An homage to roses in a scent inspired by a queen — that’s the story behind A La Rose, the latest release from Francis Kurkdjian. He was inspired by Marie-Antoinette‘s love for roses and by her famous portrait by Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. According to details in Luckyscent and Mr. Kurkdjian’s January 2015 interview with Le Figaro, he used 250 Centifolia roses (May or cabbage roses) in the form of an absolute and 150 Bulgarian Damascena roses to create what he imagined to be Marie-Antoinette’s scent when looking at that portrait. He wanted it to be vision of delicacy that was far from spicy but, rather, as soft as the flower’s velvety petals and evocative of a certain “tendresse” (tenderness). He succeeded.
A La Rose is an eau de parfum that was released in late 2014. Fragrantica states that it was originally exclusive to the Japanese market which tends to imply a certain vibe or olfactory aesthetic. A report I did on the Asian perfume markets and Japanese cultural tastes indicates that they prefer the softest, most discrete, freshest of scents, which is one reason why many favour using nothing more than fabric softeners to provide the most imperceptible of fragrances.
Two varieties of rose have bestowed the radiance and richness of their petals on this Eau de parfum: two hundred and fifty Centifolia roses from Grasse (May Rose) in the form of an absolute produce a very floral base note with sweet honeyed and carnal accents. One hundred and fifty Damascena roses from Bulgaria in the form of an essential oil create a top note with a playful blend of pear and lychee.
On the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website, pear and lychee are omitted from the official note list which reads as follows:
Damascena Rose from Bulgaria – Bergamot from Calabria – Orange from California – Violet – Magnolia blossom – Cedar wood – Musk – Centifolia Rose from Grasse.
A La Rose opens on my skin with all the beauty of fresh cabbage roses growing in a garden. It’s a sunny, bright, lightly fruity scent with perfectly balanced sweetness that feels like honeyed water or the rose’s natural nectar. The roses feel simultaneously fragrant and velvety, evoking images of freshly plucked petals that you’ve crushed lightly between your fingers. On my skin, the flowers smell primarily like cabbage roses mixed with the sweetness of tea roses, rather than the heavier, fruitier, beefier aroma of Bulgarian roses. Regardless, none of it is syrupy sweet and, even better, you can clearly tell that expensive absolutes were used instead of synthetics.
Most regular readers know that I generally struggle with rose-heavy fragrances and despise soliflores in particular, but I do love the scent of the flower in nature. There is something irresistible to me about the heady aroma, the velvety feel of petals, the delicate sweetness that feels as though big fat drops of honeyed nectar were drizzled on top. I find real roses often have fruity nuances, sometimes with a lemony aroma, occasionally with something resembling diluted mandarins, peaches, or some other fruit. And they often convey a green freshness that belies their narcotic lushness.
Most of that is on display here in A La Rose, albeit in delicate form. You can almost see a bouquet of the fattest of cabbage roses, skewing pink, yellow, and white, and lightly interspersed with greenish tea roses, all spun together with gossamer strands of sun-sweetened, ripe lemon. Their velvety petals are splattered with drops of orange that briefly smells soapy, then delicately juicy. Nectar glistens like golden dew in the light.
It’s a beautiful bouquet, though one that is quite ruined for me by the blasted white musk that Mr. Kurkdjian loves to employ in so many of his scents. Here, according to his interview with Le Figaro, he was careful to use only the faintest touch of woodiness but threw in lots of musk (“enfin beaucoup de musc”) to give it “douceur.” Well, to me, tons of musk does not translate as “softness” but damnably annoying commercial cleanness, freshness and, as here, soapiness. I loathe white musk with the intensity of a thousand burning suns, and the vast quantities of it in his creations consistently ruin the vast majority of them for me. In A La Rose, it’s initially not a problem if one uses the smallest quantity imaginable (though it becomes an issue later on), but anything more than a mere smear brings out the musk from the start. It’s pronounced and it’s soapy. Obtrusively clean. Without it, A La Rose would be a scent that even this rose-phobe might enjoy wearing. The amount of musk is not as dire or as extreme as his Amyris Femme (a traumatizing scrubber for me), but how I wish Mr. Kurkdjian would stop injecting so much commercial, laundry detergent freshness in everything. (Just how much of an aberration was the spectacular, masterful, and mesmerizing Absolue Pour Le Soir anyway??!)
Having gotten my white musk rant out of my system, I have to say that A La Rose is a pretty scent that surprised me in its opening moments, and there were times that I found myself sniffing it with appreciation. It reminded me of one of the few soliflores that is (on occasion) an exception to my rose phobia and that similarly conveys the sense of fresh roses growing in nature: Serge Lutens‘ lush Sa Majesté La Rose. There are differences, though. A La Rose is significantly sheerer, airier, cleaner, and fresher; it’s not as sweet or syrupy; the fruitiness is milder; and it has a violet note in the opening. The latter takes a few minutes to appear and doesn’t last more than 10 minutes on my skin, but it is there in very muted form in the background. It’s a greenish violet with a citrusy aroma and a synthetic sharpness that feels like another layer of freshness. I’m not enthused by it, even in a small dose, so it’s a relief when it packs its bags 15 minutes into the perfume’s development and goes.
Taking its place is the cedar which I think lends a perfect finishing touch to the rose. Something about the way it combines with the lemon serves to conjure up images of the other parts of a rose besides the petals. There is a moment early on where I could almost swear that Mr. Kurkdjian has somehow recreated the particular aroma of a rose’s leaves. Dark green, slightly bitter in a piquant way, lightly wooded, with just the faintest hint of something almost earthy, like the soil in which the plant grows. I wish all of this were a strong, powerful part of A La Rose because I think it’s lovely and it adds a layer of interesting complexity to what is essentially a really basic, simplistic scent. Unfortunately, it’s the tiniest of nuances that lasts but an instant and that I could detect only when I focused intently. That said, the cedar’s woodiness remains a quiet presence in the background and, later, in the drydown, plays a much greater role.
From afar, A La Rose radiates only pink roses with petal softness and boundless fresh, cleanness. The flowers may be imbued with lemony, fruity, and honeyed facets, but they’re all small quantities that are handled so delicately and blended so masterfully that each individual element feels like part and parcel of the rose, never standing out like a sore thumb or a separate layer. (The one exception is the clean musk; there is far too much of it to ever fall gracefully within the folds of the overall scent.)
Roughly 20 minutes into its development, A La Rose turns hazier, sheerer, and lighter. It was always an airy bouquet, right from the start, but it feels almost translucent now. The citrus fruits and honeyed water have melted into the rose, but a subtle layer of creaminess awakens in the base and soon rises up to coat the petals like the thinnest smear of clotted cream. It’s a lovely textural feel that adds to the impression of softness, as though your skin had been covered with a gossamer web of petals, all sprayed with a strong mist of clean musk.
As a soliflore, A La Rose doesn’t have complex layers or many stages, but there are small changes to the scent as time passes. The roses turn slightly powdery after 45 minutes, but it doesn’t feel like makeup or violet powder. Rather, it’s a textural issue, and simply another layer of cleanness. The creamy layer turns thinner, the fruity and lemony undertones retreat to the sidelines, and the roses turn simpler. Now, they feel more like sweet tea roses than the richer, fuller, honeyed aroma of cabbage roses or the fruitier damascena variety.
By the time the 2nd hour rolls around, A La Rose reminds me of the old classic, Tea Rose by Perfumer’s Workshop, that powerhouse soliflore that was such a big hit in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A La Rose is far less sweet, nowhere near as strong or heavy as Tea Rose, and worlds apart in terms of quality, but both fragrances are simple, slightly green bouquets that realistically recreate the bright freshness and sweetness of tea roses.
When the drydown begins at the top of the 4th hour, the perfume’s sweetness has dissipated, and A La Rose is primarily a very clean, lightly soaped, occasionally lemony, fresh rose with slivers of woodiness and creaminess. Over time, the rose fades, while the woodiness grows more pronounced. In its final hour, A La Rose is an indistinct floral, woody musk with cleanness and only a hint of creamy rose.
All in all, A La Rose had very discreet sillage and average to weak longevity. In general, it lasted between 6 and 7.5 hours, depending on how much I applied. Using 3 smears equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, A La Rose opened with about 2-3 inches of projection in an extremely sheer bouquet. After 20 minutes, the number was down to 1.5 inches at best, then roughly 0.5 after 45 minutes. A La Rose became a skin scent on me after 90 minutes, though it wasn’t hard to detect if I brought my nose close to my arm. That changed around the 4th hour, and I had to put my nose right on the skin and inhale hard. It took effort. Honestly, there were times after the 5th hour where I was astonished to find thin slivers of scent remained, but A La Rose persisted a while longer.
As I’ve mentioned before, my skin eats through floral soliflores with great rapidity, but I wasn’t the only one who experienced weak longevity and projection. Almost everyone on Fragrantica comments on it. One poster called “Eurochic” writes:
The SA told me that even though it’s an EDP, it wears more like an EDT, with longevity of maximum 4-5 hours. Keep in mind that it was created for the Japanese market, so the overall feeling is fresh and light, very pleasant, easy to wear in hot and humid climates. Non obtrusive, won’t give anyone headaches, IMO this is a safe office scent too.
I completely agree. It may not be my cup of tea, but A La Rose’s discreetness and sheerness make it a perfect office-scent, as well as one that would also work in very hot climates in general. The rest of Eurochic’s review is informative as well. Like me, he or she is “rose-phobic” and dislikes citrus notes, but was positively surprised by A La Rose:
Let me start by saying: I don’t like citrus and I’m a bit wary of rose perfumes. I only love the smell of real roses, and I love to bury my nose in the petals of all roses. [¶] So, à la rose starts with a fresh greenish feel, like rosebuds with dew on them. On my skin the citrus is not perceptible. [¶]
Gradually the dewy aspect dissipates and it becomes softer, like fresh blooming pink roses, not the deep dark velvet kind. Later on I can detect a sweet powdery veil (the violets maybe?). […][¶] So, rose-phobic that I am, I am surprised to find that I wouldn’t be opposed to wearing MFK à la rose. If you like the scent of pure roses, but prefer to keep it light (not heady like AG Rose Absolue for example) then this is one to try.
Other commentators rave about the budding roses as well, admiring how natural, fresh, and “realistic” the note is. (It “reminds me of the smell from my Nanna’s yard back home in NJ,” one person wrote.) Almost all the comments mention the discreet sillage, though few seem to mind. As one person put it:
The roses here are not the heady, “madame” kind… It is youthful, jolly and sparkling. The budding kind ones you see at dawn, where the cool morning air adds to the crispness and clarity of the scent. The violet debuts in the middle part but it does not overpower the roses at all, it is just enough to make its presence known. After 3-4 hours, I can then only detect the cedar on my skin. [¶] If you want an in-your-face kind of rose perfume, this is not for you, as it is light and delicate. It is close to skin, perfect for the spring and summer.
However, one person was disappointed in A La Rose, primarily because of its soapiness and greenness. “Little Parrot” writes, in part:
It is a very clean green soapy rose, Silage is low and becomes on my skin a sour skin frag, staying power is moderate, It does indeed remind me of roses de chloe. […][¶] If I want a non sweet, transparant rose, like a la rose then I prefere Rose Ikebana, because this is a less soapy and a unique perfume [….]
I think that review is instructive as well, because A La Rose is indeed a very clean, green, sometimes soapy fragrance without typical sweetness. To enjoy it, you must have some tolerance for clean musk and for the soapiness which it can imbue on some skin, and you definitely should not expect a syrupy rose.
I actually must come to Mr. Kurkdjian’s defense here because I really admire the fact that he’s avoided the tired cliché of a painfully sweet rose that so many houses (both niche and mainstream) resort to. Instead of combining the rose with the usual gooey fruitchouli, he’s opted for a delicate touch of crisp citrus and a drop of orange, leaving the flower’s innately honeyed nectar to make up the rest. It would have been so easy for him to put out the typical sweet rose scent that is a dime a dozen these days and that houses like Guerlain spew out with assembly-line frequency to appeal to the youthful, mainstream market. While A La Rose does indeed have a youthful feel, I think it is a more sophisticated, chic variety that still retains a feminine vibe with his bouncy, pink-skewing, fat cabbage roses. The woman it conjures up in my mind is a stylish, young professional who applies a single spray of A La Rose to have a completely intimate scent as her own secret during meetings in an fragrance-phobic environment, then later applies a rather hefty amount more as she gets ready to go on a date or night out.
Plus, I do think A La Rose has a quiet headiness to it in the opening 20 minutes, even though it’s subtle rather than the “Madame” sort as one person so aptly put it. It may not last for long given that the fragrance is indeed “transparent,” but is there anything really headier than the scent of a rose growing in nature? That said, if you’re looking for an opulently rich, narcotically deep fragrance, then A La Rose will not be for you.
Is A La Rose the most distinctive, original, edgy scent around? No, but few rose soliflores are, in my opinion. While I do think A La Rose is quite commercial in profile, it stands out for the realism of its scent, its superb blending, its smoothness, and the high quality of its ingredients. (Minus that white musk that I always think skews so cheap in feel but, as you have gathered by now, the note is my bete noire.) No wonder it seems to be sold out at a number of places that carry the MFK line. The bottom line is that it takes a really masterful hand to create a scent that someone who hates rose soliflores might consider wearing, but there were times when I pondered that precise issue with A La Rose. In the end, I’ll pass because of the cleanness, sillage, and longevity, but I recommend the fragrance for true rose lovers who want an approachable, versatile, easy-to-wear scent that is very clean, light, fresh, and discreet. It’s very nicely done.