An Ode To The Everlasting Allure of A Red Pout
Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick,’ famously remarked Gwyneth Paltrow. To Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor, lipstick was a weapon of transformation. ‘Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together,’ she had said.
Some erroneously assume that you need confidence to wear it, when the truth is that the colour itself gives you confidence. Cat Cantrill, an Iowa-based entrepreneur and performer, started Kick Ass Red Lipstick, a foundation with a mission to empower and transform women. It starts with a simple step, of urging participants to post a picture of themselves wearing the shade, not lip balm. The idea is to embrace yourself as the most important being in your life. ‘We encourage that using lipstick. Many women initially refuse to wear it, and slowly transition from lip balm to crimson lipstick,’ writes Cantrill in her blog.
For the last decade, season after season, this timeless hue has continued to make statements on the ramp whether it is Spring or Winter. Not without reason. No colour complements all skin tones as much as red does. Just a hint of it on the face magically brightens the complexion. It is a flattering optical illusion, which can even take years off your face, as the beholder’s gaze focuses on your vivid pout rather than dark circles or fine lines. That’s why more and more real women are embracing this shade with reckless abandon. “For a debutante or a diva, red is the only choice and it is beautiful even if you have thin lips,”states Dick Page, artistic director for Shiseido Makeup.
Just as a woman no longer needs a man to buy her diamonds, she doesn’t need a romantic date or a power meeting to don red on her lips. It’s a beauty pick-me-up. “So many women have confessed that they feel ‘ready’ for a festive occasion by simply wearing it on the lips. Today, our society has embraced make-up like never before. In fact, young brides are encouraged not to be coy but play with make-up,” shares Reena Chhabra, CEO, FSN Brands. And the feel-good factor of the colour comes handy even in science. “Laboratories always test any new texture meant for the lips in red as the formulation is best represented in this colour.”
In ancient civilisations, women celebrated their bodies and used crushed gemstones to decorate their mouths. Egyptian queen Cleopatra probably invented the first lipstick when she crushed ants and carmine in a base of beeswax to colour her mouth red. ‘In life, it became a social mandate to apply lip paint using wet sticks of wood and in death, each well-to-do Egyptian woman took at least two pots of the paint to her tomb,’ writes Sarah Schaffer, in her Harvard paper Reading Our Lips: The History of Lipstick Regulation in Western Seats of Power. Eventually, as the Roman Empire collapsed, painted lips (including other cosmetics) fell out of favour. England, which grew increasingly powerful throughout the 16th century, embraced lipstick during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. A rouge fan, she made it popular among the ladies of the court who wanted to imitate her pale face and bright lips. Schaffer further explains how the craze might be attributed to the country’s sharp rise in prosperity and the spirit of Renaissance, a rebirth of colour among other things.
“For me the visual is just as important as the music. I would never record without my red lipstick. It is my way of getting into character, sort of like ‘method singing’.”
– Christina Aguilera
There was also a belief that the shade had magical powers, and could possibly even ward off death. This invited the wrath of the church, which saw a woman in crimson lips as an incarnation of the devil, and regarded such modification of her face as a challenge to god and his workmanship. Women had to sometimes address their lipstick use at confession. In the 18th century, the British parliament declared that women who seduced men into matrimony with the help of lip and cheek paints could have their marriages annulled as well as face witchcraft charges. In the modest Victorian era, heavy use of cosmetics was seen as immoral, and was to be worn only by actors and prostitutes. Meanwhile in France, wearing red lipstick was the norm for upper-class women, as those who didn’t wear make-up were seen as peasants or prostitutes.
“I’m all about fashion, cheese burgers and bright red lipstick.”
– Scarlett Johansson
Several factors marked the unapologetic return of the red mouth. Adolf Hitler had voiced his distaste for the bright shade, effectively making wearing it during World War II a political statement. It became a tool to promote patriotism and encourage women to become more active in the war effort. It was the first time that middle- and upper-class women entered the workforce. Even though many of these jobs required them to get dirty, taking care of their appearances was mandatory.Women depicted in propaganda posters and advertisements had impeccable hair and vivid pouts, even when they were shown as soldiers and factory workers. “The iconic ‘Rosie the Riveter’ is ravishing in red lipstick, encouraging women to chip in. It was an inspiration for the soldiers at war and helped create a sense of normalcy at home,” states Nisha Singh, senior make-up artist at Fat Mu. Another famous manifestation was in New York when the suffragettes took to the streets and, as part of their fight for the right to vote, wore bright red on their lips. In fact Elizabeth Arden herself handed out lipsticks to the marching ladies. She even created a bold shade to coordinate with the uniforms of the women serving in the armed forces during World War II.
“All I need is my Chanel dress, my Louboutins, and some red lipstick.”
– Blake Lively
Red became a metaphor for independent, free thinking women. Actors such as Marilyn Monroe, Clara Bow, Rita Hayworth, Elizabeth Taylor and Greta Garbo made glossy crimson lips sexy. It also helped that at the turn of the century, lipsticks were produced with beeswax and castor oil, ingredients that were far less dangerous than lead. The production of the modern swivel lipstick (it came wrapped rather impractically in silk paper before this) by Chanel, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, Guerlain and others made it accessible.
The 1960s and ’70s saw beiges and browns stealing the thunder. History was created when Madonna requested MAC to develop a lipstick that would last through an entire performance — and so Russian Red was formulated. The intense matt shade was specifically made for her VirginTour, and it was an instant success. Red staged a comeback and has stayed strong since. It’s been a red carpet staple, standing for carefree glamour. Think Emma Stone, Rihanna, Dita Von Teese and Scarlett Johansson. Closer home, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Sonam Kapoor and Deepika Padukone are known for their signature reds.
The spectrum of the colour has also widened over the years, to include pinks, browns, oranges and even black. Whether it is a seductive glossy pout or an elegant matt, there are myriads of textures to complement complexions and moods. “There’s a red for every woman! How to find one? The one that makes you happy and brings a smile to your face is the best one for you,” recommends Sonic Sarwate, global senior artist at MAC Cosmetics India.
From being a symbol of promiscuity, sensuality, glamour and even duty, today it rests easy in our handbags. It’s just another gorgeous shade to get creative with…an expression of self-love and good taste.
Red Carpet Red-dy!
One For Every Woman
“I adore red lips and believe everyone can look fabulous in red lipstick; it’s just a case of finding the right shade and texture. Although traditionally worn with a little black dress, I personally love red lips most when they’re slightly out of context: maybe with a sweater or a grey T-shirt when you step out for Saturday shopping and your make-up is pretty natural and you just have these wonderful red lips. Warm orangey reds and pinkish reds work great on olive skin tones, while deep dark reds look wonderful on darker skins. If you feel you can’t commit to red lips and they look quite bold, opt for a sheer option, it’s easier to wear, lightweight and much less maintenance. It lasts a lot longer when you apply it with a lip brush.”
– Lisa Eldridge, Make-up Director, Lancôme