One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Art: Etat Libre d'Orange Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection

When Coco Chanel said, "a woman must smell like a woman and not like a rose," she was talking about her hyper-modern No. 5, a reaction to the simple one-note floral perfumes of the day. No. 5 smells of roses (among many other things), but in a veiled, abstracted way: it doesn't smell specifically like roses or jasmine or vetiver or, in fact, anything except itself.

But Chanel was wrong in hindsight. She couldn't have foreseen truly modern perfumery, in which people can smell like pretty much anything they want to, because there is a commercial fragrance for that: hot tar, plums, pine needles, clean dirt, whatever. If a woman (or a man, for all that) wants to smell like a rose, who is to say that she's wrong, or that that isn't what a woman smells like?

And what do you suppose this sublime creature below smells like?

She is Rossy de Palma, as seen above in the George Michael video for the song "Too Funky" (also worth watching for the spectacular Linda Evangelista) and below in Pedro Almodovar's "Law of Desire"

and one look at her tells you that she is Picasso's Dora Maar

arisen from the canvas like Venus from the waves.

Since her given name is Rosa--Rossy is a nickname, the equivalent of Rosie in English--then she ought to smell, contrary to Chanel's dictum, like a rose, wouldn't you think? Etat Libre d'Orange presumably did, because she was the namesake of their first celebrity scent (their second was for Tom of Finland). But not some prim, dainty English rose: it would have to be a force of nature.

Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection is a huge, gorgeous rose scent; clear and fresh, with nothing old-fashioned about it (unless you are determined to believe that some things like roses and lavender must by definition be old-fashioned). Whatever top notes there might be are immediately subsumed under the tidal wave of rosiness, with green leaves and long stems and a bit of thorn in evidence as well. It is breathtakingly bright and sharp, made sharper with a sprinkling of beguilingly harsh spice, mostly black pepper.

Underneath it all, though, is a gathering darkness: a deep, almost funereal gloom, a gothy drenching of ink-black patchouli mitigated, but just barely, with a dab of sweet benzoin and something that may or may not be chocolate. This is what L'Artisan's Voleur de Roses (another rose-patchouli composition) ought to have been.

Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection is pricier than the main Etat line: they run $69 at the moment, while the two name scents are $90. (Presumably the namesakes are getting a cut.) But this is one celebrity fragrance that's worth every penny.

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