Russian Red Lipstick

This might sound silly…but last night I found myself in the cosmetics department of Saks Fifth Avenue having a religious experience.

It all started with a dress I bought for New Years.  I was trying on an armful of shiny, short and bedazzled frocks at Urban Outfitters in SoHo when the familiar voice of my best friend rang through the crowd outside the dressing room door.

“Ashley Johnson….where are you??”

I reached one hand out of a crack of the door and held in my half-exposed breasts with the other.  “Here….I’m right here.”  Wiki’s shining face appeared and immediately announced that she was drunk.  She closed the door behind her and began to unearth from the mountain of clothes her small frame was hiding in from the 20 degree winter winds.

I wimpered…asking her what she thought of each dress (each one a variation of black…”Black” I said was my traditional New Years color).  She gave her expert opinion ( a professional accessories designer and style guru made her the authority at the moment) and she would “yes” and “no” me through the pile before helping me decide on a mini dress with a brocade top portion and hints of green and gold in the treading.  It was $80 and seemed to fit the bill…but this was SoHo, and one does not simply stop at the first store they enter.  So I left it at the front counter along with my name and we frolicked down Broadway to see what else we could find.

I’m not sure the name of the store…but to make a long story slightly less long, I’ll say that it was one of those SoHo stores where you’ll typically find a terribly slutatious nightmare that rips at the first hint of wear.  But with diligence, one can find the perfect wear-once (maybe twice) New Years dress.  I opted for a black one-shoulder faux satin number with beaded detail on the sleeve and a pretty fantastic slimming effect.

This lead me later to the conclusion that since the dress was black…my shoes (a pair of ankle high, open toe, buckle booties) are black and…well I’m black that a splash of color would be necessary.

Ok, so back to Saks Fifth.  Well…lets go back a little… I started out at Sephora.  What a nightmare that place is.  Aside from knowing exactly what you need (product number, shade and brand) and possibly shopping online and skipping the store altogether, Sephora is like a modern jungle.  Women are scattered everywhere dousing themselves with perfume samples and smearing colors on their face with use-once make up applicators.  For a mass of what looked like 70,000 people there were 5 ladies dressed in black smocks helping those they could.  I called Wiki in a panic.

“I’ve never bought lipstick before.  I have NO idea what I’m doing and the only helper-person available looks like Dracula.  I need a cute girl to help me.”

She laughed.  “It doesn’t matter what they look like, just grab someone so they can help you find a few shades that match your tone.  Or just grab some yourself and start trying it on!”

Easier said than done… I’ve been sporting the eyeliner, mascara, blush, lip balm routine for about 8 years now.  I’ve never delved into the world of color, save for the occasional journey into earth-toned eye shadow.  There I was not only looking for lipstick but RED lipstick at that.

It challenged me.  Admittedly, a three-inch tube of red lipstick felt like a challenge.  I grabbed a shade called “Moulin Rouge” from a shelf and walked over to the mirror in the corner.  My uneasy hand began to apply the shade to my mouth and I tried to smear it around by pressing my lips together.  I squinted to take in my handiwork and realized that I had successfully made my baby-face look even younger…a 10 year old who got into her mother’s make up. What am I doing??

I left Sephora bewildered and discouraged…feeling like I was forever destined to be one of those colorless girls who never tries anything new and dynamic.

Ok…NOW I’m in the cosmetics department of Saks Fifth.  A tiny girl at the MAC counter with a Jersey-Shore orange complexion, sea green eye shadow and tangerine lipstick came up to me and asked me if she could help.  I figured this was a good start since I didn’t have to hail down assistance.  I explained the dress situation and need for a pop of color.  I asked for a true red and possibly a shade deeper just to try.  She left then returned with three shades.  I blacked out as she expertly  explained the difference between each and why they would be perfect for my “awesome coloring”.  She left me with a hand mirror and a few make up wipes and I sat in near peace with the task at hand.  The very first one I tried was perfect.  It was bright red, daring and made my eyes sparkle.  I imagined my hair big and curly, my black one-shoulder dress…and I suddenly saw it all very clearly.  After a few minutes of mirror time, I decided on “Russian Red” and for good measure “Dubonnet” (a deeper crimson shade) as well – just in case I wanted to try a less dramatic look for real life.

I walked out of Saks Fifth with $38 worth of lipstick and a strange satisfaction taking hold.  It felt like a defining moment…like how I felt after I razor-bobbed my long hair in San Francisco or the day I bought my one-way flight to New York back in 2008.  I know it sounds silly and kind of theatrical, but I felt renewed.  Like in that brief hour and a half, I’d grown a whole year older.


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