and to my natural lip color), except that Dolce Vita is shiny and Rikugien is frosty. My lips were especially dry when I first wore Rikugien, and I found that the shimmer emphasized my lip lines and dry patches, as this photo makes painfully clear:

The satin formula goes on smoothly and feels lightweight, but it dries down to a slightly gummy finish. The stickiness helps Rikugien last longer than your average MLBB, but I hate anything sticky on my mouth (hence my distaste for most glosses), and I find Rikugien to be a bit drying as well. I also don’t think it does much for my face. Granted, I’m wearing minimal makeup here, and Rikugien is the sort of lipstick that begs for a smoky eye or a bold blush. Maybe next time.

I prefer my neutral lipsticks cooler-toned and less shiny, but Rikugien is a good lip color to keep in my purse in case I have to abandon my clown lips at a moment’s notice. I certainly won’t be dashing out to buy a full-sized Rikugien, though.

I was much more excited to test Cruella: it’s rare that I meet a dark red I don’t like. But Cruella surprised me in a couple of ways, first by its slight sheerness, which is most apparent when I swatch it next to other mattes in the same color family. L-R: MAC Eugenie (LE), NYX Alabama, Cruella, NARS Mysterious Red.

This is one swipe of each lipstick, and you can see immediately that Cruella is sheerer than Mysterious Red, another shade from the Velvet Matte line. And here’s another surprise: Cruella looks a lot warmer on my lips than it does in pencil form or an arm swatch. I was expecting a plummy red similar to Eugenie, but Cruella becomes a matter-of-fact neutral red on me. I’m not convinced it suits me, either: it seems to dull my complexion slightly. Here it is today, with very little other makeup (Urban Decay Undone on my lashlines, Illamasqua Zygomatic on my cheeks):

And on Thanksgiving, with a smoky eye, wet hair, and poor lighting (sorry):

Because of its slight sheerness, Cruella goes on more smoothly and feels less drying than Mysterious Red, the only other Velvet Matte I’ve tried. But it also lacks Mysterious Red’s lasting power: it didn’t even try to stand up to my Thanksgiving dinner, and it doesn’t withstand lighter eating either.

Just for fun, here are Cruella and Mysterious Red side by side on my lips. Cruella (left) is noticeably darker, but not by as much as I anticipated.

Overall, I came away somewhat disappointed with both Rikugien and Cruella, but happy that I got to play with two new-to-me NARS lip colors at no extra cost. At least I don’t actively dislike either one: in fact, I’ve worn Cruella three times in the last couple of weeks. And since I’ve been tempted by several shades in the Satin range over the years, it’s good to know for sure that I don’t like the formula—that will save me $26 I might otherwise have spent unwisely.

Did you pick up the Sephora gift this year? If so, what did you think of it?

17 thoughts on “Because It’s Not 2016 Yet: NARS Mini Lip Pencils in Cruella and Rikugien

  1. What a coincidence, I'm wearing my b'day Cruella. I found that if you combine it with another dark-ish red, you can get a satisfyingly witchy color. I'm pleased to know that I'm not the only one who had the lip line thing with the other; I think it's the frostiness that causes the problem.


  2. I got the Rouge gift instead of the regular one, even though I'm not Rouge. So I got a fairly boring black eyeliner that is nothing to write home about in addition. But since I was actually between owning black eyeliners, this didn't seem like a bad thing.I've really only worn both pencils to try them out at home – I have a zillion colours like Rikugien, so it's remaining mostly unused until I use up some of the others. I like Cruella, though it doesn't have much of a place in my day to day life. I agree with you that this year's gift is a vast improvement over that MUFE set of awfulness.


  3. I think this is a useful post, in part because these are both permanent shades–but actually I haven't seen anyone else review them (I don't follow many bigger beauty \”gurus,\” though). I was also disappointed by both of them. I can't actually remember if Rikugien is flattering on me. It must have been so boring that it made no impression at all. Cruella doesn't work for me, though. It makes my skin look sallow and my undereye circles look darker (if that's possible), and my teeth yellow. I thought blue-toned reds were supposed to be better for teeth! It didn't seem sheer to me, though, oddly enough. I just swatched it in my most recent post and my swatch doesn't look at all like yours. I wonder if there is some variation? It seems more mysterious than Mysterious Red.Nevertheless, a good freebie from Sephora, because now I know what's up with Cruella, and it has further confirmed my general opinion that things that are hyped as universally flattering rarely are.


  4. Your dream sounds really interesting! My lips don't have the problems with the NARS lip pencil formulas that yours do — they're actually quite comfortable and smooth for me. My undertones are cooler than yours and Cruella is quite flattering on me (in fact I get compliments from strangers when I wear it, and this one replaced one from a Christmas set from more than a couple of years ago) and Rikugien turned out to be a warm MLBB that actually looks slightly flattering on me (most make me look sick/dead), so I've kept it as an option for days when I've got on a strong eye and a warm-toned top, rather than passing it on to a friend. It was nice to have a b-day 'gift' that actually turned out to be fun and useful for me this year.But nothing is really 'universally' flattering, I think it's very difficult to pick color cosmetics that are going to look good on most people, let alone a formula that works for everyone.


  5. It's weird that only one of the shades in the satin line has that frostiness! I wonder what they were thinking. I have very deep lip lines, so I can't expect every lip color to de-emphasize them, but Rikugien is particularly bad about highlighting them.


  6. Hey, lucky you! I didn't know Rouge members got special gifts. Not that a black eyeliner is exactly going to induce me to spend hundreds more per year…Maybe I should have waited to use Rikugien until I used up some other MLBBs, but I was too curious. The sheerness might make it a good layering color–in fact, I'm planning to use it with another color in an upcoming post.


  7. Cruella really does seem to draw out the flaws in my skin! I can't figure out why, since I usually do well with plums and cool reds, so you'd think a combination of the two would also work for me. Maybe part of the problem is that Cruella isn't actually all that cool? And you're probably right that there's some variation between pencils and I got a weirdly sheer one, because I've definitely swatched Cruella at Sephora before and I remember it being opaque.


  8. I have sensitive lips in general, so I've stopped expecting lipsticks (especially matte ones) to be moisturizing. If they are, that's a nice bonus, but I can put up with a slightly drying formula if I like the color. I'm glad Cruella works well on you! I think it would be better on me if my undertones were either cooler or warmer, but I'm right in the middle (perhaps slightly on the cool side) and there's something about that shade of red that doesn't play well with neutral undertones.


  9. Augh, I think my comment got eaten! Apologies if it didn't and a similar one appears, haha.I also found Rikugien disappointing; I thought the colour was generic as well, and the wear time was abysmal on me. I always thought it was very pretty on the lips, but it wore off so easily. I got mine in June and I've already destashed it. I do get on well with Cruella, though – it pulls deeper and cooler on me, and it's the type of colour that tends to suit me when I'm going for a slightly bolder look. It's interesting to see it on you!I'm glad to have Cruella, though I wouldn't shell out the full price for it – which I'm sure is well over $30 with the Canadian price hike. But it's definitely better than last year's birthday gift (never even touched that dinky lipstick sample), and also the 2013 one from Benefit, in my opinion.


  10. Sorry that my blog eats comments sometimes! Blogger is kind of awful. I'm starting to think I just got a bum Cruella, because no other review I've seen has described it as anything but opaque. If it weren't so sheer, it would probably look cooler on me as well. Or maybe not: I can build it up to opacity with two or three coats, after all.I never touched the lipstick sample either! I'd open it occasionally, resolving that this would be the day I wore it out of the house, and then that soul-draining pink-brown color would make me think of how many actually good lipsticks I owned and I'd be like \”nah.\” The mascara was okay, if a little watery. And I never managed to collect the Benefit gift! I liked 2012's Fresh balms, though.


  11. Oh no, I actually really liked the tiny MUFE lipstick from last year! D: I've actually been considering buying a full size! It's the only pinkish brown lipstick I've ever tried that actually is an MLBB shade on me and not a \”Grandma's Special Occasion\” color. I like Cruella but I think I've only worn it once. I've been bored with reds in general for a long time, and I'll always fall back on an established favorite when I do want to wear one. I was happy to try Nars's matte formula though, it greatly exceeded my admittedly very low expectations for matte lipsticks. Rikugien is a frosty disaster on me- it's barely different from my natural lipcolor, so the shimmer is the main player. I've buried it somewhere out of sight and mind.


  12. Hey, I'm glad someone got some use out of that lipstick! Maybe I need to give it another chance. I've certainly come around to brownish lipsticks in the last year.It's a shame that you're bored with reds, since you own so many great ones! I get it, though. I love the reds I do have, but I usually have to make a conscious effort to wear them. And I so wish Rikugien were less frosty! I wouldn't have minded a nice sparkle or shimmer, but the frost really does look dated.


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