The dutifully hip girl behind the register at the Chelsea Urban Outfitters was sporting a ravishing shade of reddish, hot pink lipstick.
“That’s a great color,” I said. “Who makes it?”
“It’s by Revlon. The color is called Cherries in the Snow. You really can’t forget that name, can you?”
I stopped by Duane Reade on the way home and picked up a tube, knowing full well that the lipstick would end up in the heart-shaped box in the closet where all my other lipsticks went to die. You know how some women wear lipstick every day as a matter of routine? They can apply a perfect lip while riding a bike or squished onto a rush hour train. I’m not talking about beige-y pinks or fleshy nudes, but serious, bright, punch-you-in-the-face colors.
I am not one of those women.
Time and time again I’ve proven totally incompetent at the simple task of applying a lipstick that isn’t the color of my lip. I don’t have the patience to draw a cupid’s bow on my sadly undefined upper lip, and I somehow always end up smearing the color on my cheek, my chin, or my hand. On a good day, I may look like someone’s grandmother in Fort Lauderdale on her fifth Valium and third Mai Tai. Still, every two months or so, I’ll give a new color a shot, only to frown in the mirror and return to my trusty tube of vanilla Carmex.
Would Cherries in the Snow be my unicorn of lipsticks?
Not only did the name sound poetic, but it actually went on smoothly and felt moisturizing. I imagined myself tooling around the East Village in white Birkenstocks and large black sunglasses, with a bouquet of bodega flowers in one hand and a Starbucks in the other. I’d give a breezy, hot pink smile and everyone would think I was quirky and chic.
By the end of the week, Cherries in the Snow was in the heart-shaped graveyard of lipsticks past.
Fast forward a few months. I’m reading a new book on Sylvia Plath (Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder. It’s a really thorough and fun read about Plath’s experience working as a guest editor for Mademoiselle in the summer of 1953). As a Plath devotee since puberty, I’ve basically ripped through her entire catalogue and all existent criticism. I’ve done morbid tourism, visiting the site of her suicide twice (23 Fitzroy Road in London), her adolescent home in Wellesley (26 Elmwood Road), and gingerly touching her neatly chopped off braid under the careful eyes of the curators at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Bloomington (to my relief, they seemed jaded – touching Sylvia’s hair seems to be par for the course there). I’m even writing a dissertation chapter on her shamefully underappreciated novel, The Bell Jar. So imagine my surprise as I turned the page and read the following:
“She wore Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow lipstick on her very full lips.”
Click through to the next page to read more.
Revlon has manufactured Cherries in the Snow for the past sixty two years; it’s known as one of their “classic” shades (along with another popular color, Fire and Ice). It’s apparently a cult color, a relic from another era when most women wore lipstick faithfully (a fun but gross tidbit from Winder’s book: one 1950s survey revealed that 98 percent of women wore lipstick; 96 percent of women brushed their teeth).
My second thought was a bit more philosophical.
People are interested in discovering the mundane habits of their favorite singers, actors, writers, and artists. They might even purchase a product based on a celebrity endorsement. But I’ve always been interested in finding out what products my favorite dead icons used, as if I can access a part of their inner lives by slathering on Erno Laszlo’s Phormula 3-9 (one of Marilyn Monroe’s favorite creams) or spritzing myself with Fracas (Edie Sedgwick’s signature scent) while wandering around Saks Fifth Avenue.
Forget that Plath’s poetry is terrifyingly intimate, crowded with speakers who say things like, “I eat men like air” (“Lady Lazarus”). Forget that her journal entries describe how satisfying it is to scoop out a pesky glob of snot. In a weird way, wearing Cherries in the Snow allowed me to be even closer to a writer I admired than reading all those very personal things.
I scrambled for the lipstick box and sat cross-legged in front of it, fishing around for Cherries in the Snow. I held the shiny black tube in my hand like Indiana Jones held the idol in the beginning scenes of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The lipstick seemed different, changed. Imbued with special meaning. I applied a coat, imagining how Sylvia might have applied her makeup, what she might have thought as she looked back in the mirror to see if Cherries in the Snow was looking good that day. Did she need a second swipe or to blot? Did it change her mood, feel comforting, or bestow power?
By the end of week, Cherries in the Snow was yet again discarded, but I had a new appreciation for the shared ritual with and strange connection to Sylvia that a tube of lipstick allowed me to experience.