Rose Parfait

According to the Lancôme website, the company “has appointed some of the greatest contemporary perfumers to pay homage to Lancôme’s founder, Armand Petitjean. The result is Maison Lancôme, a new collection of fragrances that so exquisitely touch upon and carry on Petitjean’s dream, and the essence of the House itself.”

That’s all fine and dandy, but I don’t care if Petitjean’s essence is handed out at Saks by a band of angels who are also giving free foot-rubs, I’m not stopping by, because Lancôme fragrances, ugh, they’re the worst. Except for my tiny four-bottle vintage set (Sikkim, Climat, etc.) I don’t own any Lancôme fragrances; to me they often smell plasticky and sour at the same time, the scent of air freshener in the smokers’ bathroom.

So until recently the nicest thing I could have said about the Maison collection is: the bottles looked gorgeous in photos, and too bad they were Lancôme.

And then I saw them in Chicago and they looked even more gorgeous in person. Truly, those bottles are begging to sit atop my dresser next to some pearls and the keys to a swanky sports car. Looking over the collection of bottles on the counter, I passed on the three with oud in the name — for the love of pete, could we please move on from oud already?! The jasmine marzipan one was just okay; the tuberose one reminded me nothing’s as good as Carnal Flower. Lavande, no thanks… leaving me with two rose scents, Parfait de Rôses and Rôses Berberanza.

As you know if you’ve been reading the blog for awhile, I am not a big rose-perfume lover. Live roses, yes; rose scents, no. So these Maison roses ticked all the destined-for-failure boxes: a perfume note I dislike, from a line of perfumery I avoid. Of course that meant I had to try them, right? Right?

The Rôses Berberanza was comically awful on me – too sweet, with a base that was barnyard-like thanks to the oud they slipped in there. Even the SA made a face and said, “no.”

Slices of frozen fruit parfait.

The Parfait de Rôses, however, is gorgeous. Done by Nathalie Lorson, it features roses, roses, pink pepper, more roses, a dab of vanilla, roses, and a wisp of incense and tolu balsam. They’re calling it a gourmand oriental: “Heady and sensual, this fruity floriental wraps us in a gourmand veil of irresistible sweetness.” Doesn’t that sound grim? It’s not. In French, parfait means perfect – but it’s also a frozen custard-like dessert made with cream, eggs and sugar, often with a fruit component. Parfait de Rôses has the same creamy softness without being overtly edible – the rose is jammy, the base vanillic rather than sugary, with a hint of fruit compote and a dash of pepper. Reviews on Fragrantica mention the smell of Turkish delight without the intense dusting of sugar; I’d say more like the smell of a rosewater-raspberry macaron sitting on a cashmere pillow.

When I was a girl, my no-nonsense, sensible-shoes-wearing mother packed me off to weekend matinees at the Kennedy Center. I don’t remember any discussion about it; it was just a thing she did, and just for me. I’d put on my best church dress and my patent leather shoes, and my father would drive me across the river into D.C., pull our old red VW bus up in front of the hulking mass of the Kennedy Center, and drop me off alone, which these days would probably earn you a visit from social services. It was always a show in the Opera House, always a box seat (!) and I’d sneak up there early so I’d snag one of the seats in front and not get stuck behind some grownup. Inside my small blue purse was a couple of dollars for a soda at intermission, some Kleenex and a cough drop or two.

The Opera House. No photo will ever do it justice, particularly that amazing ceiling light.

Why do parents do the things they do? I wasn’t musical, or a budding aesthete. Even back then, a box seat ticket for a season must have been a fortune to them. I doubt either of my parents ever set foot in the Kennedy Center. I wish I could ask my mother why, all these decades later. I wish she’d gone. But she stayed home on the couch, drinking tea and reading, while I saw Baryshnikov dance and heard Yo-Yo Ma play the cello, among many amazing performances. I walked myself down the grand concourse of the Kennedy Center, into the hushed, red-carpeted splendor of the Opera House, and felt like royalty. I can still hear the gentle chimes calling us in to our seats. Then eventually I turned into a surly teenager and she started going blind and that was the end of it. I bet I never thanked her once. I wish I could thank her. I’m older now than she was then, and I wish I’d known what an extraordinary gift she was giving me.

I sprayed Parfait de Rôses all over my shirt so I could keep smelling it, and it’s still there a week later. If its scent were a color, it would be the deep, rose-red of the Opera House, and if I were going there again, I’d dab a little Parfait on my wrists and a little on a handkerchief—not too much, it’s a sillage beast – and I’d sit in a box seat and remember how when I was a girl my feet barely touched the ground, and then the lights would dim and the murmuring would fade away and I would feel that breathless magic again, waiting in the dark for the curtain to rise and for something wonderful to happen.

  • hczerwiec says:

    I don’t even care about the perfume, that’s how beautiful your story is.

  • Koyel says:

    How beautiful. Thank you for sharing these memories.

  • Pam says:

    Your story brought me to tears. How beautiful. Bless your mama. I now want to sniff the perfume just to bring the picture into my head. Thanks, March.

  • I love this !

    I also bypassed the oudhs in Istanbul airport when I smelled these and really liked this one as well.

    I want to time travel you back to the Kennedy Center with a kid’s size bottle of Rose Parfait…

  • rina says:

    Hey, did y’all know Lancome F&F Sale is going on now and the discount works on these?? FRIENDS, 20% and free shipping. Love, Queen Enabler..

  • James H. says:

    What a lovely story March! Our parents make big sacrifices for us when we are growing up and most of the time we just don’t get it. I was fortunate to be able to express to my dad how grateful I was before he passed. I don’t like most of the Lancome line, except for La vie est belle edp, which smells amazing on me. I will definitely give Rose Parfait a smell!

  • Tyler Rose Goff says:

    Undoubtedly the best perfume review I’ve ever read. Parfait.

  • DinaC says:

    What a beautiful story March! I love the Kennedy Center, too, but I never had the fun of going by myself as a kid. Like you, Lancôme has never bowled me over perfume-wise. But that Rose Parfait sounds pretty dreamy. I’ll have to keep that in the back of my mind next time I’m near NM.

  • Tara C says:

    What a great story and a great memory for you! I love the Lancôme Grands Crus collection and have them all except for the oud ones (sooo sick of oud). The Lavandes Trianon is my favourite but I enjoy them all. Looking forward to the three new ones, I think they’re not out in north america yet.

  • patricia boutilier says:

    I love the story of your mother’s love. I love rose scent and need to try this. My mother, on blue collar Pittsburgh’s SouthSide took us by bus to organ concerts at Carnegie Music Hall. She turned the radio to classical music at night. I am a grandma and wear TeaRose so my grandkids will remember me when I am gone. Perhaps grandmama needs an upgrade.

  • Musette says:

    LOL! The only person more stunned at your love of this than you? Me. It is gorgeous, though. I need to revisit. xoxo

  • shiva-woman says:

    Loved your reminiscences and your writing! I cannot stand Tresor but I loved Magie Noir–overall not a huge Lancome fan except for their travel palettes. Some of the shadows are rich, nicely pigmented with a good feel. This parfait however, sounds like an olfactory treat– will have to try.

    • March says:

      And thank you…. Lancome was definitely my go-to when I graduated to department-store level makeup, partly because it seemed to me they had particularly great/varied gifts w purchase for $35 or so, not $100+. For years it was Lancome lipsticks and eyeshadow for me.

  • cinnamon says:

    That is a gorgeous story, March. What a gift to give a child. Not only the music or whatever you saw on a particular day, but the sense of independence. Lancome doesn’t do it for me. I had Magie Noire at some point but I expect it got given away. Not a fan of the makeup either. Tried various things but all meh. Will have to try the Rose Parfait though when I happen to find myself at some place that stocks it.

  • Jennifer S says:

    I’m not a huge fan of rose as a main note either but I have been sampling Bonds West Side and actually quite liking it. It’s just mixed up enough with different things to be appealing to me and the one you describe here sounds along the same lines. And lucky you for getting to have those wonderful experiences in your childhood!

    • March says:

      Yes, “mixed up with different things” seems to be the key, right? It’s been ages since I’ve sniffed a Bond, I’ll fix that next time I’m at Saks.

  • MikasMinion says:

    Who cares about the perfume? Your memory got me all choked up. What a beautiful word portrait.
    Actually, I would probably want to sniff it if the dreaded tolou balsam hadn’t been listed. It’s usually a big, gaggy, no-go for me. Might sniff it anyhow just out of an abundance of that cat-killing curiosity stuff.

    • March says:

      Hehe well give it a sniff! An aside at how dismal the dept-store perfume scene is in DC — I found them at THREE different stores on Michigan Ave in Chicago — NM, Nordstrom and Saks, I think. Here I had to hunt them down at NM, even our fancy Saks didn’t have them.

  • Portia says:

    I am madly in love with your Mum, what a fabulous thing to give a child. You got to enjoy all of that on your own terms with nobody telling you what to feel, hear, see or understand. Lucky you.
    How blessed you are March.
    Perfume sounds good too.
    Portia xx

    • March says:

      I know! When you’re a kid, that’s just everyday life. As an adult I can see how extraordinary it was — my parents weren’t wealthy or “cultured” and I’m sure my mother arranged it, and of course I didn’t give it a second thought, really.

  • Cyndi says:

    From your description, I would really like to give Parfait de Roses a try. I like some rose scents (Serge Lutens “La Fille de Berlin” and Guerlain’s “Nahema.”), and while I am not a big fan of most Lancome fragrances, I enjoy wearing Tresor now and then. I loved Magie Noir when it first came out in the late 70s, early 80s. But the current formulation makes we want to cry with disappointment. I also really enjoyed your story about going to the Kennedy Center. That must have been wonderful for you – being so sophisticated and cultured at such a young age.

    • March says:

      I should really give Nahema another go (probably in a vintage format), I bet I’d appreciate it now. Lots of love for Magie Noir on here today! Sounds like I need to try a vintage sniff of that as well.