Its iconic for a reason.
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As a working makeup artist, there’s more than a few beauty shortcuts we rely on to quickly pull a look together pronto — a flush of blush instantly wakes up the face, adding structure and body to the brow frames the eyes and gives dimension, a pop of clear gloss on the eyelid makes everything look très modern in a flash.
But nothing changes your whole demeanour quite like a red lip!
Wearing a red lip is an emotional experience; it can alter how you feel about yourself, recalibrate your attitude, help you channel another facet of yourself. Red lipstick, I believe, is that powerful...
I’ve been obsessed with the allure of red lipstick long before I considered pursuing makeup artistry as a career.
I can even pinpoint the very first time I became acutely aware of it, an honour which belongs to Canadian recording artist, Alannah Myles and the cover of her 1989 single, “Black Velvet” — the very first cassette tape I ever owned (I’m dating myself here) — with her matte alabaster skin and shock of jet black hair juxtaposed by the vivid slick of red across her mouth.
Other iconic appearances would also populate my childhood and the nostalgia with which I look back at those formative memories — the enigmatic women of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love” music video, Michelle Pfeiffer in “Batman Returns” transforming herself from timid Selena Kyle to sexual and emboldened Catwoman, Angelica Huston as goth queen Morticia Addams in “The Addams Family”, to the alt/indie icons of the 90s like Gwen Stefani, Tori Amos and Shirley Manson who would become the idols of my little queer boy youth.
The enduring iconography of popular culture still informs my aesthetic and influences to this day.
Despite my very apparent and enthusiastic endorsement of a red lip, one of the most common and frequent responses I’ve heard from people over my career is that they “can’t pull off a red lip”.
I’m here to unequivocally say that everybody can wear a red lip! The determining factors in selecting your ideal red lipstick match is a mix of understanding which undertones best flatter your colouring and then deciding on the finish that best suits your personal taste and lifestyle.
First off, I want to establish that the best shade of red for you is the one that makes you feel incredible. The following is just a guide for understanding how different colours compliment each other, but in makeup, never be afraid to break ‘the rules’.
Beauty should never feel binary, so follow your instinct and if something elicits joy, that is the shade for you!
With that said, here are my simplified suggestions for a total red lip novice or just anybody who has yet to find The One…
Red lips will always ‘pop’ the brightest on fairer skintones because of the disparity between the pigment of your skin and the boldness of the lipstick, so understand that a traditional red lip will always draw attention — but isn’t that the appeal?
My favourite kind of red on fair skin is a classic, blue-based cherry hue — think MAC Retro Matte Lipstick in Ruby Woo, Chanel Rouge Allure in Pirate and Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Red Carpet Red.
For medium tan and olive complexions, I find that embracing the warmth naturally present in the skin is best, so I opt for either a relatively neutral to more orange based red.
I love MAC Matte Lipstick in Lady Danger, Pat McGrath MatteTrance Lipstick in Obsessed and Tom Ford Lip Color Matte in Flame.
Richer, deeper skintones have the distinct ability of accepting colour more naturally than lighter skin, so they can really pull off almost anything. Brighter blue or orange based reds will look incredible, but I personally adore the depth of a complex burgundy or bordeaux tone like MAC Matte Lipstick in Diva, Pat McGrath MatteTrance Lipstick in McMenamy and Tom Ford Lip Color Matte in Velvet Cherry.
If you live the kind of life where touch-up time is not a luxury, consider a liquid lipstick formula. The compromise is that they do feel a tad more drying and you can’t layer balm or gloss to hydrate, lest you sacrifice the longevity of weartime. But, once applied, they do stay put longer than any other type of lipstick.
The most comfortable formulas to wear in my experience are Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint in Uncensored, Stila Stay All Day Liquid Lipstick in Beso and Nars Powermatte Lip Pigment in Dragon Girl.
For the uninitiated or intimidated, not yet comfortable enough to make the full commitment to a statement lip, a stain can be a fantastic compromise between the high impact of a red lip and the approachability and wearability of a day-to-day wash of colour.
To achieve this look, opt for sheerer finishes with less pigment and concentrate the product in the centre of your lip before feathering out at the edges of the mouth.
My favourite products for this effect are Benefit Benetint Lip & Cheek Stain, Yves Saint Laurent Vernis À Lèvres Water Stain in Wet Vermillion and Rare Beauty Lip Soufflé in Inspire.
Red lips possess such a timelessness for me — like a great pair of jeans or a little black dress, they can be a worn down as a signifier of casual chic coolness or dressed up to bring an instant sense of glamour and polish to an otherwise simple look.
One thing is for sure though, whenever I see a person on the street wearing a red lip, it still stops me in my tracks like it did the very first time. Such is its power…