Revlon Red Varnish image alone 15cm high

Classic reds: Revlon Red Nail Varnish

What would “The Wizard of Oz” be without Dorothy’s red shoes?  Where would Revlon be today were it not for their classic nail varnishes, the forerunners of our modern nail lacquers?  It was the era of the Great Depression. Two brothers and a chemist decided to try to create a new formula for nail polish, using pigments instead of dyes that created a new sort of nail enamel, an opaque enamel in amazing new shades.  Revlon Incorporated,  the beauty product powerhouse we know now, had begun.


I have admired Revlon Red Nail Varnish from afar for some time, purely as an example of an enduring classic in beauty products.   I have, until now preferred my Chanel “Pirate“.  As expected after several years and many good pedicures, my “Pirate” has died a noble death; in it’s last performance, still delivering a rich, glamorous punch of red to my toenails, but in a gloopy, lumpy way.  I bid ‘Goodbye “Pirate“, thank you for the good times’, as the bottle leaves my fingertips and arcs through the air to land neatly in the bathroom bin.


And so, to a search for a new red.   A useable red, a ready-for-anything red, a not-summer, not-winter, no obvious hint of orange, no obvious hint of plum stand-by red, a reliable red.  One that I know I will be able to purchase, unchanged, in years to come… A standard red, a chic red, a steady red, a readily-available-red.


An archetypal nail varnish red.

A red with a history.

A signature red.


I chose Revlon Red.  There is a brilliant duality in this red,  Revlon Red is a diplomatic red, it takes no sides. It’s hue is absolutely straight down the middle, it is neither blue based nor overly orange based.  It’s a very curious red, from the perspective of one who paints… it suits so many different skin tones, and clearly this crowd pleasing democratic element in Revlon Red’s tonality has not been missed by several generations of modern women… I’m hooked, I’m fascinated, I want to be part of this tradition of red.



Revlon Red Varnish image alone 15cm high

Here is another description of Revlon Red’s magical middle ground:

This is perhaps the most iconic red in cosmetics. A red that is neither too orange nor too blue can almost act against a neutral. When I pair Revlon Red against clothing or accessories that are more yellow and orange, it looks brighter and warmer. Likewise, when I wear it with blue and purple, it looks a little darker and more cool toned. Because it’s such a neutral red, it also looks flattering against a wide range of skin tones. It’s a versatile, true red”.

You can read the beautifully succinct review here on the Fairly Girly Beauty blog:

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to explore what sort of a red Revlon red really is, by experimenting with watercolours.  I illustrated the bottle and then set out trying to recreate the exact red of Revlon Red.  Watercolours are delicious to play about with, and I spent a lovely hour or two tinkering about,  you can see in each example a sample of the nail varnish itself, with the raw colours straight from the watercolour pan adjacent, and then the result of several colours mixed together.  What I discovered is that the Revlon red uses slightly more of an orange based red, but that there is a touch of a cool red, that of Alazarin Red.  The Revlon Red is elusive to capture in watercolours, it being neither overly warm nor cool, this is probably what makes Revlon Red the ultimate democratic red.

Revlon Red nail varnish colour story 1.43M

If you have always struggled to find the “right red” lipstick or nail varnish, taking a moment to carefully compare the different reds in this example will give you an insight into how some reds suit you and how some are ghastly, it’s that balance of blue vs orange tone.  Don’t purchase a lipstick or nail varnish until you have the sample smeared out on a white card.  Take that into the outside light and you will instantly see if the red is warm or cool.  The artificial light in stores is uniformly dreadful.

Here are some more reviews from the makeup alley site.

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