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Human nature dictates that you can slap a designer name on almost anything and people will buy it, but that qualifier certainly doesn’t make a product good. This is true of beauty just as it is of fashion: It’d be pretty easy for well-known designers to release makeup to the public that, while far more expensive than anything you’d find at the drugstore, just isn’t all that great.
It’s redeeming, then, that in our experience, most designer beauty brands work hard to make their products worthy of their name. If you’re going to splurge, you want it to be on something that’s worth your hard-earned cash. We can personally attest to the quality of the following six brands, but you may be surprised by some of our recommendations. Let’s just say that they’re more deep cuts than cult favorites.
The cult favorite: Nail polish.
The scoop: Even if you didn’t buy it when it debuted in 1995, odds are you’re aware that Chanel’s Vamp nail lacquer single-handedly kicked off the public’s obsession with cult products (by the year 2000, it was the fifth best-selling nail polish on the planet.) Chanel clearly got the memo, and subsequently released other moody, modern shades like Black Satin, Particulière, and Jade, making the brand the go-to for designer nail polish.
Worth the splurge? As much as we’re crazy about the colors Chanel releases season after season, we’ve found that the formula tends to chip more quickly than we’d like. So, instead of heading straight for the polish bottles every time we hit the Chanel counter, we’d rather save up a little (okay, a lot) to splurge on their skincare.
The wide range of thick, luxurious creams, anti-aging serums, tinted sunscreens has made us lifelong fans, and—if you’re a newbie—we suggest starting with the travel-sized trifecta of Chanel Le Jour, La Nuit, and Le Weekend ($98) to get a taste for how good the stuff really is.
Dolce & Gabbana
The cult favorite: Lipstick.
The scoop: Dolce & Gabbana was founded in 1985, but the boys behind the Italian fashion house waited over two decades to debut an eponymous cosmetics line. It didn’t take much time for their lipsticks to gain a devoted following of celebrities and beauty insiders—and with their comfortable formulas, wide range of colors, and the kind of weighty gilded packaging any girl would die to display on her dresser, the collection proved itself to be well worth the delay.
Worth the splurge? Totally—but if you asked us personally which Dolce & Gabbana beauty offering we’re most partial to above all, it would be the Dolce & Gabbana The Brow Liner ($45), which encompasses everything one could ever ask for from a brow-perfecting product. The liner has the perfect angled tip for filling in sparse areas and a soft, powdery finish that looks totally natural, and the spiral spoolie brush speaks for itself. Perfect eyebrows in a pencil? Take our money. All of it.
The cult favorite: Mascara.
The scoop: Arguably the most recognizable mascara to ever hit shelves, Diorshow inspires an almost concerning level of devotion in those who swear by it for lush, dark, voluminous lashes. Pressed on by its popularity, it’s since taken on more than one iteration, with eleven different offerings under the Diorshow name, and the original was recently reformulated with the addition of conditioning microfibers for a “lash extensions” effect.
Worth the splurge? Depends on what you’re looking for. Diorshow does come in a waterproof version, but the OG version runs like the devil when exposed to even the slightest amount of moisture. For our part, we’ll skimp on high-end mascara and save it for the brand’s lip colors instead, namely Dior Addict Lipstick ($35). Glossy but not overly shiny, long-wearing but so moisturizing you’ll want to apply it over and over again.
The cult favorite: Foundation.
The scoop: Whether you’re into the full, airbrushed coverage of Kardashian favorite Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ($62) or the sheer, seamless finish of Giorgio Armani Face Fabric ($51), those who have a vested interest in perfect-looking skin are ride-or-die for Armani’s best-in-class base products. They’re innovative—Giorgio Armani Maestro Foundation ($64) kicked off the “fusion” foundation trend—and come in tons of colors to cover all the bases, so it’s not hard to see why they’ve amassed so many fans.
Worth the splurge? Unequivocally, yes. Naturally flawless skin may not be a thing that is attainable in reality, but you can certainly achieve the appearance of it when armed with one of Armani’s winners. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The cult favorite: Lipstick.
The scoop: We’ve never tried anything from Tom Ford that we’d take a hard pass on, but the prices are a bit restricting—owning a full color wardrobe of $50+ lipstick can be hard to justify. That said, we’ll hoard as many as we can get, because the lush formulations and dreamy textures make each one a pleasure to apply. It’s a splurge for a reason, and these lipsticks are not to be missed, as much as we’d like to pretend that nobody really needs a $52 lipstick. (Of course we do.)
Worth the splurge? All things Tom Ford are worth it, but if we’re going to cash out on something that has nothing else like it on the market, it should be Tom Ford Shade & Illuminate ($80). Regardless of whether or not you can contour, this straightforward pair makes creating definition and drawing light to the face a breeze. Mr. Ford knows what’s up.
Yves Saint Laurent
The cult favorite: Touche Éclat ($42).
The scoop: Not only is Touche Éclat far and away the beauty product YSL is most known for, but it’s also one of the best-selling of all time. All too easily (and frequently) mistaken for a concealer, the unique click-brush pen is intended solely to “add light” to the face—it brightens up shadows and dark circles, makes eyes look wider when applied in the inner corners, and reflects light on the high points on the face. Is it a highlighter? Well, kind of, but it’s other things, too.
Worth the splurge?: Sure is! As long as you embrace Touche Éclat for what it is—a punched-up highlighter that plays best worn over a foundation and underneath concealer to add natural-looking radiance to the face—and not what some expect it to be, which is a concealer, there’s really no better addition to your makeup bag. Lots of competitors purport to offer similar benefits, but we recommend sticking with the original for best results.