Culture

What Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath, and a supermodel have in common

When I needed a lipstick to reference in a throwaway line in my novel, I wrote what I knew.

“Six-hundred and thirty-five dollars for a cigarette butt smeared with Cherries in the Snow lipstick? I can get that for half as much in Big City! This is outrageous.”

After the line was written, I got to thinking about Cherries in the Snow. I have no idea why I know that Cherries in the Snow is a particular color of lipstick. Was I aware of it purely due to the insidious power of marketing? Or is there greater cultural significance to this oddly-named makeup?

Cherries in the snow lipstick

In 1932, brothers Charles and Joseph Revson began peddling an early form of nail polish. Among the colors on offer was a distinctive tint they called Cherries in the Snow. When they joined forces with a chemist, Charles Lachman, cosmetics giant Revlon was born.

In 1940, they branched out into lipstick. In 1953, Cherries in the Snow lipstick made its debut: Just in time for a young Sylvia Plath to discover the shade.

“When I woke up in the dull, sunless heat the next morning, I dressed and splashed my face with cold water and put on some lipstick and opened the door slowly,” writes Plath in her 1963 semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, which references lipstick no fewer than five times.

Though Plath never specifies the brand or color of this lipstick, in Pain, Parties, Work, Plath biographer Elizabeth Winder confirms, “She wore Revlon’s Cherries in the Snow lipstick on her very full lips.”

Does any man really understand you?

Who knows you as you really are? Does he?

Who knows the secret hopes that warm your heart?

Who knows the dreams you dream, the words you’ve left unspoken?

Who knows the black-lace thoughts you think while shopping in a gingham frock?

Who knows you sometimes long to sleep in pure-silk sheets?

Who knows you’d love to meet a man who’d hold your hand and listen…while you say nothing at all?

Who knows there was a morning when your orange juice sparkled like champagne?

Who knows the secret, siren side of you that’s female as a silken cat?

This isn’t one of Plath’s poems. It’s marketing copy from the first ad for Cherries in the Snow, which hit newsstands in 1953 to announce the debut of the brand-new shade. The full-color print ad answers its The Feminine Mystique anticipating questions with the pithy promise, “Who else but Revlon understands you as you really are…a trifle shy, but oh-so-warm…and just a little reckless, deep inside…as strange and unexpected as cherries in the snow.”

Squeezed between the pre-second-wave feminist frustrations and the coy sales pitch is a slinky brunette swathed in white furs and a red evening gown. She’s the one and only Dorian Leigh.

Memorialized by The New York Times as “one of history’s most photographed models — perhaps the first to truly merit the adjective super,” Leigh was a favorite of photographers Richard Avedon and Cecil Beaton, as well as writer Truman Capote. Capote met Leigh when she was living on Lexington Avenue in New York City, using a candy store across the street as an answering service for “dates [that] stacked up like airplanes waiting to land,” as Vanity Fair recounts.

Capote gave her the nickname “Happy-go-lucky,” a near homonym for “Holly Golightly,” the iconic party girl character he was just beginning to develop. “Dorian’s wayward lifestyle, her restless bravado, went a long way toward the making of Capote’s heroine, the slim girl of his slim volume Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” posits Vanity Fair.

Once you start looking, this lipstick keeps popping up everywhere. It was even burlesque star Dita Von Teese’s first lipstick.

“It was the ’80s, and I think I was maybe 13 or so. Not only had I gotten my hands on a tube of Revlon Cherries in the Snow, but I also had my mother’s hot rollers and I had done myself up,” she told Byrdie.com in 2015. “I remember feeling like, I’m always wearing this red lipstick. There’s nothing that’s going to stop me.”

I still have no idea where or when I first heard the name, “Cherries in the Snow.” All I know is it’s one heck of a catchy name. And the color is nothing like cherries or snow.

the delve