DSH Perfumes Part Four: Roses and Resins
Last time I reviewed a variety of DSH floral perfumes. You may have noticed that I did not include any Rose scents. I think of these as a separate category, and I have special criteria for them. I did review Rose Vert in my second installment as part of the “Green” group and I thought it was a pleasing and fresh take on the rose theme. I am a fan of both obvious rose fragrances (Serge Lutens Sà Majeste de la Rose, Montale Queen Rose) and more abstract ones (Guerlain Nahema, Lancome Magie Noire) and they have to be pretty good to impress me. I am also a rose grower, with fragrance being the number one factor in selecting a variety to plant, so I also look for true-to-life fragrance qualities in a rose perfume. Therefore, I approached the DSH rose perfumes with some rigor.
American Beauty is the most obvious of these; what else could it be but a bouquet of red roses? Smelled in the vial and freshly applied to the skin it did not seem to have any surprises – I thought, that’s fine, a basic Rose soliflore, nicely done, nothing more to see, move along. How wrong I was. Before long it developed a dried rose-petal aspect, like a faded potpourri, and for a while I was afraid it was going to cross over into Great Aunt Tillie territory. But wait, there’s more – just when I thought that was the end of the development, it got all jammy and plush, oozing with rich deep tones of concentrated rose essence and balsamic sweetness. After a couple of hours, it had dried down to a combination of lustrous woods and rose absolutes and was downright sexy. Lasting power is truly impressive and the sillage is scandalous. Great Aunt Tillie might faint dead away if she ever wore a perfume like this. The notes: Bergamot, Cassie Bud, Palma Rosa, Rosewood, Bulgarian rose Absolute and Otto, Centifolia Rose Absolute, Egyptian Rose Geranium, Moroccan Rose Absolute, Orris, Ciste Absolute, East Indian Patchouli, Mysore Sandalwood, Peru Balsam.
Done in a very different style is one that intrigued me as soon as I saw the name – Beach Roses. Anyone who has ever spent summer at the seashore in New England knows the fresh aroma of the wild roses that tumble over the picket fences and rock walls of seaside cottages. Some of them are truly wild roses, native to the area, but many of them are the beloved Rosa rugosa, native to Japan and Korea but long grown here for their rugged beauty and resistance to pests and diseases. The mauve, pink or white blossoms are as fragile as the plants themselves are tough, and they have a clove-like scent unique among roses. I thought to myself that if the essence of roses mingling with the salt air and warmed by the sun could truly be captured by a perfume, it would be something really special. Indeed, this is a charming fragrance, enlivened by citrus and cool florals at the beginning and progressing to a heart of spicy carnation and gentle rose essence, including Rugosa rose. A subtly salty pungency keeps the sweetness down, but it is definitely very rosy, and once again the drydown is delightful, evoking the feeling of sun-warmed skin after a day spent outdoors. I would say that as far as the sweetness level goes, it’s about halfway between the almost candied American Beauty and the green, zippy Rose Vert. This would be a lovely choice for either a young woman or one with a sporty, outdoorsy lifestyle; it’s unfailingly cheerful and easy to wear.
The last one I tried in this group is actually a classic floral bouquet, but the Rose aspect of it is so outstanding that I am including it here. Parfum de Grasse is one of the DSH Special Edition scents and is a tribute to the city at the heart of the perfume industry. It is a beautifully composition featuring Rose, Jasmine and Orris. It opens with Bergamot, Neroli and Mimosa and expands into a lovely blend of Carnation, a superb Centifolia Rose Absolute, French Beeswax, Jasmine and Orris Concrete. Vetiver, Moss and Sandalwood form a lasting base that never gets in the way of the starring florals. The Centifolia rose, also known as Rose de Mai, is the most tender in character of commonly used rose extracts, and is the signature rose of Grasse. This is a study in what the inclusion of a really good Rose essence can do for a perfume. It enhances all the other components in partnership with the Jasmine, and while it is unmistakably the centerpiece, it is definitely not a soliflore. It is a romantic, pastoral blend, with its florals, beeswax and moss, and it is simply very pretty. It almost seems old-fashioned in a sense, but I don’t mean to say that it’s fussy or staid. It is just not “modern” in the sense of opening with a blast of aldehydes or having a twist or gimmick, but it is modern in its straightforward and fresh immediacy. It’s another DSH perfume that I think almost anyone could appreciate.
After I decided which DSH perfumes belonged in which groups to organize my series, I had several remaining that did not seem to belong firmly in any of those groupings. I ended realizing that they all had something in common – they had incense/resinous properties, but they were also made with creative riffs on that theme that made them stand apart. (They may be thought of as “Oriental” blends, a category that encompasses many different perfumes, but they are not the sweetly ambery/vanillic scents you may find listed as Orientals among modern mainstream fragrances.)
DSH does not have very many true Gourmand scents in the lineup, but I was impressed with Piment Et Chocolat and Tamarind Paprika, which I reviewed in Part One. There is one more to report, and it’s a doozy – the altogether delectable Mahjoun. It is stuffed to the brim with all my favorite spices, dried fruits, sweet florals, resins and woods. Mahjoun is based on a traditional Moroccan confection, and the list of notes makes me want to head for the airport and catch the next flight to Casablanca. Are you ready? Okay, deep breath: Bitter Almond, Cardamom Seed, Cherry Blossom, Lavender Flower, Lemon, Sweet Orange, Bulgarian Rose Absolute, Fig, Hazelnut, Honey, Nutmeg, Orange Blossom, Sugar Date, Amber, Atlas Cedarwood, Cinnamon Bark, Clove Bud, Frankincense, Sandalwood and True Arabian Myrrh. Now, not everyone is aboard the Gourmand train (or in this case, the Marrakech Express), so if you are recoiling in alarm instead of moaning with pleasure after reading that list, don’t even think of trying this. I expected it to be similar in character to a “Loukhoum” style of scent but it’s much less sugary and far more dimensional and interesting, and with a sun-baked, woody warmth that kept it from being cloying and made it really wearable, somewhat to my surprise. In fact, the woods and incense are so well balanced with the fruits and spices that over the course of a day it actually became much less sweet, and dried down to a radiantly soft incense and cedar that lasted for hours. Calling all Gourmand (and Incense) fans, I can’t recommend this perfume highly enough. This style of scent is sometimes looked down on by perfume “connoisseurs” as not being serious enough. I say if you can’t have a little fun with your olfactory equipment, you are missing a lot in life.
I was expecting to like Cimabue (Italian Journey No. 8) more than I did, but on my skin it smelled more like a home fragrance than a skin scent. A very nice, high-end home fragrance, but still not what I was hoping for. (It actually reminded me a little of Black Widow, which I like a lot, but let’s face it, that is only $25 a bottle and it’s a very simple composition.) Cimabue is all spicy warmth and made from a wealth of luxuriant materials, but it just did not agree with my skin chemistry. I was disappointed of course, but this perfume will be much loved by those for whom it is a better fit. I can’t really say which ingredients were responsible for making it not work for me, since the list of notes is like something out of the Arabian Nights and involves Bergamot, Cardamom, Nutmeg, Saffron, Carnation, Cinnamon Bark, Clove Bud, Jasmine, Beeswax, Moroccan Rose, Sandalwood, Benzoin and Vanilla, among others. What’s not to like? Sadly, I had to cross it off my list and move on.
However, I was back in love at first sniff when it came to Arome d’Egypt, an essence of woods and resins that has very little sweetness. It is fairly dry but not parched, as it is softened with florals, and it melded with my skin immediately to create an atmosphere of hushed mystery. It is a memory scent that will make you reach back and try to recall just where you smelled that wonderful aroma before. This scent is subtitled “A spikenard perfume” and this is an aromatic plant from which a healing ointment is made; it has been used for both its medicinal properties and in rituals since ancient times and is a component of Indian Ayurvedic traditions. It is a precious material, also known as Nard, and is mentioned in the Song of Solomon. Spikenard (Nardostachys grandiflora or Nardostachys jatamansi) is not often found in modern Western perfumes, as it is a quintessentially Eastern essence. This is a wonderfully soothing and yet mesmerizing perfume with a quiet but long-lasting drydown. It smells fantastic on me and I think it would be simply devastating on a man, or someone with darker skin than my own. (As a matter of fact, I think the same of Cimabue.) The enticing list of notes is as follows: Cassia, Centifolia Rose Absolute, Egyptian Jasmine Absolute, Spikenard, Amber, Ambrette Seed, Atlas Cedarwood, Benzoin, Labdanum No.3, Myrrh Gum, Olibanum (Frankincense), and Peru Balsam. It kept me fascinated as the exotic aromas played out and lingered over the life of the scent, and I really think this could be a Holy Grail perfume for lovers of this style of fragrance. (This type of scent is exactly the reason why we fragrance lovers need and appreciate niche perfumers so much, because nothing remotely like it can be found in a department store.)
Among these remaining scents, there is one that stood out as being entirely free of any florals, being composed only of aromatic resins, gums and woods – Oude Arabique. Being a Floral girl at heart, this is probably the last style of perfume that I thought I would come to love, but love it I do – once I tried the Montale Oud scents I was hooked for good. Oude Arabique lacks the rich florals and spices most of those formulations contain, and therefore it has a penetrating, almost medicinal quality - it is Oud (Oude/Aoud) minus all the fancy trappings and matched up with several complementary plant and tree essences, bringing out the natural beauty and unique character of this rare and costly ingredient. By “medicinal” I do not mean to imply that it is not pleasing, since I found it to be both unusual and highly wearable. Balsamic yet barely sweet, bracing but not camphoric, this tightly edited homage to precious woods is as far away from what I used to think of as “perfume” could possibly be, and yet I undeniably was drawn to it. This is listed in the Men’s section of the DSH Web site, but it would be perfect for either women or men who like a dry, woody style of fragrance, and like most DSH scents, it does come in bath and body product form in addition to Eau de Parfum and Extrait. I could envision the Shea Butter Body Lotion and Shea Butter Foaming Cream becoming cornerstone grooming products for a man who wants to smell deliciously clean, especially if he wants to come and live at my house. (This is one of the more expensive DSH fragrances, so the body lotion at $32 for 4 oz. seems like a real bargain.) Listed notes are few but impressive: Mastic, Oude (Agarwood), Tamil Nadu Sandalwood, Australian Sandalwood, Buddahwood (a.k.a. False Sandalwood), Himalayan Cedar, and Tolu Balsam.
The last of this group also has Oud in it, though it is not nearly as dominant as in Oude Arabique. Minuit means midnight, and this aptly named perfume is deep indeed, but to me it is more of a comfort scent than one that is either mysterious or sexy. It is velvet-smooth with nary a sharp edge. Even the opening notes of cassis and fir are not the least bit sharp or fresh. It definitely has a nutty quality of complex sweetness, like a brandy glass swirled with hazelnut liqueur, but muted somehow, as though my skin was just absorbing it and not putting it back out; there was almost no sillage and it really quieted down a lot after a short time on my skin. I kept putting it away thinking my nose was not working properly – in fact, for a while it was not, as I came down with a bad cold and had to stop testing samples for a few days. But before and after that, and still, whenever I apply it, the same thing happens, so it must be that it really is more subdued than I had assumed it would be, which is not to say that it is not beautiful, for surely it is that. It is recommended for men but it’s another DSH that could easily go either way. Listed notes are Cassis Bud, Hazelnut, Silver Fir, Carnation, Centifolia Rose Absolute, Jasmine, Tuberose Absolute, Brown Oakmoss, Frankincense and Oude. Minuit will wrap you in its warmth when you most need it on a shivery winter night, and I can’t think of a better time for an enveloping, understated fragrance like this.
In the final installment of this series, I will report on a group of DSH scents that were formulated with techniques fit for a King – or Queen.
Image credits: Pink Rugosa roses by the seashore from photosofcapecod.com. Agarwood chunk from panda.org, official site of the World Wildlife Fund.