Tell-tale trace tattooed on a collar. Signature on a napkin. Siren’s beacon luring to a cannibal feast. How many calories for a thousand kisses? Lipstick is an edible form of adornment, so it’s got to taste/smell like something we’d eat – in French, the actual “stick” is called raisin, i.e. “grape” – but not too much or we’d be munching on our Russian Red. Something in between perfume and confectionery. Which may be why the rose-violet accord pioneered by Coty with La Rose Jacqueminot in 1904 has become the olfactory synonym of lipstick. According to the historian Élisabeth de Feydeau, the two notes were not only a natural match because of their shared berry facet, but they were also strong enough to cover up the rancid-fatty aroma of cosmetic bases.
If Sophia Grojsman offered the definitive contemporary rendition of the accord in her 1983 Paris for Yves Saint Laurent, Ralf Schwieger was the first to give it a post-modern tweak by deliberately claiming it as a lipstick accord in his Lipstick Rose for Frédéric Malle, a cheerful, Jayne-Mansfield-in-a-mohair-sweater scent. (In a similar move, Jean-Paul Gaultier was the first to claim for Classique the retro powder accord pioneered by Grojsman in Trésor).
In that respect, Prada’s N°14 Rossetto – “lipstick” in Italian – is no groundbreaker. Anyway, not doing what competitors have done doesn't seem to be a factor when niche brands or exclusive lines decide which notes to work on: they just look at what they haven't done yet. Rossetto is the latest addition to Prada's series of boutique-only extraits, an “experimental and evolutive” collection of scents forsaking “pyramidal structures” and meant to reconnect with traditional perfumery. In other words, it is Miuccia Prada and Daniela Andrier’s playground/lab, a place to explore raw materials, soliflores, accords and bases: as though they were publishing the sketches leading up to their more commercial compositions. If they weren’t so eye-wateringly expensive at 155 euros for 30ml, most of them would be lined up on my mantelpiece, especially the leathers (Cuir Styrax and Cuir Ambré) and the balsams (benzoin, myrrh, opoponax, what’s not to love?). Hell, I’d throw in the carnation and iris unsniffed if I had that kind of cashflow: I love the idea of a 19th-style soliflore, but with the best modern materials Givaudan can throw my way, Prada’s taste and Andrier’s talent.
The raspberry that tops Rossetto is a natural extension of the violet and rose accord: dip your nose into a bowl of good raspberries and you’ll find a bit of both flowers, since the berries owe their aroma not only to raspberry ketone but also to ionones (violets) and molecules also present in roses (namely geraniol and beta-damascenone, a almost jammy red berry note). Musk and soft balsamic accents (heliotrope and vanilla) round out the composition.
I’ve tested Rossetto alongside Lipstick Rose, which comes off as a bit jammier with darker undertones and a stronger dose of musk, while Rossetto feels both rosier and more creamy-vanilla-y. If you own the former, you probably don’t need the latter, unless you’re a Prada or lipstick-scent fiend… but you’ll find the temptation hard to resist. Lovers of red lipstick now just how miraculous it is to find the exact shade that suits you, so just a tiny smidge of a nuance in the warm or cool spectrum might make the difference between the Malle and the Prada on you.
Rossetto does indeed smell like the most expensive lipstick in the world ought to. With every note poised in perfect balance without veering into the gourmand, this is one of those “I smell so divine I want to lick myself”. Wearing it might give a new twist to Chanel’s quote about applying fragrance everywhere you’d want to be kissed.
Illustration: Man Ray, Observatory Time: the Lovers (1932-1934)