An Interview With The Lipstick Queen

Poppy-Paul(F) I've been a fan of your product since I discovered it at Barneys in the 90s.  The Lipstick Queen is serious lipstick.  A woman can make a statement without saying a word.

(P) One of the biggest misconceptions about my brand, because I started it so young, is that it appeals to young girls, but its women 35 plus that really appreciate it.  

(F) As a teenager you were able to talk to the people you needed to help you launch the business.  How did you get them to take you seriously?

(P) I think the reason why- and this is something I stress in my book-was that I was talking about lipstick, which is a subject that made sense to me.  You can speak with expertise on any subject, without any formal training, if it's something that you live and breathe.

(F) Of the 61 lessons in your book, Lessons of a Lipstick Queen, give us three you've learned the hard way.

(P) #14Avoid Over Complication.  Over complication can be the death of a good idea. I have a tendency to over think things, but much of what I have done right comes from keeping it simple. I wanted a matte lipstick with a non-corporate kind of marketing approach, and a story that made the lipstick special. I was very clear about what I wanted, and that exact thing was missing from the market.  

#39. Strive for Balance.  Working smarter is better than working harder. At one point, when I had Poppy Industries, I was living and working in the same building.  You could see into my living quarters from the office.  I was "at work" all the time. When everyone went home for the day, I felt as though I was just waiting for the next work day to begin. There was no relaxing.

I learned to make sure my self esteem is coming from things I do outside of work. I like knitting, yoga, and reading. Doing these things is essential for me to be good at my career.  Otherwise, I have too much riding on one thing (my business) and that can lead to panic. 

# 58. Acceptance is the Key.  Accept your mistakes and move on.  There can be no success without making a few mistakes.  Take it from someone who's had her mistakes splashed all over the newspapers (in Australia).  Underneath all the anxiety about what people will think of us is a far more pressing question; what will we think of ourselves?

(F) You say in your book we're not defined by our success or mistakes but by our experiences of both.  What were some of the best and worst moments of your career?

(P) One of the best would be the first time I ever saw a stranger use a Poppy King Lipstick. It was in the restroom of a trendy restaurant in Melbourne in 1992.  It was an amazing moment.

And the second moment was when I got my lipsticks into Barney's back in 1993.  I definitely surprised myself.

(F) How did you do that?

(P) I just cold called after seeing the store. I did it with no expectations, but just being willing to give it a go. When I found out they were taking it, I ran across the road to the public telephone and rang my mum back in Australia to say Barney's just took the line. That was pretty amazing.

In terms of the worst moments, it's funny; I forget it once it's over. So, I can't really tell you because I don't use those moments. I guess the worst times are when I feel like I've either not given my best effort or when I've gone against my instincts. I can tell you a million good moments. I use those to motivate myself.

10(F) What advice would you give a woman who may be anxious about her ability to succeed as an entrepreneur?

(P) You can do anything if you're willing to accept the consequences of it not working out.  No one enjoys things not working out, but if the thought is too overwhelming, then entrepreneurship is not for you.  If you go for it, you give it the best you can on any given day and understand that the process ebbs and flows.  

(F) What inspired your association with sinners and saints and your use of the terms to define your lipsticks?

(P) The only subject I really excelled at was English literature. I'm an avid reader of the classics where there's always a lot of morality. Women are exposed by their contradictions, and then face the consequences associated with their moral deviation.  

I wanted to do something slightly cheeky that spoke to that, something satirical that tells a story of the complexity of women and beauty. Stories sell.

(F) Is there a favorite Femme Fatale muse?

(P) Anna Karenina.  I think of the story in color and give my lipsticks that kind of richness and depth. I mine the darkness of the characters, and my colors become very deep, not candy-coated. What I do is not strictly retro. I find my inspiration in the past and put a modern approach to it.
(F) You describe your look as more reminiscent of the 30s and 40s.

(P) I personally have a vintage look-and I couldn't get the very product I needed to help me to make the best of my look. I think cosmetics and images of women's beauty since the 80's haven't had the dignity and mystery of other decades.  

Smoldering sexuality has given way to something more superficial. I love the notion of the femme fatale. But you don't see them in modern beauty.  It's more of a hyper sexual Pamela Anderson ideal or safe and expected looks.  What I want to tap is not so much about physicality but an inner fire which you see more in older women like Hilary Clinton, Martha Stewart, Oprah.

(F) Talk about the offer from Prescriptives which brought you to the States. What was so great that you decided to close your business in Australia and pursue this offer?

(P) I can tell you that in 3 words, New York City. The offer allowed me to come to New York to work and live and have it all organized for me.  Offers like that don't come often to a girl from Melbourne. I stayed at Perscriptives until 2005.

(F) Where do you live now?

(P) New York.

(F) You stayed in New York?

(P) I'm never leaving.

(F) As a trend spotter, what do you identify as the biggest influence in makeup right now?

(P) After a decade of low slung jeans, over-exposed body parts, and a sloppy style of dressing, I see a renewed interest in sophistication, and dressing in a way that leaves something to the imagination.

(F) I was watching a video on your site- you were talking about red lips, which are your trademark. But we're often advised that red lips can age us. What's your opinion?

(P) The way to wear makeup is to emphasize either lips or eyes, not both.  You don't want to wear red lips with a face full of makeup-that makes anyone look old. It's really about minimizing. My tip is to put the red lipstick on first, and then do your makeup. You'll naturally put less on. You'll see that the lips look totally chic and not aging. It's all about backing off all the accoutrements. Red lipstick in itself is an accoutrement.

(F) I'll have to work on that, I'm very fond of accessories.  

(P) Everyone has a different style. It's what works for you. Jackie Kennedy for instance, was a model of simplicity and elegance. She said before you leave the house, take 1 thing off. I love 2 things that are pretty strong- red lips and leopard print. I always have to take something off, as I don't want to...

(F) Look like a cliché?

(P) Right.

(F) Lipstick or entrepreneurial expert? What's the next phase for Poppy King?

(P) You never know-maybe neither. Both are part of my soul.  I've been working with the Fashion Institute of Technology. They've been using my book as required reading for the entrepreneur students. I've been doing more and more teaching and speaking

Everything I do is related to women and things that have to do with our esteem, image and experience. I love men as companions, but in terms of my career, I'm fascinated with adding dialogue to the experience of being female.

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