What’s in a name? And who names makeup, anyway? Is it as an afterthought, or does the name come before the product? I’ll often shop on the strength of names, all but ignoring the actual product. Chanel’s “Dragon” red or OPI’s “I’m Not Really a Waitress” are charged with possibility, glamour, humour. The tiniest line on the base of a bottle captures the imagination of the wearer. Here are three of the most memorable…
Pout: Pop My Bubble
Long ago in the early 2000s, in the golden age of Kylie and her micro shorts, I wrote a fan letter to a makeup brand. In gel pen cursive on pink correspondence paper, I asked Pout when they’d start selling their products in Ireland.
It wasn’t until 2006 that they appeared in Brown Thomas, but in the meantime Pout send back a hyper-girly catalogue full of products wrapped in lavender fishnet, each somewhat pornographically named. There’s the “Tie Me Down” colour palette, “No Knickers” lipstick and “Easy Ethel” lip polish… I am terrified and thrilled by the idea that something so private can be so sexually charged, that something as simple as lip balm can be worn with seductive intentions (“Indulge Me” mint balm, for “when lips aren’t getting enough”).
The catalogue is a primer in provocative copywriting, using sex and humour to sell makeup long before Urban Decay’s “Naked” eye palette. I feel compelled to hide it under my bed like the boys at school hide Nuts and FHM, but instead I read it until it’s falling apart. With a borrowed credit card and my parent’s creaky Gateway PC, I order “Pop My Bubble”, a milky, aggressively shiny pink gloss, from their website.
This is the bad-ass sister of the Juicy Tube, or MAC’s “Underage” lip glass, which I smugly throw in my bag alongside a fake ID on weekend excursions to Q-Bar. I’m not quite sure what “Pop My Bubble” alludes to, still don’t, and I don’t dare say the name aloud when asked in the locker room at school.
Pout suddenly close their doors right around the time of my first trip to London, the victim of an economic bubble now popped. I visit their Covent Garden flagship in time for the clearance sale, and find more of those little pink fishnet boxes littered around Notting Hill market stalls. Now there’s a Space NK in the same spot, all minimal decor and labcoat chic. Even lip gloss has to grow up sometime, I suppose.
Max Factor: Creme Puff, “Gay Whisper”
The Gaeltacht offers a first brush with several brands of existential terror. I watch my language, pretend not to miss my parents, and enjoy a diet of powdered soup and peanut butter sandwiches. But what gets to me is the scrutiny, the intensely claustrophobic experience of living with seven other teenage girls. I’m scared, because I don’t straighten my hair and I still wear a Marks and Spencer’s training bra. But I don’t have to worry, because in the second week it is discovered that another girl, Lauren, wears a foundation called “Gay Whisper”.
What is “Gay Whisper”, and why do people still wear it? It’s a terracotta face powder, in the “Creme Puff” Max Factor line. Lauren, its owner, comes from some far-flung rural spot (the spoken Junior Cert Irish obscures her accent) where MAC is not available, and the teasing this small but mortifying detail incurs is relentless. In its indigo round of plastic, the powder has an alarmingly reddish tinge, and smells like a woman named Ethel. Reading up on it now, I discover that the formula has not changed since 1953, nor have the kitschy colour names: “Light n Gay”, “Candle Glow”, “Blushing Beige” and “Sun Frolic”. Apparently it was what gave Ava Gardner her “glamorous skin” under the kleig lights.
Lauren was an odd fish, something like the Crazy Eyes of Corr na Mona. She mumbled neurotic English in her sleep, ate all the biscuits, and in the mornings she’d brush her hair so viciously we could hear strands ripping out. But perhaps she was right about Creme Puff, which for all its loopy outdated oddness retains a fanatical following. Amazon reviews proclaim its magical blotting powers, living up to the 50s ads, all spangly text and perilously corseted waists, which promise “smooth and lasting loveliness with just the kiss of a puff”.
Some lipsticks issue a challenge to the wearer: “Disciple” is one such challenge. Born in the seasonal collection “Art of Darkness”, this waxy, blackened blue shade is a bad attitude in a stick, the very antithesis of wearable. “Disciple” was designed as if to test the user’s devotion: chalky, dry and dangerously dense, it manages to drag on skin while presenting the contradictory risk of colour bleeding around your mouth. The gothy colour would imply not caring what other people think, but the maintenance it requires says otherwise. It takes a lot of effort to look this insouciant.
“Disciple” arrived in my life at a time when I needed it most. Adrift in east London in my first office job, I felt like a sell-out next to the boys in skirts and green-haired girls on my bus route. In this infinitely colourful pond, I was a small and colourless fish. The answer was to spend my weekends looking like I’d coloured my lips in with fountain pen.
There is statement lipstick and then there is “Disciple”: by wearing it you begin to emulate its name. The wearer must become a student of colour balancing and application, exploring self-expression, its limits and possibilities. You feel like Marla Singer, or like Jack Skellington’s bride: pretty in a ghoulish, tubercular manner.
“Disciple” is half lipstick, half political cause. It sends you out looking for trouble. Even in Camden one no longer sees black (or blue) lipstick very often: the experience of wearing it is a deliciously strange experiment, one I’ve not yet dared to replicate in Dublin.
Words : Roisin Kiberd – @roisinthemirror
Illustration : Una O’ Boyle – Co-founder of Tabitha
Images : Pinterest