If Looks Could Kill

Modern vamps can re-create the dangerous dazzle of 'Chicago' femme fatales with red lips, fishnets and attitude.

Focus On Fashion

January 05, 2003|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,Sun Staff

It's hard to say what's most striking about Chicago showgirl Velma Kelly -- the bright red lips, the smoky eyes, the short dresses with sequined strands that seductively dust her behind, or the fact that she shot her husband with no regrets.

The combination of elements, however, makes for a stirring, dangerous beauty that men want to touch and women want to possess. Velma (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and her Chicago showgirl-inmate counterparts are the latest permutations of femme fatales on the American big screen. But in this film their look is so memorable, so much a part of their characters' strength, that women in the audience are likely to want to copy it.

"There's that aggressive power of Velma coupled with an incredible kind of beauty," said Chicago costume designer Colleen Atwood, who drew inspiration from French photographer Brassai, whose pictures showed the seedy underbelly of Parisian life in the 1920s and '30s. "It's appealing to men because she's beautiful but she's not very attainable.

"I think women will love the glamour side of it and want to try it," Atwood added. "But hopefully, they won't go out and start shooting men."


Think Chicago and a swirl of flashy sequins and racy fishnets may immediately come to mind. But the essence of the dominatrix showgirl aura that Renee Zellweger and Zeta-Jones exude lies in something very simple -- bright red lips.

Before the glittering wisps of dresses are slipped on, before the garter belts are snapped tight, the Chicago look begins with a face that hints at an irresistible combination of sex, beauty, deceit and danger.

And the highlight of this face are the tantalizing lips.

"You can't look at Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones without thinking that you yourself should go out and find yourself a red lipstick," said Kristin Perrotta, beauty editor of Allure magazine. "But red lipstick can be really tricky to wear. It's a very strong look."

Perrotta suggested wearing a sheer red lip color instead of a full-on lipstick so the shade is not so intense.

"It gives you the color without the effect of, when you see your face, you see red lips, but that's the only thing you see and it sort of mutes out everything else on your face," she said. (Perrotta's Pick: Clinique Glosswear for Lips in Juicy Apple, $12.50.)

For the daring who want to try a matte red, it's important to find a lip color that doesn't bleed or smear easily.

"You don't want it wearing off," Perrotta said. "It's really horrendous when it gets on your teeth and it reminds you of your grandmother when she was on the verge of senility and there's lipstick everywhere." (Perrotta's Picks: Max Factor's Lipfinity, $9.99, and Cover Girl's Outlast, $8.99, which both come in a variety of bright red shades.)

However, before putting on your lip color, it's key to remember to use a layer of lip pencil. Don't just line the edges of your lips. Instead, color in the full lip with the pencil so that, even if your lipstick comes off, some color will remain. (Perrotta's Pick: M.A.C. Lip Pencil in Spice, $11.50, which she said goes with almost every lip shade.)

A dramatic statement like bright red lips, Perrotta said, should be combined with minimal color on the rest of the face. She suggested a slight dusting of the cheeks with a pale peach or pink blush. "The rule of thumb is, color in only one place," she said. "If you start using color in more than one place, you can start looking like a clown."

The area you can spice up a bit is your lashes. If you're going for a nighttime look, glue on a set of fake lashes to make your eyes a little flirtier. (Perrotta's Pick: Andrea lashes, about $2.99 a pair.)

Once they're in place, trace your upper lash line with a black pencil to cover up any mistakes. Then, Perrotta said, "apply loads of mascara." (Perrotta's Picks: YSL Volume Effect Faux Cils Mascara, $28, or Lancome's Flextencils, $20.)

Because you have dramatic lips and lashes, go easy on the eye shadow. If you decide to wear eye color at all, lightly smudge cocoa brown, soft black or gray around the eyes. Finally, finish the look by using a pencil to fill in your brows. (Perrotta's Picks: Origins Eye Pencil, $13.50, and Chanel Forme Sourcils Brow Shaper, $30, which comes in taupe.)

"Red lipstick and this whole 1920s flapper-girl thing looks wonderful on almost everyone," Perrotta said. "The only women who may want to rethink this look are older women. A 21-year-old who doesn't want to be carded goes out in makeup like this because it makes her look 29. But if you're 50 and you don't want to look 50, much less 60, I wouldn't wear this makeup. It's much less aging to wear neutral tones."


If you want to try the full-on Chicago look, Perrotta suggested using a curling iron with a large barrel to create flapper-style waves in your hair.

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