The massive Indian state of Rajasthan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, in a country that I loved as a whole. From Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur, and several points in between, I traveled in stunned awe, marveling at the splendour of princely palaces but also at the state’s natural beauty. There were other places in India that stole my heart more but, for sheer impressiveness, the ancient cities of Rajasthan are hard to beat.
Yet, my feelings about Rajasthan were actually not why I was so desperate to try the perfume by the same name from the Italian fashion house of Etro. No, in this case, it was purely a superficial issue of bottle beauty. I’m really not one to be swayed by perfume packaging, but Etro‘s Rajasthan was a distinct exception to the rule. From the moment I saw the bottle, I loved it. Back when I would post about upcoming releases, the only one which ever tempted me solely because of the packaging was Rajasthan. Later, when reviews came out, I lost my enthusiasm, as the character of the fragrance didn’t seem to match the splendour of that vivid packaging. Still, when I passed by an Etro boutique in Paris, I made sure to give Rajasthan a sniff and to get a sample. Alas, the bottle really is fundamentally better than the scent. By a landslide….
On its website, Etro describes Rajasthan and its notes as follows:
Rajasthan tells the tale of the constant traveler moving into colourful Maharajaha cities in the East, as each sensual scent reveals the inherent femininity, passion and elegance of the nomadic soul.
Poetry and seduction intertwine in an impatient prophecy and longing for eastern summers: even the brightly coloured, enamel bottle leaves just a trace of the sinuous Paisley just like the imprint of influence within nomadic life. A fragrance that holds hope for tomorrow, creating the perfect balance between cosmopolitan accents and the timeless grace of a shining India.
Pink pepper, Lemon Primo fiore, Polygonum
Cassie, Mimosa, Rose
Amber, Musk, Ciste [labdanum amber]
The first hour of Rajasthan is simply dreadful on my skin. The perfume opens with lemon florals infused with painfully sharp, clean white musk. The flowers feel sweet, almost honeyed and like a distant relation to linden blossoms. A pale, pink rose lurks behind them, along with the fruited notes of pink pepper berries and a tiny dusting of mimosa (also known as cassie). None of it smells remotely like anything to do with India. It doesn’t even smell like a Westerner’s fantasy of India. Instead, it is like a pale English floral, a walk in some European orchid in bloom, or a visit to the aisles of Sephora circa 2005.
One reason for that last remark is the pink pepper berries.They were a huge cornerstone of commercial perfumery during the 2000s, and they gooped-up numerous florals with their syrupy, fruitchouli-like tonalities. If you’ve tried Marc Jacobs‘ Lola, Estée Lauder‘s Pleasures, or any number of fragrances that followed in their path, you will be familiar with the note. It’s much more infrequent today, at least in niche or expensive perfumes, and I’ve been grateful for that fact, so seeing them here is a huge disappointment.
The gooey berries quickly become a key part of Rajasthan, along with the rose. Within 10 minutes, the lemony florals retreat to the background, the nebulous suggestion of mimosa vanishes entirely, and I’m left primarily with girly pink roses drenched in pink pepper molasses. The concoction is also infused with the smallest touch of lemon, and a ton of fresh, white musk that is increasingly becoming similar to laundry drier sheets. The overall result is a scent that actually smells like a flanker to Lola. A paler, fresher, lighter Lola, but most definitely a relation nonetheless.
It’s all terribly clean in the first hour, in addition to being fresh and girly. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with the latter if the overall scent didn’t smell so similar to a mainstream designer fragrance for $60 in Sephora. (Actually, you can find Lola for about $48 at Target.) Given that Rajasthan costs $190, more than three times as much, smelling like a lighter, cleaner version of Lola is wholly unacceptable for the price. It all feels very gauzy, translucent, and wispy, but with the sort of strength that is typical of fragrances which amp up the clean white musk to give their diaphanous bouquet the impression of strength. At no point does any of it smell luxurious, high-end, distinctive, or original, but especially not in this first, very unappealing hour.
Thankfully, Rajasthan ends up improving, by quite a bit, in fact. It’s still not my personal cup of tea, but the body of the scent leaves behind the first hour’s mix of roses infused with hideously sharp, piercing, drier sheet musk, pink pepper berry goop, and a trace of lemon. Roughly 75 minutes, the first hint of hope appears in the form of an abstract, golden warmth. It doesn’t feel at all like real amber, and it is most certainly not either labdanum or ambergris but a synthetic benzoin. That is a type of resin which is used by perfumers to add a golden base to fragrances. Very frequently, it smells like vanilla powder or cinnamon-dusted vanilla — and both those things occur in Rajasthan as well.
Soon, Rajasthan begins to change. At the 90-minute mark, the lemons evaporate completely, the vanilla benzoin becomes more pronounced, and Rajasthan takes on a sweet powderiness that sometimes evokes images of pollen. The latter doesn’t smell like the mimosa blossoms of my youth but, rather, more like an abstract recreation of the flower, if that makes any sense. The musk loses some of its laundry drier tonalities and becomes much less aggressively clean, sharp, and fresh. The overall, sum-total effect makes me think of peony roses covered with slightly vanillic powder. It’s actually quite pretty, perhaps because of that subtle undercurrent of edible treats.
At the start of the 3rd hour, Rajasthan turns fully golden as the benzoin surges to the forefront. The fragrance is now a mix of “amber” infused with abstract peony roses, powdery sweetness, a lighter veil of clean musk, and a dollop of red, fruity jam. It’s not hugely floral, but almost gourmand in nature. That impression becomes stronger as the perfume turns heavily vanillic in nature. By the time the 4th hour rolls around, Rajasthan reminds me of a cinnamon-vanilla cookie, drizzled with jam, and subtly laced with almost an almond-like note. There is still a lingering sense of something floral, but it is very muffled, minor, and abstract. The clean musk remains, alas, and is quite noticeable when you smell Rajasthan up close.
From afar, though, the perfume is really more about powdery, sweet, vanilla benzoin in a golden, warm cocoon with a dash of jam. It’s enjoyable, a far cry from the ghastly opening hour, and feels like something intended to be an easy, approachable, commercial crowd-pleaser. However, the vanilla cookies only last 2.5 to 3 hours, and is essentially just Rajasthan’s middle phase. The final drydown is much less cozy and appealing. In a nutshell, the fragrance loses much of its golden warmth, as the clean musk returns to center stage at the start of the 6th hour and overtakes the vanilla.
The end result is a simple scent: powdery cleanness with a vague golden softness about it and an increasingly minor hint of vanilla. At times, the impression of pollen returns, but the note here is really more due to the benzoin than anything to do with cassie or acacia mimosas. In its final moments, Rajasthan is merely a wispy blur of clean, sweet powder. All in all, the fragrance lasted just over 7.5 hours on me with 3 smears amounting to 2 small spritzes from a bottle. The sillage was initially moderate, and the fragrance became a skin scent at the start of the 4th hour.
The reaction to Rajasthan has been mixed. On Fragrantica, people seem to really like the scent, and talk about its sweet, powdery nature, mixed with vanilla, florals, lemon, and subtle spice. They find it cozy, or “as soft as a baby’s skin or a cashmere scarf.” Bloggers are less enthused, however, and it is not because of the failed promise of India, either.
Take, for example, Kevin at Now Smell This whose fantasies about the smells of India were dashed by a mere look at the fragrance’s notes, but whose main issue was the scent itself. His review read, in part, as follows:
My first intimation Rajasthan might be more “business as usual” than “trip in a bottle” was its listed fragrance note [… which] could just as easily represent the south of France, California…or the Bland Lands of Sephora. […]
Rajasthan goes on smelling rather indistinct: a mélange of soft, powdery aromas (with a hint of “freshness”). I detect a pallid floral accord, maybe a dash of pepper, and some opaque citrus. There is also a Rose in Distress, the note being choked by a sweet, crumbly musk and a talcy, “white” violet-like scent. I do smell mimosa/cassie; they are “hazy” and dry. I know Rajasthan, the place, is mostly desert, but all this scented “dust” in Rajasthan doesn’t thrill me. Where’s the dissonance, some “racket,” techni-colors, floral syrup,dirt? As Rajasthan dries on skin, a vanillic note appears and, mercifully, for a short while, is joined by a hint of “tartness” (smelling like a “rhubarb pastille”). Finally, Rajasthan becomes white musk, pure and simple.
Rajasthan is advertised as “unisex”, but I bet it’s too feminine for most men (myself included). Due to all the powder, talc, and dusty/hazy elements, Rajasthan has the character of a cosmetic perfume, something a manufacturer of face powders would use to scent their product. […] Resist the urge to buy Rajasthan unsniffed, even if you want the bottle (as I do)! And speaking of the bottle — talk about false advertising! To represent this perfume, Etro should have used a subdued palette of pale pinks, ivory and butter-colored yellow, not the “hot” colors they decided upon.
Bois de Jasmin had a very similar, equally disappointed take on Rajasthan:
It takes me a few moments to realize that Rajasthan doesn’t transport me further than the local beauty counter. It smells uncannily like a rose and violet scented lipstick, but admittedly, it’s a pleasant scent. Its rich composition is based on rose and amber with a jammy accent of violets and gardenia. The rose is creamy and warm, while the marshmallow sweetness of orange blossom gives it a gourmand finish. As the perfume unfolds on your skin, it becomes soft and powdery, with fluffy vanilla rounding out all edges. It has a big presence, noticeable sillage, and a retro chic character.
If you enjoy perfumes that smell of vintage lipstick and face powder, Rajasthan will win you over. But before you splurge on it, I recommend looking for Rochas Tocade. The two fragrances share many similar nuances and effects in common. […][¶] Rajasthan doesn’t improve on it, but it certainly smells very good. Still, I can’t justify its high price when we still have the marvelous Tocade available for far less. (Or another great rose-vanilla like Lancôme Trésor.) The only thing in Rajasthan’s favor over Tocade is a stylish enameled flacon decorated with the signature Etro paisley pattern. But we don’t wear the bottle, do we?
Alas, no, we do not wear the bottle, that marvelous, marvelous bottle.
I want to be very clear about something: my feelings about Rajasthan, the perfume, have nothing to do with my time in India or my love for the country. The problem is not disappointment over Etro’s inability to bottle the smell or even the feel of that brilliantly vibrant, bold, Technicolor land. Had Rajasthan been a good fragrance with little connection to India, I would have been happy. Instead, it’s merely an okay scent with a terrible start, an enjoyable but not long-lasting middle, and an uninteresting, insipid end. The ingredients are synthetic and not luxurious; the overall bouquet is pale, bland, generic, derivative, and unremarkable; and the whole thing is ridiculously over-priced.
Rajasthan’s olfactory profile is built around elements that are commercially popular, in beauty as well as perfume products, so I’m not surprised that women on Fragrantica find it appealing. However, that does not change the fact that charging $190 is highway robbery. Rajasthan is available for less on eBay, but, personally, I find even $99 hard to justify for such a simple, commercial scent that involved only two and half enjoyable hours. Still, if girly, jammy, fruity-roses with powdery benzoin vanilla and very clean musk are your thing, then please get samples first or look to eBay. That bright, happy bottle is simply not worth it by itself.