Before we get to the good stuff (makeup! lipstick! Louboutin!) we need to talk about the colour red. And let’s consult one of my favourite oracles of style, Diana Vreeland, who was obsessed with red. She said, “Red is the great clarifier – bright, cleansing, revealing. It makes all colors beautiful. I can’t imagine being bored with it – it would be like becoming tired of the person you love.” Also, “All my life I’ve pursued the perfect red. I can never get painters to mix it for me. It’s exactly as if I’d said, ‘I want Rococo with a spot of Gothic in it and a bit of Buddhist temple’—they have no idea what I’m talking about. About the best red is to copy the color of a child’s cap in any Renaissance portrait.” Well, I know EXACTLY what she means; I’m also red obsessed. Maybe the “best red” she was referring to was this child’s cap in the famously tender Renaissance painting by Ghirlandaio.
Boticelli’s ‘Portrait of a Young Man With a Red Hat’ ca. 1485.
Or maybe she meant to colour of the red hat in Boticelli’s beautiful portrait of a young man above? Who knows exactly which paintings the divine Mrs. V had in her mind… but she’s right. The Italian Renaissance painters really perfected those deep, rich, intense, perfect reds, didn’t they?
Red is such an extreme colour. It demands attention. It stimulates faster breathing and quickens the heartbeat. Red is the colour we associate with love and passion. This is why having a kick-ass red lipstick is a stylistic necessity. Even if you don’t feel like red is your thing, much like a sequin skirt, it should be your thing. As Aubrey Hepburn correctly pointed out, “There is a shade of red for every woman.” If you haven’t found yours yet or if you don’t think you can wear red lipstick, let’s get started…maybe I can help.
Red can be tricky for those of us with fair colouring; red lipstick can potentially overpower my whole face. Sometimes when I put it on, it just looks wrong… almost comical. I’m simply not in the red zone some days, and that’s fine. In fact, I had a tube of Mac Russian Red lipstick that sat in a drawer and was moved with my belongings all around the world as I moved countries every few years from 1994 until 2014. That’s right. TWENTY YEARS. For twenty years, my Mac Russian Red was virtually untouched by human hands. I can remember buying it at the Mac store with my friend Michele, on Christopher Street in the West Village in NY back in the days when there was always a queue to get in the door, and a seriously gorgeous drag queen gave you a makeover (long before Mac was purchased by Estee Lauder). One such queen insisted that I buy Russian Red, and I did, because Madonna famously wore it, and who didn’t want to be Madonna in 1994? I put it on at home the next day, decided I looked like a vampire, and never wore it again until just last year. I never could bring myself to throw it out! I felt like Russian Red was the kind of thing you should always have in case of emergency, sort of like bandages in a first aid kid. Fast forward twenty years, and Russian Red is now one of my favourite reds to wear. Yes, I’m wearing twenty-one-year-old lipstick, but my lips haven’t fallen off and moths and bats didn’t fly out of the tube when I opened it, so I think it’s ok.
Here is The Sequinist’s guide to the perfect red lipsticks:
1. The easiest red to wear in my opinion, is Lipstick Queen’s Glossy Pencil in THRILLER. It is a sheer, cool, clear red. I’ve given it as a present to friends (even ones who think they can’t wear red) and they all love the buildable colour. Almost like mascara, you can layer coats on for more impact, and the fat pencil makes it easy to apply without a lip brush. I just smudge the edges of my lip with a finger tip because I don’t like a clear line. If you’re new to red, or haven’t worn it in a while, or think red doesn’t suit you, this is the red to try.
2. The next easy one to wear it Lipstick Queen’s SAINT RED. It is less sheer than Thriller, but still very easy to apply straight from the bullet, no lip brush required. It is an every day, garden-variety slightly warm red. It won’t change your life, but it fills a need. I wear it frequently and keep one in my handbag because it is goof-proof, and it doesn’t have any fuchsia undertones.
3. While we’re in the land of Lipstick Queen, one of my absolute favourite red lipsticks is RED METAL, and that is exactly what it looks like. Imagine real gold metal, with transparent red over it. Or that metallic paint used on cars, but in red. I could stare at this one for ages it is so mesmerising. It does need a lip brush for application, and it can be a little drying so I use it over Mac Prep + Prime Lip. The metallic sheen is hard to capture in my photographs; it is more metallic in real life (and just so pretty!).
4. Moving over to Mac, another favourite of mine is Mac’s Viva Glam in CYNDI (as in Lauper). I wore this at my wedding. It is a soft rosy red, and like the first two I recommended, Thriller and Saint Red, Cyndi is easy to wear even if I’m not in my red zone that day. No primer is needed, and I don’t have to bother with a lip brush. It is discontinued now, but you can always find a tube on Ebay or from a really nice person at Mac who knows how to get their hands on these things.
5. The next Mac on my playlist is the aforementioned twenty-one year old RUSSIAN RED, which I think I had to grow into. I couldn’t handle that much red in the salad days of my youth, but now I truly love it. It is a pain because I have to use a lipstick brush for even coverage, I have to use Mac Prep + Prime Lip underneath it to give it some extra slip, and sometimes I have to correct my lipline with a liner (I use Mac Cherry with this, like everyone else). Still, the colour is a beautiful, perfect, lush, kick-ass red.
6. Another famous Mac I have grown into is RUBY WOO. I like the retro matte brightness of Ruby Woo, but like Russian Red, I have to take time to get it right with lip primer (Ruby Woo is quite dry), lip liner, and a lip brush. Some days, I just don’t have the patience for this. The thing about red lipstick is that it has to look even and perfect. It can’t be patchy, or worn off in the middle from eating and drinking… this of course means reapplication, and if I am going to an event where I don’t want to have to touch up my lipstick at least once or twice in an evening, I don’t wear Ruby Woo. However, there are times you need a really strong cherry red lip, and this is just the ticket.
7. This brings us to (loooooong drumroll here) Christian Louboutin’s ROUGE LOUBOUTIN. This just-launched colour comes in three finishes: a sheer voile, a silky satin, and a velvet matte. I got the satin version because I was worried the matte would be drying or just too much colour (it isn’t.. I got it later!) and I thought the sheer could be too transparent and too similar to my Lipstick Queen Thriller. The satin is just right. I love this lipstick. Yes, I do have to faff around with a lipstick brush, but once the colour is there it stays there. Even if it wears off in the middle of my lips from eating or drinking, it leaves a nice stain on the lips so I don’t look like a freak. When I swatched the colours on my arm for these photographs and washed them all off, eight hours later, I could still see a stain from the Rouge Louboutin Silky Satin, and not from any of the others. The colour is deep. It is rich. This is Vreeland’s Renaissance portrait red in a tube (If I ever create a lipstick, that will be the name, Vreeland’s Renaissance Portrait Red). It feels so nice on my lips I forget I have it on (unlike Ruby Woo). It is a red lipstick for grown-ups and temptresses and jazz singers and screen sirens. It belongs on the mouth of someone who should be listened to, because only someone with authority should wear a colour like this. I’m not sure I am always that person, but I can pretend! Also, the packaging is so exquisite (see below) that if I do need to touch up my lipstick in public, I’m doing so with this beautiful
weapon objet d’art rather than just some ordinary tube!
8. The last red lipstick on my playlist is Christian Louboutin’s DIVA. This is a gorgeous, vibrant, orangey red in a matte finish. The colour grabbed me and demanded I take it home when I was buying the Rouge Louboutin. I always loved Nars’ Babe lipgloss (now discontinued, RIP) a juicy red-orange, and I thought this might be a more elegant, grown-up version of Babe. It is. It doesn’t have the lip-staining magic that Rouge Louboutin does, but I’m really enjoying the plush matte texture (again, not drying like Ruby Woo) and the face-brightening effect of a very warm red. If you have trouble with reds going fuchsia on you, I can assure you that this one won’t! I do have to use a lip brush for precise application of both of the Louboutin colours, but I don’t have to use a lip primer, because they are quite moist.
I’m going to add a few more swatch photos in slightly different lighting below, because reds are notoriously hard to capture accurately online. Since I’m always keen to add to my red lipstick stash, let me know in the comments below what your favourite reds are! Which ones can’t you live without?