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It could have been a movie scene. Speeding though Paris in the back of a taxi, my travels though the monochrome tones of the city in winter came to an abrupt halt. A woman was walking in the road. The driver hooted; she turned. Beaming from her otherwise unadorned face was a pair of bright red lipsticked lips. It was attention-grabbing stuff.
In a film this scene would be pivotal to my life; in reality it just got me thinking. How much power does grooming have? How important is it to develop a look that says “you”, a cosmetic equivalent to a signature fragrance. And can creating that distinctive persona get you ahead?
I thought of successful women who have utilised their grooming. There’s Anna Wintour’s (editor of US Vogue) signature, not-a-hair-out-of-place bob, which despite her petite frame, gives her untold stature. There was Diana Vreeland, the legendary style maven. She turned red lipstick into characterful stuff. It was a happy marriage; they suited each other with their boldness. More recently there was Nicola Horlick, the finance “superwoman”, who also went the red-lipped route; though I notice that for her new female-client-focused Bramdiva company, Horlick’s website photograph shows a softer side – pale pink lipstick and a soft, feathered haircut.
It used to be that red lipstick was considered
part of a French woman’s DNA. But judging by most Parisiennes that is no longer so. Are the days
of trademark make-up marriages behind us?
Curiously, even that French beauty Catherine Deneuve, whom one might associate with red lips, does not have a single red lipstick in the new limited edition make-up range she has created with M.A.C. Cosmetics.
There’s Sharp Beige, Bourbon, Strawberry Blonde and A Rose but no Ruby or Russian Velvet.
Yet the images of the star that accompany the launch are indisputably her. Studying them you realise it’s something in the upsweep of her hairline, the kohling of her eyes and – even if not red – the strong colours on her lips. Her bone structure helps but she has a make-up style that sums her up.
So I asked a few women if they’d considered creating a signature look. Most said they barely had time to brush their hair in the morning so, no, they hadn’t. But maybe I wasn’t asking women high enough up the ladder, for make-up expert Valentine Alexander agrees that a grooming style can be a useful tool for women in the business world.
“I have a lot of business women – powerful tycoons, lawyers, judges and women in the public eye – who come to me for my Face Focus sessions,” she says. “They want a certain
kind of armour, to establish a kind of trademark.” Wintour’s bob, for instance, acts as a kind of “helmet”. Alexander will create a personal look for clients that will take 10 minutes to apply and send them to “the best people” to transform their hair and colour.
It’s not all about red lipstick and bobs; Alexander shows clients their best features and how to play them up, plus their overall picture and how to paint it.
But could it be all about eyebrows? I rather fancy the idea of such perfectly groomed brows that all I have to do is arch one to bend people to my will. “That’s not enough; it’s got to be a theme,” says Alexander.
Maybe it’s committing to that theme that holds us back. But let’s think outside the make-up box: there’s power in powders.
More columns at www.ft.com/chambers
Valentine Alexander: tel +44 (0)7956 846 909