Two of my favorite rosewood-scented products, SABÃO PAU ROSA, Brasil (a soap) and Bois de Rose Eau de Toilette, "disappeared" about 10 years ago. I can't remember the names of their manufacturers, but I remember their fragrances and have been searching for replacements ever since. The rosewood soaps were bright-red glycerin ovals wrapped in lime-green paper with black-and-white lettering. Bois de Rose was made in Provence and came in pale pink boxes decorated with an old-fashioned drawing of a rosewood tree.
The last time I wore Bois de Rose perfume was on a summertime New Mexico vacation with my friend Susan. I vividly remember our Bois de Rose-scented holiday adventures. After we checked into our rooms at a Taos inn, the owner, while delivering fresh towels, assumed we had switched rooms — SURELY, no man would have so many toiletry items lined up on the bathroom counter mere minutes after arrival. (I especially remember one of those toiletries. It was the Stone Age of self-tanners, and over breakfast one morning, Susan asked me, bluntly, as she looked at my brown kneecaps, grungy ankles and striped calves: "What's wrong with your legs?" I offered ridiculous excuses:"It MUST be my soap...it's brown!" "I think dye from the towel came off on my legs!" "My shampoo has henna in it!" Susan was unconvinced, and I NEVER used self-tanner again!)
I did 'repay' Susan for her intense scrutiny of my unsightly legs. As we wandered through the scalding Ghost Ranch landscape, dotted with scary signs warning of "Plague" and "Hantavirus," I looked at Susan's (usually) pale skin and literally saw RED (she was so flushed, I screamed — "Your SKIN...is on FIRE!") Susan ran indoors in a panic to find a mirror and to buy an icy can of Fanta soda to hold against her crimson face. The sun was strong that day: it bleached not only my hair (turning it from light brown to blonde on top) but the shoulders of my turquoise-colored shirt. Bois de Rose blended well with the sun and heat, and the aromas of New Mexico — roasting chilies, wood smoke and fragrant chaparral.
I was excited when Comme des Garçons introduced its own rosewood fragrance — Series 2, Red: Palisander; it contains Brazilian rosewood (palisander or Dalbergia nigra), Virginia cedar, saffron, myrrh, red chili and pepper. The opening notes of Palisander are rosewood-y: I smell rich, raw wood, the sweetness of fruit (chili/Capsicum?), saffron and a hint of turpentine. In mid-development, Palisander mellows as warm cedar notes come to the fore. Palisander's base notes smell of warm chili pepper, benzoin, myrrh and residual saffron, and these notes produce a pleasant talc-y accord. Palisander smells great and "natural" (though its 'palisander' is surely either synthetic or recreated with a mixture of other notes), but Palisander doesn't replace Bois de Rose (or SABÃO PAU ROSA) — nothing ever smells quite like the discontinued fragrances we knew and loved.
Brazilian rosewood, due to the beauty and strength of its wood, not to mention its fragrance, has been over-harvested and is now endangered and protected in Brazil, but you can still find examples of Dalbergia to sniff, especially Honduras rosewood (Dalbergia stevensonii), in fine wood shops that cater to sculptors and makers of musical instruments and furniture. Show some enthusiasm, and the shop owner or assistant might be persuaded to lightly sand a section of the rosewood to bring out its delicious fragrance.
I used the final drops from my last bottle of Bois de Rose in New Mexico. Bois de Rose smelled like Brazilian rosewood: exotic, cool and warm (camphoric), resinous, woody (of course) but also a tad fruity-floral (with tart red berry/rose hip and rose petal notes). Bois de Rose: Requiescat in pace.
Palisander was created by perfumers Yann Vasnier and Françoise Caron, and is $102 for 100 ml Eau de Toilette. For buying information, see the listing for Comme des Garçons under Perfume Houses. Please comment if you can recommend a rosewood-rich perfume or soap!