Portrait of a Lady (2010)
by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

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Portrait of a Lady information

Year of Launch2010
GenderFeminine
AvailabilityIn Production
Average Rating
(based on 297 votes)

People and companies

HouseEditions de Parfums Frederic Malle
PerfumerDominique Ropion
Parent CompanyEstee Lauder Companies

About Portrait of a Lady

Portrait of a Lady is a feminine perfume by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. The scent was launched in 2010 and the fragrance was created by perfumer Dominique Ropion

Reviews of Portrait of a Lady

I've been putting off writing a review of POAL for ages, because I've had difficulty putting into words what makes it special, and also why I don't care much for it.

In terms of smell, at its core, it's a fruitchouli, that mix of berries and rose and patchouli that comes together to smell like rich flowery fruity jam. It throws in some saffron to give it a leathery oud feel, and goes further by adding some sandalwood in tribute to a classic sandalwood/rose attar.

What makes it special is twofold. First, while most perfumes of this type use cheap fake rose (because it's easy to get away with hiding it behind all the strong ingredients), POAL uses a large amount of upfront real rose, which is the main reason this is considered the best of the genre. Second, as explained wonderfully in jtd's review, there's a high-performance sheen to POAL that's remarkable. Rose usually fades in a couple of hours, but somehow POAL's rose shines brightly and unwaveringly for days. The whole perfume has nuclear longevity thanks to a combination of masterful chemistry and a high budget, which is simply unmatched elsewhere.

Given all this, I have no choice but to give POAL a thumbs up, but I just don't like it that much. The top-of-its-class longevity actually makes it kind of boring to me - I would have enjoyed a slow descent from rose to sandalwood, but instead it just sits there, glowing brightly with its changes happening too slowly to be appreciated. Also, I just don't like fruitchoulis very much, so even the best isn't going to win me over.

Anyway, thumbs up, of course. This is one of those perfumes you should know.
18th April, 2017
La belle ferronnière by Leonardo da Vinci
16th April, 2017
I was looking for a fresh, green rose, which this definitely is not, but I've quickly become addicted to this unique scent.

To me, it smells like a rich, slightly tart, spicy rose syrup, with a firm, edgy hit of sharp ginger. There's no ginger in the notes, so it's probably a combination of red fruit and other spices that gives me this impression. Over time, the scent develops a more loukoum like character, with a dense, but transparent, jelly-like consistency. Throughout its development, this scent manages to perfectly balance acidity, sweetness, and sharpness. To me, it's a very edible rose, which is quite extraordinary because rose is a difficult flavor to successfully pull off in food.

Half a sample in, I strongly feel like I don't want to live without it. Its longevity is unbelievable, and one of the best things about this scent is that its character remains fully intact over time. Smelling it on my clothing the second day it's almost as strong, vibrant and sparkling as when I first sprayed it on.

It's prohibitively expensive, but well worth the money.
25th January, 2017
deepblue Show all reviews
United Kingdom
This one has been my signature scent ever since it's launch. Occasionally in a fickle moment I apply a different fragrance but I feel like an adulterous woman cheating on a sweet hearted lover.

I've just tried Dans tes Bras hoping to wean myself away from my beloved POAL but sadly, no deal.DTB is like an icicle, cold and soulless. POAL is like sinking into a soft feather bed at the end of a hard and tiring day. It is woven into my being I'm sure.

This is a fragrance that either works for you or it doesn't and sadly for me, given it's price, this is my perfect partner.
17th January, 2017
The rose and patchouli pairing is such a good fit that it seems like proof of fate. It’s been the basis for a range of leathery, ambery, woody and mossy perfumes spanning woody-floral, chypre and oriental genres. The Malle PR boasts that Ropion used surpassing doses of rose essence and patchouli coeur, a fractionated patchouli. Fractionated naturals are botanical materials that have been separated into their constituent parts by chemical and physical processes, especially molecular distillation, and edited to remove undesirable traits.

Around the time of Portrait’s launch more and more of these ‘tidied up’ botanicals were becoming available. Well understood materials like vetiver, cedar and patchouli saw their challenging attributes reduced or removed, leaving frictionless, blissful versions of the materials. They were sanded, polished and lacquered. Aroma materials manufacturers were pushing their hot new high-tech, stripped-down botanicals. They were an easy sell. They used a version of the best-of-all-worlds tactic to sidestep the endless botanical vs synthetic debate. They are ‘natural’ and therefore good but they have also been made better through chemistry and are therefore contemporary.

Used thoughtfully, fractionated botanicals allowed a measured, precise tailoring of olfactory effects. Unfortunately they also made their way into some simplistic compositions that smelled like ‘easy listening’ perfumes. The niche and mainstream markets of the time were top-heavy with a glut of radiant, synth-woody fragrances. Many perfume buyers had become accustomed to judging the quality of a perfume by how closely it approximated the properties of woody amber materials. These scrubbed versions of botanical materials matched the tone created by woody ambers. An entire fumie cohort was conditioned to respond to the ‘clarity’ of the new generation of fractionated botanicals.

Distillation of materials is not new to perfumery by any means. The recent emphasis on fractionating well-understood botanical aroma-materials stems from the attempt to dissect IFRA-designated toxic materials such as lavender, lemon and the notoriously virulent tea leaf and remove their noxious bits. Think of a fraction as a potent material that has undergone an exorcism.

***

Rose and patchouli have complementary facets that fit like a lock and key and have strong synergy. The camphorous chill of patchouli acts like an astringent to rose, keeping it from settling into the dull beauty that an uninspired rose perfume can have. Rose’s berry notes become wine-like and boozy when paired with patchouli. Resinous materials give rose a honeyed drawl and musk keeps the bloom on the rose. Camphor, berry notes, musk and amber are the olfactory attributes emphasized in coeur de vetiver and Ropion uses them along with incense, benzoin and god only knows what else to create the durable accords that allow Portrait of a Lady to last for days. It is classically Ropion in that rich natural materials and potent synthetics are focussed on the same goal: coherence. The perfume’s sillage and forcefulness hint at potent synthetics. Happily, though, the ear-ringing, gut-churning feeling I associate with over-reliance on particular synthetics to give radiance and endurance is nowhere to be found. Portrait of a Lady showcases Ropion’s exceptional capacity to calibrate synthetics toward specific compositional ends while avoiding their side-effects.

Since 2010 when it was released, Portrait of a Lady has come to stand toe-to-toe with an equally imposing patch-rose, Aromatics Elixir. While AE dominates the mossy/chypre side of the rose-patch hoards, The Lady has become the standard against which woody and oriental side of the rose family is compared. Rose-oud as well. It’s a perfume that begs to be described in superlatives and worn with abandon.
21st June, 2016
I chased down a lady three blocks away to ask the name of her perfume. Enormous sillage on that windy day. Ever since, this has been on my top five. Opens with quieter peppery spices. Then the most velvety sumptuous rose incense shows through with some fruity sweetness. Its rosy benzoin and sandalwood drydown is sensuous. It is bright and it is dark. Beautiful from beginning to the end. Exceptional longevity.
06th June, 2016

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