“I’m the polar opposite of 90 per cent of women in that red lipstick is my go-to,” says Poppy King, the perpetually scarlet-mouthed, Australian-born, New York City-based founder of Lipstick Queen. “When I want to do something daring or different, I’ll wear wine or pink.” King has just launched her second book, The A to Z of Lipstick, which covers everything from application advice to historical trivia, including a section about how lipstick is manufactured. “It’s taking all the things I find fascinating about lipstick, both the intellectual and the superficial, and putting it all together.” Here are five things we learned about the queen of lipstick.
At 18, King launched Poppy, an edited collection of lipsticks, in her hometown of Melbourne. She found the factory to produce her line by scrolling through the phone book. “All these years, through all my ups and downs, triumphs, failures and all the drama—the fact that I found this factory in the phone book is the thing that floors most people,” she says. “Whether it’s looking in a phone book or putting on a lipstick, give yourself a new sense of what is possible.”
King moved to New York City after receiving a job offer from Prescriptives in 2002, but she left the position after three years, missing the connection she had with real women. “When you’re an executive in the corporate beauty world, you’re more removed from the customer,” she explains. Because she’s not a makeup artist, King looks at lipstick from the buyer’s perspective. “I want something that makes me feel empowered, intellectually curious and more beautiful on the outside.”
Rather than create hundreds of shades, King prefers to play with pigment levels, offering similar hues in both opaque and sheer versions. “It’s a totally different effect, but it’s still the colour you love,” she says, adding that the sheer options are perfect for women who are intimidated by full-blown opacity. Some of her shades, like Frog Prince and Hello Sailor, are chameleon-like. The green-hued Frog turns lips rosy, while the blue-shaded Sailor gives them a berry tint. Next up is Black Lace Rabbit, which looks noir in the tube but leaves a smoky veil. “It’s like stockings for your lips,” says King.
Despite being a hardcore lipstick enthusiast, King encourages women to go bare on occasion. “It’s a tool, not a rule,” she explains. On the days she goes without lipstick, King says she’s shocked when people recognize her on the street. “I feel like, ‘Whoa, how did they see me?’” Taking a break from her red mouth also helps her rediscover her affection for it. “It’s nice to put lipstick down for a while, come back and say, ‘I look so chic with this lipstick on!’ You surprise yourself.”
There are two great lipstick moments in pop culture that stand out to King: The first is in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, when Audrey Hepburn says, “Hand me my purse, will you, darling? A girl can’t read that sort of thing without her lipstick on.” King says, “It just so gets to the crux of lipstick being this kind of experience…It helps you be prepared for life.” The other is the scene in Butterfield 8, when Elizabeth Taylor refuses money left in her purse from her lover and writes “No Sale” in lipstick on the mirror. “It goes to show that lipstick is far from a submissive product,” she says. “It’s a weapon of self-empowerment.”
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