Posted on Sunday, at • 72 views
This is a unique case: the phoenix that rose from the ashes. Aromaleigh had been closed, sold, and re-opened with new management, so I'm actually going to do this review twice: once for my memories of the store-that-was (partially so that people can understand the love that I and many others have for the Aromaleigh v1 products) and again for the store-that-is. There were some customer service issues with Aromaleigh v1 and some drama that ultimately lead to its closing. I'm going to let folks flex their search-engine muscles and research that, because it mostly affected and involved folks who got emotionally invested in the fandom or anti-fandom of Aromaleigh.
When Aromaleigh re-opened, I was initially thrilled: Aromaleigh v1 had higher-than-average prices, but the products were likewise higher-than-average, so in my mind they were definitely worth it. When Aromaleigh re-opened as “v2”, the range was limited, and the prices were still high, and the initial collections' quality was not what I remembered from Aromaleigh v1; but I had hopes. After two years, the product range has expanded considerably. They've even recently reduced prices across the board, for all eyeshadows. But the product quality is still not what v1 was, and I'm beginning to think that it might never become so.
In its first incarnation, Aromaleigh had a pretty good run. I was only really aware of Aromaleigh from late 2008, so I'm not going to try to bother with re-telling Aromaleigh's history. All I can speak to is my experiences with the store and the products from 2008 through its closure in 2010.
Over a dozen eyeshadow collections were part of the regular line, and intentionally or unintentionally the collections were grouped by finish: the Pure Eyes Frosts, the Carolina Summer Mattes, the Elemental and Opulent Lustres (metallics)...you get the picture. I liked it because if I wanted to pick up several good quality metallic finish colors, I knew exactly where to go. If I wanted to try some mattes...again, I knew exactly which collections to look at. And since these were collections rather than kits, a person could zero in on the one or two colors they liked and not buy the others, if that was the preference. The blushes weren't necessarily sorted by finish - I think they might have been grouped by opacity, or some other factor. But there were fewer blush collections, and as far as I can recall, only eyeshadows were released in the LE offerings. There were no LE blushes. I think the lip products were grouped by theme: the Rocks! Sonic tints, the Gothic Lolitas, the Botanicals...again, no LE lip products. I never tried the foundations or finishing powders, but I did fall hard in love with the Coquille Vert color correcting powder (which I used under my foundation, not over it.) The foundations were divided into three formulas, and there was a pretty wide range - including some near-pure-white foundations. There were a few resold products, like the brushes and the indelible eye shadows and gel liners; but most products were made in-house. The prices for the eyeshadows were a little bit high (they were edging close to the prices for BE shadows), but there were weekly 25% sales which made things a bit more affordable. The store was easy to navigate, with products broken down into categories, then into collections. There were large photos on each page, fairly good straightforward descriptions of the colors, and sample-, full-size, and set-purchase pages were all crosslinked. The main background was dark, but the content itself was all on a white background so the site was very clear and easy to read.
As I've said, the site was well organized and products were easy to find. Actually buying the products went smoothly, as well: I can't recall ever having any "cart dropout" issues while shopping Aromaleigh's webstore. The store was a Yahoo Merchant solution, and while they did take Paypal as their processor and that's what I used most frequently, I never had the "transaction drop" issues that I've occasionally experienced on other sites. To the best of my memory, whenever a collection was marked as being on sale for that week, the prices always reflected the sale discount.
The full-size products that I purchased all had sifter-seals, and were in bags or wrapped in tissue paper. Any in-transit spillage was very minimal. For a while, the three free samples included with every order would often include a sample of a lip product...which was how I came to begin buying the lip tints, because I had a few samples to check texture and color payoff. Shipping time was always pretty quick - I think that most orders I placed arrived at my door in 10 calendar days or fewer. One time when I received a damaged lip product, and another time when I received the incorrect item, I emailed customer service and asked for either a refund or a replacement for the problem items. I got my replacements both times. I don't know for sure why I never had bad customer service interactions with the owner of Aromaleigh during its first incarnation - possibly because I wasn't active on the blog or the fan forums? - but my interactions with Aromaleigh for problems with some items in a few orders were resolved smoothly and professionally. (I know that for some, this was not always the case.)
The products I purchased included eyeshadows, blushes, lip tints, and the Coquille color corrector powders. Consistency, color payoff, and longevity was consistently high across all the Aromaleigh products I purchased, with one caveat: the colors in the collections released toward the end of v1's lifespan (Wonderstruck, Spells, Astronomical, Mythos) didn't seem to have the same depth and opacity of previous collections' shades.
Aromaleigh's combined product variety and quality were, as far as I know and as far as I have compared, umatched in the indie MMU sphere. Primer, concealer, foundation, night treatment, finishing powder, blush, glow powders, eyeshadow, lip colors, perfumes, even some private-label (or resold) gel liners...all in a wide variety of shades and finishes. The prices were on the higher end for indie makeup, but for the most part, the quality was amazing - easily meeting or exceeding corporate MMU vendors like Bare Escentuals.
When the closing was announced, some commented (with equal mixtures of hope and cynicism) that Aromaleigh would be back...and it is. The company is under new management, with the former head of the company on board as the creative / product director and with others handling the day-to-day operations. It hasn't been operational all that long, and new products are still being added to the line (new-new products, as well as reintroductions of products from Aromaleigh's previous incarnation.)
Initial site organization is much similar to the old: collections are all available on one page, sample-purchase pages are cross-linked, and the photography is good. The site branding appears to have added the 'vintage photography / artwork' angle, which is an addition from the previous visual branding. It's done in such a way that it only adds, doesn't detract in any way. The product photography is still front-and-center, on the collection pages. Aromaleigh has recently (in the past few months) expanded the line to include the reformulated foundations, finishing powder, some glow powders, and just last week its first blush collection - so as of yet, there are not 'category' landing pages for foundations, primers/finishing powders, eyeshadows, et cetera like there were previously. In broad strokes, the design is similar: colored background for the overall pages, white for the central content, a header bar, a site search. There have been a few design tweaks, but nothing that marks the current Aromaleigh site as markedly dissimilar to the site-at-closing.
The shopping experience is the same. They still use Yahoo's merchant tools as their cart software and payment processor, so except for the currently-smaller variety of products to choose from, the shopping experience is much the same as during v1's tenure.
I have placed about half a dozen orders with Aromaleigh v2. The packaging is the same as previous, both for samples and for full-size products. Shipping has been roughly similar, though perhaps closer to 10 calendar days (which still falls within their stated 4-6 business day timeframe.)
I have purchased from two of the truly-new eyeshadow collections: Fall Tapestry, and Starry Night. The colors that I selected lived up to my expectations, with one exception (Marni was both less opaque and less vivid than I expected, given both the inspiration and the on-site swatch photography.) I've placed an order for several samples from the new Sylph blush collection, but since these are all matte/satin and I personally prefer my blushes to have a touch of shimmer, I think I'll hold off ordering any full-size blushes until the next collection comes out. (I reserve the right to change my mind once I get the samples in my hands and see how the colors actually look, though. I ordered just over a dozen of the Aromaleigh v1 blushes, from various collections, and while there are some that I like less than the others, I liked all of the ones that I got. I can't decide whether my favorite is Wildflower, Candy-O, Borealis, or Sweetheart.) I do wish that they were continuing to carry the Coquille color-correcting powders. I did try the new Alchemilia Glamored powder, but was not as happy with how it works with my coloring as I am with the Coquille Vert. I'm looking forward to the line expanding, looking forward to the new offerings that Aromaleigh will have for us. And while I use another indie company's foundation and love it, and don't have the chemical-sensitivity issues that made so many women thrilled that Aromaleigh's foundation caused them no problems and dismayed them when Aromaleigh v1 announced its closure, I'm glad for their sakes that the foundation is back.
UPDATE: As of December 2013, I have purchased from multiple Aromaleigh v2 collections, including their blushes and glow powders and color correctors. The product quality, specifically the color payoff of the eyeshadows, appears to be slightly less than the v1 shadows. A few of the collections have been "resurrected", so I was able to get samples and make apples-to-apples comparisons. I also compared the v1 Elemental Lusters to the v2 Alchemie shadows, and the old and new Pure Eyes Frost collections - not direct comparisons, but the collections were both finish-type collections, so it was a fairly good approximation. While they eyeshadows are not poor quality, I find more instances of decreased color payoff when comparing dry-over-primer and foiled swatches, from v1 shadows to v2 shadows.
Aromaleigh is back, and while I'm not ready to dive back into the products wholeheartedly, I am watching to see what else they bring out. The prices are still on the higher end for indie MMU, but they're a little lower than previously. (So now, a 1.2 gram-eyeshadow from Meow costs $8, while a 1.2-gram eyeshadow from Aromaleigh costs $7.) The collections that have been released through Aromaleigh v2 *seem* to be LE, though they've been available for 3 and 4 months (and a few, a bit longer) rather than one. Hopefully Aromaleigh will add some standing eyeshadow collections, or they'll continue to have LEs cycle through with longer availability windows. I'm also hopeful that prices will stay at their current slightly-lower-than-previous...though, in large part, end product price levels depends on materials cost and overhead rather than solely being driven by market demand.
At one point, the folks behind the latest incarnation of Aromaleigh had a poll question for its customers: had the indie makeup scene changed drastically since Aromaleigh's closure? Had it changed so much that Aromaleigh no longer really had a chance? I think the answer was multifold: more players had entered the scene, providing more indie makeup purchasing options; existing stores had more time to build their credibility and inventory; former Aromaleigh customers had time to try these other vendors; and the economy in general was just poor, and had been for a while. I think that the folks behind Aromaleigh v2 had hoped that most of the former customer base would come eagerly flocking back to the re-opened shop - and while I think it did happen, to an extent, that alone won't be enough to get all former customers back and get sales back up to the previous pre-closure-announcement levels. The store closed down, it did so in a final-sounding fashion, and I think that that's happened enough in the business world (indie and non-) that people are cautious of buying from a "new and improved" store or brand until they know that the quality and service levels haven't dropped significantly. I don't think that Aromaleigh can get its customer base and sales rate back up to pre-closure levels in two years' time, let alone half a year. They've just got too many factors working against them - the general state of the economy being first, the length of the initial shutting-down and the dormancy period being the second. It's possible - vaguely possible - that if Aromaleigh had not announced its closure but had instead announced a business sale and management change, and had an extremely brief period of closure for retooling (or better yet, no closure at all, just a pruning of the product lines,) Aromaleigh might have maintained a larger chunk of its sales base. As it is, they've got to start from closer to "ground zero". This economy isn't the best time to launch any business, of any scope. Having previous brand recognition, a partially established product line, and quite a bit of industry experience helps significantly, but won't make up for the fact that the company was completely and truly closed, and making no sales, for nearly a full year. I think that it's possible to get the sales up to former levels, but it's going to take time. It will not happen quickly.
I hope that the company perseveres, and continues to slowly rebuild both inventory and customer base. I hope that product quality gets back up to 2009 levels, across the board. I hope that the new management doesn't repeat history with regards to the incidents of less professional conduct. I personally would love it if they found a way to make their lip products in such a way that they had a longer shelf life, but still had the same variety and other overall product quality - and weren't a money-loser, like they apparently were before (in part, due to the short shelf life, which meant that they couldn't build up an inventory the same way they did for eyeshadows, blushes, and the other loose-powder products.)
Six months ago, I updated this review to state that I would not buy from Aromaleigh again. In that time, there have been changes at Aromaleigh that at first I disregarded as not crucial to my opinion, not requiring further comment. Changes have included cutting prices across the board (from USD$7.50-8.00 for most full-size eyeshadows to USD$6.50 across the board) and marking of a lot of the first wave of Aromaleigh v2 collections as "to be discontinued." Some of these changes stem from the owner, Kristen, coming back to the position as the main creative force behind all the product formulation/creation/packaging - where as previously I think she was in more of a creative-consultant type of role, something where she was not hands-on. These changes also possibly come from the fact that there are more players in the indie cosmetics world. The Discontinuations FAQ states that "The majority of the discontinued products are Aromaleigh v1 product/dupes that were made available because we did not have the budgeting available for completely new concepts, formulations and creative work." I can see how the collections that were not exact dupes, but were instead inspired by previous Aromaleigh collections (Alchemie/Elemental Lustres, Pure Eyes Frost v1/v2, Get Cheeky/Rocks! Sonic Rouge), could have been of slightly lower quality than their Aromaleigh v1 predecessors, especially if different colorants were used. But what about Pure Drama, Drama Queen, and Bete Noire, which were supposedly the exact same colors? Did the hands-on people just decide to substitute other ingredients, resulting in the slight dip in product quality? Or were the mixing techniques different than Aromaleigh v1, which - again - would have resulted in a lowered product quality? Again, I don't know; but those are some of the ways that product quality could have varied between versions 1 and 2.
I have purchased several colors from one of the "new" collections, Brilliant Deductions; and while the colors are attractive and the palette varied, I personally find that the coverage and longevity are not outstandingly different than other mineral makeup companies. They're about average, in terms of performance; and with the price reductions, the eyeshadows from these neweer collections are in line with the majority of mineral makeup companies out there. Aromaleigh is not markedly worse, they're not in the lower half of the range in terms of product quality, nor are they any more towards the higher end of the "cost per ounce" spectrum. But Aromaleigh's products are not the consistently-high performers that they used to be, before 2009/early 2010. Perhaps one day they'll return to that. But they're not there currently. I don't personally have plans to buy from them again, but if they come out with some colors that catch my personal attention, I may try them out. If some of the colors catch your eye, and you're used to evaluating mineral makeup swatch photos, by all means buy a sample collection and test them out. There are a few companies who will charge you considerably more and give you less value; and there are companies whose product quality and cost are about the same; and there are a few - not many, but a few - who both charge significantly less and provide equal or superior loose-powder makeup.
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