In the summer of 2021, Janet Pardo, Clinique’s senior VP of product development, got a call from her daughter, who told her that a TikToker with the handle “Shanniedarko_” had posted about Black Honey, the brand’s iconic lipstick shade, saying that Liv Tyler had worn it in the first Lord of the Rings film, The Fellowship of the Rings. “I mean, she’s a total gen Z,” Pardo says of her daughter. “But she understands Clinique. It’s in her blood because she grew up with me talking about it constantly.” It got picked up by other influencers, and soon Black Honey went viral—50 years after its initial launch.

In its original iteration, the dark shade was part of a 1971 line of lipglosses in a pot. At the time, British makeup brand Yardley of London was hugely popular, as was its Pot o’ Gloss. Capitalizing on the trend, Clinique founder Carol Phillips launched six shades of lipgloss in the same kind of vessel. “The idea was it was an ooey-gooey gloss that felt like honey,” says Pardo. “It was thick and dense, and you used a lip brush to put it on, and your hair would stick to your lips.”

The shades were mostly soft, pinky and peachy except for the one that would outlive them all. “Black Honey was like the odd man out,” says Pardo. “It was very disruptive-looking, because when you opened up the pot, it looked black. But when you put it on, it was a delight—a surprise.” That’s because the pigments were in the exact right dose to allow the shade to work with one’s natural lip tone. “The way it looked on a Black woman versus a Latina versus a Caucasian woman, you would think it was three different shades.” It soon became a cult favourite—one that you kind of had to be in the know about.

@victorialyn Iconic lipsticks you NEED to try: @Clinique Black Honey🖤😍🍯 #blackhoney #makeup #beauty #clinique #fallmakeup ♬ Storytelling – Adriel

Glosses eventually fell out of favour, but Black Honey got a second life in 1989 when Phillips made it one of the shades in the brand’s Almost Lipstick range. “It obviously had such a following,” says Pardo. “She brought it back in this collection and made it modern.” This time, it was housed in a slim silver tube but could still be applied without a mirror. “You weren’t getting that gooey shine anymore, but [it had] this comforting balmy texture that [made it feel] like you were putting a treatment product on your lips. It became a very big hit very fast.” (The company would go on to make a Black Honey blush, and it just brought out a lipgloss version too.)

And since then, it has never gone away. It manages to persevere in spite of trends like transfer-proof full-colour matte lipstick. “The people who loved it loved it and never went away from it,” says Pardo. “But it wasn’t really attracting a newer audience because there were trends involved.” That is until gen Z discovered it, and a rabid demand for the product ensued.

“We didn’t anticipate this,” says Pardo. The company had to change its forecast and secure more time on the production line to manufacture the product as it was unavailable in Canada for about six to nine months. “For quite a while, we were out of stock, and that only made the frenzy worse.” Some people would try to source it through gift-with-purchase promotions. “And it wasn’t stopping. It was everywhere. Clinique was once again part of the narrative.”

clinique black honey

Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey, $30


That hasn’t ceased either. In October, Black Honey won the Iconic Beauty Award at the CEW (Cosmetic Executive Women) Awards, and it is the number one lipstick not just in Canada but in all of North America. “I have to chuckle because I think it’s pretty remarkable that something from 1971 still resonates to this day,” says Pardo. It’s especially noteworthy that it’s resonating with a whole different consumer who wants different things from a brand and from a lipstick. “It’s one of those products where all the stars lined up—like everything was right about it. And that’s why it has stood the test of time. Fifty-something years later, it’s still here.”

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