mercredi 13 octobre 2010

Portrait of a Lady by Dominique Ropion for Frédéric Malle : The Other Side of Oriental




Tuck Henry James back onto the bookshelf and stop speculating about what scent would suit Isabel Archer. If anything, the lady whose portrait Dominique Ropion paints for his 9th collaboration with Frédéric Malle (counting his home fragrances) is a dark cosmopolitan beauty of Middle-Eastern descent, prone to wearing her mother’s vintage Yves Saint Laurent, with a degree in political science and a taste for mystical Sufi poetry… Whatever’s ladylike here is the dignified, unapologetic combination of sensuousness and intelligence – even at their most opulent Dominique Ropion’s compositions for Malle are fiercely cerebral feats of molecular artistry.

Frédéric Malle has been unusually forthcoming about the creative process in his press material: he states that since both he and Dominique Ropion are fond of wearing the latter’s Géranium pour Monsieur, Portrait of a Lady sprung from the idea that Géranium’s base notes – musk, benzoin, cinnamon, sandalwood, patchouli and incense -- would make the perfect starting point for a modern oriental fragrance. They set off to experiment around this core without knowing exactly where this would take them, Mr. Malle explains.
 They toned down the sandalwood, amped up the musk and the patchouli cœur (i.e. a patchouli re-engineered using only the “heart” of the essence by removing unwanted molecules) and ended up with a composition which boasts “the highest dose of rose essence and patchouli coeur” on the market. In the perfume-speak equivalent of glasnost (and a delightfully catty dig at the competition) Mr. Malle adds that “Dominique Ropion didn’t give in to modern conventions in perfumery, which consist in not starting a formula without Hedione, Iso E Super, etc. These elements, smelled separately, are delicious, but they brought nothing to the formula of Portrait of a Lady, and thus are not part of it.”

With eighteen fragrances now in Frédéric Malle’s meticulously curated collection, any new offering needs to be thought of in relation to what it brings to the line-up. Thus, Portrait of a Lady falls within a quadrangle traced by Noir Épices (for the spices), Musc Ravageur (in the oriental family), Géranium pour Monsieur (for the original inspiration) and Une Rose (for the rose and wood).
The result is what I’d call a dry oriental, skinny on the cleavage-enhancing, traditional balsamic notes of the family. The Middle-Eastern vibe springs from the rose, wood and incense combination, a typical accord of what is now called the “French-Oriental” genre, which owes less to the classic French oriental family than to an interpretation of traditional Oriental notes by Western perfumers. The notes listed are Turkish rose essence, cassis, raspberry, cinnamon, clove, Turkish rose absolute, patchouli coeur, sandalwood, incense, Ambroxan and a white musk cocktail. Oud isn’t named, but Portrait of a Lady gives off a distinctly oud-like effect, down to the powerfully radiant woody synthetic used in many oud-themed compositions, the one I’ve nicknamed “the spiky wood”.

The whopping rose overdose doesn’t make the scent a soliflore: here, Dominique Ropion has teased out some of the facets of the rose to graft them on to a cartwheel of notes, starting with berries and a minty coolness which points to the fragrance’s filiation with Géranium pour Monsieur[i]. It also has in common with its “parent” scent a level of intensity that sets it apart from, say, Une Fleur de Cassie.
But the crux of the matter is the setting of the rose: unlike Une Rose which planted its realistic blossom in wine dregs and truffle, Portrait of a Lady plays on the burnt, mineral effects of clove and incense, barely sweetened by a cinnamon note, whose fumes wrap the rose in a charred black veil. The incense, a particularly difficult note to work with because of its harshness and metallic facets verging on blood, is kept in check by Dominique Ropion’s immaculate sense of proportion.
Divested from its earthy, moldy-leaf facets, patchouli becomes a couture material, as supple and heavy as a sturdy crêpe marocain, on a silky Ambroxan lining whose tobacco facets pick up the rose’s. This woody-ambery base, matched with the toughness of the incense, pushes Portrait of a Lady out of the women’s wing of the gallery, as it were, into gender-bending territory: there is no reason in the world why a man couldn’t rock this rose. In fact, it’ll probably be a hit with Emirati gentlemen.

The new scent’s high concentration in natural essences puts it in the Carnal Flower price range, but it is diffusive and tenacious enough to be used very sparingly – a squirt on the nape of the neck should do nicely (any more and you might venture into migraine territory: this is a potent brew). The last time I wore it, it was to visit a jeweler friend: though I was dressed in black without a single ornament or touch of color, she remarked that my perfume was all the jewelry I needed… Considering that she works with nothing but precious stones, I’d say Portrait of a Lady was a good deal.


[i] Geranium is a bridge between mint, raspberry and rose as it has menthone in common with the first, geraniol with the second and both geraniol and citronellol with the third. There is also a rose note in raspberry, and vice versa.





Illustration: Jean-Loup Sieff

37 commentaires:

  1. eleven european mystics13 octobre 2010 09:30

    Between Henry James lady and Emirati gentlemen the well brought up French young lady, and you 'sans parure'. It sounds too perfect to be true. Does the pathcouli stand out too heavily?

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  2. Each passage of your review makes me swing between two opposite feelings: lust and... horror!

    Does this rose, paired with the patchouli core, exhibit those typical chocolote and jammy facets?

    The drydown of Geranium pour Monsieur was heavenly for me, but of course, I would have rather amped up the sandalwood and bezoin rather than the patch...
    Anyway, Malle+Ropion is must try for me.
    Carnal Flower and Une fleur de Cassie are among my all time favorites...

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  3. I have to try this - is it already available on the (French) market? Bee

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  4. EEM, the patchouli is of a different quality to the traditional one so that it doesn't read as overwhelming despite the high dosage: this is M. Ropion's art of balance!

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  5. Ropion is a great master of olfactory beauty...I went directly to the Frederic Malle website, but it doesn't appear there yet. I wandered further in the blog (it is always inspiring) and got to the post "Skanky Epiphanies", devoured it, enjoyed and came back to ask about the element of 'raw' in this Portrait. There is one - as sumptuous as the sheen of a concert piano - in UFDCassie. How would you say it makes itself felt here?

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  6. "Each passage of your review makes me swing between two opposite feelings: lust and... horror!"

    Zazie's comment echoes my feelings here. Depending on which notes predominate here I'm in for great ride or an olfactory assault. As it's Malle, as it's Ropion, it's a must try for me, of course.

    I was a little confused when I read they were releasing a rose-patchouli, as that's just what Une Rose already is on me. I so wanted to like Une Rose, but I must confess - I loathe it. The top notes are magically intense but the drydown chokes me me with powder and skanky patch. It's the worst of the powder room and an unkempt commune simultaneously.

    Frederic Malle certainly seems to know his audience. "No Iso E Super!" is the kind of ad copy that only makes sense to the hardcore perfumista community.

    Thank you for the advanced review and more details on this one! If I may ask - given that rose and patchouli has been done before ( and done and done and done ), is POAL close to any existing ones? ( For example: Black Aoud, Noir de Noir, Voluer de Roses, No. 88. ) Or, is it something truly unique in your experience?

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  7. Zazie, have I mentioned chocolate and jam? No I haven't. Rest assured: this is not the lovechild of Angel and Nahema. It's very dry, with mineral facets.

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  8. Bee, it isn't for sale anywhere yet. It will be launched in November.

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  9. EEM, I can safely say that to my nose, there is not one trace of skank in Portrait of a Lady...

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  10. Sugandaraja, I'm not big on roses so I actually only wear Une Rose out of those (the most extreme one, wouldn't you know). I actively loathe the Montales so I'd say if I wore Portrait of a Lady with pleasure for several days, it's very different. There is rose and rose, patchouli and patchouli... As I've written in the review, the earthy/winey dimensions of Une Rose are totally absent: PoaL is not a realistic soliflore but symphonic composition.

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  11. After your excellent presentation which made me dream I went straight to FMalle flagship store but unfortunately there was no tester for me until mid November. A bitter surprise.
    Patchouli Coeur MD has been used for years in some mainstream best sellers.
    Your description of geranium is very funny. Where did you find that?

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  12. I am usually a patcho-phobe; the mustiness of the note as I usually find it overwhelms me with unpleasantness. However, I do enjoy the aged material as it smells more herbal-green than earthy-musty to me - and I love it with rose! I adore MFK Lumiere Noire pf, and PoaL sounds like it might be somewhat in the same vein albeit with a more Oriental base. Yes? No?

    (I dislike Une Rose very much, finding the rose note absolutely gorgeous, but the woody-amber bludgeons me. If I put on Une Rose, I feel like I must hide under the bed to get away from myself, it's so oddly threatening.)

    I have not yet tried GpM, but you can bet I will make a beeline to test PoaL when it's available. Thank you for the review; I love the idea of a scent glowing enough to be a gem on its own!

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  13. Octavian, as you must know, the product was presented to journalists. I know some of them and I have decanting materials: easy-peasy. As for géranium, I tried to figure out stuff from books, but wouldn't it be simpler to tell me directly about my mistakes so I can correct them ? You of all people should know I love to learn, since you've taught me so much.

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  14. Denyse, thanks for the review on this! I've been waiting with bated breath to hear about it and am quite excited to smell it when I'm in Chicago next month. I happen to be wearing Noir Epices today, and having worn Une Rose recently, too, I like your thoughts on comparing this new scent with the existing range. I'm glad to hear a guy could rock it, too, and I was playing with the ideas of wearing something called Portrait of a Lady, especially in light of all the cultural theory I've been reading recently! Maybe it'll be the perfect thing to wear when we discuss gender as a construction in class!

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  15. Wow, Denyse, lust*in*my*heart. You make this sound very enticing indeed.

    Spiky wood ... where are you and your little tester strips when I need you? Based on Luca Turin's presentation, I've now decided that whatever it is that puts my eye out in mainstream men's scents is NOT dihydromyrcenol (sp?) the essence of Cool Water. It's something else which could be "spiky wood" and is also oud-ish and also frightens me because I think I'm becoming hypersensitized to it. A woody facet? It overwhelms.

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  16. Muse, I haven't done the side-by-side with Lumière Noire but spontaneously it didn't seem very similar, particularly because of the dryness of PoaL. And you need to smell Géranium pour Monsieur, it's outstanding stuff!

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  17. Jared, to me this is easily in the masculine codes because of the incense and ambroxan. And why shouldn't a man wear a Portrait of a Lady? Guys have been tatooing images on women on their skins for centuries...

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  18. March, based on my observations, and I think I've heard or read about it as well, this type of material can become much more perceptible in time to some people, whereas others don't get the same effect at all. It's not hugely present in PoaL, but in many masculine fragrances it rips my nose apart.

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  19. You know, unfortunately I don't need to layer Nahema with Angel to get all those damascones scream "dirty chocolate" inside my nose... I pick up that gourmand-bitter facet from most rose centered perfumes. To me the rose in Lumière noire stands firmly in the obscenely sweet poison-chocolate horror camp, for example, so I guess I'll never know if I might like Portrait until I test it myself...and I'll test it taking some extra precautions...

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  20. Zazie, I believe caution would be advisable. You really seem to bring out/pick up the fruity notes, don't you? I'm not huge on rose myself so I couldn't see myself wearing any rose fragrance however gorgeous more than once in a while... It's just not my flower, I guess.

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  21. What a fabulous review - excellent writing and descriptions that just make me want to try this out as soon as possible. I am a huge Dominique Ropion fan (Carnal Flower Love !)and I loved Une Rose which was so potent on me- 2 sprays strongly lasted till the next morning.

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  22. Mimi, thanks. Dominique Ropion is up there for me as well. I love Carnal Flower, and I think Une Fleur de Cassie is one of the best fragrances of the past decade.

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  23. Rose and patch, love them apart, love them together. Lumiere Noire and Voleur de Roses, both do it for me + am a big Ropion fan.
    Roll on November, can't wait for this. Thanks for the very thorough preview Denyse.

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  24. Silvia, I was thinking of you, this might be something you'll love... all those crimson-black roses... I can just see you in them.

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  25. this sounds very intriguing. And thanks for the geranium info - he said something about it at the Chicago candle unveiling but I couldn't quite focus on it for all the other stuff - I was confused by the rose references. This will be a must-try when it launches!

    xoA

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  26. Musette, the Géranium pour Monsieur story comes from the press release, so straight for the horse's mouth, as I were...

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  27. I just can't wait to sniff this. Agree with Zazie: as I hung onto every word of your review, I alternated between lust - cinnamon and benzoin - and horror - Emirati gentlemen. We'll see. I am a proud rose lover (it seems we're few), though rose soliflores are not my thing. My current desire is Lumiere Noire. This sounds so intriguing! Ropion is brilliant. Thank you!

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  28. Carla, Emirati gentlemen is my extrapolation -- they tend to love woody roses. Probably that if you love Lumière Noire you'll find this one to your liking as well... The nose will tell!

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  29. I have to have this after your review .

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  30. can't wait can't wait can't wait

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  31. i have just tried this perfume. when i first smelled in on the card i thought, maybe this is THE day perfume i have been looking for, distinctive, elegant but discreet, on the dry side but full of fresh scents. my nose captured light fruity/flowery smells, the crystal quality.
    alas, when i had some sprayed on my hands, it all turned to horror: the only scent my skin seems to capture is something waxy like propolis, what is it that i am smelling with such distaste? there are whiffs here and there of something else that are quite pleasant but only as long as my nose is far away from my hand.
    incidently, that...overpowering smell, i sniffed on a few perfumes this weekend while i was visiting the Lutens and Artisan Parfumeur shops (a wonderful sales attendant in the first shop, bored ones who don't know anything about perfume in the second one, sadly). my boyfriend reacted in the same way to this "propolis" kind of smell. so very curious to know what that note is and a little disappointed that Portrait of a lady doesn't like my skin...especially because i loved the book and Isabel Archer...

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  32. Columbine, if you smelled it in a lot of perfumes very recently and it's stronger when you smell closer to your hands, I'd suppose it was a product you used -- a moisturizer or a soap maybe? Hard to tell without knowing which scents had that note, which I didn't detect in PoaL... But I know some products can really mess with perfume.

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  33. hum, i don't use moisterizer regularly and between the weekend and now i have not used the same soap to shower, plus on the weekend, we smelled that waxy smell in other perfumes, on paper, not even on the skin so i think it must be a very characteristic component of perfumes. we focused a lot on leather perfumes if that's any clue...

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  34. Columbine, I kind of see what you mean about leather perfumes, you may be getting that vibe from an amber-type material. Would you say you smelled that note in Annick Goutal's Ambre Fétiche, for instance? Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque? Could be styrax, styrax plus something else... hard to tell, I don't think there's any styrax in Portrait of a Lady. Sorry I can't be more helpful!

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  35. we did smell Cuir Mauresque but it was another one, it might have been Fumerie Turque or Musc Khoublai Khan, more likely Fumerie Turque i think...

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