I LEARNED SOMETHING remarkable this week: Lipstick is an empire builder. It’s a truth borne out by the success of Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kits, which the youngest of the Jenner-Kardashian clan launched in 2015. As of 2017, her company, Kylie Cosmetics, had sold more than $630 million worth of makeup. At 21, she’s on her way to becoming the youngest self-made billionaire ever, thanks in part to a tube of glam goo.
A lip kit sounds more important than it is, like a set of survival tools to keep you attractive during a global apocalypse. In fact, it’s just a coordinating liquid lipstick and lip liner costing $27-30; new kits drop via Ms. Jenner’s Instagram account with more frequency than albums by rapper Travis Scott, her boyfriend and father of the couple’s daughter Stormi. At last count, Ms. Jenner had well over 117 million Instagram followers, and I admit I’m one of them.
Though fairly makeup-averse, I was curious about the lip kit. No one I knew had bought one, or any lipstick recently—surprising, since sales of prestige lip products are robust, accounting for $682 million year to date, according to Larissa Jensen, a beauty industry analyst at NPD Group. Other similar lip sets by Pat McGrath and Tom Ford are gaining ground. When I asked my son’s girlfriend what she thought all the hubbub was about, she said rather eloquently: “Lipstick holds the promise of transformation.”
ALL THE KITS AND CABOODLES / The Kylie Cosmetics Lip Kit Flanked by Rival Products
FROM LEFT: The artistic one: Lust Totale Lip Kit in Unnatural Natural + Manhattan, $50, patmcgrath.com; The buzzy one: Baddie Matte Lip Kit, $30, kyliecosmetics.com; The luxe one: Lip Contour Duo in Fling It On, $55, tomford.com
I figured $29 was a pittance to pay for transformation and signed up to try a few Lip Kit shades, including the beige-y Exposed, which sounded daring. I watched Ms. Jenner’s soul-numbing, yet informative 10-minute video about her beauty routine to perfect my technique. In it, she runs through her whole morning makeup routine, allocating about 30 seconds to the Lip Kit. I learned I should delineate my lips with pencil color, then smooth on the lipstick and, to get her famous plush pout, color outside the lines. Liner, an oft-ignored step, adds a precise shape. The process did make my lips seem bigger, though I didn’t go as Jessica-Rabbit-ish as Ms. Jenner does.
The next day I set off for my Manhattan gym sporting Autumn, a terra-cotta rose; to secure a good spot in my cardio class, I’d rushed through my new lipstick ritual. A gym buddy asked me what I’d done with my hair, and when I mentioned my lip kit, she stared at me with disappointment. I’d become one of those pathetic people who wear makeup to the gym. Still, the instructor gave my arm a squeeze and said, “Good work today!” an accolade I chalked up to my new visage, alluring even when sweaty.
I liked the attention, but it puzzled me the way human emotion confounds Data, the android on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” In the mid-1970s, when I was Ms. Jenner’s age, looking beautiful meant looking natural. I remember feeling sad for a mink-coat-clad woman at the Ralphs supermarket in Hollywood, a Norma Desmond pushing her grocery cart down the cereal aisle, her face pancaked and lips smeared a brilliant red. Makeup had no place in my feminist agenda.
That attitude is out of date, said Gloria-Jean Masciarotte, a feminist scholar in Providence, R.I. Her college students routinely wear full-face makeup, in part, she thinks, “because in our heightened celebrity culture, everyone wants to be ready for his or her close-up.” Lipstick occupies an exalted place in the zeitgeist. “It’s a statement you wear, sometimes an aggressive one.” I began rethinking my lip color: Perhaps the cherry red Boss Lip Kit would serve me well.
Lipstick as empowerment was a new mind-set for me, but as I walked around the city shellacked in Victoria, a dark crimson, the glances I attracted warmed me to the idea. I’m building my own empire of followers, I thought smugly. Then realizing I was late for an appointment with my stockbroker about the haywire market, I forgot all about lipstick.
FAMILY BUSINESS / How Kylie’s Sibling and Half-Siblings Plugged Her Entrepreneurial Efforts Via Twitter
The success of Kylie Jenner’s Lip Kits certainly speaks to her innate instincts as a businesswoman. When it came to spreading the buzz, however, it certainly didn’t hurt that her siblings and half-siblings—with their massive social-media followings—tweeted out supportive and emoji-filled, if occasionally incoherent, expressions of solidarity. Here’s a sampling: