On The Scent Critic’s rather crowded dressing table, there are some bottles that languish save for an occasional spritzing, and others that are well-worn – and well-loved. Lipstick Rose most definitely falls into the second category: a fragrance that I didn’t have ‘launched’ at me at some glitzy party, but purchased on a we-are-not-worthy pilgrimage to Frederic Malle’s shop on the Rue de Grenelle in Paris. As a result I only have to get the teensiest whiff to be right back on the Left Bank. (I can even remember what I was wearing when I discovered Lipstick Rose – but that’s fragrance for you.)
Frederic Malle is the genius who decided that perfumery had become too commercialised, too driven by budgets and ‘mood-boards’ – and decided, instead, to allow some of the greatest noses of our time free rein to create their ‘ultimate’ fragrances under the Frederic Malle label. (Actually, he calls it ‘publishing’ perfumes, with this carefully-edited collection.) They are, if you don’t know them, among the most exciting perfumes to be launched in the last decade – and my favourite is this smoochy number, by Ralf Schweiger (whose c.v. also includes Eau de Merveilles for Hermès).
The strange thing is that I really, really don’t love most rose fragrances – too dusty, too dry, too old-lady-ish – but I absolutely, utterly and totally adore this. Maybe because this is roses and violets: armfuls of violets, which swiftly kick the rose sideways like a spotlight-seeking chorus girl. Personally, I also detect a bitter almond note which for me balances the vanilla – and it’s never, ever soapy. In truth, its sweet powderiness really is like a lipstick – or bizarrely, like the slightly strawberry-ish TASTE of a Chanel or a Guerlain lipstick. It’s exactly like I imagine the inside of my mother’s handbag would have smelled like, if I’d been shrunk to Borrower size and clicked shut inside. But it’s not all girliness.
Beneath the obvious dressing table glamour, there are smouldering undertones which require hours of foreplay before they make themselves known: perfectly-balanced touches of vetiver and musk and amber. It’s what a flapper would have worn, carelessly spilling champagne from her glass as she Charleston-ed on tabletops. Or the heroine of a short story by Anaïs Nin, beneath her silk dressing gown. Or maybe a dancer from the Moulin Rouge (see chorus line, above). And – this tells you everything – I am on my third bottle of Lipstick Rose. How often, these days, can a woman say that…? (By the way, there’s a candle that reminds me of this fabulous scent – under the Annick Goutal label. It’s called Le Sac de ma Mère – which really does translate as my mother’s handbag. And I don’t know what a shrink would say about this, but I’m crazy about that too…)