Though Pat McGrath’s early makeup launches were appealing on some levels, ultimately I found them easy to resist. I don’t care enough about highlighter to spend a billion dollars on one packaged in sequins, and though the lip kits were beautiful, they were so far out of my budget that they didn’t even enter the realm of consideration. It was when the brand released their MatteTrance and LuxeTrance lipsticks that my interest was truly piqued. We all know I’m someone who can get behind a single luxurious lipstick, even if it is overpriced. And when I started hearing over-the-top praise from people in Facebook groups, I knew I would have to bite the bullet one day. Originally I was thinking to use it as a reward for a substantial accomplishment… but then I got a Sephora gift card for Christmas and decided that I didn’t want to wait until I had accomplished something substantial. (Let’s be honest – my next substantial accomplishment will be finishing my degree, and that’s in September. I don’t have that much willpower.)
Canadian Sephoras unfortunately don’t carry Pat McGrath products in store (or didn’t when I bought this back in early January), and there is a shocking lack of swatches of the lipsticks online. I mean, as makeup lovers the internet is our most precious resource! I never buy things without consulting an appropriate amount of online sources for reviews and swatches. After rounding up the few scraps I could find, I narrowed down my list to a variety of berry and burgundy shades. Ultimately I decided that the berries were too close to my beloved MAC Rebel to justify buying… and the name of the burgundy 35mm won me over. I’m a film and TV grad student, you know? When it’s right it’s right.
Sephora calls this a “burgundy pink”, which is a phrase that makes no sense and is most certainly not in any way factual. In the tube, 35mm looks like a medium brown with a hint of red, but on my lips the brown all but disappears. I’d call it a deep wine red with virtually none of the brown or purple necessary to be burgundy. (Clearly it’s also not in any way pink.) I actually wish it did have more brown, because I think this colour is fairly standard:
I mean, it’s really pretty, don’t get me wrong. There’s something uniquely powerful about dark red lipstick. But I guess I wanted my $52 lipstick to be a bit more singular. I think NARS does this beautifully: their lipsticks are a cool $40 in Canada (which seems eminently reasonable compared to Pat McGrath), but so many of the colours have a complexity that I don’t see at a drugstore price point. (See Audrey, which is in a similar colour family but which has notes of wine, plum, and brown.) Also, although I know this type of colour is perfectly flattering on me, it’s just not my favourite colour to wear. I mean, it’s still beautiful, but I just wanted something different. And that’s why you shouldn’t buy things that you haven’t seen in person, especially when nobody on the internet has swatched them. I am the person on the internet swatching them!
Here I think you can see what I mean about Audrey’s comparative complexity. 35mm is a standard wine when you take into account the hints of plum and brown in Audrey. You can see that it’s very similar to Bite Beetroot, and, I’m sure, many other wine lipsticks that I don’t own. It’s definitely not a simple dark red when compared to Kiss Me Chérie and Cruella, but it lacks the same strong brown pull of Burgundy Blush.
Packaging-wise, you just can’t deny this. It’s a little bit gaudy and a lot amazing. It’s heavy, it’s extravagant, it’s too much and it knows it. I will admit I’m a little bit confused on Pat McGrath’s brand identity, since the original launches were packaged quite generically (some might say cheaply), and this is… well, this. It’s a black tube with big gold lips on it. I’m a fan of luxury packaging that is just a tad extra; I also love the YSL Rouge Volupté Shine lipsticks for the same reason. Look, if I’m going to buy an overpriced lipstick then I want to feel like my money went somewhere, and when I pull out a tube and it screams HI I AM EXPENSIVE AND I WILL TACKILY LET YOU KNOW THAT, I’m into it. Maybe that’s tacky of me. That’s fine.
Now, as I said, I have read nothing but glowing reviews for this formula. Like, over-the-top fawning. So, I don’t want to be the one, but… I’ll be the one. Maybe it’s this colour in particular (and I do know that deeper shades are trickier), but… meh. I mean, look, it’s not that it’s bad. It’s not. But this is a $52 lipstick. I could have a Tim Horton’s donut every week for a year with that money and still have some left over. I think I would prefer the 52 donuts! If I’m paying $10 or even $25 for a lipstick and the formula is perfectly adequate, I will be happy. If I’m paying FIFTY-TWO DOLLARS for one SINGLE SOLITARY TUBE, I want it to be the most incredible, transformative thing I have ever put on my face. People don’t pay $52 for “Yeah, it’s okay”, right?
Okay, let’s get into specifics. This lipstick glides on smoothly and comfortably. It feels a lot like the Marc Jacobs Le Marc Lip Crème formula in that regard: there’s absolutely no resistance during application. However, it does have a tendency to ever so slightly exaggerate dry patches, of which my lips have plenty during the winter. And, you know, this is a cold-weather shade. I really try to break free of prescribed seasonal colours because I know it’s all fake and I should do what I want, but I never want to wear dark red in the summer when I could be wearing a bright coral instead. So, basically, I only want to wear this lipstick when my lips are at their crustiest, and it does not do amazingly with crusty lips. Like, it’s not a disaster, and it’s perfectly wearable. But look closely and I think you’ll see that it’s darker in certain areas:
I think you can especially see this on the centre-left of my bottom lip. If you scroll back up to the swatch pictures, you can also see it there, and that is on my smooth, non-crusty arm. Again, I know this is nitpicky, and this is something I could overlook if Maybelline were selling it for $10.99. But I demand perfection from something this expensive.
Wear-time is… you know. Fine. I mean, for a traditional bullet lipstick (and one that isn’t even matte), it’s… fine. Bold colours usually don’t fade super gracefully, and I know that, and yet I want more than this:
This was after six hours of wear, one meal (noodles – medium amount of contact with my lips, I’d say – I’d hate to see how it would look after a burger), and quite a lot of water. So, not only has a lot of it faded, the fading isn’t very even, and my lips look pretty dry. Obviously, I’m not expecting a miracle here. I have worn a lot of lipstick in the past five years and I’m very aware of what you can expect out of a cream formula. But I have lipsticks with similar feeling formulas that last longer, that fade more evenly, and that don’t make my lips appear crusty. (Once again, Marc Jacobs and NARS edge out Pat, at $14 and $12 cheaper, respectively.)
So, I don’t know. This isn’t a bad lipstick by any means and I will certainly keep using it. I just feel like I’m living in the Berenstein world all of a sudden because I’ve literally never heard a single bad word about this formula and I found it to be “meh” for the price. I just can’t divorce that exorbitant price tag from the lipstick itself, which I think is pretty reasonable. Of course I’m well aware that all makeup is marked up to the extreme (I worked in cosmetics for years, I know how much it really costs to make), and I know that when you buy luxury you’re paying for the prestige. But, come on. I also want a good product, and if you’re going to tell me that your product is worth $52 – and I really just want to emphasize that again, because that is SO MUCH MONEY – I want to actually feel like it is. The packaging is glorious and I could wax poetic about it for days, but that’s not enough for me to think, “Yep, this has the same value as half a year of Netflix, or three books, or a nice shirt.” NOPE. IT DOES NOT.
If you’ve been eyeing Pat McGrath Labs lipstick, I don’t think you should let my review dissuade you completely. There are lots of good ones out there, from small, independent bloggers and random people in Facebook groups who I don’t think are being swayed by the machinations of the beauty guru industry. Those people can’t all be wrong. I had a different experience, and I think it might be that 35mm is not the best colour, or maybe my lips just repel this formula in a bizarre way. But this is my honest opinion, and it’s different from everyone else’s. Maybe it will help you.
Pat McGrath LuxeTrance Lipsticks retail for $52 CAD (did you get that?!) for 0.14 oz, or $371.43 per oz.