Lady Of The Roses – Review: Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait Of A Lady

I was a bit apprehensive when I thought about trying Portrait of a Lady, the latest issue by Frederic Malle. I have an exceptional track record with this line, and I didn’t particularly long to encounter a Malle fragrance I didn’t like.

Dominique Ropion’s 2010 creation is described as an oriental rose. Reviews have been mixed. All in all, I was feeling a bit underwhelmed and not extremely interested in Portrait, so I put testing it off for a while.

Aside from my starting difficulties with Musc Ravageur, I only ever loved everything Malle has offered until now. I didn’t want to change that.

But after my dear husband procured a sample for me (he has an uncanny ability to separate unwilling SA’s from their scarce samples, without his charm, I would have a lot less to talk about on this blog), I had to face the truth: Another winner from Malle, or the first scrubber for me?

Portrait of a Lady starts with a fruity note, closely followed by a flood of rose. You really have to like rose, because there is no going around it here. Rose is there right from the start and in your face all the time until the extreme drydown, where it fades out slooooooooowly.

The omnipresent rose’s best friend is patchouli. The two make up the majority of this rich composition. The latter propping up the dew-heavy rose petals like an earthy and dry scaffolding. Musc and sandalwood complete the oriental accord of the drydown. The promised benzoin and incense I do not smell every time, to my disappointment. I could have used a bit more sweetness and darkness to counterpoint the magnified rose. After several wearings though, the deeper, smokier layer of the base was more noticeable to me, maybe I got used to the BIG rose, or I learned to see more than this one facet to Portrait. It is definitely a perfume that needs time. Time to be appreciated in its entirety, not one of those you fall for at first sniff. At least for me.

The wear time is excellent, Portrait accompanies me for at least seven or eight hours. Sillage is stronger than average in the beginning, although it calms down considerably about twenty minutes into wearing.

When I close my eyes and breathe deeply I see the eponymous Lady before me, clad in the finest fur, wearing an adventurous hat, preferably with a veil attached, her lips are crimson, her beauty considerable, but stern. She is funny, but a little cruel, she is endlessly sophisticated, but she is the first to fling her high heels into the corner when coming home. She is restrained in public, and lets loose under circumstances, where she feels safe, which is not often. She loves red roses and always has a big bouquet at home, but she forgets to change the water, or expects someone to do it for her who forgets, so the water is murky and stale, and the roses are still holding on, but on the brink of giving it to neglect and letting their petals droop – but not quite yet.

So how do I like it?

After the first day of wearing, I thought it nice, I would gladly take it if I got it as a gift, but felt no need to own it.

After the second day of wearing I felt the first pangs at the dropping level of my tester vial.

After the third wearing, I started to be cross when life forced me to separate my nose from my wrist in order to function.

On the fourth day of wearing it gave me a bit of a headache – setback!

On the fifth day, my nose was back at the wrist, all was well with the world.

I let you draw your own conclusions.

Picture source:,, some rights reserved, thank you!

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40 Responses to Lady Of The Roses – Review: Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Portrait Of A Lady

  1. Tara says:

    Never mind the fragrance, how great is it that your husband has the magical gift of extricating perfume samples from unwilling sales assistants! A keeper indeed 🙂

    Re PoaL – though I’m looking forward to trying this because it is a Malle afterall, I’m not over-eager as rose and patchouli are not two of my favourite notes. I still have a feeling Une Rose Chypree will be the rose for me, must get round to ordering a sample from Les Senteurs. Great to have your take on the Lady though, sounds like it needs repeated wearing to do it justice. I admire the Malle’s immensely but have yet to fall in love with one.

    • Olfactoria says:

      My husband certainly has his qualities 😉
      I am not overly interested in Rose and Patchouli either, but Lady is a great perfume even if one doesn’t like those notes.
      Did you try Une Rose from the line? Quite different from Lady of course, but one of the few rose fragrances I love, the other ones are the Tauer roses 🙂

      • Tara says:

        You know I didn’t try Une Rose when I had the chance but will put that right when I go to Liberty at the end of the month. I’ll also try Carnal Flower which I don’t think is me because of the coconut/tuberose but I’ve heard so much love for it I must give it try. My fave so far has been Parfum de Therese. Will report back!

  2. Victoria says:

    I loved it too, but it is a strong fragrance, so it really needs to be dabbed rather than sprayed. One spray lasted one me through 2 showers and on the coat through a dry cleaning cycle. To me, it is an almost Middle Eastern attar style fragrance, so rich, dark, deep!

    • Olfactoria says:

      V, it is indeed astonishingly tenacious. I still smell this mornings single spray on me – after a shower!

      • Tonight I tried this one, but couldn’t get my hands on a sample! I like it, but I have a thing for strong, Middle Eastern styled perfumes.
        However, I recently bought a local perfume from Pirouette, Rose Musk, that really reminds me of Portrait of a Lady. However, I haven’t gotten to the dry-down of Portrait (I sprayed it one about 3 hours ago). So far, both perfumes are similar: dark, rich, rose with a Middle Eastern vibe. Oh, Rose Musk retails for $25!

  3. deeHowe says:

    B., I love your description of the “Lady,” she is wonderfully charming, and it sounds like PoaL is too… when it comes to big roses, I’m guilty of wanting to sniff every one!
    This is one that I haven’t tested yet, because I’m sort of “saving it” in my mind— I’m afraid that I’m going to love it so much, it will blow everything else off my languishing wish list (I’m only a few weeks away from that bottle of Bois des Iles!) 🙂

    Oh, ‘fumies, and their weird psychological relationship with ‘fumes… LOL.

    • Olfactoria says:

      I am certain this is going to be love for you! I wish I had more to send you some:(
      When will Bois des Iles come home to you?

      • deeHowe says:

        Oh, B., you are so sweet! 🙂

        BdI hasn’t been ordered yet… it’s been sitting in my Chanel shopping cart for a couple months, but I finally decided that I need to Just Do It, and set aside some money from christmas—it will probably be my February perfume purchase 🙂

        (January’s perfume budget was spent on a bottle of Montale Boise Vanille, FYI)

  4. lady jane grey says:

    I’m so with you on this : I adore quite everything from Malle (parfumes, PLUS the candles). Additionally, I adore Henry James’s book and the film (Portrait of a Lady…).
    So I’m almost afraid to try it…

  5. Tarleisio says:

    Lady Jane…you and me both. I quake in terror in front of my MacBook every day, wondering what serial murders I shall perpetrate against my lacklustre bank account! I love, love, love…rose, and I love rose + patchouli (such as Juliette Has A Gun’s lady Vengeance), I love Rosine’s Une Zeste de Rose and above all other roses, the original YSL Paris. But I’m afraid to try it. Afraid I then can’t live without it.

    Olfactoria, I think you might have several head cases among your commenters! I know I am.

    A rose, by any other name…;)

  6. kjanicki says:

    Beautiful description of the “Lady” and perfect photo. I have to get around to trying this, but like you, I’m afraid of what falling in love with another Malle will do to my bank account. I recently experienced that “pang” when I saw the levelof my tester of Angeliques sous le pluie, and I wonder how long I can put off buying a bottle. I’ve never tried Une Rose either, oh dear.

  7. Marina says:

    Love that image, ah!

  8. Vintage Lady says:

    Oh.. Musc Ravageur, how much I love it!

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  23. phlegmfatale says:

    Portrait of a Lady is one of my top all-time favorites, along with Coromandel. If I had to take but one fragrance to a desert island, it would be torture to have to choose! The sprayer on mine blasts out an industrial volume, though, so I use a light touch and try to apply half a spray. Because this one lasts and lasts on my skin– I can always smell it the next day. The spices, coupled with the rose/patchouli powerhouse, make for a gorgeous, bewitching fragrance. Like you, I have the nose-glued-to-wrist phenomenon, and I’m perpetually falling in love with POAL as I wear it. She is a glory.

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