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The Colour of Passion: the enduring popularity of red lips


Red lipstick is timelessly chic and always alluring, with a tone to suit every skin tone and style, says Katy Young

Katy Young,

From Marlene Dietrich to Marilyn Monroe, from Jerry Hall to Scarlett Johansson, there is something about red lipstick on a woman’s lips that transcends time yet remains fresh and always on trend. From ancient civilisations that used it as a way to decorate faces to Elizabethan England, where the queen decreed it fashionable, red lipstick throughout history has maintained an air of mystery, seduction and allure. ‘Red lipstick is arguably the most timeless tool in your make-up case,’ says Linda Andersson, make-up artist and founder of the Red Lippy Project, which raised awareness of women’s health issues in the UK by encouraging followers to wear a slick of bright red lipstick.

She’s right. And don’t the beauty brands just know it. Mac cosmetics says it was a red lipstick, specifically its Russian Red, that put the brand on the map, while the icons of the Paris beauty scene, YSL and Chanel, have entire ranges based on the red lip, respectively entitled Rouge Pur Couture and Rouge Coco.

Away from the make-up counters and on to the catwalk shows that set the trends: here, too, you would be hard pushed to find a season without red lips. For autumn/winter 2014 you’ll find shots of red lipstick in all its guises: bright and blurred at Vivienne Westwood; rich and considered at Prada; matte, cool and sexy at Max Mara.

Timeless chic

As with the red carpet, there’s a chameleon-like quality to red lipstick, which means you’re just as likely to see it on a Hollywood newcomer – for example the Olsen twins, Jennifer Lawrence, Kristen Stewart – as on a seasoned pro. ‘I think the reason why red lipstick is a classic and will never really go out of style is because it’s so versatile,’ explains Andersson.

Andersson thinks every woman should own a red lipstick. ‘There are so many different tones of red that I would argue it suits more faces than nude and pink lip shades. You can also create many looks with it: wear it with an eyeliner and you have a sexy look; wear it with a bare face and you have a really bold and cool look.’ If you haven’t yet found your perfect shade, Andersson suggests that cool skin tones should go for blue tones of red, while warm skin tones might want to veer towards orange-based reds. ‘But there are no rules. Make-up is a perfect tool to experiment with! You just need to find a texture and shade that suits you,’ she adds.

Quiet confidence

Another tip comes from Poppy King, international lipstick expert, founder of Lipstick Queen and self-confessed red lipstick obsessive. King suggests practising wearing a red lipstick around the house. It sounds weird but works a treat if you’re a new to red lipstick and have confidence issues.

That was never King’s particular issue. She fell in love with red lipstick after seeing Jerry Hall on the pages of Vogue. ‘She possessed two of the most coveted pouts in the world: hers and Mick Jagger’s. There was a confidence in the way she faced the world. You felt she was in control of her destiny. Jerry looked strong and dressed strong – red bikini, red nail polish, red lipstick.’ It was at that moment King realised that red lipstick was ‘a tool of instant, transfiguring power that could make me feel like Jerry Hall even if I could never look like her. What I did have was lips, and as long as I had lips I, too, could paint them red, and as long as I had red lips I, too, could enter a world of glamour.’

Instant glamour

There was once a theory that during times of economic uncertainty the sales of lipstick, a relatively low-cost luxury item, would go up. Whether the lipstick index still serves as a way to measure the economy of a country isn’t as clear any more. But according to James Gager, senior vice president of Mac, booming sales ‘prove that lipstick is an instant fix for a woman to buy at a reasonable cost. She can also use it as an adjunct to basically change her wardrobe and her look very quickly.’

Intense red is said to quicken the heart rate and, as King explains, ‘prompt the release of adrenalin in our bloodstream’. ‘Red lipstick is supremely empowering on a woman and a red lipstick can lift and make your day in a second,’ comments Andersson. Taking that into account, maybe our longstanding obsession says more about our emotional outlook than the state of the economy.

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