Review: Hourglass Extreme Sheen High Shine Lip Gloss in Siren, Truth, Primal

By Voxy  

I’m not quite sure what to make of Hourglass, and I’m not sure Hourglass is quite sure what to make of Hourglass either. Which is probably part of the problem.

For the record, the problem doesn’t seem to be with the quality of the products themselves, but with the packaging and marketing strategies. You know the saying “a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee”? Yeah, well, most of Hourglass’ products seem to be packed in camels. Fortunately they don’t spit at you when you open them.

Packaging, which includes not just the swankiness of the box the thing comes in but also the design of the product container and the delivery mechanism, the choice of typefaces and graphic elements, and the overall look and presentation of the product, should be an visual translation of the brand message. Well, not “should be,” I guess — it is a visual translation of the brand message. Based on the unholy mess of design elements going on, the brand message that Hourglass seems to be sending at the moment is “We’re confused.” And given the price point on most of Hourglass’ products, “confused” is something they really cannot afford to be.

They have a certain typeface for the brand name. It’s sort of Art Nouveau. Great. But this appears to be just a logotype or wordmark — it is used consistently for the brand name when the brand name is imprinted on products, but nothing else in the packaging uses that font. But OK, I’m now prepared to see Hourglass as Art Nouveau: curvaceous, slightly decadent, sensual, Maxfield Parrish, you get the idea.

Then we see the words “extreme sheen” that are written in Gothic blackletter. Uh, wait. Didn’t we just say Art Nouveau? Curvaceous? Decadent? That doesn’t go with blackletter at all. Plus, Kat von D sort of already cornered the market with blackletter product names. See?

So you’re Art Nouveau and also … goth? Or, wait, you want to be Kat von D. Or, you didn’t do your research. Either way, you already have two animals in your design cage that don’t play well together (one of which immediately makes me think of another company, which is probably not a good marketing ploy).

Then there’s a third typeface on the front of the package (you now have at least one too many by most design standards), and it’s a plain sans-serif — in all caps for some reason, which just adds to the confusion, especially since the “extreme sheen” portion is all lowercase. What’s that doing there? And which way do you mean for me to hold the darn box? If I hold it horizontally, I can read the brand name and your sans-serif text. If I hold it vertically, I can read the “extreme sheen” portion of the product name and the fact that it is 7 g/0.24 oz.

I don’t think I should really have to choose, do you?

On to the product container itself: OK, going with the darkened copper chrome for the cap, very sophisticated. But did it occur to you that that color looks pretty gosh-darn awful when it’s butted up against any shade of pink or red, which are largely the colors of the glosses we’re going to see in that tube? Also, did you copy your product design from Urban Decay? It’s got the length of a Lip Junkie gloss but the flatness of a Pocket Rocket. (To your credit, at least yours don’t have pictures of men in their underwear on them, so yay you.)

On the other hand, I do see that you’re trying to create a package that has a different feel to it than any other. The UD glosses are squeezy tubes while yours is rigid and comes with a flattened doe-foot applicator. OK, I give you points for effort. But you know how I can tell which gloss is the Hourglass one when I reach into my bag — which routinely contains, on average, 18 lip products? It’s the one that keeps slipping out of my hands because it’s an unwieldy shape. It’s therefore the last one I pull out, so if I’m at all impatient, I’ve already decided something else in my bag will do and I stop hunting. I see, by the way, that this wasn’t the original package design for the extreme sheen HIGH SHINE LIP GLOSS (hey, just want to be sure I get your capitalization correct). I therefore conclude that you went to this one because you thought it was an improvement.

I also think that you went to this packaging to mimic the look of your other gloss, the Prodigy hydrating lip gloss. This one, for readers who have not seen it, is roughly the height and width of a credit card, and less than 1/2″ thick at its thickest point (like the extreme sheen HIGH SHINE LIP GLOSS, it tapers at both ends). Apparently, Hourglass touts the shape as being “perfectly contoured to fit into the palm of the hand” — because that’s where I hold a lipgloss when I’m applying it, in my palm — and also mentions it could be discreetly slipped into a pocket. Because:

a) I buy pants that have pockets on the ass
b) I would want to keep something in those pockets on my ass
c) What I would really like to keep in the pocket on my ass is LIPGLOSS.

And no, it’s not any better if you are talking about pockets in the front. Other bloggers may have been drawn in by the packaging hype, but I’m not one of those other bloggers, and the audience for this blog isn’t like the audience for other blogs. Someone needs to give the marketing folks a serious talking to. (The website, by the way, is another design disaster, for some of the same reasons. A high-end line needs to aim higher than that.)

Now that the marketing folks are done cringing, let me get on to the portion of the review that will make the product developers and formulators happy — it’s a great lip gloss. Really. I like it very much. It’s non-sticky and it smells like cake batter. So that just wins me over right there.

I purchased it in Siren first and then went back for two more shades, Truth and Primal. Siren, pictured at the top of the page, is fire-engine red. When worn on its own, it’s easy to get opaque coverage (actually, when worn on its own, it’s hard not to get opaque coverage). It wears well and doesn’t stain, which is surprising given how bright the color is. I can easily see adding it to my red-lippie rotation during the holiday season; right now I primarily wear it by dotting it on top of another lippie or gloss, which kicks up the color of what’s underneath and lets me get a more sheer version of Siren. In this role it is very versatile and I’ve been wearing it a lot.

Truth is a MLBB shade; it’s very close to my natural lip color and also wears very well. Because it’s so close to my natural lip color, I should probably wear a lip pencil under it to be sure that there’s no visual bleed effect at the lip line. (I didn’t do that in the photo below.)

Primal is a very lovely raspberry color. It will be excellent in the late summer and fall to get you through that weird period where summer things no longer feel quite right but you’re not ready for wine-colored lipsticks or blackberry glosses.

Wearlength on all three of these colors is pretty good. So, overall, the packaging has some identity issues, but what’s inside it is worth buying.


Siren (and by the way you have no idea how difficult it was to get this picture, since the tube has a beveled edge that makes it near impossible to balance it on the edge by itself, let alone with a box on top of it — if the whole blogging thing doesn’t work out, maybe I could make a living stacking Zen rocks):

Hand swatch of Siren:

Hand swatch of Truth (L), Primal (R). I swear the above and below photos are of the same hand in the same light tent. Still workin’ on those skillz.

Naked lip:

Lip with Siren:

Lip with Truth:

Lip with Primal:


Hourglass Extreme Sheen high Shine Lip Gloss in Siren, Truth, Primal: $28

Provenance: Purchased

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Fair to Good.

Purchase again? Yes, but I really hope they put some serious thought into branding and design.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Give a holler in the comments!)

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  1. avatar iamcomicsans
    Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hi Voxy,
    Love your reviews! I agree that the packaging is a bit much, but there is actually a historical link between art nouveau type and blackletter in the German-speaking lands around 1900. Otto Eckmann and Peter Behrens, among many others, both designed blackletter-Jugendstil hybrids. Rather than appearing at the vanguard of modernity, most of these types dated very quickly, though. I’m guessing the marketing people at Hourglass wouldn’t know Eckmann if he rose from the dead and bit them in the a$$, though.

    I rarely get to use my knowledge of typefaces, and since I’m underemployed, I kind of wish one of these companies would hire me as a consultant. But, maybe I’ll license your review for use in a coursepack next time I teach my 20th-c. design class, to demonstrate that history actually matters!


    • avatar Voxy
      Posted June 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Permalink | Reply

      You. Are. Awesome.

      I’m going to look up those hybrid typefaces just to see them. Thanks for the info! I agree that it still doesn’t seem like an informed decision on Hourglass’ part — and even if it was, choosing a typeface that makes at least some part of the target audience immediately think of another line is, well, unwise.

      It would be fabulous to work as a consultant on packaging design for cosmetics. I wonder how you get into that line of work.


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