Tom Ford’s new perfume is Fucking Fabulous – at least that’s what it’s called. Ford announced his latest fragrance during New York fashion week, and the name alone has caused a stir, with descriptions ranging from “racy” to “obscene”. Certainly, it’s a gear change for the designer, who has previously favoured more literal fragrance names – Tobacco Vanille, Tuscan Leather, Venetian Bergamot – but, in the increasingly risque world of cosmetics monikers, it is unlikely to raise eyebrows for long.
Cosmetics’ names were once chosen for sentimental, rather than shock, value. Chanel’s numbered fragrance line marked dates including her birthday (No 19) for example, and Dolce & Gabbana’s Sophia Loren No 1 lipstick was released to commemorate the actor’s 81st birthday. Meanwhile, Nars’s Jungle Red lip and nail colour reference the nail polish from 1939’s The Women (a film that memorably featured not a single man).
Yet Nars is far better known for Orgasm – a blush colour that managed to overshadow the likes of Threesome, Sex Appeal and, sadly, Mata Hari, in what is a relatively risque range – rivalled perhaps only by (the pigmentally similar) Deep Throat. This year, the brand launched an entire Orgasm collection off the back of its popularity. (Tagline: “Have more than one.”)
“François [Nars, Nars’s founder and creative director] has always wanted to give the products an identity and character,” says Magalie Parksuwan, senior vice-president of marketing at the company. “He wants people to remember the names and to provoke.”
The high street has embraced provocative and “rude” cosmetics, with brands such as Soap & Glory marketing innuendo-laden products, from Sexy Mother Pucker lip shine to Glow Job tinted foundation. Too Faced’s Boudoir Eyes palette skipped the puns entirely, with shadows titled Fuzzy Handcuffs and French Tickler, while the brand’s Better Than Sex mascara proved so popular that it inspired a line of shoes.
Unsurprisingly, the ever-“edgy” Urban Decay has its own selection of suggestive cosmetics, including a blusher in Fetish (a name shared with a lipstick by Mac) and a lip gloss in Rule 34 (Google it). Illamasqua takes a more straightforward approach, with a rubber-finish nail varnish in Kink and an eye shadow simply called Sex. But can raunch-based retail really seduce potential customers? “It definitely has an impact,” says Parksuwan, “[but] there’s more to the success of a product than just that.”
When Kylie Jenner, something of a bellwether for millennial makeup trends, released her blush collection in March, she ditched the sentimental nomenclature of her Lip Kits (Mary Jo K was a tribute to her grandmother and Dolce K was named after, er, the family dog) for vastly more provocative names including X-Rated, Virginity and Hot and Bothered. But it was her rosy pink Barely Legal which proved most controversial – sparking a similar backlash to that prompted by Kat Von D’s Underage Red lipstick in 2015.
Even so, an Instagram search for #kyliecosmetics conjures more than two million posts – many of them photos of the products themselves; fully packaged, lascivious labels neatly aligned – which perhaps goes some way to explaining why suggestive stickers, no longer sheepishly consigned to the base of nail varnish pots, proliferate. “Names help to create a story and elicit a reaction [online],” says Parksuwan. And, given the epicurean competition, who would want to be #beige?
That said, the chance to be immortalised in makeup may not yet be dead. Last week, Ford also expanded his Lips & Boys collection, which now features 100 lipsticks – each named after one of the designer’s closest friends.