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Sometimes those pesky algorithms on retail websites actually serve their purpose. I was visiting the Barneys site to price a perfume that was on my mind, and the page made some further suggestions to me — including the “New” and “Exclusive to Barneys” Femme de Poppy lipsticks.

Barneys has no way of knowing that I’ve been a follower of Poppy King’s creative output since the 1990s (when she launched her original line of Poppy lipsticks: matte shades! colors named after the 7 Deadly Sins! art-inspired packaging!) through 2007, when she founded the Lipstick Queen brand, and beyond.

However, it apparently remembers that I’ve shopped for Lipstick Queen products, so it kindly (ha!) shared this news with me.

I clicked, and read a product description, and clicked again, and read a Barneys blog post about Femme de Poppy, and I smiled…

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Women with a Mirror (1960), Joseph Leombruno and Jack Bodi

Tangent: it’s a strange time to be a makeup-lover. Everything has gotten so extreme.

On one hand, there’s the “cool girl” aesthetic, with sheer or “dewy” formulations in minimalist (and often flimsy) containers, designed to create a “no-makeup” look. There are occasional concessions to trend-driven colors that look good on very few faces, and if you didn’t already have “dewy” skin to begin with, you’re in trouble.

Then we have the opposite approach, an extravagantly packaged and celebrity-endorsed take on what used to be considered stage makeup. It involves a labor-intensive process of contouring and highlighting, plus overly darkened and reshaped eyebrows, false eyelashes, and chalky, high-matte colors applied to lips and eyelids.

What if I’m neither a hipster 20-something nor a Kardashian wannabe? Where do I look for cosmetic inspiration?

Cherchez…la femme.

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via FemmeDePoppy on Instagram

An unrelated (or is it…?) thought: when you shop at Sephora or a department store, how many of the cosmetics brands around you are truly owned and created by women, even the women whose names appear on their labels? Very few.

But here’s one exception: Poppy King IS Femme de Poppy. And she’s back with a new chapter in her vision of cosmetics in the service of female beauty — thoughtfully designed lipsticks that combine passion and smarts. (More on that idea below.)

As Poppy herself says in that Barneys blog interview, “I love lipstick for its transformative power on both the inner and outer self-perception.”

Here’s Femme de Poppy’s initial trio of better-than-basic shades: a warm peach called Emperor’s Nude; a true rose named Lip en Rose; and the blood-red Eve. All of them contain very fine golden micro-shimmer.

For some aspects of this line, Poppy is looking back to the history of cosmetics (in which she’s well-versed). The colors are contemporary updates on vintage shades. The custom-designed lettering on the lipsticks and their boxes is inspired by fonts in vintage advertising and packaging.

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Femme de Poppy at Barneys (my photo)

Here’s a shot of the FdP lipsticks making their debut at Barneys on Madison Avenue, in an ingenious Art Deco-inspired cabinet with various compartments for storage and display.

One of Poppy’s taglines for Femme de Poppy is “Apply, Wait and Watch.” What does she mean?? Now that I’ve tried these lipsticks, I think I know. They demand a little effort and a little extra time to evolve on your face. Just like classic perfumes, they are formulated to develop on your skin and merge beautifully with it.

Okay: specifics! Here’s a close-up of Lip en Rose in daylight…

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Femme de Poppy Lip en Rose in daylight (my photo)

Lip en Rose (yes, a nod to the song made famous by Edith Piaf!) is a bright, clear rose with a satin finish. The color looks like a throwback to the 1970s or the 1950s, sort of “old school” yet perennially fresh.

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Femme de Poppy Eve (my photo)

Eve is a deep red that looks slightly rust-tinged in the tube but goes on cooler. Its very fine sparkle is more noticeable.

These lipsticks apply firmly, with a bit of “drag.” I’ve been applying two thin coats, pressing my lips together (important!), and then letting the color sit for a minute. As the product warms and melds to my skin, it shifts to a creamier feel, and then I forget I’m even wearing it.

Femme de Poppy isn’t specifically promoted as a long-wearing lipstick, but it really stays in place — no migrating below my lower lip (even without liner), no messy transfer to my coffee cup.

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Swatches of Eve and Lip en Rose. I’m not very good at swatch photos. Also, the Rose is a little more intense in real life. (my photo)

I actually love Lip en Rose even more an hour or so after I’ve applied it, when it looks slightly more muted, like a semi-matte stain without any dryness or weird android flatness.

Eve is sheerer on my mouth than it looks in the tube or in the swatch, but it’s a proper lipstick, not some glossy-slick thing that slips away within an hour.

These aren’t products for someone who wants a “no-makeup look” or an “Instagram face” — when I put on either of these Femme de Poppy colors, I’m wearing lipstick but it’s not wearing me. 

And if I do want to touch up a bit, later in the day, I can add a few dabs without any messy pilling or clumping.

That’s what I mean:

The color is passionate, and the formulation is smart.

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Visuals again!

Here’s another look at the packaging. Each Femme de Poppy tube is cradled in a black box with with an outer sleeve featuring a mysterious face, a plume-y feather, and some graphic circles and stripes.

That half-mask evokes Harlequin, the playful, trickster-ish character from Italian Commedia dell’arte (later celebrated as a bohemian romantic hero by artists like Cézanne and Picasso).

Harlequin really is a clever idea for cosmetics packaging, since we can all use makeup as a way to play a role or conceal/reveal our secret identities.

I love this 1940s “Savoir Faire” powder compact by Dorothy Gray, with its enamel mask and spray of rhinestones.

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Journal des dames et des modes, Harlequin costume illustration by Fabius Lorenzi (1914)

Another tangent: Harlequin was a popular costume idea for fancy-dress parties from the 1910s through the 1930s (the era that inspired Femme de Poppy’s visuals), for women as well as men. I like this version, which swaps out the traditional jumpsuit for a chic cropped jacket over a slim skirt.

And I always like a touch of enigma, which Harlequin delivers.

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Back of the Lip en Rose package (my photo). Each shade has a different “fortune” on the back.

I’ll close with further words of wisdom that appear on the back of the Lip en Rose packaging: “Words and kisses matter. Choose yours carefully.”

(…and choose your lipsticks carefully, too.)

Femme de Poppy is exclusive to the Barneys stores and website. Further shades and concepts are reportedly in the works!

You can also follow Femme de Poppy on Instagram.