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· Lookbook: Coral Lips

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Lookbook: Coral Lips
by Dorothy

Revlon ad, circa 1958.

It's appropriate that this Lookbook post follows Dain's post on fuchsia lips, since coral and orange are the warm equivalent. While a well-chosen red lipstick exaggerates the natural flush of the lips, fuchsia and coral are boldly, proudly unnatural. "Coral" is something of an imprecise term: it's generally applied to bright orange-tinted pinks and reds, from the slightly warmed-up pink of NARS Niagara and the terra cotta of Lipstick Queen Coral, all the way to pink-grapefruit shades like MAC Vegas Volt, orange-reds like Cargo Evangeline and Besame Carmine, and straight-up oranges like MAC Morange. The constant is the presence of bright orange, which, even more than red, is a bright, energetic, attention-getting colour; hence its use in traffic cones, safety vests, etc. While red lipstick can be deep and vampy, coral and orange are always bright and youthful.

If fuchsia lipstick harks back to the 1980s, coral and orange lips call us to the middle of the 20th century, roughly the 1940s through the 1960s. I would guess that coral's "old lady" associations are the result of too many women who grew accustomed to coral lipstick (often frosted) in the 1960s and continued to wear it long after the trend had passed.

The above image, from the 2009 Christian Dior Cruise runway show, displays coral lipstick at its most self-consciously '60s, paired with bright turquoise eyeshadow and thick black liner. The pairing of opposites — bright coral being directly across the colour wheel from turquoise — makes for a playful, indeed cheeky, combination; the same eye makeup paired with red lips would merely look overdone. (Notice that the model is wearing minimal blush; an intense flush would be entirely wrong with this look.)

Because of coral's "old lady" associations, it is important not to apply it too thickly; it looks especially modern as a matte stain or a sheer gloss. Conventional wisdom is that coral and orange lipstick looks best on tanned or deep skintones, and certainly orange shades glow against bronzed skin, but coral looks charmingly retro on a pale face. The combination of blue shadow and orangey lipstick is striking and, in its way, classic, but it is so intensely unnatural that it is probably best reserved for special occasions, and on most of us, a softened version (a deep blue smoky eye with peachy lipstick, for example) is easier to wear. Coral also combines beautifully with shadows in all forms of bronze and gold, lavenders, and soft greens.

Clockwise from top left: matte coral lipstick brings out lightly bronzed eyelids and cheeks; Gene Tierney with bronzed skin, orange lipstick and smoky eye makeup, in an early-1940s take on the exotic; Christina Hendricks in Mad Men, displaying the beauty of coral-rose shades against milky skin; soft peach-pink gloss in a Korean fashion ad; a juicy tangerine red emphasizes the bronze tones in Ashanti's skin; an ethereal look in softened secondary colours -- mauve, mint, coral -- in an ad for YSL's Spring 2009 makeup collection.

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6/22/2009 [6]

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