Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Dozen Roses: 12 More to File Under Rose

An entry on roses is some kind of folly, given that so many fragrances contain rose, even when not presided over by it. Where to begin? Where would it end? I would never propose an exhaustive list--at least at no time in the near future--but I do have personal favorites. Some of these I've already reviewed or mentioned (see the list at bottom). Others I've only recently discovered. Here, off the top off my head: a dozen roses...

Tocade (Rochas)/West Side (Bond No. 9)

These seem like companion pieces to me. Tocade is by Maurice Roucel. West Side is by Michel Almairac. Tocade is textbook Roucel, with a weird, trademark doughy quality which finds its way into a lot of what the perfumer does. West Side is boozier, deeper and darker. Tocade projects. West Side spreads out on the skin, lurking. It sometimes sneaks up on you when you least expect it. West Side seems like it will be outlasted by Tocade but ends up outrunning it. Both have a pronounced vanillic backbone, but West Side takes a little longer to bring itself out of the closet. When it does, West Side starts to resemble Tocade more clearly. Note: the booziness of West Side isn't the wine-drenched rococo of YSL Paris. Fans and detractors of West Side talk about cigarette ash and smoke, and I can understand why. West Side has that quality you get from a glass of port wine--the day after, when it smells like you feel. There's something slightly hungover about it. But Tocade can also be a tad too sugared, too tight lipped somehow. It needs to let its hair down. I like both at different times.

Noir Patchouli (Histoire de Parfums)
If ever there was a misnomer, this is it. Still, don't think you won't find patchouli here. You will. But more than anything, Noir is a study in rose and what it does with a strong dance partner. This is a beautiful rose: smooth, rich, intense. Noir? Not so much, though it isn't exactly light, either. What can a word like noir mean in perfumery at this point? It's like saying fine when someone asks you how you are. Fine can mean anything from okay to destitute. Fine means nothing and everything, as does noir. Like Blanc Violette, also by Histoire de Parfums, Noir has a woody come nutty underbelly I find pretty addictive. The longevity is great, the projection decent. This is beautiful stuff, a modern interpretation of classic rose chypres like Aromatics Elixir. It's worth the hefty price tag.

Beautiful (Estee Lauder)
I can never really determine the nose responsible for Beautiful. Some say Bernard Chant had a hand in it. I've heard other names as well. Beautiful gets slammed for its potency. To many it smells of dryer sheets. I smell tobacco and an impossibly honeyed, saturated rose. Yes, Beautiful is part of that eighties trend in forced perspective perfumery. Everything is huge, resulting in a big block of Godzilla rose, which hits you over the head with the force of a semi. I don't mind the blow, personally, as it puts my head in a pretty nice place. What's in this thing? Disregard the pyramid you find on Beautiful smells nothing like the sum of its parts. When people complain of Estee Lauder fragrances, Beautiful seems to be the most oft-cited case in point. It makes statements (i.e. takes no prisoners). It commands attention and I suspect passes migraine through a room with the remorseless efficiency reserved for clouds of nerve gas. Here's the thing. I love these fragrances. There's something so powerful about them--not only literally but theoretically. Here's a perfume that can alter the emotional climate of a room.

Shocking (Schiaparelli)
I've only ever smelled the reformulation of Elsa Schiaparelli's famous fragrance. I'm told it pales in comparison to the original, though pale is probably an inept choice of word for something as bold as Shocking. As a matter of fact, Shocking relates very clearly to Beautiful, speaking in the same honeyed voice, albeit knocked down a few octaves. Shocking is the quintessential clove rose for me. I've yet to smell one I like better. What makes it for me is the tarragon, which gives an odd little herbal kick to the fragrance. The narcissus adds a camphoraceous edge, contrasting against the rose while complimenting the tarragon, which otherwise might have seemed more accidental than intentional. Again, some find this a bit strong. More for me, I guess. The original was composed by the legendary Jean Carles.

Incense Rose (Andy Tauer)
My favorite Andy Tauer fragrance, Incense Rose is a perfectly lovely mixture of frankincense and floral. It wears a lot more complicated than it sounds, and gives you a lot of time to count the ways.

Lipstick Rose (Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle)
My reaction to this stuff is purely irrational, because it has no desire to be anything like the best perfume in the world, and yet when I smell it I can't remember liking anything better. Every time I spray Lipstick Rose on I can't imagine wearing anything else ever again. It smells of waxy lipstick, true to its name, and a purely artifical rose, the kind of scent you find in cosmetics more than commercial fragrance. Lipstick Rose is about the only perfume in the Malle line which has a sense of humor about itself. That isn't to say any of them need a sense of humor, but the presence of Lipstick Rose in this line makes me think of Malle in much more generous terms. That a line with such high quality output has the confidence to put out something so richly cheap and cheerful says something about the wonderful breadth of its curatorial vision. Lipstick Rose makes the line seem less prissy, a little more uninhibited, like a private school girl who gets into Nina Simone and Britney Spears with equal fervor.

Nahema (Guerlain)
Guerlain's signature rose, Nahema is hard to find in the states. I found some at a discount store, amazingly enough. Nahema was inspired by a character Catherine Deneuve played on screen--or am I imagining this? After a while, it's hard to parse through the fact and fiction of an industry which cultivates as much secrecy and perpetuates as much outright bullshit as humanly possible in the selling and manufacturing of its product. Theoretically, I find very little relation between Deneuve--and any character she's played--and Nahema. The perfume is an odd bird for me in many ways. I shouldn't like it. There's something slightly artificial about it, I always think. A heightened fantasy of rose which is sweeter and fruitier than I might ordinarily like. There's a strangled, almost shrill peach nectar in there, brightening the rose in a way which seems half moonlight, half neon. But Nahema is extraordinary, so there's no use measuring it against typical expectations. I think what unsettles me about Nahema, and granted, it isn't easy to explain, is the sense that it never really merges with its wearer. It's a little more cat than dog that way. It remains a little aloof on the skin, as opposed to something like Beautiful, which creates a sense of depth and detail. Maybe Nahema resembles Deneuve more than I at first like to think.

Elixir (Penhaligons)
Why do people slam this so? I smelled this in a tiny Milano shop through a paper cone and wanted to have sex with the nearest inanimate object. I considered the cone, however briefly. I had trouble focusing on the SA, who was having trouble speaking my language. No matter. I hardly knew my language either anymore. Like a lot of Olivia Giacobetti's work, this fades quickly. It goes sheer, to put it charitably. But with the best of her stuff, you don't care, and I find myself not giving such a sh*t with Elixir. Cinammon red hots? Come on. Not to me. I smell a nuclear rose, molten hot, radiating off the skin in circular waves. I'm told it's an update of Blenheim Bouquet, though to me it's more like Blenheim Bouquet on acid. Didn't Turin give this something like one or two stars? Yes? Well, he doesn't like pear so much either.

Boudoir (Vivienne Westwood)
Another in a long line of much maligned. Abigail didn't like this one so much herself. I can't help it, I think it's swell. Supposedly it smells like a woman's bed after an evening of sweaty sex. Having no frame of reference, the connection fails me. I smell something vaguely related to Shocking, less the clove, nine times the honey. Picture Beautiful mixed with Miel De Bois. I smell sweet. You smell litter box. What's to be done? I'm no fan of the Westwood line of fragrances. Let it Rock is perfectly nice, but nothing I would spend my hard-earned money on. The others I've barely bothered with. Buodoir is an exception. Its absolutely an intense smell, and retro, but it really goes back no further than the eighties, which again is a problem for some but a solution for me. I wasn't forced to tease my bangs within an inch of their lives in high school, so a big-shouldered fragrance like this seems downright novel to me.

Boss No. 1 (Hugo Boss)
This is essenitally Shocking for men. Women should wear it too, naturally. It seems inconceivable that something like this would be considered masculine in 1985, the same year Beautiful came out. Then again, I'm always surprised when I look back to the masculines of the seventies and eighties and see how decidedly asexual they were/are. The man responsible is Pierre Wargnye, he behind Drakkar Noir and, more recently, Antidote. I like Antidote very much. I like it much better than a lot of other people seem to, and I see connections between the spices employed there and in Boss No. 1. Wargnye also did La Perla, which makes a lot of sense when you stand it beside No. 1. Osmoz lists this as an aromatic fougere. Well, okay. This is one case at least where the pyramid gives you a good idea what you're getting yourself into, so I'll leave it at that: jamsine, rose, honey, juniper, basil, artemisia, tobacco, cinammon, cedar, patchouli. Be forewarned. You better like patchouli.

Essence (Narciso Rodriguez)

Buy it for the bottle if you have trouble justifying the purchase for any other reason. I happen to like the book as much as its cover. Not everyone reads. Rose, violet, aldehyde. They call the violet iris; I suppose because it's more fashionable these days. I don't really care what they call it. I think this stuff smells great. If you're a guy looking for a dandy rose, this is a good place to go. The bottle will distort your face into the portrait of Dorian Grey.

Jil Sander Women III (Jil Sander)

This is very directly related to rose chypres like Aromatics Elixir and La Perla, but oh what a difference the addition of bay makes. Good luck finding it in the U.S.

Others filed under Like: Mille et Une Roses, Aramis 900, Alain Delon Iquitos, Paris, L'Artisan Voleur de Roses, Fresh Cannabis Rose, Knowing, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Lancome Tresor


dea said...

Hey Brian, thanks for the great list.

I just recently discovered Essence and really like it. It's totally not me, but it's great and unusual all the same. On my skin it smells like the love child of Thierry Mugler Cologne and Chanel Eau Premiere. I haven't read other descriptions like that, so I will assume it's my skin chemistry.

have a great day!

ScentScelf said...

snaps head back Holy freakin' cow, I thought you said you were in a period of perfume malaise?!?

I'M NOT COMPLAINING!! What a great round up--so fun to read, and I ran up such a list of nods, thoughts, and ummms that I'll skip most of it. Except...

Had to chuckle at Nahema. My reaction? A *lot* artificial...the sweet psuedo spicy makes me have a pinched nose "meh." Ironically, there was a perfume from Crabtree and Evelyn--Nadira--which struck me as much the same, but for less $$. But of course, the similarity is not in name alone; it, too, is discontinued.

I'm with you on Boudoir and Schocking (sic, I always want to spell it that way ;) ). Gonna run up and spritz my small decant of Elixir right now...I'm curious to see what I "see" after your take.

Brian said...

Hey Dea! You know, I keep meaning to respond to your Chinatown/Just Me comparison. I did the smell test and--you're right! Who would of thunk? I so want to like Chinatown but it has zero projection on me. Just Me solves that problem, minus the peach.

It's weird how many people dismiss Essence. I liked it immediately. Then too it's not so much what I think of as my thing either, so maybe the reaction is instinctive a lot of the time.

Brian said...

Scent Self, I think the period is over. I went to paint a space downtown yesterday and packed an entire bag of perfume. Sickness still in the house. I might have dismissed Nahema a few months back as something I should like but don't but I picked it up the other day and wore it and thought, hmmm... Ok. So it's very nice. But yeah, it has a weird artificiality to it.

ScentScelf said...

To be honest, Nahema is one of those I'll keep trying once a quarter or so, just to see if there's something about season, or getting used to it, that will move it from one camp to another. Heaven knows, that's happened with other scents for me. Niki Saint Phalle and Mitsouko being two prominent examples.

That said, I admit I'll be looking askance at it as I spritz... ;)

Can't find my Elixir. Argh!!!

Marko said...

Great list, Brian and funny as all get out. So glad you're back to your "old" self! (although the occasional rant and rave is healthy, I think).

I always crack up when your reaction to certain fragrances causes your libido to go into overdrive (Elixir). And I love the example "a private school girl who gets into Nina Simone and Britney Spears with equal fervor"'re practically describing me to a tee (minus the plaid skirt and about 25 years...)

Tocade and Lipstick Rose are being dragged to the top of my "must try SOON" list.

Thanks for the smile this morning -


Anonymous said...

My favorite rose of the summer has been Juliette has a Gun-Miss Charming. Soft roses with lemon and cedar. Does lovely, lovely things on warm skin.

I've read lots of reviews where no one was impressed by it, but it works so well on me.

Olfacta said...

Great list, more decants to order (how do you do it?) There was a time I thought I hated rose, but it turned out to be rose soliflores that I had a problem with. A friend gave me a tiny bit of vintage Nahema and, yeah, it does seem like a reconstruction. No Poussiere de Rose though? Have you ever smelled it? I like Boudoir, too, but to me, it's just pleasant, not like sweaty sheets at all. Tocade -- very boozy on me. This could go on and on.

Nina Z. said...

Wonderful post! Now, let's see, how soon can I get myself to downtown San Francisco with your listed tucked in my bag?

Elizabeth said...

LMAO at your description of Elixir. I am one of those who was "meh" about it, but I am hoping I will fall in love with it over time. I very much love Incense Rosé, my first encounter with a niche fragrance. Love at first sniff, and I never looked back! Have you tried Rasa by Ava Luxe? I guess it would be pointless since I don't think she makes it anymore, but it's one of my favorite roses. And I have anout ten other favorites, as well...I'm a rose whore. ;-)

Margot said...

Hi Brian,

Great review! I love a compilation/ comparison of scents, and this one is spot on. I agree on Nahema, and Tocade.
Incense rose is an absolute favorite.
Wonder what your thoughts are on L'Artisan's Drole de rose, and Andy Tauer's Un Rose Chypree?

Enjoyed the review immensely. Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the rose-affair. I love rose in perfume. I love reading about rose in perfume. I thank you for your comparisons and descriptions --important to know how perfumes compare and relate to one another.

Tara C said...

Great list - I love Elixir too, although I don't get any rose from it.

dea said...

Oh, Brian- btw- Elizabeth's comment reminded me-- what did you think of the Rasa sample I sent you?

I thought it was genius, but I guess Rasa X-treme (what I sent you) is the original version that many people complained about or something and so she reformulated Rasa to be more wearable (and deemed the original X-treme). My friend just laughed and said it smelled like poop.

Brian said...

hmmm, Dea, I forgot about that. I really liked the blood orange one. It was unusual and lasted well. The Rasa I wasn't so thrilled about. It seemed off to me. But I forget why. I'll have to revisit it.

Dain said...

"That a line with such high quality output has the confidence to put out something so richly cheap and cheerful says something about the wonderful breadth of its curatorial vision."

That's so brilliantly put.

Anonymous said...

How come no Paestum Rose??

It is my go-to scent these days. The only thing I hate about it is the opaque bottle, which led to a nasty shock when I tried to spritz myself yesterday...

It is dark and smoky; a gorgeous rose with frankincense and myrrh.

Mals86 said...

Thanks so much for the list of rose scents - I'm always, always looking for mo' roses. Favorites of the moment: Amouage Lyric, L'Arte di Gucci, Tocade and Gres Cabaret. Oh, and JHAG Citizen Queen, which does to me what Elixir apparently does to you...

Sadly, I cannot smell Nahema at all, although I've tried three different bottles/concentrations. And all the Lauders, including Beautiful and the lovely mossy rose Knowing, share a base that nauseates me after two hours. ELs are permanently off my list.

Thanks for the mini-reviews and the list... must go hunt up some Shocking...