Dominique Ropion: 20 posts

Carnal Flowers

No fragrance type elicits more polarized reactions than white flowers. For some, they’re the ultimate love potion. For others–a bottled nightmare. I realize that the term “white flowers” covers too many botanicals to be useful, but let’s pretend we’re talking about night-blooming plants like jasmine, gardenia and tuberose. Jasmine can smell like horse sweat. Gardenia has a distinct whiff of mushrooms. But at least jasmine and gardenia can be tamed and made pretty and gentle. Tuberose, on the other hand, doesn’t do demure well and it also stands no competition. Add a touch of tuberose to a perfume, and it takes over everything with its warmth and luxurious heft. It’s perfect for those of us tired of wan floral perfumes that smell as if they need to be on life support.

My favorite tuberose is Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. It’s been around since 2005, and I’ve rhapsodized about it for about that long. It thrills me with the richness of the sensations it evokes, from the brightness of green notes to the warmth of the tuberose petals. But that’s not why I selected it for my modern classics series, On White Flowers. Over the past decade it has become one of the gold standard tuberose fragrances against which others are judged. Love it or hate it, but it’s a modern classic.

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Givenchy Live Irresistible : Perfume Review

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Following a nefarious example set by Lancôme La Vie est Belle, perfume copywriters have assumed the role of social philosophers. “We live only once,” proclaims the press release for Givenchy’s Live Irrésistible, but I’m not sure why I’d fritter away my time on earth in the company of their fragrance.

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Like many of the recent LVMH perfumes (Givenchy is controlled by the conglomerate), Live Irrésistible seems like a focus group driven creation, where the each component is augmented to be likable. Desperate to please, Live Irrésistible heaps together everything that women are thought to like–a sweet, juicy top note, clean florals, and sweet amber drydown accented with cotton candy, all tinted pink. The result should at least be cute, but somehow it ends up as dowdy and bland.

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Issey Miyake Nuit d’Issey : Fragrance Review

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Many like to knock contemporary masculine perfumery. It’s boring. It’s bland. It’s all fake citrus and sharp lavender, fly the accusations. I have often been the accuser, but today I’m going to defend the valiant attempts to make a sensible masculine fragrance. Folks, making a good masculine is just so darn hard. As far as the audience goes, many men, especially in North America and Germany, are a conservative bunch. The consumer data tell the story: they are more hesitant to try something different. They prefer to wear fragrances similar to what their fathers wore. Many don’t want to admit they even wear scent. “I don’t wear perfume,” says my cousin as he walks around in a huge cloud of Axe body spray.

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If perfume companies assume that men will wear anything under a familiar label, they make a mistake. Even if your average guy doesn’t want to push his boundaries with new scents, he still wants quality and classical good taste. When my cousin’s beloved Axe Apollo got reformulated and lost in diffusion and finesse, he instantly noticed it. What resulted was a soliloquy worthy of a Greek tragic hero.

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Ralph Lauren Safari : Fragrance Review

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Elisa on Safari, a ’90s classic with an ’80s spirit.

The ‘80s were a time that fetishized “adventure” – I grew up watching movies that took a page from Heart of Darkness, portraying Americans or Brits confronting the terrifying Other-ness of primitive African, Asian, and aboriginal cultures. Today’s audiences would find most of these films (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Crocodile Dundee, etc.) unwatchably offensive, and rightly so; their cultural moment has passed.

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Ralph Lauren Safari, composed by Dominique Ropion, was released in 1990, but feels to me like an ‘80s scent (cusp years cling more tightly to the previous decade than the following, I’ve found). As a concept perfume, it perfectly fits the adventurist trend, and I associate those striking Bridget Hall ads that I saw in every magazine as a kid with the old Banana Republic stores. (If you’re younger than me, you might not remember that their stock in trade at the time was khaki shorts and branded t-shirts, not pinstriped office-wear.)

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Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady : Perfume Review

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The news of Frédéric Malle selling his Editions de Parfums house to Estée Lauder reminded me that I haven’t gotten around to writing about one of the most intriguing fragrances from his collection, Portrait of a Lady. Why intriguing? Well, consider the name. If it brings to your mind the cool elegance of Henry James’s heroines, then you’re not alone. I also expected something along these lines–ultra refined, sophisticated and feminine. Except that it is all wrong. Portrait of a Lady is interesting precisely because the scent is not at all what you expect. It’s a twist on a Middle Eastern theme, and it’s not all that lady-like.

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If you’ve already smelled traditional Middle Eastern perfumes or western blends inspired by them (Amouage, Kilian’s oudsArmani Privé Rose d’Arabie), then you might recognize similar elements in Portrait of a Lady. It has a generous dose of classical “oriental” notes–sandalwood, amber, patchouli, dark woods smoked over incense, and of course, rose. It has a similar dramatic and mysterious character that makes this perfume genre so distinctive.

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