Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose: Lipstick & Powder

As always, my Reviews En Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to merit a full, exhaustive discussion.

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house.

Lipstick RoseIn 2000, Malle teamed up with the perfumer Ralf Schweiger to create Lipstick Rose, a powdery floral, which the Malle website describes as follows:

Marilyn in Technicolor, vulnerable even brash. Lipstick Rose is Ralph Schweiger’s vision of glamorized femininity. A perfume that smiles at you, like a dash of lipstick with its rose and violet-flavored bonbon scent. Grapefruit and violet enhance the fragrance’s rose note. The backdrop is musk and vanilla with a hint of vetiver and amber.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

rose, violet, musk, vanilla, vetiver, amber and grapefruit.

I should confess at the start that I am not usually worshipful of rose scents, and that I’m even less keen on very powdery ones. In short, I’m probably the wrong target audience for this fragrance to begin with. Nonetheless, there have been exceptions, and I always try to keep an open mind to things and to really give perfume a chance. I failed here. I didn’t last a full two hours before I simply had to wash this off and then take some aspirin for a very rare, perfume-induced migraine.

Lipstick Rose opened on me with a strong note of primarily powdered rose, then violets, followed by a faint touch of musk with a hint of yellow grapefruit. The latter was faint, and barely cut through the powdered florals. There was a sweet touch of vanilla bean as well. Moments later, the violet notes became as strong as the rose, if not stronger. It was very similar to sweet, powdered, candied violets. As the perfume continued to unfurl, I went back and forth on which floral note dominated. Sometimes, it seemed to be the rose; sometimes, the violets.

It was very evocative of YSL‘s Paris in vintage form. The latter was a scent in which I doused myself for a full year in the early 1980s (leading, perhaps, to my lingering issues with rose fragrances) but Lipstick Rose is far more powdery, less clear, less purely floral, and more sweet than my memories of Paris. That said, I was initially surprised to actually like Lipstick Rose. I certainly didn’t expect to. But note the word “initially” in that sentence.

pampers-baby-wipesAs time passes, Lipstick Rose’s sweetness increases in strength, as do its powdery notes. I have an incredibly strong impression of baby wipes. I’d read a few similar comments to that effect on Fragrantica and elsewhere, and they aren’t joking. There are also very waxy notes that — as expected and as frequently reported — call to mind old-fashioned, luxury lipsticks. (Numerous people compare the scent to old Lancome lipsticks, though I’ve read comparisons to MAC as well. I smell old-style Chanel-rose combined with the Guerlain-violet lipsticks, amplified by a thousand). It’s a hand-to-hand combat between the rose, the violet, the sugar and the baby-wipes powder, and it’s only just begun….

About thirty minutes in, Lipstick Rose starts to become unbearably cloying and, even worse, synthetic to my nose. I feel the start of a tell-tale thump in my head, which only comes with extremely strong synthetics. In the FAQ section of his website, Frederic Malle classifies Lipstick Rose as one of the strongest perfumes in his line. The second strongest category, to be precise. The strength would be fine if it wasn’t so synthetic to me. The sillage is powerful in the opening hour, though I’ve read that it fades away and becomes a much softer scent as a whole. Perhaps, but I couldn’t take the full evolution. At exactly one hour and 47 minutes into its progression, I waved the white flag. My head hurt, I felt actually queasy, and not even scientific accuracy for a review warranted another moment of it.

One of my goals in my reviews, at least in my full ones, is to give a full impression of the perfume, with comments from others — lovers and haters alike. So, for full fairness, I want to present you with the other side of the picture. And I’ll start with another perfume blogger: Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels. She first “shunned” the perfume before becoming “enamored” and changing her mind. She found its extreme feminity to be a symbol of independence, femininity on her terms and a symbol that eradicated the strictures of her youth regarding cosmetics or feeling pretty.

"La Goulue" from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

“La Goulue” from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

On Fragrantica, the reviews vary from great appreciation of the perfume’s retro quality to thoughts that it is too powdery and too much like wearing an actual lipstick. You may find some of the comments — positive and negative– to be useful:

  • For me, this is such a “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of fragrance. It makes me think of clowns, old theaters, really red and kind of sticky old lipstick, doing a careful make-up… and also the phrase “It cost´s money to look this cheap”. 🙂 Very retro, very not have to think about the morning, carefree, adorable, easy to like kind of scent.
  • If you like tooth achingly sweet perfumes then you will probabily like this. Its a shame, i like most Frederic Malle perfumes and find them quite natural smelling, if you know what i mean, but this one is just to artificial for me!
  • If you like being a girl, you’ll most likely enjoy wearing this perfume. It’s so bright and glamorous and reminds me of the ballet days of my youth. Smells very reminiscent of Lancome lipstick and is very delicately feminine.
  • violets and roses, on a slight musky vanilla base. It has been done before. I still like it, but the more I wear it, the more underwhelmed I am… sorry. […] This has a lot in common with YSL Paris, in it’s edp vintage formulation, which I owned. But [Paris is] much rounder and smoother, and overall a much prettier scent.

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants. http://users.telenet.be/thomasweynants/actrices.html

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants. http://users.telenet.be/thomasweynants/actrices.html

  • I see the comparison to YSL Paris (one of my favorites) but the spirit of the two scents is entirely different: Paris is a deeply romantic traditional floral where Lipstick Rose is naughty (I think my aunt would have said it has moxie) and irreverent. This perfume should be sitting on a frilly vanity next to a big fluffy powder puff and a jar of Jergen face cream. It’s so humorously retro that it’s become
    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressign Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns: http://tinatarnoff.typepad.com/thought_patterns/2009/06/dressing-rooms.html

    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressing Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns. (Click on the photo to go to the blog.)

    modern.

  • I just feel being in a wardrobe of Moulin Rouge, where big shiners ornaments the mirrors and many different cosmetics lies on the dressing table, costumes hang on the wall, the air is full of joy, everybody is laughing and there is a big crystal vase in the middle of the dressing table with a dozen red, full and rich roses, which captures this one moment. […] This perfume brings exactly those pictures into my mind and fulls my heart with calmness and joy.

On MakeupAlley, the negative reviews are harsher:

  • This is a terrible fragrance. I find it hard to believe that it has received such high acclaim. It absolutely smells like an old lady’s makeup bag. Who wants to smell like that?!
  • For the life of me I can not understand why this has such a high rating. It does smell exactly like lipstick, and not a nice one. Like the cheap waxy smell of the ones I bought at the drugstore when I was 12. I would never pay good money to smell like that.
  • Perfume is such a personal thing – I expected to love this because it has rose and violets which are some of my favourite things, and I admire most other Malle creations, but it is a sickly-sweet, powdery abomination on me. Wearing this, I find it hard to breathe and promptly develop a filthy headache. 
  • I love fresh rose fragrances, and don’t mind sweet candied violets, but this smelled so strongly of sweet powder on me that I could barely tolerate it. Had to wash it off after 30 minutes. And I barely applied any from my sample vial. Cloying and much too powdery for me.
  • Ugh. Imagine a vintage lipstick mixed in with some rose essential oil slathered on your skin. When applying, I get melted plastic and a hint of rose. On drydown, it just smells like crayon. I’ve tried it a few times, but I still really don’t like this one at all. 

I think there are a lot of women who would find Lipstick Rose to be their ideal scent and a joyous, fun evocation of enormous femininity. But I would strongly urge those women to test it first. I am not alone among perfume bloggers in thinking it a cloyingly synthetic fragrance. One friend of mine — who actually adores powdery fragrances and many Frederic Malle creations — seemed to shudder faintly when I mentioned my agonized reactions to it yesterday. He immediately dismissed it as “very synthetic,” and told me “[i]f you wish for a fragrance that smells like makeup, go get a sample of 1889 by Histoires de Parfums, fun and burlesque in the bottle.”

I shall follow his advice. To the rest of you, Lipstick Rose may be your ticket back to the 19th-century Moulin Rouge. But you may want to be close to a bottle of aspirin and a shower when you try it…

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: You can purchase Lipstick Rose in a variety of different forms and ways. OnLipstick Rose line his website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $110; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $165; a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $240; or a 200 ml/6.8 oz Body Milk for $100. You can also find the perfume at Barneys and, according to the Malle website, it is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, though it is not listed on the Saks website. Outside of the U.S., you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. If you want to try a sample, Surrender to Chance carries Lipstick Rose. Prices start at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.
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33 thoughts on “Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose: Lipstick & Powder

  1. Thank you for sparing me from trying this. I am sorry you got a migraine! I like powder and liked the idea of my grandma’s makeup table, but between your review and my experience with Musc Ravageur, well, I think I will skip Malles that are not also Ellenas.

    • I thought of you at the time, since I know how much you like powdery scents. I can take the powder in Guerlains and often love it there. I can handle it in many Chanels too. This was….. *gulp*

      • Tania Sanchez is bref. Luca Turin is bref. Chandler Burr is succinct. Kafkaesque is a drill down to the depths of detail.

        • Jordan, I am the first to admit my verboseness. I am fully aware of my own shortcomings. Furthermore, I am not using “bref” in an absolute sense; as repeatedly stated, my reviews “en bref” are brief relative to one of my full, detailed reviews. As for the degree of my depth, yes, I provide a lot of details. The majority of blogs are short, succinct or just impressionistic. For me, personally, it is completely unhelpful to read a few impersonal sentences in a small paragraph followed by perfume notes. I could go to Fragrantica for that. I’m specifically seeking to offer something different, for people like myself who want more information, who want a summary of pros-or-cons and other links all compiled in one place, who prefer to read one long blog and those links for perhaps a total of 5 blog reviews instead of running around the internet reading 20 diff. short blogs that really fail to elaborate much on a perfume’s progression and which only offer overall impressions.

          Those for whom my reviews are too much and too boringly verbose are free to turn to a thousand other blog options for their reviews. Believe me, I expect the majority of people to do that anyway.

          • Your approach is a strength not a shortcoming. ‘Tis why we love reading your panoptic style. Your drill down to the depths of details is appreciated. Some people write snacks, others, full meals but you give write us a banquet of words. Definitely staying at this banqueting table. Some of your menus are even royal! Woof.

          • Jordan, your kind words have been one of the few good things about my day. Thank you. It means much more than you can know.

            And I laughed at the royal menu addendum. I am very touched, thank you.

    • You know how you said Lucas was one of your trusted blogfriends? It was Lucas who sniffed disdainfully over Lipstick Rose to me yesterday. LOL. It really takes a lot for me to give in and not even wait something out, but this did it to me! (And not even Kate Middleton’s wedding Gardenia perfume from Illuminum beat me….).

      And, yet, there are rave reviews for Lipstick Rose. I tried to give people a full picture and to be fair by posting the positive reviews. But it put me off wearing perfume entirely for over 24 hours.

    • Let’s put it this way, I can handle Tea Rose by Perfumer’s Workshop. In fact, in very small doses and once in a blue moon, it can even be nice. This, in contrast, was a whole other story.

        • I have to disagree with Kafka: to my nose (skin?) Tea Rose is napalm whereas Lipstick Rose might be interesting with spare use. Try it (at least on paper) when you’re at Barney’s the next time.

          • Always good to hear from the other side. 🙂 But I wouldn’t try it on paper. I think how a perfume reacts to the skin is much more significant. Plus, Lipstick Rose is okay at first. It’s only with the passage of time that it becomes an issue; in my case, starting at 30 minutes and really becoming a problem one hour in.

          • I have to insist on paper! 🙂 Some scents you can just tell won’t be even close to your liking after the first sniff – why to waste a valuable skin RE? _If_ you think it’s nice (or at least not an immediate No) then, of course, skin test is required. But to suggest to a person who just told you he didn’t like Tea Rose to start with Lipstic Rose on skin?! I didn’t expect you to be that cruel! 😉

          • Hahahaha! You’re so right. It would be terribly cruel. I wasn’t even thinking of the traumatic effect on poor Lanier. I got so caught up in thinking about the development of the perfume on the skin vs. on paper, that I forgot how brutal the effect would be. (Personally, I think it’s cruel of you to suggest he smell it at all!) *grin*

  2. Great review Kafka! Lipstick Rose was on my sample list, but I can’t stand powdery scents. I’m huge fan of Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady, but I’m sure I’ll dislike Lipstick Rose for sure.

  3. I know I won’t like it but I still want to try it. I won’t go looking for a sample though. If one happens to cross my path then I will sniff. Sorry it gave you a headache.

    • You have a very adventurous, inquisitive side, Poodle. First the Montales (and Lime Aoud, no less!), and now this. I admire that greatly! 🙂 Let me know how (if?) you survive any of those adventures. LOL.

      • Lol. Just like Greta, the poodle in my picture, my nose tends to get me into trouble. 🙂 And yes, I do have Lime Aoud in my StC shopping cart.

    • It varies and depends on the size of my sample. Once or twice is the norm. Sometimes, if I’m ambivalent and can’t make up my mind about a scent, its notes or some other aspect, then a third time.

      • Probably one more reason I can’t do regular reviews is that whenever I decide to say anything about a perfume that isn’t one of my favorites that I tested and wore dozens of times, I keep doubting myself, checking and re-checking my impressions. When I hate something, on the other hand, I know almost immediately 🙂

        • For perfumes in categories that I like, I pretty much know straight off the bat at the end of the first test if I like it and what my thoughts are. Even so, I’ll often try something twice, as with Ormonde Woman. With perfumes in categories that I don’t frequently wear (very aldehydic florals, light scents, or perfumes with certain ingredients) or that don’t trigger a definite response, I try it twice to ensure I am fair, really know the full notes, really have a good sense for it, or for some other reason. The most recent examples would be Chanel’s 1932 or Sycomore. Sometimes, depending on how much I have, I’ll even do a third test but it’s not often. Generally, I pretty much know after the first test run whether I like something or not. 🙂

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  5. I tried this last night. I found it ghastly. Eeek! The opening was particularly abysmal on me. Instead of smelling like a makeup counter (which I would argue 31 Rue Cambon smells like, though I know others would disagree), this was just…too much. Too much everything. It had a really strong boozy opening, which sounds weird as I know booziness isn’t a characteristic of this one. Whatever it was, it made my stomach churn. I may try it once more to see how it plays over time (I wore it to bed), but suffice it to say this was a dud for me. I never expected to think much of it, but really testing confirmed my suspicions!

    • It truly IS ghastly. You know how I plug through endless horrors, rarely scrubbing things off. *This one* I had to scrub. Unbearably synthetic on my skin in an over-the-top article way. There are some well-done, retro scents with lipstick and powder undertones but Lipstick Rose isn’t one of them, in my opinion. And let’s not start on that splitting migraine it gave me. It’s funny though how it seemed “boozy” on you, since that’s something I associate with amber scents. Do you mean it had an alcohol-like undertone? Not like rum, but like actual rubbing alcohol? Or did you mean rum?

      • More rum-like than rubbing alcohol. But cheap rum. Blah! I may need to try it again. Maybe it isn’t booze, but it reminded me of booze. Ick. It was barely tolerable for me. Luckily, I went to sleep otherwise I would have probably showered.

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