I don't get it, I really don't. It's not that Portrait of a Lady, the latest release from Frederic Malle's Editions de Parfums line, is bad or not well-crafted. That's not the problem. But let's look at the three main threads holding Dominic Ropion's composition together: sweet berries, rose and patchouli. Where have we seen this before? Oh, right. Everywhere.
One can blame the accumulating expectations for this Frederic Malle release. We were promised a true feminine ambery and rich perfume. I was eager to try it and I know many who pre-ordered a bottle without sampling first. I hope they're enjoying it, because the first couple of times I tried Portrait of a Lady it was a borderline scrubber. The fruits from the opening notes refused to go away no matter what, and the very red roses didn't help any (I'm not much of a rose person). The whole thing grew into a big fruitchouli thing with barely a whiff of the promised amber and incense. It was too red in feel and almost vulgar, but not in a good way.
I still don't like Portrait of a Lady very much. Further sampling revealed it's easier on my nose when dabbed and not sprayed. The rose somehow smells richer and prettier and the berries are less soul-sucking. I still feel an urge to wash the whole thing off after a few hours because the perfume is aggressive and not very interesting. It's actually distracting- I kept smelling this big rose/patchouli thing the other day as I tried to take a nap and it kept me awake. It's only after about 6 hours or so that the Lady calms down and becomes his fairly sweet and ambery that is surprisingly soft after all the mayhem. This part I enjoy and really appreciate, it's just that I'm sure there should have been a different path to get there, preferably not one that reminds me of Calvin Klein's Euphoria and other mishaps.
Bottom Line: Can you believe this stuff costs $300?
Portrait Of A Lady by Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums ($300, 100ml EDP) is available from Frederic Malle boutiques, Barneys and Aedes. The latter sells samples.
Photo of Sophia Loren in 1964 from life.com