The French Way To Wear Red Lipstick, According To Violette
“Blur the edge...like I've been kissing somebody.”
Trends come and go, but the American obsession with the French je ne sais quoi will never wane. How is it that French women can appear so put together, yet unbothered? Exhibit A: Makeup artist Violette Serrat — a living embodiment of the French approach to effortless glam — known for her signature smudged lip, penchant for delicate glitter, and perfectly mussed strands. It makes sense that storied French beauty house Guerlain would tap her as its new creative director, launching with a collection of matte, long-wearing lipsticks called Rouge G Luxurious Velvet in shades that range from moody fuchsia to deep red.
According to Violette, the easiest way to channel your inner French woman is to embrace your bare skin, blemishes and all, and add a swipe of lipstick in a look-at-me shade. “We don't do contouring. We don't do false lashes,” she says. “That's too obvious, and it changes your features.” Instead, she recommends taking care of what mother nature gave you, so that makeup then feels like an accessory, rather than a necessity. And in case the thought of wearing red lipstick fills you with fear — after all, even the staunchest red lip loyalists may have taken a break over the past year — she has some helpful advice. (Hint: those rules about undertones? Forget them.)
Ahead, find out Violette’s French makeup secrets, from the key to a perfectly-blurred lip to her French pharmacy essentials.
How does it feel to be the creative director of a French beauty house like Guerlain?
I'm really, really, really, really honored. Guerlain came to talk to me probably six months or eight months before I launched my own brand, Violette_FR. And at first I said, ‘No, I can't.’ There was no way I could do everything at the same time. But it was really hard to say no, because for French makeup artists, working in such a position for a historical brand like Guerlain...it's a dream, you know?
Then Guerlain really thought of how can we could concretely do it, but do it well — so we could make both our dreams come true. That was a really long discussion. When they showed me where they wanted to go, I was like, we are so aligned. One thing I didn't know is that Guerlain was the first brand to do a lipstick in a bullet. I'm such a fan of lipsticks, so I was like, Oh my gosh, there's no way I can say no. It's a new chapter for Guerlain — it's a whole new tempo, rhythm, team, goals. So the desire to wake up this sleeping beauty is very strong and very high.
Red lipstick can feel intimidating for some people. Do you have any advice for anyone who might be curious about trying it for the first time?
I've heard so many people say, ‘I'm not a red lipstick person.’ And then I ask, ‘Do you like red lipstick? If you were in a perfect world, would you wear red lipstick?’ And they always say, ‘Yes.’
For example, the other day I was speaking with this woman who worked for a very famous makeup brand for 30 years. She told me that a makeup artist once told her that she couldn't wear red lipstick. And so I took her — she's probably 60 — and sat her down and I put red lipstick on her, and I saw her being shocked and being reborn in a way. Now she wears red lipstick every day, and that made me so happy because it’s just proof that everyone can wear it.
Do you have any tips on finding the right shade of red lipstick?
I don't believe in rules, like if you have a yellow undertone then you should wear an orange-y tone on your lips. I believed things like that at the beginning of my career, then I would meet somebody who just broke that rule. The pigmentation of our skin is so unique and the pigmentation of every lipstick is so different. That's why you still have thousands of red lipsticks on the market. So with all of that said, the only way to know what color fits you is really to try it on. If you aren’t able to try it on, just grab a lipstick tube and hold it up to your lips to see how it looks against your skin tone.
Is there a French way to apply lipstick?
We're really obsessed with balance — we still want to be ourselves and we never want you to see the tree behind the curtain. If you can look at me and tell me exactly how I did my hair, how I did my makeup, and my thought process behind all this, then I’ve failed.
So my idea is that, for example, I'm going to apply a super-intense red lipstick, but I'm going to blur the edge so it looks a bit more worn — like I've been kissing somebody, or I'm busier doing something else.
How do you get your signature blurred lip look?
Just apply lipstick directly from the bullet and then blur the edge with your finger. Caress it a bit and that’s it. It's super easy. There's no crazy technique. If you want, you can be fancy and use a little brush — that works really well, too.
What makeup looks are you most excited to try this fall?
I'm definitely excited to wear lipstick — [I started wearing it again] as soon as I got my vaccine. I'm a glitter lover, so for me fall is the beginning of a season where I'm going to wear glitter on my lips, over my lipstick, and over my eyes.
Is there a way to make glitter less messy when applying?
One trick is to use glitters that are extremely, extremely fine. The test I do is to take a bit of your glitter and blow on it — if it's floating in the air, like suspended, you're not going to see any fallout. Chunky glitters are harder to apply. The problem with biodegradable glitter is that they don't come in really fine glitters, unfortunately. So what you can do is use loose metallic pigments instead — it looks like glitter, it's so chic, and it still does the job. It's not bad at all for the environment because it dissolves, it's not as harsh on your skin, and it's much easier to remove. So for me, it's kind of the ideal. If you do this, you don't even really need any base or anything because you have the natural oil of your eyelids. Just use your finger — that’s the best tool for glitter — and pat it on your eyelid, and you're done.
Do you have any tips on helping your lipstick last all night or not smudge under a mask?
So, for lipsticks in a bullet, there's no miracle. If you put a mask on, it's going to be rubbing on your lips. But the Guerlain Rouge G lipstick is long-wearing so I would say it's pretty good wear. But if you kiss, you’ll have a bit of transference.
What I like to do for a quick touch-up is put a little bit of lip balm on top. It grabs all the formula and it kind of blends it all over my lips. So, if you're in a meeting and you don't want to apply your red lipstick in front of a person, you just take your lip balm, which is much more discreet, and you put it in the center of your lips and press them together — then you have something more clean and intentional.
I remember when I went to Japan, I got lost in Kyoto and I stopped in this little restaurant and they sat me in this room and they brought me food I didn't even order. They didn't have menus or anything. They brought food to me, as well as this jewelry box, and I opened it and it had mini, mini, mini sushi. Small sushi with flowers. The most insane, beautiful, art for your mouth. I asked them, ‘Why is the sushi so small?’ They said, ‘Because geishas come eat with us and they don't want to ruin their lipstick.’ I was blown away! That's a secret. You just have to eat small foods. [LAUGHS]
What are your tips for looking effortlessly put together?
Well, I think the number one tip any French person will tell you is to take care of what mother nature gave you. Take care of your hair, but don't make it too ‘done’ — just use a good hair treatment. Don't blow-dry it too much. We have very good shampoos and conditioners we buy at the pharmacy — nothing fancy, just science-backed.
And same with the skin — skin care is everything to us. We connect food with skin health. I feel like once we master that, then beauty becomes just an accessory, like a fashion piece — like a hat or special pair of earrings. It doesn’t mean we need to have a perfect skin, because we don't like perfection here. It's Coco Chanel, I think, who said, ‘Being different means being unique and being unique means being irreplaceable.’ There is this desire to be ourselves. So even if you have a bit of acne on your skin, you're going to put on an amazing blue glitter eye shadow and messy hair and jeans and T-shirts and sneakers and call it a day.
Think of beauty as a way to express something, something aesthetic. I don't like to put rules on this, but usually, to be honest here, we choose one feature to emphasize. I'm wearing fuchsia lipstick today, and then my outfit is going be [focused on] fuchsia sneakers.
Tell us your French pharmacy staples.
I just found out, just now before you called, that my own Violette_FR products are now at the French pharmacies — I’m so, so honored. You can now buy my Boum Boum milk, which is the one skin care product I use. And then I would say, there's so many things: Homeoplasmine, Homeostick lip balm, SPF, and tampons with probiotics. They don’t exist in the U.S.! It makes so much sense — you have flora down there. Also, cotton pads are much softer in French pharmacies.
And then these mineral ampoules from Laboratoire Boiron — you have zinc, selenium, magnesium, pure minerals, and you put it on as a treatment on your skin. It’s great for when you break out or your skin is very inflamed. Normally people eat it, but I put it on my skin. And then there is this antioxidant gel that I'm obsessed with — Jaldes Oxelio Topique. It has beta-carotene in it and it’s amazing for the skin.
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