Guys, I’ve made a sort of New Year’s promise to myself (not resolution – because I always break my resolutions): this is the year when I am going to plow through that large stack of samples I have lying around the house. The rose perfume stack is especially high, so I’m going to write a series of Rose Volumes until all the samples are gone and I have a better idea of which ones make my top ten wish list, and which do not.
Lipstick Rose by Frederic Malle
A beautiful swirl of jammy violet ionones, rose, and iris whipped up into the classic scent of a high-end waxy lipstick – what’s not to like? It aims for a lighthearted cheerfulness and stays there, not changing or progressing much in its lifetime on the skin, save for a brief flash of sharp, soapy grapefruit that (mercifully) drops back once the topnotes have dissipated.
Powdery and waxy at the same time, Lipstick Rose is a rush of pure nostalgia for any woman who has ever been kissed by a lipstick-wearing mother on her way out to a party. That’s why I forgive Lipstick Rose for its relatively simple prettiness and static presence on my skin – it’s a price I am more than willing to pay to go back in time to when I was a little girl and used to stomp around in my mother’s shoes. Lipstick Rose has that happy, innocent creaminess of surreptitiously-opened lipsticks, cold creams, and lotions, holding if not the scent but the ghostly transfer of the presence of the person whose approval I most desired and craved. When I wear my sample of Lipstick Rose, I look at life through rose-tinted glasses.
Lipstick Rose is undoubtedly the queen of lipstick scents – and more enjoyable to me than Misia – but I doubt it will ever be part of my collection. You see, my lipstick nostalgia basket is already full – occupied by a half bottle of the divine Histoires de Parfums Moulin Rouge, which, although it does not have the delightful, powdered rose of Lipstick Rose, does have a slightly naughty, shady character to it that suits me more.
Mohur EDP by Neela Vermeire
I appreciate Mohur more for what it is not than for what it is. It is not, despite being comprised of 11% pure rose oils, a massive oriental rose fragrance (I love that category, but it’s been done to death). Despite containing oud, it is not your run-of-the-mill rose oud accord (ditto). It is not, despite the novel-length note list of every Indian dessert ingredient ever, a heavy Indian dessert-like fragrance weighed down with vanilla, rosewater, saffron, and spices. Mohur takes every expectation you have and turns it upside down.
What Mohur is, in fact, is a handful of red rose petals strewn on the surface of a glass of cold almond milk into which have been stirred grated carrots, black pepper, and cardamom. There is a cold restraint to the fragrance that elevates it from mere prettiness to true beauty.
Not one of my four samplings were the same as the other – it is a strange, mercurial perfume that beats to its own drum. The rich abundance of notes seem to strain against a muslin cloth, drip feeding into the fragrance you experience on the skin and seemingly on a time-release mechanism, allowing the wearer to enjoy a progression of note impressions in a leisurely manner. There is light and air between the many notes. Thus Mohur achieves a remarkable balance between richness and clarity.
Straight onto the skin, I smell an austere oud note and a sourish leather, underpinned by a green cardamom note. Behind the sharpness of the opening accord, I sense some fruit and rose petals beginning to take shape. At first, the rose smells like the dried rose petals stirred into black tea that you can buy from Marriage Freres. Then, oddly, for about half an hour, I can’t smell a thing – nada, zip, niente. It’s as if all the opening notes have sharply withdrawn, leaving only a haunting impression of something enticingly boozy and sour on the skin.
Then, without warning, the fragrance seems to rev back up again, like a rusty old engine! Now underpinning the tart fruitiness of the emerging rose is the fuzzy, almost raw feel of a green almond freshly peeled from its shell and pressed to release its fragrant milk. The red rose petals lose their tea-like dryness and bloom into wet, jammy rose petals plucked straight from the flower. The sticky rose combines with the milky almond notes to produce something almost edible in its deliciousness. But the jam and milk notes are spread out on a foundation of earth and roots (carrots), powdery chalk (benzoin), and wood (sandalwood and cedar), so it never quite tilts into yummy gourmand territory.
The intense (but filtered, shaded) whirligig of spice and rose notes never really settles, even in the base – it just keeps on shifting through a kaleidoscope of impressions. At times, the base reads to me like a dusty, rose-tinted talcum powder – the combination of now dried rose petals and benzoin. In other tests, I got a full-throated, creamy sandalwood that tilted its sweetness towards a weighty vanilla crème, again, nuanced by rose but never dominated by it.
Mohur is simply beautiful – elegant but not staid, and full of little twists and turns that captures my interest in every wearing. Does it make my wish list? Yes, and I would buy it immediately if it were not for the times that I pick up on the baby talc accord in the dry down – it is a note that I can appreciate but do not love. I would like, however, to spend more time getting to know Mohur and her little twists and turns, so I might invest in the Neela Vermeire discovery set.
33 by Ex Idolo
33 gets its name from the Chinese oud oil used in the fragrance, which was aged for 33 years before its release in 2013. Mind you, since I’m finally trying out my sample of this in 2016, I think that means that I am wearing 36. Nevermind – this is basically Montale’s Black Aoud done with very high quality rose oil and (supposedly) real oud oil instead of a synthetic replacer. To my nose, it is also much stronger than Black Aoud and lacks the soapy, musky dry down that always proves to be such a letdown in Black Aoud. If you love the Montale, then you will love this – it’s a definite upgrade. Personally, I am over this exact type of sourish, high-pitched rose-oud combo that has proved to be such a popular shorthand for that special, exotic Arabic “flavor”.
33 is incredibly strong, and is possessed of an oud note that smells like the real thing – rubbery, woody, balsamic, but with slight bile or fecal aspects that might be off-putting to the uninitiated (but who, these days, is uninitiated into this style of rose-oud?). It is joined by a really earthy, almost fungal patchouli – properly “damp cellar” in tone and effect. More than animalic, though, this oud and patchouli duet proves to be sharply medicinal and hyper-clean, like hospital corridors washed down with disinfectant. You have to really like this style of oud to like this fragrance – and don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy it. But only once in a blue moon, these days, because, honestly, I am so over the sourness of this combo. It’s not a comfortable wear for me – not anymore. I feel like I am constantly bracing myself when I put it on.
The rose note is excellent in 33. It emerges like a boss following the piercing oud note in the topnotes, and from there on in only grows in sweetness and jamminess, serving to sand down the corners of that rubber/medicine-like oud. In the second half of the fragrance, the oud note disappears and the rose takes over, rendering it in all intents and purposes a strong rose perfume with some dark patchouli/oud inferences. I’m not saying 33 is not a good fragrance – perhaps it is even a very good rendition of the tired rose-oud category, and it for sure is miles better than the famous Montale example. But from a personal perspective, I am done with this kind of fragrance. I already own Rose Gold Oudh, White Aoud, Midnight Oud, and Red Aoud, and that really is more than enough for me (actually for anyone) in this category.