Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Roja Parfums- Diaghilev (Parfum Imperial Collection)

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.


  1. I'd heard the buzz about Roja Dove's Diaghilev and was not disappointed when my decant arrived in the mail. It was everything I'd hoped for, and more. Yes the heavens opened, the trumpets sounded and the angels sang, it was unbelievably beautiful. I love big vintage chypres, leathers in particular and this scent sang on my skin. But, oh boy that price tag is stellar too!

  2. That's a very thoughtful review - thanks. I will never get to smell Diaghilev but I appreciate the fact that it exists.

  3. Very interesting thoughts about the issue of luxury here. I recently reviewed Hasu-no-Hana from Grossmith, and although it's not quite in the RD price range, it comes close enough and the perfume is just on the right side of old fashioned splendeur to be still very desirable (for me). But a bit more, and I would feel like an impostor and that would totally spoil the joy of wearing such a perfume. Also: do I want to smell like Joan Collins? No, most certainly not.

  4. A limited edition EdP made by Roja Dove named "Diaghilev" was sold two years ago at the V&A when they had a special exhibition about the Ballets Russes. I'm not sure but it cost around £75 and came in a lovely bottle with an old fashioned atomizer. Now, I don't know if it's exactly the same scent or if Roja made a "low cost" version for the V&A and this one got reformulated with more expensive ingredients in a more concentrated version. But let me tell you, I have the V&A version and it's good, damn good, good quality with great staying power and sillage, and compared with modern-day Mitsouko, I like Diaghilev more. It's more authentic and more animalic.

    As a curious aside, back then the blurb for this stated that Roja Dove was inspired by the legend that Sergei Diaghilev used to spray Mitsouko on his bedroom curtains on every single hotel he stayed on...

  5. What an incredible review! I was taking in 'Louise Brooks...Dietrich...oakmoss...' and was already thinking, 'Well, I could postpone redecorating the bedroom...and why the hell do I need a new car?' etc. This sounds like the sort of perfume one only dreams of nowadays, serious Holy Grail stuff. It certainly sounds like a scent that anyone who loves chypres, as I do, must find a way of trying. -- Annunziata

  6. Is he not conforming to IFRA limitations, i.e. the wealthy are not subject to the rules?

  7. I'm not sure about what the price is based on. I would always rather pay the higher price for real perfume (e.g., Amouage) than a lower price for one of the formerly great brands that is now spending all the money on the marketing campaign and nothing on what's in the bottle, and that has reformulated its once great perfumes into dreck (i.e., Dior). If $700 dollars is added to the price of Diaghilev for the sole purpose of making it unattainable for nearly everyone and to make it seem more than what it is, then that's essentially a cheap marketing gimmick and a shame. If it really costs $990 in 2013 to make a 1910 perfume, maintain the London boutique and keep the line going and Mr. Dove in fur coats, fine, but if you're going to offer Belle Epoque perfume at Belle Epoque prices in Belle Epoque presentations, where are the Belle Epoque 1/4-ounce flacons and EdCs?

    By the way, I sampled this recently and agree it smells WONDERFUL. However, I think it gave me a rash, so I would also prefer a lower concentration. nozknoz

  8. Great interview.

    As for that perfumer-who-shall-remain-nameless, hah! and *eye roll*. ;)

  9. It is perhaps best that I never smell this, because you make it sound like I would want to climb into the bottle and live there and at that price? Ain't never gonna happen.

  10. A perfume friend sent me a sample of this, and the day before yesterday, I finally had a chance to try it. Now, I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry - laugh, that OMG yes, such wonders do exist, and OMG is it heavenly for us chypre diehards, and OMG that oakmoss!!! - or else weep that it might as well be located in a perfume store on the moon for being priced so infinitely far out of my reach. Yet if money were no object - I so WOULD...;)

  11. My first reaction was total sticker shock. Particularly since I remember when it first came out and was quite reasonably priced for mere earthlings (especially the 250 ml aluminum refill bottles he had on his site). I just went and got out my sample - *such* a gorgeous, incredibly sumptuous scent! Kicking myself - hard - for not getting a bottle back then! Can't remember why I didn't, but know I had planned to. However, after the initial sticker shock I have to be fair and admit that if I only wore a few (very few) perfumes, I probably would fork over that much because perfume is that high on my priority list of things that make life worth living. However, I have a completely fickle olfactory soul and need variety - lots of it - in perfume. Also, again to be fair to RD, that's one heck of a large bottle. I've purchased quite many quarter ounce bottles from all natural perfumers and never once have I questioned the prices when I know they are using superb quality ingredients. For instance, I've bought Mandy's Parfum Prive at $390 for a quarter ounce and never regretted or hesitated over the price for an instant. Instead, I just feel enormously grateful that she's created something so stunning and that I can actually have it. I know it's a small quantity, but it makes me so incredibly happy, it feels priceless. Also, perfume for me is art and for a truly unique and exquisite work of art, I'm simply not going to kvetch about price. And, psychologically, it helps when a bottle is under the $400 mark - I know that that is *completely* illogical and DH would be pounding his head against a wall (and possibly sobbing) if he were reading this. If I really, really want something, I don't have a problem with discreetly temporarily locking logic away in another room. So, how do I feel about Diaghilev's price? I still don't know. The edp really is amazing, but it's not worth *that* much. Maybe the parfum is, but I'd also want to know more about the ingredients and I'd love to see it in a smaller bottle.

  12. Normally, I would say no, the cost is part of the reality of the stuff. But I was bamboozled by a wonderful staff person into falling head over heels for Diaghilev long before he revealed the price. I didn't know much about Dove's own line before that day, so I was an easy target. On the other hand, there is no conceivable way I could spend $1000 for a bottle of perfume, and my half-hearted research into decant options came up equally economical. My bottom line: not buying it. But absolutely admiring it, breaking my pattern of turning up my nose at such a price.

  13. I've gotten my sample from STC and it is everything you've described. A really gorgeous, remarkable work of art. I think I was actually moaning over the oakmoss. However, I cannot possibly afford anything like this. But I'm very glad I can have a small decant of it. -- Annunziata

  14. The price is in particularly poor taste given the earlier EDP version's affordability. It feels like naked manipulation of the consumer - not a nice feeling. Roja is not doing a service to perfumery or his customers.


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