Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

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.


Tamara*J said...

Abigail, Gaaaah! I cannot wait for my decant to arrive so I can smell for myself, I'm excited!
I find alot of the things I adore to death now were also not love at first sniff. It is really like falling for something, you never see it coming and before you know it-BAM, head over heels! ;) I actually really like when this happens...keeps the love for perfume alive.

Elisa said...

I'm really intrigued by this one, especially now that you've compared it to Rossy de Palma (top 10 love for me), though I don't find RdP spicy. The Ambroxan makes me a little nervous -- sometimes I'm sensitive to it.

Speaking of roses today I wore MH Geranium Bourbon, which I tried based on your recommendation on The Posh Peasant -- I loved it and ended up doing a bottle split with a friend.

Abigail said...

Glad you love the MH Geranium. I know it's rosy, but it's all about rose geranium, which some people don't recognize, and end up finding it to be a strange type of rose scent. I adore it in the summer. Reminds me of when I had a scented geranium obsession (long before the orchid obsession arrived).

You know, Alahine is one of the only times love at first sniff didn't happen for me. But since it's my HG, I have now become a different sort of sniffer; trying things that I seem to like, on different occasions, different seasons, during different moods, etc. I realize now that as long as I at least initially like something, there's the potential of love, after several wearings. FM PoaL seems to have the makings of a potential love. Only time will tell.

Brian said...

Oh that's right. I forget Ropion did Soir de Lune.

I have to say, the way they're talking about this one confuses me for some reason; the way Malle is talking about it, I mean. For some reason, I get excited about it, then they make it sound banal somehow.

Maybe all the talk about what they did do (ambroxan) and didn't do (Hedione, Iso E Super, Lilial etc) and how it evolved from Geranium PM, which I like but thought was kind of, oh I don't know: meh, as you would say, Abigail. I mean, I'm not sure I want to talk too much chemistry with my perfume. It starts to feel like talking shop. People aren't running out to buy fragrance for it's stunning Ambroxan note, I generally find.

But it's Ropion! And it's rose! And it's Malle! So I keep rallying interest. I think the other thing for me is that I remember how everyone was flipping out over Maison Kurkdjian's Lumiere Noire--and I was so excited. Kurkdjian! Rose! Spices!

And when I finally smelled it I was like, is everyone on crack?

God help me, I just get more and more jaded. But I'm going to hunt this stuff down. I love the sound of a Malle cap snapping on and off those bottles.

Abigail said...


One more thought for you: I compare PoaL with Rossy de Palma, but this is a loose comparison. PoaL is nowhere near as rosy once it dries down and, in fact, it's much less clear. PoaL has a fuzzy, all-things-blurred together quality, in a way that you might say Musc Ravageur does. It's probably the musks. Or the ambroxan or whatever those base notes are that kind of put me off and at the moment are causing me not to shout from the mountaintop, but to more cautiously say I like it, but it's not pure love.

You will smell this very soon. I am curious what you'll think. It isn't disappointing like the Kurkdijian's, for one thing it's potent and doesn't smell like laundry detergent. But...I'm not sure you'll love it. I know, it's Malle and it's Ropion! That is probably why I had the highest expectations (the highest ever!) and that is also why I am being somewhat cautious about my enjoyment of it. It's also $300 buckaroos a bottle, so THAT is another issue...(it ought to be fucking grand).

Tamara*J said...

Brian , I agree about the shop talk-I don't understand why but it also kinda kills it for me-I just want to hear about the notes, what it reminds you of- I guess like a Luckyscent description? LOL How lame I am!
I suppose that makes me seem simple but when they get all scientific I get nervous I can't follow along,I don't get it.
I want too but I'm not in it THAT deep for Christ's sake you know? -
I LOVE perfume- isn't that enough????

Angela Cox said...

I ordered a sample which was unavailable so ordered the 50ml . As the British Post Office is in crisis it's been a week and I paid express so I am drooling now . I must admit that as Une Rose is my favourite I took a chance .At least it might help with toothache if it's not for me !

Ines said...

Ooh, I think I will love this! Clove and cinammon you say? And oriental rose?
I'm off to find a way to my hands on some. :)

Anonymous said...

I've got a decant coming, too, and am hoping to swoon. Which might turn out to be death to the experience, actually - I've started to tell myself, "Don't expect too much! Just sniff it with a blank mind." Sometimes I've expected to be blown away, and the opposite has happened; I've sniffed some long-awaited wonder and been less than impressed.

You might remember I wasn't expecting to love Alahine, but it snuck up on me, clubbed me over the head, and dragged me off to its luxuriously furnished cave to have its way with me. (I blame you, wink wink. Thanks again, by the way.)

I was disappointed in Rossy de Palma - it seemed so pale and sour-rosy-green, like a dozen other things I'd smelled. I like rose chypres in general, but I admit nothing seems to even come near the swoony L'Arte di Gucci. I DID like Lumiere Noire, though: one sniff, and my eyes rolled back in my head. I find it drop-dead sexy in a way that not even L'Arte is.

I'm going to keep an open mind about PoaL and not expect fireworks.

And I'm really glad to see some new stuff over here on ISTIA - I'd been missing both of you.

Elisa said...

I think Rossy de Palma was probably a gateway to Geranium Bourbon for me, since I initially get more geranium from RdP than rose. (I don't love Geranium PM that much, however -- but I only smelled it once.)

I find Musc Ravageur to be VERY heavy on some woody amber material -- maybe it's Ambroxan, but like you I'm not sure what that smells like in isolation. Piercing and headachey for me. But I wonder if the effect it's supposed to have is to make things fuzzier/more blurry, as you say ... I must be hypersensitive to it.

Brian said...

Muse! I LOVE L'Arte. I have a full 100ml tester bottle and have sprayed it only twice. For a year I've had it. I don't ever want to be without it. Everybody was freaking out last week because my partner's mother (early eighties) was taking out all her boxed china for Thanksgiving dinner, laying it all out on the bed, because of course that meant washing, and a lot of time (together!), and they've been eating on plastic for years, and they were complaining, and I thought, Oh no, no no no: Totally get it. She's been hoarding it like I hoard my L'Arte, and now she's looking ahead thinking, um, I'm saving this for...what, exactly?

You won't hear much criticism from me about Etat fragrances (unless those of late) but Rossy has never been one of the stand outs from me. I guess I compare it to older rose stuff I like and so it has that competition, whereas what can their Vierges compete with? What else is like that weird creature??

I keep wanting to do a post on dark-ish to spiced roses that make my eyes roll back, like muse's at Lumiere. Off the top of my head:

Perles de Lalique
Aromatics Elixir
Parfum de Peau
La Perla
Une Rose
Incense Rose
Vintage Rose
Cardin Rose (this one is amazing!)

I know I'm missing some. If anyone can think of others: HIT ME!

Brian said...

Tamara, people have commented on the fact that even for Malle the focus on ingredients in the press for this release is unusual. Me, I think its the brand's misapprehension of people like us and why we love and are obsessed with fragrance and the noses that make them. So they're going overboard. Oh, another one: Kingdom.

Elisa said...

Brian, I didn't used to think of Agent Provocateur as a dark rose, but now I do. Also Une Rose Chypree.

Brian said...

Oh my gosh, that's right! Agent Provocateur is fantastic. I forget that one. Une Rose Chypree--good one, yeah.

Elisa said...

Yeah, I had no interest in it this summer, then totally fell in love with it again this fall.

Brian said...

It's interesting. Right around this time of year you always hear on the blogs how people are rediscovering scents in a big way, surprised by what they'd (dis)missed. But this year, for me, was exceptionally surprising. It's really taught me not to give up on scents too quickly, not to judge them too swiftly. And it makes me wonder, really wonder, about the possibility of being able to really adequately describe a scent before you've spent a few seasons with it and gone through a few life changes along the way. All the rage for reviewing the latest is understandable, I'd be bummed if I couldn't find something on new releases. But wow, the abrupt about face on some of my fragrances this year is astonishing, and it's like some of them have exploded in new ways. I'm totally rethinking some of them. Even the ones I loved already!

Unknown said...

I want to try this even more now that I've read your review. I'm not a big patchouli lover, but a spicy rose sounds like something I could fall for. I have a violet rose and an incense rose and a vanilla/ambery rose and an orange rose, etc. So of course I need one more :) I keep checking at the only store in my town to carry FM, but it's not here yet.

Brian said...

Kjanicki, you realize, of course, that I need to now what all these roses you have are...

Kathryn said...

I'm enjoying the anticipation for Portrait of a Lady while waiting for my sample to arrive, even though I know in my heart of hearts that nothing could be as good as I would like to imagine this to be.

I love roses, in the garden and in the bottle. One might think that L'Arte di Gucci, Une Rose Chypree, Divine L'Inpiratrice, Rossy de Palma, Lyric Woman Mille et Une Roses, West Side, and the rose at the heart of Attrape Coeur would be enough. And they are, actually. But still, I like to dream.

Unknown said...

OK, here goes.
Violet rose: FM Lipstick Rose
Incense rose: TP Incense Rose
Vanilla/ambery rose: TP Rose Chypree Orange rose: Nicolai Maharinih (some cinnamon carnation and civet in there too.)

Furriner said...

I had this spritzed on me a couple weeks ago, and I have been kind of obsessed about smelling it again. I didn't get the berries much, either, more the spices. I'm also kinda confused why Malle is marketing it as a feminine. I think a man could wear it fine. I need to test it more before plunking down $300... but it has been the first time I have actually considered doing that.

Angela Cox said...

Oh dear as Holly my daughter said in the voice of her comic character ,Mrs J.Nito " It reminds me of the time we had to clear out dear aunt Murgatroyd's drawers ,and boy did they need cleaning out". I have to lie down and cry now ,it has taken the P.O two weeks to get it about 40 miles to me and it smells like the bag in my Dyson.I might come to love it but It's no Une Rose which blew me away and I've only just come back after three years.

Brian said...

Ok, Angela: I need more. It smells like your bag? So is it...dusty? Leathery? here's hoping your expectations got the best of you--for your own sake. It's always a bummer when you wait and wait and hope and hope, and--no big deal. You want it to be phenomenal, no? Now I'm very curious to try it, just to see what your bag smells like!

Angela Cox said...

Brain m A Dyson is the U.K's favourite vacuum cleaner and as it happens it has a cylinder not a bag...ahhh well . Anyhow after laying prone for a while the dark rose peeped through . It is light but I must now admit has staying power of a sort. It might be my Alahine but if it is I should want perfume strength or go mad !!

Angela Cox said...

Dear Brain ....ahem ,sorry about that. I think I am getting the patchouli now which is pleasant but it seems to be a diluted version. It is growing on me but not very fast . I am a bit sad because Une Rose so impressed me that the mention of a rose perfume and Malle drove me wild with excitement ..oh well.

mintradz said...

Reviews are written distinctively. This one deserves another bookmark. FMP looks so sexy, specially the description "gothic" laid down like a female vampire(to me).

Katie Puckrik said...

Enjoyed your "Lady" findings, Abigail, and everyone's discussion on all things rosy. I've been wearing PoL for over a week now, and I think I've hit on why the first reaction to smelling it after the big build-up will often be: "...huh." It's the cognitive dissonance between the "rose overdose" hype and the reality, which is that PoL wears more like a musk perfume with aspects of rose rather than a rose perfume fleshed out with musk.

Like Angela, I had Une Rose on the brain when I first smelled the Lady, so there was a certain amount of perspective readjustment going on.

And Brian, I do know what you mean about too much science talk draining dry the perfume joy. I mean, is this porn or a medical textbook? I can't get off on a medical textbook!