How One Vogue Editor Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Lip
“Anyone can wear a red lip!” That was the idea drifting around the room at a dinner in Soho recently, a room filled with beauty editors sporting variations of the classic eye-catching shade. So when I confessed that I was afraid of lipstick, and of reds in particular, the crowd immediately winced, as if I’d just admitted I’d never once moisturized. How could any beauty-phile not be a red lip girl at heart?
I’ve always loved bold lips in theory, but not in execution. For years, at every passing makeup counter, I sought professional advice, but my lips were too oddly shaped, my skin too off-color, to land on that wearable rouge. Eventually, I gave up on the idea entirely. Then, recently, the Fall 2016 runways ran red: There was a striking tomato at Proenza Schouler that exuded downtown cool, while the next-level cherry at Prada, blended by makeup artist Pat McGrath from three different tones, oozed subversive sensuality. “It’s about a strong, independent woman—and what’s more powerful than a red mouth?” McGrath shared backstage. What better reason for me to reconsider my stance?
I call in the big guns: makeup artist Romy Soleimani, who arrives at the Vogue.com offices carting two large black cases filled with lipsticks, stains, glosses, and pencils of every imaginable shade. “Oh, absolutely, it’s intimidating,” she tells me, uncapping a neat row of sticks. “But I think there’s a red for everyone.” Will it be an orange- or blue-red that flatters my skin tone? I wonder aloud. Gently, Soleimani chides me against limiting my choices. “I don’t like those formulaic restrictions,” she says. “You might be ruling out an amazing shade.”
She begins by swiping NARS Dragon Girl lip pencil across my mouth, then blends MAC Ruby Woo on top to craft an iconic blue-red. “You’re good with red—I can see it already,” she says, while pressing the pigment in with a brush. A touch of Kevyn Aucoin lip pencil at the end creates a “softer, plushy look,” instead of the defined line that I’d always found impossible to create. After a cleansing lip scrub, a vivid orange-red crafted with MAC Lady Danger and NARS Heat Wave goes on, which Soleimani pats in with her fingers. “You can push it into the bows of your lip; that’s how you get the bee-stung effect,” she explains. Stepping back to admire her handiwork, Soleimani declares both tones a success. “You totally look good in lipstick!” she says, and with her stamp of approval, I feel a tad more confident.
Equipped with Soleimani’s advice, I decide to start slow, turning to Chanel’s new line of Rouge Coco Stylos. Packed with jojoba and coconut oil, they deliver a lipstick-like pigment with the sheen of a gloss and ease of a balm. Like an elevated version of Burt’s Bees with Pomegranate—until now, my lip color of choice—I force myself to slick on a quick coat before leaving the house every day, working my way from a pale nude all the way up to a bright pink. The hybrid gloss-balm is easy to wear, but does leave a nice, approachable color on the mouth. “Take those baby steps, and just keep going,” says Soleimani—and so I do.
It takes about five days before I feel comfortable with color and decide to move on to the reds. “It’s important to take care of your lips,” Soleimani had said. “If you don’t have a good base, you’re going to be fighting with yourself.” Remembering that, I start with a Nuxe honey sugar scrub, then mimic her technique: a touch of that Kevyn Aucoin liner and a deep matte Bordeaux, pressed in softly. It is undeniably striking, and I find that the darker red, of all things, feels easier to wear—it’s about the attitude. But later that day, when I’m asked to pose in a series of photos, panic ensues: The lipstick is too unfamiliar, and I don’t feel like myself.
Instead of smearing it off, I grit my teeth and push forward. Guess what? The photos were fine—good, even—and the world didn’t end. And why would it have? As Soleimani puts it: “It’s just lipstick. Why not just try it for fun?”
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