A very successful perfumer who'll remain nameless described the perfumes from Roja Dove's line as "belong in a museum". After a few seconds of thought he added, "so does Roja". I didn't inquire further as to what specific aspect of Roja Dove's public persona he was referring. Your guess is as good as mine. Diaghilev, a larger-than-life chypre is a perfect example for what the famous perfumer meant. Diaghilev, with its mélange of notes is so over the top that if I weren't standing at the Bergdorf Goodman counter with the tester right in front of me when I first smelled it, I'd have thought (convinced even) that someone has mislabeled a vintage perfume sample. A very very vintage perfume. Something from the 1920s, perhaps, when leather, oakmoss, all the spices in the world, and a thick overripe floral bouquet could be thrown together and then worn in public without shame.
There's cumin in the top notes which the husband detected immediately while my own skin smoothed it over. I can smell traces of many thick and plush perfume ideas, the ghosts of famous perfumes the way they smelled back when Louise Brooks, Dorothy Parker, Lillian Gish and Marlene Dietrich used to wear them. Diaghilev is rich, plush, and very animalic, padded with a thick layer of oakmoss that I can smell throughout the perfume's development. It's everything I can ask for in a scent. In a different time and place (ok, and a different personality) Diaghilev could have easily been a contender for my signature scent.
They no longer make them like that. They no longer sell them like that. And if you want to wear this type of perfumes you probably need to run with a very specific crowd who appreciate things like that. There aren't all that many of us around these days, which is probably the reason that Diaghilev stands out so much and feels so shocking. You just don't smell perfumes like this unless you're well-versed in vintage perfumes. The scarcity of this style is why someone like Roja Dove in his quest to create a perfume that represents a "Decadent Intoxicating Sophistication" has made Diaghilev one of the crown jewels of his line. And priced it accordingly.
Here's the thing: Diaghilev is a magnificent perfume. It's a very fitting tribute to Sergei Diaghilev and his uncompromising artistic vision. But I almost feel like an oblivious Gwyneth Paltrow prattling about in her GOOPy ways as I'm writing this, because it's nearly impossible in this case to separate the excellent perfume from its positioning at the very top of the fragrance market. Roja Dove has made sure of that. Once upon a time a perfume like Diaghilev could have been found on the shelves of department stores and boutiques who catered to the same people who regularly bought Mitsouko, Jolie Madame, Bandit, or Cuir de Russie in their original incarnations. But we all know that it's no longer the case. what's left of the grand perfumes is barely recognizable, and definitely no longer in fashion. In theory, neither would be Roja Dove's fur coat to the opening night at the opera.
But Roja Dove did something my husband has labeled as genius. Instead of competing with the likes of Serge Lutens, Pierre Guillaume, or any of the various projects Bertrand Duchaufour is working on at any given time, he placed his juice at the very top. This tier is smaller, the competitors are fewer, and while there are not as many customers, their wallets are far more open and their appetite for bottles adorned with crystals at a price only Gwyneth could love is insatiable.
Is it possible to separate Diaghilev from its cost? I'm trying. Wearing this perfume and basking in its sweet balsamic leather makes me happy, and that should be enough, right? What do you think?
Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Cumin, Tarragon, Blackcurrant, Heliotrope, Jasmine, Peach, Rose, Tuberose, Violet, Ylang Ylang, Cedarwood, Clove, Guaiac Wood, Nutmeg, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Ambrette, Benzoin, Civet, Labdanum, Leather Notes, Musk, Peru Balsam, Styrax, Vanilla.
Roja Parfums- Diaghilev ($990, 3.4oz extrait de parfum) is available from Bergdorf Goodman and Osswald in NYC. My sample was a gift from a dear friend.
Art: Costume design by Léon Bakst for principal female dancer in the Ballets Russes The Firebird, 1910.