On Dark Rose Winds

Since the perfume world has taken a decided turn eastwards in the last decade, there have been many more releases that smell of their Middle Eastern predecessors.  Did it all start with Andy Tauer’s L’Air du Desert Marocain?

I don’t know, but I find these perfumes to be compelling in the same way that the Arabian Dance from the Nutcracker is, trailing plumes of scent after them through the unhurried still air of the seraglio like a neglected odalisque might trail a Chinese silk, as though they had nothing better to do in life, than beguile away an empty afternoon.

Nor do they. They are so many Sheherazades, telling stories of love and war, of betrayal, of death in the palace by  poison, of the murder of overstock princes by garrote.  By turns savage and civilized, a universe bound by the covers of The Arabian Nights, preferred reading of mine when I was ten, and everyone else was reading The Pink Fairy Book.

L’Air du Desert about which I have written, is a great favorite with many of the perfume confraternity.  I am currently wearing Mr. Tauer’s tribute to Arabia Deserta on my pinkie finger, and it does manage to conjure up the supremely dry air of deserts.  You wouldn’t want to be out in those mummifying winds, and yet they were the favorite haunts of mystics, including Simeon Stylites atop his column near Aleppo.

Also St. Anthony, the desert hermit, constantly interrupted at his prayers by every kind of  unearthly visitor, from demons to seductresses, all orchestrated by Satan, that tireless impresario.  The perfume is extremely evocative, and wearable at the same time, but it is a perfume of empty space, and of atmospheres that seem to rise uninterrupted to the sun.

In other words, not the sort of place where most people get on with the business of living, L’Air is all about the desert as a mystic’s no man’s land, full of mirages and visions, and that brings me to the  two other perfumes of this post, both dreams of opulence and decadence, sent to befuddle a hermit’s mind.

Portrait of a Lady is the first.  I didn’t know this perfume until Undina kindly sent me a sample, and I have been unable to form an opinion on it since. Except that it is a rose wood of great elegance, and considerable lasting power. The notes to it are as mystifying as anything St. Anthony ever dreamt of: cinnamon, rose, clove, elemi, benzoin, sandalwood, black currant, amber, musk and…raspberry? It has all the shaded inscrutability of a stone colonnade at Topkapi Palace, and no doubt conceals just as many mysteries in the darker alcoves.

Portrait dries down to a skin as soft as Sultan’s favorite. The only thing I’ve smelled like it is Jacques Polge’s Diva, the perfume done for Emanuel Ungaro before that was dumbed down.  There is the same sort of drawn out honeyed ending.   But if there is any criticism of this scent, it might be that Portrait is a bit sobersided, a trifle dark.  But then, if you want a lighter story, you find yourself back out in the blazing sunscapes of the Middle East. It’s either brilliant glare or shadows, there isn’t very much transition between extremes.

Last on my list is the late Mona di Orio’s Oud. This one confuses me nearly as much as Portrait. The notes listed for the scent are all over the place.  There’s nagarmotha and cedarwood and Laotian oud, and osmanthus and lord knows what else. Oud comes off as distinctly animalic, which is odd, since aside from musk, there really isn’t an animalic component.  But then Mona always did have an affinity for skin, and practically nothing of hers was ever quite floral, or oriental, or woody, because they were also, and simultaneously animalic.

What Mona’s Oud reminds me of faintly is Bal a Versailles-only a trans-Bospherus version of that famous old animalic.  Bal was the beloved scent of Liz Taylor, owner of many un-house-broken lap dogs. Including the Pekingese pair she shared with Richard Burton named Oh Fie! and Ee’en So. Their various places probably smelled like Mona’s Oud, or like Bal, and, of course, doggie poop.

Mona’s though is far more fabulous: dried phoenix poop, or something that came through the business end of a mythical beast woven into an Oriental carpet.

Perhaps that is the one thing that all these perfumes have in common on my skin: they don’t quite convince me, they don’t quite seem real.  Time to close the book.

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12 thoughts on “On Dark Rose Winds

  1. Thank you for another lovely post!
    Portrait of a Lady is indeed a dark, sensual and mysterious rose. Out of a seeming initial contradiction performed by the spices, woods, flowers, and berries, there is an emerging rose that oozes sexuality and class. Another shadowy, uber sexy, and very natural rose that I love is Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau, where we do not play with the oriental theme, but the romantic shadow on the water is black. I think these two perfumes define me somehow…

    • Hi Alexandra, nice of you to stop by. Portrait came to me by way of Undina, who has a taste for elegant, green tinged fragrances. It is lovely, and has an air of reserve to it as well, or perhaps it’s merely dignified.
      L’Ombre dans L’Eau about which I think I’ve posted, is a supremely graceful cassis-rose scent. It always reminds me of the scene in Funny Face where Audrey Hepburn does a shoot as a bride in rural France, next to a river with swans (of course!) swimming on it.

  2. Can’t wait to try the Portrait and Oud you sent. (I am not afraid of phoenix poop!) Also can’t wait to introduce you to India Gulab, if you’ll have the minx.

    • A gourmand? A gourmand that smells like Indian desserts? Yes, please!
      Honestly both of these fragrances struck me as interesting, and so I sent them on to you , because, and as per usual, really wanted to hear what you would make of them.

  3. I was also reading The Arabian Nights (your links are broken) when I was 9 or 10… until I decided to ask my mom about some place that I didn’t understand… the remaining volumes I read in secret when nobody was around.
    L’Air du Desert Marocain is one of a few Tauer’s perfumes that work for me.

    • Thanks for pointing out the link problem. The Hub has fixed it. And yeah, wasn’t it fun reading those stories? I used to wonder how Scheherazade came up with a new tale every night? Particularly with that aggressive husband of hers.

      L’Air du Desert is an interesting perfume, and I have to agree with you that Andy’s perfumes don’t quite come across, they overwhelm my skin. My impression, and it may be way off, is that Andy tends to compose with thicker oilier masculine skin in mind, with the result, that the scent seems too dense. What do you think?

      • It’s an interesting idea… I attributed it more to natural ingredients (I get a similar “density” from Laurie’s (SSS) perfumes). But you might be onto something… I need to test some of Andy’s perfumes on my vSO.

        • You do get that from SSS scents. I hadn’t thought of that, but yes you do.
          I wonder if your vSO will smell better in Tauers than we do?

  4. L’Air, which I only tried for the first time a few months ago, *is* very dense. I got hints of dry air and solitude, but for the most part it sits on my skin sullenly, not talking.

    PoaL I liked very much, except that it eventually dries down to a tolu balsam/patchouli Opium-esque thing that I just. cannot. stand. (It’s me. I know it’s me.) I would have called it primarily a rose-patchouli with woody notes, akin to L’Arte di Gucci or MFK Lumiere Noire pour femme or, yes, Diva. Except that PoaL’s rose is a dark, dark maroon in comparison to L’Arte’s shocking pink and LN’s glowing burgundy and Diva’s crimson roses. I’d thought Lumiere Noire to be the darkest rose I owned, back in the two weeks I possessed a decant of PoaL, until I tried both of them on my wrist next to each other. LN is comparatively full of light (and sex, probably due to the narcissus). PoaL radiates like spent nuclear fuel – I dabbed some on my wrists, and put on my wool coat five minutes later, and my coat was still wafting enough dark rose-patchouli THREE WEEKS LATER to catch the attention of the clerk at Walgreen’s.

    I’ve never gotten on well with the Monas. Jabu (yes yes yes, a white floral, of course) came closest to being wearable, but all the rest I’ve tried have gone sour on me.

    (I didn’t own any of the Fairy Books, but my edited-for-kids Arabian Nights paperback got read until it literally fell apart.)

    • Normally- like you- I enjoy a good dark rose-but Portrait is too sophisticated for me. So far most of the F. Malle productions are. Instead, am wearing DSH’s Rose Vert during this epic snow storm. If anything bad looks like happening, you can bet there’ll be a switch to Guerlain. “It’s an emergency! Where’s the Guerlain?” While running around in circles.

      On the subject of L’Air du Desert, something about that incense whistles far above my head. It’s a sort of fascinating composition, but hard for me to wear personally.

      Jabu I did not smell, in fact all I ever got to of the Mona Opus, was Oud, Vanille, Chamarre and Oiro. You would have hated Oiro, it was jasmine’s dirty old boxer shorts, very indolic.

      As to the Arabian Nights, to this day, a really well stocked perfumery looks like Aladdin’s Cave to me!

      • Oh, Rose Vert! I love that. So far I’ve only had samples, since it’s pricey, but I’ve gone through two and have one more waiting its turn. Maybe a little dram bottle should come my way during one of her sales.

        • It’s certainly nice tonight, especially looking at all this snow coming down, to smell a bit of green on your wrist.

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