Poppy King is the Lipstick Queen
Poppy King knows her lipsticks – at just 18 years old her signature colours were stocked in Barneys New York, making her a millionaire. Now the girl known as the Lipstick Queen is back with a new range that's brighter and bolder than ever. She chats to Anita Quade about setting up her own company and her love of colour.
You began your career in the lipstick industry in Australia aged just 18 years old – how did you start Poppy Industries?
It all started because I couldn’t find a lipstick that I wanted to wear. I wanted a proper, old school Hollywood style lipstick and there simply wasn’t anything like this available. So I found a factory that was able to make the lipstick I wanted. Then I found a backer and I started Poppy Industries in Australia.
You have told the story previously how as a teenager you asked a shop assistant at the beauty counter for a matte lipstick and she said ‘if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that, I’d be rich.’ Four years later you hired her for your company – is that true?
Yes that is true! Her name was Helen and she worked at the Bourjois Counter, so when I set up Poppy Industries I employed her to be part of the team.
In the 1990s gloss colours were big business in the beauty industry – was it hard to market your concept of matte lipsticks?
Actually, no it wasn’t – that’s what gave me my point of difference. And it wasn’t so much that it was all about gloss, it was rather that everything was frosted and candy coloured. There were no browns, reds and wines. So when I launched my lipsticks, they really did make a splash.
Aged just 18 years old Barneys agreed to stock your lipstick line – this must have been a dream come true…
Yes, that was one of the high points of my career. It was also one of the first times Australia had exported to a store like Barneys so it felt like a great achievement.
You grew to become one of the biggest cosmetic companies in Australia and in 1995 aged 21 you registered sales totalling more than $6.5 million – this must have seemed like an amazing achievement?
I’ve never valued my achievements in terms of dollars. What’s important to me is the feeling that I am having a positive impact on women’s lives. And it has always felt like an extraordinary achievement that I’ve been able to turn my passion into my career.
I remember buying my first Poppy lipstick in rich, deep red as a teenager. What was it that inspired your range?
I was deeply inspired by 1940s Hollywood glamour. I also have some very clear memories from childhood of trying on my mother’s lipstick. I remember feeling like it was the most glamorous and exciting thing in the world. For the first time, I felt excited about being a girl and that I got to take part in this amazing world of glamour and sophistication. That’s what I want every women to experience when they wear Lipstick Queen.
In 1998 after expanding into the US, it must have been a difficult time when the company collapsed and went into receivership. Can you share with us how this happened?
Unfortunately, it’s very normal for fashion and beauty companies to struggle financially as they grow. I was also very young and inexperienced and working in a relatively small market so it was difficult to grow the business. It was a lesson learnt but sadly, it’s hardly an unusual story. Happily I’ve had the chance to try my hand at doing it all again and I am excited about this.
The company was sold in 2002 – what were your feelings about this?
It was and I took up a position I was offered in the USA. Naturally, it was a turbulent time but equally, I was excited about this new opportunity and inspired about moving to NYC and seeing what it was like to work for a large corporation.
What lessons did you learn?
I learnt that structure needs creativity and creativity needs structure.
You later moved to New York and launched a new brand called Lipstick Queen. Tell us about this concept.
The concept of Lipstick Queen is all about the subtle differences in formulation that make a huge difference in the look and feel in a lipstick. Lipstick Queen is home to incredibly unique and hard to find, rare textures and finishes that make these lipsticks completely superior to anything else on the market because of the attention to detail that goes into each and every one. Lipstick Queen is the lipstick brand for women who don’t think they can actually wear lipstick.
How do people go about choosing the perfect colour?
Generally speaking, the lighter you are (skin, hair and eyes) the warmer you should go with your tones – so orangey reds. And the darker you are, the cooler tones will suit you more. However, it’s important not to get hung up on rules and just experiment and try lots on. When you find the right shade, your whole face will light up, like the sun has come out. If the shade is wrong, however, it will be like the sun has gone behind a cloud.
What is the best way to nail a glamorous look?
My tried and tested formula for looking glamorous without being ‘overdone’ is to go easy on the eyes and play up the lips. This looks fresher and more modern than going heavy on both lips and eyes. I also recommend putting your lipstick on first and then your eye makeup afterwards so you get the balance right.
What is your favourite shade?
Red Sinner is my signature lipstick.
What does beauty mean to you?
Connecting with your inner sense of self so that it radiates on the outside – not the other way round.
What did you do differently this time around with your company?
This time around I started my company in the United States, which is obviously a much bigger market so there are greater opportunities for distribution. After that, I’d say I haven’t changed all that much. I’m still using my passion to show women how to use, wear and enjoy lipstick.
What has the reaction been like from the Middle Eastern market?
Very enthusiastic! Middle Eastern women have a wonderful sense of style and colour and they’re not afraid of embellishment. They share with me their passion for glamour and being female in a very glamorous and elegant way. I love their sophistication.
You also found time to write a book ‘Lessons of A Lipstick Queen?’ Was it difficult to turn your hand to writing?
No – writing the book was something that was a pure joy from start to finish. I was very excited to be able to share all that I had learnt, in the hope that others reading it could gain the knowledge and confidence to follow their own dreams.
What can we expect to see in the future from Poppy King?
You can expect to see me continuing to explore what it means to be a woman through the iconography of all things glamorous and female.
What is the motto you live by?
There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
Lipstick Queen is stocked in the Middle East at Bloomingdales.