I have a complicated relationship with rose-centered fragrances. They are heavy and suffocating, and smell to me of obligation and resentment and impossible women. This line of thinking depresses me of course, and so on top of that, I associate rose with sadness and depressive episodes. Needless to say, my fragrance wardrobe does not consist of many rosy perfumes.

Earlier this past year, a few months apart, I sampled and fell in love with two small tester vials of absolutely stunning (and terribly expensive) scents. After careful consideration I decided they were both full bottle worthy and once they arrived I ascertained that what I now had in my possession smelled nothing like the fragrances I remembered testing and briefly swooning over. Furthermore, one smelled distinctly like roses, of a sort, and the other has rose listed at the very heart of it–which somehow I had not noticed when I checked out the notes beforehand. Or maybe I was so besotted, I never even checked!


Guerlain’s Encens Mythique D’Orient is marketed thusly: “An ethereal frankincense leaves only a fleeting mark on this fragrance, while rose imprints its fiery accents”. It’s composition includes top notes of rose, aldehyde, saffron; heart notes of pink pepper, vetiver, patchouli; base notes of forest floor, ambergris, frankincense.

It’s a very sheer scent, and indeed, quite rosy. Why didn’t I sense that with my initial sample? I haven’t a clue, because it’s there, immediately, sour and bright and sparkling right out of the bottle. I think it’s the pink pepper that gives it that weird effervescence.Or maybe the aldehydes, which sometimes smell metallic and fizzy to my nose. If there’s incense here, it is demure and unburnt. There is an undercurrent of something bitter and green, anchoring it to the earth, otherwise I might imagine this as a rose blossom in midsummer that’s somehow broken from the stem in a sudden breeze and floated skyward, amongst the sunshine and clouds.

Encens Mythique D’Orient conjures sensations of diffused light and hazy warmth, and it’s the sort of scent that almost smells better in the space where I was standing a few seconds ago, rather than on my person in the immediate moment. The scent a silken scarf might trail in its wake, not heady or heavy, but rather a luxurious, delicate, understated glamour. It is so translucent and so full of light that I cannot associate it with the somber roses my mother wore. And yet–this is going to sound really weird–it makes me think of the rose motifs in Revolutionary Girl Utena…which was definitely a weird, dark story. In particular, it recalls brings to mind Sunlit Garden.


Fate for Woman by Amouage…well, OK, this one is a stretch. I don’t think it smells very much of roses at all, which is why I was so surprised to see it listed prominently in the notes. Here’s the description, which I had somehow also never read before today, but trust me, if I had, I would have purchased it without even sampling it first.

Fate for Woman is a chypre oriental with a rich floral heart intensified by a dark and destructive accord resonating with the tumultuous unknown.
Top notes: bergamot, cinnamon, chilli, pepper.
Heart notes: rose, narcissus, jasmine, frankincense, labdanum.
Base notes: vanilla bean, frankincense, benzoin, castoreum, patchouli, oakmoss, leather.

“The tumultuous unknown!” Goodness.

Fate opens up with cool, nose-tickling pencil shavings and spicy, peppery florals follow soon thereafter, just the barest wisps of jasmine and rose. A bronzed and leathery labdanum slinks in and gives way to billowing quantities of powdery vanilla. What remains is the intensely scented blend of talcum powder cut with that opening note of pencil shavings, which seemed to play into every phase and facet of Fate, despite the fact that cedar isn’t even listed in the notes.

The tumultuous unknown, it would seem, is a powdery abyss, teeming with the souls of #2 pencils.

Somehow, of course, this still comes back to my mom (it always does). I wish she were still here to try these scents with me, and discuss our thoughts. Of course, this is quite a bit of revisionist history on my part: we never had many perfume discussions and we certainly didn’t sit around with a pile of samples, anointing ourselves with this scent or that, and making notes and comparisons.

But man, how I wish we had. These are some weird roses, mom. I wish you could smell them, too.

A Year In Fragrance: Hateful ‘fumes
A Year In Fragrance: Scents For Sleep
A Year In Fragrance: “Inexpensive” Stuff
A Year In Fragrance: Youth Dew
A Year In Fragrance: a dude thinks on stinks
A Year In Fragrance: Witch’s Workbench
A Year In Fragrance: Willow & Water
A Year In Fragrance: Tea Rose

OTB says

I think things just smell different in the tiny samples. Or they get mislabeled. For years and years I thought I loved CdG Avignon the best, based on a tiny sample, and had bought many bottles. Then years later I smelled Jaisalmer of the same line, and realized this was *exactly* what I had smelled in the tiny sample...I think it was mislabeled. But I still love both, I guess.

I like rosy scents, but usually not ones that have sort of an 80's vibe to them, they smell like white socks, sneakers, shoulder pads, and sexism.

S. Elizabeth says

I didn't realize that you had happened to you with Avignon! Well, now that screws everything up, because Avignon is the first scent that comes to mind when I think of you. This is going to take a lot of re-wiring in my brain :P

I wish I loved rosy perfumes. I love roses themselves, and I love their natural scent, but I guess something gets lost in translation when it comes to the fragrances they inspire...

OTB says

Oh no! Well, quite honestly I like Avignon best--it's just the sample that got me to even buy a bottle was Jaisalmer, I swear. It makes me confused too.

An independent perfume shop opened near me recently and it is way too hard not to spend a lot of money there. If you ever come back to DC we shall visit it!

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