Health & Grooming

The new lip service

New creamy formulations and richer colours have transformed lipstick into a must-carry – even for the lip-gloss generation. Anna-Marie Solowij reports.

May 29 2010
Anna-Marie Solowij

In the past few months, an additional 180 seconds have become fundamental to my morning routine. What happens during these three minutes is something that has been absent from my life for nearly two decades: I choose and apply lipstick. This morning it was Pure Pink by Tom Ford (£35), a radiantly intense fuchsia that attracts admiring glances and positive comments. In the past, it was Botox that earned the “How was the holiday? You look well” comments. Now, it appears, lipstick can do the job.

I honestly haven’t worn lipstick for 20 years. Grunge tolled the death knell for bright, pretty lip colour, as an early-1990s image war played out on magazine pages and in real life to a style diktat of “moody”, “dark” and “edgy”. There was simply no place for the joyful burst that lipstick provided. So, along with every other woman who’d grown up with lipstick as the premier weapon in her cosmetic arsenal, I gradually dialled down the volume from vivid scarlet to candy pink, eventually settling on “nude”, courtesy of Mac’s Spice lip pencil – the prerequisite beige used by make-up artists to create the “no make-up” make-up look that became the default face of the 1990s.

Then along came the smoky eye at Tom Ford’s seminal autumn/winter 1995 Gucci show, which became the most enduring make-up look of modern times and, once again, lipstick was marginalised. It was further, and finally, relegated in 2000, when Lancôme’s Juicy Tubes revivified lip gloss, causing a mania for the slick, shiny, diffuse lip finishes that have dominated ever since. I didn’t wear lipstick for years because for years lipstick simply didn’t figure. Until now, that is; because lipstick is back on – and in – our faces, and it means business.

Anyone keeping an eye on the economy over the past few years can’t have failed to clock references to the “lipstick index”. Coined in 2001 by Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies, it refers to the inverse correlation between lipstick sales and economic downturn. Lauder’s rationale is simple: when forced to budget, women trade more expensive investments for cosmetics. And lipstick is the ultimate thrifty buy: minimum capital output, maximum visual impact.

“It’s the single luxury indulgence purchase that changes the way you look as much as a fashion item can,” confirms make-up artist Alex Box of cult boutique line Illamasaqua, who is known for her signature red lips (she started wearing lipstick aged 11 and has her own Illamasqua shade, Box; £15). And in this recession the lipstick index has proved its validity again: we’re buying more, with sales on the up when other cosmetics – lip gloss in particular – are trending down. It’s hardly surprising. With the most expensive lipstick on the market costing £53 (from Serge Lutens, encased in an exquisite miniature faceted black metal tube) and the least expensive under £5, lipstick is accessibly priced and democratically available.

But despite the appeal of lipstick as a cheap (or even not-terribly-cheap) thrill, it virtually took a gun to my head to make me fall in love with colourful lips again. The “gun” was provided by make-up artist Ellis Faas, in the form of a cosmetic container that resembled a revolver barrel, containing six bullet-shaped wands of colour in a choice of textures. Ellis had posted the cleverly packaged samples from New York a few weeks in advance of her lip-colour range’s début at Liberty (from £21). I tore open the parcel and immediately painted on a creamy scarlet shade, then promptly forgot about it. Later that evening at a party, the reception I received was somewhat bafflingly enthusiastic – friends and acquaintances seemed especially attentive; one was even flirtatious.

The bathroom mirror reminded me of the reason for my popularity surge: a soft, vivid red mouth that lent a sparkle to my eyes and brightness to my skin. It’s often said that lipstick is the high heel of make-up – instantly transforming, not just physically but psychologically too. That I’d been able to forget I was wearing lipstick became the catalyst for my conversion.

For lipstick used to be high maintenance – it had to be perfectly applied, then frequently reapplied, with dry lips an inescapable side-effect. “It was so uncomfortable to wear,” recalls make-up artist Linda Cantello, who road-tested the generation of long-lasting lipstick that flooded the market in the early 1990s. “It was all about the career woman who had no time to reapply her lipstick, so this stuff would stay on all day.” Lipstick was dehydrating and – crucially – ageing: “It just wasn’t young any more,” says Cantello, who, as a progenitor of the “natural face” aesthetic of the 1990s, was then instrumental in lipstick’s demise.

But now lipsticks are being recalibrated and reformulated with an eye to reversing that perception. Ingredients lists read more like luxe moisturising cream labels than lipstick ones; Brazilian Murumuru butter, chamomile flower oil and soya-bean seed extract in Tom Ford’s buzz-generating Private Blend Lip Color (£35), and plant ceramides and meadowfoam oil extracts in Chanel’s Rouge Coco Hydrating Crème Lip Colour (£21, currently flying off the shelves) to optimise not just hydration but all-day moisture retention. And then there’s the preponderance of the term “lip colour” in lieu of lipstick – implying richness of hue with none of the cakey unpleasantness. As Peter Philips, Chanel’s global creative director for make-up, explains: “I know a lot of women in their 30s who are not used to wearing lipstick because they grew up with gloss.” In essence, this “new” lipstick is lipstick for the lip-gloss generation.

Ironically, as international make-up artist for Giorgio Armani Beauty, Cantello is now equally a protagonist in lipstick’s renaissance. For the Rouge d’Armani range (£22) that launched last year, she insisted on comfort as a priority. “As I don’t wear lipstick, I was the ideal tester for Rouge d’Armani. If my lips were at all [dry or] chapped the next day, it was straight back to the labs,” she laughs. But kudos for the ultimate road test should probably go to Ford, who for his Private Blend Lip Color Collection (which débuted several weeks ago) personally tried each of the 12 colours for wearability. “I wanted the perfect combination of a super-creamy texture and highly pigmented colour, and I tested them all constantly on my own lips until it was right,” he says.

As a result of this quest for über-smooth texture, colours for the lips come in formats beyond the standard-issue wax-bullet-in-case: Givenchy’s Printed Lips Pen is a chunky felt-tip dispensing creamy colour that’s decidedly not gloss, while Lancôme’s intriguingly named BB Wet & Dry Colour Liptoy is a double-ended mini capsule that doubles handily as a blusher. And the standard case designs too are packing some extra va-va-voom. There’s Guerlain’s Le Rouge G (£27), created by jeweller Lorenz Baumer, with its flip-up mirror; YSL’s Rouge Volupté (£21), which, encircled with enamel, also has the appeal and weight of a beauty jewel; while Givenchy’s Rouge Interdit (£18.50) with its ribbon pull tab was one of the first to show fashion credentials in a beauty item.

Thus today, with its new formulations and trendy packaging, lipstick has slipped free of its association with the old prescriptions of glamour: Hollywood, smoky nightclubs and, for women over 40 of a certain stylish demeanour, that early-1980s, Roxy Music-inspired siren, all scarlet lip print on the white filter of a St Moritz cigarette. Now, women are enjoying lipstick in a more liberated way.

“I recently discovered red lipstick,” says Sienna Miller, who, judging by the numerous blogs on which her lips feature prominently, has become the unofficial poster girl for new-generation lipstick lovers. “I’ve never really worn it before. But now a T-shirt, jeans and Chanel’s Rouge Allure Fatale [£21.50] works for me.”

This encapsulates the biggest shift in convention – namely, from lipstick being a high-wattage nightlife accessory to relaxed (but statement-making) daywear. Miuccia Prada sent models down the runway for spring/summer 2010 in striking, orange-sorbet lipstick, courtesy of make-up artist Pat McGrath, who smudges on lip colour and wipes a bit off, in layers, with a fingertip, to achieve a worn-off effect that is modernising and, incidentally, prevents colour bleeding. Seeing that incandescent orange-red lip colour on model of the moment Lara Stone, set against totally nude skin and subtly bleached brows, fashion had one of its “moments”, bringing lipstick out from the dark, as it were, and into the daylight.

Without question, in the deployment of such an extreme shade, it helps to have Stone’s flawlessly formed, pillowy lips. But with contemporary formulae that owe much to advances in cosmetic technology pioneered by skincare scientists and a rewriting of the rule book when it comes to application, this is lipstick that works for every generation. It’s newly appealing to those raised on gloss and a fresh take for those who’d long given up on an old make-up-bag stalwart. Surely, for such a small investment of time and money giving such a generous return, it’s high time to love lipstick again.

See also

Make-up