Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady.

by Katie on January 8, 2011

I took the small sample bottle and sprayed and was drenched in lust at first sight.  I need this.  I have to have it.  Now I’ve smelled this, it has to be part of me.   

Rose fragrances are very much in vogue at the moment.  There’s been a slate of rose ouds and rose incenses released of late but all, though pleasing, seem too weighed down with a fug of heaviness and, dare I say it, a tad too “I’m trying to be both feminine and exotic and I may stand outside the brothel door but I won’t step over the threshold”.

Don’t be horrified. Our Lady doesn’t go trying to defy moral convention either. Portrait of a Lady is just that – an elegant, colourful, distinctive presence that remains in your being after you’ve come into contact with her.  She doesn’t so much as bowl you over as carve an imprint that can’t be forgotten. Not at all chaste, but a Ladylike approach to darkness, her characteristics stay with you. Not twee nor restrained or pushing her boundaries in a thrill seeking sense, she simply is. You just have to accept that fact.

T.S Eliot’s character in ‘Portrait of Lady’, is bound up in society’s conventions and unable to communicate with her partner who himself seeks distraction. It seems strange that a poem esesentially about isolation and restraint shares the name of this singularly bold, hedonistic yet approachable scent that reaches out.  Perhaps that’s it?

Dominique Ropion’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’ for Frederic Malle smells pale, refined, wearing dark pink with rose red sparkle edges and of  a hard to define sophistication.  There’s a dark delight present.  Can a fragrance be both heavy and light? Yes siree, I think it can my friends.  Portrait’s baroque Turkish rose essence swamps the senses as does sandalwood, patchouli, frankincense, benzoin, white musk and the first light whoosh or fruity red cassis like a very fine kir royale in a very fine old hotel.

There’s a feeling of misplaced desire, intent and missed opportunities with this one. Perhaps that’s why she’s so powerful on first meeting?  Like a James McNeil Whistler portraiture transposed to the 21st Century.  Out of time but bang on trend, still with the faintest sense of ennui, elegance and mistrust. 


Portrait of  a Lady captivates from first encounter.  It’s then up to the wearer to make the impression. As Eliot said, “Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know. What life is, you should hold it in your hands.”

Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle is available at Liberty, Great Marlborough Street  and Les Senteurs, Elizabeth Street, London,  priced £180 for 100ml.
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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Cherie City January 8, 2011 at 5:36 pm

“I’m trying to be both feminine and exotic and I may stand outside the brothel door but I won’t step over the threshold”.
I love this description of the other rose fragrances!

I miss the Liberty fragrance room, it was part of my morning ritual working there. I’ll have to go and give it a try! x

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