My Lipstick Disaster


Photo: Yves Saint Laurent

When Yves Saint Laurent launched his first lipstick, the gang was thrilled. Not only could we wear the perfect grain-de-poudre jackets that made us look like an invincible army of girl-boys, but now we could also wear Yves on our face. I was in Switzerland working on my first novel when the lipstick was launched; many phone calls from Paris told me how wonderful they were, but in Gstaad there was no way to get my hands on anything but fresh eggs, postcards, and fur hats. The cosmetics in the pharmacy were all very Swiss, borderline medical, and no fun at all.

Then Leo Lerman, the grandfatherly features editor of Vogue, asked me to go down to Monte Carlo, where Helmut Newton had been photographing models in diamonds. Leo said there were so many photographs that I needed to go and write a story about Monte Carlo and diamonds. I took the train with my newer clothes: a violet suede vest from Jean Muir and the usual complement of sharply tailored Yves Saint Laurent suits. I was to stay at the Hotel De Paris, the grand old hotel by the casino, and take notes.

The Hotel de Paris had a statue of a horseman in the center of the lobby, which the gamblers rubbed for luck, and up a short flight of stairs was a long galerie marchande (French for mall). Bags and diamonds and more bags and more diamonds, and there, right in the middle, a shop that sold the lipstick. Yves Saint Laurent had launched only three colors: red, dark red, and fuchsia. At 29, I was embarrassed at how big my lips were, and I knew red didn’t look good on them. I chose the fuchsia; it went with my violet suede vest. I was going to show them how chic I was.

Related: A Life of Beauty Defined

The first few days were spent careening around after the chic in daylight, or witnessing nightclub activities as if I had never seen anyone dance to disco before. The kind of writing I did then required an innocent eye. The moment for the new lipstick didn’t come until my first free evening. I booked a table for one in Louis XIV, the hotel’s restaurant that soared — gilded, mirrored, frescoed, and full of very old ladies whom I had heard discussing their gallbladder operations as they sat on the porch.

I put on my violet suede vest over my dress, dried my bangs so they fell perfectly to my eyebrows, and completed my makeup with the new fuchsia lipstick. I decided that since it was such a grand place, even though I was eating alone, for once I wouldn’t bring a book. I’d have to tough it out and amuse myself with my thoughts.

I walked into the dining room standing as tall as I could in brand-new purple Manolo pumps. Along with the old ladies without gallbladders, I saw heads of industry, ship owners, wealthy Texans, and the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, old friends of my parents. The duchess had been a TV producer; she was French and bossy, a sort of fairy godmother aunt. The duke was, of course, English, funny and sweet. I rose to say hello.

I was at a round table in the middle of the room and had never felt so alone or so on view. The tablecloth was so starched that its edge cut into my legs. The new fuchsia lips smiled at the room; waiters in perfectly starched shirts and busboys in perfectly starched tunics brought menus, water, wine, and food. I ate my salad, drank my wine.

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People at other tables began to stare at me. They probably loved my lipstick. I ate my lamb and drank my Perrier. Now the waiters came more frequently, with concerned expressions on their faces. It had to be my impeccable composure, a young woman so perfectly at ease all alone. They were probably speculating as to where my husband was. Well, he was in London. I caught a pair of women pointing at me and giggling. They likely thought I was a hooker, I told myself. I saw a pair of older Greek men look at me. No, I tried to tell them telepathically, I haven’t been stood up; I just like eating dinner alone so I can focus on the food.

The waiter brought my lemon mousse and looked at me with what seemed like pity. He, too, was probably wondering why I was alone. I ate my mousse, made a note that it was as delicate as a wisp of chiffon, and sat back to take in the room. What elegance. What beauty. Then I saw the Duchess of Bedford waving her arms at me.

"Come here!" she shouted. I went over to her table, wobbling only a tiny bit in the new purple Manolos. She grabbed my hand.

"Jonny! Look at yourself!" she said, and handed me an open compact.

Reflected in the little mirror I saw what everyone in the room had been looking at: the new fuchsia lipstick smeared from cheek to cheek. It had run down my chin and a trace of it had somehow landed on the tip of my nose. I looked like Bozo the Clown.

"Go to the ladies’ room at once," ordered the duchess, "and clean up."

I had no idea how I was going to get across the vast dining room. Everyone was staring at me. Do not cry, I thought. Smile. Smile with your fuchsia-tipped nose and your fuchsia cheeks and your fuchsia chin. I turned to go.

"And while you’re there," said the Duchess, "get rid of those bangs. How many times do I have to tell you that you look terrible with hair covering your face?"

I called my friend at Yves Saint Laurent. “Yes,” she said. “The first formulation wasn’t quite right. We’ve fixed that now. But isn’t it a great color?”