Defining and defiant, empowering and comforting. Stylist’s Joanna McGarry pays homage to the high-impact lip trend dominating the season
Photography: Republic of Photography
If you take one thing from the pool of new season beauty trends, make it this: lipstick rules them all. Never has there been a more aggressive stake for beauty territory than that of autumn’s lipstick tidal wave. Never have we seen such a kaleidoscopic approach to lip colour on the catwalk. And never have we been as ready, willing and able to rise to its challenge.
On the a/w 2016 catwalks, the conventional palette of blood-red and merlot was met with a series of unexpected blues, rich yellows, biscuity tones, terracottas, deep purples, murky browns and the always-perky Pepto-Bismol pink. After endless seasons of identikit scrubbed-clean complexions, it was a technicolour feast for the eyes.
From canary yellow lips at Fendi, to matte magenta at Topshop Unique, ice blue at Paco Rabanne, vampish high-shine black cherry at Christian Dior and glossed Titian orange at Maison Margiela, the message was simple: when it comes to the lips, anything goes.
Graphic, linear – almost like a logo for the face – freshly painted lips are a trend born straight from the social media age. They demand attention on Instagram in a way no eyeliner flick or dishevelled curl could. Now, lipstick – in all its nuances, textures and shades – is set to replace nail polish as the weapon of choice for beauty self-expression. Global lipstick sales are growing at a rate of 3.76% each year and are set to reach $8.6billion by 2019, while the term ‘liquid lipstick’ is one of Google’s most searched terms for lips this year.
Colour me happy
This new era of lipstick confidence neatly dovetails with an explosion in technology: micro-pigments that appear like spray paint, skincare-hewn ingredients that meld colour to the lips and an extended shade spectrum, all of which have made the possibilities truly endless. All of this pleases me greatly. Why? Because I am a hopeless lipstick nerd. A slave to the stuff. I’m aware of every bend and shift of the lipstick world, rendering me a teensy bit biased. But I’ve also long known the power a great lipstick can yield. As nature’s blessing and curse, I have a vampiric pallor which cries out for the humanising effect of a brightly painted lip.
I didn’t know this until I turned 23, a wide-eyed graduate with freshly bleached hair (styled on Debbie Harry) and a sea of black clothes. Suddenly, I needed something else. An exclamation mark.
I stumbled across Mac’s neon orange-red lipstick, aptly named Morange, and we became partners in crime. From that moment on, I was never without boldly painted lips. They became my calling card, a recognisable feature of my face, like a beauty spot or a blanket of freckles. Colleagues would enquire about my emotional state if I ever accidentally left the house without lipstick. I’d find lipsticks nestled inside my jean pockets, stuffed into wallets and tumbling out of the washing machine drum.
They became my armour against the world. My love of shouty lipstick sat alongside my fight to be seen and heard as a young journalist at a fashion magazine. It worked as a handy prop; higher-ups would comment on my lipstick in the lift, starting a dialogue that eventually got me noticed. Freud would likely say it scratched an itch that began way before that, the classic middle child yelping for attention. I wanted to stand out, sure, but I also longed to put a barrier between myself and the world. Lipstick nailed both.
Now, I don’t know where my lipstick ends and I begin, so closely entwined is it with my persona. That my friends’ enduring impression of me is one in which I’m sat in a bar, furiously swiping my lips with one of the seven lipsticks I scrabble out of my bag, without a mirror or any concern about being watched, only proves that lipstick and I have ceased to be two different things; we’ve merged as one. And there’s something comforting about having settled on an identity – a motif – that just fits, like a snug pair of pyjamas.
Still, practical it isn’t. Bold lipstick is a high-maintenance friend. I reapply unthinkingly about 15 times a day. My application is fuzzy, slightly out of synch with my lip line, but there’s no time for perfection. The result is what the catwalk would term ‘lived-in’ and I’m more than satisfied with that. Perfection is dull.
I routinely end up with lipstick smears on my chin (from eating) or on the centre of my forehead (don’t ask me how), and my wine glasses are eternally stained with Tom Ford’s Cherry Lush. Still, I maintain its glory as best I can: kissing boyfriends has always played second fiddle to my love of a bright lip. In fact, wearing a power lipstick has nothing to do with the opposite sex. I wear it because it feels good. It feels right.
These days, I spend far longer selecting the appropriate lipstick than I do my clothes. A ruddy, earthy brown for when I need to appear diligent. Pillar-box red for when I need to zoom through a mile-long to-do list (I’m certain it makes me more productive) and a sheer rose for when I want to retreat into myself (it works). Lipstick is a silent road sign to the world; select your message and blast it across your lips. When I see photos of me without lipstick, I don’t recognise myself. I look dented. Lipstick empowers me like a pair of Louboutins or a bottle of Dior J’Adore might empower someone else.
And that’s the crux of beauty’s new bold lip obsession. It is wholly unapologetic. It’s ballsy. Lipstick has always traced the cultural arc of women and now, as we gain ever more equal footing with men in and out of the workplace, our make-up parallels our demand to take up space in society. No longer are we using make-up as a polite panacea to fit in or hide flaws. We’re using it to be noticed. And, frankly, it’s about time.