Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

The benchmark for all tuberose scents was set by the legendary Fracas, but the modern contender and favorite for the throne may be a creation by Frederic Malle: Carnal Flower. It is an accessible, easy, very fresh and, therefore, very modern take on white floral powerhouses. I’m generally not one for floral scents, but I make a particular exception for the fleshiest of white, narcotic, indolic flowers. I’m an absolute sucker for a white powerhouses, and tuberose is my favorite flower in the world. So, I should positively adore Carnal Flower, right? Hm.

Frederic Malle. Source:

Frederic Malle. Source:

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has expensive perfume in his blood. His grandfather started Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. In 2005, Malle teamed up with legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, to create Carnal Flower. It is an eau de parfum inspired by Malle’s aunt, the actress Candice Bergen, and her role in the 1971 film, Carnal Knowledge.

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Source: Forty Five Ten.

Malle’s website describes Carnal Flower as follows:

If nature offers olfactive clashes, tuberose is probably the best example of it. These pretty flowers exude an almost carnal smell, superimposing in a quasi-miraculous way flower shop freshness, camphorous violence – spicy and animalic – and milky sweetness. This mysterious equilibrium has always fascinated perfumers. 18 months were necessary for Dominique Ropion to forward a modern version of that theme, an “olfactive Everest” that only the most talented perfumers were capable of reaching.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

The top notes contain: bergamot, melon and eucalyptus. The middle notes include: ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, Salicylates (natural, toxic product of herbal origin, a sort of a herbal feromone which is used by plants as a warning). The base encompasses: tuberose absolute, orange blossom absolute, coconut and musk.



Carnal Flower opens on my skin with a tinge of bergamot and green honeydew melon, then a loud bang of tuberose and eucalyptus. The fleshy, white flower is rendered icy with the mentholated notes, but there is also a definite milky quality to the scent. It stems from the tiniest flicker of the coconut in the base. The nicest part of Carnal Flower is the cool, green vibe. From the start, almost to the finish, there is a watery quality to the scent, not just from the dewy melon, but from a sense of the tuberose stem having been cut and dripping out its green liquid into the vase water that surrounds it.

Eucalyptus leaves.

Eucalyptus leaves.

The eucalyptus adds a chilly camphorated note that cuts like a knife through the flower’s usual sweetness. In other tuberose scents, that sweetness that can sometimes verge on either bubble gum or Welch’s grape jelly, due to the salicylates. Not here. At the same time, the eucalyptus ensures a freshness that pre-empts any indolic fleshiness, over-ripe voluptuousness, and heaviness. Indoles can create an over-blown ripeness in a floral scent which, on some skin, can end up turning fecal, urinous, plastic-y or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. That is never the case here, for Carnal Flower’s indolic richness is kept firmly in check by the freshness of the icy eucalyptus and that subtle touch of green melon.

Carnal Flower’s initial blast of eucalyptus softens in less than five minutes. The briefly camphorated undertone turns into a simple greenness that is cool and crisp. The touch of citric freshness vanishes, and its place is taken by the first stirrings of the other white flowers. The orange blossom and jasmine lurk in the base for the most part, along with the coconut, but they start to throw up a translucent white arm to wave hello once in a while before sinking back to the depths like a shy mermaid. For now, Carnal Flower is all about the tuberose, singing a solo on center stage with the eucalyptus standing a few feet behind.

Tuberose. Source:

Tuberose. Source:

The greenness in Carnal Flower is quite multi-faceted. Besides the chilliness imparted by the eucalyptus, there is an aroma that feels as though the tuberose’s green leaves, stem, and unripe buds have been crushed into a slightly bitter oil. Later, the note takes on the distinct aroma of vase water that has been left untouched for a few days. There is a murkiness to the leafy, green note, though it never really rises to the level of fetid. Still, every time I’ve worn Carnal Flower, there is always a subtle flicker of dark, watery greenness that calls to mind stale, stagnant vase water.

Jasmine via Wikicommons

Jasmine via Wikicommons

It takes 20 minutes for the jasmine to arrive, fusing with the tuberose to become the focal point of the scent. The eucalyptus’ icy chilliness slowly begins to fade away, though the green freshness remains as a strong constant throughout the life of Carnal Flower. As the mentholated undertone becomes a mere flicker, Carnal Flower turns warmer, sweeter, and deeper, less fresh and cool. Ten minutes later, the orange blossom joins the parade of white flowers, creating quite a layered lushness.

The sillage, however, is moderate on my skin. Three small sprays from my small decant gives me a soft, airy cloud that wafts a maximum of 3 inches, at most. The thin, airy weight and restrained projection are a surprise for a scent that is so strong when smelled up close for the first two hours. Interpretations of airiness and sillage will obviously depend on one’s personal yardstick, but for me, none of Malle’s fragrances have much heft. He seems to ascribe to the modern French definition of “strong,” which seems to be significantly different than that of some American and Middle Eastern fragrance houses. Or perhaps it’s just me, for I’m continually unimpressed by what Malle considers to be intense or rich, let alone “Oriental.”

I think it’s only fair to explain that feeling, as it bears a lot on this review and my response to Carnal Flower. When I visited one of Malle’s Paris boutiques, I went through the range of Malle fragrances which were laid out in what seemed to be a progression of strength and richness from left to right. At the far end of the scale was Musc Ravageur whose placement seemed to be presented as the most opulently oriental, extreme, heavy or rich scent that they had. It bore home to me that my definition of things varies enormously from that of Monsieur Malle. I kept asking the rather constipated, prune-mouthed sales assistant for something “stronger, heavier, richer,” because half the scents seemed to be watery, thin, translucent, or restrained to the point of aloofness.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

Fracas Eau de Parfum.

The point of all this is that I am obviously not Malle’s target customer. Not in a million years. And I think that is especially true when it comes to his florals. If I’m going to wear tuberose, I want a sonic boom like the Fracas that I grew up with, or like an Amouage scent. I want concentrated heft, richness, and body. For me, personally, I don’t see the point otherwise. I’m not wearing an all-natural fragrance with its inherent limitations.

The problem seems to be that my benchmark for white florals was set by Fracas when I was 7 years old. Vintage Fracas is one of two perfumes that forever shaped both me and my perfume tastes. (The other being the benchmark scent for Orientals, vintage Opium.) When you are imprinted with vintage Fracas as your idea of the perfect tuberose, and then you’re faced by a very pretty, albeit watery and green, tuberose that has a fraction of its richness and little of its indolic, narcotic, heady fleshiness, you’re bound to be somewhat underwhelmed.



Carnal Flower definitely leaves me at a bit of a loss, especially after the end of the first hour. It becomes this translucent, diaphanous, gauzy blur of whiteness with some greenness and some creaminess. The prominence and power of certain notes vary over the next few hours, but the core essence never changes one iota. The orange blossom fluctuates in strength, but it is always in third place behind the jasmine and tuberose on my skin. In any event, it fades away about 2.75 hours into Carnal Flower’s development. The jasmine often seems to overtake the tuberose on my skin as the main note, but it’s sometimes hard to single out the specific floral components as Carnal Flower becomes an increasingly abstract veil of white flowers with some freshness. The creamy quality never translates as coconut on my skin, and is much more of a textural quality. As a whole, it’s nice, but …. eh.

While the coconut leaves me underwhelmed, I’m wholly unenthused by the white musk that pops up about 4.75 hours in. It’s a synthetic touch that consistently gives me a headache if I sniff Carnal Flower up close for too long. I don’t even see the purpose of it. It doesn’t smell fresh or clean. It’s simply… there. Eventually, Carnal Flower devolves into a vaguely musky jasmine scent with some occasional touches of tuberose and greenness. It remains that way until its end. All in all, Carnal Flower lasted 11.25 hours on me, perhaps thanks to the white musk which my skin clings onto like mad.

It is all very pretty, with enjoyable greenness and a refined handling of the tuberose, but Carnal Flower really fails to do much for me. Every single time I’ve worn Carnal Flower over the last two years, the trajectory of my reaction is always the same:

Opening: “Oh, eucalyptus. Ugh,”

10 minutes later: “Huh, this is so incredibly pretty, why don’t I wear this more often??!”

An hour after that: “Oh. Right. Now I remember why. Hm. Maybe I should put some vintage Fracas over it?”

I’ve spent so much time trying to explain my reaction to Carnal Flower for a few different reasons. First, I’m fully aware that saying Carnal Flower is insufficiently potent, indolic, rich, and full-bodied makes me sound insane to the average perfumista. For almost everyone else, it is the epitome of an indolic, opulent, white floral powerhouse. Well, maybe you had to grow up with Fracas in the 1970s, and have a taste for super-charged, bold, or Middle Eastern perfumery in general. Second, Carnal Flower is one of those legendary scents that most people have already tried and have an opinion on, so there isn’t much point in quoting other reviews. At this point, it’s merely a case of comparing experiences, and providing a context for one’s perspective. 

Source: Basenotes.

Source: Basenotes.

What may be more useful is to compare Carnal Flower to other tuberose-centered fragrances in this genre. As noted above, Fracas is the reference and gold standard, but it is a very different fragrance as a whole. It’s more fleshly, heavy, opaque, and voluptuous. Alas, the new modern eau de parfum is also syrupy, sweet, and somewhat synthetic in feel. Carnal Flower’s essence is slightly closer to Le Labo‘s 2013 Lys 41 which is a similarly fresh white floral cocktail, but again there are differences. Lys 41 has the dewy, faintly metallic coolness of lily, not the green freshness from eucalyptus. It is also substantially creamier and more vanillic, thanks to the buttery notes provided by the Tahitian gardenia or tiaré. On my skin, Carnal Flower’s coconut was neither particularly noticeable in an individual, distinct way nor tropical in nature, but Un Lys definitely had that undertone. 



Serge LutensTubereuse Criminelle is much more significant, as Malle and Ropion were clearly influenced by the Lutens version which preceded Carnal Flower by six years. The 1999 Tubereuse Criminelle has a heavily mentholated, rubbery, almost diesel-like and leathered blackness to its opening eucalyptus notes. It is more masculine, bold, intense, and forceful (in both body and projection), before softening and eventually turning into something very golden and warm with vanilla and styrax. It never feels green and fresh, let alone watery, and it is also a much more difficult fragrance than the easier, more accessible Carnal Flower. I suspect that is why Malle’s tuberose scent edges out the Lutens as the favorite modern tuberose.      

The Perfume Shrine has a fantastic rundown of Carnal Flower’s place on the tuberose spectrum, beginning with the reference benchmark, Fracas:

The history of tuberose in perfumery passes through that parfum phare as the French say (a “lighthouse perfume”, a landmark more like it): Fracas, conceived by the fauvist Germaine Cellier for Robert Piguet, with its fleshy, lush contradicting qualities edged upon the two extremes: creamy, candy-ish beauty and violent hystrionics leading to decay. Blonde by Versace is its poorer , aspiring -and rather successful- imitator with a flamboyant style that is very Italian, a civet come-hither innuendo and quite pleasant in calculated moderation especially in extrait de parfum. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle presents a peculiar problem : one has to wait for the crucial first 15 minutes, when the demonic camphor note subsides, giving reign to the glorious creaminess and silky softness of the flower. Caron’s Tubereuse is very radiant , yet perfume-y although lighter and not suited to today’s sensibilities, I find. Carolina Herrera (the original one by the famous designer) is a bit too operatic, being so much infused with another bombshell : jasmine. Some of the rest (Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and Do Son by Diptyque) are either more positioned towards gardenia or too light for carnal aspirations. Vamp a NY by Honore des Pres is more candied than that and with a generous helping of pink jasmine, although equally magnificent. Tuberose perfumes are a real continent: there are variations in the verdure to suit everyone. [Emphasis to names and bolding added by me.]

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

Candace Bergen via Pinterest.

The Perfume Shrine helped me understand why Carnal Flower leaves me giving a Gallic shrug. It’s not “operatic.” I happen to love and own the Carolina Herrera scent that she mentions (I told you I loved tuberose), and its rich tuberose-jasmine duet is like Maria Callas in full aria. Though it’s increasingly hard to find now, it was once the signature fragrance of Angelina Jolie and the actress may be the perfect embodiment of the scent, while Carnal Flower fits the young Candice Bergen much better. She was lovely with fresh, golden, California girl looks, so the comparison is not intended to be an insult at all. It’s merely a difference in style.

Plus, as the Perfume Shrine says so well, Malle was clearly seeking to do something very different: “Carnal Flower was from the beginning a mission into offering something different.” He wanted not only the feel of Southern California, but Candace Bergen’s clean beauty with

a seemingly fresh scent, something that will titillate the nostrils and the mind. The camphor note, reminiscent of eycalyptus leaves, is a necessity: At once freeing the weight of the inherent indolic character of the blossom, which browns as it decays, and imitating the exhalation of tuberose in nature: greenish and somewhat mentholic from afar.  Yet the mentholated note does not make a grand appearence in Carnal Flower like it does in Tubéreuse Criminelle: the composition is therefore less striking, arguably less thought-provoking, but more wearable by more people as a result. Not a jarring note in sight; even the fruitier notes, like coconut and melon, are interspersed through sleight of hand to evoke freshness and sensuousness. Like Candice Bergen, it’s beautiful, but then again, not without wits or substance, and although undeniably sensual and sexy, it is high class and a lady, not a slut, at all times. 

I agree with her fully, even if I prefer more thought-provoking or operatic scents. Carnal Flower is indeed beautiful, elegant, and refined. It’s also incredibly easy to wear, though I’m probably the lone weirdo who thinks its restraint and simplicity makes it more of a daily scent than a special occasion one. I highly doubt anyone else would think Carnal Flower is the breezy thing to quickly spray on to run errands or to visit the vet. For me, if I were to opt for tuberoses on a date night or evening out, it would always be vintage Fracas or the eponymous Carolina Herrera scent.

In my admitted skewed and distorted opinion, the only thing that would put Carnal Flower into the more “special” category is its very high price. The smallest bottle costs $240 or €160, though there are more affordable travel-sized sprays that are also available. Is it worth it? If you love fresh, green, barely indolic tuberose, then most definitely yes! If you can’t stand big white flowers, or even moderately indolic scents, then obviously you should stay away. Carnal Flower may be greener than most tuberose scents, but it’s not that fresh.

All in all, Carnal Flower is gorgeous by the average person’s (white floral) standards, and a very modern take on the tuberose opulence of old. It has decent sillage and good longevity as well. I think it skews wholly feminine in nature, but I do know men who wear Carnal Flower. In fact, one of my best friends can’t live without his “Carnal Flora” which he confidently wears to the office without a second thought. Other men, however, seem to prefer the bolder, darker Lutens’ fragrance. And I prefer to stick to the even bolder, operatic, old-school versions. In all cases, and regardless of gender, I think it’s going to come down to the sort of white flowers that you like.   

Cost & Availability: You can purchase Carnal Flower in a variety of different forms and sizes. On his website, Malle offers: a small 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $240 or €160; or a large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $350 or €235. On the EU website, there is the option of 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for €105. In the U.S., there is also a Carnal Flower hair mist which costs $160 for 100 ml. Finally, in EU and U.S. both, there is a 200 ml body butter cream for $215 or €140. In the U.S.: You can find Carnal Flower at Barneys which offers all the different versions of the scent, except for the EU travel spray option. In NYC, Aedes offers Carnal Flower in the 3×10 ml travel sprays for $160, along with the other versions of the scent but not the 50 ml bottle. Elsewhere, you can find it at Forty Five Ten, and there are other U.S. retailers listed on the Malle website at the store link below. Outside of the U.S.: you can find Carnal Flower at Frederic Malle’s International/EU website and in his Paris boutiques. In Canada, Carnal Flower and Malle fragrances are exclusive to Holt Renfrew which only offers the 100 ml bottle of the scent for CAD$385. In the UK, it is sold at London’s Liberty, though it only offers the 100 ml (for £210) or the body butter. However, Les Senteurs has Carnal Flower in the small and travel sizes, and sells samples. Elsewhere, you can find Carnal Flower at Skins in the Netherlands (in all versions from the travel sprays to the 50 ml bottle), Italy’s Alla Violetta, Australia’s Mecca Cosmetica (the online site only offers the 100 ml for AUD$350), Dubai’s Harvey Nichols, Saudi Arabia’s D’NA, Singapore’s Malmaison by the Hour Glass, and many others. For all other countries, you can use the Store Locator to find a location nearest you from Japan to South Africa. Samples: If you want to test Carnal Flower, Surrender to Chance sells it starting at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady



The Purple Rose of Cairo. The old movie title seems like the best description for a much beloved perfume where the rose is purple from patchouli and dark berries, and Cairo represents the strong backbone of incense smoke. The perfume is Portrait of a Lady (often shortened to just “PoaL“), an eau de parfum from the luxury fragrance house, Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Portrait of a Lady was created by Dominique Ropion, one of the most well-respected, famous noses around, and was released in 2010. The Frederic Malle website describes the fragrance as:

Source: Basenotes

Source: Basenotes

a new breed of oriental rose, a baroque perfume. It is based on an accord of benzoin, cinnamon, sandalwood and, above all patchouli, musk and frankincense. It takes off with an excessive dosage of the best Turkish rose essence that Dominique Ropion linked to the rest of the formula, thanks to a red berries and spice accord. After hundreds of trials needed to balance such an excessive formula (Portrait of a Lady is undoubtedly the perfume containing the strongest dosage of rose essence and patchouli heart), a rare symphonic perfume appeared:  a new oriental rose, a sensuous beauty that attracts people like a magnet, a modern classic:  Portrait of a Lady.

Fragrantica classifies the fragrance as a floral Oriental, and lists its notes as follows:

Turkish rose, raspberry, black currant, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, ambroxan, benzoin and white musk.

"Bleeding Rose" by April Koehler. Source:

“Bleeding Rose” by April Koehler. Source:

Portrait of a Lady opens on my skin with the familiar strains of a jammy rose. It is intensely fruited with raspberries that feel almost candied and syrupy, along with a hint of tart, juicy cassis (otherwise known as black currant). The flower is full-bodied, rich, infused with patchouli to its core, and as dark as the finest wine, but it is also set on fire with dry, smoky incense. The flower actually feels so thick with dark, purple patchouli that it evokes images of crimson blood dripping into dry, arid Arabian sands that have been swirled into a storm of incense. Whispers of clove add a subtle spiciness and, in conjunction with the dry smoke, help ensure that Portrait of a Lady is never cloyingly sweet. 

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

At its core, Portrait of a Lady is a simple fragrance of rose supported by twin pillars of patchouli and smoke. And it never really changes from that essential characteristic. The notes may vary in prominence or strength, and the background elements certainly become less noticeable as time goes by, but Portrait of a Lady can really be summed up as nothing more than fruited, jammy, patchouli rose infused with dry incense. It’s a well-done triptych of notes that eventually turns into a bipartisan interplay of incense and patchouli, but that’s really about it.

Portrait of a Lady has been largely imitated by many similar, jammy, incense purple rose fragrances since then, but it really doesn’t knock my socks off. So, I’ll spare you the lengthy, moment-by-moment analysis of how minimal the clove is on my skin, how long the raspberry lasts in an additional surfeit of fruitedness that I did not enjoy, or how it ends up creating a sour note that lingers well into the perfume’s final moments. I’ll avoid getting into the details of just how much purple patchouli there is in Portrait of a Lady, how it becomes a skin scent on me less than 3.75 hours into the perfume’s development, how there are subtle elements of something synthetic in the base (perhaps thanks to the Ambroxan), or the way there is a weirdly soapy tinge to the fragrance for a few hours.

purple smokeThe simple nutshell story is that, on me, Portrait of a Lady started as a conventional jammy rose with incense and endless heapings of purple, purple, purple, fruited patchouli. I really dislike purple patchouli, and there is a hell of a lot of it here. Portrait of a Lady then took less than 4 hours to turn into a somewhat dry, very subdued, completely muted blur of simple patchouli and incense with an endlessly lingering, unpleasant hint of sourness before it finally died away. It’s a fragrance that lasted just over 9.25 hours on me, and that I found to be tolerably nice. It was also, however, unoriginal, linear, painfully purple and fruited, and wholly boring. I certainly don’t think it’s worth the high Malle prices.

However, I’m hugely in the minority on my lack of enthusiasm for Portrait of a Lady. The fragrance is much adored; in fact, it is many people’s ideal, perfect rose. Some even consider it to be a “naughty” rose, an impression or association that never once crossed my mind. In truth, I am starting to think that Frederic Malle is a brand that simply doesn’t do much for me; thus far, I haven’t been impressed by a single one that I’ve tried. So, I shall put on my “Cone of Shame” (to borrow an apt, recent phrase from Lucas of Chemist in a Bottle), and slink to my corner. Mea culpa.  

Cost & Availability: Portrait of a Lady (PoaL) is an eau de parfum that comes in a variety of different forms and sizes. On his U.S. website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays that are each 10 ml in size for $150; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $230; or a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $340. It seems as though the 50 ml size is available only from the US Malle website, as no other vendors, including even the French or International Malle website, carries that small bottle. On the International Malle website, the prices are €100 for the travel trio, and €225 for the large 100 ml bottle. I’m afraid there is a web-error page for the small 50 ml size, so I can’t see its Euro price, and oddly, PoaL doesn’t even appear on this page with all the other 50 ml/1.7 oz bottles. Malle also sells a 200 ml body cream on each website which costs $210. In the U.S.: You can also find Portrait of a Lady at Barneys in all sizes, except the small 1.7 oz, $230 bottle. You’re essentially stuck ordering from the Malle website if you’re looking for that. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, Portrait of a Lady is exclusive to Holt Renfrew, which sells the large 100 ml bottle for CAD $370. In the UK, it is available at Liberty which sells the mini, travel trios for £90.00 and the 100 ml bottle for £200.00. For all other countries, you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. Samples: I received my sample from a friend but you can always order from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $8.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Frederic Malle Bigarade Concentrée

The heat is on, summer has arrived in most parts of the world, and the search for something cool, refreshing and bright has begun. In the perfume world, one fragrance that may come to mind is the orange-based Bigarade Concentrée from Frederic Malle. Another option might be Orange Sanguine from Atelier Cologne.Though I’d initially planned to review both fragrances together, the length was becoming a bit ludicrous and a split review seemed best. So, first up, is Bigarade Concentrée, and then, tomorrow, Atelier’s Orange Sanguine.

Frederic Malle. Source:

Frederic Malle. Source:

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. In 2002, Malle teamed up with famed perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena, to create Bigarade Concentrée. “Bigarade” refers to the bitter orange tree and its fruit, like the kind from Seville that is used in marmalade, though the term is also sometimes used as shorthand for neroli, the blossom from the tree. Malle’s fragrance is a citrus aromatic eau de parfum which the company’s website describes as follows:

Based on a new bitter orange essence developed especially for Jean-Claude Ellena and obtained by molecular distillation, Bigarade Concentrée imparts a bitter freshness. Its overdose of hesperidic notes combined with a touch of rose expresses a unique natural transparency. A woody base of hay and cedar adds lusty warmth. Bigarade Concentrée: A lasting natural freshness.

Bigarade Concentree - small bottleFragrantica lists its notes as follows:

Top note is bitter orange; middle note is rose; base notes are cedar, grass and hay.

Bigarade Concentrée opened on my skin with crisp citruses. At first, it was actually a lemon-scented aroma, followed moments later with orange. The fruit feels like fresh, sweet, concentrated orange pulp but, also, like something a little more bitter.



Then, the confusion set in. I smelled cumin. Without a doubt, it was the sweaty, slightly skanky, stale scent of body aroma triggered by cumin. I was so bewildered, I re-checked the Malle website description and then Fragrantica. Not a mention of cumin anywhere. I examined my vial more closely to see if there was a mistake on the name, but no. So, then, I applied the perfume to a different part of my arm and… cumin again. One rather frantic Google search later, it appears that almost everyone smells cumin in Bigarade Concentrée. Basenotes‘s thread for the fragrance is filled with comments about the note which led one poster to write about “overpowering body odor,” while another compared the scent to “a cab driver eats an orange.” A few adore it, with comments about how it is “ripe and sexy” in a “sweaty man” sort of way. Obviously, it’s a very subjective, personal matter. I, personally, am not a fan of spending a lot of money to smell like stale, unwashed sweat.



In fairness, there is much more to Bigarade Concentrée than citrus and body odor. Soon after that opening blast, notes of fresh, green grass set in, accompanied by dry hay and a light touch of abstract woods. Like most of Jean-Claude Ellena’s creations for Hermès, Bigarade Concentrée bears his signature minimalism: the whole thing is incredibly sheer, lightweight, low projecting, and fleeting in feel. It becomes a skin scent on me in as little as 3 minutes. It’s also extremely linear and never changes substantially, especially once the top notes burn off. At the 20 minute mark, the perfume feels a lot like tangerines over hay and grass with that constant touch of sweaty cumin and a touch of hay hovering in the background. I never smell the rose accord but, instead, there is something that feels like a geranium leaf, right down to its fuzzy, slightly pungent, green leaf. It’s a subtle note, and it’s probably the result of the bitter orange bigarade combining with the grass and hay.

Around the 40 minute mark, Bigarade Concentrée turns into stale cumin and hay with bursts of juicy orange lurking at the edges. It sits so close to the skin, you have to bring your nose right to your arm to detect it.  By the end of the second hour, I thought the perfume had gone completely but, no, it is still, in fact, lingering as a very abstract, creamy, soft, beige woods fragrance with orange notes. It is lightly infused with a dry spice that is not quite as prominently cumin-based but, like the rest of the drydown accords, it’s very generalized, vague and amorphous. And, that’s about it. Woods and oranges.

All in all, Bigarade Concentrée lasted about 4.5 hours on my skin — and I’m luckier than most. On Fragrantica, the perfume receives low marks for longevity and sillage, with one poster saying it vanished within 30 minutes from his skin. Another wrote, with undoubted hyperbole, that it lasted all of 30 seconds. I suspect that the perfume’s extremely low sillage and that trademark Jean-Claude Ellena minimalism creates the impression that Bigarade Concentrée has gone before it actually has. At various times — the 40 minute mark, the 90 minute one, and 2 hours in — I felt sure it was completely finished; the fragrance was so thin as to feel almost nonexistent. But, no, for some reason, the underlying base notes lingered on in the most ephemeral form for a few more hours.

There is a definite need in every perfume wardrobe for a light, sunny, citrus scent for summer and, if you like the twist of dry woods with animalic, sweaty cumin, then you should consider giving Bigarade Concentrée a sniff. It’s quite a popular fragrance in some quarters with many appreciating the non-sweetened orange note and that “austere” woody drydown. In others, however, it is greeted with disdain as much ado about nothing, especially given the high Frederic Malle price.

How you feel about Bigarade Concentrée may ultimately depend on how much you’re a fan of Jean-Claude Ellena and his minimalism. One Fragrantica reviewer considers him to be “kind of lazy perfumer that has learned to translate his laziness into a style which able to please and attract fans” — and, obviously, he wasn’t impressed with Bigarade Concentrée. And, as a whole, Fragrantica’s commentators seem underwhelmed to negative. (On Basenotes, however, reviews are much more enthusiastic, though many have significant problems with longevity and/or sillage.)

As a side note, I should mention that Jean-Claude Ellena’s creation for CartierDéclaration — seems to be extremely close to Bigarade Concentrée. I haven’t tried it, but the two perfumes are often compared to each other. From the comments and notes, Déclaration seems to be much spicier and woodier, but there are enough similarities to warrant a number of people bringing it up as a reference point, passing on Bigarade Concentrée, and/or feeling that Ellena is a lazy perfumer.

Interestingly, a number of bloggers and perfume critics seem to wholeheartedly gush over the fragrance. I’ll ignore the blogs and go straight to Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic, who gave it Four Stars in his 2006 review entitled “Dark Victory“:

Ellena’s Bigarade Concentrée … plays brilliantly with darkness. Bigarade smells like a person trapped in a complex weather system, the wonderful scent of a guy’s armpit and a woman’s humid skin washed in fresh rainwater and ozone (Malle doesn’t waste time gendering his scents, and Bigarade is for both women and men). It is a masterful juxtaposition, and smelling Bigarade is like looking down into a well of cool, black water. Your retinas expand from the strange pleasure of this scent.

“Cool, black water”? Ozone? I’m lost. The only part of his assessment that I agree with is the comparison to armpits. And I’m not a fan.

The famed perfume critic, Luca Turin, doesn’t mention armpits, but he too liked Bigarade Concentrée, though he doesn’t seem hugely overwhelmed. In his Three Star review for Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he wrote:

[bigarade oil] has an interesting mixture of citrus friendliness and resinous austerity. Ellena’s composition emphasizes both aspects, at the expensive of what to my nose is a slightly rubbery top note. Very pleasant, deliberately simple, but somewhat lacking in mystery.

I think that may be too kind, but at least he isn’t gushing unfathomably about ozonic elements and dark pools of water. Personally, I’ll eschew the experts’ opinion and stick to the laymen’s general lack of enthusiasm for Bigarade Concentrée. In my opinion, it’s an okay scent that is hyped only because it comes from Jean-Claude Ellena and Frederic Malle. I certainly don’t think it warrants the Malle price tags, especially given its problematic longevity and nonexistent sillage. You can do better, starting with Orange Sanguine whose review will be up tomorrow.

Cost & Availability: You can purchase Bigarade Concentrée in a variety of different forms and ways. On his website, Malle offers: a small 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $170; a large 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $250; or 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $115. There is also a shower gel of the fragrance. You can also find the perfume at Barneys , though it only carries the large $250 bottle and the 3 travel minis. According to the Malle website, it is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, though it is not listed on the Saks website. There are other U.S. retailers, too, which you can look up on the Malle website from Aedes to small boutiques across the country. Outside of the U.S., you can find Bigarade Concentrée at a variety of different places and department stores from London’s Liberty, the Malle boutiques in Paris, Skins in the Netherlands, Australia’s Mecca Cosmetica and Myers, Saudi Arabia’s DNA, Singapore’s Malmaison by the Hour Glass, to many others. You can use the Store Locator to find a location nearest you. If you want to try a sample, Surrender to Chance carries Bigarade Concentrée starting at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Dries Van Noten Par Frederic Malle

Snickerdoodles! That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the new perfume, Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle (often shortened to just “Dries Van Noten”), from the the luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. It is one of the most respected haute-niche lines in the world and was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. 

Dries Van Noten (left) with Frederic Malle (right).

Dries Van Noten (left) with Frederic Malle (right).

Recently, Mr. Malle decided to shift his focus from collaborating with perfumers to working with fashion designers. The first designer he chose for this new line would be Dries Van Noten whose eponymous fragrance was created by Bruno Jovanovic and released in early March 2013. According to Grain de Musc, the perfume is Malle’s own loose interpretation of Dries Van Noten’s aesthetic and not the designer’s own creation as rendered by Bruno Jovanovic. In other words, inspired by — not “made by” — Dries Van Noten. The Frederic Malle website supports that conclusion in its concise description of the scent:

Small sized bottle of Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle.

Small sized bottle of Dries Van Noten par Frederic Malle.

A perfume built around natural sandalwood, chosen for its softness and its character, and the fact that it is simultaneously exotic and evocative of the tradition of great classic perfumes. This very short formula made of very precious materials, generates a sober but distinct sensuality. It is, in my eyes, a fair parallel to Dries van Noten’s world.

Fragrantica categorizes Dries Van Noten Par Frederic Malle as a woody Oriental and lists its notes as follows:

sandalwood, guaiac wood, tonka bean, vanilla, saffron, jasmine, musk, bergamot, lemon, nutmeg, cloves, patchouli, woody notes and peru balsam.

Source: Fragrantica

Source: Fragrantica

There was a lot of fuss in the blogosphere about the perfume not only because it was a departure from Malle’s traditional focus but, also, because Dries van Noten involved the use of sustainable Mysore sandalwood. As the Perfume Shrine explained back in January,

it’s also an innovation on the formula front, as the new Malle perfume is touted to be inclusive of a new, natural Indian sandalwood from a sustainable source. Indian sandalwood, for those who didn’t know, had essentially been eradicated from perfumery in the last 20 years or so, due to concerns and regulations on the sustainability of the Mysore sandalwood. The news therefore is a leap of hope for the industry in general and sure to create a real peak of interest in the heart of every perfume fan out there.

Large-sized 3.4 oz bottle.

Large-sized 3.4 oz bottle.

All that is absolutely wonderful, particularly for those (like myself) who adore true Mysore sandalwood, but sandalwood isn’t at the heart of this perfume. No, it’s cookies. To be very specific, the American cookie (or “biscuit,” as the British term it) called “Snickerdoodles.” Americans will know immediately the precise smell which that name invokes but, for others, here is a brief summation from Wikipedia:

snickerdoodle is a type of cookie made with butter or oil, sugar, and flour rolled in cinnamon sugar. Eggs may also sometimes be used as an ingredient, with cream of tartar and baking soda added to leaven the dough. Snickerdoodles are characterized by a cracked surface and can be crisp or soft depending on preference.

Snickerdoodles are often referred to as “sugar cookies”. However, traditional sugar cookies are often rolled in white sugar whereas snickerdoodles are rolled in a mixture of white sugar and cinnamon.

SnickerdoodlesThe thick, yellow-brown, very buttery, very doughy, cinnamon-sugar cookie is exactly what Dries van Noten smells like — only with nutmeg replacing the cinnamon. The opening on my skin is as simple as that, though there is a definite subtext of flour that sometimes verges into the raw dough batter territory. There are creamy, milky notes, both of vanilla and something resembling almonds at times. The whole thing is wrapped up in a cloud of nutmeg, dancing around like the sugar spice fairy. It’s never bitter or pungent, but, instead, sweetened. The sandalwood is similarly sugared, and seems nothing like vintage or real Mysore sandalwood. There is a definite creamy fluffiness to the scent which is surprisingly light in feel. It’s almost as if the sometimes heavy, doughy sugar cookies have been turned into gauzy air.

About ten minutes in, woody notes start to appear — light, white, and quietly smoky. The notes add a dryness to the scent and ensure that the perfume is never cloying, excessively sweet, or cheap-smelling. As time passes, but especially at the thirty minute benchmark, the woods start to turn much smokier. The guaiac wood is starting to make itself noticed with its strong note of burning leaves or burning paper. I love the smell in its more unusual twist on traditional “smoke,” especially as it’s never acrid, sharp or bitter. I think it adds a much-needed dryness to the extremely sweet, fluffy cookie-aspect of the fragrance.

There is also the start of a faint muskiness from the jasmine. The latter is not perceptible as a floral note, in and of itself, at first. It’s far from indolic, heavy, or sour, so those who fear the note need not worry. But the jasmine gives rise to something very puzzling: one part of my arm starts to smell almost solely of sweet, slightly musky jasmine, while the rest of it smells of snickerdoodles, smoking paper, nutmeg and vanilla. It’s as though there is a No Man’s Land inlet of territory where the jasmine is evident, but nowhere else. And it remains that way for a good two hours. No blending, no merging, no jasmine elsewhere — ever. I find it the oddest thing!

For the next six hours, the majority of my arm (minus that one No Man’s Land) smells of Snickerdoodles to varying degrees, but with small subtexts of other notes. At first, the nutmeg is much more pronounced; then it becomes the guaiac and other wood tonalities; after a while, it’s the dough and flour which become the main subtext; and, then, vanilla and sandalwood. But the core essence of nutmeg sugarcookie never changes. At first, I find it delightful and cozy, and then, frankly, I become very  tired and bored of it.

Snickerdoodle dough. Source:

Snickerdoodle dough. Source:

By the time the creamy (but definitely sweetened) sandalwood rolls around, the linearity has driven me a little mad. Particularly as the final dry-down is still mostly flour, yeasty dough, sugar and vanilla. To be fair, I’m not really one for food scents to begin with and, despite the early dry, woody and spiced elements, the needle definitely veers into the “gourmand” category here. Fragrantica can classify this as a “woody oriental” as much as they want; to me, sugar cookies=foody desserts=gourmand fragrances. Period.

I find the fragrance to be a surprising scent to come out of Frederic Malle. This is a lot more what I imagined Jo Malone’s recent “Sugar and Spice” collection to be like. Well, if it were, you know, actual fragrance that was both good, of high-quality, and long-lasting. (Yes, yes, I know, “Meow.”) As a whole, I think Dries Van Noten is not as distinctive as many of Malle’s usual fragrances are, and I suspect that is why a few people seem to have a slight tone of disappointment underlying their generally positive reviews. Or perhaps that is merely my interpretation of the initial test reactions on a Basenotes thread, along with Grain de Musc’s assessment of the perfume.

In Denyse Beaulieu’s case, she had originally expected a scent that evoked a Flemish vegetal garden, but found instead a “speculoos” cookie (which is, I am assuming, a Belgian version of a Snickerdoodle):

When I learned he was partnering with Frédéric Malle I immediately though of Van Noten’s 60-acre garden near Antwerp and envisioned a vegetal, unconventionally floral scent.  [¶] I envisioned a landscape instead of a portrait. Frédéric Malle headed straight for a warm, well-ordered Flemish interior with a plate of cookies. Dries Van Noten is a very delicate woody gourmand, folding a cinnamon and clove-sprinkled, vanillic speculoos cookie accord into milky-smoky Mysore sandalwood[i]. To conjure the toasted, nutty, yeasty cookie dough, Malle remembered that sulfurol, more commonly used in food aromas, was also resorted to by Grasse perfumers to boost sandalwood (the material was featured in the odd, yeasty-milkyLe Feu d’Issey). Patchouli coeur (i.e. divested of its musty/camphor notes), methyl ionone and musk set the blend between woody and cosmetic accords. Jasmine absolute is listed, but not legible per se to my nose; the patchouli is fairly prominent.

I don’t smell any patchouli, but the rest is dead on. Victoria at Bois de Jasmin seems to have had a completely experience from both of us, however, with much more floral notes:

Dries Van Noten’s perfume is smooth like melted chocolate and rich like whipped cream, but you won’t smell of Belgian waffles topped with cherries, or anything edible for that matter. The fragrance uses Indian sandalwood*, and it smells simply decadent–rosy, creamy, warm and opulent. Add to this a lush jasmine note, and I’m in Rajasthan, rather than Antwerp, but this is a wonderful fantasy in itself.

The sweetness of vanilla and toasted almond is balanced out by the citrus and earthy violet notes. The hint of something savory is an accent that shouldn’t work but does. The first impression of Dries Van Noten when I spray it on my skin is a classical oriental a la Guerlain Shalimar, where citrus is used to cool down the rich woods and vanilla. But as I wear it longer, it becomes more floral and musky. The perfume reminds me more of the violet tinged woods of Serge Lutens Bois de Violette than of caramelized sandalwoods like Lutens’s Santal de Mysore or Guerlain Samsara.

Violets? Hm. Not on my end. No Shalimar-like citrus, either. 

Where I do agree with both ladies is the extremely minimal projection of the perfume. However, there seems to be a little bit of a twist where that is concerned. At first, Denyse of Grain de Musc “found its sillage surprisingly introverted despite several spritzes.” Later, she discovered that maybe it vanished only to her own nose! And she wasn’t alone in that. As she explains:

After discussing Dries Van Noten with other French bloggers and perfume lovers who’d tested it, it seems that while the wearer stops being able to perceive the fragrance after a while except in whiffs, other people smell it quite well.
We agreed we’d noticed this occurring with a few sandalwood and iris accords (there is no iris in DVN but there are ionones) like Cartier L’Heure Promise, Tom Ford Santal Blush and Diptyque Volutes. Other people can smell them just fine on us while we feel the fragrance has all but vanished.
Could there be some type of anosmia or “de-sensitization” at play?

Victoria of Bois de Jasmin also found it had “minimal” projection, while some people on a perfume group I frequent have simply said that the scent vanished entirely after an incredibly brief period of time. In short, it’s definitely something to take into consideration, given the cost of the perfume, and to test it for yourself! 

The early consensus from those who’ve tried it is that Dries Van Noten is an incredibly cozy and comforting scent. I think that is very true, if you like gourmand fragrances. But those who aren’t so keen on smelling like food may not be that enamoured. It is one reason why I’m not a huge fan. Another is that I find both its sweetness and its linearity to be, ultimately, a bit too much for my personal tastes — especially for the price. The perfume starts at $185 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle, with the larger bottle retailing for $265. Even if you buy the set of 3 travel-sized minis, it’s still $125 to smell like a Snickerdoodle and yeasty, sugar dough.

Nonetheless, I have no doubt that this will be an enormously popular fragrance, particularly amongst those who enjoy dessert scents with an occasional dry, woody undertone. The gushing I’ve already seen on some sites seems to support that. Plus, the light sillage and good longevity (about 9.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin) make it ideal for those who want something airy, lightweight and cozy. It’s also suitable for the office, though I personally would not wear it in a very conservative work environment. (Can one be taken seriously if one smells of Snickerdoodles?) 

To mangle the famous quote from the great Judi Dench, “if cookies be your perfume of love… spray on.” 

Cost & Availability: As noted above, you can purchase Dries Van Noten in a variety of different forms and ways. On his website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $125; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $185; or a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $265. You can also find the perfume at Barneys. In Canada, I’ve read that it is carried at Holt Renfrew, but Dries Van Noten is not listed amongs the few Malles shown on their website. In the UK, it is available at Liberty which sells the 50 ml size for £110.00 and the 100 ml bottle for £155.00. The three 10 ml travel-sized bottles are also available for £70.00. Elsewhere, you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. If you want to test it out, I bought my sample at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: Frederic Malle Lipstick Rose: Lipstick & Powder

As always, my Reviews En Bref are for perfumes that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to merit a full, exhaustive discussion.

The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has luxury perfume in his blood. His grandfather founded Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house.

Lipstick RoseIn 2000, Malle teamed up with the perfumer Ralf Schweiger to create Lipstick Rose, a powdery floral, which the Malle website describes as follows:

Marilyn in Technicolor, vulnerable even brash. Lipstick Rose is Ralph Schweiger’s vision of glamorized femininity. A perfume that smiles at you, like a dash of lipstick with its rose and violet-flavored bonbon scent. Grapefruit and violet enhance the fragrance’s rose note. The backdrop is musk and vanilla with a hint of vetiver and amber.

Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:

rose, violet, musk, vanilla, vetiver, amber and grapefruit.

I should confess at the start that I am not usually worshipful of rose scents, and that I’m even less keen on very powdery ones. In short, I’m probably the wrong target audience for this fragrance to begin with. Nonetheless, there have been exceptions, and I always try to keep an open mind to things and to really give perfume a chance. I failed here. I didn’t last a full two hours before I simply had to wash this off and then take some aspirin for a very rare, perfume-induced migraine.

Lipstick Rose opened on me with a strong note of primarily powdered rose, then violets, followed by a faint touch of musk with a hint of yellow grapefruit. The latter was faint, and barely cut through the powdered florals. There was a sweet touch of vanilla bean as well. Moments later, the violet notes became as strong as the rose, if not stronger. It was very similar to sweet, powdered, candied violets. As the perfume continued to unfurl, I went back and forth on which floral note dominated. Sometimes, it seemed to be the rose; sometimes, the violets.

It was very evocative of YSL‘s Paris in vintage form. The latter was a scent in which I doused myself for a full year in the early 1980s (leading, perhaps, to my lingering issues with rose fragrances) but Lipstick Rose is far more powdery, less clear, less purely floral, and more sweet than my memories of Paris. That said, I was initially surprised to actually like Lipstick Rose. I certainly didn’t expect to. But note the word “initially” in that sentence.

pampers-baby-wipesAs time passes, Lipstick Rose’s sweetness increases in strength, as do its powdery notes. I have an incredibly strong impression of baby wipes. I’d read a few similar comments to that effect on Fragrantica and elsewhere, and they aren’t joking. There are also very waxy notes that — as expected and as frequently reported — call to mind old-fashioned, luxury lipsticks. (Numerous people compare the scent to old Lancome lipsticks, though I’ve read comparisons to MAC as well. I smell old-style Chanel-rose combined with the Guerlain-violet lipsticks, amplified by a thousand). It’s a hand-to-hand combat between the rose, the violet, the sugar and the baby-wipes powder, and it’s only just begun….

About thirty minutes in, Lipstick Rose starts to become unbearably cloying and, even worse, synthetic to my nose. I feel the start of a tell-tale thump in my head, which only comes with extremely strong synthetics. In the FAQ section of his website, Frederic Malle classifies Lipstick Rose as one of the strongest perfumes in his line. The second strongest category, to be precise. The strength would be fine if it wasn’t so synthetic to me. The sillage is powerful in the opening hour, though I’ve read that it fades away and becomes a much softer scent as a whole. Perhaps, but I couldn’t take the full evolution. At exactly one hour and 47 minutes into its progression, I waved the white flag. My head hurt, I felt actually queasy, and not even scientific accuracy for a review warranted another moment of it.

One of my goals in my reviews, at least in my full ones, is to give a full impression of the perfume, with comments from others — lovers and haters alike. So, for full fairness, I want to present you with the other side of the picture. And I’ll start with another perfume blogger: Birgit of Olfactoria’s Travels. She first “shunned” the perfume before becoming “enamored” and changing her mind. She found its extreme feminity to be a symbol of independence, femininity on her terms and a symbol that eradicated the strictures of her youth regarding cosmetics or feeling pretty.

"La Goulue" from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

“La Goulue” from the always amazing 19th century painter, Toulouse-Lautrec.

On Fragrantica, the reviews vary from great appreciation of the perfume’s retro quality to thoughts that it is too powdery and too much like wearing an actual lipstick. You may find some of the comments — positive and negative– to be useful:

  • For me, this is such a “happy, happy, joy, joy” kind of fragrance. It makes me think of clowns, old theaters, really red and kind of sticky old lipstick, doing a careful make-up… and also the phrase “It cost´s money to look this cheap”. 🙂 Very retro, very not have to think about the morning, carefree, adorable, easy to like kind of scent.
  • If you like tooth achingly sweet perfumes then you will probabily like this. Its a shame, i like most Frederic Malle perfumes and find them quite natural smelling, if you know what i mean, but this one is just to artificial for me!
  • If you like being a girl, you’ll most likely enjoy wearing this perfume. It’s so bright and glamorous and reminds me of the ballet days of my youth. Smells very reminiscent of Lancome lipstick and is very delicately feminine.
  • violets and roses, on a slight musky vanilla base. It has been done before. I still like it, but the more I wear it, the more underwhelmed I am… sorry. […] This has a lot in common with YSL Paris, in it’s edp vintage formulation, which I owned. But [Paris is] much rounder and smoother, and overall a much prettier scent.

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants.

    Dancer at the Folies Bergeres. Source: the amazing site of Thomas Weynants.

  • I see the comparison to YSL Paris (one of my favorites) but the spirit of the two scents is entirely different: Paris is a deeply romantic traditional floral where Lipstick Rose is naughty (I think my aunt would have said it has moxie) and irreverent. This perfume should be sitting on a frilly vanity next to a big fluffy powder puff and a jar of Jergen face cream. It’s so humorously retro that it’s become
    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressign Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns:

    Can-can dancers at the famous Moulin Rouge. Source: the very cool Dressing Rooms entry on the Tina Tarnoff blog, Thought Patterns. (Click on the photo to go to the blog.)


  • I just feel being in a wardrobe of Moulin Rouge, where big shiners ornaments the mirrors and many different cosmetics lies on the dressing table, costumes hang on the wall, the air is full of joy, everybody is laughing and there is a big crystal vase in the middle of the dressing table with a dozen red, full and rich roses, which captures this one moment. […] This perfume brings exactly those pictures into my mind and fulls my heart with calmness and joy.

On MakeupAlley, the negative reviews are harsher:

  • This is a terrible fragrance. I find it hard to believe that it has received such high acclaim. It absolutely smells like an old lady’s makeup bag. Who wants to smell like that?!
  • For the life of me I can not understand why this has such a high rating. It does smell exactly like lipstick, and not a nice one. Like the cheap waxy smell of the ones I bought at the drugstore when I was 12. I would never pay good money to smell like that.
  • Perfume is such a personal thing – I expected to love this because it has rose and violets which are some of my favourite things, and I admire most other Malle creations, but it is a sickly-sweet, powdery abomination on me. Wearing this, I find it hard to breathe and promptly develop a filthy headache. 
  • I love fresh rose fragrances, and don’t mind sweet candied violets, but this smelled so strongly of sweet powder on me that I could barely tolerate it. Had to wash it off after 30 minutes. And I barely applied any from my sample vial. Cloying and much too powdery for me.
  • Ugh. Imagine a vintage lipstick mixed in with some rose essential oil slathered on your skin. When applying, I get melted plastic and a hint of rose. On drydown, it just smells like crayon. I’ve tried it a few times, but I still really don’t like this one at all. 

I think there are a lot of women who would find Lipstick Rose to be their ideal scent and a joyous, fun evocation of enormous femininity. But I would strongly urge those women to test it first. I am not alone among perfume bloggers in thinking it a cloyingly synthetic fragrance. One friend of mine — who actually adores powdery fragrances and many Frederic Malle creations — seemed to shudder faintly when I mentioned my agonized reactions to it yesterday. He immediately dismissed it as “very synthetic,” and told me “[i]f you wish for a fragrance that smells like makeup, go get a sample of 1889 by Histoires de Parfums, fun and burlesque in the bottle.”

I shall follow his advice. To the rest of you, Lipstick Rose may be your ticket back to the 19th-century Moulin Rouge. But you may want to be close to a bottle of aspirin and a shower when you try it…

Cost & Availability: You can purchase Lipstick Rose in a variety of different forms and ways. OnLipstick Rose line his website, Malle offers: 3 travel-sized sprays in a 10 ml size for $110; a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle for $165; a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle for $240; or a 200 ml/6.8 oz Body Milk for $100. You can also find the perfume at Barneys and, according to the Malle website, it is also carried at Saks Fifth Avenue, though it is not listed on the Saks website. Outside of the U.S., you can use the Store Locator to find a location that carries the fragrance near you. If you want to try a sample, Surrender to Chance carries Lipstick Rose. Prices start at $5.99 for a 1 ml vial.