“Give me a red lipstick and a white shirt and I’ll give anybody a run for their money” said my very nearly beautiful mother. No kidding. She had apricot skin, bright blue eyes, eyebrows made of mouseskin and that slangy quality that made me think she could do anything she said she could do. I remember the name of only one of her lipsticks, from a later period when the convention of colour had changed (Coty’s Tulip Pink), but knowing that Tallulah Bankhead kept Elizabeth Arden’s Victory Red by the half dozen, shaved to a point on ice in the fridge, gave me back the colour in my mind’s eye. (Good eye in my mind, other eyes need glasses.) I am still very influenced by the name of cosmetics.
I came late to lipstick. Every so often merchandising offers us colour by number but it just doesn’t do for me. Why would I want to put 27 on my mouth if I could put Cassis ? Which is why I giggle most mornings as I put on a lipstick which has been terrifically successful for me, with the daftest name. It’s called (I’m blushing) Laura Mercier’s Crushed Pecan and I can hear Sally the long ago American exercise teacher drawing out the last syllable of the nut into eight extended “a’s”.
Of course, when you are as in love with colours and words as I am, you are doomed to disappointment. Millions of women may have bought Chanel’s Rouge Noir but it didn’t do much for me. Loved it on the stick, not keen on the lip. But it cheered a friend who has had heartbreak, cancer and money worries right up. “Quite different” she emailed and she has a magnificent eye for colour and great taste.
Before we go any further I admit to snobbery on this. I have always known women who never spend (or never admit to spending) more than a fiver on a lipstick and would hope to get away with less. I was brought up with names and brands, you get what you pay for, whether down the loo or on the cheekbone, and setting aside a few disappointments, I’m stuck with it. I also believe that your eye chooses what your eye chooses, then you have to get your skin on board ie it has to like what’s in the complicated recipe, and of course what it is called is midwife to the purchase.
I am appalled by the currently hyped long duration and waterproof makeup whether for eyes or skin and you couldn’t sell it to me under any name. (I am not keen on the idea of 24 or 36 hours deodorant. What about washing ?) There has never been a pressed powder my skin would abide, waterproof eye makeup fills my eyes uncomfortably and I have too much respect for my skin to want to seal it into makeup for a day. The other day I saw a pretty eye pencil and asked the assistant “Is it waterproof ?” She conferred nervously with a colleague. “We sell it as water resistant “ she said (like macs !) “But it will stay on.” “I’m not worried about it staying on” I said” I want to know I can get it off.” I shall refrain from attacking by name the makeup range de nos jours which requires goose grease and emery to remove. Terrifying. This is the realisation of the con, the colours are great but you’d better like them. Once on, they are around for a long time. This is your living breathing keep it for sixty years and more skin we’re talking about – not painting the garden wall.
And sometimes you have to make friends with or step over a name. I have no wish to touch up my mouth at the table even if it is socially acceptable but I love the gestures associated with powder and lipstick, probably because they remind me of being a girl who wanted to be a woman and my mother epitomised that for me. I am tickled to death to be on my second Black Orchid – my Joan Crawford moment ! And I have only owned two St. Laurent lipsticks with unsatisfactory names but splendid colour. Shakespeare was right, as usual.
“..would smell as sweet.”