Back in the red: Poppy the Lipstick Queen

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Poppy King's brand Lipstick Queen has a cult following thanks to her wizardry with colour. Carola Long meets a woman with the secret to the perfect pout

Nothing compliments a tan – whether real or fake – better than red lipstick. However, when the summer fades, the look is still set to become one of autumn's strongest trends with Corvette red at YSL, crimson at Elie Saab, Lanvin and Lacroix, and vermilion at Gucci.

When it comes to attracting attention, red lips work better than killer heels, cleavage (so déclassé, even Posh has allegedly had her alleged implants removed) or "statement" jewellery. Scarlet is impossible to ignore, as Angelina Jolie was clearly aware when she appeared at Cannes sporting the most provocative inflated red pout imaginable, offset by minimal eye make up and a nude-coloured dress.

"Let the lipstick be the star of the show," agrees Poppy King, founder of cult independent brand Lipstick Queen, which, alongside a neat range of pinks and browns, boasts the most flattering, easy-to-wear reds around. King herself has a touch of the modern day Marilyn about her, with finger waved hair the colour of unsalted butter and a silk scarf tied round her Louis Vuitton bag, à la Joan in Mad Men, and of course, a pristine crimson pout. Despite these retro touches, however, she is by no means slavishly vintage. "People always say to me, 'oh you must love Dita Von Teese', but that's not my idea of how to wear lipstick now," she insists, "that's costume and burlesque." Instead of the painted perfection of a Fifties starlet, King complements her colour with a light base, blusher and eye make-up. In her view, the most contemporary way to do bright colour is with minimal make up and jewellery, and loose messy hair, just like

Chloë Sevigny, who wears lipstick with "strength and power, but not in a threatening Eighties way". According to Paul Herrington, head of artistry at Bobbi Brown, warm skin tones suit reds with orange undertones and cool skin tones suit blue undertones. However, for a clear red that flatters anyone try King's Red Sinner, which stays true thanks to its equal amounts of blue and yellow.

Bright lipstick can be daunting, but King's shades stand out amidst an array of mystifying plumpers, lacquers and next big thing ingredients, thanks to their simplicity. "There is a real craving for something uncomplicated," says King, whose brand is just that. The animated Australian, who beats numerous big brands to boast the best-selling lipstick in New York store Barneys (her sheer Medieval tint) and has waiting lists for her products at Space NK, started Lipstick Queen in 2007 with two products in a range of colours that she compares to "full fat and Diet Coke". Sinner is an opaque with 90 per cent pigment and Saint is a subtle sheer version with 10 per cent pigment for anyone who finds heavy colour too much.

They came out in 2007 when the lipstick revival first started after years of gloss, and Women's Wear Daily called it "the breakthrough product of the year", recalls the 37-year-old make-up fanatic who launched her first company, Poppy Industries, when she was just 18. "You wonder why a simple product would be a breakthrough but people wanted a return to lipstick in its most iconic form," she explains. Since then the range has expanded to include the Big Bang lipgloss, the name of which was inspired by King's theory that the right ratio of shimmer to shine will suggest Jolie-like lips more effectively than plumpers which sting them into looking bigger, and the new Chinatown gloss. Coming in pencil form, it was influenced by the kookiness of Chinatown in New York, and the Roman Polanski film.

King often glances at the past for inspiration, before giving it a modern twist. Medieval, which King describes as the "entry level of reds", was inspired by beautifying techniques from the Middle Ages when it wasn't respectable for women to paint their lips. Instead they would squeeze lemon juice onto their mouths to irritate the skin, causing the blood to rush to the surface. To recreate the just-bitten shade, King repeatedly squeezed lemon onto her own increasingly-tender moue, while a chemist faithfully copied it. The instant polish that Medieval gives has attracted a cult following. King has noticed her overall sales double in the last six months, but she sees the lipstick index – Leonard Lauder's theory that lipstick sales rise when the economy drops – less of a viable financial barometer than an insight into consumer psychology. "That idea is code for the fact that lipstick cheers women up, especially in a recession," she says, "and there is a renewed interest in wearing strong colour. It just has a feeling of hope."

Shades and textures vary with the seasons but the power of lipstick to enliven the complexion is unrivalled. "You can tell immediately if a lipstick suits you because it lights up your eyes, your hair, your skin," says King, "as if the sun has come out from behind a cloud." It was this property that led her to work with her favourite cosmetic. "I've always thought that it was the one thing that made me look so much better," she says, "it's like a Superman suit." King grew up in Melbourne and started her first line of matte lipsticks because she despaired of the "Debbie Gibson fuschia gloss" around in the Eighties. She worked on her Poppy brand for 12 years, during which time she was named Young Australian of the Year, then became became vice president of marketing at Prescriptives before launching Lipstick Queen in 2007.

Her favourite lipstick wearers, Louise Brooks and Eighties-era Madonna, used it to radically reinvent themselves. "Brooks' look was pure flapper," she explains, "her dark pout showed she wanted to be taken seriously, sexually and intellectually. Madonna's lipstick was sexually arousing but on her own terms." Her passion is also ignited by the fact she believes lipstick isn't about correcting a perceived fault – like concealer – or enhancing something – like mascara. It's an instrument of pure self-expression.

Lipstick Queen is available exclusively in the UK at Space NK

Poppy King's red lip essentials

For a bold, fresh look, wear red lipstick with minmnal make-up. Even out your skin with a base or luminiser to get it looking even but natural, then apply mascara, very little liner or eyeshadow, a smidgen of blush on the apples of the cheeks, not horrible stripes, for that country picnic look.

Straight from the tube is the best way to apply lipstick, then blot once and reapply. Dabbing a tiny bit on your cheek is a fabulous way to tie your whole look together, even if you use your usual blush. Look for a red that is as true as possible and doesn't go orange or pink. Lipliner is only necessary if you really feel like you want to define the edge, but it's not a must, and try and find one that matches as closely as possible. Apply it after you have put on your lipstick for a less heavy-handed look.

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