Red make-up stages a comeback

Make-up with red highlights or undertones is bringing a softly flattering velvety depth to winter lips, cheeks and even eyes, says Vicci Bentley

Crimson lipstick from Sarah Moon Color Collection
Crimson lipstick from Sarah Moon Color Collection | Image: Sarah Moon for NARS

Here’s a thought to smudge your mascara: is red the new black? On the autumn/winter runways, coppers, rusts, aubergines, berries – in fact, every ruddy hue in the spectrum – appeared not only on lips, but on lids too, from liners to lashes.

Smoky eyes – for so long the winter glamour staple – finally deferred to what Terry Barber, director of make-up artistry at MAC and a man with an uncanny ability to analyse capricious make-up trends, describes as “painterly pools and washes of colour that are more about emotion than technique”. Fortunate news for those of us whose eye-lining lacks a sure touch. For as Barber points out, blurring rather than blending characterises this moody new monochrome. Eyes echo cheeks, which echo lips, all in a candlelit aura reminiscent of that surrounding actress Marisa Berenson in Stanley Kubrick’s 18th-century costume drama Barry Lyndon, which was re-released this summer.

When the movie was shot in 1975, make-up director Barbara Daly (known for using Caran d’Ache pastels instead of cosmetic colour in photoshoots) took Gainsborough as her brief for the brick-coloured, hyper-natural flushes, highlights and shadows that seemed to come not from her palette but from within Berenson’s skin – a softly flattering look that sparked something of a trend.

From left: Chanel Joues Contraste Powder Blush in Malice, £31. Suqqu Blend Color Eyeshadow EX-35 Yuki Tsubaki, £45. Giorgio Armani Eccentrico Mascara in Rouge Iron, £27
From left: Chanel Joues Contraste Powder Blush in Malice, £31. Suqqu Blend Color Eyeshadow EX-35 Yuki Tsubaki, £45. Giorgio Armani Eccentrico Mascara in Rouge Iron, £27

Back then, against the grim backdrop of miners’ strikes, IRA bombings and a double-dip recession in the UK, those who eschewed punk (too angry) and glam rock (too Ziggy) for nostalgia also had the option of photographer Sarah Moon’s dreamlike 1920s-influenced images for Cacharel and Biba as inspiration. Softly smudged eyes accompanied by a comely flush from cheeks to temples formed the hallmark of this wistful, youthful look that seemed to adapt itself to all ages.

With the current tense political climate as backdrop, a 1970s revival is once more a fashion trope and the timing couldn’t be more apposite for the Sarah Moon for NARS Color Collection. Intense pigments are rendered customisably soft by smudgeable, veil-like textures: if red seems a bit intimidating to begin with, the lavender-grey from Quai Des Brumes Duo Eyeshadow (£25) can be dusted over lids and the more matte, gold-flecked buff blended deep into crease lines. Then with a little carmine Impudique Blush (£23) burnished over the centre lids and sockets, the look gains expression and a gentle, velvety depth.

According to Sara Raeburn, who as a fledgling  make-up artist assisted the legendary Régis Huet, who created the Biba look for Moon’s shoots, this yearning for a more reflective style could be a backlash to aggressive Kardashian-esque sculpting, strobing and brutalist black eye-lining. “The romance is utterly pre-Raphaelite, but also practical and wearable,” she says. “Colours with red highlights or undertones look gentler and more natural as they’re already present in skin.” This makes even the audacious reds in many winter eyeshadow palettes easier to relate to.


“So long as you’re not heavy-handed or tired-looking, reds can inject vibrancy and sophistication,” says make-up artist Ruby Hammer. “Aubergines flatter older eyes and make the whites sparkle, especially against darker skin. By contrast, coppers and rusts bring out the colour in blue, green and grey eyes, while brick is universally flattering.” Suqqu’s Blend Color Eyeshadow EX-35 Yuki Tsubaki (£45) has enlivening strawberry red to offset chestnut definer and highlights in peach shimmer and matte rose. Similarly, a drop of burgundy both enriches and tempers the heaviness of black or grey defining shades. In Illamasqua’s Demise Palette (£34), deep plum intensifies inky blue-black, while ice-gold lifts browbones and wakens inner eye corners, with creamy ruby-gold adding a twinkle. (More subtle than glitter, a mere fingerprint on the centre of lids will make eyes look dewier.) Burgundy also heightens khaki in YSL’s Couture Palette Scandal Collection 5-Color Eye Shadow (£42.50), echoing the daring 1970s mood. Copper and rose gold are included to highlight, while a deep aqua – a nod to Abba? – is the wild card.

However, should these bolder offerings make meeting your Waterloo seem all too likely, Hammer’s strategy is to keep to warm brown tones and anchor the look with black or brown mascara. The ideal solution here must surely be La Palette Saint-Germain in M00 Parisian Spirit (£42) from Lancôme’s collaboration with the late Sonia Rykiel, the resolutely red-headed designer whose striped knitwear snazzed up the 1970s. Six daywear rose-influenced golds, browns and bronzes are offset by evening tones of prune and mauve, and a shell-pink highlight for browbones – ample opportunity to shade, shape, blend and customise without fear of striking a wrong note. Or downsize even further with a single bronze shade such as Diorshow's sequinned Mono Lustrous Smoky Eyeshadow in Fire (£24.50) or MAC Studio Eye Gloss in Lightly Tauped (£16), a creamy nude-ish cinnamon that even makes older lids look smooth and fresh.

“If eyeshadows are usually a challenge, a smudge of colour over lids and diffused onto browbones and beneath lower lashes looks statuesque enough for evening,” says Raeburn, adding that a good helping of mascara creates focus. Also worth a flutter, Sarah Moon for Nars Eyelashes Numéro 10 (£13) are surprisingly understated. The gradation from shorter, more spaced lashes to dense but not heavy ones towards the outer corners makes them ideal for supplementing stubby older lashes, which can easily appear overloaded. If, on the other hand, lashes respond well to mascara, a finishing touch of Giorgio Armani Eccentrico Mascara in Rouge Iron (£27) on the tips of upper lashes cheers up basic black beneath and creates an eye-brightening fringe of crimson. And Giorgio Armani’s Eye & Brow Maestro in Henna (£27) may look alarming in the pot, but its glimmering satin texture inspires creativity. “Layered under or over other shadows, it intensifies pigment. Or use it to blend a soft red hue towards the outer browbone to update a basic smoky eye,” advises Armani’s Vanessa d’Ambrosio, adding that tucked tightly behind upper lashes it also makes an eye-catching liner.

Clockwise from top left: Diorshow Mono Lustrous Smoky Eyeshadow in Fire, £24.50. YSL Couture Palette Scandal Collection 5-Color Eye Shadow, £42.50. Giorgio Armani Eye & Brow Maestro in Henna, £27. Lancôme x Sonia Rykiel La Palette Saint-Germain in M00 Parisian Spirit, £42. Marc Jacobs Air Blush in Night Fever & Hot Stuff, £28
Clockwise from top left: Diorshow Mono Lustrous Smoky Eyeshadow in Fire, £24.50. YSL Couture Palette Scandal Collection 5-Color Eye Shadow, £42.50. Giorgio Armani Eye & Brow Maestro in Henna, £27. Lancôme x Sonia Rykiel La Palette Saint-Germain in M00 Parisian Spirit, £42. Marc Jacobs Air Blush in Night Fever & Hot Stuff, £28

Lest we become swept away on a crest of nostalgia, a caveat. Those who, back in the day, were Lyndon Ladies and Biba Babes (far from mutually exclusive) will have heeded the warnings to side-step the “rut trap”. As any stylist will tell you, it can be sartorial suicide to cling to colours and techniques that adorned younger faces. Time moves on for both women and make-up, and there is the desire to remain contemporary. So is red anywhere else than on lips a brushstroke too far these days?

Lucia Pica, global creative designer for make-up at Chanel, sees red as emblematic of “deconstructive glamour” – classic but also subversive and, in fact, the ideal rejuvenating medium. “Features don’t have to be sculptural to be beautiful,” she says, cocking a snook at the self-conscious shaping and shading that turns make-up into a reconstructive chore. “A simple triangle of red high on cheeks and temples gives a lift to the face and counteracts dark circles.” This easy elevation can be performed with Chanel Joues Contraste Powder Blush (£31) in enlivening brick-toned Malice. Gilbert Soliz, global make-up artist for Marc Jacobs, uses Marc Jacobs Air Blush in Night Fever & Hot Stuff (£28), a pinkish burgundy, to “drape” the eye area and balance the face: “Blend over the peak of your brow and temples, the bridge of your nose, tip of your chin, along the sides of your neck and ear lobes,” he suggests. “This will emphasise your eyes and give your face a subtly soft glow that’s still noticeable.”

A little red blush goes a long way: the lighter the stroke, the more delicate the effect. Sweeping a scant amount onto a fat, soft brush and buffing it into the back of the hand will diffuse the powder through the bristles before dusting cheeks in upward, featherlight strokes to ensure there are no obvious edges. Should the flush feel too much, a brushing of face powder will dampen it and blend it further into the skin.


For Raeburn, an evenly prepped skin tone brokers the difference between elegant radiance and flustered over-glow. “Start with your natural skin colour – no fake tan,” she warns. Even out any redness or pigmentation – Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation (£29) and Concealer (£20) are equal to the most stubborn age spots, while the matte finish of Chanel Vitalumière Loose Powder Foundation (£55) is a highly accommodating base for colour. Even out the skin tone on lids too, with a primer such as Urban Decay Anti-Aging Eyeshadow Primer Potion (£18). “This will allow you to blend colour seamlessly and create a moodier, more flattering eye,” says Raeburn.

Red’s dangerous reputation could be well be cooling.

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