Harper's Bazaar (UK)
THE ART OF LIPSTICK Anna Murphy’s paean to the uplifting power of decorously painted lips
Anna Murphy on the pleasure of self-expression with crimson, carmine and coral
Tmakehere are elements peculiar to the female existence that
it harder for us, but others make it easier, so much easier. One of the latter is, I believe, lipstick. It’s a real joy in my life. More than that, now that I am in my mid-forties, it’s become one of my most important tools.
How superficial, you might be thinking, to attach such importance to a product that is all about surface. Yet lipstick can have a profound impact on the way you look and feel; on the way you see yourself, and the way you are seen. ‘Lipstick is the best cosmetic that exists,’ Joan Collins once said.
However tired or over-the-hill you feel, the perfect lip tone will fix it, and I am increasingly grateful for this as I age. I intend to grow older colourfully, elatedly… lippily, if you will, in every sense. Poor men have no such facility.
There is no day, no mood, no outfit that isn’t improved by a superlative slash of the bright stuff. And when I say bright, I mean bright; game-changer bright. None of those namby-pamby nudes that are – as the nomenclature suggests – too close to what’s God-given to enact the required alchemy. We need such small yet significant pleasures more than ever at the moment, one reason why statement lips were out in force on the autumn/winter catwalks at labels such as Fendi and Chloé.
It’s precisely the shape-shifting potentiality of lipstick that makes it so rare in art history – this, as well as the fact that for long periods it was not deemed entirely respectable. Pre-Warhol and his hot-lipped renderings of Marilyn, Jackie et al, there’s not much to be seen. Lippy is too much of a distraction for most artists, which is precisely why – as I said – it’s such a great tool for the rest of us.
One notable exception is the Dutch Fauvist Kees van Dongen, his charming 1919 portrait The Corn Poppy an exemplification as to how best to match hat and lipstick. (The latter is a dead ringer for Dior’s Rouge Dior Ultra Care Lipstick in Bloom, a lovely slimline stick.) Another is the long unjustly overlooked Finnish painter Helene Schjerfbeck, the subject of a onewoman show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, which runs until 27 October. This master of the selfportrait regularly painted her lips deep vermilion or – in one particularly charming 1915 work – the colour of strawberry bonbons. (I’ve pulled off a similar effect with Chanel’s Rouge Allure Ink Fusion in Coral Peach, a liquid applied with a wand.)
Red lipstick has always given me pleasure, from the moment I first started wearing it regularly in my mid-teens. Now, at the age of 47, it gives me support, too. It is the least effortful way I have found to present as contemporary, youthful, interesting. It is impossible to look dreary in the right hot shade.
I have an incredibly chic barrister friend, who perforce wears black suiting in court: it’s her lips, her MAC’s Lady Danger lips, that ensure she presents as anything but dull. Yet this is also the lipstick of choice for one of fashion’s most determinedly colourful designers and dressers, Roksanda Ilincic; and it speaks an international language, too. I have worn it in most of the world’s time zones, and in each one a woman has come up to me and said, ‘Ooh, Lady Danger!’ For me, it all began with Robert Palmer’s ‘Addicted to Love’ video, which came out in 1985 when I was 13. It was the singer’s scarlet-lipped, slick-haired, guitar-wielding henchwomen, as powerful as they were glamorous, who inspired my go-to look for boldface occasions for years to come. My friend Alice and I would paint our lips the identical shade; be it on the last day of school (Look at us! We are wearing lippy! And you can’t expel us!) or at the Free Nelson Mandela concert in 1988 (Look at us! We care about making the world a better place, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look fabulous while doing so!)…
It was nothing but fun for me then, yet when I landed my first big job, I discovered lipstick wasn’t merely frivolous. This was a role that was all about power meetings and power egos. I needed to look the part, because by looking the part I would be better able to feel it; play it. A lipstick, along with a statement jacket and some great earrings, became my uniform. (If yours is a deskbound profession, nailing workplace dressing is all about your top half, because that’s what gets seen.) A couple of years later, when I was promoted, the first thing my successor asked me was what lipstick she should buy. I took this as a compliment, and, henceforth, as a rule for living.
Not that I limit myself to red any more – I have now discovered that a well-chosen coral or hot pink will do me the same kind of favours, if not more. Indeed, now that I have grey hair I find myself taking this approach at least as much: there’s an added quirkiness that makes even the most classic tailored ensemble just cool enough.
Such is my devotion that I have become that obsessive who buys discontinued colours on eBay, (a Kevyn Aucoin coral called – oh, the irony – Timeless) or laments their demise with near-strangers. A Dutch magazine editor and I spent half an hour on the front row at Tbilisi fashion week earlier this year sharing our grief for the loss of a particular hot pink from MAC.
But I have identified my new favourites. For a coral it has to be Tom Ford’s punchy Wild Ginger, or Sisley’s fresh Orange Ibiza. Indeed, I have Sisley to thank for showing me just how flattering a coral can be, whatever your age. It was when I went to a meeting with the brand a few years back, and every woman there – aged from their twenties to their sixties – was wearing a Sisley-approved iteration of the said hue, that I determined to give it a whirl myself.
As for pinks, for a hot bright, it’s MAC’s Amplified Lipstick in Impassioned; for a deeper version, it’s Nars’ Audacious Lipstick in Greta. I also love the Rodin range, which has a complexion-flattering gloss, whether it’s the mid-pink Pinky Winky, or the lighter Winks. Rodin does a corking scarlet, too, called Tough Tomato – because I certainly haven’t abandoned the colour with which my love affair began.