I have a photo of me as a 6 year old painting my lips with my mom’s lipstick. Everything about this picture makes me smile –the awkward way in which I am holding the little tube, the serious look on my face, the way I hold back my auburn curls with one hand while I try to paint a perfect cupid’s bow mouth. Yet, it was not just the rich red color that drew me to the lipstick. It was also the scent of rose and violet that I associated with glamour and beauty in my mind: a scent of my mother’s good night kiss as she was preparing to leave for the theater with my father. The scent of lipstick had such a strong draw for me that it once made me surreptitiously reach for the black tube while my mom was not around and taste the waxy cream. Needless to say, that was not a pleasant introduction to lipstick. Since then, I have been using lipsticks for purposes other than gustatory, and I still have a soft spot for fragrant varieties. Likewise, in fragrances I find myself seeking out the makeup accords that suggest something glamorous and sophisticated, with a delicious touch of retro.
If wearing lipstick implies glamour and femininity, the perfume that conveys the idea of makeup notes likewise has an elegant aura, which is the reason why some “maquillage” elements are used in fragrances. The notes most often employed by perfumers to suggest such an effect are rose, violet, and iris as well as the warm red berry notes (raspberry, wild strawberry, blackberry.) The reason is that traditionally face powders and lipsticks were scented with iris, violet and rose, or a combination thereof. The warm richness of these types of “red lipstick” accords contrasts with the powdery heliotrope and vanilla rich scents reminiscent of baby powder and Johnson & Johnson products. While the makeup accords are often powdery, the effect is completely different, more opulent, dramatic and darker.
Vintage Hollywood Starlet : Veronica Lake and Silent Film Stars
For a taste of retro glamour, few fragrances convey the idea better than Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose. While the name suggests a dark red rose, the composition is in fact all about violet. Yet, here Lipstick Rose surprises again—instead of a delicate Victorian violet, it presents a dark and dramatic flower, underpinned by the rich accord of vetiver and woods. For a similar, more dainty idea, L’Artisan Parfumeur Drôle de Rose would be an interesting choice. If Christian Dior were to release its New Look 1947 in a stronger concentration, it would have been my top choice for sultry screen goddess glamour, red lipstick and powdered décolletage included. Its tuberose and jasmine accord foiled by the luscious sweetness of raspberry and violet is beautiful, but it wears too thin. On the other hand, ethereal can at times be glamorous– Hermès Hiris with its soft, dove grey iris marvelously conveys the sensation of a swan dawn puff gliding gently down one’s cheek.
Hi-Maintenance Glamour : Jerry Hall and Madonna
For those who love glamour in a bold and unsentimental interpretation, Jean-Paul Gaultier Classique with its dramatic tuberose, ylang ylang and orange blossom accord would fit the bill perfectly. The iris inflected makeup notes lend an interesting counterpoint to this flamboyant composition. The effect is at once glitzy and glamorous, like Madonna in her Vogue music video. The musky iris and orange blossom of Love, Chloé takes the idea of dramatic glamour a few notches down, yet overall, it is not a wallflower fragrance. It blends its plush floral notes with the powdery notes of musk and rice powder, with the final result being quite sophisticated, albeit with a mischievous twist. Another new launch, Fan di Fendi is another fragrance that conveys high maintenance 1980s glamour to me. Its floral structure of rose and jasmine is accented with leather and patchouli. A dark twist of red berries gives it a contemporary feeling, while the violet notes reminiscent of retro makeup lend a sophisticated aura.
Geisha Makeup : Exploring the Exotic
Rose and violet are not the only notes that suggest the soft sensation of makeup. An exploration of adornments and beauty preparations from other cultures can likewise inspire an interesting fragrance idea. Aftelier Shiso, a crisp woody oriental composition of yuzu, shiso leaf and patchouli started out from the powdered geisha perfume that Mandy Aftel’s friend brought from Japan. Giorgio Armani Onde Extase was born out of an image of a geisha painting her face in front of a mirror—the scent of rice powder, musk, sesame and narcissus conveying a languorous, seductive vision. Finally, my personal oriental fantasy favorite L’Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore suggests to me red lipsticked French glamour juxtaposed against the tobacco and amber saturated decadence of the Arabian Tales, a surprising and enchanting combination.
Image: a still from Shanghai Triad.