The classic – some would say cliché – gift to a woman on Valentine’s Day is, of course, a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a dozen red roses, and jewelry. (My teenage daughter’s boyfriend brought her a card and six red roses yesterday; she gave him a handmade card and some candy. All together now: awwww, how sweet!) I don’t like chocolate in perfume, and the idea of jeweled perfumes will have to wait for another day, so here’s a look at some rose perfumes that I love. (Also, it’s an excuse to post beautiful pictures of roses.)
I do indeed love, love fragrances in which rose plays a major part, from light and girlish ones all the way through to dark Gothic ones. So many fragrances contain at least a little bit of rose – even if you can’t smell it on its own, it’s there, making everything smell round and full. I’ll admit up front that it is very, very difficult to find a rose fragrance that smells just like a freshly-cut dewy rose, because in order to obtain rose essence, the rose petals have to be treated in some way – from steam distillation to enfleurage (which involves pressing fresh petals in fat), to the modern scientific method called distillation moléculaire – and you always get “cooked” rose, not fresh. I figure if I want fresh roses, I’ll go to the florist.
For rose perfumes, I have a stash! Some of my favorites, starting from the light and girlish end:
I have to blame Denyse of Grain de Musc for this one, which she described as a “bodice-ripper rose.” Because, baby, it really is.
(Not that I regularly participate in bodice ripping of any type, since I never wear bodices, except possibly to church, which is not exactly prime bodice-ripping real estate. It might be Frowned Upon. Even if the church meets in a middle school auditorium and sits in plastic-and-aluminum chairs and listens to music played upon drums and electric guitars. Maybe especially then.)
Ahem. As I say, Lumiere Noire pour femme is one of those woody-patchouli-rose concoctions that I seem to be a total sucker for. I enjoyed Agent Provocateur and its limited edition flanker, DD (Diamond Dust). I liked the part of Guerlain Rose Barbare that did not smell like Rose Barbare-shop (I’ve pretty well convinced myself at this point that this effect is due to an “amber” material that smells like Barbasol to me). I liked Parfums d’Empire Eau Suave. I liked Teo Cabanel Oha. I liked Etat Libre d’Orange Rossy de Palma – one of the few ELdO scents, along with Putain des Palaces and everybody’s dividing line, Secretions Magnifiques, that I’ve bothered to smell. I liked Parfums de Rosine’s gritty Folie de Rose. I even liked the reformulated LanvinRumeur, for heaven’s sake – not enough to buy it, but enough to spray from the sample vial and say to myself, “Hey, this isn’t bad!” The fact that Francis Kurkdjian seems to be fond of this kind of thing, to the degree that he keeps playing with variations of it (i.e. the aforementioned Rumeur, Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance, Rose Barbare), doesn’t really bother me at all, despite the blogospheric sneers that we’ve smelled it all before: Derivative. Smells like Stella smells like Rose Barbare smells like Sisley Soir de Lune smells like Lady Vengeance smells like Perles de Lalique smells like Coriandre. Boring. Show us Something New.
And I agree, woody-rose-patchouli has been Done Before. L’Artisan Voleur de Roses might have started the revival of this style of fragrance, according to some sources, but it was dreadful: a choking cloud of earthy, oily, yet sharp patchouli, dusted with dried rose petals. I lived through it, but I was definitely not cheerful afterwards.
Also a fact to keep in mind: I really don’t care much for patchouli. Okay, full disclosure: most of the time, I hate patchouli. I seem to be very sensitive to it and can pick it up at extremely low levels, in fragrances where it’s not the focus. It tends to dominate fragrances, so that even if it’s not a star player, it seems like one to me. I don’t have any overtly headshoppy or hippie references for that; in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been around any serious hippies and I’m quite sure I’ve never been in a head shop. It’s just that usually, patchouli seems dirty to me – musty, dusty, funky like old shoes, and I find it unpleasant.
I’ve seen a number of scent bloggers complaining in the last twelve months or so about the proliferation of “clean” patchouli in mainstream fragrances, and how boring that is, how un-patchouli-like, how unimaginative. But all I can say to that is that I rather like clean patchouli. It can be a bit astringent, when stripped of its earthiness, but that is preferable to me. Sometimes you’ll see this referred to as “patchouli heart note” or “refined patchouli,” and it is indeed a grade of patchouli oil that has been refined to remove certain aspects of the natural material.
Another thing I’ve noticed about my reaction to patchouli is that I seem to get on much, much better with it when the patchouli has been aged. It seems to soften and become more herbal and grassy, less dusty and earthy, as if the dried material has been revived to become fresh green leaves. It’s still pungent and aromatic, and almost camphor-y, but it seems that I like patch that way – surprise, surprise! Some of my very favorite fragrances contain a nice herbal-smelling patchouli note, I realized recently: Le Temps d’une Fete comes to mind, in particular.
I like patchouli still better when it’s paired with rose, as I was mentioning earlier with all that talk about Agent Provocateur and Rossy de Palma. There’s just something about sweet, lemony, floral rose that marries well with the herbal-woody-aromatic strength of patchouli; the materials contrast, but somehow share a vibrancy and brightness. The combination is something like a good duet, where the two voices have similar timbres and vibratory frequencies, though they’re singing in different octaves.
Lumiere Noire pour femme does not disappoint me. Right after applying it, I get a moment or two of bright, lemon-candy patchouli, and then I can smell the rose-patchouli duet. There is a period when I really notice the lily of the valley, although I might simply be familiar with the rose-patchouli-muguet combination from smelling Guerlain Idylle EdT (not the original EdP), which has quite a lot of muguet in it as well as those other items. After this bright start, the heart notes settle more deeply into the rose-patchouli territory, the fragrance darkens, and I begin to notice the slightly warm and dirty influence of narcissus and of cumin, both leading toward thoughts of sweaty skin and (dare I say it?) the boudoir. There’s also a hint of something dry and smoky in the drydown, perhaps just a tiny bit of frankincense? It has the sort of lime-pine effect that frankincense sometimes does, and that’s what I think I’m smelling. The entire effect of the fragrance is of light shading toward dark, as if the neon lights and chandeliers of a dressy evening out have led to a passionate personal encounter in the dimness of a private room.
Needless to say, I find it very sexy.
During the short period of time that I owned a small decant of Frederic Malle’s hugely-popular Portrait of a Lady, I compared Lumiere Noire pf to PoaL, one on each wrist. Before that, I would have described Lumiere Noire to be a Dark Rose, a dark gothic rose with kohl-lidded eyes. But next to each other, Lumiere Noire glowed like a candle, while all light disappeared into the far, far darker Portrait of a Lady, proving PoaL to be the true Darkest Rose I’ve come across. Eventually, I grew tired of the heavy balsam in the drydown of PoaL and sent my decant off to a good home with a friend. Although I think PoaL is a truly wonderful fragrance, I just couldn’t manage to wear it myself.
Then I tried Lumiere Noire next to Agent Provocateur Diamond Dust. APDD is recognizable as another rose-patchouli fragrance, but it is another mood altogether, flirty and girl-next-door-sexy compared to the serious, vampy Theda Bara all-out-seduction of Lumiere Noire. The Agent Provocateur is sweeter, with lighter florals (I think I smell jasmine), and friendlier, with more wood and light musk than patchouli.
Notes, according to the MFK site: rose, narcissus, pepper, lily of the valley, patchouli, balsam, orris, cumin. I don’t smell orris or pepper, and I’m not sure what FK means by “balsam,” unless it’s that note I thought might be frankincense. It is available at LuckyScent and Neiman-Marcus, as well as Liberty in the UK, and the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website, at $165 for 70 ml. My decant is about half gone, though I save it for special occasions.