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A Closer Look At The Subculture Controversy; What Really Happened?

If you're part of the beauty community, then you've probably heard of Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH for short). And if you've heard of ABH, then you've probably heard of the new Subculture palette, sister to the Modern Renaissance. The palette was finally released at the end of July, and has caused quite a storm since. If you're confused on what happened, or what to know what top beauty influencers and industry professionals think, then grab a cup of tea, sit down, and read on...

*Please note: there's been a huuuge amount of reviews, videos and comments put out there about this palette. I wish I could take the time to dissect all of the information, but in the spirit of maintaining my sanity, I chose to pull together the pieces I found most interesting and important to include. I give you my thoughts about what happened and why at the end of this post*

Let's start right at the beginning. The palette was already the center of a controversy even before it was in customers hands. Pictures of the palette were leaked online prematurely by a company employee (who was later fired). Twitter blew up for the first time over the Subculture palette and once the images circulated, people could hardly contain their excitement. The countdown to the release was on.

The excitement was short lived. Things began to crumble (see what I did there?) when the palette was released and popular beauty influencers began posting videos of their first impressions and reviews. The palette received a less than warm welcome from several large beauty influencers. YouTuber Alissa Ashley was the first to post a negative review and gain a large response. You can watch the video here, where she talked about how powdery and unblendable the shades are. I think it's worth mentioning here that in Alissa's initial YouTube video, she began the first impression/review very positively. Watching her video, I didn't get the feeling at all that she set out to intentionally leave a negative review. Later she took to Twitter to post a close up video, showing how much product was crumbling away as she brushed at the now visible pan.

It quickly became evident that Ashley wasn't alone in her views. Beauty influencers with substantial followings started posting their own videos consistently showing consistently patchy blending and a powdery texture. Comments also arose several times about how pigmented and difficult to use the shadows are, particularly in MannyMua's video (we'll come back to this later).

But it's not just influencers. Even consumers are having trouble using the product. If you've not seen it already, John Kuckian uploaded a video on the topic which is well worth the watch (you can see it here). He showed one of his subscribers using the palette and having an all round hard time. Kuckian also mentions Stephanie Nicole's video (here) which discusses how a more pigmented eyeshadow like those seen in the Subculture palette is harder to blend. His opinion is that the source of the issue is because of a  trade off ABH seems to have made, between having a more pigmented, harder to use product, rather than the opposite. He makes the point that in ABH's persuit of being the 'best' in pigmentation, they fell through when ensuring the product is blendable.

ABH boss Norvina was quick to step in, explaining that the manufacturing process is the reason for the powdery nature of the shadows; claiming that a new pressing process was to blame. Some people sensed a bit of sass when Norvina asks why someone would swirl a brush into a product until it hit pan. To be honest, I feel like it was some intended shade on her part. To be fair to Norvina, I'm sure she was getting frustrated with the mob and pitchforks coming after her on Twitter, and she maybe lashed out just a little. It is what it is.

Despite the product being apparently sub-par, the controversy was relatively drama free. That is, until another ABH employee rocked the boat (I'm sensing a pattern here...) by responding to negative reviews on Instagram by claiming customers simply had a lack of talent. Thecomments have now been deleted. Side note; I'm not sure why brand execs and employees think it's a good idea to slate customers online? Obviously this isn't Norvina's fault, but I can't figure out why this keeps happening! Remember the Z Palette drama? It NEVER ends well. So unprofessional!

YouTuber Wayne Goss also came to ABH's defence, posting a video (here) claiming that videos like Alissa Ashley's, showing the crumbly nature of the Subculture shadows, aren't totally honest. (I do feel like in the start of his video, Wayne was exaggerating quite a bit by saying Alissa was "really grinding" the brush into the product.) He tested his theory by swirling a brush into several popular high end eye shadows, which were also showing a high amount of kick up. While I appreciate that it's normal for eye shadows to behave like this, particularly when a brush is swirled into them, personally I'm not totally convinced. In Alissa's Twitter video it appeared as though she was using a light swiping motion rather than a swirl. If you look close enough you can see the hole in the shadow gets larger as she brushes, revealing more and more of the pan. Wayne also claimed that the eyeshadows in the Subculture palette are pure pressed pigments, which could explain their consistency, but he also admitted at that he had no evidence to support his theory. That being said, in Stephanie Nicole's video (here), she discusses how the Subculture palette contains less binders and more pigments in it's formula than it's sister, the Modern Renaissance, which is perhaps what Goss meant to say. Stephanie also said that people were perhaps having issues using the palette due to technique. She felt that being too heavy handed with both the amount of product and the brush, alongside primer choice, is the reason for patchy application.

By this point, there had been circulation of a theory that there was an inconsistency between batches, and that those with a 'bad' palette simply had a bad batch. Professional makeup artist and industry leader Kevin James Bennett (KJB) put this theory to rest on Facebook with his insider knowledge.

KJB also makes a very valid point about the manufacturing process; that in manufacturing colours are pressed separately and then assembled into a palette. So how can all the colours in one palette be bad, and perfectly fine in another? Wouldn't there only be one or two 'bad' shadows in a palette at most given the manufacturing process? But this means that there is no 'better' batch, the people with the 'better' palette are most likely better skilled to use the product. KJB believes that the formula of the Subculture palette is "challenging even for a pro makeup artist to manipulate", so of course consumers are having a hard time.

So, what are my thoughts on all of this?

I think that the idea that this is a difficult product for consumers to use is probably the most realistic. I don't believe that there was a manufacturing error made here, although I do believe that these shadows are more powdery than most others. I think that Norvina was probably aware when manufacturing that she was striking a deal to have a more pigmented yet harder to use product. I think it's understandable that she made that decision. In an industry were YouTube rules the beauty roost, the word 'pigmented' is tossed around A LOT as a buzzword, and it's easy to see why Norvina wanted her product to be the most 'pigmented' out there. I don't think she anticipated just how hard consumers were going to find it using the palette. I also think she deserves credit where it's due. She took a real hounding, especially on Twitter. People can be really, genuinely nasty, and she took a serious beating. While she might have thrown the tiniest bit of shade here and there, under the circumstances I think she handled the situation admirably well. She maintained that she was most concerned with keeping her paying customers happy. I think the next few weeks will determine her brand's future success - if customer care do their job right, she might be able to come out of this reasonably unscathed.

And finally, I think that this whole ordeal opened up the opportunity to have an interesting discussion about how seriously we should take product reviews. As Stephanie Nicole prefaced in her video (here), people experience products differently. The way someone does their makeup is incredibly personal, so perhaps we shouldn't put so much weight behind someone else's subjective opinion.

I'd like to take the opportunity to give an honorable mention to this video by Beauty News, who completely deconstructed the Subculture palette meticulously. They tested fallout before and after repressing, and had some interesting results. They also tested the product against others to see just how powdery the product is. The girls did a really great job with this video, kudos to them!

Let me know in the comments below what you think happened.
Have you tried the Subculture palette for yourself? 
What did you think?

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  1. Love the brand but yet had't heard about this controversy until now! Such an interesting post...
    Feel free to check out my latest post x

  2. This was such an informative, unbiased breakdown of everything that's happened! I think I'll be steering clear of this palette myself though...

    Jasmine xx

    Jasmine Talks Beauty

  3. I didn't know so much had gone down about this palette! I heard people complaining but didn't realise it was so bad! x

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