Henry James, Isabel Archer, blah, blah, blah. Portrait of a Lady is an Oriental Rose perfume. There is nothing Victorian about Portrait of a Lady, in fact, I don’t think it’s particularly ladylike. I put the word “Oriental” before “Rose” for a reason. This is a dark, brooding, Gothic woman behind veils; with kohl lined eyes making you feel a little pale. This is not another version of FM Une Rose. This is an oriental perfume extraordinaire.
Portrait of a Lady is the release I waited for most impatiently this year. I am an enormous Dominique Ropion fangirl. I am also a huge fan of the Frederic Malle line. Perhaps it is because I had such high expectations, (let’s call it PoaL for brevity’s sake), that I’m feeling a bit underwhelmed. Well, not underwhelmed really, but I don’t think PoaL wears as it should on me. There’s something in the base that bothers me. I think its ambroxan, but I don’t know enough about aroma chemicals to be sure; but there is something in PoaL that derails it from it being an absolute to-die-for fragrance for me. I so wanted to adore PoaL to distraction. The thing is, maybe I will, in time, grow to love PoaL more. This happened to me with Teo Cabanel Alahine. Honestly, I didn’t think so much of Alahine my first few wearings, but over the course of a few months Alahine grabbed hold of me like a boa constrictor and I’ve never been able to extricate myself from her charms; she became my holy grail, but oddly, it wasn’t love at first sniff. So there’s hope for me and PoaL I guess.
Portrait of a Lady is a beautiful oriental fragrance. You might think “oh, we all need a new spicy rose like we need a hole in the head” but PoaL is unique. Sure, there is a touch of similarly with Sisley Soir de Lune, another spicy rose created by Ropion. Etat Libre d’Orage makes a fantastic spicy rose called Rossy de Palma, which in some respects, reminds me a bit of PoaL. But most other spicy rose scents are simply “rosier” while PoaL seems to focus much more on the oriental aspect.
Certain spices stand out for me, such as cinnamon and clove. I actually find the clove “numbing.” If I huff too closely, I get a Novocain sensation in my mouth. The rose accord is beautiful, these are deep, dark, lush roses, with touches of berries, though I can’t say I experience the raspberry quality as strongly as others have mentioned. I can tell you that some rose fragrances exhibit a sharp and citrusy personality and there is no such lightness here, PoaL is a dark and potent oriental rose. Others have suggested an “oudh-like” quality, which, thankfully, I don’t experience, because I pretty much despise oud.
What I do love about PoaL, and this is mostly why I adore Ropion in general, is that it’s a voluptuous perfume. It is sexy, dark, and exotic with excellent sillage. Ropion’s best perfumes remain voluptuous while so many other perfumers have gone the anorexic route. Portrait of a Lady is said to focus on rose and patchouli, and while both notes are obviously present, what PoaL billows around me is this gorgeous oriental spice accord. This is a perfume that a person who doesn’t even like rose or patchouli could love. And it’s also possible that I’ll grow to love PoaL more and more over time. In fact, writing this review is making me cherish it a bit more.
Listed notes: Turkish roses, raspberry, cassis, clove, ambroxan, benzoin, cinnamon, sandalwood patchouli, musk and frankincense.