Red Lipstick Fragrances : Idea of Glamour in Perfume


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.



  • RH: Oh, I love red lipstick and therefore love this post 🙂 I associate red lipstick with Chanel’s Coco because I wore the scent along with red lipstick through an entire winter some time ago. The scents you mentioned for Geisha makeup sound intriguing, especially Onde Extase, though the note of sesame makes me giggle…
    Never thought of pairing Traversee du Bosphore with red lipstick- I’m going to try that next time! April 1, 2011 at 5:20am Reply

  • Olfactoria: What an inspired idea! I love that post (and lipstick! ;)) So beautifully written. April 1, 2011 at 3:56am Reply

  • Suzanna: I agree with March about Cuir de Lancome. It is the handbag (patent leather, please) scent par excellence, to wear with gloves and red lipstick.

    Miss Dior always strikes me as a “red lipstick” scent as well. Miss Dior, Dior Red lipstick, and lizard shoes. April 1, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Mimi: I, too, love these reviews; they are great fun. I just recently discovered Lipstick Rose and I love it. It is so utterly feminine and profoundly glamorous. In another post, I was wishing I could think of a scent to describe that of the old Dior lipstick and Lipstick Rose comes the closest. It was elegance in a tube.

    I also love red lipsticks and the darker and bluer the better. They are hard to find with the trends toward beige and coral. Have you ever tried any of Julia Hewett’s colors? Not blue enough for me, but they are gorgeous reds. April 1, 2011 at 11:42am Reply

  • March: You know, you are on a roll over here. You are writing the greatest reviews. So much pleasure. Thanks.

    Cuir de Lancome makes me think of lipstick and powder inside a proper, structured leather handbag. April 1, 2011 at 9:24am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Birgit! All of this lipstick talk the other day inspired me to think of glamorous "red lipstick" perfume. April 1, 2011 at 10:09am Reply

  • Victoria: Chanel Coco is the ultimate glamor fragrance for me too! I would wear it with Chanel Starlet, the most perfect red lipstick that I've ever tried. I am still searching for its replacement… April 1, 2011 at 10:14am Reply

  • Marina: Great idea! And I love the concept of hi-maintenance glamour. April 1, 2011 at 10:16am Reply

  • Victoria: March, thank you very much, such a great compliment coming from you!
    Your Cuir de Lancome description is just perfect. I will now always think of it this way. April 1, 2011 at 10:17am Reply

  • Victoria: I love the concept in perfume. My day-to-day idea of glamor is much more low key. 🙂 April 1, 2011 at 10:18am Reply

  • Victoria: Now I am tempted to think of an occasion to wear Miss Dior, red lipstick and long black opera gloves! April 1, 2011 at 10:19am Reply

  • Mimi: Have you ever tried Nars Scarlett Empress lipstick? It’s pretty much my blue red mainstay these days. I can’t wear coral either.

    I wish Cabochard hadn’t been destroyed. It’s my idea of a great red lipstick scent. April 1, 2011 at 4:07pm Reply

  • Victoria: I haven't tried them, but the line sounds interesting. I also love blue reds, which are on a darker side. I love coral as a color, but it just doesn't suit me.
    Lipstick Rose is utterly glamorous! April 1, 2011 at 12:22pm Reply

  • axum: I’m pretty curious about Serge Lutens’ super-pigmented red lipstick…and how it would pair with a super rose! What a wonderful post for a Friday – now I am really looking forward to going out this evening! April 1, 2011 at 1:31pm Reply

  • sweetlife: I always think of Joy as a red lipstick perfume, perhaps because I discovered I could wear red lipstick at the same time that I captured my vintage bottle.

    Carnal Flower works that way for me, too, with or without the actual lipstick. That expansive femininity.

    Totally agree on Coco, too. And in different way, Black Cashmere. April 1, 2011 at 8:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, I am in a red lipstick mood too (and a red lipstick perfume also.)
    I haven't tried Serge Lutens lipsticks, I should. The price was rather a deterrent, I think. April 1, 2011 at 4:30pm Reply

  • Victoria: Adding it to my lipstick to-try list, thank you. If you have any other favorites, I would love to hear.

    Chanel Cuir de Russie is my other red lipstick perfume! April 1, 2011 at 4:31pm Reply

  • Mimi: I love to talk, and read about, lipsticks. I wear Tie Dye Indigo by Il-Makiage–though I’m a little concerned that they’ve reformulated their lipsticks recently and the color isn’t quite as blue. Also, Passion Fruit is a very dark, almost red, pink. They have a lot of beautiful colors.

    I actually love red lipstick all the time with whatever scent I’m wearing. After reading the posts, I think I need to revisit Coco. April 1, 2011 at 10:47pm Reply

  • brian: I was surprised to find this lipstick smell in L’Occitane’s Labdanum de Seville. I never would have expected it there but it has that high end lipstick scent to it. And big surprise, so does Elizabeth Arden Red Door, which I have to admit is very similar to Lipstick Rose, as much as I’d like to keep them tidily separate. As always, love your blog, Victoria. Lipstick kiss: MWA! April 1, 2011 at 7:50pm Reply

  • Victoria: Brian, I am so pleased that you mentioned Labdanum, because I also got a lipstick smell out of it, especially in drydown.
    Love your comment on Red Door, with which I have to agree again. The characters of these two perfumes are similar. Red Door is a great fragrance–big, bold, dramatic, perhaps a touch too loud. I will take it over 50 percent of L'Artisan line. April 1, 2011 at 8:03pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love how you put it–expansive femininity. That's true, I feel the same way.
    And yet, my other red lipstick favorite match is Eau Sauvage. I love the contrast. April 2, 2011 at 10:30am Reply

  • Victoria: A line that's completely new to me, must check it out. I also love Vincent Longo Americana for a sheer red stain. Very beautiful.
    Coco is a gorgeous perfume, a baroque blend of rose, jasmine, spices and sandalwood. April 2, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • sweetlife: Oh yes, I can totally see the Eau Sauvage. I think Black Cashmere works a little like that for me. There are over the top red lips, and then there are red lips as the one hint that something else altogether is going on…;) I am always so messy, even when I try not to be, that contrast is continual. April 2, 2011 at 6:47pm Reply

  • Mimi: Victoria,

    I have thought of other lipsticks I wanted to tell you about. Too Faced has Drop Dead Red and Bare Escentuals has a color, Red Zin. I sometimes mix these with Nars Scarlett Empress to get closer to my ideal dark, blue red. Make Up Forever has several pretty reds, a couple of which look like they are blue reds. I haven’t had a chance to sample them. I suspect the great Sephora in NY would have all these colors.

    Last, I promise, if you have anything left in your favorite Chanel red, you can send it to Three Custom Color to be recreated. I did this for Christmas with one of my sister’s favorite discontinued pinks and they did a great job. April 4, 2011 at 9:21pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you so much for these recommendations and for a tip on recreating my lost Chanel.
    I also remembered another lovely red–Chanel Rouge Allure Lover. April 4, 2011 at 10:24pm Reply

  • Mimi: I saw that Chanel Lover in a magazine and have it on my list to try. It’s good to get a personal recommendation. April 5, 2011 at 7:38pm Reply

  • Kevin: I too love the by gone scent of red lipsticks.
    I have very fond memories of girls wearing lipstick that made me weak in the knees and longing for a kiss. Any thing like that available today. My wife’s lipsticks don’t have that desirable scent but I still love kissing those luscious red lips. March 2, 2017 at 3:57pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: For any people who have subscribed to this post…

    I heard about the release recently of a book that might be of interest. It is “Red Lipstick: An Ode to a Beauty Icon” by Rachel Felder. The publishing information states, “A unique, full-color compendium that celebrates and explores the enduring power and allure of the world’s most iconic lip shade, jam-packed with entertaining stories, anecdotes, little-known facts, quotes, and more than 100 gorgeous images culled from fine art, photography, and beauty and fashion editorial and advertising.”

    I’ll certainly be buying a copy!

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline April 12, 2019 at 7:23pm Reply

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