lipstick: 4 posts

Why Is The Scent of Lipstick So Nostalgic?

Do you remember the scent of your mother’s lipstick? Do you enjoy the aroma of Nivea cream? Have you ever wished to have the fragrance of your favorite sunscreen as a perfume? The November 2019 issue of Financial Times’s HTSI Magazine includes my article about the scent of lipstick and other cosmetics. I explore the nostalgia behind these aromas and explain why these scents, though subtle and discrete, can have a powerful effect.

I don’t remember the colour of my first lipstick, but I recall its scent. I was passing through the local department store in Chicago, aged 15, when an array of shiny, black tubes at the Chanel counter drew my attention. They promised the glamour and sophistication that I desperately craved. I was making swatches of the different tones of pinks and reds on the back of my hand when, suddenly, I became aware of the fragrance of roses.

The wave that swept over me was so intense that my eyes welled with tears. The scent reminded me of my great-grandmother, Asya, who adored rose essence; its sweetness enveloped her and always left a rich sillage in her wake. Even her lipstick smelled of roses. When Asya wasn’t around, I furtively sniffed her rouge compact, its fragrance evoking her soft cheeks and melodious laughter.

Update: The article is now available online, The Nostalgic Allure of Lipstick, November 2019.

As always, I’d love to know what scents transport you? Do you have favorite scented lipsticks or other cosmetics?

My Name is Red : Chanel Rouge Allure Ink and Guerlain Nahema

“I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted… Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me.” Orhan Pamuk’s description of my favorite color in My Name is Red has stayed with me ever since I first read the book, and I often think of it whenever I see another red that draws my attention–fabric, autumnal leaves, lipstick, the lacquer of Japanese bowls or perfume. Yes, perfume can also be red.

The impression of red in fragrance is subjective the way synesthesia tends to be, but Guerlain Nahema is a perfume that makes me feel as if I’m enveloped in layers of crimson silk. The effect comes from the combination of rose essence and the damascones, aroma-materials with the aroma of rose jam and stewed apples. This accord alone has a lipstick red hue, but paradoxically it comes across as even more saturated against the background of green citrus and hyacinth. Reds often stand out best against contrasting colors, and this is the case with Nahema.

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Pink, Perfume and Blush

I like pink. It’s one of the most intriguing and unpredictable colors–cheerful and aggressive, uplifting and alluring, delicate and tawdry. Pink in its pale, ballet slipper manifestations can seem precious and dainty, but saturate it–or contrast it–and the effect becomes much more subversive. Move anywhere outside central Europe, and pink’s reputation for girlishness and frivolity begins to appear less certain. Already in southern Spain and Italy the simple coquetry of this shade turns seductive and smoldering–in the hot pink of the matador’s cape and flamenco skirts, the Sicilian church frescoes and the intensity of bougainvillea against the chipped white stucco of Moorish palaces. Forget about pink being just for debutantes when in India; real Indian men wear pink. The intense tropical  sun bleaches pastels to nothingness, but pink holds its own, forcefully.

pink1

The monochrome January palette needs an infusion of brightness, so my interest in things rose and fuchsia colored is correlated with the length of winter. This is probably why by the time spring arrives and the beauty magazines insist on pastels, I instead turn to greys and ambers. Pink can find its many expressions, in perfume, blush, lipstick, and it need not be only about roses.

Consider Frédéric Malle Geranium Pour Monsieur. The polished woods and musk would give it a sober air of an Oxford don, if it weren’t for a vivid geranium boutonniere. It’s bright and dramatic, an interplay between geranium’s green metallic and velvety floral notes. Pour Monsieur uses a particularly intense geranium essence, and I see it as shocking pink, nothing delicate about it.

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Lips Like Rose Petals

I blame my current infatuation with color on taking up embroidery after a long hiatus. As I play with fabric and thread and search for the right kind of ivory to sparkle against white linen, I give more thought to the colors around me, sometimes even too much. “Wouldn’t that be a great pairing!” I think as I walk over a chocolate brown grate that my Brussels commune stamps with its lemon yellow seal. When I’m not admiring the exquisite detail of local plumbing, I indulge my color obsession via my makeup kit.

rose-lipstick

Makeup is a natural way to explore color, because face products–lipstick, blush, eyeshadow, powders–allow for an infinite variation of shades and gradations of tones. Depending on the texture and transparency, the same hue can take a different cast, not to mention the effect provided by your own skin. Of course, it’s also an excuse for adding to my makeup wardrobe, because as I delve further into my embroidery and as the summer roses bloom with more abandon, my collection grows steadily. One pink is suddenly not enough. I want all of the roses on my lips.

But alas, roses proved to be a difficult case. While reds and berries suit my pale complexion well, roses and pinks can emphasize the yellowish cast of my skin and make me look as if I haven’t slept for days. The swatching exercise below was done chiefly to organize my stash. The result is a selection of mini-reviews. I prefer my cosmetics unscented, but some of my favorite formulas have a strong scent. I added short fragrance notes, in case you’re picky about this aspect of your lipstick.

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