In December 2017, I celebrated passing my dissertation defense by ordering Pat McGrath Labs’ LuxeTrance lipstick in Madame Greige, which remains one of my all-time favorite lipsticks. For the next two and a half years, though, I didn’t pay much attention to the brand. Its price point was just too high for me, and its lip-product taxonomy was almost as baffling as Lipstick Queen’s. I kept track of the difference between MatteTrance, LuxeTrance, and BlitzTrance lipsticks, but that’s about as far as I got. Looking at Pat McGrath Labs’ website now, I see listings for Lust: Gloss, Opulust: Gloss, and Liquilust 007 Astral Vinyl Gloss; for Obsessive Opulence: MatteTrance (is that a different formula from MatteTrance?); for Lip Fetish Astral, Lip Fetish Sheer Colour, and Lip Fetish Divinyl; and for duos and full sets of products from each of those categories. I’m just not going to devote my energy to parsing the distinction between Lust, Opulust, and Liquilust—especially not when each item costs between $30 and $40.
But despite its aura of luxury and exclusivity, Pat McGrath Labs is not immune to the COVID-related economic downturn, and it has joined most other beauty brands in putting a wide range of its offerings on sale. And that’s how I ended up with my second PMG product: the Lip Fetish lip balm in Noir, a sheer black.
At the time I ordered it, Noir was marked down to $19 from its usual $36, though the price has since gone back up. (I heard about the sale from Makeup Withdrawal’s review of four Lip Fetish shades.) I usually make myself wait at least a day before ordering makeup, since the must-have-it-now feeling often disappears overnight, but I confess I bought Noir within minutes of looking up photos of it: the goth-lite allure of a fancy black lip balm knocked all practical thoughts out of my head.
Now let’s see if we can make sense of Pat McGrath Labs’ classification system for lip balms:
All right: “Lip Fetish” is simply the brand’s name for lip balm. There are four subcategories: Divinyl Lip Shine, Astral, Sheer Colour, and Noir. Astral seems to have glitter or shimmer. I assume Divinyl Lip Shine is more pigmented than Sheer Colour. And then we have Noir, the only color-related category, which contains two products: Noir and Astral Blue Star. BUT WAIT! Why isn’t Astral Blue Star in the Astral category? For that matter, why isn’t Noir in the Sheer Colour category? Sure, an almost-clear black isn’t a “color” in the traditional sense, but there’s a balm called Clear in the Sheer Colour group, so…wtf. I’m sorry to complain at such length, but parsing the different lip balm categories on a beauty website shouldn’t feel like studying for the LSAT.
Let’s move on. I appreciate that shipping from the PMG website was free, and that the lip balm was shipped in a small cardboard box and padded with tissue paper: no plastic sleeves or bubble wrap in sight. Also, I was NOT prepared for the utter gloriousness of the sparkly midnight-blue unit carton. We’re a long way from Carmex, people.
By the way, what do you do with pretty makeup packaging that you can’t bring yourself to throw away? I must have at least a dozen lipstick boxes floating around my apartment. I should suspend them from a mobile or something.
The original Pat McGrath lipstick tubes—black with gold trim around the cap and huge gold lips in the middle—have always looked a little tacky to me (though I’ll take tacky over boring any day). However, I adore the Noir tube, which is cast from the same mold as the original, but in monochrome black. I wish all the PMG lipsticks looked like this! The tone-on-tone look reminds me of Louise Nevelson’s sculptures.
After all this product porn, the quality of the lip balm itself might seem beside the point. However, Noir is an excellent lip balm, one of the best my perpetually dry lips have ever encountered. This feels like some sort of lesson from the universe, a cosmic joke meant to punish me for buying such a fancy lip balm: “Oh, you wanted it mainly for the packaging, did you? Well, surprise, now it’s your holy grail and you’re going to feel the need to spend $36 for a replacement once you run out. And if you keep buying it, you won’t be able to bring yourself to throw away any of the empty tubes or boxes, and you’ll have to start storing them in the refrigerator, and they’ll all tumble out and embarrass you when you have guests.” Well, joke’s on you, universe, because I never have guests! (Seriously, though, I don’t think I’d ever pay $36 for a lip balm, even this one.)
Noir is scent- and taste-free, and its pigmentation is very subtle. The Pat McGrath Labs blurb, with its usual verbosity, promises “decadent luminosity” and “lush hydration” in a “noir-tinted” formula. Noir does have a tint that makes my lips slightly darker and cooler-toned, but if you saw me on the street, you’d have no reason to assume that I wasn’t wearing clear Chapstick. Here we have one swipe of Noir on the left and three on the right:
And here are my bare lips on the top and my Noir-covered lips on the bottom:
Here’s a full face with only Noir on my lips:
As you might be able to tell from these photos, Noir is not especially shiny. It’s not matte, but it has some grip, which gives it a few hours’ longevity and makes it the ideal base for a less-than-moisturizing lipstick. When I posted about Noir on Instagram, someone messaged me to say that they hadn’t cared for its “gritty” formula. I wouldn’t describe it as gritty, exactly, but I do feel a bit of texture when I rub my lips together—the texture of finely milled flour, maybe. Looking at the ingredients list, I notice that Lip Fetish contains silicones, which I assume are the source of that slightly powdery lipfeel. The hydration in Noir seems to come mainly from shea butter; I don’t see any other moisturizing ingredients. (Compare, say, the ingredients list of Fresh Sugar Lip Balm, which mentions an extensive range of moisturizing oils—jojoba, grapeseed, avocado, etc.)
In other words, Noir is not really a conventional lip balm. For whatever reason, my lips react well to it, but I think I’d describe it as a moisturizing lip primer, a product formulated to play well with lipsticks and to give lips the satiny finish of a lipstick when worn on its own. I’m curious whether Noir will be a good everyday balm for my lips in the long term, or whether I’ll find myself going back to my humble tube of Palmer’s. Either way, this is one impulse purchase I don’t regret: I mean, look at it.