Code Red: In search of the perfect lipstick

The thing with French women is that they can go three days without a shower, then throw on some wrinkled clothes, tousle their un-brushed hair and slap on some red lipstick and still look chicer than any other women on the planet. I want to be able to not shower for three days, you know? So, I head to the cosmetics department at The Bay to find my red.

While there is a red for everyone, it’s recommended getting help to find the right one for you, because to the eye, red is red is red, but on your lips, red can be purple or pink or orange or … you get the idea. I quickly found out the hard way — trying on a handful of reds at home — that the wrong red is something that should never be seen in public.

Fortunately, I have help. Dino Dilio, The Bay’s national makeup artist and CityLine‘s resident beauty guru, is my guide through the sea of makeup counters. I come clean with him before cleaning and priming my lips for the makeover: My “lipstick” of choice is a white tub of Blistex lip balm. I’ve never worn the stuff; I hate the smell of it, and the feel of it. Like the pro that he is, Dilio is unfazed.

“Lipstick is the first fashion that you can adopt to your face,” he explains. “But red is a commitment. It’s worse than dating.” I believe, in general, that dating is a huge pain in the ass but dammit, I am ready to go steady with red, so Dilio and I head to the Chanel counter, a brand that, he says, is known for its reds. He also lists Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Lancome — all French brands, I point out. Dilio explains that the makeup routine of French women consists only of face powder, mascara and lipstick. Simple, chic and exactly the same (minimal) time commitment I want to put into my routine.

Dilio pulls out a dozen or so reds and tests about eight of them on his hand to find  the temperature of each shade. Reds can be split into three groups:
• Clear  Generally universal reds, like fire engine or poppy, that look good on everyone.
• Blue  Berry and wine shades that look best on darker skin tones (olive, brown, black). This temperature is also ideal for those with yellow or darker teeth. Blue reds will make teeth look whiter.
• Warm  Oranges, rusts and auburns that are ideal on fair skinned women with light hair and eyes.

With olive skin, dark hair and eyes, we quickly eliminate most of the options from the colour patches on Dilio’s hand as being too orange or pink. We settle on a berry red called Excessive from Chanel’s Rouge Allure range, which is also creamy (texture is another element to picking the right lipstick). Dilio knows I am a gloss kind of girl, so picks a lipstick with moisture. For those looking for a matte lip, he recommends Nars’ Velvet Matte lip pencils, which essentially are fat crayons that do the job of both a pencil and lipstick. For someone wanting a sheer look, Clinique’s Chubby Stick is ideal — a delicate colour that’s easy to apply.

Then the real test: Dilio asks me to apply the colour. I hesitate, explaining that I have no skills and will look like a clown. Rightly so, he is unmoved. I put it on my lower lip, rub my lips around and … look like a clown. I put one more coat on, and then Dilio takes over, fixing my sloppy edges with a dab of foundation on a brush.

“You want to start in the middle to prevent bleeding at the edges and you always want the corners to join. You want one mouth, not two lips.” he explains. “Use a pencil to finish around the edges. If you’re not artistic, don’t start with a pencil — it’s the worst thing to do.” The lip pencil should be half a shade lighter than the lipstick — the right shade will blend right into the lipstick. Dilio lines my lips with the pencil and colours in about half of each lip as well. Another light coat of lipstick applied with a brush and I am ready for the reveal.

“Oh my god, that’s a lot of red! I can’t do this!” is what I thought as I held a mirror up to my face. Either I grimace or Dilio reads my mind, because he quickly ushers me to a full-length mirror. “What you want is a hint of colour, not a slap in the face,” he says. And sure enough, when I look at the whole picture, I see a pop of colour, and nothing remotely resembling a clown.

Interestingly — and importantly, for me — I couldn’t feel the lipstick, or rather it didn’t feel any different than a fresh coat of lip balm. And, amazingly, it didn’t smell. At all. “There are more cases of sensitive skin than ever before,” Dilio explains. “Companies have caught on that anything with a fragrance means no sales.”

I try my hand at wearing red (around my house) the next day, and already I’m a bit better at applying it and a bit more comfortable wearing it. A couple more practice runs and, mon dieu, I’ll be ready to stop showering, I think. But I have to confess: I also bought Chanel’s gloss version of the lipstick (it’s red, just not R-E-D). Am I ready to make the permanent jump to red lipstick? Clearly, I have commitment issues. C’est la vie.

This story originally appeared the National Post (March 23, 2013).