As far back as I can remember, I wanted to wear red lipstick. It seemed synonymous with womanhood; tinted balms were for make-up curious children, glosses were for tweens, pinks and nudes were prim and proper. But reds – scarlets, berries and oxbloods – graced the lips of heroines, vamps and femme fatales.
I remember watching my mother apply it on special occasions and thinking it was the most glamorous thing a woman could do. Sometimes I'd sneak up to her dressing table, sparkling with Estée Lauder silver tubes, and paint myself into faux sophistication. But fast forward twenty odd years and nude is the new 'classy'.
Our nation's obsession with nudes was dubbed the ‘Meghan Markle effect’ after sales of nude lipstick rose by 65% in a week after her first appearance as Prince Harry’s fiancée, although it's been around far longer than that. Kim Kardashian (like her or loathe her, she’s a bona fide trend setter) has also been credited by Vogue for soaring sales of flesh-toned shades; as ubiquitous in the beauty world as our endless quest for a ‘glow’ (do we blame Kim K or J. Lo?). And that – despite my childhood penchant for a pillar box – was alright by me. Because it turned out, I didn't really suit red lipstick… Or so I thought.
My first ever red was a beauty bestseller, and perhaps the most name dropped red by 'slebs and glossy mag editors: MAC's Ruby Woo. But instead of igniting a lipstick love affair – a gateway tube to the full spectrum of reds – it put me right off the stuff. The too-matte-for-me formula dried out my, already dry, lips and highlighted any dead skin in the most unflattering way. Yes, even after a good exfoliation.
I steered clear for years, but the world's come a long way formula-wise. Case in point, Charlotte Tilbury's Matte Revolution range – not only do they leave lips matte yet moisturised, soft and glowing (yes, lips can glow too now), the square, angular tip mimics the shape of a lip brush; giving a far more precise application than typical bullets, and meaning you can eschew lip liner altogether.
For me, a red has to be matte. The upkeep is already effort enough; add a gloopy gloss to that and it equals more touch-ups than I can be bothered with. The incredibly clever Smashbox Insta-Matte Lipstick Transformer turns any lipstick formula into a velvety matte in a matter of seconds – allowing you to focus on finding the perfect shade, regardless of finish.
The shade, it turns out, is paramount to feeling like ‘you’ in a red; not some clown-like imposter pretending to be a proper person. After exhausting the aisles of every make-up shop and counter imaginable, I headed to Cosmetics à la Carte to have a bespoke red lipstick created to compliment my skin tone. A make-up artist mixed up a shade that really suited me, then sent it off to the company’s private lab to be made into a bullet. The result – a deep pinky red with blue undertones – was about as far from the mid-toned brick hues I was trying to make work.
Since finding a red that really ‘popped’, I’m a convert again. The joy of a good red lipstick lies in how lazy it allows you to be with the rest of your face – it looks far better with minimal make-up (smoky eyes are too Robert Palmer Girls for me; best left in the 80s along with my mum's old lipsticks).