Stifled by Good Breeding: Frederick Malle Portrait of a Lady

By Tom

Well, it finally hit Barneys: Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady, by Dominique Ropion.  The blurb from Barneys reads: “A Symphonic perfume combining notes of benzoin, musk and sandalwood with a patchouli heart topped by an ocean of rose essence.”  I actually get a discernible cassis in the opening that last for about half an hour before ceding itself to the all-roses-all-the-time heart.

I kind of didn’t like it.

Of course, it’s not really designed for tall, middle-aged men with a love for sweaty musks and olfactory fireworks.  I just think that there are other scents out there doing this dainty, doilied hyper good taste bit that I like better (barring reformulation, paging the house of Caron!).  Heck there are roses at Barneys I like better. I will give them props for introducing something that an adult would wear and isn’t dripping with candy or cumin or bacon fat or whatever some niche perfumers would shove in there to be “different;” it just doesn’t work for me, any more than a floral pinafore and Mary Janes.  I also have to  mention that the lasting power on me was not stellar: after about four hours it was basically a lightly rosy skin scent.  Which just might be the point.

At Barneys, $300 for 100ml.  Caron Parfum Sacré is $50 at Amazon for 3.3 oz.  Just sayin’…

inage: Portrait of a Lady, 1890, William Merritt Chase, wikimedia commons

  • Kenny Cologne says:

    I’m a over middle aged man and simply love my bottle. A 5 star masterpiece in spades.

  • Carla says:

    I am able to remain uninterested in this. If I had an unlimited perfume budget, I’d go after it, but reality forces me to be choosy. After sampling Lumiere Noire, it is what I hanker for – and intend to buy soon. I believe it is somewhat similar to Portrait. May I point out there’s no k in Frederic?

  • Tara C says:

    I received this as a gift, unsniffed, and I think it is fantastic. I loathe Parfum Sacre BTW.

    For my first wearing I doused myself in it yesterday and went to work. Got compliments! For me it is a winner. I loved the patchouli rose berry incense evolution.

  • Beth says:

    It’s a 3.5h trip to Barney’s for me, but I’d love to try this along with the Carnal Flower. I gotta quit adding to my wish list at TPC, it’s going to crash the server!

    In other news, I got my bottle of Parfum Sacre, preformulation today in the mail and have already spritzed. Oh my. Not even sure what else to add to that other than Oh My right now.

  • Sherri M. says:

    I just received my sample this morning (ordered my mother a bottle of Amoureuse for Christmas), and this was one of the requested samples from Aedes). It is a nice woody rose. It is very strong: I put a just a few dabs on my wrists and it’s still going after a few hours. It’s more a lady now; the first hour or so it was just very strong woods and spice, leaning to the masculine side. I’m curious what it’s like sprayed on, given the opening was so strong and masculine. It reminded me of Rose de Nuit, but sweeter, or maybe Rose de Feu, more than Parfum Sacre. Alas, not my cup of tea, but then again nothing to hinder me from directing my funds toward Oriental Brulant!

    • Tom says:

      the opening was very cassis-heavy. Like the cassis and the rose were having a very un-ladylike cage fight that the rose eventually wins. Then the rose gets all good-mannered again.

      I liked the cage fight.

  • Louise says:

    Ack! I just realized the source of a persistent rough patchouli note that I just couldn’t get rid of for several days. After a light spritz of this at Barneys on Sunday, I had a really problem. And I normally like patch-but this embedded itself in my skin and coat most deeply and unpleasantly.

    Not for me, thanks. But I’m back on my Parfum Sacre parfum today, thanks to you, Tom ; )

    • Tom says:

      Glad to be of service!

    • Nina Z says:

      Hey, that’s what happened to me, too! A week-long residue of sour, acrid patchouli dry-down on my coat sleeve after testing one spray on my left wrist, which was so unpleasant it wiped out my memory of what the first hour was like, though I vaguely remember I liked it for a while. (I think it’s finally gone now.)

  • angie Cox says:

    It was the same to me ,very weak and nothing very special. It was pleasant as a linen spray but rather expensive . I should not have bought it blind .I adore Une Rose which positvely leaves a trail behind me and stays for hours . That will teach me not to expect that two fragrances from one house will have the same strength. I adore L’Hiver , pale little thing that it is so should have known better.8-|

  • Olfacta says:

    I’m a woody rose lover and L’Arte is one of my favorites, and Roseine’s Rose l’Homme…sounds like I’d like this but there’s a lot of dissonance here. Since we’re geographically disadvantaged I guess I’ll just have to wait — for a decant or split. No more $300 bottles at the moment. (Off to find my Parfum Sacre)

  • marina says:

    Bacon fat :))))

  • Abyss says:

    I was mildly curious about this one but reading the comments pretty much killed any semblance of interest that I had dead. A woody, pot-pourri rose sounds pretty unappealing. That’s how I remember Diptyque Opôné and that one left me pretty traumatised. Almost as much as that latest Goutal rose (Splendide? Absolue?) which I also hated since I smelled like all the worst parts of the rose – sour, acetone-tinged – crammed into one bottle.

    I’m not much of a rose lover, anyway, and find that quite often they are either boring or unpleasant. There are a few that I like well enough but none that I really love so far. I do own Lyric but while there’s rose in it, I don’t really consider it a rose fragrance as such.

    • Tom says:

      I think you and I are kind of in the same boat. I love actual roses, but finding a rose love in scent is another matter. Even when I do, I’m not move to actually purchase.

      But like modern architecture, even if I don’t want to live in it I can appreciate when it’s really well done…

  • nozknoz says:

    To me, BK Liaisons Dangereuses (plum rose) and Rose Oud are simply perfectly beautiful – soft, balanced and dry – almost smoky or incense-like. I also appreciate Une Rose Chypree, of course, and adore Parfum Sacre but don’t identify it as rose.

    Since I’m neither tall nor an MKK lover, I guess I should still try PoaL, LOL! But you are so right, it is hard to imagine perfume dollars better spent than Parfum Sacre!

    • Tom says:

      Liaisons Dangereuses and Rose Oud are ones that I liked far more as well. Good call!

      • Ann N. says:

        Yes to the Liaisons Dangereuses, as well! One of the few roses I enjoy. Have not sniffed the Rose Oud, however, and also need to try the Parfum Sacre after seeing all the love for it.

  • you smell!!! says:

    I tried and for me it is not that amazing, it smells like Cabaret I tried them both yesterday and while not exactly the same, they are very similar one is $300 and the other is $17…

    • Tom says:

      Oooof! $17? Yikes!

    • tango says:

      Oh goodness. I’m trying Cabaret for the first time today and liking it a fair amount. If it’s similar to Portrait of a Lady for significantly less money, I think you might have saved me big bucks!

  • maidenbliss says:

    Tom, it’s occurring to me that PoaL was more like a Brownie snapshot. Guess I’ll pass on this.
    Gator Grad – irreverence and honesty, you nailed it.
    This review makes me think of Tiny Tim tiptoeing through the tulips…oh geeze, I’ll never get that tune out of my head today.

  • Catherine says:

    I’m putting fingers in my ears! WIth a title that references one of my favorite books, I HAVE to try it.

    But for $300, I’m hoping my normal dislike of rose wins out. :)

  • Shelley says:

    Wow. I’m reading all these with interest, not just because I am one of those impatiently waiting for the samps to show up at the local Barneys. (Though, blast, I thought not even the tester was there…you know I always am prepared with supplies to make my own sample….)

    Anyway, hearing the different takes adds to the intrigue. I have no idea what my own relationship is to rose…I’ll say it’s not a favorite note to wrap a composition around, and yet I really like things ranging from Rose Ikebana to the aforementioned Arte D’Gucci and Parfum Sacre to Malle’s Une Rose. I’m having trouble predicting on this one. Let the games begin.

    Tom, wondering if you’ve tried Une Rose Chypree (Tauer), and how you relate to that one?

    • kathleen says:

      I’ve tried the Tauer, Shelley. I don’t find it similar, at all. The Malle seems to have an “oudlike” character, to my nose. It’s nice, but I’ve smelled it before.

      • Shelley says:

        Kathleen, interesting. Okay, I’m starting to feel like an important question will be Does it ramp oud/wood on me, or veer toward patch?

        My budget (and therefore buzzkill) will be better off if I end up with “I’ve smelled it before.” I appreciate price points that reflect quality…but Zonka!, that’s a think it over slot. An attitude which F. Malle would probably cringe at hearing, given that interview in the Dallas Examiner where he bemoaned the demise of the luxury customer. I’m, like, a Maybach appreciator who has only managed to move from a Renault Alliance budget up to, say, a Camry.

        The car analogy is all for you, Tom. :)

    • Musette says:


      Lydia called Monday – it’s IN! but no samples, yet. So I guess we’re in for another Sniff ‘n Sip?

      xo >-)

      • Shelley says:

        They’re just trying to keep away the common folk. You know, those who actually want to try before purchase. Fine. I’m going to stand outside Barneys and sell flowers. Maybe somebody will offer me dialect coaching.

        • Ann N. says:

          Good one, Shelley!! But if you’re going to channel Audrey, you probably ought to wear L’Interdit ;)

          • Shelley says:

            L’Interdit is so lovely…I really *could* say “I’m a good girl, I am” while wearing that. Of course, it also a bit sophisticated, and calls for the rain to fall mainly on the plain, not ‘artford or ‘ereshire.


          • Ann N. says:

            I am lovin’ it, Ms. Shelley! I foresee some “My Fair Lady” in my weekend viewing.

        • Francesca says:

          If you’re really lucky, it’ll be someone who looks just like Leslie Howard.

          • Ann N. says:

            Oh, yes, indeedy! And I loved him in “The Scarlet Pimpernel” as well, one of my favorite movies and books.

    • Tom says:

      I love Rose Chyprée! But like most rose fragrances I’m not moved to actually wear it..

  • gator grad says:

    PS – I love PP because you guys are always honest. :) And irreverent.

  • gator grad says:

    “At Barneys, $300 for 100ml. Caron Parfum Sacré is $50 at Amazon for 3.3 oz. Just sayin’…”

    Too funny!

  • SilviaFunkly says:

    It’s my SOTD and I am thoroughly enjoying it, though am not so sure about my co-workers, the stuff has nuclear explosion fall-out range. Strong connection with L’Arte di Gucci, which I love, less I find with Parfum Sacre.

    Tonight it’s our office Xmas party and I am wearing a short silk Temperley dress from a few seasons ago, with nude/black vertical stripes and big red hydrangea flowers on the sides. Cleavage galore. I wish I could describe it properly because it is the perfect dress incarnation of PoaL. Loud, fun but somehow still elegant, though definitely not in a lady-like manner.

    I am very happy with my decant, not FB worthy at this stage but one never knows. It will definitely make me a party girl tonight.


    • Mals86 says:

      I agree on the similarity to L’Arte – which I LOVE – and to MFK Lumiere Noire – which I also love. But there’s something very very balsamic in there that turns my stomach.

      Nicola was right, “That ain’t no lady.”

      • SilviaFunkly says:

        Definitely. I think Francesca is also right, there is a potpourri element, but like in the Santa Maria Novella potpourry it feels moist rather than dry. If it was a famous person, it’d be someone like Beatrice Dalle. Totally mismatch of name, unless they were being somewhat ironic.

    • Tom says:

      I’m glad it works for you- and the dress sounds wonderful!

  • Francesca says:

    Whoops, I’m back!

  • Francesca says:

    I liked it a lot–it’s what I call a “potpourri” rose, spicy. It lasted forever on me; spritzed sparingly in the back of my hand, it lasted through 4 hand-washings and beyond, and even then my perfume guru said I was wafting roses. I only got the patch very late in the wearing of it, but I’m not the best person in the world at figuring out notes. I don’t think I’d ever spring for a fb, but I could see myself getting another decant. And why am I getting the generic gravatar critter?

    • March says:

      Heh, and it’s that potpourri aspect that I dislike, I got a truckload of patch on my hand… people’s likes and dislikes for particular notes are funny.

    • Tom says:

      It is a potpourri rose, which isn’t my favorite.

      Another person who got long lasting. What the heck did I do to this?

  • Tom, I really wonder what it is your skin did to Portrait of a Lady — when I introduced in London to Silvia and Nicola (who both comment here), I begged them not to spray it on while we were having dinner because it’s stroooooooong stuff. A squirt under the table after coffee and Silvia was wafting over three meters. Nicola’s comment “That’s no lady”. I’ve found it has massive sillage and it lasts practically 24 hours on skin…

    I’m not on the market for a woody rose, because I’m no more of a rose person than March, so I won’t be using more than my decant, but I certainly wouldn’t call it dainty. I guess it’s a matter of comparison: as you say, you may be used to much, much potent stuff… Still, I’m intrigued that you’d describe it that way.

    • Melissa says:

      Thanks for you comment about it’s woody note. I keep hearing people describing it as a patch rose, but on me, it was extremely strong and very woody. Well done, but it doesn’t suit me. I wished that I could hold my arm another four feet away from me so that it could waft up to me from a greater distance.

      In fact, Jarvis advised me to do just that-keep my nose away from my arm, in order to avoid the “spikiness” of the wood. The only way that I think I can do that is to spritz it on my feet.

    • SilviaFunkly says:

      I bet you can smell me from Paris today!!! I am obvioulsy no lady and enjoying the ride, hehehehe

    • Tom says:

      The opening was fierce- the first hour or so I was practically tossing rose petals and black currants at passersby on Wilshire Blvd.. After that it calmed considerably and went all dainty.

      • tammy says:

        I would pay cash-money to see you tossing rose petals and black currants at passersby on Wilshire Blvd…

  • violetnoir says:

    And, you are just sayin’ it correctly, my friend.

    Portrait of a Lady is lovely, but it reminded me of other rose fragrances, and of those, Parfum Sacre is probably the best…and way cheaper. Plus, there was something in the base that bothered me a bit. Maybe the ambroxan?

    In spite of complaints to the contrary, it did lasts all day on my skin. I’m not quite sure if that was a good thing.


    • Tom says:

      Seems everyones getting an all-day thing out if it. Just not me. Oh well. If I need a rose fix I can always go for Parfum Sacré..

      and be able to pay the car insurance with the balance..

  • Masha says:

    Hmm…love dark/spicy roses, my favorite is ELd’O Rossy de Palma! Also Parfum Sacre (got 2 bottles!) and Lalique’s Perles, which can be a good peppery rose for wintertime (too strong by half in spring). Then there’s Lyric, which isn’t dark, but it’s amazing. So another epic fail for you? I hope you find a new love soon!

  • Scent Hive says:

    I was sorely disappointed in this one. Smelled like a run-of-the-mill patchouli/rose scent, not terribly unique or memorable.

    • March says:

      What she said. I’m not the queen o’roses anyway but this is exactly the kind of rose I dislike — that patchouli/rose combination that brings out all the potpourri sourness of the rose note.

    • Tom says:

      The opening was really promising. After that on me not so much..

  • tmp00 says:

    I think I’m reeling at the price, partly. Also partly I love the smell of roses the flower but am realllllllly picky about rose in perfume. I like this. But it’s a $150 like.

    But then again a perfumer who puts out a serious rose scent in 2010 with no lychee and nothing “frozen”. He might deserve a Nobel…

  • tammy says:

    I probably don’t need this for $300, but it sure sounds like my cuppa.

    In all other notes, I like a blend of things with nothing standing out too much, but for some reason, I can’t smell rose when it has much of anything else going on with it, except maybe violet.

    For instance, I LOVE Parfum Sacre…and Tamara, how did I miss your vintage bottles???…but I get very little rose out of it. L’Arte di Gucci? Talk about scary! And no rose for me at all!

    Or et Noir and the Goutal Rose Absolue are favorites; one of my swap partners sent me a generous sample of Montale’s Ta’if rose, which also has me swooning….but I’d sure like to try this Lady. Love my sample of the other Malle rose, so I’m sure this one would be a winner for me, too!

  • Tamara*J says:

    I’m hurt…..I understand that this isn’t $300 worth but my poor ass is still pining for a FB of this.
    I think it’s gorgeous and it’s the first Malle I ever fell for.
    I do love Parfum Sacre but they are not even related to my nose, both very different. I even swapped away my vtg. bottles of PS cause they weren’t getting enough attention and went to a much more deserving mistress who revels in them.
    I need a better job for sure to get my greedy mitts on my Malle!

    • tmp00 says:

      Well darlin’ if you fell for it it worked for you and you most likely rocked it. I’ve smelled things that are just awful on me (cough*ANGEL*cough) that are lovely on others. Buy it, enjoy it, love it!

      • Musette says:

        Tom –

        In my whole and entire life I have NEVER smelled b-( *Angel* b-( on ANYBODY where I could stand it! I got caught in the PO with an Angel-wearer yesterday – it’s a Very Tiny Post Office (customer floor space, maybe 8×8′) and I had to open both doors to air it out before I could transact my biz!

        You’re a better man than I, Gunga Din!

        xo >-)

  • Geordan1244 says:

    Oh gosh. When I first put this on, it was all man-eater on me. It did change and calm down, and you’re right, went very rosy. But the first bit for me had me feeling like I was Katherine Hepburn or Lauren Bacall in a 40’s bar decorated with brocade couches and velvet curtains…smoke twirling around and this powerhouse of a perfume floating through the air. I LOVED it at first- before it calmed down.

    • tmp00 says:

      That’s exactly it. The opening I liked with that dance of challenging cassis and roses and fierce sillage. It was bias-cut silk and Billy Haines furniture and general fabulousness and then it decided to put on a pinafore and get all girl scout.

  • Musette says:

    I always see Parfum Scare! LOL! Well…..okay, here’s what’s gonna have to happen. I am going to have to find some L’Arte de Gucci – everybody raves about it and I have never smelled it (I muled some for somebody awhile back but didn’t dare bust the cello to sniff it).

    I have yet to smell this, it wasn’t at Chicago last weekend but is now in. We. Shall. See.


    ps. hey, Tom! how do you feel about Amouage Tribute. Nice and rosy there!

    • tmp00 says:

      You’re the second person to write about the Gucci. Might need to seek out. I haven’t smelled Tribute that I know of. Those Amouages are pricey!

      • Musette says:

        Seriously pricey – mine is a teensy little sample from Luckyscent, I think….I would have to go through that and a small decant before I could spring for a FB. Or find an Omani prince…

        xo >-)

        • Tom says:

          I’ve heard that the ones at LuckyScent aren’t even the priciest in the line…

        • sharyl says:

          There is a very reputable seller on ebay located in Oman, with serious discounts on many Amouage perfumes. Several perfume ladies, including me, have been very happy with our purchases. Amouage Lyric is one of my HGs and without some help, I would never be able to afford it. This is my Omani prince!

    • Furriner says:

      I stopped by at Barneys yet again today before work. Still no samples….

      I’m still loving Portrait of a Lady on me. So far, this is the only Malle that has really clicked with me. (I still haven’t tried a bunch, though.) The rose was stronger than I remembered it. Later at work, for some peculiar reason, I kept a-thinkin’ Idole de Lubin, which is odd since there are barely any notes in common. Maybe I’m tired!

      But now, 10 hours later, it is still going strong on me.

    • Sharon says:

      Bah! If only I woulda known! I shoulda asked! I would definitely have sent you some but it’s too late. I swapped my bottle away in during the great Posse perfume-off and it is gone. I liked it, but I never wore it. I thought someone else would appreciate it more.
      To keep this on topic, I have a decant of POAL coming and I am very excited!

    • Mals86 says:

      Divine Miss A, email me on the L’Arte. I have sources. :)

    • Ms.Christian says:

      I hate L’Arte. Everyone on MUA was agog over it last year, so like a damned fool who should know better, I got some. *gags* Stinking, overpowering darkness and roses. I have over 30 rose bushes in my yard, but I do not want to wear the stuff. I shoved it away somewhere-maybe a box in the basement. When it comes to light, it’s getting sold on Ebay.

      Save your money, Musette.

  • Mals86 says:

    Oh, gosh… and here I am with my decant, thinking, “Boy howdy, is this stuff dark. I mean, DARK. I mean, Make It Go Away Now Please.” Ladylike? Holy moly.

    It’s that balsamy aspect I’m not digging. I always have problems with that – I just underestimated how much it would bother me in this one.

    I want my L’Arte di Gucci instead, which is all rose chypre with no orientalia – and I am okay with that. Alternately, I’m going to bust out my own bottle of Parfum Sacre.

    • tmp00 says:

      It really made me want some Caron, but I’ve heard they’ve been redone. It’s not at all bad, it’s just not me at all.

      • Flora says:

        If you do, be sure and try the original formula PS in the gold box. I can’t say if the new juice is as good but i suspect not.

        • Mals86 says:

          D, I am lucky enough to have two small older bottles as well as a larger, newer bottle of edp.

          And a decant of the parfum. (Swoon.)