Until around a year ago, I believed there were people who loved makeup and those who didn’t. I believed that those who loved makeup had their own reasons why they enjoyed it, but that they were content to use what they liked and leave what they didn’t.
I was so wrong. The palette that showed me how wrong was Subculture.
It feels like this palette has never been uncontroversial. It started with the leaked photos, moved on to the formula problems, escalated to the brand bashing and it feels like only since Soft Glam has come out that people are forgiving Anastasia Beverly Hills.
My own take on all the drama is that Subculture was doomed to fail by Modern Renaissance. That palette was just so good that to better it would require massive innovation and bold moves. That’s what Norvina and the team went for, and unfortunately it seems like they went to far.
I’ll admit that it caught my eye almost as soon as I saw that first leaked grainy picture. It was so different to brown and pink. It had a range of super deep shades in the most unusual colours. I was enthralled.
But I also was afraid to spend the money. I didn’t own any ABH products and if they were not to my taste it would be a huge disappointment. I took the plunge with Modern Renaissance and when I loved that, I knew that I would love Subculture as well.
Too bad no one else seemed to agree.
I remember watching video after video of YouTube influencers talking about all the flaws in the palette – the excessive kickback, the terrible blending, the oxidisation. I was stunned. It was utterly disappointing that such a unique and inspiring palette could be so bad.
The only positive review I found was Stephanie Nicole. She enjoyed using the palette, but did mention that it required a very specific technique and was quite time consuming. More negatives – and damning ones. I may be a fan, but I’m very much an amateur. New techniques? No thank you. I spend 1/3 of my life at work and I’m not willing to sacrifice extra time on my eyeshadow just to make it work.
That should have been the end of it, but then I watched Lisa Stevens review. Without a doubt, she is one of the influencers I trust the most. She has not yet given a recommendation that has failed me. And she liked it! I noticed that both she and Stephanie Nicole (Nicole Renee Cutter also had a positive review under the same conditions) had used the palette for a few weeks before giving their reviews, while most of the bad ones came from first impressions. I started to wonder.
All of that meant nothing however when I first saw the palette. I walked into Sephora and it just drew me in. The vivid brights, the deep darks and the gorgeous duochromes were just too much. I took a moment to swatch a shade and then bought it. It was absolutely irresistible.
The first look I did with it, I prepared myself for disaster. I did my eyes before my face (unusual for me), I used my softest brushes, and I gave myself plenty of time to take it off, cry and start again. Turns out, I needed none of that. The look was light and beautiful and just effortless. I was in love.
I then made two mistakes – I didn’t swatch everything, and I decided this was going to be easy.
The next look I tried to do was meant to be a green with bronze accents. I used destiny, mercury and axis and ended up with a mess. It was unsalvageable. It was awful. I had to remove it and start again. Just disastrous.
So when I went for a third look, I was cautious again. And it came out quite well. It was a lovely purple toned look that was quintessentially me. I’m a huge fan of the smoky eye and this one was just great.
I used the shadows for a full two weeks and had a very mixed experience. Every time I used the lighter shades or shimmers, I enjoyed it. Whenever I ventured into the darker half of the palette it just became a mess, no matter what I did. So I pulled in the other ABH palettes to try and help. I got quite a decent green look out of it with some shades forom both Prism and Modern Renaissance, but it was not the most inspiring combination.
So what’s the problem? Is it the formula? Perhaps.
These swatches of the top row are done with my fingers without primer. The colours are beautiful, but they are not true to what’s in the pan. They are more saturated.
The swatches in the bottom row show the other problem. The effect looks similar to a smear of cheap watercolor paint drying. Very deep centrally but in a halo of dull. And this translates to the eyes.
The colours blend away without remaining true to the shade. For the lighter colours that’s fine. It makes them forgiving and buildable. For the darker colours, it leaves shadows all over. It doesn’t play well with various shades. The smallest variation in shade from pan to eye is disastrous because the effect will be a mess. You cannot blend it out. You cannot add a lighter colour to soften because they don’t hold. It makes tiny mistakes far more serious.
So do I regret buying it? I’m still not sure. I’ve swopped it out without reattempting the green-bronze look that I was so keen on. Even though I know mercury would make for a gorgeous purple eye, I was too nervous to use it again. Which means I have essentially been creating looks I could have done with most of my other palettes.
And yet, I still see the potential in there. I still see the amazing looks that would be so unique.
I cannot in all honesty recommend anyone other than a truly passionate makeup lover buy this palette. It requires patience and a real desire to push your boundaries. But I’ve honestly not seen anything on the market that’s as inspired and different. It’s absolutely unique.