When the mesmerising Spanish actress Rossy de Palma decided to create a fragrance, she selected rose as her main theme. While the choice of such a classical flower from the star of Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown might have struck some as surprising, the perfumers Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu weren’t taken aback. They were the co-authors of de Palma’s scent, and when it was released as Eau de Protection (£82 for 50ml EDP) by the niche perfume house Etat Libre d’Orange, the result was anything but staid. As the perfumers knew, rose had many faces, and it could be made as smouldering or as innocent as an artist’s skill allowed.
Eau de Protection opens up on a spicy but fresh accord of green citrus peel and black pepper, but as the rose unfolds, so does the dark note reminiscent of damp soil and antique woods. Spice, honey, green sap and fruit, the notes present in rose absolute are cleverly highlighted in the fragrance, but the overall effect is abstract. The perfume is memorable not only because of its opulent character – aided by the generous dose of natural rose essence – and original interpretation, but also for doing away with the usual gender labels. For a man who loves patchouli, amber and dark woods, the prominent rose notes in Rossy de Palma’s Eau de Protection aren’t too challenging. On the other hand, a woman who wants to eschew the cliché of “sweet and pretty” would find it a perfect statement fragrance.
In the same group of unusual roses is Frédéric Malle’s Portrait of a Lady (£235 for 100ml EDP). The name brings to mind blasé elegance and sophistication, except that the fragrance is bold and assertive. Like many of Henry James’ heroines, to whom the name alludes. Portrait of a Lady is a rose made dark and dramatic.
The creator of Portrait of a Lady, perfumer Dominique Ropion, is renowned for his ability to engineer powerful fragrances, the kind that leaves a mile-long sillage. While opulent is an understatement when it comes to Portrait of a Lady, it’s a radiant rather than heavy perfume. The honeyed sweetness of natural rose rises up like champagne bubbles, and as the rose warms up, it wraps you in a warm, velvety cocoon. The perfume’s story doesn’t finish here, however, and soon the chocolate-like patchouli and creamy sandalwood float up, leaving a shimmering, dark trail. Like Eau de Protection, it’s appropriate for both men and women, so long as they’re ready for an adventure.
My other favourite rose with a twist is a softer, gentler creature than the two I’ve described. Chanel No 18 (£140 for 75ml EDP) was created by the renowned perfumer Jacques Polge, who was inspired by the house’s jewellery boutique at 18 Place Vendôme. To capture the glow of a diamond, he used rose and ambrette seed. Ambrette, with its scent recalling cool musk and unripe apples, tones down the sweetness of roses and instead accents the iris in the perfume’s dry-down, that most unfloral of the floral notes. Nothing about Chanel No 18 is predictable, but it perfectly attests to Coco’s maxim, “in order to be irreplaceable one must always be different”.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.