(Settle in. This will be a long post.)
First, some personal news: I defended my doctoral dissertation earlier this month and now have a Ph.D. in English! At my university, the dissertation defense (our official term, hilariously, is “Final Public Oral”) is a pretty lowkey affair. It consists of a 30-minute presentation and another 30 minutes of questions from your dissertation committee and others at the FPO (professors outside your committee, friends, et al). Having attended several defenses before my own, I knew that most of the “questions” would be rambling suggestions from my advisers on how to revise my dissertation into a book manuscript, and that I wouldn’t be required to defend my work in any meaningful sense. Still, I was pretty nervous in the two weeks leading up to my defense. So I promised myself that if I got through it alive, I could order myself a truly extravagant present: Pat McGrath Labs’ $38 LuxeTrance lipstick in Madame Greige, which I’d tried on at Sephora a month before. Of course, there was no question that I wouldn’t get through the defense alive, but it was a surprisingly effective trick to play on my brain. Instead of thinking “ugh, 48 hours until my defense,” I could think “48 hours until my defense AND FANCY LIPSTICK,” and that was much more pleasant.
|Fittingly, I took this photo at the coffee shop where I wrote at least 75% of my dissertation.|
For the record, my Final Public Oral makeup (no jokes about blowjob-proof lipstick, please) was pretty boring: the taupe shade from the Wet n Wild Plaid to the Bone trio on the lid and lower lashline; ABH Cyprus Umber in the outer V; NYX pencil liner in Brown Perfection on the upper lashline; and Urban Decay blush and Revolution lipstick in Rapture. Interview makeup, basically. My commitment to Gothademia extends only so far.
|My pin is from KWT Designs.|
I passed my defense! Did a good job, even! And then I went out for lunch with my boyfriend and a friend from my cohort, had one cocktail, came home, developed a horrible headache, took a three-hour nap, and woke up and ordered Madame Greige. My life is truly a wild ride.
But let’s backtrack a bit and talk about my (very brief) history with Pat McGrath Labs. When the brand debuted in late 2015, I didn’t take much interest. Pat McGrath is a fantastically talented makeup artist who has been in the industry forever, but her first products were gimmicky and flimsy-looking and well out of my price range and surrounded by limited-edition hype and packaged in enough sequins to drown an entire Texan beauty pageant, Elagabalus-style. I started paying attention, though, when McGrath launched a small collection of matte lipsticks this past summer. I wasn’t particularly taken with any of the colors in the MatteTrance lineup, but I swatched them at Sephora and came away impressed with the formula. And when the brand released a permanent lineup of 31 satin-finish lipsticks this fall, many of them in shades for which I didn’t already own dupes, I really took notice.
Unfortunately, the LuxeTrance lipsticks didn’t get many reviews online. So when I was in New York for my birthday, I visited the Union Square Sephora to see the LuxeTrances for myself. The standout shade for me was Madame Greige, a lavender-gray-beige-nude in the same family as Urban Decay Oblivion, Bite Thistle and Cava, MAC Driftwood, and Maybelline Gone Greige, to name just a few. I also swatched some other LuxeTrance shades. Here they are in crappy Sephora lighting (left) and closer to the big front window (right):
|Top to bottom: She’s Heaven!, Madame Greige, Major Red, Tropicalia (see Jupiter Gimlet’s review of that shade here), Beauty Junkie, Wrecked.|
A few things put me off Madame Greige initially. First, the $38 price tag: I’d never spent that much on a lipstick. Second, the fact that Pat McGrath Labs sells in China, which means that it isn’t cruelty-free (though my feelings on the “cruelty-free” category are complicated). Third, my misgivings about whether I’d actually wear Madame Greige often. So I did what I almost never do: I searched for a dupe. Over the Black Friday weekend, Melt Cosmetics reduced the price of its bullet lipsticks from $19 to $7, and I ordered the matte lipstick in Stepford, from last year’s Prime Rose collection. Despite my excitement to try such a buzzed-about indie brand, I was disappointed. The packaging looked and felt cheap, the formula was a little patchy and feathery (and not particularly matte), and there was an overpowering cotton-candy fragrance that reviewers of the Prime Rose lipsticks hadn’t seen fit to mention because they’d all received the collection for free.
Long story short, I ended up returning Stepford. The initial (and nonrefundable) shipping fee was $7, and it cost about $3 more to send the lipstick back to Melt, so I paid over $10 for the privilege of trying it on. I realized that I had a choice: I could continue to waste time and money hunting for dupes, or I could cut my losses, buy the lipstick I really wanted, and move on with my life. And since my defense was coming up, I decided that Madame Greige would make the perfect reward. Spoiler: IT TOTALLY DID.
(Here’s where the review proper begins, if you’ve been scrolling impatiently through my ramblings.)
If this whole academia thing doesn’t work out, I’d like to get a job writing copy for Pat McGrath Labs. It seems like it would be an enormous amount of fun. “Lavishly laminate lips with sensuously saturated colour,” gushes the website. “Hypnotize and exude luxury with lips transformed into objects of ravishing desire.” (So much for the idea that we wear makeup for our own pleasure, not to seduce others.) The academic job market may be hopeless, but if there’s one thing my fancy degree has equipped me to do, it’s compose alliterative phrases like “lavishly laminate lips.” And I wouldn’t even have to sacrifice my integrity to do so, because that blurb isn’t much of an exaggeration. I can’t say I’ve attracted the “ravishing desire” of passersby while wearing Madame Greige (and thank God for that), but “sensuously saturated colour” that “exude[s] luxury” is pretty accurate!
Each LuxeTrance shade comes in a cardboard box illustrated by a different artist. Not many lipstick boxes deserve to be photographed from every angle, but these certainly do.
That exact fastening mechanism can also be found on the “inter-department service envelopes” used at my university, which makes the Pat McGrath box seem a tad less luxurious.
You’ve all seen the signature Pat McGrath lipstick tube by now: heavy black metal with gold accents and a Surrealist-inspired pair of gold lips where the two halves of the tube meet. I confess, I’m not in love with the design: on the tacky-to-sublime spectrum, the lips are just this side of tacky, and they take up a fair bit of room in the box where I store my lipsticks. For $38, I also would have liked a magnetic closure (though the tube does snap shut securely). But I appreciate a bold gesture in makeup packaging, even if it doesn’t succeed completely. And Pat McGrath came of age in the ’80s, so it’s appropriate that the tube should recall that era of overblown luxury. I can imagine a femme-realness queen in Paris Is Burning wielding a lipstick like this (indeed, one of the nude lipsticks is called LaBeija).
Like the NARS Audacious and Bite Amuse Bouche lipsticks, the LuxeTrance lipsticks contain a generous 4g of product. (By contrast, MAC and Urban Decay Vice lipsticks are about 3g, and Glossier Generation G and Tom Ford Lips and Boys/Girls are about 2g.)
The bullet tapers to a conventional point, but the bit that’s usually flat is slightly convex:
How to describe the color? Not only does it look different from person to person, but it also looks different from minute to minute on the same person. To my eye, Madame Greige is about 40% lavender, 30% beige, and 30% gray, but I’m struggling to come up with a good word for that color. For some reason, beauty brands like to call purplish beige lipsticks “greige,” but the word technically signifies a light brownish gray—no purple in evidence. (Actually, Pat McGrath’s own Lust Angeles shade is more greige than Madame Greige. Go figure.) I think Madame Greige is closer to mauve—an equally ill-defined term in the beauty industry—than it is to greige, but true mauve is brighter. In cool-toned light, as above, MG leans dusty purple; in warm-toned or indoor light, it’s more brown. Perhaps I should describe the color in terms of how it makes me feel: elegant but offbeat, like Isabella Blow or Daphne Guinness (whom I envy less for her wardrobe than for her having banged my #1 celebrity crush, Tom Hollander). You know: one of those eccentric British ladies who act as patrons to artists and designers, wear bizarre feathered hats, and have so much money that their occupation is being themselves.
|Isabella Blow with milliner Philip Treacy in 2003 (source).|
The Pat McGrath website promises “seamless, one-stroke coverage,” and Madame Greige certainly doesn’t disappoint. Here’s an arm swatch in indirect natural light:
This is a tricky shade to dupe. Below, I’ve swatched it alongside all my grayish beiges and purples; the closest color match is Kiko 319, though Madame Greige’s formula is infinitely superior. MAC Whirl (far left) is nearest to a true greige, and you can see that it’s less purple than MG (and, on my face, less flattering).
|L-R: MAC Whirl, Kiko 319, Bourjois Beige Trench, Madame Greige, Milani Matte Naked, NYX Brooklyn Thorn.|
Because the LuxeTrance bullet is wide and rounded, I can imagine that if I’d bought a bold shade like Major Red or Wrecked, I’d have a harder time applying it without liner or a lip brush. As it is, Madame Greige is easy to put on. It doesn’t have as much slip as, say, the NARS Audacious lipsticks, but it doesn’t drag or pull on my lips, either. The texture reminds me of moist clay: heavy and unctuous but not unpleasant. It’s not a lightweight lipstick by any means, but it’s very comfortable to wear, and it disguises my ever-present dry patches and gives the illusion of extra plumpness. The formula is mercifully scent- and taste-free, and I’d even call it lightly hydrating. Though the LuxeTrance lipsticks are described as “satin,” Madame Greige’s slight shine lasts only about ten minutes, after which the formula sets to an all-but-matte finish. Honestly, there’s not much difference (at least in appearance) between the MatteTrance and LuxeTrance formulas, so you might want to look elsewhere if you prefer a true satin finish. Here’s Madame Greige just after application this morning:
After three hours, a large coffee, and a Larabar (carrot cake is the best flavor, don’t @ me):
As you can see, Madame Greige has extraordinary lasting power and surprisingly little transfer onto cups. I’ve worn it for an entire morning of teaching and sipping coffee and water, kept it on through lunch (lentil salad and a tangerine), and glanced in the mirror after five hours to find it looking pretty much flawless. Of course, a lighter color will fade more gracefully than a vampy one, so I can’t vouch for any other shade, but I’m very impressed with Madame Greige. Frankly, it’s spoiled me for most other lipsticks. I don’t want to commit to superlatives so early, but this might be the best lipstick formula I’ve ever tried. Yeah, I said it, and I put it in bold. Pat, you fucking genius.
Due to what I fondly call my “zombie undertones” (cool olive, i.e. gray), I tend to have good luck with grayish lipsticks. I suspect warmer-toned people might have trouble with Madame Greige, but I find it quite flattering, especially with purple, pink, and/or gray tones elsewhere on my face.
In these photos, I’m also wearing ABH Warm Taupe eyeshadow in the crease, Seventeen Statuesque eyeshadow (I think) on the lid, probably a brown pencil liner idk, Urban Decay Rapture blush, Becca Shimmer Skin Perfector Liquid in Opal, and my friend’s dog’s hair, shoutout to Luna.
At a different time of day (same room, same natural light), Madame Greige looks very purple:
After so many words, I’m not sure how to conclude, except to say that in my opinion (and you know I’m a frugal bitch), this lipstick is well worth $38. I never thought I’d write those six words in that exact order, but here we are. Now that we’re in the holiday season, I think these lipsticks would make beautiful gifts for friends or loved ones—or, you know, for yourself. Because you should be your own best friend and best-loved one, right?