“It was horrendous, and it was fast. The whole thing was over before I’d actually drawn a breath,” says makeup artist Lisa Eldridge, recounting a moment of stomach-dropping triumph: winning Audrey Hepburn’s lipstick case at Christie’s in 2017. (Auction records show a healthy five-figure tag, hence the 1950s relic “lives in a very big safe,” she adds.) The Cartier tube, made of 18-karat gold with a cabochon sapphire, hails from a time of everyday pageantry, before plastic upended cosmetics packaging. Now, amid a push for more fanfare and ideally less waste, lipstick is again an object of infatuation. What’s inside still counts—Eldridge gleefully discovered the actor’s shade of salmon pink, which may yet spark ideas for her own line—but glamour demands a package deal.
A ceramic-clad lipstick in grisaille toile de Jouy—Dior Beauty’s feat with French porcelain maison Bernardaud, called Rouge Premier—is a fitting place to start. “It’s as close as you can link it to a haute couture dress,” says Peter Philips, creative and image director of Dior Makeup. Offered in a dozen interchangeable shades, the new formula features red hibiscus extract (skin reviving) and 24-karat gold (why not). “It catches people’s attention,” he says of the design, “but in a very discreet, very elegant way.” That is, if one manages not to drop it.
Lipstick, of course, can communicate as much in hand as on the mouth. This season for Hermès, Pierre Hardy has given his striped bullet a dip-dye effect, a moody gesture in three variations. By contrast, Chanel’s 31 Le Rouge is airy and architectural. The refillable glass case, belted in gold and built to accompany a roster of 12 shades, has an improbable Cinderella appeal: fragile yet ready for the ball. “The Japanese master glassmaker worked an absolute miracle,” says Sylvie Legastelois, Chanel’s director of packaging creation and graphic identity. “This lipstick is like a jewel.” Meanwhile, Guerlain’s holiday entry is unmistakably a bauble: a gem-studded bee perched on a Rouge G case by Turkish jewelry brand Begüm Khan. Bee-stung lips indeed.
There’s a history of lipsticks playing outside the cylinder: Elsa Schiaparelli’s trompe l’oeil melting candle (c. 1940), Louis Nichilo’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (c. 1960), Salvador Dalí’s fluted tube with a 3D mouth (c. 1990—an inspiration for Pat McGrath Labs). But Isamaya Ffrench’s LIPS puts the innuendo front and center: Its shiny phallic case looks as if Louise Bourgeois and Jeff Koons partnered on the design. (A suite of refill shades arrives later this month, joining the existing three.) Ffrench, who collects “weird and beautiful objects,” is pleased to add to the canon. “Surprisingly, such a simple concept can be so hard to execute,” she says. “No pun intended.”