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The new way to do red

by Ana Wang

February 24, 2014


Red lipstick took a bit of a backseat in the 90s – my only memory of red lips during the fashion seesaw era of grunge versus minimalism – was on Miss Geri Halliwell. And, it was a very caricaturized red, the way only someone otherwise known as Ginger Spice could do it (after Geri left the Spice Girls, she seemed to also leave behind the red that so closely defined her). For everyone who wasn’t a larger-than-life staged symbol of girl power in the 1990s and 2000s, it was all about the smoky eye and the neutral lip: The eyes were the window of soul in the post-Y2K makeup world. As they say in fashion, everything works in a cyclical manner (except maybe now everything is just a big giant mush of all trends and no trends land – speaking of which, I like Leandra Medine’s use of themes instead of trends); the same can be said about beauty. And for the past few years, red has been making a major comeback, along with every other shade of lipstick that offers a variation on the nude we saw maybe a little bit too much of.

Today’s red is all about – as it ever was – glamour. But there is a variation that makes a distinction between the red of Jenna Lyons and the red of our grandmothers – and yes, that of Ginger Spice. You don’t have to go with that red, the one that everyone else is wearing. Instead, it’s all about choosing your right red. Whether brick or true or berry or blue, red comes in a plethora of shades.

The trick to wearing it? It’s all about taking it down a notch. This is not the head-full-of-curls and cat-eye red of Marilyn Monroe in her heyday. No, the new way to do red is cleaner, simpler, a bit unfinished. Pat McGrath, famed makeup artist working the fashion show circuit, has been working with an undone sort of makeup look as of late. There’s makeup, yes, and that’s obvious (this is not a no-makeup look, that’s for sure), but it draws its hand from both polish and effortlessness. It’s about the effect, not about colouring inside the lines. Colour inside the lines and you run the risk of looking like a character. Although, go too far outside and that character becomes a clown.

Doing a red lip is a makeup move reserved only for those confident enough to pull it off. It’s like going for gold. You have to want it, and you have to be prepared with all that comes with it (the touchups, the way you’ll have to change how you eat and drink, the looks on the street – part admiration part who-does-she-think-she-is, at least that’s the case in yoga nation Vancouver.) It’s a statement of here-I-am, hear-me-roar, ironically in a way that seemingly diminishes our strength: mobility of all mouth-related activity is limited. But all us red-lipstick lovers know better. You can be the object of desire but not get caught up in desire. Male intel tells us that men in general aren’t as in love with red lips as the rest of us are, because it’s messy. (Although they sure are attracted to it: red lips were revealed as the sexiest lip colour.) So it’s both an attractor and a repellant. And that’s what’s so cool about the red lip. It’s morphed into a feminist statement more than anything. It isn’t about becoming a character so much as it is about rocking out a bright lip, simply because it looks good. And since we discovered it isn’t about men (because who can make something out of the fact that they seem to both like it and detest it – and really, who cares?), red lips have enjoyed soaring popularity on everyone from, well, everyone in the star-studded world of celebrity, to me, a plain Jane. All only for the reason that it looks damn good. That’s some real girl power for you.

And the best part of going for the gold red? You can wear it without much of anything else, really. See, every once in a while, we need those let-the-skin-breathe kind of days. For that, we say put on your favourite red, maybe just maybe fill in the brows or add a smudge of your most minimal eye makeup, and keep a pair of sunglasses close. You don’t even have to do your hair.

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