Monday, December 29, 2003
Both mature and young women like what red does for their looks.
It takes a bold woman to swipe on ruby-red lipstick, the color that turns heads, brands collars and tells the world that you are, above all else, not someone to mess with.
Pink appeases. Brown negotiates. Red takes no prisoners. It is passion's warpaint.
Maybe that's why women never tire of red lipsticks, and why every year cosmetic companies crank it out in all its flaming guises.
This season, the "lady in red" occupies a lofty niche in the cultural psyche. She is confident and assertive, yet ultra-feminine. She is fashionable, but not a slave to fashion.
Oh, and she looks great.
"The person that wears red has to be somewhat courageous and self-assured," says Winifred Curtis, head of Harcum College's fashion-design program.
On the lips, the color's punch is amplified.
"Red is associated, really internationally and throughout world history, with sexual passion," says Valerie Steele, director of the museum at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology.
That may be why every generation eventually revisits the look.
Marcia Huntley, her own scarlet lips glowing, at the Natural Nail salon she owns in Raleigh, N.C., says she has always loved red.
"I like the dramatic look. It's definitely an attention-getter," she says. "And it makes your teeth look whiter."
Perhaps no industry analyzes the power of color more thoughtfully than cosmetics.
"There's a certain elegance to the bright reds," says Joey Roer, owner of the Joey New York line.
Although she wouldn't expose sales figures, Roer says reds are consistently among her best sellers. Joey New York has released both "Red Light" and "Brite Red" in its new Opti-Brite Lipstick Swirl line.
Roer attributes the shade's popularity to its broad appeal. Mature women like strong reds for their face-brightening effects. Stylish, young women wear it because nothing goes better with basic black -- the uniform of the hip and fashion-conscious.
Then there's the office.
"Nobody fools around with a woman wearing red lipstick," says Sandy Mustion-Lemmerman, creator of Alchemy's "very bloody red" Devil's Claw.
For some women, however, red lips are too strong a statement. These are the lipstick voyeurs who watch from the sidelines.
"When a woman glances at another woman she finds appealing, what she finds appealing is something that she cannot wear or does not have the nerve to wear," says Jean Ford, co-founder of Benefit Cosmetics. "If you're wearing a red lipstick, I look at you and say you're a girl with moxie."
There are compromises for shyer women though. For instance, Benefit, in conjunction with Glamour magazine and singer Shania Twain, this month released "Shania Red," a limited-edition shade from which all proceeds go to the American Heart Association.
A softer hue, Shania Red is for the woman who envies a bold mouth, but can't bring herself to paint one on.
"This is a very wearable red," Ford says. "It's a neighborly, happy, how-you-doing red."
Whatever shade or tone one wears, there's a bit of an art to wearing red lipstick. There are few worse fashion faux pas than a woman walking around in the wrong red.
First of all, says Mustion-Lemmerman, bright lips are best worn with very little other color. Think of the late fashion icon Carolyn Bessette, with her scarlet mouth and ivory face, on the arm of JFK Jr.
And as a very general rule, women with either fair skin or dark skin look best in bright reds.
But in truth, with so many shades available, there's a red for everyone.