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making faces :: an encounter with illamasqua

branding itself as "makeup for your alter ego", illamasqua hits every major high point with me in their
approach. their products are a mix of the practical and the theatrical. they emphasise the power of cosmetics to explore the characters we all have living within us. they're cruelty-free. they have a well-developed social conscience. they're less about commonly accepted ideas of beauty and more about the excitement of exploration. so it seems strange that it took me this long to discover them.

part of the problem, of course, is that they're not available anywhere on canadian soil, save for a small selection of their nail polishes on shelf at sephora. the chain carries about two thirds of the line in the states, but has never brought them north. [even then, what tends to get left out of the american assortment are the off-the-wall shades that are the company's signature.] fortunately, while it's not ideal, the company does have a fantastic web site that's user friendly and features numerous swatches on skin to help you make a decision.

i placed an order with them at the end of january, which ended up getting delayed more than a month and a half, because the company suffered a severe breakdown in communication with their courier. nail polishes, one of the things for which they are most famous, have recently been reclassified, making it difficult to ship them overseas. although illamasqua believed they had found a carrier who could work with them, that apparently turned out not to be the case, as the new carrier ended up destroying dozens of orders without notification because they contained nail polish. that's a rough loss for a company the size of illamasqua to take, all the worse [from a financial standpoint], because, when they eventually realised what had happened, they made amends with customers by re-shipping orders via express service and offering vouchers for future orders. it's absolutely the right thing and i commend them for doing it, but i also cringe thinking of what that must have done to their bottom line.

with the order finally in hand, i had my chance to find out what the fuss was about.

from their "i'mperfection" spring offering, i picked up a blush duo in "katie" and "ambition". there was no way i could deny myself a cool-toned pink blush named "katie". the blush duos are a great way to discover some of illamasqua's most popular shades two at a time. the duo choices are pretty well edited, in that it's highly likely that most people will be able to wear both shades included.

in my case, i can wear both shades, but "katie" is the clear winner. it's a cool-toned pink with a matte finish. it's described as light but i'd say that it's light to medium. the fact that it is very matte makes it different than many other cool pinks i've seen. it gives colour to the cheeks but no additional shine or sparkle. as a result, i actually find it looks brighter on my face than similar shades.

mac's "azalea blossom" is similar but not quite as cool on the pink side. mac "dame" is deeper and a little more violet in tone.

l to r :: mac azalea blossom [l.e.], katie, mac dame
the pigmentation on "katie" is excellent and the lasting power is good, although, being a softer shade, it does fade after a few hours. the main issue i had with it was that it kicks up a surprising amount of excess powder, no matter how delicate i am with the brush. that doesn't effect the performance, because it applies and blends smoothly, but retains its colour on the cheek. what annoys me about it is the amount of lost product that represents.


"ambition" is a more pigmented shade. it's described as a neutral with shimmer finish. i can't really see this as "neutral". on me it's a plum shade with hints of red and a lot of gold shimmer. i can make it work with some blending, but i find that it can easily look like i've been sunburnt. my cheeks seem to pull the red tones from it more than my arm.

i do have a couple of comparable colours: nars "sin" is more plum, less red and the shimmer is much finer. mac "mocha" [another colour that's tricky for me to wear, although i've had it forever] is a little deeper and more brown.

l to r :: nars sin, ambition, mac mocha
even more so than "katie", using a brush on ambition brought up a lot of extra powder. it's difficult to apply lightly, even using my trusty nars yachiyo brush or the mac 188, which is normally foolproof when you need light, layered application. it blends well once its on the face, but i found it difficult not to apply too much, which is where i ended up with the sunburnt look. when i did get it right, it was a pretty enough colour, the sort of shade that says "i've been wandering the moors all morning", or possibly "i've been wandering the moors all morning and passed a gang of ravers who threw a handful of gold glitter at me". the gold particles seem mostly to disappear once applied, although there are a few stray ones that remain. i think that the consistency of the base powder makes it difficult for them to adhere well.

i do think that this would be an excellent everyday shade on medium to deep skin tones [although i maintain that it still wouldn't be neutral]. i like it, but it takes a bit of effort for me, which means that i foresee finishing "katie" long before i'm done with "ambition".

also from the spring collection, i picked up one of the "easter egg" nail polishes, robin's egg blue "fragile". a few companies have done collections this summer of pastel shades with black matte glitter to give the "bird's egg" speckled effect, but from those i've seen in person, illamasqua has far and away the best. the glitter particles spread out evenly and it really does look like your nails have become perfect little eggs.

i'm not dextrous, but even for me, the polish application was flawless. i've worn it a few times now and there isn't a single thing that i can say i dislike. it's a wonderfully different take on spring and i may even go back for another shade in the range. they're limited, but all colours are still available via the illamasqua web site.

two small observations on this polish:

1. for a glitter shade, it's easier to remove than most. still not the easiest, but definitely easier.

2. the colour seemed to react with my usual top coat [essie "good to go"] and turn it slightly yellow after a couple of days. the polish is strong and smooth enough that you could skip the top coat, which you might want to do.

i also picked up a couple of items from the illamasqua permanent collection, but before i move on, i wanted to express how much i love the theme of their spring launch. the whole play on imperfection/ i'm perfection in the name says it all: it's about how our flaws are an intrinsic part of our beauty rather than something to be disguised. the models for the campaign are beautiful because of, not in spite of their supposed "imperfections". one has freckles. another has a noticeable gap between her teeth. a third has a dramatic birthmark. all are stunning.

i'm also impressed at how illamasqua incorporated technique into their spring collection: it includes a "blush-up" brush, essentially a flat contour brush that they've repurposed to show women how to make flawless blush application easier. and of course, they made much use of the spectacular "speckled eye liner", which harmonises with the nails and makes use of a combination of white and black liners that doesn't require laser precision- or perfection- to work. videos of both of these techniques are available on the illamasqua web site.

the two existing products that i ordered [meaning previously existing, not that the other products don't actually exist] were wisdom eye liner and "violate" sheer lip gloss.

"wisdom"- i apologise for the fact that it's not swatched separately- is a black base with a lot of antique gold shimmer. the applicator and tube are very similar to mac "superslick liquid liners" and the formula also seems similar. i'd say, actually, that the illamasqua one is just a bit better- and that's saying a lot, because i adore the mac formula- because it's easier to get an opaque line. rather than a brush, the applicator is a thin, cone-shaped sponge that flexes just a little, so you it's easy to get a straight line.

the shimmer makes the final shade an exquisite dark antique gold, visibly different from black, but with similar impact. this isn't a glitter liner, either. the shimmer catches the light but it's perfect appropriate for daytime/ office wear.

this is the product i've used the most from my order [being the most flexible, that's not surprising] and it makes me want to collect every shade of their liquid liners, some of which [opalescent nude shade "glisten"] look quite original.

not so appropriate for office work is "violate" a blackened gloss with a lot of dark green shimmer. although it's part of illamasqua's sheer range of glosses [they have more opaque "intense" glosses as well], it's not what i think of when i hear the words "sheer gloss". i'd characterise it as semi-sheer by lipstick standards. it allows a little of the underlying lip colour to come through, but generally what you see is the shade of the gloss itself.

the texture of the gloss is fairly thick and a little sticky. it's not as tacky as mac glosses, but it's a little heavier than chanel's "extrait de gloss" formula. it remains a little sticky as it wears and, as you might expect from such a dark shade,  the wear time is pretty good. it certainly fades, but the residual green-black stain remains a long time.

getting the product to apply evenly can be a bit tricky because it's so thick and because it's dark, unevenness tends to show. i had the best luck starting from the centre and working outward. the end result is visibly green in the light, but looks black in the shadows. while it's not the sort of thing that a lot of people are likely to try, it's not so difficult to pull off as one might think. i've actually worn this shade to the last two caustic lounges and haven't felt conspicuous in the midst of a moderately well-lit cafe.

wisdom on lash lines, ambition on cheeks, violate on lips
violate under low light
i have to admit, i'm kicking myself a little for not ordering the bright, grassy green gloss that was released as part of the spring collection, because if you're going to make a statement, you might as  well make a bold one. "violate" is more a way to add a little kink, a hint of the unexpected.

as far as my impressions of the overall brand are concerned, i'm mostly impressed with what illamasqua has to offer. they don't have the top-notch formulas of brands like le metier de beaute or guerlain, but they hold their own against companies like makeup forever, another brand with a professional/ theatrical pedigree. where i hesitate to give them full marks is that their pricing is high compared to similar brands. i'm used to seeing high prices given in british pounds when ordering through the web, but normally overseas customers can expect to have the 19% v.a.t. deducted from their purchases. i've heard from others that they've been able to do this, but for me, despite being in canada, the prices remained the same. i reached out to illamasqua some time ago to ask about their policy, but i did not get a response.

where i think illamasqua justifies their pricing is in offering truly original shades in high quality products. they truly seem to be the only company interested in combining brand prestige with the quirky or outright peculiar. for those items, i can definitely see myself ordering again.

products are available from and just to show how very behind i am, this week, they launched their summer collection, called "paranormal".


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