Friday, August 4, 2017

Thoughts on ABH Subculture, Disappointment, and Fandom

This is going to be a different kind of post from me. Before Anastasia Beverly Hills Subculture officially launched, I wrote an anti-haul post on it. And in that post, I talked about how I was drawn to this palette because of the colors that I hadn't seen over and over again and—to be completely transparent—the hype. But, like most products, I had to talk myself out of wanting to buy it. And I did so by reminding myself of one important fact: I do not like the formula of ABH palettes. More specifically, I really hated the formula of ABH Modern Renaissance, which made me a pariah of sorts in the beauty community. 

As I said, I wrote that blog post before this palette was released. And since then, a lot has happened with Subculture. And so I would like to return to this product and continue the conversation a bit.

There is a significant amount of drama surrounding this palette, which is kind of absurd to me. I have an entire blog dedicated to my love of makeup and my exhaustion with consumerism, so I really shouldn't be surprised to see the aftermath of this palette release, but at the same time, I always come back to: this is makeup. And there are so many things that are more important happening in the world that people should care about, especially right now. 

And here's the drama: ABH changed the formula of Subculture to be cheaper than what was in Modern Renaissance (though the price of the palette did not change) and it seems to be one of (if not the number one) worst reviewed products of the year or in recent memory. While it seems a lot about the formula has changed, the most noticeable change is that mica was the top ingredient in Modern Renaissance, and talc is the top ingredient in Subculture. 

And consumers have been waiting for certain people to review Subculture before making a decision on it. When one person they don't like says the palette is bad, people have called them liars, all to change their minds when someone they like more reviews it and also says it's bad. And then there are those who are so faithful to ABH and to certain people who praise ABH that they will continue to call those who don't like the palette lairs despite negative review after negative review. 

What's interesting to me about this aftermath is that what people are experiencing with Subculture is a heightened version of what happened to me with Modern Renaissance. You see, with Subculture, there is a ton of kickback of powder when one dips their brush into a shadow, massive amounts of fallout when shadow is applied to the lid, and essentially no blendability. And these were all of my complaints about Modern Renaissance, in addition to the fact that I already had all the colors in my collection. 

Herein lies the problem and what I wanted to talk about today. It's not unheard-of for a brand to have a bad product. In fact, almost every single brand has had some kind of a flop product. Off the top of my head, Makeup Geek had the Sparklers:

Kat Von D had the Shade and Light blushes:

Becca had the Jaclyn Hill eyeshadow palette:

Too Faced had the Nikkitutorials collaboration:

the White Chocolate Chip palette:

 and several other disappointing releases. 

And of these flops, Becca and Kat Von D pulled the products off shelves and Makeup Geek offered a refund of sorts. Nothing happened with the Too Faced products, which isn't surprising as the brand seems to not care at all anymore about quality. 

With Subculture, however, I personally think it is becoming such a huge deal for two reasons:
  1. People are (rightfully) disappointed in the poor quality and formula change 
  2. People thought ABH was infallible. 

And the second point is the one I would most like to talk about. To be completely honest, I do not understand why Modern Renaissance blew up as big as it did or why people praise it so much. And I understand that I have to tread carefully here because so many people love this makeup item, but that's just it. It's just a makeup item. So I am going to speak freely about it. 

Modern Renaissance to me was nothing special. It looked like a combination of the Lime Crime Venus palette plus the warmer shades in the Kat Von D Shade and light eye palette:

I'm not sure if people forgot or just were not as involved in the makeup community at the time, but the Venus palette was crazy popular. It was constantly out of stock and very hard to get one's hands on. And it was very coveted by a lot of people. And then the Lime Crime website was hacked and the brand did absolutely nothing about it, the brand's owner started attacking people to a degree that I think most people had not seen before, and Lime Crime became one of the most boycotted brands at the time. 

So I think Modern Renaissance was a welcome product for a lot of people who wanted Venus but just could not support Lime Crime. And I get that. But still. As far as color schemes were concerned, Modern Renaissance was not the first of its kind, despite what many of its superfans believe.

I had owned Venus for a while before Modern Renaissance was released, but because of the ridiculous hype, I caved and bought Modern Renaissance as well. And believe me when I say that I wanted to love that palette. But I didn't get the hype. And I think that's mainly because I had owned Venus for a while and had access to all of those red and berry tones. So Modern Renaissance didn't feel all that new to me. It felt very much the same as what I had already been using. And since I'm a person who loves to wear a shimmer on the lid, and Modern Renaissance only had three shimmers (two of which looked too similar on my lid), the palette felt more like a companion palette to me, and I already had that in Venus. And I liked Venus better. Because I thought the shadows blended a lot better.

The formula was the other big reason people raved about the palette. The shadows were endlessly called smooth and buttery and silky. For me, they were too soft to work with. They felt really great to touch with my finger, but that feeling didn't translate when I used it on my eyes. Not only did I get kickback in the pan and fallout on my face, but the shadows were so soft that they either blended away or became very muddy on me. I tried so many looks with the palette and hated each one of them, though I loved the same looks I created with Venus. I finally had to accept that Modern Renaissance just did not work for me, and I returned the palette.

But whenever I talked about the issues I had with Modern Renaissance, people told me that I just did not know how to apply the shadows. I am by no means a professional makeup artist, nor do I consider myself close to having those skills, but I have been a makeup user for over seven years, and I have owned eyeshadow from nearly every major brand. And the Modern Renaissance shadows, in my opinion, were incredibly high maintenance. I was told that I needed specific brushes to use the shadows (which, by the way, did not include the brush that came with the palette). I was told that I needed to tap the shadow off on my hand first before applying to my eyes. And I was told that I needed to apply a base of powder first. But here's the thing. I don't need to do that with literally any other shadows in my collection. And they all work beautifully. So why should I have to put in so much effort just to get a very hyped palette to work for me?

Something interesting to note, however, is that I have a few ABH single shadows, including Buon Fresco, which is in Modern Renaissance:

(Buon Fresco is on the top left)

I really love this shadow, and it works great for me. In fact, I love all of my ABH single shadows. I think they are gorgeous. And I have zero issues with them. They perform beautifully, including Buon Fresco, which did not work at all for me in Modern Renaissance. 

But I think the reason that so many people feel so strongly about Modern Renaissance is because it was the first major makeup purchase for a lot of people. And a lot of influencers really hyped it.  

Let's get back to Subculture:

I read a comment recently about Subculture that largely inspired this post. On the eve of this palette releasing online at Sephora, (it released on the ABH website first), in a discussion about all of the terrible reviews it has received, someone said something to the effect of:

I don't know what to do. The reviews are all so terrible, but this is ABH. I don't want a bad palette, but I don't want to miss out on getting the palette and then be the only person who doesn't have it. 

And that's when it hit me, hard in the face, the impact YouTube, social media, and "influencers" have had. It's the same reason why hoards of people attacked those who had negative things to say about the Jaclyn Hill and Morphe palette. Or why people have excused racism and misogyny in favor of a lipstick. When they watch someone online and follow all of their social media accounts, they feel they know that person, and they want to be that person's friend. And when their "friend" says something is great or had a hand in making it, there isn't room for any other opinion. And when several of their influencer "friends" are all hyping the same item, it is like being in middle school or high school and everyone has this one purse or bracelet or whatever and you don't. And so then all of a sudden you want it—even if you didn't want it before—just so that you can be like these people you admire.

But, and I've said this before, no one is going to know that you are wearing an ABH palette and are therefore "cooler" than if you were wearing Wet N Wild shadows. Sure, you can follow some influencer tutorials, and that might give some happiness, but there will always be other products and other tutorials.

What's odd to me is that now, in addition to people being diehard fans of influencers, they are also diehard fans of brands as well. Following the success of Modern Renaissance, a lot of people really felt as though ABH could do no wrong, even though a lot of their new releases were kind of disappointing. Their stick foundations, for example, did not receive stellar reviews, neither did several of their Glow Kits. But when people heard that Subculture was going to be a "sister palette" to Modern Renaissance, I think people just put blinders on and decided that this product was going to be amazing, end of story. And, here's the thing. If Smashbox released this exact same palette, do you think people would have gone nuts for it? I doubt it.

People bought into the brand, the promise that it was a Modern Renaissance sister palette, and the hype. And now there are countless reviews of people saying that Subculture is essentially unusable. There are photos of brand new palettes covered in shadow dust after one use. There are photos of people using the palette with powder all down their faces. There are videos of people trying to blend the colors only to blend them completely away or have the color stick and not move. There are photos and videos of the shadows oxidizing, which, to be honest, I didn't even know was possible. And there are videos of the shadows all but disappearing by the end of a day of wear. And yet, you still have people picking fights, telling those people that they don't know how to apply makeup, that they need to use special brushes (again, that are not the same as the one included in the palette), and that they need to pat the color off first before applying.

And things are not made better by the fact that ABH has remained silent on all of the terrible reviews and that Norvina (who created Modern Renaissance and Subculture) continues to give special attention on social media to those who praise the palette. In response to one person who hit pan on the eyeshadow the first time she used it (and then made a video showing it), Norvina publicly undercut her by saying that anyone can swirl their brush until they hit pan, and asking, "But why would you want to?" The woman who posted the video then received a ton of hate messages from people telling her she could not do makeup, which was not surprising. Because, for some reason, when a brand fandom grows so big that people think they are infallible, there can't be room for differing opinions. And that is absolutely something that should change.

I don't understand why makeup and this community have to be to this way. Think of how absurd it would be if my friend absolutely loved a pair of jeans and thought they looked incredible on her, but I tried them on and thought they look terrible on me, and she got mad and me and said I didn't know how to wear clothes. It's just utterly ridiculous. And just because I say I don't like Modern Renaissance, that doesn't mean I am saying, "I think you look terrible when you wear that palette." Or "I think your makeup looks like crap and not blended because I didn't like how those shadows blended." But that seems to be the way people take it when others say they didn't like a product that someone else really loves. But then that leaves no room for differing opinions.

In all of the Subculture drama, I have to wonder: Did people really want Subculture for the colors in the palette or because it was the newest ABH palette? And I have to say that I think it's the latter. Because, as I mentioned in my Subculture anti-haul post, there are several palettes that have the same or similar color schemes.

On Temptalia, ever-fantastic Christine posted Subculture dupes, made up of MAC, Makeup Geek, Colourpop, and Make Up For Ever single shadows. But my guess is that most people likely aren't so interested in the colors of the palette that they would make their own palette from singles. I think people just like the status of having the hyped palette of the moment. I've even heard someone say that they don't like how the ABH Master Palette by Mario performs, but they like having it because other people wanted it and couldn't get it. And while I try hard not to judge what makes people happy, that way of thinking just doesn't make a ton of sense to me.

I want to love my makeup and use it and feel creative. I don't care about having a collection of makeup items that will expire that some people in the world could not get. That doesn't make me feel special. That doesn't make me feel good. The only product in my collection right now that is hard to get is Colourpop Yes, Please! And it doesn't make me excited that I have it and many other people don't. In fact, it does the opposite for me. It makes me unhappy and mad at the brand that they can't just have an appropriate amount of stock so that everyone who wants that item can get it.

But Subculture has really shown me how much the makeup community has shifted, and it is not in a direction that I like. On the one hand, people crashed the ABH website to buy the palette the day it released—before reviews came out and before it was available to swatch in person at Sephora—which actually seems kind of crazy to me. I can understand that reviewers would want to get their hands on it so that they could produce content with it, but for the casual makeup owner, the need for immediate gratification was so overwhelming with this release. And on the other hand, when the product did not live up to the hype, and instead crashed and burned, a lot of people seemed unable to accept that reality and picked fights with people who posted negative reviews.

At the end of the day, this was a disappointing makeup product for most people, it seems. The brand changed a formula that people really loved, and they didn't tell anyone. The reason they didn't is because they were making a cheaper formula but were not lowering the price of the palette. And since so many people were crazy about the Modern Renaissance formula, I'm sure they knew that would be a really unpopular decision. And ABH made a palette that looked good when swatched with a finger or a brush. I've said before, but that seems to be a top concern for a lot of brands, even above making a good product. The influencers of the world have made "pigmentation" the biggest deal, and if swatches don't look good, people are less likely to buy something. So then we get a palette like Subculture. If you've seen the swatches, they have incredible pigment. But they don't work as eyeshadows because, from what I have seen, they can't blend whatsoever. But ABH was riding off of their success with Modern Renaissance and the blind faith they knew people had in them. I was impressed when Becca and Kat Von D pulled their flop products from shelves, and I'm disappointed that ABH hasn't yet addressed the atrocious reviews Subculture has received.

I also think it's important to take a critical look at how the community got to the place it is now, and to see how it is necessary to have differing opinions about products. It is also critical that as consumers we don't perpetuate hype and consumerism. Because then brands take advantage.


  1. This is a weird situation. I'm considering purchasing this it's unique to my collection and I think my application technique will work with it. I think people wanted it simply because they loved the MR so much (admittedly, the MR never interested me, it's kinda boring to me!).

    In terms of talc, people have been using that as the reason this palette sucks - but talc is the main ingredient in Tom Ford and Viseart shadows. So I'm not entirely sure how valid that is, but I'm no expert either! It also feels like a large amount of people are bashing this without even trying it which is something that always puzzles me.

    You make an excellent point, ABH have been riding high, it kind of feels like a 'harder they fall' scenario.

    Stephanie Nicole just posted her review on this which was pretty insightful and cleared up a few things, at least for me.

    I plan on purchasing this, hell, if it's as bad as all that at least you can return cosmetics in this country (unlike the UK!)

    Sorry for the ramble! I hope you are recovering well from your surgeries!

    1. Eh, I was actually not all that impressed with Stephanie Nicole's video, and I usually really like her videos even if I don't personally agree with her thoughts in them. I feel like she made a lot of excuses for ABH, which is something I feel she does often, she also used some of the shades that people have mentioned are less problematic in her tutorial, and even still, it looked to me that she struggled a bit more with them than she normally does. I also don't think shadows should only work if you use a certain technique as most shadows across the board can work for most people and multiple techniques. I think this palette was just a miss for ABH.

      And I agree with you about talc. I don't think talc is the reason the shadows are so problematic; I think it's just the most obvious formula difference that people are pointing out. I love my Tom Ford and Viseart shadows, which, as you said, contain talc. I do understand how people are frustrated that the formula changed to a cheaper one, though, as it was messing with what a lot of people considered a good thing.

      If you are in the UK, I might recommend checking out the Zoeva Matte Spectrum palette for similar colors since the quality of this seems to be suspect at best!

      Thanks for reading and the well wishes!

  2. Apologies for the double post!

    The makeup community is somewhat hostile. People have an almost cult like attachment to brands and influencers (Jaclyn Hill especially, I find). I'm not so attached to brands or any influencer that it baffles me seeing people throwing personal insults and swear words at people who criticise influencers.

    I suggest that people are bad at makeup application because they do not like a product is ridiculous and offensive. People get so fired up about something so inconsequential. It's makeup!!!!! Seeing people being called idiots or worse for having a different opinion on a product or influencer is scary.

    1. Completely agree! I don't know if I'm just too old (as I think a lot of the cult-like attachment to influencers come from younger audiences), but I really don't understand why people hold certain people's points of view as the standard. Those people often times also have an agenda, especially if this is a career for them. And that complicates a lot of things.

      Having healthy skepticism is good, I think, as is open communication and differing opinions. And I don't know when we transitioned away from that.

  3. I think you perfectly summed up my thoughts on this palette. Why they thought that changing the formula from the MR was needed has still not been explained to my satisfaction- all I keep hearing about is the more intense pigmentation in subculture but since I don't recall anyone complaining about low pigmentation in MR it doesn't make sense to inflict such a high maintenance palette on a mass market audience. Even in the positive reviews with "proper" use it was a helluva lotta work to get a nice look, no thanks! Besides- it is marketed, labeled and sold as an eyeshadow palette, not a pressed pigment palette, so it should perform as one. But then I don't have a horse in this race as I don't own and don't plan to get either palette.

    1. Yeah, I think Stephanie Nicole's review is the only one people are citing as "this explains it!" And while I really like a lot of Stephanie's content, I tend to really disagree with a lot of what was said in that review. I think she made a lot of excuses for ABH that she would not have done for another brand.

      While talc appears as a top ingredient in some of my favorite eyeshadows, it is still a cheap ingredient. And if ABH wanted to spend more money on pigment, I would guess talc is where they cut a corner.

      While I did not like the MR formula, I agree that I don't understand why the formula change has not been addressed.

  4. For me, SN kissed some to ABH. She said that Norvina didn't throw shade at customers, but was 'addressing' the issues. What?! Only Jeffree Stars can't go after his costumers for bad reviews then? Everyone saw how she addressed Alissa's video and other customers. She was patronizing and tried to pass her babying the eyeshadows as a skill that nobody else tried before when, from other reviews, SHE KNEW the eyeshadows were powdery and badly binded and came up with the BS the eyeshadows should be treated differently. Duh! Then she went all out of her mind with the color wheel theory to explain the changing colors. Eyeshadows are powders/solids. Solids do not change color just because they were put in contact. You have to dissolve then in liquid, melt them to liquid... or they should react with each other (paints are liquidy, that is why we see colors changing when we mix them). Then, to top it off, how come a palette be polarising (= half good half bad reviews) when the vast majority of reviews show the palette is bad? Her palette could be good as some others had. She may have received a palette from a good batch. That is that. She questioned indirectly the skills of the other MUAs and didn't recomend the palette because of what other people said instead of her own review?! Yeah, right! She gave ABH a special treatment when she recommended people to go try it themselves. Why not do the same for the other products she reviewed before? If this palette was from morphe, Kylie, Jeffree Star or any small brand, we would have seen a whole lot of difference. She didn't have to bash the brand either. Jeffree Star review said it all: he still loves the brand, but the palette was not good (sucked). Norvina changed the tune and now is saying they had problems with pressing, which is scapegoat to me it is the scapegoat after the whole backlash, returns and cancellations.

    1. Yeah, I wasn't impressed with her review and felt similarly that if it was a different brand, the review would have been negative. I think it's pretty clear that the Subculture eyeshadows are not great as eyeshadows and playing that off as people not knowing how to do a specific technique is ridiculous. The shadows pack a ton of pigment, but that doesn't mean they are a great eyeshadow. And frankly, if something requires special application, that means they probably aren't great eyeshadows. A great eyeshadow should work with a ton of different application techniques.

      I am additionally confused by all this backlash because, as I mentioned, Subculture performs a LOT like how Modern Renaissance did on me, but everyone told me I was crazy for not liking it. Maybe with the darker pigments the problems are just more obvious.

  5. Thank you for this. I was just talking to my husband about how the makeup community has changed. I admit that I was victim to the hype once, but I still have a very small collection because I put in time, thought and much research before I purchase a product. And, then I realize that not everything will work for me. I like your analogy with the jeans. That is so spot on!! Thank for you being a voice of reason!

    1. Thank you for the nice compliment, and I'm glad that you've been able to see hype for what it is and push past it. I've found that's something a lot of people struggle with. Thanks for reading!

  6. very thoughtful post. So much drama over makeup and I don't really need to add much but I think you're spot on. I finally caved on MR... I'm so-so about it but still feel like, maybe it's really, really special but I just don't "get" it. No it's not me, it's you. lol

    1. While I genuinely hope that you enjoy MR, I would also say that it is not that you don't "get" it. I don't think there is much to get. I honestly believe that some people truly love the palette. But others, I think, truly love the hype and love having a hyped palette. I know I certainly felt that way about the Naked palette. I never really liked it, but it took me years to admit that to myself.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. I agree with you on most of your post. It's makeup. Just freaking makeup. However I think a lot of people are misinformed or just want to find any reason they can to hate this palette. Talc is not cheaper than Mica.

    I personally like this palette because the color selection is so unique and interesting to me and different than anything out there.

    You have to work with these shadows to blend them out. It's not going to be a palette for quick makeup looks. But I also don't get people posting videos of them swirling their brushes in the product and hitting pan and being surprised about it. ABH shadows are extremely soft to begin with. No one would do that with the Modern Renaissance palette, but if they did the same thing would happen.

    Again it's just makeup. I just wanted to get my thoughts out into the open because this is literally all I ever see or hear about on the internet these days.

    1. I didn't mean to imply that talc is cheaper than mica, just that a lot of elements of the formula were changed in favor of more pigment, and binders are important. Therefore, to me, it's a cheaper formula.

      If you have this palette and like it, I think that's great. The color scheme is interesting, and I really like it too, but in my anti-haul post on it, I mention that I already have Viseart Dark Matte, so there was no reason for me to own two palettes with this color scheme.

      I don't like all the drama around this palette, and I think it is representing some of the worst of the beauty community. That's why I made the analogy of clothing. No one would fault me for thinking a shirt that looks great on my friend doesn't look great on me. MR worked for seemingly everyone and it didn't work for me. And when I told my story, people attacked me like I was insulting them personally. And I think the same is happening (on both sides) with Subculture. And that is just so, so crazy.

      Makeup is personal. It's all about preference. But I do think that people in favor of Subculture saying that people who have problems with it are just not skilled at makeup is frankly BS and mean.

      And I'm glad you made the comparison that people wouldn't swirl their brush and show the fallout with MR because I totally agree! Again, that palette worked for me the way Subculture is working for people who don't like it, which I find really interesting. It must be that MR just didn't have the blues and greens that seem to be causing the most issues. Because, in my experience, those palettes perform really similarly—in a negative way.

      Thanks for putting your perspective out there, and thanks for reading!

    2. I absolutely love your blog and all of its content.

      I agree makeup is very personal. I don't like the negativity and Kate surrounding this or many other products. But this is the worst I've seen in a long time.

      And I hope I didn't come off as rude or defensive about the talc/mica thing. Again just want to state that I love your blog and I respect

    3. You definitely didn't! I was agreeing with you! :)

  8. I watched a lot of videos on this palette not because I intended to purchase it, but because I love drama in the makeup community hehe. But my takeaway is this:
    1. The blues and greens are the culprits when it comes to bad blending. All the tutorials I watched of people who loved the palette are using the warmer tones, and the ones who hate it are trying to apply the teal or green to the whole eyelid.

    2. Palette lacks binders and stabilizers that causes the blending and oxidation issues. It's not really oxidizing but it's what happens when the shadow lacks the binders and stabilizers needed. Complex cosmetic chemistry here that I don't personally understand. This also makes the shadows turn muddy when mixed or layered.

    3. Not pressed hard enough, which makes it more pigmented in swatches but makes it explodes in powder when you swirl a brush. It takes less than a minute of swirling to hit pan for most colors in this palette, but it takes more than 6 mins to hit pan on the black lorac pro shadow. So it's much more lightly pressed than the already powdery lorac shadows.

    4.talc and mica cost about the same, in fact French talc which is used in the Laura mercier translucent loose powder is even more expensive than mica. So it's not about making a cheaper palette.

    Just observe on YouTube, those who try to blend the blues and greens on their whole eyes will never have anything good to say about the palette, and those who say good things are always wearing the warmer shades, oranges, yellow, and a little of the maroon in the outer corner. I love the drama of this palette!

    1. Haha, I genuinely love how honest you are about loving the drama. I think it would be more entertaining for me personally if people were more low-key about it, recognize that it's just makeup, and not attacking people in really hateful ways over makeup.

      With that said, I really appreciate your observations! And I really agree with you. It seems people who love the palette are using the lighter shades. And that makes sense to me, because MR performed for me the way Subculture performs for people who don't like it. And the performance doesn't look all that different to me, except in the darker colors. And I think that's because MR doesn't have those problematic shades.

      When I said the palette was made cheaper, I did not mean because talc is cheaper than mica. I mean because, in my opinion, the formula is lacking basic ingredients that make it a workable palette in favor of making it look "pigmented" and great in swatches.

      I've been disappointed in how cutthroat people are being in defending a brand that, like every brand ever, is trying to take your money. They aren't your best friend. They aren't your family. They are trying to sell you stuff. And makeup is personal. I think it's crazy to be so hateful to people because their opinions differ on the palette.

      I appreciate your comprehensive list and observations of all issues of this palette and hope people read your comment! Thanks for reading!