Scarlet Reign

Hollywood icon, glamour puss, and classic beauty are just some the many personas a slick of fiery red lipstick can give a woman. Transformative, mood-lifting, and easy on the purse, is it any wonder that they say when the economy is down, lipstick sales go up?

“Lipstick tells us so many things about a woman. It tells us about her personality,” says Tom Pecheux, make-up guru and Fashion Week beauty maverick. “For example, a woman wearing a strong red lipstick suggests she wants to express a certain power.”


The act of wearing lipstick may be empowering and meditative in itself, but the colour chosen is also crucial in asserting power through persona. Think red lips and the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, and Ava Gardner immediately come to mind; there is a veritable list of women who owe both their immortal beauty and star status to a tube of red, and indeed, it lives up to its timeless reputation of elevating a look.

Modern-day bold-lipped icons include Alexa Chung, Emma Stone, and of course, Taylor Swift. The blonde singer’s love of the fiery red pout is well-documented in an album called Red, as well as in her new song “Style”, in which she sings: “You’ve got that James Dean daydream look in your eyes, and I got that red lip classic thing that you like … We never go out of style.”

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“Red lipstick can look quite classic,” agrees Wendy Rowe, “but if you wear it with sun-warmed skin and very simple make-up on the eyes, it suddenly becomes something modern.” The make-up maestro, who runs the scene backstage at every Burberry Prorsum show alongside CEO Christopher Bailey, has given the latest season’s girls gorgeous matt brick-red lips, leaving the skin polished to allow that glorious summer glow to shine through.

Consider also Dolce & Gabbana’s proposition; make-up doyenne Pat McGrath gave the models’ lips a lush, velvety burgundy worthy of a coronation robe to go with the cascading Castilian gold accessories. The twist: dark plumy lips were kept matt, with the edges of the lips softly blurred instead of lined for an incredibly modern rendition of the Spanish femme fatale.

If poppy red is more becoming on you, then the Missoni girls are your compass for this season’s lips. Lucia Pieroni, the make-up extraordinaire who painted the girls with fire-engine red and lit up their skin with an enviable glow, was inspired by Paul Gauguin’s paintings.

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By layering bright red upon a pink base, she gave the lips a rather three-dimensional matt-bright touch, like paint that has dried on a canvas. Pieroni also kept lip liners out of her bag this season.

“Lightly patting a tissue to absorb shine and then dusting over the lips with translucent powder gives a velvety finish, but also makes the colour last,” adds Rowe. Not too bad if you are in the mood for a kiss that does not smudge.


“A kiss is a souvenir, an imprint. For girls, the lipstick is a seductive weapon,” muses Olivier Echaudemaison, make-up legend and the creative eye of Guerlain. “When you put it on your mouth, it gives you confidence. It is a beautiful weapon.” Aptly, the storied French beauty house was also the first to create a lipstick – essentially, wax in a tube that closely resembles what we use today – in 1870. Sharp in siren red, sleek and sophisticated in packaging, this rouge à levres, which means “red on lips”, was the very hallmark of femininity back in the 19th Century.

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When the ’90s rolled around, colours such as beige and nude took over – particularly when menswear, monotones, monochrome, boyish crops, and bare-faced beauties reigned. “Fashion has always been up and down; after all that darkness, we are coming into colour again,” reinforces Echaudemaison, who has overseen dozens of runway shows as well as perfected the iconic faces of Sophia Loren and Grace Kelly.

“But they are all the same like you – two eyes, one mouth. Every morning, they think: what to do with make-up?” divulges Echaudemaison mischievously. “Some foundation, a coat of mascara, and a touch of lipstick, of course.”

“I think to put on red lipstick, or lipstick in general, is a very feminine act. It’s something I’ve seen my mother and grandmother do,” says Monica Bellucci, the Italian actress and muse of Dolce & Gabbana, of the power and allure of lipstick. “It’s like [it’s part of] our DNA. It’s a gesture, a beautiful gesture, that women do for themselves, not for others. And it’s a cultural movement in some way. Age doesn’t matter – it’s just something that women do.”

Credits: Imaxtree, Studio D.