"The consumer just wants to exhale a bit," said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst at the NPD Group. "Coming out of the recession, it seems consumers' thirst for color and play was being reawakened."
Last week NPD reported that sales of "prestige lip products" - any lip product sold in department stores - were up 7.2 percent, from $172.6 million in January through April last year, to $185 million for the same period this year.
Even more surprising, NPD also reported that sales of lip color - that's lipstick only, not gloss - were up 11.2 percent, from $82.7 million in the first four months of 2010 to $92 million this year.
"For years, everyone was going with the bare lip, the nude lip, just a bit of shimmer," Grant added. "Now the new colors and textures are making lipstick cool again."
Clothes for this season are pushing the trend, with bold color combinations such as pinks and oranges and turquoises and yellows the most popular. And fashion's recent love affair with all things 1940s pinup - pencil midis, vintage pin curls, dotted shirt dresses - is a driver as well. All these looks require a full, retro lip.
It was the February launch of MAC Cosmetics' Viva Glam Gaga 2 - inspired by Lady Gaga - that really got our attention. (In Philadelphia, Runaway Red and Lady Danger are among MAC's top sellers.) According to NPD, MAC has been the No. 1-selling lipstick this year, followed by Lancome's L'Absolu Rouge, Clinique's Long-Lasting Soft Shine Lipstick, Lauder's Pure Color Lipstick, and Chanel Rouge Coco Shine.
It also helps that the lip color of today feels different than that of yesteryear. Part of the reason many women moved away from lipstick in the early millennium was, yes, they wanted the Jennifer Lopez sun-kissed, dewy look, but classic lipsticks were drying and left a weird aftertaste. Women opted instead for rosy cheeks and colorful eyes. Now, many lipstick brands, including MAC and drugstore brands such as Maybelline, are infusing lipsticks with Vitamins D and B, and even shea butter, for moisture.
So when it comes to makeup this season, there are two different looks, Grant said. One is sheer foundation and nude or coral lips. This goes best with a khaki summer suit. Beyoncé wears this well in the beginning of her new Run the World (Girls) video.
Or, Grant said, women are going for the more dramatic look - a 2011 version of the porcelain-skinned girls in Robert Palmer's 1986 Addicted to Love video. You can still wear a sleeveless black sheath and a smoky eye, but to make this more modern, think Catherine Zeta-Jones in her glittering, red-sleeved Elie Saab gown at Sunday's Tony Awards.
But if you're still traumatized by the too-red lips you wore in the 1990s and want to know how to achieve the sultry vibe without looking like you lost a fistfight with a clown, here's a tip from MAC senior artist Jennifer Karsten:
Use a darker lip liner to define the outer edges of the lip and lightly fill in. Then apply a brighter, more tomatoey red in the center of the lip, blend, and touch it up with a bit of gloss. Remember, a bit of shine, not a can of Crisco.
"That's how you get this beautiful, faded dimensional lip," Karsten said. "And it's a way that women of all complexions can have a true red."
Deep-red lipsticks pair well with a smoky eye. Learn how to apply the look at philly.com/smoky.
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @ewellingtonphl on Twitter.