In terms of branding, MAC Cosmetics and Clinique could not be any more different. Clinque is fresh-faced, glowy, and natural. MAC is dramatic, artistic, and bold. But exactly HOW different are the brands when it comes to the IRL makeup experience?
They're both historically adored beauty names, and they're both known for their extensive counter services. So, why not put them both the ultimate makeup challenge?
I went undercover and had artists from Clinique and MAC give me a makeover — but not just any makeover. I had them both do my makeup for a big night out.
Here's what happened.
To get my makeup done at a MAC Cosmetics store or counter, I had to book an appointment, which I did online.
There are several options to choose from on MAC's "makeup services" page. You can select a makeup application for a specific amount of time or for a special occasion such as a party or wedding.
I booked a 30-minute session, which is no longer an option available under MAC's appointment selection. But here's the gist of my selection: A makeup artist has 30 minutes to create a look on top of the makeup the customer is already wearing. The artist's work comes free of charge with a minimum $30 purchase.
Based on that description, I went into my appointment wearing concealer set with a light layer of pressed powder foundation.
I told the MAC artist that I was meeting friends for a birthday celebration that would likely consist of a fancy dinner, drinks, and dancing. I was stunned by what he pulled off in 30 minutes.
Important side note: Neither he nor the Clinique artist had any idea that they were being tested and that their work would be documented here in this story.
This was an ~undercover~ mission.
The first thing he asked was whether I wanted the emphasis to be on my eyes or my lips. I chose the eyes because DUH, that's where all the drama is.
To compliment my eye color, my artist chose a dusky smoky eye using brown, gold, red, and black shadows, purposefully focusing the darker colors in my outer corners.
I told him to take some creative freedom with my face, and he delivered with a mascara technique I'd never even think of.
Before he put mascara normally on my lower lashes, he used the very edge of the applicator to create little dots along my lower lash line. He told me that it looks a little messy, but it'll make my makeup even more intense as it smudges throughout the night.
Damn. He really understood what I meant when I said I was "going out."
Despite his attention to detail on my eyes, my artist still had time to spare so he continued to add bronzer, highlighter, and lipstick for me, too.
Which was not necessarily a part of the application I had booked, so shout-out to that guy who shall remain anonymous.
The nude lipstick shade he chose — aptly named Mauve — was so flattering I ended up buying it as part of my required product purchase.
My other purchase was the false eyelashes the artist hand-selected and applied for me. I'm still reusing them weeks later.
The makeup felt VERY heavy, and I could practically feel it melting off once I stepped into the summer sun, but all in all, it was a very positive experience.
I never let other people do my makeup because I enjoy doing it myself too much, but I might return to MAC in the future for a special event if I need to stock up on products anyway.
I imagined Clinique would offer a drastically different experience, and I was right — down to the appointment booking itself.
Unlike MAC, Clinique operates entirely out of department store counters. Its website does have a store locator, but it does not have an online booking service — that made things a little difficult to plan.
To book an appointment at Clinique, I called my nearest Macy's, navigated its automated receptionist, and reserved a time for what the folks at the counter call a "Clinique makeover." This appointment has no given time window nor a pre-determined look. The artist's work also comes free of charge — all you have to do is buy any three Clinique items of your choice.
Due to the vagueness of all of this, I strolled up to the counter with a completely bare face.
I gave the Clinique artist the exact same vague description of my plans, and he completed this look in about an hour and 15 minutes.
This time, my artist started by cleansing, toning, and moisturizing my skin.
I should not have been surprised by this action, given Clinique's emphasis on skin care, but I was anyway.
He then did my entire face, starting with primer, matte foundation, concealer, bronzer and blush. He also filled in my microbladed brows sparingly.
While doing this, he asked me about my daily preferences rather than what I'd choose to wear for a night on the town. And despite the fact that I told him I needed a dramatic night look, he was light-handed with blush, bronzer, and highlighter.
The subtle highlighter, I noticed, was Laura Mercier — not Clinique.
When it came time to apply eye shadow, my artist grabbed soft-brown and dark-purple cream stick shadows and went to town.
He smudged the brown shade all over my lid but focused the purple just on the outer corner of the eye. To his credit, he spent full minutes blending these shadows together, but due to their cream consistency, they didn't budge much.
He handed me a mascara wand and said it'd be easier to apply mascara myself, which I didn't mind — but then it came time for eyeliner, and things got messy.
After minutes of attempting a sharp wing and using makeup remover to clean up his faults, he enlisted another Clinique employee to help.
The employee he asked to apply my liner did so without issue, but you can blatantly see the smudges left from the makeup remover.
Before searching for a lipstick, my artist asked if I wanted a light or dark lip. This neutral pink was his response to, "dark, why not? I'm going out."
And this "dark lip" is lighter than the neutral lip I received at MAC. Certainly not dark by night-makeup standards.
I left the Clinique counter with a hint of disappointment but also a bag full of skin care products — because my skin did feel phenomenal.
Naturally, this simple look felt a lot more comfortable than MAC's, but comfort is my last concern when I'm trying to look good on a glamorous night out. If I was actually heading to a birthday party or an important event in this, I'd be disappointed. The look was near perfect for my regular day in the office — but should it have taken over an hour to achieve it? I'm still wondering.
That being said, I would not return to Clinique for makeup application, especially for an event that requires looking bold. Skin care tips, on the other hand? I'm all ears.
The differences really speak for themselves. Two wildly different brands served two wildly different looks, both of which have their advantages.
But if you're looking for drama, the clear choice is MAC.
And let's be honest, if you're going out, you're going to want drama. At least, on your face, anyway.