The ad copy for Al Waad (Promise) by perfumer Dominique Ropion for Les Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle reads as follows:
“Frédéric Malle celebrates two precious varieties of rose in the Promise Eau de Parfum.
A harmonious blend of rose essence from Bulgaria and rose absolute from Turkey are lifted by apple, pink pepper and clove, and bound to a sensuous base of patchouli, cypriol and labdanum for a truly unbreakable accord.”
I agree with the “truly unbreakable accord” bit. I sprayed this on at 2pm yesterday and as of 2pm today, Promise is still there. But while one can’t argue with its performance, I’m ambivalent about whether it’s outstayed its welcome on the piece of skin real estate stretching from my right wrist to inner elbow.
Promise is more of an experience than a perfume, like one of those theatre productions you go to and you realize too late that it’s one of those horrific interactive things where the actors leap off the stage and try to get you to dance with them. As an introvert, I find those situations so overwhelming that my only defense is to go limp and just let it all wash over me. This perfume induced a similar “hostage” response in me. I admire the sheer force of its brutality, but wearing it diminishes me. This is a fragrance for the alpha male.
Right out of the gate, the scent projects dominance. It comes out of the bottle with a roar that pins your ears back and tells you to drop and give it 200 push-ups. There’s a note up front that I can only recognize as apple when someone tells me that’s what it is, infusing a pungent mixture of leather, rose, and woods with an evil green glow. The apple has a rancid sourness that features none of the sweetness of fruit and all of its unripe, furry tannins.
Rose? Ok, if you say so. A completely rotted, cancerous one, though, like the rose from A Portrait of a Lady rolled up in old horse blankets and soiled leather. But Promise is not really what I’d call a rose-dominated fragrance. Though, I will admit, there is a very lovely stage in the far drydown when I can smell the roses more clearly, glowing with the winey fervor that only truly expensive absolutes possess.
What really dominates this scent, though, is its character of pungency and dryness. I want you to remember those words, pungent and dry, because when you start to look at those notes or the ad copy from the brand, you will begin to believe again that we are talking about a bright, fruity rose fragrance (with just a hint of nagamortha and labdanum for that oriental touch in the base). But, honestly, we are not.
Promise is mostly an Attila-the-Hun-sized woody masculine with the dirty dryness of a number of other scents such as Leather Oud (Dior Privée), Songe d’Un Bois en Eté (Guerlain), and most notably Aoud Cuir d’Arabie (Montale). All these fragrances are linked through a certain dusty, aromachemical-driven woodiness that could be oud or leather or black pepper or that bone-dry patchouli they use in modern masculines or even an ashy, green-rubbery material like cade. Could be anything…could be all of ‘em.
In atmosphere, if not aroma, Promise reminds me of my recent victimization at the hands of another bully, Boadicea The Victorious Complex, a scent that I recognize is impressive in the same fearsome, monolithic way the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest is. Wearing Complex is a gut-churning, primeval experience that feels like the first climb on a roller-coaster, repeated over and over again until your heart gives out and then you die.
Dramatic, moi? Well, read the reviews. Words that get thrown around a lot when describing Complex include: Khal Drogo, pagan, having sex with Satan, Khal Drogo, dominant, wild animal, Khal Drogo, and having sex with Khal Drogo on a forest floor. I am willing to hazard a guess that the people who use those terms to describe Complex and Aoud Cuir d’Arabie will use the same words to describe Promise.
Needless to say, Promise is not a perfume for the faint of heart. There is something almost confrontational about just how pungent and dry it is. I’d feel comfortable classifying it as challenging, especially for a woman, but I say that as a woman who finds the meaty acridity of Bandit hard to stomach, so my personal line in the sand might lie miles away from yours. In fact, there are plenty of women who find Aoud Cuir d’Arabie, Leather Oud, and Songes d’Un Bois en Eté sexy as hell, especially in their uncompromising dryness and lack of sweetness. I used to be one of them, but lately, I find that no matter how wowed I am at certain points, the harshness of the aromachemical hangover on my skin is not worth the price of admission.
In summary, Promise features the pissy sourness of green apple-cassis over rotting rose mulch over a phenomenally peppery, pungent woods-leather-patch base. It’s dry to the point of being parched. I can admire it – from a safe distance – for its ability to make woods and leather smell like an animal. I can admire the dank sourness of its crepuscular fruit and roses. I can admire its commitment to aridity. It’s authentic….to something, I’m sure. But it’s far too challenging for me: I have met my nemesis.