I remember buying my first lipstick like it was yesterday. Purchased sometime in the mid 90s, there was only one shade to choose: Heather Shimmer by Rimmel. I knew Rimmel was the way to go thanks to my Nan. She had two lipsticks that she let me play with, both slim brown plastic push-up sticks, one in coral, one in bright pink, with a glamorously waxy smell. All she wore was lipstick and a light dusting of powder; that’s all she needed, she said.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d spent my life watching both my mum and grandma wear lipstick every single day. I didn’t really put too much thought into the act of wearing lipstick, I just knew that to be attractive and feminine, that’s what I should do. Being an awkward teenager with fixed braces (top and bottom), thick glasses and a series of terrible haircuts, I needed as much help to be attractive and feminine as possible. So Heather Shimmer it was.
Roll on almost twenty years and I’m still a fan of lipstick, but with a significant difference: I don’t wear it to be attractive or feminine now. In fact, feedback I’ve had from most partners is that they prefer the non-lipsticked look (I don’t think that’s uncommon), so if my aim is to be attractive I’m shooting myself in the foot on a regular basis. Instead, I choose to wear it because I like playing with colours and playing with my appearance. Put simply: I wear it for myself.
I’m not massively experimental with the rest of my make up, mostly because I’m not skilled enough to achieve the looks I’d like to create or not quite brave enough to wear them in public, preferring the safety of prancing about the house like a child playing dress up (again). But lips are pretty straightforward and changing their appearance can make a huge difference to your face.
However, I like to be discerning about my choice of lipstick and there are some brands I won’t go near. Others, on the other hand, are almost impossible to resist. Lipstick Queen falls firmly into the latter category.
Established in the US in 2009 by Aussie-born Poppy King, Lipstick Queen is getting more and more attention in the UK, thanks to press coverage (including this month’s edition of Vogue) and the fact that Space NK and other stores across the country now stock their products. This is a brand that’s only going to grow in popularity, and it’s already pretty popular. The reason for this popularity isn’t hard to see: there aren’t many cosmetics companies I know of that tick so many boxes and tick them so well.
First of all, Lipstick Queen is a dedicated to lipsticks and has no interest in expanding into other products just to turn a profit. I admire that. Secondly, Lipstick Queen has tried hard to create fun, memorable packaging that you won’t want to throw away, and, being a sucker for great design, this appeals to me (almost) above all else. (If you’re as interested as I am, you can find out a little bit more about the creative direction of the brand from creative partner James Bernard). Thirdly, if you read any interview with Poppy King and you’ll discover she speaks a lot of sense (especially about men working within the cosmetics industry). Finally, the products are cruelty- and even gluten free. I don’t know what else you could want from a lipstick, except, of course, that it does what it’s supposed to do.
I recently tried four popular Lipstick Queen shades to find out if they do, in fact, (unscientifically) pass the “Do What They’re Supposed To Do” test.
Medieval is the flagship shade in the Lipstick Queen collection, frequently referred to as a “universally flattering colour”. I can’t claim to know how flattering it is for the entire universe’s complement of lips, but I can say that I’m pretty pleased with it. Initially, after testing this on the back of my hand (that’s what everyone does even though the skin is a different colour, right?), I wasn’t sure this was really going be noticeable, let alone last more than an hour or two. I’m happy to report that I was wrong on both counts, and this is one of the best lipsticks I’ve ever worn. The consistency is moist without being wet or waxy but somehow the colour remains in place. No, it’s not a pigment-rich matte affair and the colour might be less striking than the stick suggests, and yes, you will need to reapply after a meal or a lot of kissing (I assume) but it’s so safe and easy to apply that I’m sure it could be done without a mirror. With a £22 price tag, this is a little more expensive than other lipsticks in the collection, but I know I’ll use it on a regular basis, on days when I want to feel polished and well presented without being too flashy.
Jean Queen gets a lot of love online, but I had the same reservations I’d had about Medieval. This time, my fears were realised: it’s more like a tinted lip balm than lipstick. The shade is flattering because it enhances what’s already there rather than adding anything really new – which is exactly the claim Lipstick Queen makes. If you prefer sheer lipsticks you shouldn’t be disappointed at all, but this is one I see myself using on very low key days when I don’t have much time. At £18 (though cheaper deals can be found online), I’d rather choose a shade that’s a bit more fun. I’ll let you know if I need to eat my words, though (I suspect I might).
Did someone mention fun? This is it. A bright coral shade, this is definitely my idea of lipstick and it’s fantastic. I don’t know how they’ve managed it, but this has it all: strong colour suspended in a moisturising formula that really does last. I did reapply to achieve a fresh burst of colour before heading out in the evening, but that was at the end of a long working day and wasn’t absolutely necessary. (If you’re scared of the intensity or just want to mix it up, it also works well over a lip balm to give a softer flush of colour.) Being a long time fan of (tasteful) animal print and bright colours, the packaging on this one also won me over and justified the £20 cost in my head. I love it.
This is another fun shade to try: who else offers a navy blue lipstick? To paraphrase the words of Poppy King, this is a modern interpretation of the recent trend for blackberry shades, and caused a bit of a beauty stir when it was released earlier this year. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t look navy once applied, but it does add a cool berry tint (unlike some of the other shades, I don’t know how this would appear on darker skin, but it I suspect it wouldn’t be great). It can also be applied over corresponding berry shades from the Lipstick Queen Saint or Sinner collections, which apparently adds a topaz glint to lips – but I haven’t tried that. In fact, I’ve only tried this a couple of times and I’m still not sure if I’m pulling off the cool berry tint or if I just look very unwell, so I’m undecided about whether the £20 cost is personally justified. I am definitely going to persevere though, because it is, after all, fun and unique.
While Lipstick Queen lipsticks aren’t cheap, they have been developed by a woman with a real passion for the product, who pays attention to detail across every part of the brand. Despite all the added extras and beautiful packaging, though, they are simply excellent lipsticks. You’ve just got to find the right shade – or be brave enough to carry off the latest nautical trend.
And yes, Heather Shimmer is still available but no, I don’t think I’ll be going back to it just yet.