Frédéric Malle's new Portrait of a Lady, developed by perfumer Dominique Ropion, marks the line's 10th anniversary. Happy anniversary, Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums, and here's wishing you many, many more. Oh, and can you please do jasmine next?
Portrait of a Lady is not jasmine; as many of you undoubtedly already know. It is rose, an oriental sort of rose with woody notes and spices, quite different from their earthy masterpiece Une Rose and even farther away from the powder-puff classic, Lipstick Rose. Portrait either was or wasn't inspired by the Henry James novel of the same name — I've seen both claims — but was certainly inspired by, or grew out of, ideas from Géranium Pour Monsieur, Ropion's last outing for Frédéric Malle.
The notes — raspberry, cassis, rose, cinnamon, clove, benzoin, sandalwood, patchouli, frankincense, ambroxan and white musk — sounded comfortably familiar. Fruitchouli we've seen plenty of lately, and patchouli + rose (to say nothing of incense + rose) combinations aren't exactly thin on the ground. But of course this is Frédéric Malle. Portrait of a Lady doesn't smell like your average teen-bait fruitchouli, and it's considerably more elegant than your average patchouli rose.
The opening is fruity: think tart berry jam. The fruit doesn't dominate for long though. The whoosh of rose — and it is a whoosh; I don't think you'll like Portrait if you don't like rose — arrives within seconds, and after, say, five or ten minutes, you've pretty much got what you'll have for the duration: a murky, spicy rose, oriental but not at all heavy (it does pack some sillage, but it doesn't feel thick), a hefty (really hefty) dose of very clean and smooth patchouli, the promised incense, some dark wood that might or might not be oud, and plenty of musk. It's dry but not bone dry.
Tom over at Perfume Posse found it dainty, a reaction that puzzled me: Portrait of a Lady is not dainty on my skin at all. No, it's too dark and dirty to be dainty, but I will say that it's a very modern dirty, in which there is nothing even slightly off-kilter: there's nothing musty or sour about the patchouli, there's nothing rough or medicinal about the oud (if there is any oud). Une Rose smells sexy in a overripe, down-in-the-dirt kind of way. Portrait is too elegant to be overripe — it's a clean sort of dirty, if you don't mind the oxymoron.
Portrait of a Lady is brilliant, and certainly a must try. The reviews so far have been mixed, but I have a feeling it will do very well. Trust me, I'd find a use for a bottle if one came into my possession. But for myself I prefer Une Rose, which is rather a relief: my to buy list has grown quite a bit already this year.
Men, don't be scared off by the name unless you're of the 'real men don't wear rose' school. Portrait is what most perfumistas would call unisex. And if what you're after is longevity, Portrait of a Lady should please you: it lasts through the day, and then some. On clothing, it might make it through the week.1
Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady is available in 50 (145€) and 100 ($300) ml, or in a travel set (3 x 10 ml, 90€). For buying information, see the listing for Frédéric Malle under Perfume Houses.
1. On me, Portrait nearly qualifies as frighteningly long-lasting: I start to worry when my perfume makes it through the shower and a long night's sleep. I have seen complaints about the lasting power though, and I had an interesting experience both times I tried to wear Portrait at the same time as Une Rose: one whiff of Une Rose, and I could hardly smell Portrait at all. Selective anosmias work in strange ways.