I used to be the sort of woman who bought make-up, but seldom wore it. Blessed with decent skin and the round, freckled features that I cursed at sixteen, but that I am becoming increasingly grateful for as the years pass, I thought cosmetics would always be aspirational purchases for me. Mascara, foundation, lip-liner — it all seemed fine for a night out and sure, it was fun to shop for eye-catching colors, but a full face did not fit into a morning routine that involved fifteen minutes of basic hygiene, lip balm and lacing on a pair of presentable sneakers. For years, I have treated makeup the way most people treat fragrance — as a pleasant, affordable and completely optional luxury. It didn't bother me that co-workers were often surprised to find out I wasn't a suspiciously experienced and articulate nineteen-year-old or that my toddler had difficulty recognizing me in eyeliner and pantyhose. A girl — and most days I still felt like a girl — got by on brains and spirit.
Then last spring I visited a new family doctor, who pointed out that despite my delusional belief I had inherited my mother's dark, coppery coloring, I was really a prime candidate for the sort of skin cancer that had claimed the top of my father's ear the previous month. She suggested I start looking for a tinted moisturizer or sheer foundation with sunscreen to protect my pasty hide. It was surprisingly hard to find one I liked. The first few products I tried either made me break out or dried and caked as the day wore on. I started visiting department store counters, cadging samples off sales assistants, reading scores of online reviews and trying several products on my skin at once. It all felt... familiar. Sure, I still believed in brains and spirit, but before long I also believed in bronzers, cream-to-powder blushes, gel eyeliners, Armani foundation technology, Becca eye-shadows and weird concealer products that actually highlight certain areas. Dior, Chanel and Guerlain weren't just fragrance houses anymore. A wonderful line from Angela's Rochas Femme review sang through my head: "I am this kind of woman, too."
And oh, the lipsticks! I have tried to blame March and Patty at Perfume Posse for my current lippie collection. March guided me in the direction of Poppy King's Lipstick Queen line, where I found Saint Nude, an unbeatable cream lipstick that really did intensify my natural lip color. Right out of the gate, I'd found perfection. But I should have learned from my perfume addiction that the quest never stops with perfection. Soon I needed the über-red that every woman has and that the Posse girls kept mercilessly blogging about. And what about the peerless bubblegum pink, the ideal coral, the Holy Grail berry, the best beige, the not-too-boring brown?
At around this time, I found myself suddenly searching out girly perfumes to complement my painted pout. Frederic Malle's Lipstick Rose would seem to be a natural choice, but I'm afraid I've only ever been able to regard that one as a wearable form of witticism, hip and direct, but ultimately a little short on conversation. Soon, I found bombshell scents that seemed a little less calculated to me, and more intent on raw seduction, red in lip and nail. As spring springs, my unisex colognes are calling to me ever more frequently, and I still love my chypres and fougères, but now I'm a rose and violet kind of woman, too. Please comment with your feminine favorites.
Armani Privé Rose Alexandrie: Starting with a strikingly bright, spice-kissed rose, this quietens quickly to a skin scent, rosewater backed by the resinous thrum of benzoin and musk like a tall glass of milk. While throaty, this is still soft and fresh-faced enough to be worn in daylight hours.
By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses: This is supposedly one of By Kilian's unisex offerings, but it would take a brave fellow to wear it. Poised perfectly between pink-cheeked, fresh lift and ripe, heavy-lidded sensuality, this rose fragrance woos with coconut, of all things, creamy and sweet — but also darkly tinged with plum, prune and cinnamon, like a coconut trying to attract the eye of Serge Lutens. Extra siren points if you apply your Liaisons Dangereuses with the lipstick purse spray.
Amouage Lyric for Women: I'm normally a very aural person. I memorize sentences by reading them aloud, I shut my eyes to concentrate and I associate many perfumes — yesterday's MDCI Enlèvement au Sérail is an example — with swells of sound or music. But for some reason, Lyric causes me to experience an atypical synaesthesia. I cannot forget the pomegranate colour of the bottle and so my brain refuses to process this creamy, spicy, incense-warmed scent as anything other than looking at a glass of ruby port by candlelight. If Amouage ever decides to make lipstains, I have a shade suggestion for them.
L'Artisan Drôle de Rose: I love this fragrance and it saddens me that so many perfumistas seem immune to its charms. An Olivia Giacobetti creation from 1996, it apparently has notes of rose, aniseed, orange blossom, white iris, violet, almond, honey, rose powder, and leather. Does that not sound scrumptious? Many complain that the violet and rose powder overwhelm everything else, but I smell playful, fresh aniseed, a soothing, milky almond, a smell not quite leather — more like a creamy piece of stationary paper — and an oddly flat and yet cheerful floral note that has to be mimosa. Light-hearted and smart, Drôle de Rose is like a Yves Saint Laurent Paris made over just to satisfy me.
Rochas Tocade: I admit I've always worn this, but I needed something on this list to match the low-commitment satisfaction of a sheer, glossy lipstick. The appeal of Tocade is almost crude. As a co-worker of mine pointed out, it smells like the ultimate combination of nougat candy, powder compact and snuffed candle.