Last week the long-awaited exhibition ‘Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up’ opened at the V&A. The beautifully curated show charts the life, works and inspiration, love and tragedies of one of history’s most iconic and brave female artists. As the exhibitions’ name points out, it’s an exploration into the way that Frida presented herself to the world.
The exhibition showcases many of Frida’s most intimate possessions, cosmetics and medicines, jewellery and clothes, interspersed with compelling self-portraits of the subject, whose look is so distinguished.
Kahlo lived a life full of intoxicating colour. From her home, Casa Azul (blue house), to her dress and the vibrant fresh flowers that adorned her hair -salvias, marigolds, dahlias, lantanas, canas. Among all this colour, what is so standout in many of Frida’s self-portraits is her painted red lip.
‘Nothing in beauty is new,’ confirms beauty contributor, Mary Greenwell.
A red lip can be traced back 5,000 years when Ancient Sumerian men and women crushed gemstones to decorate their lips. Cleopatra and her fellow Egyptians crushed bugs and used the blood and guts to stain their mouths as a status symbol and in Australia, Aboriginal girls would paint their mouths red with ochre, as a puberty ritual.
From Jessica Rabbit to Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Patricia Arquette in True Romance, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction, Mena Suvari in American Beauty, the red lip is a symbol of strength and femininity. It’s sensuous and statement-making. Red lips are classic and iconic. Despite how old this trend is, it always looks fresh. It demands attention.
Beauty expert Sali Hughes dedicated a whole chapter of her book Pretty Honest to red lipstick, ‘red lipstick is the little black dress of beauty. Red is powerful, strong, smart, bold, sexy and lethally feminine.’
A red pout is glamorous, think Hollywood stars of the 40s, Marilyn Monroe in the 50s and today, stars like Jessica Chastain and Rosie Huntington Whiteley working red lips on the red carpet. But a red lip can be worn any time. Alexa Chung once professed that red lipstick was her go-to on a hangover day, providing an instant face boost and Sali Hughes will wear a red lip with ‘practically anything – a sweater dress on a loafing day when I need a swift kick up the backside, in important meetings when I want people to know I am not to be screwed with, at parties that deserve some effort or just on days where I need the extra backbone that red provides.’
‘It’s always standout. It’s classic, fabulous and punchy,’ agrees Mary Greenwell, ‘It works just as well for summer as it does winter. Go even brighter for summer. Orange and pinky reds are beautiful in the summer light.’
‘The important thing is to make your mouth look as full as possible,’ informs Mary, ‘which means a lip liner, even if it’s nude. Laura Mercier’s Dominate lipstick is matte and long lasting. You don’t want glossy red lips, they’re messy. You definitely don’t want lipstick on your teeth or on your glass. The best way to find a red lipstick is to spend an entire lunch hour at your nearest Boots or department store and try, try, try. Have fun, living your childhood dream of trying out make-up. What suits you is a completely individual to your colourings and who you are. Just go for it. Be brave and enjoy.’
In the words of Gwyneth Paltrow: ‘Beauty to me is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.’
Ladies, it’s time to kick some ass.
All pictures from instagram.