Poppy King’s story has all the drama of a classic fairytale: a bright, doe-eyed heroine rises to fame, is courted by corporate kings and society queens, and then seems to magically vanish at the flick of an administrators wand. Two decades later she returns, this time in the guise of a Fairy Godmother, full of hope and optimism about the relaunch of Original Sin (the Poppy King red lipstick that made her a national icon in the 90s).
“It’s the subtle metallic sheen of Original Sin that makes it so universally flattering,” she says. “It works a bit like a ring light that bounces light around your face and gets rid of shadow. This is the red that makes your teeth whiter and your eyes brighter.”
The best news? All Seven Deadly Sin lipsticks are making a comeback in staggered launches.
Standing in the Melbourne pop-up store in Chapel St more than three decades after her original flagship opened, it’s clear her lipstick brand made a lasting impact. “It’s so incredible, so many young girls came to see me because their mother’s had called them Poppy because of my lipsticks,” she says. “I met a Poppy that was 6 years old, another was 16…there are about 15 of them I am now Fairy Godmother to! That kind of connection is a once-in-a-generation thing.”
That strong sense of connection is also a big part of the reason that Poppy found the courage to return home and try again. “It does make me vulnerable to be back in this conversation,” she says. “I didn’t think about the personal toll that would come from being put back into that time, especially because it wasn’t necessarily always a good time for me. But it also feels so important… it feels like something very special is happening.”
What happened to Poppy King?
If you’re not familiar with the Poppy King fable it goes something like this: at the tender age of 19 with a passion for vintage Hollywood glamour, she launched Poppy King Lipsticks, a beauty venture that changed our then obsession with pastel frosted lipsticks and thrust Poppy into the spotlight as an iconic Aussie success story. But three years after being crowned Young Australian of the Year, Poppy King’s self-titled brand went into administration and she left the country. “Success and failure go together,” says Poppy. “You can’t separate them.”
While it might seem like Poppy disappeared, she did anything but – she was snapped up as the beauty brains behind some big global brands in New York. Yet, despite her corporate success, there was clearly a sense of unfinished business.
“It’s because I found my original factory, the very same factory I worked with in the nineties, that it meant a lot to me to come back and relaunch Original Sin,” she says. “The idea of having an Australian made lipstick and taking it back out into the world feels so compelling to me. But it is only now that I’m doing this that I am realising it is a brave move.”
There’s something of an oxymoron about Poppy when you meet her in the flesh: she still exudes the same vintage glamour (and is never with a bare lip) but there’s also a down-to-earth ‘realness’ about her. “New York taught me what beauty is, in the sense that it’s a giant mirror of a city. If I go out not feeling good about myself, the whole city will reflect that back at me. People will bump into me and be grumpy at me…. But if I have that pep in my step, the whole city just smiles at me.”
“It has really taught me that beauty is so much less about how you look and more about how you feel. You can have so much more impact when you feel good about yourself.”
Tuning into how she feels was something she learned to do during COVID. “As embarrassing as it sounds, I discovered during the pandemic that dancing was really important to me. Really anything can be made better with disco music…cleaning the house, anything!” she laughs. “I have two cats and during the pandemic we spent a lot of time together. I would do some really amazing move and then I’d turn around … and my cats would just yawn at me!” Not surprisingly, lipstick is Poppy’s one other mood boost essential.
“Lipstick changes your whole sense of what is possible. Red lipstick is my superhero cape.”
Jump on Poppy King Lipstick’s fledgling Instagram account and it seems to be a sentiment shared by many other women. It’s flooded with lo-fi photos of customers wearing Original Sin – many of whom, according to Poppy, have never been brave enough to post a selfie anywhere before. “Lipstick can give you a sense of what is possible….I did my twenties differently with my vintage look, but I feel a huge motivation to redefine middle age now. So many women, once they move past their forties or fifties, start to feel confused about what lipstick they can or can’t wear. Nudes make them feel washed out, red may feel too much of a statement.”
If you’re not inclined to make a statement, Poppy suggests trying on a lip colour before you do anything else. “Put red lipstick on before you do your eye make-up and you will discover a whole new world… You will know it’s the right one if you forget you are wearing it. It should feel that much a part of you.”