At the age of 18, Poppy King’s search for the ideal matte lipstick turned into her own multimillion-dollar lipstick company. After ten years at the helm of Poppy Industries, the lipstick fanatic then went on to work as a colour specialist for Estee Lauder in New York, leaving the role after three years to write a book based on her own journey titled Lessons of a Lipstick Queen.
Returning to her obsession with glamourous lips, she has recently launched a new line of opaque and sheer lipsticks in ten shades, called Saints and Sinners, as well as a range of matte gloss tubs, aptly titled Oxymoron.
What inspired you to start your own lipstick brand at 18?
Basically because I couldn’t find any lipsticks that I liked. I always loved lipsticks when I was little and then when I was old enough to experience wearing them I was so disappointed. I couldn’t find one that I liked.
Even at eighteen I had a very old fashioned look so it was hard for me to find lipsticks that had sophisticated colours. At the time it was the late 80s, early 90s.
The idea of glamour then was hot pink frosted lipstick, whereas for me it was more about beautiful Parisian colours – that kind of old-school glamour. Something I would have imagined on a young Parisian woman versus someone like Debbie Gibson [American teen pop icon].
It was very hard to find beautiful, strong lipsticks. I wanted a modern take on silver screen glamour.
At such a young age, how did you know where to begin in making a lipstick?
That very question is the reason I wrote the book. My book explains what steps I took after I stood at countless department store counters looking for matte lipsticks in dark browns, berries and reds to no avail.
I really just looked at it very simply, as if it was a school project or a homework assignment. I really didn’t question it too heavily. It wasn’t like I was thinking “can or can’t this be done”, it was more like “of course this can be done”.
The key thing was finding a factory and I was lucky enough to find one in Australia that made lipsticks. I found it in the yellow pages under cosmetic manufactures. And then I found a business partner and the rest is history really. My book, Lessons of a Lipstick Queen, explains the process of what I went through.
It must have been a huge feat to have your lipstick stocked in Barney’s in New York at such a young age?
After six months of my lipsticks coming out in Australia I went to New York for the first time. I loved the look of Barney’s and approached them on a whim with my lipsticks and they took them on straight away.
After what was a very public demise of your company in 1998, what made you decide to start all over again?
First of all I decided to write the book. That’s why I left Estee Lauder. I got a great publisher in the US. It was when I was writing the book that I decided I wanted to go back to doing the lipsticks again because I still felt dissatisfied with what lisptsicks were available.
Even though there are a lot of great makeup artist brands I don’t feel that necessarily their lipsticks are what stands out. They have great eye products and so forth but the colours [for the lips] just don’t work on the face.
They look great in the tubes and on the counters but when it comes to putting them on I just felt that chic element, you know that more old fashioned but still modern take, wasn’t there.
I only bring out lipstick colours that you can’t find. I’m not going to bring out what everyone else has as I think that is the problem. It’s like a cookie cutter. Every company starts copying everyone else’s colours so you just get the same lipsticks for sale.
Are there lipstick trends in terms of what colour you should be wearing?
These days I don’t think there is one trend only. I think the last real lipstick trend was probably when Pulp Fiction came out and Uma Thurman had that dark lipstick.
I think these days there are so many options and fashion styles. It’s more a case of a trend either towards lipsticks or away from them.
Lipgloss has been so prevalent for so long but I think now there is a move back towards lipstick again. There’s a return to the more sophisticated. But I don’t think there is any one trend when it comes to colour anymore. It really is more about your lifestyle and your complexion.
Describe your new Lipstick Queen range in three words.
Fresh, modern, glamourous.
What in your view is the perfect lipstick?
The perfect lipstick for me is when you put it on, your skin, your hair and your eyes light up. The right lipstick should make those three features look like a light switch has been turned on. For me, nudes wash me out. I need a stronger lipstick to have that effect.
Do you have any rules about when or how to wear lipstick?
I don’t really believe in rules so my only suggestion is that the stronger the lipstick the less eye makeup you should wear. If you are putting a lot of colour on your lips then you should keep your eyes neutral and classic.
What is your best kept secret when it comes to wearing lipstick?
Well the first step to wearing lipstick is choosing it in the first place. You need to decide whether it suits you and then you need to decide whether you are comfortable wearing it. Take the time to get comfortable in a colour by wearing it around at home first and then you will be ready to bare those new, glamourous red lips to the world.