chloë sevigny created the red lipstick she's been looking for since the 90s
As she launches a collaboration with La Bouche Rouge Paris, the eternal It Girl reveals her own beauty icons, and what she learned (or didn't) from teen magazines.
Chloë Sevigny has been a 360-degree cultural mainstay. There’s her celebrated sense of style, from Opening Ceremony partnerships to compelling red carpet sartorial choices. She began as the “downtown kid” prototype, and her work through adulthood has been a composite of referential indie films, five seasons on Big Love, and cheeky cameos. Her upcoming role in Lizzie — a lesbian telling of Lizzie Borden’s story alongside Kristen Stewart, which screened at Sundance — is sure to make a splash in wider release. She also started directing: her forthcoming short film (her third) will explore women and their relationship to power.
Although her catalogue of characters are surprisingly demure in their makeup choices, Sevigny herself is known for her offscreen bold red lip. It is most fitting, then, that she is the latest muse for La Bouche Rouge Paris, a French luxury lipstick brand that promotes sustainable and charitable practices. Sevigny was approached by the label’s creative director, Ezra Petronio, with whom she has a long-standing professional relationship — he put her on the second cover of Self Service in 1996 (photographed by Mark Borthwick) and did a whole issue with her in 2007 (photographed by David Sims, Paolo Roversi and Mario Sorrenti). “He said: you’re so known for your red lip — how come you’ve never done a lipstick?” Sevigny recounted. “He told me about this project, and how chic it was.”
We spoke with the actress about her formative — and current — relationship to makeup, which relatably involves women’s magazines, unasked-for mom advice, and inspiration from models in the 90s.
Who introduced you to wearing makeup?
I remember reading Sassy magazine and Seventeen magazine [articles] about “what colors go with your complexion,” and using those roadmaps for what I thought would complement my coloring. I was really into baby blue eyeshadow; I paired it with a Toasted Almond pink lipstick from Revlon. It was the 80s so, like, saucy pinks. And peach cheeks. My mother was a big proponent of blush. Whenever I would walk out of the house, she said [switches to high-pitched voice], “Why don't you put a little blush on?” It was all about being healthy and having a glow, and I was full-on in pain and miserable. So it was, “Put on some blush, Chloë! Perk up!” When I got to junior high, it was more about brown eyeliner and a darker, plummy, vampy lip. Like a darker color, but not a dark color—brownish-red in the 90s. And a very thin eyebrow. It was all about replicating a Kate Moss, Amber Valletta pencil-thin look.
Do you have any makeup moments you considered amazing then, but now make you wince?
I was into winged eyeliner for a while. There are some photos from the 90s where I’m like, “What was I thinking?!” Like I saw it on a model in The Face magazine and thought it would work on me… and, I don’t know. It should’ve been bigger, or less perfect. I’m so OCD — with eye makeup, I’m always too precise. I make the line too clean; it should be a little sexier.
How has sitting in a makeup chair on set influenced your relationship to makeup?
It’s one of my least favorite things. That’s probably why none of my characters have worn a lot of makeup. There’s something about the lighting in those trailers… you’re never sure how it’s gonna read on film. Even for events — they can really transform your face in such a crazy way, and I always feel like it reads too heavy. One would think that you’d learn a lot of tricks, but every makeup person has such a different hand, and a different way of applying and mixing. Some of them start with eyes, and I’m like: “shouldn’t you start with the skin?!” We each have such specific ideas of how we see ourselves and want to look.
Do you have any particular movie-inspired makeup looks?
I’m more interested in certain actresses and their faces. Sissy Spacek — in Badlands or Carrie or Coal Miner’s Daughter — could transform her look subtly. And Mia Farrow is always a huge inspiration.
Who are your beauty icons more generally?
I love Hailey Benton Gates; she always looks incredible. Liz Goldwyn. Who’s the one dating Joaquin Phoenix…? Rooney Mara! She always looks interesting. She has a little edge, a little mystery. There are pop stars I love that are doing their own thing, like Katy Perry. Her makeup — holy Toledo! But it works for her. Or Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus. I love that those girls are outrageous. I think that pop stars should be larger-than-life. It’s fun to aspire to something kind of greater.
Now that you’ve started directing, does that influence how you apply makeup and want to look?
When I’m directing, I make a point to be more feminine. I put braids up on my head, like a crown, and big earrings. No red lip, because it’s too much maintenance throughout the day. I don't want to have to be thinking about that. But I think people appreciate when you put in a little effort.
Is La Bouche Rouge’s pledge towards sustainable practices and a reusable case important to you? Do you have good-samaritan ideals?
I like that La Bouche Rouge is promoting non-plastic, quality products that are long-lasting. I’m trying to refuse plastic and it’s a struggle to maintain. It’s nice to have the same lipstick tube for years and not be going through disposable ones over and over. I think it’s wise to invest in those things, if you have the ways and means.
How did you determine your signature lip color?
My color is like the one I’ve been wearing over the years: an orange-red. They sent me a bunch of different samples and I tested them throughout the day using one stroke, or five strokes — so you can make it very light or heavy — with different lighting, with different clothes… It was trial and error, but there was just something so beautiful about the way their product feels on your lip. I don't like to see too much maquilage.
With makeup, you’re putting it on to attract another’s gaze, but also to play with or strengthen your own sense of identity. Is it ultimately empowering?
Yes. Whatever makes you feel more confident, more in control. Like when I go out, I love to put on a heel, because that boost will give me extra confidence. I’ll be more dynamic because I’ll feel more powerful — and I know people will be attracted to that. Which is sad to admit, but it’s true. That’s why I always go back to a red lip, because I’ve always been insecure about the way that I look, and it kind of draws your eye to my mouth and away from other areas I’m not as confident about or pleased with. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with makeup. I don't know if my face really takes to it; I still struggle with it. But that pop of color makes me feel stronger.