Balenciaga Rumba : Perfume Review



Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Golden caramelized plum on an animalic base is the best way to describe Rumba, a fragrance created for Balenciaga by Ron Winnegrad and Jean-Claude Ellena in 1988. Unlike some of Jean-Claude Ellena’s recent creations, such as his fragrances for The Different Company and Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums, Rumba is miles away from minimalist. It is vibrant and exuberant, expanding into waves of warmth interspersed by beguiling darkness.

A golden plum note appears once the fragrance unfolds on the skin. The honeyed juiciness embraces a sweet note of orange blossom, which gives radiance and softness. Rumba’s fruit notes are much more impressionistic than photorealistic, revealing just a teasing luscious hint. However, neither like the dance from which it derives its name, can Rumba be called subtle.

It sheds the sweetness of its top notes, presenting a heady and opulent floral bouquet, dominated by creamy tuberose, powdery heliotrope and leather tinged magnolia. A hot mélange of floral notes hides an animalic undercurrent, which at first resurfaces as a whisper of warm skin. Juxtaposed with the smell of church incense and beeswax candles, the result is odd and unexpectedly sensual. The composition unfolds into vivid hot layers, shedding them one by one before revealing the base notes layered in amber and musk. The golden plum that first appeared in the top notes slowly caramelizes and seeps its sticky hot juices into the leather imbued with balsamic vanilla. The animalic element of the main accord prevents the composition from turning sweet, softening the heady opulence with its velvety darkness.

While it seems to have fallen into an undeserved oblivion, Rumba is easily obtainable from a variety of online discount sites, as the following google search demonstrates. Notes are mirabelle plum, peach, orange blossom, raspberry; magnolia, tuberose, orchid, gardenia, jasmine, carnation, heliotrope, honey, lily of the valley; amber, oakmoss, vanilla, sandalwood, cedarwood, tonka bean, musk, styrax.

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  • parislondres: Dear V – great review and this is one fun perfume with very interesting notes. A friend in London wears it and it does smell great on her and she gets them from Maison Parfums.
    I have tested this but it is not one that I was impressed enough to buy.

    Hope all is well.

    Hugs! September 29, 2005 at 5:09am Reply

  • Judith: Oh, this sounds wonderful to me! You do write the most tempting reviews. Must try…. September 29, 2005 at 10:59am Reply

  • Robin: Ack, a JCE I have never even heard of!! September 29, 2005 at 11:53am Reply

  • Liz: Well. Aren’t you the tempting one, V? 🙂 September 29, 2005 at 2:16pm Reply

  • Marina: “A hot mélange of floral notes” scares me, especially since tuberose is part of the melange…but the way you described the beginning of the scent, animalic notes, incense…so wonderful and right up my valley…The only way to go here is to sample and see for myself. September 29, 2005 at 10:30am Reply

  • Liz: “Not easily wearable” is a selling point for me, generally. 🙂 September 29, 2005 at 2:52pm Reply

  • Tania: That does sound worth sniffing. Thanks for the tip! September 29, 2005 at 11:10am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: It is such an unusual combination! This fragrance would definitely not be marketable right now (on a mass market level), because it is just not pretty. It is unique, but I can completely understand that it can be just too much.

    Hope that your day is going well too! September 29, 2005 at 11:22am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, the hot floral part wears off somewhat, but what I smell the most at one stage are the beeswax candles, the kind you get when you go to the Orthodox church (thin, beige ones). It is just very odd, but memorable and sensual. September 29, 2005 at 11:26am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, I hope that you will like it, but I have to warn that it is really potent, especially in the middle. The drydown is much softer, with animalic notes being fairly dominant.

    Glad that you liked the review! 🙂 September 29, 2005 at 11:28am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, it is certainly worth at least a sniff. It is very different from everything JCE has done! September 29, 2005 at 11:29am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, if I did not know that he was one of the creators, I would never have guessed that Rumba was his fragrance. On the other hand, I would not have guessed that he created First either. September 29, 2005 at 12:04pm Reply

  • Marina: Oh, then I definitely want to try this! Another pefume that brings to mind those candles (even though there is *nothing* among the notes to warrant such an image) is Profumo by Acqua di Parma, what a stunning scent as well. September 29, 2005 at 12:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: I remember trying Profumo, but it was such a long time ago that I only have a vague recollection of what it was like. I love the smell of these tiny candles, and if you say that Profumo features something similar, I will definitely revisit. September 29, 2005 at 12:41pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Liz, it is beautiful, but not as easily wearable as I thought at first. The drydown is my favourite part, especially the dark animalic element paired with beeswax candles. I swear I smell candles and incense! September 29, 2005 at 2:22pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Same here! My other selling points are “old fashioned” and “musty” (which usually means the oakmoss base, which I love). September 29, 2005 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Tara: I have a very old bottle of Fragonard’s Belle de Nuit which smells a lot like this – beeswax candles and incense. As it is getting a bit low, I bought a new bottle, and sadly either they changed the formula, or the scent needs to age for several years and “caramelize” a bit to attain that same intoxicating candle incense smell. I am hoping for the latter. September 29, 2005 at 7:12pm Reply

  • Katie: Thank you for this V – now I really need to push this up on my priority list of scents to try. You’d mentioned it before and I was curious, and this description completely whets my appetite. Thank you! September 29, 2005 at 5:34pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, I find intoxicating and odd, vacillating between baked fruit and hot floral, and then suddenly it dries down to a perfectly animalic (think dark musk) base. Just odd, but makes me want to revisit it again and again. September 29, 2005 at 8:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, I think that aging makes some of these notes more concentrated (anything ambery and musky, especially if we are talking about musk ambrette). I think that vintage fragrances appeal to me because their base notes are pronounced. I hope that you can age your Belle de Nuit to perfection! 😉 September 29, 2005 at 8:04pm Reply

  • Debora: Hi,
    I used to wear this when I was 14 (trying to look older!!) My aunt give me her bottle and I was in ecstasy. (…well)
    Today some girl at a store give me a sample of Coco which I’d never tried before and something remind me of Rumba… Is there some notes or ingredients Coco and Rumba have in common?
    thank you! July 31, 2012 at 5:20pm Reply

  • Mojtaba: Thanks for this review.

    By the way, have you compared Balenciaga and Ted Lapidus version of Rumba?

    Are they very different? July 19, 2018 at 6:04pm Reply

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