My first impression of Parfum d’Empire Eau Suave was that it was a rose fit for a king. I was therefore surprised to find out that I was utterly mistaken and that Eau Suave was inspired by Josephine, love of Napoleon, and was meant for empresses and other women. I had it backwards. This is the kind of trouble that you get into when you don’t bother to read anything about a perfume but simply smell it from a vial, taking a cue only from the name and more importantly from the vial’s contents.
In this case, “Eau Suave” seemed like the name of a cologne for a dandy or for a dandy’s modern equivalent. I opened the vial and out rushed a red, red rose that had a pitch characteristic to me of male fragrances. Shows what I know. But it did make me think about how we perceive fragrances as masculine or feminine and what signals or clues we use to arrive at that decision.
The notes of Eau Suave are pepper, coriander, saffron, Rose de Malmaison, apricot, raspberry, peach, vanilla, and musk. While the latter notes evoke to me a dessert to be ladled over ice cream, they are pushed aside by the pepper and coriander that at first said to me male and that later said chypre (mossy woody type of perfume). Even if the notes say otherwise, Eau Suave smells like a chypre to me. It excitingly straddles the gender line, with one half of it thorny and herbal and the second half soft and fruity. It is a red and slightly dirty rose with strong aromatic/spice accents and, surely, some moss. It is in the same family as the somewhat sharper Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit, which is a chypre, but has a fruitier and softer tone overall once it settles.
Rose chypre is my least favorite fragrance category, or was until I started investigating ouds and leathers, but my tendency has been to avoid them altogether while appreciating them from a distance. They tend to smell somewhat menacing on me and I cannot live up to them, at least not in a pair of flip-flops. Still, in the interest of giving an unbiased review I will say that the longer I wore Eau Suave, the more I liked it, specifically because the opening is so bracing and the fruits when they do appear are so round.
Eau Suave features one of the better combinations of rose and fruit that I have smelled. In the middle of the fragrance the fruits appear and sweeten up what to me has seemed a bitter opening such that I can almost taste it. If you’ve ever been put off by sickly sweet rose and fruit concoctions, give this one a try. The sweet fruity accents round out and warm up Eau Suave without making it any less suitable for men. There are legions of female fragrances built around this same type of composition (Agent Provocateur, Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit, Ungaro Diva, L’Arte di Gucci, Sisley Soir de Lune, Estée Lauder Knowing) that are marketed as all-woman and that are mostly worn by women, but remove the marketing and find some of them eminently suitable for men, too.
Once Eau Suave dried down, it picked up an interesting bitter nuttiness and additional fruitiness that lent an aspect I hadn’t found in the other rose chypres mentioned above. Vanilla further served to soften the presentation; it’s quite a large dollop they’ve scooped onto the bottom of Eau Suave and it is this creamy phase that hooked me. What a great fragrance, and one you likely will not smell on anyone else. The lasting power was phenomenal even by dabbing from sample vial. I was delighted to like it as well as I did and equally delighted to (finally) review and like something that has what to me is a reasonable price point: At $75 for 50 ml, this is a veritable bargain for a niche perfume. Top quality scent at what amounts to a mall price.
Image: Armful of Roses, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1918, via wikipaintings, some rights reserved.