After trying Isparta briefly on paper and having perfume pals remark on its likeness to Frederic Malle’s showstopper Portrait of a Lady, I was keen to test it properly and see if the two really are that similar.
Launched earlier this year, Isparta 26 is described as a Chypre Oriental and the perfumer is Pierre Guillaume.
Isparta is a province in Turkey famed for its rose oil. The Parfumerie Générale website describes the scent of the roses in this region as “intense, rich and slightly spicy”.
Notes include red berries, rose, peru balsam, calamus, patchouli, olibanum, benzoin, agarwood, ambroxan and moss.
For reference, the notes for Portrait of a Lady include Turkish rose, raspberry, blackcurrant, cinnamon, clove, patchouli, sandalwood, incense, ambroxan, benzoin and white musk.
Clearly there is significant overlap in the notes, especially when you consider a lot of people detect oud in Portrait of a Lady despite its presence being refuted by M. Malle.
So how do they compare?
It has to be said that the likeness between the two spicy roses is striking from the get-go. The red berries matched with rose and patchouli is a defining feature of the start of Portrait of a Lady and the beginning of Isparta is remarkably similar. It’s deliciously fruity, rosy and full-bodied.
However the two diverge within the first hour. Isparta has a distinguishing dark and resinous accord which almost obliterates the bright opening. This is the result of the calamus (a wetland grass) and the olibanum (frankincense resin) rising up through the ranks.
Calamus has a facet of cinnamon which comes across quite strongly and along with the clove and olibanum, creates an effect which is pungent and spicy with a grainy texture. I can’t say I find the result particularly appealing but I can still catch glimpses of the gourmand rose on my skin.
After about half an hour or so later, the oud comes through mixed with a musty patchouli. When the dustiness recedes, it adds a welcome smooth over-lay to the spice and the rough and ready resins.
The eponymous rose comes back into sharper focus; lightly spicy, fruity and liqueur-like. It’s reserved in nature, never stepping up to take centre-stage and its sweetness only seeps out from beneath the other notes. It’s so enticing I would have liked it to come out from the shadows.
My overall impression of the drydown is of a sheer, spicy rose oud bolstered by patchouli.
I fear anyone looking for “Portrait of a Lady Lite” would be disappointed after the opening edible rose in Isparta. Portrait of a Lady is much more voluptuous and powerful, with the rose at full tilt. Although easily worn by both men and women, for me it has a strong female personality, albeit a very strident one.
Isparta is reticent by comparison, is more rose oud than rose and has a subtly masculine character.
I have to say that although I need to be in the mood for it, I much prefer the wow-factor of Portrait of a Lady. It’s hard to get excited by another rose oud, as pleasant and unassuming as it is.
To envisage how these Turkish rose cousins turned our so differently despite such a similar make-up, let’s imagine how they might have grown-up…
Portrait of a Lady was reared in a protective hot-house, her every whim attended to. Coaxed and coddled, she bloomed to full ruby red glory with a great sense of entitlement.
In contrast, Isparta was left to fend for himself in the arid desert, parched by the sun and sand-blasted by the wind. As a result, his burnished petals cast a small, dark shadow onto the baked earth.
Have you tried Isparta? Are you bored by the thought of yet another rose oud?