Smells can convey so many things that sometimes it surprises me. Take my recent testing of about five rose fragrances: Tom Ford’s Café Rose, Ineke Ruhland’s Briar Rose , Chloe, the new release from One Dozen Roses Amber Queen, and Balenciaga’s Florabotanica. They were less perfumes than personality profiles, and that was an offbeat, but I maintain, a valid observation.
The Chloe, I should say, is well known. It’s been out there for four years now, we all know someone, a co worker or a relative or friend who wears it. The beginning of it is sophisticated in a way, rather brainy, in fact, this you imagine is the scent of a young woman who reads the New Yorker. Pleasant enough for the first half hour, it then goes all sour in a chemically way that I don’t care for at all, and that I recognize from various trips into NYC. Evidently a popular urban scent, is Chloe, and it says all the right things about you. At first.
Then, like a false friend, it gossips unkindly about you. I smell a lot of people hanging out with this Chloe, but they could do better.
Florabotanica gets kudos for absolutely brilliant packaging. The whole thing from the spindly floral design on the box in its bright acid washed colors to the bottle with its red side, purple printed name, and insane black and white candy cane atomizer, is wonderful, contemporary and kooky, but the smell is less so. It is like Chloe, but tougher, with its rose wrapped up in a whole green mess of mint, vetiver and amber, and edgier, and it says things about the wearer that from the get-go aren’t strictly positive. Perhaps it says “She’s So Mean” like the pop tune currently on the radio, and I don’t know how many of us want that message broadcast to the winds 24/7.
Amber Queen by contrast doesn’t have much to say for herself. She is perhaps the fragrance of the exhausted Mom, the one who gets called in for everything from factoring equations to changing engine oil in the Honda, and is dead on her feet. She smells of roses only in passing, and much more of amber but that amber is faded and does not have much of an impact, neither does the exhausted mom who is too tired to get many of her points across. The fragrance may be named after the rose cultivar also called Amber Queen, which I grew and which was indeed the color of Velveeta cheese.
Ineke Ruhland’s Briar Rose was a scent for which I had very low expectations. It was a limited edition Anthropologie and Ineke release, and was on the sale table when I found it. I bought it last July thinking well, this is pretty enough and costs less than buying a bunch of samples.
Three months in I’m still wearing this perfume, which is unpretentious in the extreme, and also a friendly chatty rose. The notes include chocolate along with the rose, but over all it smells like rose jello/wine to me and is pleasanter in the dry down than in the upper registers. Briar Rose is simply very easy to wear and always has something nice to say to me. It is like having a lackadaisical chat over the back fence with your neighbor – not demanding, not intellectual, but warm and social.
Then there is Tom Ford’s Café Rose, which breaks ranks with everything else here by being an elegant rose, and moreover the sort of rose that could live life as a boutoniere for a gentleman, in a very well cut tropical-weight wool jacket. It is dapper, it is suave, it is the sort of rose to get its hair and mustache trimmed on a weekly basis whether or not they strictly need it. You might call it a Parfum de Flaneur, and besides the rose that you know is going to be in there you get coffee and sandalwood and saffron. It is well done and has at its core the kind of melancholy which makes me think it will begin singing “Just a Gigolo”.
Which makes me wonder, in passing, which of Café Roses’ wearers would laugh, and which cry?