Roja Dove the perfume collector, salesman verging on curator at Harrods, and expert, who was a nose at Guerlain for twenty years or so, has come out with his own line. This is rather old news since he did this some time ago, but what is news is that Mr. Dove has changed his focus.
The first Roja perfumes I ever smelled were reconstructions of past marvels. He had things in his line that recalled No5 and Fracas and so on and so forth. It’s a perfectly valid way of doing things and makes a good deal of sense since the average consumer does not know her L’Heure Bleue from her Habanita, and besides these are time tested ideas that the public has fallen in love with many times before.
It was surprising to me therefore when I was passing through Bergdorf’s the other day, to stop at Roja’s little stand under the rotunda of perfumes, and find that he has embraced the idea of the soliflore in a big way.
Maybe this has something to do with being British, or rather, being English since the two things are not quite the same. The English side of the British is what they garden with and create with; the Liberty Print, David Hockney, Bentley side of the British, while the British side of the English conquers and rules Empires by sometimes entirely ruthless means. So when I say that this may have to do with Roja’s national affiliation, I’m thinking of the English and not the British side.
He has come out with a small range of soliflores that is really charming. There are Gardenia, which is canny because we in the US cannot resist gardenias, but he has added also a Bergamot, and most charmingly of all a Lilac.
Lilacs are so gone from perfumery right now that you really have to search high and low for them. Apart from En Passant, there is no high end lilac out there, and it’s a state of affairs that puts me in mind of the great rose drought of the 80s. And by the way, it wasn’t always so. In the 40’s and 50’s there was Mary Chess’ White Lilac sometimes listed among the greatest perfumes of its time, although its creator reportedly concocted it in the bathtub of her New York apartment. Roja has taken us back to the days that preceded all that, his lilac is dewy and fresh and in the first twenty minutes or so, a marvel of beauty, and very realistic. Then it goes on, and on, and on. Lilac lasted more than twelve hours on my wrist, which must be some sort of record for a soliflore perfume, and although it was not as beautiful in its far dry down as in its beginning, the scent was still, very recognizable. Lilac was nostalgic as a Beatrix Potter watercolor and almost as English.
He had also done a Bergamot that to me was even more fun to wear, but which was basically O de Lancome with the unfair advantage of steroids. That too lasted and lasted on my skin. At the end Bergamot was as stretched out as New Orleans ribbon candy, but was still shiny and appealing.
I wonder if Roja will now venture further and create something original? This is a risk, personally, and commercially, but I think he has it in him to pull off. His Diaghelev, done for the Victoria and Albert Museum has all the brooding qualities of Mitsouko (to which it is an homage, since Diaghelev notoriously wore Mitsouko) but the perfume had much more depth than the Mitsoukos of recent vintage. If Roja can do that, he can do any number of other things, the question is will he be British and commandingly commercial, or will he be English and charmingly original?