Elisa on the return of an old-school rose.
Ultra-feminine and quite literal roses were popular during my childhood, in the ‘80s. Think Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose, which is fresh, pink, and photorealistic, but – somewhat undermining the delicacy of its namesake – possessing mushroom-cloud sillage and nuclear tenacity. Or Her Majesty’s Rose, the rose soliflore available at Victoria’s Secret, back when its aesthetic was more lacy-nightgown-in-a-country-cottage and less sex-bomb-in-garters. I had a coffret of perfume minis from VS when I was about 12, and the rose one, while pretty, reminded me distinctly of potpourri in antique shops.
I apparently wasn’t the only one to make that association. Moving into the ‘90s, roses that smelled like roses were about as uncool as you could get. In junior high, my mall-going friends and I ditched Her Majesty’s Rose and the other overt florals and embraced Tranquil Breezes, an intense and distinctive cucumber-melon scent. Around that time the perfume I most wanted to smell like was Calvin Klein Escape. Over the next few years I ended up with bottles of CK One, L’Eau d’Issey, and Polo Sport – aquatic, blue-smelling calone bombs to a one!
I’m happy to see that old-school roses are making a comeback. In particular, there’s a certain style of rose fragrance that I think of as papery – they feel dry and translucent, like tissue paper. L’Occitane’s Arlésienne (released in 2014) is a papery, pink rose, not a dark, rich red one, like the oud- and patchouli-inflected roses that have been so prevalent in niche lines in the 2000s.
While the first thing you notice is that crisp, lemony rose, Arlésienne is not a soliflore; there’s also a big dose of violet. I love rose and violet together, whether the result is airy and green as in Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s watercolor interpretation of Yves Saint Laurent Paris, La Vie en Rose, or loud and extravagant as in Maurice Roucel’s Bond no 9 Broadway Nite, which feels completely filled out from edge to edge, like a baroque oil painting. Arlésienne is closer to the former – it’s powdery, but not so powdery as to scare off powder-haters. There’s a bit of the freshening lift of muguet. There’s also a distinct note of honey, which has sweetly innocent connotations but always brings along an animalic edge. The base is a simple, understated cedar.
Arlésienne doesn’t evolve much over time, but it’s satisfying and complex enough to remind me of florals from higher-end lines like Chloe and Chanel. L’Occitane gives me hope for mall-chain perfumes – while you may have to dig a little, the gems are there. I also love and own L’Occitane’s Eau de Baux, and am frequently tempted by Ambre & Santal, a genuinely smoky labdanum. It’s also worth noting that Arlésienne’s composition translates beautifully into the body products – if you like the sound of the scent but don’t need any more perfume, try the hand cream or the body milk.
Arlésienne Eau to Toilette is available from L’Occitane for $62/2.5 ounces. The notes include mandarin, saffron, rose, lily of the valley, violet, sandalwood, blonde woods, and tonka bean.
A photograph of roses by Bois de Jasmin