IN THE 1953 MUSICAL comedy "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," Marilyn Monroe wowed audiences with her Technicolor lip rouge. That was perhaps the last time red lipstick took the country by storm--until now.
Cosmetics soothsayers are predicting that true red--not blue red, brown red or orange red--will be the essential lip color for fall. As one Revlon executive in New York City says, red is "the new neutral to wear with yellows and purples, as well as the other bright colors" in the fall fashion palette.
First, Paloma Picasso introduced Mon Rouge, the red lip color she wears in ads for her perfume and jewelry designs for Tiffany. Available in Europe only, Mon Rouge was a sellout in Paris and retailed for almost $30 at Harrods in London in 1987.
Last Christmas in the United States, a limited number of the sought-after lipsticks was offered as part of a $40 gift set that was a "resounding success," according to Gary Guthrie, divisional merchandise manager for Bullock's.
European women have worn true red lipstick with more consistency than Americans have, says Leonard Lauder, chief executive officer of Estee Lauder. "The French especially tend to wear more positive colors like coral, true pink and red," he says. But he points out that American women--the confident, extroverted ones, "the ones who want to know other people"--are ready for red.
In response, Estee Lauder offers Knowing Red, a color tied, like Picasso's, to a fragrance--Lauder's Knowing perfume. In September, Revlon will launch Revlon Red, and Christian Dior will offer Tres Tres Dior, a very, very rich red. Next spring, Picasso's signature lipstick will be sold in department and specialty stores in the United States.
Annette Golden, executive vice president of creative marketing for Revlon, says that the success of Mon Rouge in '87 has little to do with the fall rush to red. "Cosmetics companies develop their colors at least 18 months in advance of a season, the way any fashion house does," she explains. "We see what the fabric houses are offering to designers; then we key our colors to what we think will be the trend. Sometimes we miss. This year we know we're right on. Red is the color."
Susan Biehn, senior vice president of creative services at Dior, agrees. "The reds we'll be seeing this fall were created 1 1/2 years ago, when luxury was the mood in Europe.
"Red is the most important color this season," she emphasizes. "In fact, in Paris, 75% of the fall coats are red. That's a commitment to a color."
After years of pale lip color, are Americans ready to go red? Golden thinks so. "Plums and purples are declining. Clear coral was the hot color for spring and summer. Now red is not just for the fashion magazines; it's for everyone."
But Lauder says that red may not be the color on every woman's lips, at least not overtly. "Red is an exclamation point. Not for everyone. But I encourage women to play with it, to wear it under other colors. Then it's like sexy lingerie. Only you know it's there."
Makeup: Wendy Osmundson/Cloutier; model: Chloe/Elite