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MAC Musings

By Megan Murray

I love a good list. I love a good countdown. I would probably watch a countdown of what you had for lunch this week. For this reason, the first weeks of the New Year are like mental candy for me. Best, worst, happiest, saddest- I love them all. I even tried to write my own list, but as I was scouring the blogosphere I noticed something startling: MAC cosmetics are all over the “worst-of” lists.  Was this the year that MAC went MEH?

For most of my adult life, MAC cosmetics were the common thread that bound the make-up junkie. A new release from MAC could whip the Internet community into a frenzy. A discontinued MAC pigment could empty a trust fund on eBay. We would justify the price because MAC had colors and textures like no one else. (Remember those days- before brands like By Terry could charge four vital organs for a concealer? Ahh…youth.)

I know there has been debate about the quality of MAC since it became a Lauder Baby, but I’ve never seen such–indifference. Have we become tired of the constant barrage of LE products? I think the answer is much smaller, AND much bigger. 

This was the year of the e-tailer. When I name three eyeshadow colors that make my pulse quicken, they are


Bollywood Glitter Eyeshadow from Sweet Libertine, Fairie Glamour by Fyrinnae, and pretty much anything by Sugarpill. The colors are unique and the price is right for experimentation. 

Faeire Glamour

We also cannot avoid the elephant in the room. These small companies are very good at creating relationships. Once upon a time, in the age of the New-Luxe consumer, MAC’s “hipper than thou” reputation worked. We sought out aspiration and exclusivity. That world of Manolos for the middle class just does not exist anymore. We live in the information age, and we want to be treated like the savvy consumers we are. Small companies use social media to create community celebrate their consumers, and we are going to see that marketing technique become paramount in this brave new world.

Now, while the elephant is sitting on the couch, there is a brontosaurus eating the garden. I don’t know what patent may have expired, or what secret underground laboratory was discovered, but mass market nailed it this year. The quality of the Wet N Wild shadows is insane. Maybelline is going full on Neon for 2012. There is glitter everywhere now. This elevation of the cheaper products is naturally going to siphon off the very young consumer, the trend makers, and those of us who just cannot afford the luxury lifestyle due to the economy. The fashion conscious consumer who bought $1,000 purses 5 years ago is now storming Target for cheap designer goods (Missoni debacle anyone?). Why wouldn’t they buy drugstore cosmetics with luxury quality?

I don’t want this to be seen as a bash on MAC. I will always love MAC cosmetics. Dazzlegasses and Studio Tech NC20 are my Holy Grails. I believe they have great quality and innovation in them, and there is still a lot of glee in those little black boxes.  

I believe they can fix their funk with focus and community. 

 So after that lengthy rant, I want to know what the Painted Ladies think. What are your feelings towards MAC these days?

  • http://mariposamaquillage.blogspot.com/ Angelic Mariposa Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ

    I agree with you 100%, it’s like MAC lost what made them…well MAC!! I have been so disappointed with their quads, it’s almost like they are not even trying anymore. They just keep pushing collection after collection, as if they believe that the name alone is going to bring in sales. I think they are over-exposed, there are lots of other companies out there that will pick up the slack, Inglot, theBalm, Too Faced, UD and lil old Wet N Wild!! This year I’ve tried Glamour Doll Eyes and LOVE it!! Loved this post!!

  • Sheila – Painted Ladies

    Megan you addressed the elephant in the room perfectly. I hope someone at MAC reads this and realizes they’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes!

  • Nicole S.

    I may be the only reader of this website who has never used MAC makeup. I’ve never even tried any of their stuff on at a counter.

    I’d say it was because they’re too expensive, but I’ve bought NARS blush and I had no problem asking for a few MAC brushes for Christmas a few years ago, so that can’t be it.

    I think it’s because whenever I see a counter I can’t bring myself to go visit. I don’t know if they have too much stuff and it’s overwhelming or if I’m just afraid that whoever is working the counter will take one look at my everyday makeup and immediately judge it plebeian, or what, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it. I’m glad I didn’t do it this year though – it sounds like I would’ve been disappointed.

  • breyerchic04

    This was the year I bought tried MAC for the first time. I was tired of buying four drugstore lipsticks to find one that was ok on me, and didn’t smell like grandma perfume or detergent. I tried on several lipsticks and ended up with plumful and hot tahiti, I probably need a couple more too. I have followed the special editions since June but decided that honestly, there’s enough regular edition stuff now that I want to try that I can live without them. There are a few other products I wouldn’t mind trying but the lipsticks really are the best I’ve found, I like vanilla and choices too well to get something else.

  • Inky

    Very well said! There have been too many collection releases, product releases and just plain boring (Miss Piggy “collection” comes to mind) releases. I do love MAC – I can’t imagine not having a tube of Russian Red on hand – but these days you can buy excellent brushes like the beloved 217 elsewhere and as you said, drugstore products and indie companies (I adore Bollywood!!) are nipping at their heels. I’d also like to add that while this may just be the MAC counter in my local Macy’s, but those employees don’t know a thing about the product sometimes. I had to teach them that Haute and Naughty mascara did not have two actual wands by taking it apart to show them. Really?

  • Jen

    I want to like MAC. I love their packaging aesthetic and prior to this year you couldn’t go anywhere without someone singing their praises. However, except for the Paint Pots, I really can’t find anything that works for me. None of their foundation or powders match my skin and the other products I’ve bought just seem sort of meh. I have better products in those categories (eyeliner, lipstick, etc.) I also think that the sales associates at their department store counters still have a “hipper than thou” vibe. I’m intimidated, while I’m not at even higher end counters like Bobbi Brown or Trish McEvoy. I had a pleasant experience at one of their retail stores with a sales associate but I still didn’t walk away loving anything that I bought.

  • Jean

    You’re exactly right, Megan – and ditto for Angelic Mariposa: they believe that the name alone will keep them at the top. Sad. Sheila said it: I hope MAC reads this (and all the other “meh” opinions on the web) and changes for the better.

  • ShannoninBC

    What an excellent, thought provoking and completely true observation and commentary on the beauty giant! There is FAR too much competition in this social media savvy, etailer rich and surprisingly awesome drugstore level to continue to churn out 20+ LE collections a year with minimal attention to detail and quality. MAC prices continue to go up but their quality does not always warrant it. They’ve had some great products (Mega Metal eyeshadows, variety of 2011 paint pots and Pro Longwear Lip Cremes come to mind) but overall I’m becoming less of a MAC fan. I’d rather spend my money on a higher end product or a drugstore dupe than fall for the MAC fever and disappointment.

  • Wendy

    WTF was up with the Miss Piggy “collection”? There was 1 eyeshadow (that had 0 pigmentation) and 2 regularly available products (I think a mascara and a liner) No cute packaging. I would have at least expected cute packaging.

    MAC is SERIOUSLY lacking in awesome lately. While I still enjoy their products there are more products from drugstore brands that I can’t be without than MAC (actually I would cry if they ever discontinued Blacktrack Fluid Line) Drugstore products are really stepping it up. Wet n Wild has amazingly pigmented shadows, Jessie’s Girl has awesome pigments, Maybelline has something similar to Paint Pots (review coming soon) and L’Oreal has the longest wearing lip products with their Infallible line.

    I have faith that MAC will listen and come out with some innovative formulas and colors, but until then I’m saving my money.

  • RedWeatherTiger

    As someone who dropped $42-ish at MAC just yesterday, I may not be the best person to speak on this topic. But I think you hit on some important points here: the prices keep going up, but the quality is staying the same or, in some cases, going down. I think MAC is hit or miss. Some of the products are still unique, well-priced, and high-performing. But about 95% of what they put out is not for me. The fear of the “oh my God, it’s LE!” product being discontinued–or sold out before I get my hands on it (Flamingo lipstick from Iris Apfel, sold out within an hour of launch, thank you very much for NOTHING)–becomes tiresome, but not so tiresome that i don’t scour every colection for my next grail. MAC is still a player, and if they are making money, well, they won’t change. But it would be nice for us consumers if they would be a little bit aware of who we are, what we want, and what we NEED.

  • http://jmtolman.etsy.com JMTolman

    I love MAC’s permanent line- although I admit, I mostly go there for the lipsticks (such lovely colors and textures!)- but the last time I was impressed by an entire LE collection was Disney Villians*. For me, it’s the fact that many of the LE items look like existing colors, but without the quality!

    I think the main problem is that they are releasing too many collections each year, and thus cannot actually focus on the products. The results are rushed, sloppy, and just dissapointing. If they cut back on the number of collections, I believe the quality will raise.

    *Actually, that’s not true- I LOVED Blogger’s Obsession, but that was more of a mini collection- and it was online only, much to my bafflement. All My Purple Life is one of the, if not the best, glosses I own!

  • http://allyourbasenotes.blogspot.com Jessica

    I have been using MAC since 1990 and there are some products, lipsticks especially, that I will always gravitate to. I love the textures, the pigmentation, and some shades I can’t easily find elsewhere. But their shadows are hit or miss (and always have been, IMO) and I think their line is overextended. I am also not a fan of the special limited edition collection tactic, and they seem to have a new one every five minutes. I would like to see MAC get back to basics. That, and ditch the overly bronzed, tackily made-up artists at their counter in my area. I used to love the talented makeup artists dressed in black they staffed will in the past, but their current crop in my area seem to have one aesthetic — lay it on with a trowel.

    I agree, for many products, especially glosses and eyeshadows, you can do better with indies and at the drugstore.

  • Sheila – Painted Ladies

    I have to tell you that I had a moment of makeup appreciation bliss when I saw the photo of the Fryinnae shadow. OMG, I die! I die for that shadow! Just my luck their store would be down at the moment!

  • Jean

    Just realized that for all the “wonderful” LE products MAC released last year, only 2 of them (a pressed powder & a mascara) made Sheila’s “Best Of 2011” lists. Maybe MAC itself should be LE. =<

  • Jean

    I should clarify: only 2 MAC products (I realize that the powder & mascara aren’t LE) made her lists. But MAC released several *ahem* “wonderful” LE products in 2011. And maybe even some core products too; I don’t keep up.

  • http://hazardsofbeauty.blogspot.com/ Seph

    I spent god knows how long just sort of assuming that MAC were clearly the best; I drank the kool-aid. I didn’t own much, as until very recently I never had any money at all ever, but I took it on trust that MAC was where it was at and as soon as I could afford to I may as well just but their whole range as there was no point going anywhere else.

    And then I actually *did* have enough money to wear something other than Collection 2000 and Miss Sporty, and I still don’t own much MAC. An eyeshadow a friend gave me, a lipstick I bought dirt cheap off ebay. I think that’s about it. Because I got straight into indie and the beauty blogs, and went OMG THIS IS WHERE IT’S AT. 99% of the things I own and wear are still from Superdrug, but when I do splash out I am infinitely more likely to go Fyrinnae than MAC.

  • Gabrielle

    I wanted to try MAC for years but couldn’t due to the price. Then when I found out that MAC didn’t even make their makeup from quality ingredients, and companies selling their stuff for a tiny fraction of the price DO, well, that cinched it for me. I get pigmented, gorgeous eyeshadows from indie companies, pay little to no shipping for them, don’t have to deal with a mall or a snotty sales clerk, and I get to know I’m putting something on my skin that isn’t bad for it.

  • http://www.gothic-charm-school.com Gothic Charm School

    I completely agree with what you’re saying about MAC. The product quality has dropped, and when they *do* make something interesting, it’s an LE product that will break your heart if you fall in love with it. (“Prince Noir” lipstick, I’m talking about you.)

  • http://www.littlemissmetamorph.blogspot.com Kristen

    I stopped buying MAC as soon as they were owned by Estee Lauder. I wont help that company profit whilst it profits from animal testing.
    The old MAC products i still have – eyeshadows mostly are still great.they have the old style label stuck on the back saying made in Canada.
    They need to break ties with EL and become an indie company again.

  • Megan

    To be fair, Estee Lauder is on PETA’s Good List.

  • Megan


    How do you screw up a MISS PIGGY LE?!
    Seriously-I can think of 40 ways to make that fabulous.

  • Sheila – Painted Ladies

    The Miss Piggy LE was the ultimate jump the shark moment.

  • Megan

    I mean-it is MISS PIGGY the height of 70s glamor. Sequins, feather, glitter, big boobs and blonde hair-HELLO MAC?!

  • http://dlori-lesbellesfemmes.blogspot.com Dlori

    I am a MAC junkie and for years, whenever a LE series came out, I had to have every item in almost every color. Now, MAC products are simply BLAHHHHHHH. I agree with you 100% and I’m glad someone is finally addressing this issue. I know exactly why this company has gone downhill and yes, it has everything to do with the takeover of Estee Lauder. It used to be that MAC would release LE series maybe 4 times a year. Now, virtually every month, they are coming out with yet another series of products that we;ve seen many times before only the quality is not as good. They simply rename the products. I have now stopped purchasing MAC products this past year except for a few items here and there, and most of the time, I am going to return because they are nothing special. MAC used to be so reasonably priced but now their price is catching up to the other brands. They were high quality goods that were spectacular, great pigmentation and original. Now, they’re just more of the same old thing. Nothing that excites me. The palettes of yester year like the manolo products are gone. Now, MAC is blah and their prices are too high. They need to go back to their old formula where they release LE series 3-4 times a year and they limit it to only a certain amount of items. That’s what makes LE products so coveted. Now, if the product sells out immediately, they simply make more. What this does is they trick the consumer into rushing to buy the item saying they will only produce a certain amount and when they run out, no more will be produced. That’s what makes the items so valuable to all of us MAC junkies. But because the items sell out, they are now simply making more which devalues the LE items plus it shows we can no longer trust anything they tell us. This last year alone, they produced some beautiful eyeliners in the pot in blue, emeralds and maybe a copper. However, they produced the exact same colors twice this year and simply renamed them. I am now going through my purchases this past year and will be returning all the items that they said would be LE but turned out to be re released later in the year. I have spent way too much money trying to keep up with all their “NEW” products only to receive very mediocre products and after calculating all the money I spent on these items, including the bloggers products that they designed which were supposed to be LE, and which sold out immediately only to be restocked later. I had purchased about 3 of each item thinking they would become so rare but then, by restocking the items, they devalued the product. I won’t be bying any MAC until they go back to their old formula and start coming out with the type of LE products that got me hooked on the company. I’d rather purchase Dior or Chanel than MAC and the prices are becoming comparable. MAc, if you don’t start listening to your fans, you won’t have any left by the end of 2012. What teenager can afford to purchase a palette for $40. MAC used to gear their products to the youngsters although us grown ups became hooked also. But now, your target group will no longer be able to afford your products and the adulys can find better quality elsewhere. If you think that by simply rolling out the products will keep us buying, you need new advisors. Listen to those who purchase your goods. You’re destroying your own brand simply to try to make that extra buck.


  • Evelyn

    I totally agree with the others in saying MAC releases way too many collections a year and the quality is getting worse. I used to follow and get excited about the new collections but it was just too much so I decided instead of spending lots on MAC just to have the latest LE (plus I got tired of things selling out in a minute), I’d save and buy more consistently good pieces from other, if more expensive, companies. The items I’ve bought since from Guerlain & Chanel for example make me much happier than what’s coming out lately from MAC.

    Also, I’m tired of the overdone MUA at MAC counters. It’s as if they’re wearing every hue and product all at the same time. It’s not edgy anymore, it’s banal. I’d like to see them in edgy looks and in classic elegance, I think that would appeal to a wider range of customer too.

  • Megan

    I have loved MAC for their “function over form” esthetic, and I’ve liked that they have a good solid range of products that don’t break the bank like really high end brands do. My technique is to not even seriously consider the LE collection. I mean, it sounds nuts and hard to do, but its sort of interesting to gawk over the next collections like its a museum display, then move on. I’m really only interested in buying from their permanent range. That can be intimidating enough as it is, but it at least brings some order to the chaos!

  • Anne

    As a nail polish fanatic, I am often at the mall seeking out unique colors with good wear to add to my collection. I will occasionally shell out a fairly large sum if I am confident that the color and quality is beyond that of something I can get from a cheaper, mass market brand. This is why I do not own any MAC polishes; from the reviews I have read the polishes chip quickly. When I go to the MAC counter and stores there aren’t any colors that scream “special, you need this in your collection” they carry a fairly straight forward cooection of cremes and shimmers that I can easily purchase a duplicate of from a much cheaper brand.

  • http://adventuresinmissyland.blogspot.com Melissa

    Thank you Megan! I totally agree.

    I was a MAC whore back in the day and used to lust after all of the great LE releases like a crackwhore waiting for a fix.

    Now they have a million releases a year and half of them are re-promotes with nothing to really entice me. Granted, I have so much that I’m set for a long time, but still!

    There are many e-tailers that I’ve been giving my money to lately that surpass MAC in both quality and service. I’d rather support a small business and have great service and wonderful product.

    You know what else sucks at MAC now? Their MUA are more salespeople than artist. I used to frequent the MAC counter in Minneapolis and got to know a great MUA named Richard and he was wonderful. When I moved back to PA, I missed him so much because the women at counter I go to now are too pushy and too sales-y. I know you need to sell but MAC made it’s name based MUAs working there for them.

    Wish they’d get it together. I haven’t gotten anything from them in over a year.