The year was 1994 and a makeup brand called Face Stockholm had just hit Singapore. In sleek silver tubes, the lipsticks featured a range of shades in shine-free finishes. The colour I picked out was a nude so pale, it made my face look almost corpse-like, and I donned it with gleeful abandon. It may not have been the best colour match for my skin tone, but there was something subversive about a lipstick far removed from the typical pink glossiness and the obvious bright red donned by the likes of our national airline’s flight attendants.
Years later I would find out that the brand’s lippie in Crimson Veil, a slightly sheer, cinnamon-toned red, was purportedly the lipstick of choice of ’90s style icon Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. She was a woman widely admired for her modern refinement and elegant beauty — dark brows in sharp contrast to icy blonde hair — and she never wore too much makeup, even at the fanciest of New York society events.
The ’90s spawned a lot of trends both fashion- and beauty-related, and while its pared-down minimalism has been revisited season after season on the runways, its neutral makeup tones have had a more cyclical appeal. Singapore makeup artist Clarence Lee, for one, liked it that in the ’90s he didn’t have to rack his brains thinking of the colours to use. “It was mostly about bringing out one’s natural beauty using neutral shades rather than transforming your subject into another person. Also, false lashes were not very big during that time,” he notes.
Lipstick was a defining trend of the era and besides matte textures, another popular trend was a lipstick in a brick-ish shade with a distinctive brown undertone. M.A.C’s bestselling Spice lip pencil, a rich cinnamon pink with a hint of orange and red, appealed to me for both its brownness and the fact that it was devoid of shine. Singer Gwen Stefani was a fan of the brick-shade lippie, as was actress Drew Barrymore, who wore dark lipstick with super skinny brows as an almost vintage throwback to Hollywood sirens of yore. Brown and earth tones — both for contouring the face, but also on the lips and eyes, were widely celebrated, specifically among women of colour. Lee likes that brown tones on the lips and the face are making a come back. “I personally think there is no need to have an updated version of these trends, and I see them coming back strongly,” he says.
Pat McGrath Labs MatteTrance Lipstick in 1995, $59. Face Stockholm Veil Lipstick in Cranberry, US$24. (approximately $33.15) M.A.C Lip Pencil in Spice, $33.
A ring of darker lip liner — a signature of model Naomi Campbell — was another trend that has recently been seen popping up more frequently on social media. Best worn on fuller lips that can better highlight this contrast, it was common for makeup artists to use a completely different shade of pencil to outline the lip. Many trendsetters, like the members of girl group TLC, also wore the two-toned lipstick look with gloss accents usually placed on the centre of the lower lip. “For sure most people would find this trend a little too much. So for a modern update, lipsticks or lip pencils with
a difference of two to three shades can be used to create a less contrasting version of this look,” says Lee. “A simpler way to try this trend is [to] apply a much lighter tone of a similar shade in the middle of the lips, graduating outwards — similar to how one would add lip gloss in the middle.”
The only trend from the era that’s unlikely to be resurrected? Skinny brows.
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