Unpacking the deep, cultural history of the famed beauty product, Red Lipstick: an Ode to a Beauty Icon explores the lasting legacy of the legendary shade. Not just stories and anecdotes, but also vibrant, inspiring images from fine art, photography, beauty and fashion editorials and advertisements fill the tome—not to mention the style icons who wore it well.
Veteran beauty writer Rachel Felder has advised women for years on how to wear red lipstick, a trademark of her own style. As she explains to CR, “A lightbulb went off that this was something people were interested in. And the history of it is really deep and that had never been really explored either.” And thus, the book idea was born.
Featured in Red Lipstick are a series of hall of famers. Among them, punk rock stars Debbie Harry and Siouxsie Sioux, as well as pop music idols including Madonna and Rihanna. Felder also salutes the greats of vintage Hollywood including Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Grace Kelly in addition to Marilyn Monroe and her trademark red lipstick Max Factor Ruby Red, which is no longer available in the United States. Also included, of course, is a brief history of cult figure Coco Chanel. Red Lipstick also focuses on the suffragettes, World War II workforce, flappers, politicians, first ladies, and fashion world favorites who have boldly caught the public’s attention.
During the process of researching and writing the book, Felder immersed herself in this makeup’s past. In fact, some details were new to her. One account involves wearing red as a political move: “Women during World War II wore it as an act of defiance because Hitler famously didn’t like red lipstick,” she says. Another highlight? The broad, societal spectrum: “Over the many centuries of red lipstick, prostitutes have worn it,” Felder shares. “Actresses wore it in an era when to be an actress was not something that was seen as a respectable profession. Then by the time of the 1950s when Queen Elizabeth was going to her coronation, she had a red lipstick created for that coronation specifically to match the red of the robes of her coronation outfit. Three different brands have been credited with creating that lipstick for her.”
Throughout time, one common thread between anyone wearing red is its global appeal and with that, a kind of fearless spirit. “So the thing about red is it’s extremely deliberate,” says Felder. “And putting on something that takes that kind of effort and puts the focus on you, inherently shows confidence. By simply putting it on, you’re doing something that’s empowering and conscious and bold and self assured. And then there’s the part that it’s universally flattering as long as you find your right sort of undertone of red.”
It’s no wonder there’s a faithful following behind the popularity of red lipstick. Both women and men have recognized its enormous influence to this day, and though it might rise and fall in seasonal trends, it remains a beauty staple, similarly as important as the essential little black dress. While countless articles exist online about red lipstick’s history—along with helpful tips—this book captures those poignant moments with richer depth. Through politics or making a fashion statement, its eye-catching allure transcends time, and its power, transformative.
And as Hepburn once said, “On a bad day, there’s always lipstick.”END
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