Ulta Artistry Kit & The Myth Of The Dupe
Dupes are something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while but I was having a lot of difficulty framing the topic beyond ‘yeah, they usually don’t exist’. Not that I don’t want them to – it’s just that most times I’ve heard of a product being a dupe, my hopes were dashed when I actually compared it to the real thing (with one or two exceptions). But then last week I stumbled across the Ulta Artistry Eye Shadow Kit on the interwebz, and if there’s ever been a more blatant attempt to copy another brand’s product, I’m not sure I’ve seen it. The palettes in this set are clearly supposed to be similar to the Hourglass Modernist eyeshadow palettes, so they’ve given me the perfect context for the subject.
For those uninitiated into the internet makeup community: a ‘dupe’ is a product that is similar enough to replace another (usually more expensive) item. The problem you run into if you’re searching for a dupe of such-and-such thing is that rarely is the ‘dupe’ actually a really good replacement. A lot of the time the conversation stops at color, which is fine if color is really all you care about. If you throw in similar packaging (or in this case, palette layout) or ingredient lists on top of that, suddenly people are passionately proclaiming that they’re exactly the same thing and the makeup companies are trying to pull one over on us by slapping a brand label on it and charging four times as much. Note: I’m not saying that the brand’s image is never a factor in price or that high-end cosmetics are inherently superior, just that similar color and packaging do not a dupe make. So let’s talk a little bit about the differences between these and the Hourglass palettes (and sneak in a review of the Artistry Kit in the process).
The most obvious dupe-y-ness (and the most obvious differences) are in the palette layout and packaging. Each one has all the shades pressed into one pan in a sort of sand-dune pattern. The cases they come in are hugely different though – Hourglass has their typical sleek compact and the Ulta palettes are in a smaller, lighter-weight plastic compact with a clear window on the lid. The Ulta version also comes with sponge-tip applicators.
Packaging is one of the biggest sacrifices with less expensive dupes, and probably the most worthwhile cost-saving measure. After all, if the product inside is just as good, who cares if the packaging isn’t as pretty? At least, as long as it’s still functional – with cheaper materials there’s more risk of defects & non-user-error breakage. The Ulta compacts don’t have that luxurious look and feel that Hourglass does, but they feel sturdy and the clear window is helpful when you’re rummaging through drawers for the one you want.
If Ulta was trying to mimic the colors in the Hourglass Modernist palettes (particularly Graphite, Color Field and Exposure) then I’m pretty sure they’ve succeeded – the Artistry Kit is practically a dead-on copy. If you just wanted a color dupe of the Modernist palettes, this is pretty much all you need.
But is it, really? Sadly I don’t own these three Hourglass palettes to do side-by-side swatches, but there are two things I always try to keep in mind when I’m looking for a replacement: complexity and color payoff. I’m talking things like, does one have shimmer that matches the eyeshadow color while the other has generic silver? Are the undertones similar? Small differences like that can change the effect once you actually get it on your skin. Add in the issue of pigmentation (is one opaque and the other is sheer?) and you can wind up with two similar products that look completely different as worn.
I can’t really talk about the different nuances in color, but there’s a pretty big gap in pigmentation between the Ulta and Hourglass palettes. When I was doing swatches I had an extremely hard time getting some of them to show up, even ones that aren’t close to my skin tone. On a couple of them I added swipes of nude eyeliner around the lightest swatch to show where I put the powder, because it’s practically invisible. The color payoff was wildly inconsistent (except the mattes, they’re all pretty bad) so I labeled each swatch with the number of swipes it took to make the color visible. These are all over bare skin.
And then compare that to the Hourglass palette (Infinity). The top row is one swipe of each Hourglass color (the first shade is very close to my skin tone and a bit sheer, so it’s hard to see); the bottom is the Ulta purple palette. To get the about the same intensity I had to work much harder:
Texture, application & wear
But for me, the real test of a dupe – and this is the part that makes or breaks it – is the formula. Getting the same(ish) color in a more basic version of the packaging is all good and well, but what’s it like when you actually go to use the dupe? When I posted swatches of this kit on instagram, Avery Mae described some of them as tragic (I totally agree) and that’s really the only word I can use for the texture on some of these.
For what it’s worth, I know a lot of people really dislike the Modernist eyeshadows and while I disagree wholeheartedly (at least about the one I have), I do understand why. The Hourglass shadows are extremely soft, so they can kick up a lot of powder as you use them and I’ve noticed some fallout with certain brushes. But on the flip side of that, you only need a little bit of product and they almost blend themselves. I consider that a fair trade-off and I really like them.
The Ulta shadows, on the other hand. Remember how I said the pigmentation was wildly inconsistent? It’s got nothing on the formula. I don’t usually go through and talk about palettes shade by shade because it feels redundant, but this one time when I just have to.
1 – Pale, shimmery cream. The color itself shows up nicely, but it’s sort of gritty and doesn’t adhere well to the lid. I used this one on the mobile part of my lid, and by the time I finished my makeup most of it had faded off.
2 – Matte mauve. It feels very stiff and it’s a little tough to build up to the color in the pan. It’s better than most of the other matte shades as far as blending goes.
3 – Plummy brown. The powder isn’t what I’d call finely-milled, and the large-ish shimmer particles had quite a bit of fallout. The pigmentation is nice though.
4 – Aubergine shimmer. The shimmers are a bit finer, but the powder is still fairly coarse.
5 – Brownish mauve with a few shimmers. This shade is so close to #2 on the skin that I don’t actually understand why it’s there. Application is very patchy.
Overall this palette is ok. The blendability (is that a word? it is now) isn’t awful, but nothing special either. It looked really good freshly applied, but faded very quickly.
1 – Matte cream. The color should be something along the lines of Laura Mercier Vanilla Nuts, but I couldn’t get a heavy enough swatch to tell, even by scraping some out of the pan. It’s a very hard texture so I wasn’t able to pick up much product (with fingers or a brush) and what little there is doesn’t apply evenly. Unusable.
2 – Yellow gold shimmer. It’s fairly soft and applies smoothly.
3 – Bronze shimmer. Like the gold, the texture is soft and smooth, and the pigmentation is good. Blending is also pretty easy.
4 – I like to call this ‘ninja turtle green’. It has a yellow base that shows up when the light hits it in certain ways. Definitely the most interesting shade in this set, and easy to use.
5 – Deep moss green with gold shimmer. It goes on a little bit patchy but blends well.
The green palette is far and away the best one in the set in terms of pigmentation and texture, even considering the useless matte base color. Putting it on didn’t provoke any swearing, and it didn’t fade much over the course of the day.
1 – Pinkish matte. See the description for #1 in the green palette above – the base color in the blue palette is equally terrible.
2 – Coppery gold. OMFG, glitter bomb everywhere. I was glad I did my eyes first when I used this one, because I had to re-wash my whole face (and even then there were a few specks left). The color shows up well, but it’s gritty and not at all worth the trouble.
3 – Matte chocolate. It looks really amazing in the pan, but it’s so hard and so unpigmented that it doesn’t show up at all on my skin if I try to use it with a brush. Even the swatch above was five passes of me grinding my finger into it before I eventually gave up.
4 – Slate blue shimmer. The color payoff is good, but the powder itself is gritty, patchy and impossible to blend.
5 – Pale champagne shimmer. Again, a pretty color but it disappeared from my eyes almost instantly.
I didn’t test this one for a full day because it is bar none the worst eyeshadow palette I’ve ever used. I blended until my skin was irritated, and the picture above is what I ended up with. I took it off and wore something different that day.
Not even close. On the surface the Ulta Artistry Kit palettes look like they could actually be the exact same product in a different compact, but the difference in quality is night and day. This one is going straight back to Ulta.
The Ulta Artistry Eye Shadow Kit ($20) is available at ulta.com (discontinued)