A suggestion of skin, a tantalizing innuendo, and a knowing glance — all as soft as a whisper. Roja Dove‘s Innuendo is meant to capture some of those things, and to feel like a tender kiss that stays with you for a lifetime. Innuendo was released in 2012, but came to America last year under the name Creation-I due to legal trademark reasons. It comes in two forms, an Extrait Pure Parfum version and an Eau de Parfum. This review is for the Extrait.
On his personal Roja Parfums website, Roja Dove describes Innuendo as follows:
“As Soft As A Whisper”
SWEET, FRESH, WARM, & SOFT
“This creation is my homage to everything feminine: a lingerie drawer, make-up, and a knowing look. It is like the caress of cashmere against the skin, or a woman’s tender kiss which stays with you for a lifetime”. Roja Dove
TOP: Bergamot, Lemon, Orange
HEART: Jasmine, Rose, Violet, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Labdanum, Musk, Orris, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Tonka Bean.
Innuendo opens on my skin with a dewy, pink rose, followed by bergamot, chilled lemon, violets and a definite suggestion of mossy greens. There is no oakmoss listed in Innuendo, but something in the combination of ingredients smells exactly like mousse de chene or oakmoss absolute. According to The Aroma Connection blog, a specific type of oakmoss (Evernia prunastri) is the basis for the absolute. It is a grey lichen which grows on trees and has an intensely dank, pungent, fusty aroma that can also be salty and smell like tree bark. Unfortunately, since real oakmoss of any type is essentially banned out of perfume existence, substitutes are sometimes used. The Aroma Connection briefly talks about the various synthetic versions and their aroma:
It should also be mentioned that a range of commercial oakmoss products exists, some offering a warm, leathery-mossy character, whilst others offer have woody, mossy – almost marine-like aspects.
Roja Dove probably did some feat of technical mastery and genius to the patchouli to make it so accurately conjure up oakmoss absolute, because Innuendo has the same sort of smell described in that article: a sharp, slightly fusty, fiercely mossy, green aroma which conjures up images of tree bark, lichen, and saltiness. Since it translates to my nose as “oakmoss,” I’ll just use that word in quotes to convey what I’m smelling. Whatever the source of the note, it’s beautifully done, and feels like dark thorns are piercing through the petals of that soft, pink rose. Yet, for all the pungent, dry, mineralized feel of the “oakmoss,” there is also a bright, plush, emerald green velvetiness from the patchouli itself.
Every inch of the lovely pink and green bouquet is infused with yellow citruses. They are simultaneously tart, crisp, chilled, zesty, sweet and a little bit bitter. It feels as if your nail has just pierced the rind, squirting out the concentrated oil. Something about the fruits makes me think of a sweet but bitter yellow grapefruit, more than an acidic lemon. There is a fragrancy and richness to the oils that feels incredibly bright and fresh. It’s a lovely contrast to the “oakmoss” (or whatever note conjures that mineralized fustiness).
Lurking at Innuendo’s edges are other elements. There is a soft, fruited, purple patchouli, though it is thankfully not cloyingly sweet. Hints of woodiness are further afield, along with the spectral figure of some powdery iris. More prominent is the dash of violets sprinkled throughout. They feel sweet, green, dewy and cool, but also woody and earthy, as if they were black violets nestled at the base of a tree.
10 minutes in, Innuendo begins the first of its many rapid changes. The rose grows jammier and sweeter; the powdered orris draws closer; and the tangy, bright zestiness of the citruses take a step back. There is a hint of jasmine that takes the iris’ place in the nose-bleed seats. In the base, the first glimmer of vanilla stirs quietly. The “oakmoss” feels less vibrant, bright and plush. It turns more fusty and dry, evoking the sense of dry tree bark. Yet, at the same time, there is also a creamy sort of woodiness in the base that replicates sandalwood quite well, even if it lacks the red spiciness of the true Mysore variety. What I don’t like is the growing presence of musk that feels sharp and too clean.
Soon, within minutes, Innuendo has turned into a very jammy, velvety rose scent, infused with both mossy and purple fruitchouli, along with sharp musk and powdered iris. The citruses and violet are extremely muted now, more of a suggestion than anything else. The jasmine, in contrast, is starting to jump up and down in the background, yelling a louder “Hello.” The most interesting aspect about Innuendo at this stage is the saltiness that circles around the notes. It’s like a lovely breath of sea air blowing from the North Atlantic, and it helps keep the purple patchouli in check.
Unfortunately for me, the musk is growing increasingly white and shrill. It’s absolutely terrible, quickly taking on the aroma of very expensive floral hairspray or soap. White musk is one of my pet (perfume) peeves in life, and I simply cannot see the purpose of it in such an elegant, refined composition. I’m actually less annoyed by the growing sweetness of the fruitchouli that I hate so much because at least it doesn’t feel quite so jarring, out-of-place, and piercing. Even the growing powderiness of the iris fits in better, and is decently modulated.
It takes less than 30 minutes from the start for Innuendo to turn into an extremely high-class rose shampoo, albeit a very expensive, feminine, refined one that is infused with purple patchouli and small tendrils of dry, green mossiness. The white musk is abominable, radiating out both soap, shampoo, and hairspray tonalities into every atom of the rich, powerful rose. The impression of creamy sandalwood has faded, along with the citruses and the last gasp of the violet. The iris remains to add makeup powder to the mix.
The whole thing feels utterly bifurcated, as if there are two polar opposite things going on at once. An opulent, extremely sophisticated rich rose with an “oakmoss” bite, versus a young ingenue’s fresh, innocent soapiness. I think those who love soapy, powdered florals would probably consider Innuendo to be the height of luxurious, opulent elegance from the golden age of haute parfumerie. I admit, I can see that, myself as certain parts of Innuendo at this stage certainly ring true to that ideal. Yet, my lip is still curling with disdain over the other parts of the scent, and the overall dated feel. I don’t have anything against opulent florals with an old-time, vintage, classique feel. If anything, that is rather in my wheel-house. Yet, Innuendo still feels antiquated, and not in a good way.
There are two, very different women simultaneously being represented by Innuendo at this stage. The first one who repeatedly comes to my mind is the actress Lara Pulver, from the Sherlock series or, to be more precise, the woman she plays in ITV/ BBC America’s Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond,. There, she is the aloof, haughty Lady Ann O’Neill (the future Mrs. Ian Fleming), a sort of Wallis Simpson type: an extremely sophisticated, hard, brittle, aristocratic woman dressed sleekly in black, and whose game of seduction centers around innuendo and breathy suggestion. She is represented by Innuendo’s incredibly refined, opulent, heavy rose with its chypre-like, mossy thorns.
Next to her and conjoined at the hip is the second woman: a young, fresh-faced, innocent beauty in her early 20s dressed in white, smelling of fresh soap and powder. Two women, one scent. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that Innuendo is the scent that an ingenue with aspirations to sophistication and wealth would have started to wear in her 20s, only she’s still doing so in her 80s. I find something polarizing and unbalanced about how the fresh, soft innocent side attacks the rest of Innuendo which feels unbelievably heavy, reeking of over-done opulence, expensive wealth and aged sophistication.
I know exactly the sort of perfumista who would love that mix, finding it a clarion call to vintage Guerlains only amped up by a thousand in heft. For me, though, it’s a schizophrenic mix, one that is dominated by shampoo and piercing musk to the point of feeling oppressive. And the purple fruitchouli isn’t helping matters, either. It all felt exhausting and I briefly contemplated scrubbing Innuendo, but I’m glad I resisted because the perfume suddenly changes. And drastically, at that.
90 minutes in, Innuendo suddenly veers 180 degrees in the opposite direction and becomes a new fragrance entirely. There is obvious mastery and talent in managing such an extreme transformation, because Innuendo turns into a lush, beautiful, creamy floral oriental scent with none of the horrific aspects of its start. The change begins with the oppressive musk suddenly softening its aggressive assault, thereby giving the other notes a chance to shine through. Innuendo turns warmer, sweeter and richer; the rose steps back; someone puts a gag on the shampoo; the makeup powder is similarly muffled; and even the fruitchouli feels less cloying.
Then, the jasmine and ylang-ylang glide gracefully onto center stage. Beautifully heady jasmine, with opulent, velvety ylang-ylang that radiates like a yellow diamond. They are enveloped by an amber glow that feels a lot more like salty, musky ambergris than the more masculine, leathery, toffee’d labdanum listed in the notes. Returning to the scene is that creamy woodiness that almost feels like sandalwood, but now it carries a trace of something vaguely smoky. The true beauty in all this is the vanilla. My God, is it good. It’s entrancingly creamy, smooth, airy but rich, vanilla mousse, and it makes all the difference to the florals. It coats the ylang-ylang — in fact, it feels as if it’s coating your very mouth — with vanilla custard, but it’s never cloying, heavy or painfully sweet. The combination of the vanilla, amber, woodiness, and hint of smoke turns Innuendo into a floral, oriental custard that radiates warmth and silkiness.
All images of brittle sophisticates or soapy ingenues vanish amidst thoughts of silk and satin. Roja Dove sought to conjure up a woman’s lingerie draw, along with the finest of soft fabrics against the skin, and by Jove, he’s succeeded. I think it’s the silkiness of the vanilla, the petal softness of the ylang-ylang that is increasingly dominating the scent, and the perfume’s overall softness. Innuendo began with massive potency, wafting a good 5 inches above the skin with 3 small spritzes from my atomizer (or about 1 good spray from a bottle), but that power soon dropped. At the end of the first hour, Innuendo felt airier, lighter, and softer with only about 2 inches of projection, though the perfume was massively heavy and concentrated up close.
However, by the time Innuendo does its 180 turn, everything is different. The sillage hovers just an inch above the skin, and everything is soft. You can almost image touching the velvety petals of the ylang-ylang, rubbing it against your skin with a texture like the thinnest cashmere shot through with silk. Innuendo truly seems to coat your skin with a breathy whisper, a golden sheath that has great richness and intimate sensuality. And it turns silkier by the minute.
Slowly, the ylang-ylang and vanilla take over the whole show, while the jasmine works its charms indirectly and from afar to add a certain elusive headiness to the notes when smelled up close. To my surprise, a new element arrives on the scene — oranges — which melts into the flowers, adding a juicy sweetness and fruited touch. The rose remains on the sidelines and periphery, visible only if you sniff really hard and focus. It is imbued with just the perfect amount of jamminess from the patchouli and, thankfully, none of the vile Pantene shampoo from the musk. Meanwhile, the labdanum and sandalwood slowly diffuse into the vanillic base, though a certain smokiness still remains. I’m thoroughly enjoying Innuendo now, but the polarity after the nightmare of the first 90 minutes (which came on the heels of the loveliness of the initial 10 minutes)… well, it feels a little schizophrenic.
For the next few hours, Innuendo remains a soft, orange-accented, custardy ylang-ylang fragrance with creamy vanilla mousse. It’s not sweet, gourmand, or cloying, but just right, even if it is incredibly discreet. Trailing behind are small streaks of jasmine, patchouli-rose, and some amorphous, smoked woods. There is a gentle muskiness to the notes that feels golden and entirely natural, undoubtedly from the amber in the base. The latter still doesn’t smell like actual labdanum on my skin, but, rather, like a generalized warm glow. Around 3.5 hours in, Innuendo turns into a skin scent. By the end of the 5th hour, the perfume is primarily ylang-ylang and vanilla, followed by orange, and with only tiny, lingering traces of purple fruitchouli at the edges.
Unfortunately for me, the final stage of Innuendo is another schizophrenic shift. The first traces of soapiness appears midway during the 6th hour; by the start of the 8th hour, Innuendo suddenly sheds almost all of its prior notes and veers sharply into soap territory. It is infused with an abstract orange floralacy, but it’s very muted. The ylang-ylang and jasmine have completely vanished. In the base, the labdanum has turned into its more usual form, wafting a nuttied, caramel-toffee note. As a whole, Innuendo smells largely like expensive, ambered, sweetened soap. The whole thing is so abstract and soft, it’s really hard to tease out any other elements. Soon, Innuendo is nothing more than a smear of ambered soapiness, and there it remains until its very end, several hours later. All in all, Innuendo Extrait lasted just over 13.5 hours, with soft sillage for the majority of that time.
On Fragrantica, there is only one review for Innuendo thus far, though a few people seem to have voted on the notes. What is interesting to me is that the main element they detect in the fragrance is white musk, followed by tonka (for the vanilla), then ylang-ylang and patchouli. The one comment comes from “Shorokh” who seems to have struggled with the same schizophrenia that I experienced:
Very unusual. Green and mossy at the beginning, and like this for quite a while; then after several hours (4.5 – 5 in my case) those notes disappear completely. It`s like putting on a totally new perfume! Some might like it – having two perfumes instead of one. But I don`t like my perfume change so dramatically while I wear it. No jasmine or rose on me. Must try again!
Basenotes has nothing in its entry for the fragrance, and I couldn’t find any blog review for either Innuendo or Creation-I, its American name. I wish I could provide more information, more details on the other side of the picture, but I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.
What I can tell you is that there will be some women who will undoubtedly love Innuendo. Anyone who passionately adores powdery, soapy florals comes to mind, along with those who love very vintage Guerlain classics but with a more concentrated richness and opulence. Obviously, people who don’t like a very dated, old-fashioned, heavy feel to their scents should stay away. Innuendo is marketed as being a women’s fragrance which is just as well, since I can’t see the vast majority of men wearing it.
Innuendo Extrait costs $435 for 50 ml. All I’ll say on that score is that the perfume certainly does smell expensive. (Well, minus the Pantene shampoo bit.) Innuendo also reflects great perfume mastery in creating such an extensive range of movement throughout the notes. No matter how much whiplash Innuendo gave me, there is no question that it is well made or that Roja Dove is a master at luxuriousness. As you can tell, though, I disliked the perfume except for the 4 or 5-hour stretch in the middle. That part was truly and genuinely lovely, even though the projection was terribly weak. But 5 hours out of almost 14 miserable ones is not good enough for me — at any price.
The issue really comes down to personal tastes. As regular readers know, I can’t abide white musk, soapiness, hairspray notes, shampoo similarities, or makeup powder. So, put my views in that context, and try Innuendo for yourself if you love very old-fashioned florals with a soft, powdery, clean bent. It certainly has the luxurious, sophisticated feel to go with that very high price.