You know how sometimes you think you’re doing something correctly and then an expert comes along and confirms it and you feel all vindicated and self-righteous? That’s exactly how I felt after my audience with the Lipstick Queen herself, Poppy King. I knew I didn’t need to bother with blotting, or brushes, or lip pencils and I was right! Ah, sweet, smug victory...
I started wearing real, red lipstick when I was working in the fancy lingerie store where my colleagues were these amazing rockabilly chicks with incredible tattoo sleeves and perfectly coiffed hair. I wasn’t about to attempt to emulate either of those aspects of their look, but the application of scarlet or fuchsia lipstick felt doable and it eventually became my ‘signature’ beauty move, along with a flick of black liquid liner.
Listening to Poppy talk about her brand’s latest product, a lipstick called Velvet Rope, was fascinating for me because she was clearly a lifelong fan of the red stuff and I sat enthralled, soaking up her wisom...
She explained that Velvet Rope was “a combination of going back into my past and into the future” because it reminded her of when she stole her mum’s Biba lipstick when she was 7. “That feeling of being transformed, like a superhero, of being able to do anything has never left me. It’s not even about the outside, but the feeling inside of ‘movie star possibility.’”
The formulation is packed with pigment and silicone which means it delivers an impressive dose of colour without feeling heavy or cakey. Most importantly, it glides on like a chapstick but it’s not too slippery so you can’t control it – those lipsticks feel amazing going on but then you worry about them transferring all over your face.
The case is based on a ‘40s vintage lipstick case of Poppy’s but she gave it a minty scent (like a Peppermint Patty – she loves the rich and zingy combination of dark chocolate and mint) instead of the vintagey, powdery fragrance you might expect. I don't think I've ever seen such a glamorous lipstick case - it's heavy, like a little bar of gold.
“For me lipstick is about the effect it has on you inside, not outside – it sounds cheesy but lipstick changes what you think is possible, unlike mascara or foundation.” I agree absolutely with this philosophy – I feel confident and more myself when I’m wearing lipstick – it really does have that power, unlike other make-up which you don’t want to be too obvious. Lipstick demands to be noticed.
But while Poppy doesn’t wear lipstick when she’s doing Bikram yoga (saying “you shouldn’t be a slave to lipstick, you don’t hide behind it, it’s for you”), I always do when I'm exercising. I think it’s an extension of having fancy kit and nice trainers – it's less distracting when I have to look at myself in a mirror for 45 minutes huffing and puffing on a tiny trampoline if I’m not confronted with piggy, make-up-free eyes and a lipstick-less mouth staring back at me.
If you haven’t worn bold lipstick before, or are returning to it after a break, Poppy has a couple of tips:
1. Put it on 15 minutes before you leave the house to get used to it. “I don’t take much from the ‘50s as I don’t think it was a great time for women, but they did wear lipstick around the house.”
2. When you’re doing your make-up, after you’ve done your skin, put your lipstick on before doing your eyes – it helps you figure out what you need. The first time you do it, it feels weird, but you can see what you do or don’t need to add.
There are five shades in the collection and my two favourites are Brat Pack - a classic blue red that just stops short of pink - and Black Tie - an oxblood red that Poppy says makes her think of the iconic red of the femme fatale. There’s also a very unusual pink which has yellow in it, as opposed to blue, to make it look like a shade that the human body might actually be able to produce on its own. The finish has a slight lustre, a velvety sheen and a richness to it.
Poppy is too lazy to use a lip pencil! “It’s a tool, not a rule.” But she tells us about Lipstick Queen’s Invisible Lip Liner – which uses silicone to stop pigment moving. If she does use it, she puts lipstick on first and then liner (if she does it the other way round she gets ‘clown mouth’).
Similarly she doesn’t use a brush “lipstick should be as simple as possible, the less accoutrements the better – it comes down to personal preference, if you like the ritual of using a brush then fine, but it’s the sign of a good lipstick if you don’t need to use a tool.” And praise be - next year we’ll see an invention that stops lipstick getting on teeth! It’s going through the patent process now...
By this point I’m starting to understand that while Poppy is inspired by the ‘golden age’ of lipstick wearers, she doesn’t want to slavishly recreate that look. This is confirmed when she explains how the new way of wearing movie star lipstick is more informal (less jewellery and make-up), than in previous eras. That’s the way Parisian women have always worn lipstick – chic and fresh rather than retro.
Oh and if you ever needed a good excuse to wear red lipstick, this week (9 - 15 June) is Cervical Screening Awareness Week and The Eve Appeal has joined forces with The Red Lippy Project to encourage you to put on your brightest lipstick to raise awareness of the importance of cervical screening and make a donation to raise funds for vital research.
Velvet Rope lipstick by Lipstick Queen, £35, is out in September lipstickqueen.com