Friday, December 10, 2010
Review: Portrait Of A Lady from Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle (2010)
When I first tried Dominique Ropion's Portrait Of A Lady for Malle, I was utterly bowled over. I saw a massive, Middle Eastern rose shimmering before me - not unlike Montale's Black Aoud - and my heart was captured. Since then, I've been trying to poke holes in its petals with my critical daggers, but I'm pleased to say that I have had very little success. Some might find it a touch too linear, but I'd suggest that its subtle, unobtrusive development is a testament to Ropion's brilliance. At first, it does appear to present nothing but rose, rose and more rose, but a closer inspection reveals several other aspects worthy of appreciation, not least a warm cinnamon at the start, a note-perfect, ecclesiastical frankincense in the middle and a smooth, oud-inflected, musky-patchouli woodiness in the base. Others may complain that the drydown goes on for far too long, but this would just be nit-picking. A few people might even raise objections about the irrelevance of the Henry James reference, and they may well have a point, but if you're going to start playing the lit crit game with perfume, then it would be equally easy to read the name as Malle's ironic assertion that the modern Isabel Archer wears an abaya and lives in Abu Dhabi (as has been suggested elsewhere).
Silence the naysayers. Whether you're a man or a woman, try this astonishing new release and let yourself be transported to an empty church in a country where Christianity and Arabic culture happily exist side by side, a place like, say, Lebanon or Syria. The outside world is locked away behind heavy doors. The lights are low. The silence is complete. You sit down and see a polished, brass censer hanging from the ceiling. Emerging from the holes in its lid is a heavy, scarlet smoke, cascading to the ground like endless ribbons of iridescent fabric. Close your eyes and just wait. Before too long, you'll be enveloped by the magic and completely trapped in its heady, floral spell.
[Review based on a sample obtained in 2010; fragrance tested on skin.]