Portrait of a Lady by Jean-Baptiste Greuze at The Wallace Collection. I was wearing the perfume when I took this.
Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady is a perfume very dear to me not only for its fragrance but also for the memories I associate with it. I remember the day I purchased it so vividly. It ended up turning into quite a special one. It was my friend Sanjay’s last day working at the studio, and of course there was the usual office whip round to send him off with a leaving gift. I think because Sanjay always seemed to bring so much happiness with him where ever he went, with his great smile and really infectious laugh, everyone was a bit more generous than they usually were in in the past, which was great news for me who was usually tasked with selecting a present for whomever was leaving. I knew I could get Sanjay something really special, and knowing he was as smitten with perfume as I was, I headed straight down to the Frederic Malle counter at Liberty.
I purchased a bottle of Geranium pour Monsieur for Sanjay which he absolutely adored, and while that was being wrapped up the sales assistant asked me if I had tried Portrait of a Lady, which was in fact inspired by Geranium pour Monsieur. I was ensorcelled by the first spray. It effected me in such a way that I felt a dreamy heaviness wash over my eyes. Never before had I had such a visceral response to a fragrance.
As I left Liberty and was crossing the street only to be met by a girl working for one of the national magazines. I was a bit taken aback at first as I generally am when someone approaches me on the street, but then she started explaining to me that she wanted to feature me in the style section of the magazine. I was like beyond chuffed! I couldn’t believe it! Yes, so it wasn’t like the most glamorous experience having my photo taken rather awkwardly off to the side of a magazine kiosk, but I loved it anyway. And as far as I am concerned, my buying Portrait of a Lady lead to a portrait of a lady. 😛
More than three years later I am still as in love with this perfume as I was at first sniff. I wanted to make it my first perfume review for the memories this fragrances holds for me and because I find it to be such an olfactory masterpiece.
“Portrait of a Lady is a new generation rose Oriental. It’s a pure perfume, baroque and sumptuous, an urban version of the “Tales of the Arabian Nights”.” Frederic Malle
Illustration by Konstantin Kakanias from Frederic Malle On Perfume Making
I sat down with Dominique Ropion’s creation for Frederic Malle today to write down my initial impressions. I had never actually done this before, and to be honest I found it a very interesting exercise. I was initially struck by just how sharp the opening of the fragrance is. It then settles very quickly, and I begin to smell the spices coming through. For me the spices begin with clove, then patchouli permeates through a melange of familiar smelling, comforting spices which seem to fall sparkling on a breathtaking unfolding blossom of warm Turkish Rose. As the rose blooms more prominently into the fragrance I begin to catch glimpses of the fruity notes peaking up from under her petals.
I would say Portrait of a Lady has a rather strong sillage, and a small amount of the fragrance does indeed go a very long way. I can still smell it on me more than five hours after putting it on, and by past experience I know that I will smell it throughout the rest of the evening and on my duvet when I wake up tomorrow. It has incredible lasting power, and I catch different accords, usually alternating between the warm spices and playful fruits swirling round the constancy of the rich, sensual rose, throughout my experience wearing it.
Described as an Oriental fragrance with notes of Turkish rose absolute, blended with raspberry, cassis, clove, cinnamon, patchouli, and amber. Portrait of a Lady is available to purchase in 50ml and 100ml eau de parfum sizes for £140 and £200 respectively.
Throughout today as I have been thinking about this fragrance I began to wonder about the inspiration for the name of the fragrance. Some sources say it was in fact inspired by the Henry James novel, while others say it was not. I haven’t actually read Portrait of a Lady so cannot say for certain if I find any similarities between Isabel Archer and the perfume I am wearing.
Then my mind drifted back to the Greuze painting I photographed at the Wallace Collection. I wondered how many other paintings might hold this title and I did a Google image search…
To me this feels most appropriate. So many portraits representing so many facets found in each and every one of us and in this breathtaking fragrance evocative of so many of them.