New York, 1912. Twenty thousand suffragettes demonstrated for the right to vote. Their lips were painted red. At a time when lipstick was regarded as the preserve of women who were no better than they should be, this was a revolutionary expression of their desire for political freedom. According to the legend, when the suffragettes marched passed Elisabeth Arden’s salon on 5th Avenue, she handed out lipsticks to them. This small object became a symbol of power and emancipation.
But the history of lipstick is somewhat disconcerted. Worn for cultural reasons, by superstition, to establish one's authority, indicate social superiority and strength, to follow a fashion trend, by provocation, transgression or by submission and conformism. Lipstick can be mainstream and then swiftly shift: people stop wearing it and the absence of lipstick speaks volumes too. For lipstick is a language.
With archives, film excerpts, makeup tutorials and other TikTok videos, the film embarks on a spirited visualization of how lipstick has been used throughout the ages, revealing its multiple audacious ways and how it remains a major cultural and political icon today. A small piece of history with a cap on.
Direction: Claudia Marschal & Ian Simpson
Production: Un Film à la Patte & Panoramique Terre Productions for ARTE G.E.I.E. & RTBF