When the usually demure actress Michelle Williams showed up at last year’s Academy Awards on the arm of Heath Ledger, it wasn’t just her canary-yellow gown that had people talking. With her mouth painted a vivid scarlet, she personified the glamour of old Hollywood — and ushered in a lipstick revival. Although lipstick has long been a symbol of femininity (archaeologists estimate the first lipstick, found near ancient Babylon and made from crushed, semiprecious jewels, to be 5,000 years old), its status has been challenged in recent years by the popularity of gloss. But this fall, thanks to fashion designers, makeup artists and the occasional daring celebrity, lipstick’s back — in a big, bold way.
At Gucci, Valentino and Roberto Cavalli, red lipstick made as much of a statement as the clothes on fall catwalks.
Gucci Westman Neville, international artistic director for Lancôme, was one of the driving forces behind the colour revolution. “We saw beige lips for so long that I wanted to go darker and more polished,” she says. “And the clothes just begged for a clean, crisp look.”
But this trend isn’t for the timid: unlike gloss, pulling off a brightly painted smile requires a certain level of self-assurance. “A woman who is in full possession of her being knows the effect of a red mouth and feels confident wearing it,” says Heather Hiscox, host of CBC News: Morning. King acknowledges the shade’s seductive connotations: “Reds are the most femme fatale of any lipstick colour.”
The return of lipstick is seen by some people as part of a broader trend: shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center, Estée Lauder chairman Leonard Lauder coined the phrase “lipstick index” — an indicator to gauge consumer spending. “During economic or global troubles, lipstick sales increase,” explains King. So, while the urge to buy lipstick may not bode well for the future, says King, it’s a small and relatively cheap way to give yourself a sense of hope.
Canadian men weigh in on life in the lipstick jungle.
“I’ve always viewed red lipstick as a sort of mating call — not necessarily for sex but for trying to attract men.” — Daniel Kishimoto, 27, Toronto
“Lipstick indicates a certain formality, and, unless I was appropriately attired, I would feel underdressed in her presence.” — Barry Choi, 32, Toronto
“Nothing is sexier than watching a woman apply her lipstick.” — Indy Singh, 37, Toronto
“I wouldn’t rank lipstick high on my list of turn-ons. It’s a monster to be avoided when you’re wearing a white shirt and makes stolen kisses visible to everyone.” — Andre Zunic, 35, Toronto
“When I think of red lipstick, I think of grandmothers or the 1980s.”
— Daniel M., 27, Toronto
“Context is important — strong lips might be a tad much for the subway
but just right for a black-tie event.” — Greg Zunic, 31, Toronto
“Bright red lipstick screams ‘sex’!” — John Gemmell, 25, currently living in London, England
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.