SCARLET WOMEN

Red, just plain red, was the lipstick colour our panel wanted to test. Six manufacturers presented their choices
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The Independent Culture
GRETA GARBO once insisted that the expensive underwear she wore showed in the way she walked. Lipstick can be like this; the infinitessimally small differences in colour and texture between one brand and another may be better appreciated by the wearer than they are by the onlooker. There are other teasing contradictions in the wearing - and hence the testing - of lipstick. We were interested, for example, in the kissability factor, and therein discovered a paradox. Though glossy red lips are inextricably linked with sexual allure in movies and pictures, in practice many men recoil from intimate contact with so much vividly coloured grease. Lipstick is also often promoted as being "long-lasting", as if this were a universally desirable quality. The five women on our panel were by no means in agreement on this point. "Lipstick is like fresh flowers," said one. "Half the fun is in the continual process of renewal."

THE TEST

We wanted to test lipstick that is red, plain and simple. But red (as in pillar-box or fire-engine) is often translated by cosmetics' manufacturers into shades of magenta, falling short of our first criterion: colour. After much debate among the panel members as to what the test criteria should be, other considerations included taste and smell, moisturising properties, durability, presentation, ease of use and value for money.

THE PANEL

Our testers were Ruth Rose, 7l, who has been wearing red lipstick daily since she was 16 years old; Nicola Scicluna-Warren, 36, who reported that the test "destroyed my dream: there is no such thing as the seminal red lipstick"; Alex Duncan, 33, who claims to eat her lipstick within half an hour of application, and is looking for a vitamin-enriched version; Ruth Eden, 22, a lipstick perfectionist who would rather wear none than the wrong colour; and me, 36, once described by way of recognition as "that woman with the red lipstick".

*****CHANEL, QUATUOR LEVRES INTENSES

54 Les rouges, pounds 29

As Alex Duncan remarked dryly, this lipstick says more about your lifestyle than it does about your lips. The packaging is gorgeous: a palette of four versions of red - gloss, matt, iridescent and satin, all smelling of roses - complete with two brushes and a black lacquer compact with magnifying mirror and velvet pouch. You want to take it out in a restaurant and touch up your immaculate Cupid's bow while others look on, aghast with admiration, but you certainly wouldn't want to start from scratch there. Despite Ruth Eden's assertion that the brushes are "firm and and beautifully angled'', they are the size of toothpicks and many, many strokes are needed to cover the designated area. Interestingly, the iridescent colour isn't red, it's pale peach; the matt is magenta and the gloss transparent pink. Only the satin is siren red, but with the gloss on top they make the most luscious, million-dollar lips. Too bad you have to have a million dollars to buy the stuff.

****BODY SHOP COLOURINGS LIP TREAT

Red, pounds 4.35

This frankly coral-coloured twist-up stick has a Sun Protection Factor of 20 and is alleged to contain a particularly moisturising "water in oil complex" and vitamin E. Nicola Scicluna-Warren described it as smooth and "a good daily smear". Ruth Eden was surprised at how effective it was given the lipstick's solid appearance: "It's orangey, but the colour bursts from you and reflects the light." Ruth Rose loved the colour, and thought it looked more expensive than it is, "but the smell is a give- away; it's like the ersatz lipstick we had in the war." I agreed with Alex Duncan that its staying power was average, and would be very happy to wear it with autumnal-coloured clothes. We all agreed on one thing: this lipstick is excellent value at the price and it would have won overall had it been truly red.

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***CLINIQUE

100% Red, pounds 10

Not all women want lips that glisten, and matt lipsticks have been selling well for the past couple of years. This one - a cold, blueish red described by some testers as "a Forties' colour'' - comes in a silver bullet-like case and is meant to last for six hours. "Call that two," said Alex Duncan, who tested it "with extensive social kissing" at a family wedding. She complained that the lipstick bled, leaving a little stain around her lips, "and eventually faded to pink, with darker dry bits in the middle. It set off my outfit perfectly." The rest of us also found the lack of moisturiser a problem, but whereas Ruth Eden was appalled that even after the use of make-up remover and hot water, she woke up to find she had "bubble- gum-coloured lips", I liked the residual stain it left. Older women need all the colour they can get in the mornings. It isn't over-priced and you can mitigate the dryness with lip gloss, though that does rather defeat the object of buying matt lipstick.

*YVES SAINT LAURENT

Rouge Definition No 2, pounds 18

Everyone knows (as employees in the cosmetics' industry like to tell you) that a brush is the best way to apply lipstick. It's the preferred method of all professional make-up artists, so why do only 13 per cent of women regularly use one? Well, the Chanel palette we tested makes it clear that lip-painting needs time and patience, but this is worse. The violent pink, thick emulsion has to be applied with a brush contained in the lid of its squared-off gold tube, rather like mascara. It's a delicate operation, resulting in occasional blobs and a covering that "sets" with doll-like definition. "It's great if you're in Joan Crawford mood," said Nicola Scicluna-Warren. The rest of us were afraid of looking tarty, or at least like the sort of woman to be seen in Hello! magazine. The lipstick stains everything it touches and was thought expensive for such dubious results.

***KISS MY FACE

Starlet Scarlets, pounds 7.99

This unusual American lipstick - a deep, glossy raspberry colour on application - is sold only through Green and Pleasant in south-west London (mail order: 0181 563 2349). It is supposed to be environmentally friendly and comes in a raw wood container from sustainable forests, which only one of us liked. More impressive, for both me and Ruth Rose, was the list of ingredients on its wrapper - all natural and mostly food oils, with a predominance of mint. While one tester thought it had "a horrific smell and taste", for another it resembled "something in a Greek restaurant". Some testers didn't like the high grease content. But it's the best of the examples we sampled for dry lips, and it isn't expensive.

*ELIZABETH ARDEN, LIP SPA

Poppy, pounds 12

We were attracted to this lipstick by news of a revolutionary, "patent- pending water emulsion system" that promises to moisturise the lips with fresh mineral water from state of Virginia. In the event, although we liked the silver and gold case and Nicola Scicluna-Warren admired the "lovely cruel point" of the lipstick itself, most of us found the spa- water idea downright hilarious. The formula is said to have required the collaboration of "18 international chemists", but Lip Spa seems no more than averagely moisturising. Poppy is a warm pink colour; it's smooth to apply and does last quite well, but it isn't sparkly. "It's a daytime lipstick," as Ruth Eden said.

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