The ancient temple of Petra soars high in the sky before a vast desert whose sands are stained pink and red with the blood of roses. The flowers are dusted with fiery spices, then nestled in a cocoon of green mosses and dry woods. A soft ambered hue hangs above them matching the gold-pink-red of the caves near the temple, while down below trickles a dark stream of smoky styrax, balsamic resins, and a touch of leather. A woman walks quietly in the shade, veiled in rose-red, her dark eyes watching the incoming shadows as the dusty desert wind brings sand, dryness and whispers of wood from distant lands. She wears Rose de Petra by Stéphane Humbert Lucas.
Every time I wear Rose de Petra, its desert inspiration and its layered, spicy dryness always make me think of Sting’s famous song, “Desert Rose“:
I dream of rain
I lift my gaze to empty skies above
I close my eyes, this rare perfume
Is the sweet intoxication of her love
I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in pain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand
Sweet desert rose
Each of her veils, a secret promise
This desert flower
No sweet perfume ever tortured me more than this
Sweet desert rose
This memory of Eden haunts us all
This desert flower, this rare perfume
Is the sweet intoxication of the fall.
Unlike poor Sting, Rose de Petra doesn’t make me feel tortured or pained, but it does indeed call to mind the desert rose that hides its “gardens in the sand” behind veils, each layer like a secret promise of more to come, before revealing its soft, sweet heart. I’m not particularly fond of rose fragrances, but I thought this one was very refined, wonderfully smooth, and really lovely. Yes, even “intoxicating” at times, just as the song says, though not because of the actual rose note, in my opinion.
Rose de Petra is a fragrance from the Paris niche house, Stéphane Humbert Lucas 777 (hereinafter just referred to as “SHL” or “777“). Monsieur Lucas was the in-house perfumer for SoOud and Nez à Nez, but launched his new house in 2013. There were originally seven fragrances, one of which was Rose de Petra, followed by several new releases this year. They are all officially listed as being eau de parfums, but are really extrait or pure parfums with at least 24% concentration.
Until last month, all the 777 creations were exclusive to Europe, Russia, and Middle Eastern, but they are now carried in America at Luckyscent and Osswald NY. Monsieur Lucas kindly and graciously sent me samples of his entire 11-piece collection, from the jaw-dropping, spectacular, monster amber, O Hira (which blew my socks off), the smoky new Oud 777, the gourmand Une Nuit à Doha, and the superb Black Gemstone which was love at first sniff for me. This is the final review of the series.
Monsieur Lucas has a genuine love of the Middle East, from its majestic ancient buildings to its philosophical mysticism, and he uses both as the inspiration for all the fragrances in his new line. For Rose de Petra, he was moved partially by the magnificent, famed temple of Petra in Jordan, but also by “rose du sable” or the “desert rose.” As Wikipedia explains, those are colloquial names given to a desert crystal made partially from sand in a formation which resembles a rose. Sands and rose… that should give you a small idea of Rose de Petra’s nature, but its core essence is something very different in my opinion.
The fragrance is essentially a chypre-oriental hybrid, though you’d never guess that by looking at its official notes of its notes or the press release description provided to me:
Philter of Bulgarian rose,
red epithem, sensual and pungent.
Generous, silky and mystical rose.
Rose Oxide – Pomegranate – Litchi
Pepper – Cardamom – Cumin seeds.
Regular readers of my 777 reviews will know by now that the official list given to places like Fragrantica or to distributors is merely a highly abbreviated, thumbnail synopsis. The lists are never complete, and leave off what I’d estimate to be 40% to 70% of the elements, depending on the fragrance. (In the case of O Hira, the one note “list” omits 99% of the actual notes.) Monsieur Lucas has told me candidly that he wants people to be moved emotionally by what they smell, not to be fixated on the details. He believes that perfume should be about a journey, almost a transcendental experience or escape. The minutiae detracts from what he wants you to feel.
Well, I’m far too OCD about details for such abstract esotericism. I like to know what’s in a scent, especially when I detect a lot more than what is listed. In the case of Rose de Petra, I smelled saffron, patchouli, styrax, a balsamic resin, cedar, vanilla, tonka, a tobacco-like leatheriness, a leafy greenness, and an oud note. So I wrote to Monsieur Lucas, and it turns out that many of those things are indeed in Rose de Petra, though not the oud which he was happy to hear about and which he said was a sort of “mirage” that he’d intentionally sought to create.
The list of notes in Rose de Petra is actually closer to the following, though Monsieur Lucas hinted that even this is not complete:
Essence of Bulgarian rose, rose oxide, litchi, pomegranate, pepper, cardamom, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, patchouli, leather, Peru balsam, styrax, vetiver, cedar, oakmoss, tree moss, labdanum [amber], coumarin, and vanilla.
In his correspondence with me, Monsieur Lucas said he sought to make a fragrance that highlighted contrasts. The fruitiness and gaiety of the Bulgarian rose; the heat, spices, stoniness. and mystery of the desert; the sandy beauty of the “Rose du Sables” or desert rose; and the striated stone of Petra. He wanted a composition that was “chaud et froid,” hot and cold, with small touches of various mosses and “green” fresh cedar counterbalanced by the fiery spices, the rich Peru balsam, dark leather, and smoky styrax. And, to demonstrate the contrasts, he shared the photos which inspired him and which represent the visuals of Rose de Petra in his mind:
Rose de Petra opens on my skin with pink roses that are dewy and wet, simultaneously pale but rich. For all their delicacy, they are heavily sprinkled with spices from nutty cardamon and dusty cumin to the fieriness of black pepper and red-gold saffron. Sweet cinnamon follows in their trail, then the fruity tartness of pomegranates. The liquidy dewiness is a subtle, muted touch which stems from the lychee (or litchi), and it is quickly overwhelmed by a heaping dose of very fruited, purple patchouli which turns the rose from pink to blood-red.
There are other elements noticeable as well. As the spices grow stronger on top, the first hints of the dark base appear, almost like a shadow falling over the background. There is a subtle, tiny streak of smoky leatheriness from the styrax, while the Peru balsam adds both an undercurrent of sticky darkness and a full-bodied richness to the scent. Lurking at the edges is a tangy sweet-sourness, accompanied by a leafy greenness. It goes beyond mere pomegranates, and I initially wondered if a tiny dose of cassis had been used as well. At a much higher dosage and quantity, those notes reveal themselves to be oakmoss.
I’ve tested Rose de Petra a number of times and, while the overall parameters of the opening are largely the same, the perfume really shines if you apply more of the scent. My sample atomizer had a very wonky, temperamental spray that gave out little dribs and drabs, so the first time I applied roughly the equivalent of one decent spritz from a bottle. On subsequent occasions, I doubled and even tripled the dose and… good heavens, the oakmoss really shines forth. In some fragrances, moss notes can smell pungently mineralized, grey, fusty, dusty, or akin to dry tree bark. Here, however, it is lushly green, rich, and smooth.
These richer elements transform the rose in less than five minutes. From the delicate, pale, dewy, little thing of its opening, the rose now feels drenched in a darkly fruited liqueur, as if a rich cordial had been poured all over the velvety petals. Fieriness lies just underneath from the spices, while a subtle, tart tanginess from the pomegranates weaves in and out of the top notes like tiny, little fireflies. The whole thing likes on a base that is plushly green from the oakmoss, but overcast with black shadows from leathery, smoky, balsamic elements.
I know some of you are cumin-phobes who shudder at the mere mention of the word, so let me reassure you here and now: you needn’t worry. Nothing in Rose de Petra smells fetid, sweaty, food-like, or reminiscent of stale, unwashed body odor. Rather, each and every time I’ve tested the fragrance, the note is more like an abstract, spicy dustiness. To be honest, the cumin is a really subtle, minor note in the opening, hardly detectable on my skin next to the saffron, liqueured fruits, oakmoss and rose. And, as time passes, it grows even more abstract, like a mere suggestion of dustiness left at the bottom of an ancient spice drawer.
At the end of the day, the rose and only the rose is the star of this soliflore. Rose de Petra feels like one, big long aria by a rose wearing different costumes, shedding the chypre-like mosses and patchouli veils of its opening to show its more purely oriental skin later on.
It is like Salome and the Dance of the Seven Veils, but it also reminds me of something else: Frederic Malle‘s famous Portrait of a Lady (“POAL”). I wasn’t keen on the latter which was a gooey, rose-patchouli explosion on my skin with virtually no oakmoss to imbue it with any real chypre character. Rose de Petra’s opening feels like a spicier, substantially less syrupy, much deeper and richer version of the Malle scent. There is a greenness and subtle tanginess to the 777 fragrance that POAL lacks, and more dusty spiciness than the Malle ever demonstrated on my skin. Rose de Petra also feels much more concentrated, at least at first.
20 minutes into its development, Rose de Petra grows even spicier, and begins to resemble another famous fragrance. As fieriness and dustiness take over the blood-red, velvety flowers, Rose de Petra is slowly turning into what most people seem to experience with Amouage‘s Lyric Woman. On my skin, the latter was largely all about the ylang-ylang with very little spiced rose, so perhaps I should compare Rose de Petra to Lyric’s sister from the same nose: Epic Woman. The latter was definitely all about spiced, dusty, woody roses on me, but the very jammy richness of the flowers probably makes Rose de Petra closer to the conventional interpretation of Lyric Woman. The bottom line, though, is that the 777 creation starts off on my skin with similarities to Malle’s Portrait of a Lady, then turns into a combination of the Malle with one or both of Amouage’s famous rose fragrances. To be sure, there are differences, but the kinship is there.
Thoughts of Epic Woman come to mind again at the end of the first hour when Rose de Petra loses some of its jammy sweetness and chypre accords. The perfume turns woodier, drier and slightly balsamic as the base elements begin to rise to the surface. The oakmoss retreats, the subtle touch of tartness from the pomegranate dies away, and the individual spices turn more amorphous and indistinct. It’s no longer easy to pull out the cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, or even the dustiness of the cumin; everything has melted into each other, as the notes overlap seamlessly. Even the very concentrated denseness of Rose de Petra softens, with the sillage changing to match.
Rose de Petra starts off as quite a strong, robust scent with decent projection. Using the equivalent of 2 tiny sprays from an actual bottle gave me 2 inches of sillage, while 3 small sprays gave me 3 inches. However, those numbers soon drop, and Rose de Petra’s concentrated, rich opening bouquet turns quite airy and soft roughly 75 minutes into its development. At that time, the sillage drops to an inch above the skin, where it remains for the next few hours. So, when taken as an average whole, I would say that Rose de Petra is generally an airy, light scent with soft, almost intimate projection.
At the start of the 3rd hour, Rose de Petra shifts again. The dry, woody tonalities grow stronger, and there was a definite suggestion of oud on my skin when I used a lesser quantity. At a higher dose, that was not as evident, though the cedar most definitely was. In both cases, however, and regardless of quantity, the perfume takes on a darker quality as the woods and smoky styrax rise up from the base to envelop the rose. Even the leather grows faintly more noticeable, though it is still mostly a subtle suggestion on my skin.
Rose de Petra now demonstrates a chiaroscuro effect, a play of light and dark, as the darker shadows are contrasted by a glow of warmth from the labdanum amber and by a definite streak of creaminess with a slightly powdery touch that speaks to the tonka and vanilla. (The note list mentions coumarin, but, for me, that often has a hay-like characteristic that I don’t detect here. Plus, coumarin comes from tonka beans, and that’s what I detect, so that’s what I’m going to call it.) Rose de Petra continues to be spicy, but it remains largely abstract, though once in a while a more distinct whisper of cardamon and pepper does pop up.
Rose de Petra has lost a lot of its thick richness, both in terms of the jammy, velvety rose and the perfume’s body itself. It feels much airier and softer than it did in the first hour. As a whole, Rose de Petra is now a spicy, dry, woody rose, lightly flecked by a dark resins, a suggestion of smokiness, a golden warmth, and creamy vanilla. There is a whisper of something almost like oud, but only a minute, lingering patina of jammy, patchouli sweetness or oakmoss.
Rose de Petra turns wholly abstract by the middle of the 4th hour. It is the merest wisp of a soft, slightly spicy rose with woodiness and tonka vanilla. Though there is a touch of sweetness, the perfume’s dryness and the occasionally sandy, powdery feel of the vanilla call to mind the desert sand of its inspiration. Sting’s “Desert Rose,” indeed. It’s very pretty, but it’s also a complete skin scent on me by this point.
The perfume continues to subtly shift, as the tonka vanilla grows stronger with every passing moment and vies with the woody tonalities for second place. By the start of the 6th hour, the lightly spiced rose is infused with as much creamy tonka as woodiness, all in a gauzy wisp that coats the skin like translucent pink silk. On occasion, a lingering hint of pomegranate floats by to startle me, almost like red dandelion fluff in the wind. Once in a blue moon, a hint of something darker follows it, but, for the most part, Rose de Petra has shed its dark shadows, opting for vanilla instead of balsamic, leathery, smoky elements. In its final moments, the perfume is a blur of sweet, dusty, pale pink roses with vanilla and the faintest suggestion of something woody.
All in all, Rose de Petra lasts between 8.5 and 9.5 hours on my skin, depending on how much I apply. It has the shortest longevity of any of the SHL line on my skin, and it also feels like the softest of the 11 fragrances. Like almost all of Monsieur Lucas’ creations (minus the 2022 Generation Homme which I despise with a passion), Rose de Petra feels very smooth, expensive, and refined. It’s hardly the most revolutionary, unusual, edgy scent around, but then few rose soliflores are.
In fact, I have to say, I liked it a lot more than I thought. Rose perfumes aren’t generally my thing, especially when they’re gooey and overly sweet, but I find very mossy or spicy versions much more appealing. Rose de Petra is what I had hoped both Portrait of a Lady and Lyric Woman would be on my skin, combined into one scent. I really liked the fiery bite that briefly resembled chili peppers at one point when I applied a greater dosage, along with something verging almost on a tobacco undertone from the mix of dark resins, labdanum and leather. The combination of dry dustiness, jammy sweetness, and fiery spices was particularly nice when contrasted with the oakmoss.
Even the fruitchouli was well calibrated so that it didn’t take on Portrait of a Lady’s purple, syrupy excesses. Actually, I think Rose de Petra’s heightened degrees of spiciness and background woodiness that really helped in that regard, along with the subtle touch of pomegranate. All three things ensure that the patchouli remains as a sort of tart, tangy liqueured cordial, instead of revoltingly sweet molasses. The pomegranate may not have been hugely noticeable in its own right, and I would have preferred much more of it, but I think it works subtly and indirectly to help keep the balance.
In the subsequent stages, the interplay between the creamy vanilla, the leathery base, and the warm ambered glow is truly lovely, especially when counterbalanced by the woody dryness. I can’t rave enough about the strongly balsamic, darker elements. They seep into everything, transforming the rose from the chypre of its opening into something purely Oriental, but none of it is sharp. All of it feels smooth and velvety soft, even the leathery, slightly smoky styrax. By the time the final stage rolled around, Rose de Petra frequently reminded me creamy, golden petals, thanks to the lovely vanilla tonka.
My only quibble with the fragrance is that it’s too soft and airy, with sillage that is a little too intimate, but all that is a matter of personal preference. It’s also not a hugely distinctive scent, except in terms of its quality. There, I think it stands neck and neck with offerings from Amouage or Frederic Malle. As a whole, I think Rose de Petra is a refined, approachable, uncomplicated but luxurious scent that could be worn on a variety of different occasions, including the office after the first hour has passed. I also think it is unisex, thanks to the darker, drier, and woody elements.
Rose de Petra is one of the more affordable creations in the 777 line. It retails for €148 or $220 for a 50 ml bottle of pure parfum. I think it’s definitely set at the right price. As a side note, Rose de Petra costs less at $220 than a comparable 50 ml bottle of Lyric Woman which retails for $280, and it is fractionally cheaper than Malle’s $230 Portrait of a Lady. If you love either of those fragrances, you should give Rose de Petra a sniff.
In the meantime, I leave you with an unofficial video for Sting’s Desert Rose. Its desert imagery, stunningly vivid colours, and romantic mood feel like a perfect fit for Rose de Petra in my mind.
Disclosure: Perfume sample courtesy of Stéphane Humbert Lucas. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.