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.

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants.

  • 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:

    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.)


  • 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…

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.