Superb, opulent, and one of the best fragrances that I’ve smelt in years. That’s the nutshell synopsis for Roja Dove‘s Roja Haute Luxe, a truly head-turning and jaw-dropping chypre-oriental with such beauty and multi-faceted magnificence that I didn’t know what to do with myself at times, unable to do anything beyond sniff with stunned awe and think, “this is what fragrances should be, what they were meant to be.”
I don’t think I can describe just how beautiful Roja Haute Luxe is without it sounding like inane hyperbole, but it is one of those fragrances that feels like a privilege to try, a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us. I’d heard about it, descriptions that were usually accompanied with figurative gasps or literal raves, but I didn’t really believe them. Not really. For one thing, Roja Dove’s other hugely acclaimed perfume, Diaghilev, while opulent and complex, had done little for me personally, never once moved me deeply, and never left me wishing I owned it.
For another, I think it’s difficult to comprehend the sheer breadth and scope of Roja Haute Luxe’s extravagant magnificence until one tries it for oneself. It’s not the easiest scent to sample, but I had the opportunity when one of my readers, “Kevin,” asked me to review it last month and generously offered to send me some from his own bottle. After much hesitation, I agreed on the condition that he wouldn’t become personally offended or deeply outraged if I hated it. After all, “beauty” is in the eye (or nose) of the beholder, and could it really be that good? Well, as it turns out, Roja Haute Luxe really is that good. In fact, I thought it was exceptional, in the proper, full sense of that word.
Roja Haute Luxe is a pure parfum that was released in 2013. People call it a number of different names. Fragrantica lists it as Roja Parfum or Roja, though a Fragrantica article and interview with Roja Dove went by “ROJA Haute Luxe.” Others call it Roja Luxe or just ROJA (with capital letters). A few simply call it “the one with the gold leaf,” which is what I do myself sometimes. The reason is because Roja Haute Luxe (which is how it’s called on the Roja Parfums website) actually does contain 24-carat gold leaf flakes or flecks. The Fragrantica article linked above implies or claims that Roja Dove included the gold as irony because it was the least expensive part of the fragrance as compared to the commercial cost of the ingredients within. Personally, I find that hard to believe. “Irony” is not the first thing that logically comes to most people’s minds when seeing 24-carat gold flakes in a bottle. I think it’s far more likely that the gold was included as part of Mr. Dove’s love of bling, and that marketing subsequently put a spin on the tale.
What is incontrovertible is the fact that little expense was spared in the creation of Roja Haute Luxe, and that it was intended to be a purely personal creation originally. Now Smell This posted the official press release back in 2013 which states that Roja Dove made Haute Luxe for himself with all the raw materials he loves the most after the fragrance that he’d worn for almost 30 years was reformulated. On Fragrantica, one of my readers, “Jean B Grenouille” wrote that a molecular extraction technique was used to remove the (purportedly) allergenic compounds from the oakmoss that always puts the EU/IFRA’s knickers in such a twist. That is the same technique Bertrand Duchaufour used to create the stunning, vintage chypre-like oakmoss verdancy of MDCI‘s Chypre Palatin, and it cannot be cheap. No expense was spared for the packaging either, from the gold-plating on the bottle to the white jewel box which Fragrantica says is “lined in silk crêpe de chine and lacquered by the renowned Carrs of Sheffield.”
On his Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes Haute Luxe and its notes as follows:
“I made this creation using all the materials I love the most. Having been asked constantly, “what do you wear”, usually followed by, “can I buy it?”, I decided to make a small quantity available each year.” – Roja Dove.
Top Notes: Bergamot
Heart Notes: Rose, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang
Base Notes: Ginger, Cinnamon, Clove, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Cedarwood, Amyris, Benzoin, Vanilla, Orris, Styrax, Labdanum, Ambergris.
Roja Haute Luxe opens on my skin with gloriously sumptuous oakmoss that is plush, fresh, emerald-green, and as thick as a Bavarian duvet. It’s fully fused with the most intoxicating patchouli that ripples waves of spicy, ambered, slightly boozy, and quietly smoky richness. Its spiciness is delicately, oh so carefully, accentuates by pinches of cinnamon, and the merest speck of clove. Doing obeisance to this powerful central core are handmaidens of sweet jasmine and fresh, velvety roses, each one wafting a nectared, almost honeyed sweetness as if they had been plucked from a garden at the height of their blooming lushness. In the base and all around oozes amber, a molten, musky river thick with balsamic resins that have been tamed by a silky vanilla which smells like the most expensive, delicious crème anglaise.
It’s an utterly decadent barrage that feels practically hedonistic in its excess. This is sensuality in the old meaning of the word, a gratification of the appetites and senses. Roja Haute Luxe is filled to the brim with so many notes, nuances, and opulent layers that it turns my head; my brain tries to process the near simultaneous deluge of individual notes, but simply ends up concluding and repeating, “Oh my God.” The extravagant olfactory banquet somehow spread its tendrils even from the closed sample vial, oozing a thick blanket of oakmoss and spicy patchouli that instantly reminded me of Chypre Palatin, but the sheer depth of Roja Haute Luxe puts that eau de parfum to the pale. It might as well be a wan ghost in comparison.
Even if I hadn’t previously read about the molecular extraction technique used here, I would have known it from the first sniff. With the exception of Chypre Palatin, I’ve never encountered this sort of authentic, genuinely plush, deeply baroque mossiness in any other modern fragrance because it would violate EU/IFRA restrictions. I didn’t even smell it in Roja Dove’s Diaghilev, and I took out the remainder of my sample to compare. Diaghilev opens with a very distinct, powerful bergamot-oakmoss aroma, not oakmoss-patchouli-amber, and the moss itself lacks the over-the-top density that is apparent here. It’s a significantly cooler, more mineralised, aloof sort of moss; far less rounded-out, supple, emerald-green, fresh, and plush. Finally, Diaghilev as a whole is never so floral, spicy, ambered, warm, and quasi-oriental right from the start.
Chypre Palatin is the closest match in my eyes, but it isn’t identical and there are differences. Roja Haute Luxe is a pure parfum rather than an eau de parfum; it brims to the top with the typical Roja Dove excess of notes (which I love); there isn’t even a faint whiff of animalic leather in the base; and the scent feels fractionally more floral with a slightly greater quantity of jasmine and rose. In addition, something about the flowers bears that narcotic, almost crystalline liquidity and nectared feel that I find so typical of hyacinths in nature. Every time that I’ve tried Roja Haute Luxe, the opening minutes had that intoxicating, floral, liquid purity that not only reminds me of hyacinths but that faintly echoes the hyacinth note in Roja Dove’s Risqué Pour Femme. It’s a fleeting touch that may stem from a certain greenness and freshness underlying the nectared flowers.
Whatever the source, it is only one of the innumerable nuances that Roja Haute Luxe throws out like rays of light reflecting off a crystal chandelier in a palace, or perhaps the famous, green crystal Mosque Shah Cheragh in Shiraz. Then again, maybe a diamond would be more apt analogy since this feels like one jewel of a fragrance, the sort that one needs to sniff at least once in one’s life, if only to remember (or experience for the first time) what truly masterful, good perfume smells like. In the past weeks, I’ve smelt mediocrity after mediocrity with a few rest stops at utter garbage and an occasional toxic waste dump. You have no idea how much it gets to me after a while. When my mood was particularly low, I’d take out Roja Haute Luxe, sniff the sample stick/wand for a few moments (I didn’t want to waste a single drop by using it willy-nilly), and I’d feel my spirits lift for a short while before I returned to the grim task of testing or describing the latest aromachemical pigsty.
It’s difficult to describe Roja Haute Luxe’s development with any precision because it’s truly the definition of a “kaleidoscopic” scent, a shimmering vortex whose nuances are rarely the exact same way twice, almost as though it were a living creature on my skin. Frequently, the spiciness surges to the forefront at the end of the first hour; sometimes, it’s the intertwined duo of rose and jasmine, though, sometimes, one or the other takes turns being more prominent. In the second hour and through some of the middle stage, the styrax wafts a prominent amount of resinous smokiness. Occasionally, the vanilla is quite clear before it’s swallowed up by the base, though it returns in the drydown.
Nevertheless, a few things do happen consistently. First, the spicy, ambery, lightly boozy patchouli becomes extremely prominent on my skin from the second hour onwards. (And it’s the best patchouli I’ve smelt in ages.) Second, Roja Haute Luxe deepens and deepens over the course of the first four hours which is also the period with the greatest range and complexity in notes and when the fragrance is the most opulent as a whole. It is such an opaquely dense, intense, strong, and grandiose bouquet in those hours that I feel as though I’ve been swaddled up to my ears in the thickest emerald-and-gold brocade duvet, then cocooned in a palatial room.
At times, I think of Mitsouko in this stage. To be precise, a form of vintage Mitsouko without any fruitiness or skankiness, but with its core essence concentrated down to have the heft of Mitsouko parfum on Olympic steroids. I strongly suspect it was Mitsouko that Roja Dove wore for almost 30 years before its reformulation made him give up and create this perfume, in part because strains of Mitsouko appear in many other Roja creations as well. Having said that, I don’t think Roja Haute Luxe is really similar. Vintage Mitsouko was very fruity with a powerful peach juiciness in addition to its very crisp, brisk bergamot; its patchouli was never profound or hefty on my skin; its floralcy smelt quite different, and it had orris makeup, violet lipstick, and powdery Guerlainade in its later stages. None of that is really the case here. Furthermore, Mitsouko was always unquestionably a chypre from start to finish; Roja Haute Luxe is not.
That brings me to the third thing that I consistently experienced. Roughly 4.5 to 5.5 hours into its development, Roja Haute Luxe begins to soften, its projection drops, and its focus changes from an oakmoss chypre to an oriental. It’s a seamless blend of oakmoss, patchouli, cinnamon, mild cloves, balsamic resins, quietly smoky styrax, and a pinch of ginger, all enveloped in a musky amber. It’s a lava flow of molten richness that smolders, but in a more restrained way than the in-your-face intensity of many Middle Eastern orientals.
It’s a really sexy bouquet, which surprised me given that restraint and the rather formal sophistication of the fragrance as a whole. I kept thinking that if I smelt this on a passing stranger, I’d follow them to ask what it was and it would take serious effort not to lean in close to nuzzle them. Aventus or Amber Absolute may be a “panty-dropper” for some, to use a loathsome phrase in the common fragrance vernacular, but this is what I would turn to.
Fourth, and finally, Roja Haute Luxe is also consistent in its drydown. From the 7th hour onwards, it is a delectably cozy, comforting, multi-faceted goldenness created by way of patchouli, toffee’d labdanum, the musky and occasionally salty aroma of caramel-laced ambergris, creamy vanilla, and cinnamon-scented benzoin.
The prominence or strength of the individual elements varies from one wearing to the next. Usually, the mixed amber accord dominates, but ripples of vanilla ebb and flow through it. Sometimes there is a powerful waft of cinnamon or a distinct sense of resinous darkness. At other times, there is not. Instead, a subtle streak of honey or beeswax runs under the labdanum. Generally, the oakmoss is now merely a whisper that pops up once in a while in the background, a ghostly thing that disappears entirely a short while later. By the time the 10th hour rolls around, Roja Haute Luxe is a soft blur of amber lightly infused with patchouli, cinnamon-scented benzoin, resins, and a hint of vanilla. The accompanying players gradually fall to the wayside until, in its final hours, all that’s left is golden warmth.
Roja Haute Luxe had excellent longevity, moderate projection, and initially strong sillage that took a few hours to turn soft. Using a few smears equal to 2 small sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance opened with about 4 inches of projection and 4-5 inches of sillage that grew to about 8 inches after 15 minutes. After 2 hours, the projection was 2-3 inches, while the scent trail dropped back down to about 4 inches. The projection was about an inch at the 3 hour mark, while the sillage was soft. That’s rather typical for an extrait or pure parfum because they tend to stay closer to the skin than eau de parfums. Roja Haute Luxe’s projection was about 0.5 after 4.25 hours, hovering just above the skin, but it stayed there for hours and didn’t turn into a true skin scent until 8.5 hours into its development. All in all, Roja Haute Luxe lasted just shy of 14.5 hours. I think my numbers, especially for longevity, would be higher if I applied a larger dosage, but I was reluctant to do so given the cost and amount that I had, my need to test the fragrance at least a few times over, and my wish to conserve a few drops for myself for later.
On Fragrantica, a number of people love Roja Haute Luxe, but more than one review inevitably ends up focusing more (or solely) on its price rather than its scent. I’ve written about super-luxury fragrances and the issue of price before, and I won’t repeat myself here. This fragrance is obviously the literal embodiment of my “Roja Dove Rule,” and whether or not it’s “worth it” is going to be a wholly subjective, individual assessment. So, I’ll talk more about other people’s opinions of the actual olfactory bouquet. For one Fragrantica commentator who first smelt it blindly in a line of Roja scents and without knowing either the name or its price, Roja Haute Luxe was “exquisite” with a quality that stood out “even when compared with other scents in the Roja line (which is not a line known for shirking on quality), and, above all, it will make you close your eyes, be still, and smile. A lot.” For another poster, though, Roja Haute Luxe was simultaneously a gorgeous, luxurious “work of art,” but not “that original or earth-shattering.”
A third commentator, however, found Roja Haute Luxe earth-shattering enough to actually bring up the infamous orgy scene in Suskind‘s Le Parfum when Grenouille brings out his magical elixir to the crowd. “Originaldeftom” writes, in part:
[Grenouille] sends his magic creation into the air. Suddenly time stops and people are fainting. They are falling in love and they are making love.
THIS fragrance creates THAT MOMENT.
MASTERPIECE. The Holy Grail. Full Stop. [All caps in the original and from him.]
For “Mimi61,” Roja Haute Luxe was more of an oriental than a chypre, and one that echoed not Mitsouko but the opening of another Guerlain creation, Attrape Coeur/Guet Apens:
I find Roja more an oriental than chypre perfume.It is a very rich,deep ,resinous and syrapy sweet perfume.As soon as I applied it on my wrist it reminded me of another perfume and it wasn’t Mitsouko , as several reviewers have mentioned.To me, this smells very similar to Guerlain Attrape Coeur/Guet Apens,at least the first part ,I like the drydown of Roja better as it is less sweet.This is a perfume of undoubted high quality with a very good sillage and it lasted 6-8 hours on my skin with traces left in the morning.
If I had all the money in the world, I would not buy a bottle of Roja Haute Luxe. I’d buy TWO. One to spray on myself with abandon; one to spray on my sheets so that I could be enveloped in opulence and lulled to sleep. Neither Diaghilev nor vintage Mitsouko ever triggered that response in me. And, while I loved Roja Dove’s NuWa in its original, unreformulated form, it was always more of a dangerous hell-cat instead of being jaw-droppingly beautiful.
There is also something very soothing about Roja Haute Luxe to me, even in its chypre stage. Perhaps it’s because there is spicy warmth right from the start rather than the haughty aloofness of a real chypre; perhaps it’s the abundance of my beloved patchouli; or perhaps it’s the sense of familiarity that many people detect in its bouquet. I don’t find anything wrong with that in this case because I don’t think Roja Haute Luxe was meant to re-invent the wheel, even if one could possibly create a genuinely “original” chypre-oriental after 100 years of such fragrances. No, I think it’s simply meant to be the most extravagant, baroque, hedonistic version of that genre possible — and it accomplishes that goal in spades.
Truly magnificent and exceptional, this is one of the best fragrances I’ve smelt in years and a joy that I shall remember for many more years to come.