An Ode to Red by Special Guest Kathy Nelsen

redlipsRecently I read on Google that one of the worst beauty faux pas a woman can make  is  not changing their makeup as they age.

When I arrived in San Francisco in the ‘70’s , I was fortunate enough to have a fabulous circle of friends, most of whom were gay men, they taught me all I know about fashion and beauty culture.  Vintage was the trend and my first job was at Matinee, a vintage clothing store, working for a beautiful man, who still is my mentor in most things fabulous.  This was a great leap for a girl from Nebraska whose favorite outfit was a denim skirt and rayon blouse.

Attempting to emulate Ava Gardner (don’t I wish), I wore a red lipstick, big eyebrows and little else on my face.  I read the biographies of Charles Revson, Helena Rubenstein, and Elizabeth Arden, and was fascinated by the history of how we paint our lips.  Never one to be very exact, I have never mastered the lip liner or pencil.  My first love was Fire and Ice, followed by the bluer Cherries in the Snow.  There is still a sense of war paint when I apply in the morning.

Naming lipsticks seemed like the most creative job one could have.  Saturday Night Red still evokes the power and emotion of red as a concept and is, I think my favorite name for that reason.  Certainly Red, Love that Red, Ravish Me Red; all are Revlon’s brilliance in nomenclature.

During this period, my girlfriends and I discovered an African-American beauty store that sold the perfect Red-Red.  The name said it all.  The gold tube was simple, and the matte just moist enough, and the color beyond perfection.  The only reason none of us are still wearing it, although, I am rather sure the indelibleness imprinted itself on our genes, is that with the gentrification of the’ hood came the homogenation of Beauty Stores and More.  This stuff was amazing, and would not wear off, or come off, for that matter.

At one time, still during the Red-Red phase, while tubes still existed, my dear friend Jerry, one of the sweetest souls on the planet was living out his last days on the sea cliffs of San Francisco at the dreadful Vets Hospital. This was a man whose last days were spent reading Rumi.   His partner Dan, always a bit of a pot stirrer, suggested we play an end of life game called “Tell me something about the other person you don’t like”.  Jerry kindly said there was nothing he would say negative about me.  A few minutes went by, and he slyly smiled and said “except, she puts her lipstick on with a trowel”.  Oh, that indelible Red-Red.   Never the wimpiness of a shine or a gloss for me.

The  later ‘80’s were all about Paloma Picasso and her perfect Mon Rouge.  I even flirted for a bit with Chanel, another Rouge, this one with Allure.

We have all heard the stories of how sales of lipstick go up when the economy goes down.  It is soothing to the soul to spend $5 to $15 on a tube of brilliance, and always lifts my spirits.  The flirtation with Chanel and Givenchy were just that, a dalliance with a rich man or tube, in this case.  One likes to be diverse in one’s loves.

The ‘90’s brought a consciousness of natural and ingredient awareness.  Fortunately, Aveda filled the bill with their own red, Scarlet Sage.   But, of course, nothing could be that good; it was discontinued and replaced by Cherry Bud, a reasonable, but not perfect replacement, due to the slight reduction in blue opacity.

The perfect lipstick should flatter ones coloring, look like one is dressed, and add a bit of interest to the face.   The perfect signature is the blotting kiss on a letter, or a mirror, or even a cheek.

I had a girlfriend who had originally worked in NYC at Mario Badescu, and introduced me to Matte Ruby, another perfect replacement for Red-Red.  Wore it for years, and then, when they discontinued, dear Maureen bought the remaining stock and would dole out for special gifts.  When that source dried out, I went to where we all go in the 21st century and sought out a different generic Matte Ruby online.  Found it in Canada; had to pass customs to get it in the country.  And, dang, if they didn’t discontinue that one, too.

Is there something in that pigment, as I have long suspected, that the FDA is recalling?

In the 90’s, I developed a slight phobia around department stores, but, having discovered MAC’s Russian Red, I would ask friends to shop Macy’s for me.  Thank the Goddess, MAC has since developed boutiques and the young hipsters working there do not laugh at a woman of a certain age purchasing the tried and true Russian Red when she is in need.

In a documentary about cosmetics Debi Mazar, who was a makeup artist in a previous life, said that red lips are the closest a woman can come to an erection.  I guess I’ll keep that power for a few more years, until I require whatever the equivalent of Viagra for the lips will be.

Jungle Red, anyone?


Published by Anita Rivas

Founder, Writer& Editor of and - you can also find me on

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