Some years, I know exactly what I’m getting for Christmas. There was even one year where, as the designated gift wrapper, I ended up wrapping the e-reader that I had picked out with my mom. But in recent years, my mom has done a great job of surprising me. This year’s surprise: two custom lipsticks at the Bite Lip Lab in Toronto.
Bite Lip Labs offer two services: Custom and Bespoke lipsticks. Custom lipsticks are selected from a library of over 200 pigments, mixed with the scent and finish of your choice. Bespoke lipsticks are made of a mixture of pigments and ensure that you can get exactly what you’re looking for – and that you will be the only person on Earth to have your particular lipstick. We went for the Custom option, which costs $80 for two lipsticks instead of $150 for two. (A single Custom lipstick goes for $55, and Bespoke lipsticks can only be purchased two at a time.)
When purchasing a “gift card” for the Custom or Bespoke services, you actually receive two empty lipstick tubes in a small cardboard box. You can imagine that I was a bit confused when I opened the gift on Christmas morning, but of course my mom promptly explained what I was actually getting. (And I was reeeeeally excited.) I appreciate that the Custom and Bespoke tubes are decorated with lips, making them different from the regular Bite lipstick tubes. It’s the little touches, people…
In the days leading up to my appointment, I thought long and hard about what colours I wanted. I wanted lipsticks that I would actually wear regularly, but I didn’t want to duplicate anything in my collection. With a collection of about ~50 lipsticks, you may imagine that this was a tall order! In the years I had dreamed of going to the Bite Lip Lab, I always thought I’d get my perfect coral… but I found that in August. Another one of my makeup white whales is the perfect lilac, so that was at the forefront of my mind. And then I also settled on a burnt orange, because it felt right in the moment. And I know you are probably thinking, “Clem, you already have a burnt orange lipstick!” But I think there is room for a variety of burnt oranges in the world, and anyway, it’s a category in my collection that is far less saturated than, um, pretty much anything else.
Now, I think the Bespoke experience would be incredibly fun. But if you’re not quite willing to splash out that much cash, I really think the Custom option is great. With over 200 pigments, there is a huge amount of selection. My lip artist, Erica, didn’t have any trouble picking out a variety of pigments to match my descriptions. We started off with some more mauve-y tones, some muted, some brighter. I really liked them all on myself, but I spotted a more vibrant colour that I loved in one of the pigment jars. When I tried it on, I knew it was the one! For my burnt orange, Erica recommended the pigment aptly named Burnt Orange – but on me, it was an unflattering brown. We then tried something with a bit more of a spicy orange tone, and when I tried it on it was instant love.
The process of getting a custom lipstick is pure fun. First, you scrub your lips with the Bite Beauty Agave Sugar Lip Scrub and then put on a healthy dose of the Agave Lip Mask. (It was my first time trying it, and I loved it!) Then you get to try on each suggested colour with a disposable lip brush and check yourself out in a hand mirror. Luckily, it didn’t take me too long to find either colour, but Erica was super patient and helpful and didn’t make me feel like I had to rush through the process. After I selected my colours, Erica melted the pigments and poured them into the lipstick bullet mould, then put it on a cold plate. While the bullets were solidifying, I smelled a variety of oil blends and dabbed different combinations onto a tissue. Perhaps it’s because I did this during one of the coldest weeks I’ve ever experienced, but I was really feeling the tropical vibes. I was drawn particularly to the coconut, lime, and mango scents. After experimenting quite a bit with different combinations, we went with coconut and lime for the burnt orange and wildberry and lime for the lilac. The lime comes through very strongly in both – I think you’d only be able to tell the difference between the two if you were looking for it. Luckily, lime is one of my favourite scents.
Here’s the acetate Erica used to mix all the options:
She also offered to write down the pigment numbers on a card that I could keep, but I thought it’d be easier just to take a picture of the acetate and favourite it in my phone in case I ever wanted to get an identical lipstick. (Doubtful… but it’s cool that that’s an option! I could see this being useful for someone who got a colour that they planned to wear daily, but I don’t see myself going through these two colours anytime soon.)
And here are the lipsticks chilling:
Out of curiosity, I asked Erica what the most common colour requests are. She confirmed my suspicions – people want nudes and reds, although she did allow that there are seasonal variations as well. She does a lot of berries at this time of year and a lot of bright pinks in the summer. The perfect nude is really hard to find, so I’m not surprised by that – the tiniest shift in undertone or depth of a nude can bring you from no makeup makeup to corpse-like. But there are so many different types of red that I’m surprised that people would pay so much for a custom one. From blue reds to orange reds to poppies to berry reds, reds are abundant. But red is such a classic colour that perhaps it makes sense as something that will be worn frequently.
Here are my fresh, unmarred lipsticks, because for the second time in the history of my blog I have managed to photograph them before smearing them on my face.
Under different lighting, my “lilac” turned out to be a very vibrant cool fuchsia with a hint of purple. I actually love this loud, unflinching colour, but it’s not exactly the lilac I had in mind. I’ve found it exceedingly difficult to find this colour, mostly because there is a fine line between a cool fuchsia and a lilac – which is exactly the issue here. I also neglected to view myself in natural lighting when I was trying this shade on, which I think would have made a difference. But this is the type of shade that I think would have benefited from the Bespoke experience, because it’s so finnicky and precise. That said, I’m still really happy with this lipstick. I absolutely love the colour, even if it wasn’t what I’d originally had in mind. It’s a colour that I feel comfortable wearing year-round, so I’ll get a lot of use out of it.
That said, I do want to emphasize that lighting is super important to this experience. I would not want an appointment in the evening – or, in the winter, any time past 4pm. You want full, uncompromised natural lighting! The Lip Lab in Toronto does have a large front window with good natural lighting, which I clearly didn’t fully take advantage of. If I do this again, I will walk to the window and check out the colour there. I was so excited about the whole experience that I didn’t think to do that this time. Like I said, though, no harm, no foul – I still love this colour.
My custom colour is really similar to NARS Angela in swatches, but on my lips it’s a lot bolder (which is saying a lot considering how, well, audacious Angela is) and the purple undertones are much stronger. It’s pinker and brighter than ColourPop Lychee, but clearly more purple than something like Lise Watier Cake Pop.
My burnt orange is exactly what I wanted. I find it difficult to accurately photograph these tones – they seem to pull quite red on camera. The last picture was taken with my iPhone, and the truth of the colour lies somewhere in between these pictures. It appears more muted in my iPhone picture. Regardless, this is a bright burnt orange, which perhaps sounds like an oxymoron. Maybe a better descriptor is a bright earthy orange? I hate pure oranges on myself; I need a healthy dose of brown in any orange that is to touch my face. This one has that, but it also has a vibrancy that my beloved Buxom Covert Affair lacks. See, I told you there’s room for more than one burnt orange in my life. Though burnt orange is undoubtedly a fall/winter colour, I wore Covert Affair all through the summer, and because my custom shade is brighter I think I’ll get a lot of use out of it in the warmer months as well.
This swatch is probably the most colour-accurate photo of my custom lipstick colour. Here you can see that it is much brighter and less brown than both Covert Affair and Candyfloss, but compared to a bright poppy red like NARS Annabella it’s undoubtedly orange.
The Bite Matte formula is comfortable and hydrating but less slippery than their Amuse Bouche formula. I do enjoy the Amuse Bouche lipsticks, but I’m not as much of an enthusiast as many people – I find that the lasting power places them a bit outside of my ideal. In terms of feel, I’d put the Matte formula on the same level as NARS Audacious, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution, and Maybelline Creamy Matte – very comfortable and plush with a smooth application. The wear time isn’t quite as impressive as those formulas, but it’s better than the Amuse Bouche formula and generally good for a bullet lipstick. If Bite offered off-the-rack lipsticks in this formula I think I’d be more inclined to buy from them. As it is, I use the Amuse Bouche minis I’ve received for free, but Bite has never actually parted money from my wallet.
In the end, I will use and cherish these lipsticks – but for me the gift was really all about the experience. It was so much fun to try different colours, mix my own scent, and watch as a lipstick was hand-crafted to my specifications. I think that having a good artist makes all the difference; Erica was friendly, patient, and helpful, and that made the experience top-notch. This is the best type of present, because I got to do something really cool and unusual, and I got something material out of it that I can use again and again. Thanks, Mom!
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