"When I was 18 I started my first lipstick brand in Australia, called Poppy. MAC and Bobbi Brown had just launched in the US, but they weren't in Australia yet. I could only buy very ‘80s corals and pinks. What I wanted were matte reds, browns, and burgundies that felt more 1940s-esque. I hadn’t really intended on starting a company, but after high school, when I hadn’t gotten into the college courses that I wanted, I thought maybe I’d try to start a matte lipstick brand while I figured out what I really wanted to do.
The first set of seven lipsticks came out in 1992. They were named after the seven deadly sins. Barneys started carrying them at the Madison Avenue store a year later. The brand got a cult following, but it never really reached its full potential. Meanwhile, Estée Lauder asked me to relocate to New York to work on the Prescriptives brand. I was so excited to move and start a new chapter. And I learned so much, but ultimately, the corporate world wasn’t for me. I wrote a book called Lessons of a Lipstick Queen about entrepreneurship—recognizing a good idea when you have it and all of the steps you need to take, even if you don’t have a business degree, to realize it. In the process of writing that book, I started my new company, Lipstick Queen, a new lipstick brand that’s been going now for the last five years.
I think I first started wearing lipstick when I realized that I have a very 'vintage' face. In 1989, I was still trying to look like the ’89 ideal, but as soon as I accepted that I looked more like a TMC movie, I embraced it, cut my hair, grew out my bangs, plucked my eyebrows, and put on red lipstick. I looked much better. It wasn’t so much that I constructed my identity as I was just going with it. I could have blown out my hair, or gotten a fake tan, or gotten my nose done to look conventionally pretty. But it’s a process of trying to work with what I’ve got, and represent who I really am: mind, body, and soul. I haven’t changed my look much since I started the Poppy brand; it’s a slow evolution. Even though I’ve never felt great about the way I looked, I’m confident that I’m doing the best I can. Do I feel beautiful? No. But I feel all sorts of other things instead, like exuberant and glamorous.
Glamour is very different than beauty. Beauty, to me, is a structural, physical thing that I don’t feel I have. The rules are much stricter. Glamour is a much more inclusive and embracing thing that every woman can take part in. It doesn’t have to be vaudeville, but it’s how a certain spirit shows through, how you put yourself together, and the little touches you do. Glamour doesn’t rely on how big or small your budget is, either. It’s just showing little signs of exuberance, whatever that means to you. Madeleine Albright may not be a structural beauty, but I think she’s really glamorous. She loves brooches, and has a whole collection of these amazing statement pins that she wears for different occasions. That’s what I mean about glamour: it’s exuberance. Most people would look at me like, 'Are you insane? Madeleine Albright’s glamorous?' I absolutely think she is because she’s doing the best with herself. That’s glamour to me.
When I need a little boost, makeup-wise, Almay Smart Shade Liquid Makeup SPF 15 in Light just makes your skin look that much better. I started using the Almay Smart Shade Concealer because I got it for free once, and I liked it so much I’ve since bought it three times. It evens my skin tone without looking too heavy. When I want heavier-duty cover up, I use Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer. And then I put Lipstick Queen Rose and Shine Lip and Cheek Pot just on my cheeks.
On my eyes, I’ve been wearing a little more makeup than usual. I love all four shadows in this Giorgio Armani Crystal Palette, and I put them on with brushes from Duane Reade. I use the eyeshadow as a liner, because I don’t think pulling at your eye with eyeliner is very good for you—you do it for years and years. So I use the black eyeshadow instead. Mascara-wise, I like L’Oréal Double Extend Lash Extender & Magnifier Mascara, but I only like one end of it. There is a primer in it, but I don’t ever use it. I like the mascara because it lengthens and separates, and it’s really washable. I can’t stand waterproof mascaras. I enhance my eyebrows with Maybelline EyeStudio Master Shape Brow Pencil in Blonde.
I tend to wear variations of red lipstick every day that I’m working, but I wouldn’t wear it around the house or if I’m just running errands. Sinner is my matte go-to and Saint is a good sheer. As is Kate Spade’s Supercalifragilipstick in Adventure Red. For lipgloss and balm, I like Big Bang and Medieval. It’s just about the kind of mood I’m in or want to evoke. An orange-red is an alert wow, but a blue-red is more seductive and sexier. Clear red is elegant. My lipstick rule is that everyone can wear red lipstick—don’t think you can’t. There’s definitely something in red for everybody, even if it’s not an opaque red.
To wash it all off, I love Fresh Soy Face Cleanser because it doesn’t strip your skin, it smells really nice, and it doesn’t hurt if it gets in your eyes. In the last few years, I started to get hormonal cysts on my chin—not acne, you wouldn’t even see them—but cysts. So my dermatologist, Elizabeth Goldberg, gave me a retinol cream they make at Urban Dermatology. And I’m 40 now, so I thought, ‘Maybe I should use that cream.’ [Laughs] I put it on every night and it feels amazing. My absolute favorite moisturizer is just from the drugstore: Olay Classic SPF 15 Lotion. It’s really light, so it works for me. I like a thicker cream for my eyes—Nia24 Eye Repair Complex. It has a great texture, but it’s not too thick. I get extra sun protection with Nia24 Sun Damage Prevention Sunscreen SPF 30.
To moisturize my body, I use Rose 31 from Le Labo. I use the soap, too. On my hands I prefer L’Occitane Hand Cream because it’s not greasy, but it moisturizes and has a beautiful smell. The tube is such a handy size, too. Before I go to bed, sometimes I’ll put on Palmer's Cocoa Butter Formula Moisturizing Body Oil. You wake up and your skin is so silky. And I swear by Tend Skin Skincare Solution for Men and Women on my bikini line. I put it straight on after shaving. It stings a little, but I never get rashes.
I haven’t washed my hair for years—I only use conditioner. My hair is so much less frizzy this way, but I wouldn’t recommend it to people who are prone to oily hair. I have hair like straw. It never gets oily. [Laughs] Shu Uemura Full Shimmer Illuminating Conditioner is my favorite, because I love the feeling of it and the smell. It's so beautiful, I save it for special occasions; it's not for every day. If my hair is feeling too coarse, I will spray in 10 Miracle Leave-In Product to soften it a bit.
In an effort to look less vintage, I had Michael Angelo cut my hair short, like a tomboy. I hate saying this because I don’t look like her, but I got the idea when I saw Charlize Theron at the Oscars this year in that white Dior dress. It was quite '80s, but in a good way. Unfortunately I don’t have the face of Charlize Theron, or her height, but I really liked it, and something about short hair feels really new at the moment. I’m noticing shorter, more sculptural hair a lot around this area [in Downtown New York]. I just think it’s a reaction to reality TV. No one in reality TV has short hair. They all have what I call the ‘celebeauty’ look. It feels great to separate yourself from this 21st century ideal and try something different.
I don’t maintain my nails very well, but if I need to make them look polished quickly, I always go for Rococo Nail Apparel in Playgirl Sheer Gloss. It’s a very natural color. And, as far as I’m concerned, Cutex Nail Polish Remover Pads are one of the best inventions ever made. They’re especially convenient when you travel like I do, so you don’t have to carry around an entire nail enamel bottle.
In general, I try not to be too critical of myself or of others. People in the beauty industry can be very judgmental. So when I’m on the subway, I've made it a habit to look at every single woman and find one thing that's beautiful about her. It’s a good practice, and it’s actually so easy to do. I don’t want to be a critical person, and I don’t want people to look at me in that way, either. Because when you’re being so critical of other people, you ultimately turn that on yourself. It goes full circle."
—as told to ITG
Poppy King photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on August 2, 2013.