It’s finally happened. Makeup from the era when I got into makeup, the early 2010s, has entered the “nostalgic” category in the popular imagination. Makeup ads and editorial looks from the 2009-2013 years have started showing up on my favorite beauty-of-yesteryear Instagram accounts. I mean, it makes sense: who among us wouldn’t rather be living in 2012 than in 2022?
In retrospect, Obama’s first term was an interesting transitional time for makeup. We’d moved on from the gleaming pastels and cosmic silvers of the Y2K era, but we were a few years away from drag-inspired Instaglam beauty and its Glossier-led dewy backlash. I didn’t yet own a smartphone (I got my first iPhone in January 2013), but I spent a lot of time on Tumblr, reblogging the grungy fairy-tale fantasies that Pat McGrath had created for John Galliano in the second half of the 2000s.
The trendsetting brand of the day was MAC, which released—and sold out of—collection after iconic collection. In 2011 alone, we got Wonder Woman, Quite Cute, Surf Baby, Bloggers’ Obsessions (ah, the golden age of beauty blogs!), and Iris Apfel, to name just a few. The color palettes of those collections were dominated by bright, clear shades like coral, teal, bubblegum, and fuchsia, befitting the hopefulness of a world emerging from a recession. For neutrals, people shied away from brown-toned products, which felt ’90s in a bad way, and gravitated toward soft grays like NARS Lhasa. These promotional images from MAC’s Shop MAC, Cook MAC collection, from Spring 2012, exemplify the aesthetic I remember from that period—bright, poppy, and a little retro-preppy:
And here are two promotional images from the Quite Cute collection the previous spring. This collection is more pastel-leaning than Shop MAC, Cook MAC, but still devoted to bright, clear colors, with only a couple of shades that could be described as neutral. God, I wish I’d managed to get that lavender blush.
When I think about the popular lipsticks of that era, two MAC (of course) shades come to mind. The first is Pink Nouveau, which I bought in 2013 and absolutely loved: a cheerful medium bubblegum pink, just shy of neon-bright. The second is Viva Glam V, which I never owned: a frosty brownish rose that struck early-twenties me as a little too “mature.” When a brownish lipstick made an appearance in a new collection, it generally leaned light, sheer, and shiny, as Viva Glam V did. (Almost exactly ten years ago, a group of popular beauty bloggers coordinated to write posts on Viva Glam V, aiming to determine whether the shade was a workable MLBB for a range of skin tones. Those were the days! I always cherished hopes of becoming a Lipstick Bandit.)
Maybe it was nostalgia for those days—before Trump, before COVID, before the cultural stereotype of millennials as side-parted, skinny-pantsed has-beens—that prompted me to buy two lipsticks that would have seemed entirely at home on my makeup shelf in 2012. They’re Revlon Super Lustrous lipsticks, which comprised the majority of my lipstick collection back then, and the shades remind me of Pink Nouveau and Viva Glam V. Behold Pink Promise and Smoky Rose:
Pink Promise is a new shade (released in the last year or two, I think), but Smoky Rose is much older. It has reviews going back thirteen years on Makeup Alley, and the writer of one of the earliest reviews mentions having worn the shade “for years,” so I assume it’s one of Revlon’s venerable pearlescent neutrals à la Coffee Bean. See, I still use my PhD-level research skills.
Pink Promise is a bright, cool-toned medium pink:
Smoky Rose is a slightly frosty mauve-brown that looks much warmer on my skin than it does in the tube (more on that later). For some reason, the only shot I got of the pristine tube is this photo taken inside the car:
Pink Promise and Smoky Rose supposedly have different formulas (creme and pearl, respectively), but they’re very similar in every aspect but color. Both are lightweight, unscented, slightly sheer, and a little slippery, and the “pearl” in Smoky Rose isn’t quite as frosty as I expected, while Pink Promise is shiny enough that it could be mistaken for a pearl shade!
I can’t figure out whether Pink Promise flatters my coloring. As similar as it looks to the now-discontinued Pink Nouveau, it doesn’t read the same way on my face, and I’m not sure why. I think the shiny finish has a lot to do with it, and now I fear I’m going to spend way too much time scouring the internet for a semi-matte version (suggestions welcome). Anyway, you be the judge. I think it’s cute in an early-’10s-does-late-’50s way:
Pink Promise is not a complex color: it’s unambiguously pink, undeniably cool-toned, unpretentiously bright. Smoky Rose is more shifty. In the tube, it looks like it could lean cool, and maybe it does on warmer-toned skin than mine. But in the swatches below, next to other brownish rose shades, it looks like a toasty, camel-y coral. L-R: NARS Dolce Vita, Urban Decay Lawbreaker, Smoky Rose, NARS Falbala, Urban Decay Amulet.
The quality of the light on any given day—scratch that, at any given minute—does a lot to alter Smoky Rose’s appearance on my lips. Here I am wearing it yesterday, just a couple of layers with no lip liner:
Here I am wearing it a few minutes later, with NYX Nutmeg lip liner for that visible-liner-and-frosty-lipstick ’90s vibe, and it looks much cooler-toned! The lipstick in the center of my lips isn’t layered over liner, so it shouldn’t be looking that different, and yet it is. IDK.
I hope you enjoyed this small jaunt to the not-so-recent-anymore past! I don’t think either of these lipsticks will make it onto my best-of-2022 list, but you never know.