Poppy King, Lipstick Queen


"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.

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  • mlle p

    Her lipsticks are great and I really liked her book also - a very down to earth person. Love the photo with blonde hair, red lips and blue dress!

  • Augusta

    This is an incredible interview. What a marvelous mensch!

  • beeswaxnoneofyour

    Would love to know the backstory on her bottle of vintage Faberge Tigress (I think that's what it is)! Does she wear it, or does she just like vintage bottles?

  • Vik

    What a refreshing interview. I particularly like what Poppy has to say about not being so criticial about other people. I beginning to think it's an incredibly aging practise. Finding that one beautiful thing about different women on the subway is something I really enjoy doing too.

    • softy

      completely agree. i used to go out with "friends" who'd spend the entire night talking shit about every single person they saw! not only was it incredibly boring, it felt really poisonous. and it does go full-circle because those same girls had some of the biggest self-esteem issues ever.

      • A.J.

        What a lovely woman. Just reading about her subway game made me smile.

  • Taylor

    40 years old? This woman is drinking from the fountain of youth. Straight out of Tuck Everlasting.

  • BForeigner

    This is a game-changer entry. Poppy makes many profound points here: 1) Glamour is always tenable (and exists independent of beauty) - it is passion and exuberance! LOVE that notion. 2) reality TV has promoted this "Me too!" long haircut that is provoking us rebels in the flock to go short! (did it last Friday). And finally, 3) don't shampoo your hair. Thank you to Ms. King and the entire Into the Gloss team for, yet again, giving me something to chew on. You're vanguards!

  • Sara

    I bought Hot Rose Sinner on a whim once, even if I have a million lipsticks in that shade. And at first I didn't like it but I tried it on once a few months after buying it and It's now one of my favorites. So glad I took the plunge! Now I want Hello Sailor next, and I'm choosing between Perfect Wave or Stoked...which is better?

    • overanalyzer

      Where'd you buy them from?

      • sara

        Space NK in Bloomingdales and they're also sold in Barney's.

  • Claire

    This is one of the best interviews I've read on ITG (which sets a high bar for interviews across the board!)

    I love the distinction she makes between glamor and beauty and think it's so spot on.

  • brunetteletters

    I read an article about her and totally feel like reading the book!

    the type of person I'd like to meet...

    Brunette Letters Blog

    • Sarah

      Exactly my words!

  • Anon

    I want to hear more from this woman! I love her beauty philosophy: work with and love what you have, don't wash your hair (too much), and practice looking for the beauty in others. Thank you for showcasing her.

  • Magali

    Contrary to what she says, she's pretty damn beautiful to me.

  • Cay

    Oh, just starting a whole company at age 18 because you didn't get into the right school, as one just does. Haha.

    Maybe the best Top Shelf yet. I mean, she talked about Madeleine Albright...

  • kathS

    Poppy, you are too hard on yourself!

  • Katherine Clow

    I really enjoyed reading about the ways she views beauty and glamour. Great Top Shelf article -- very humble woman!


  • marshmellows

    love poppy's philosophy on glamour vs. beauty. i totally agree!! keep it up girl!

  • Katie

    She is 40?!?!?! Wow I can only hope to look half as good at her age. And I just love her idea of glamour...wish everyone thought like that!

  • Sarah

    I think she is amazing. After reading this interview I am going to read her book as well!

  • Luciana Micaela

    I've just fell in love.

  • Lydia

    I love Lipstick Queen and remember my mum buying one of the Poppy lipsticks when I was really little (I'm from Australia). I don't think Australia has embraced the brand enough which I find really disappointing because the products are beautiful. I love Poppy's attitude and how down to earth she seems! (And that she mentioned Kate Spade lipstick, rather than only talking about her own brand- very refreshing!).

    • lucinda veen

      She actually designed those lipsticks for Kate Spade!

      • Lydia

        Ah I see! Well I guess that makes sense then haha. I still think she's great though :)

  • Lydia

    I love Lipstick Queen and remember my mum buying one of the Poppy lipsticks when I was really little (I'm from Australia). I don't think Australia has embraced the brand enough which I find really disappointing because the products are beautiful. I love Poppy's attitude and how down to earth she seems! (And that she mentioned Kate Spade lipstick, rather than only talking about her own brand- very refreshing!).

  • overanalyzer

    I was a rep for Poppy lippies at an Australian department store (Myer!) in 1996. I love her. She's an Aussie icon. I miss all the lipstick stash I used to have because of that job...

  • Jane T.

    I didn't realize that Poppy had written a book! Bought a copy before even finishing the Top Shelf. Love her description of glamour and learning not to play to regular beauty ideals, but what you enjoy and what works for you instead -- definitely the type of post I come to ITG for!

  • whoareyou

    This was so insightful! I really dig her perspective.

  • smoinpour

    Love what she has to say!!

  • Nina R.

    This is why we love ITG...and Poppy!

  • Shannah

    Such a beautiful woman, inside and out. I admire her so much!

  • Ms_Edgeley

    oh amazing! I was so proud of my first red lipstick Anger by Poppy. Thanks, great interview. A friend of mine was given one of Poppy's new lipstick Queen lipsticks in the gold container on her recent trip to NYC and said its THE BEST lipstick she's used ever.

  • Sabrina Rice

    YES! Love women like her. I find so many beautiful things about each woman and girl I see every day. We all have our own beauty and we should celebrate each other! not hate each other!

  • Audrey

    She looks phenomenal with short hair, and Poppy's refreshing take on beauty and glamour and self-acceptance really resonated with me. Thank you Poppy and ITG for this really stellar interview!

  • stonecoldcuddlewhore

    I loved this post and her beauty philosophies.

  • Annisa WP

    ah it is a really good interview. very inspiring. but i have to admit that i gasped in shock when i read she hasn't washed her hair in years.... LOL!

  • Lorraine

    she sounds about AMAZING x

  • Janine

    What a role model. She's an individual. she did it on her own, she did it her own way, failing at one point and coming back. As much as i love love love Aerin, I love to read anything Poppy has to say because I find her so unbelievably inspiring. She, basically, came from nothing and look at what she did. I appreciate anyone, family connections or not, who can go out there and bring forth great ideas and products. I've loved all of PKs lipsticks for as long as I can remember. I'm a Saint gal, myself, since I like the the more sheer look (Saint Pink and Wine are my favorites). And, of course, "Medieval." I wish PK continued success. Great interview, as usual, ITG <3

  • Katherine Bickford

    This is my favorite Top Shelf ever, what a fantastic woman! What a refreshing approach, and so unaffected. I adore her!

  • babs

    I absolutely love this woman and her lipsticks! Jean Queen is my daily go-to.

    It's such a shame that she keeps talking about how beautiful she ISN'T, because I have long had a truckload of respect for her and, in my mind, she is the definition of beautiful: independent, intelligent, winsome, glamorous. And that last point she makes about finding the beauty in others really highlights how beautiful a woman she is.

    You are divine, Poppy King! And the short hair looks amazing on you.

  • Alix

    Best Top Shelf ever! Poppy King is amazing -- and so are her lipsticks!

  • Jessica

    Fantastic interview. Just fantastic.

  • Kitty Catbiscuits

    Uncanny! I was just lamenting today that poppy had the most awesome matte nude pink back in the day. Love her!

  • Kyah

    As beautiful a person in real life as she is in this article, i was fortunate enough to meet Poppy quite a few times while working for a company that stocked her products in Australia she sticks clear in my mind as a true inspiration for any woman. There really is nothing more empowering then putting on lipstick & it having the ability to change the way you feel. Every time i worked with Poppy i got to see women of all ages that she had truly inspired to step out the door feeling great all from the sweep of colour across the lips.

  • Femantix

    I too disagree with Poppy--she is stunningly beautiful, absolutely refreshing and a total inspiration. I loved this article on so many levels. It gave me a much needed pick-me-up!

  • ITGLacey

    It's Red Sinner! http://into.gl/18DkqUn

  • lyz143

    Um, I love her.

  • Sarah

    I just want to tell that Poppy is amazing. After reading this interview, I borrowed her book from my local library. In the meantime, I read the book, and purchased my first (but not the last) Lipstick Queen Lipstick. It is a good book, and most importantly, Poppy inspired me in many ways. Thanks!

  • FM

    I saw Poppy on the street once, she is beautiful! Or at least really noticeable. Like fresh&bright. I bought 2 different lipsticks from her line, they are fantastic!
    Love this post, she knows how to work out the color, absolutly.

  • mamavalveeta03

    Poppy is an AMAZING woman! Her entrepreneurial skills are incredible...she could teach a class in it. I'll buy anything she creates! And I think she's got beauty and glamour in spades. She's got the retro vibe down perfectly.


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