Pat McGrath's Foundation Is Supposed to Give You "Couture Skin"—So We Tried It


If you have a chance to meet legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath, take it. And I did this week when Mother (as she’s referred to in the industry) arrived at Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood to debut her latest beauty drop: a foundation that has been long in development. Observing Mother, surrounded by her team of expert makeup artists, who she affectionally refers to as kids or children, it’s instantly clear why McGrath deserves the name. With decades logged as the premier makeup artist behind the most iconic runway, editorial, and red carpet looks—and with hands that craft picture-perfect makeup looks in front of you in a matter of minutes with her line of products, Pat McGrath Labs—she has, with no doubt, earned her title as matriarch of the makeup world.

So what sets her foundation apart from the rest and which insider tricks can we learn from the iconic makeup artist? I sat down with McGrath to find out. Ahead, I’m sharing six important takeaways I learned when speaking to McGrath, including how this foundation is her secret to achieving “couture skin.” Our team also put her new Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Foundation to the test, and we’re weighing in with what we really think about it. Go on to read about her makeup tips and our honest reviews about the brand-new foundation from Pat McGrath Labs.

McGrath focused on the idea that skin should look like skin—and the best way to achieve that is with a foundation that feels like skincare. “The way I’ve always approached foundation is always just put it on like a moisturizer. … I think your foundation needs to feel like your skincare routine—easy.”

“It is great to play with the finish using tools,” says McGrath, “The foundation brush gives a beautiful, smooth finish, and then also the sponge gives you another level of build, so I love that it’s versatile.”

She continued to explain that her approach to skin translates to how she does makeup for runway shows and photo shoots. “I really wanted that whole idea that it felt like skin. I mean, that’s how I do most of my skin backstage and editorially.”

McGrath noted that as summer winds down, models arrive to set with tanned bodies but lighter faces, as they tend to shield their complexions with strong SPFs. To combat this shade discrepancy, McGrath matches foundation to the chest instead of the face so that complexions look even. She admits that “not matching your body, not matching your chest, only going with your face” is a huge mistake when it comes to picking out a foundation color.

One of McGrath’s expert makeup artist experts weighed in about why the science behind her foundation sets it apart. “There’s a lot of hyaluronic acid that’s a moisture magnet,” they explained. “It takes moisture out of the air and kind of holds it onto your face, which creates that beautiful, dewy, healthy glow that you see that Pat creates on runway.” So, yes, if this foundation makes you glow, you have science to thank for that.

Backstage, McGrath is often the expert on hand to create perfected “couture skin” on models for the haute couture runways in Paris, including the recent Valentino show. The secret? She says it’s her Sublime Perfection Foundation that is developed with a vital serum complex and diamond core technology, which, McGrath explains, creates “levels of blurring.”

Ahead, team Who What Wear is putting the foundation to the test. Here, find out our honest and unbiased reviews of Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish Sublime Perfection Foundation.

Wearing: Shade Light Medium 12

When it comes to foundation, there are two things I really want from it: glowing, perfected skin and a finish that doesn’t actually look like makeup. And Pat McGrath’s foundation delivered on both. To be honest, I was a bit skeptical of the formula’s coverage since it is thinner and more watery than the foundations I regularly use. What I found, though, was that the foundation is truly buildable like McGrath promised. One layer of the foundation applied with my fingers provided great coverage, and when I went back to fine-tune the coverage with a Beautyblender, I really achieved the alive “couture skin” that McGrath spoke with me about. My skin truly did beam and glow with a seamless finish that just looked like skin. Unlike other foundations I’ve used, I found that I didn’t need as much concealer as I normally do. I would, however, love to see a concealer from McGrath in the future to partner with the Skin Fetish line.

Wearing: Shade Light 5

“When it comes to makeup, my foundation is probably the most important step in my routine. I want my skin to look flawless. And because of that, I’m painstakingly picky about the formulas I wear and am quick to wrinkle my nose at the majority of bottles I try as a beauty editor. (Even some of the ‘holy-grail’ ones!) To be honest, I have so many feelings about this foundation. And it’s one of the few foundations I didn’t immediately love or despise at first application. Rather, I think it’s going to be the kind of relationship where we start off as friends, and as we get to know each other and spend more time together, the love will grow stronger.

“First things first, let’s talk consistency. This stuff is thin and ultra-lightweight. I’d almost call it more of a serum foundation than a liquid, and I absolutely appreciate how featherlight and spreadable it feels on your complexion as you apply it. (I used my fingers to start and then my trusted Beautyblender to finish.) It truly feels like your putting on skincare—which according to Pat McGrath (who says to apply your foundation like a moisturizer) makes perfect sense. One of the touted benefits of the foundation is its buildability, and as someone who loves full, luminous coverage, I had high expectations. I would agree that the foundation is really buildable and offers great coverage—it definitely diffused away my dark circles and some lingering blemishes—but I felt like I had to spend a lot more time on my foundation than I normally would. And I did end up adding an extra touch of concealer with my Charlotte Tilbury Magic Away Concealer ($32). If you seek a fuller coverage, prepare to add many, many layers and a few more minutes to your morning routine. 

“I do have to be 100% transparent and say I was a little bit disappointed with how some of my other favorite makeup products like my powder blush and bronzers reacted to the foundation. Normally, they buff effortlessly into my fave liquid foundation formulas, but this felt a bit stickier, and I had trouble keeping them from looking streaky or too heavy in spots. I do love the finish of this foundation, but going forward, I think I’ll stick to liquid and cream blushes, bronzers, and highlighters.

“During the preview launch in Los Angeles earlier this week, Pat and her team of makeup artists explained that the longer you wear this foundation, the better it looks. I would wholeheartedly agree. Even though I was a little unsure about it as I made my way through the rest of my makeup application, by the time I got to my brows and went into my living room to take a pic, it was like this foundation had become one with my skin and had this insane filter effect that literally blurred away any creases, blemishes, or other imperfections I had been HOPING it would hide. I’ve never felt ZERO need to add a filter or touch of the blur tool, but this skin-perfecting formula from Pat has apparently managed to do the unthinkable—and just that. This foundation is definitely an investment, but considering the quality and versatility of the formula, the showstopping bottle (even the packaging looks and opens like a jewelry box), I’d say it’s well worth the plunge. My biggest tip? Take your time to play around with it—try applying it different ways like with your fingers, a brush, or blender, and mix and match it with a few of your other favorite makeup products to see what it plays best with. You won’t be disappointed.”

Wearing: Shade Light Medium 13

“My everyday makeup look doesn’t consist of foundation. For my skin, I’m all about a dewy concealer and some translucent powder. If I’m going out or have an event, I’ll wear some foundation on my hormonal acne. Don’t get me wrong, I had almost a decade of trying every foundation available in order to find my HG. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve deterred away from a full face of makeup in favor of my freckles and skin imperfections. But when Pat McGrath decides to make a foundation, I’m completely on board. 

“First off, I love that this Skin Fetish Foundation has an array of shades. I went with the Light Medium 13 for my yellow undertones. The foundation itself is very thin and meant to be buildable. The first time I applied it, I used my go-to Beautyblender. I applied a light layer all over my face with a bit of building along my jawline. The foundation was easy to blend, but even with such a sheer layer, it still looked like I was wearing a ton of makeup. I decided to keep on going and applied the rest of my normal makeup (translucent powder, eyebrow pencil, highlighter, bronzer, and blush). My skin felt sticky for a few hours, and I just had to wash my face. I was disappointed but would not be defeated. The next time around, I used my fingers in a light application. This is when I saw the magic. The foundation looked and felt so natural, just like my skin but better. It didn’t cling to any dry skin but felt like a moisturizer. I followed up with my normal makeup routine, and while my concealer didn’t mix well with the foundation, all my other products looked great. 

“This will be a foundation that I can easily incorporate into my routine when I want a little extra coverage. Being able to use my fingers and apply it like a moisturizer was one of the easiest steps into my morning. I think finding the application that works for you is key to loving this foundation.” 

Wearing: Shade Medium Deep 23

“As someone who has been prone to break out in eczema or pimples upon using makeup products, I’ve always kept my steady distance from using foundations. But when word around our office buzzed around Pat McGrath launching a foundation line I felt I HAD to give it a go—it’s Mother dearest, after all. That being said, I at first found myself intimidated by the process of selecting the perfect shade; not only do I lack the knowledge of the difference between peach undertones versus red undertones, but as a bi-racial woman, I find it hard to find shades that don’t make me look like I’m either bleaching my skin or making it darker than it needs to be. But after doing thorough research—which I’d highly suggest you do beforehand or try on multiple shades IRL—I landed on Sublime Perfection Foundation’s Medium Deep Tone 23. I was pleasantly surprised at how it not only looked really natural on but how smooth it was to apply. Furthermore, I was blown away by how it managed to stay fresh-looking after I walked 20 blocks home in 80-degree humidity at the end of the day. Overall, I’d say if you’re an adolescent when it comes to your beauty exploration (like me), Pat’s foundation line is perfect for your coming of age.”

Wearing: Shade Medium 16

“As a fashion editor, I have to admit that I was pretty excited to test-drive anything Pat McGrath–related because the word on the street is that she’s a legend, and this is so different from the types of things I usually spend my day thinking about. A major departure from tank tops and shoe trends, as you can imagine. With that being said, I’d also like to preface this by preparing you for a beauty review in the simplest terms imaginable because unlike our resident beauty expert, Erin Jahns, my knowledge of the lexicon is more limited.

“Now let’s get to it, starting with the packaging: While beautiful, I felt like the second I used it to release some product, it did get a bit messy. It’s not going to ruin your life or anything, but since the formula is light and less thick, it’s easy to have it start running down the sides of the bottle. Personally, I would have liked it if it were a little easier to keep the bottle in the pretty, pristine condition it arrived in, but not a deal-breaker. Once I applied the foundation with my fingers, I was really happy with how natural-looking it was and felt on my skin. My worst fear when wearing makeup is to look like I’m wearing a lot of makeup and my second worst fear is that icky feeling when there’s just too much on your face, and I was glad to experience neither. The foundation was light and sheer but effective enough to make me feel like I definitely looked like an upgraded version of my everyday self. Overall, I’d definitely recommend it and will probably continue to use it moving forward.” 

Wearing: Shade Medium 15

“Forgive me, Mother, but foundation is just not my thing. Oftentimes, I find it feels too tacky and thick, and it covers up my freckles—something I never want to do—and I honestly just don’t find much use for it. That said, the Sublime Perfection Foundation’s formula is lighter and seemingly more water-based than many other foundations I’ve previously globbed onto my face. In fact, its first ingredient is water. Four hours after I first applied it to my face (using my fingers and a damp Beautyblender knockoff), my skin still feels and looks moisturized but not oily, so its hydration receives a hallelujah from me. 

“But, and there’s always a but, choosing the right color out of the 36 shade options proved exceedingly difficult since I don’t know much about my skin tones and undertones. Ultimately, the one I used (Medium 15) proved too light for my summer skin, basically rendering me a washed-out version of myself. Wintertime Giselle, if you will. The color was a mishap, but the coverage evened out my skin tone nicely, even if it didn’t fully cover the blemish I have on my jawline (thank you, menses). Due to its high water content, I assume, the foundation feels light on the skin and doesn’t look obvious, which I appreciate. To bring some life to my slightly ashen face, I added Anastasia Tinted Brow Gel in Chocolate and Supergoop Perk Up! Lip & Cheek Treat, which I easily blended onto the apples of my cheeks.  

“TL;DR: For day-to-day, I see myself sticking to the ease of my moisturizer, which includes SPF—this noticeably doesn’t—since I don’t count on coverage that much. But for the weekend or special occasions when I want to feel sublimely perfected, this will definitely be a welcome and useful product to have on hand. Once I get the right shade, of course.”

Wearing: Shade Medium 17

“First off, the packaging is bomb! Pat McGrath could get all of my money just off of the presentation of the product. So luxurious and classy. I already felt like a million bucks before I applied it. Secondly, I’m normally so anti-foundation due to my bad experiences with certain brands making me look like a ghost, never finding the right shade, too drying, etc., but then I found Pat McGrath. My initial thought was Wow, this is really thin. It’s not going to cover up anything on my skin, but I was definitely wrong. The coverage was great, my blackheads basically disappeared after applying it, and it gave me such a flawless finish.

“At first, I was a little worried about the color because in the summertime, I go from caramel to a mocha color, but this shade matched me perfectly. It’s not too light to for my skin tone, I didn’t feel smothered in makeup, and it doesn’t have that ashy finish that most foundations have to offer for POC. I applied it with my Beautyblender, and it blended so well onto my skin, like satin. This foundation is just beautiful, really easy to apply, it made my selfies look better (a lot better), and it completely minimized all of my imperfections.

“I will say it’s not as moisturizing as I thought it would be, and it didn’t give me a dewy look that I typically go for, but it definitely covered up the stubborn fine lines that I have on my forehead. Wearing foundation on a daily basis is normally unheard of when it comes to my daily routine, especially during hot summer in L.A., but this foundation was so light when I applied it that I didn’t feel like I had anything on at all. I’m excited to use this foundation moving forward. Nine out of 10 would definitely recommend!”

Next, we weigh in on Glossier’s Brow Flick.



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