Portrait of a Desert Rose – Review: Parfumerie Générale Isparta

By Tara

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.

pg isparta

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?



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24 Responses to Portrait of a Desert Rose – Review: Parfumerie Générale Isparta

  1. Ines says:

    I wasn’t that thrilled with Portrait of a Lady but Isparta sounds rather good and much more to my liking. 🙂

  2. Sandra says:

    Tara, roses and Oud or patchouli always peak my curiosity. I wear POAL quite a bit during the summer months. Isparta sounds nice and I will give it a try when I see it.

  3. I’m with you on the thought that PoaL is superior to Isparta. I think the latter is well-made, but like you I found that it was ‘yet-another-one’ in an already crowded genre that has flooded the market ever since the ‘Middle Eastern’ trend hit us like a freight train.

    • Tara says:

      Ha ha, it did hit us like a freight train. Shame really because Isparta is indeed very well done and has a lovely jammy, spicy rose under the dust.

  4. Lady Jane Grey says:

    I need to try this, even if it’s the 98th version of rose-oud – I want to try it becasue I like how you describe it (and also because I was one of those very few who didn’t particularly like PoL)

    • Tara says:

      Like Ines, I think this is much more your kind of thing than PoaL. As you also love oud (as quiet as it is here) it’s well worth a try. Let me know how you get on.

  5. cookie queen says:

    I love your evocative description but I have to be honest and say that the very thought of cinnamon has me running as far away as possible! I like PoaL, and LOVE Un Rose. Bussi. xxx

    • Tara says:

      The cinnamom is muted and brief but I know what you mean.

      Une Rose is amazing. Why did I sell my bottle? Not sure anymore…

  6. Alexandra says:

    I tried Isparta earlier this year and was unfortunately underwhelmed (I still can’t get onboard with chypres), but you have reminded me how badly I need to revisit PoaL – especially as my current rose obsession shows no sign of stopping. Lovely review as always x

    • Tara says:

      Hey Alex

      Seeing as you love big orientals and roses you really should give PoaL another go. Please let me know how you get on when do you re-try.

  7. ladywinther says:

    I got to try Isparta a couple of weeks ago, and I really like it. I owned a bottle of POAL, but it felt so demanding, I ended up selling it. Was never really in the right mood. Isparta is easier for me to carry off, I think, and the drydown is wonderful on my skin.

    • Tara says:

      I know exactly what you mean about PoaL. I never seem in the right mood for it either. Probably because it is so demanding, as you say. I’ll probably end up selling it if I don’t wear it much this summer.

      The top and base of Isparta are my favourite parts.

  8. Asali says:

    Thanks for this great description and comparison, Tara. I had no idea that these two perfumes were being compared, but then with those notes I wouldn’t have been target audience in any case 😉 it sounds great: chypre oriental, but (yet another) rose Oud with patchouli… Not so much. I don’t even think that I have tried PoaL, but guess from what you write that that one would be more me.

    • Tara says:

      To be honest Asali, I don’t think either of these are really you. Isparta is basically a rose oud and PoaL is a rose patchouli with the volume turned up to 11. I know you’re not a fan of roses at the best of times.

      No, you’re not the target audience for these two I’m afraid!

      • Asali says:

        I didn’t want to say it, so I’m sitting here giggling, at the fact that you did! Of course you nailed it with your assessment of my taste. ( Rose- patch at turned up volume… D-: heeeelp)

  9. Vanessa says:

    I loved your closing images, contrasting these two perfumes with perfectly chosen metaphors! I only tried Isparta fleetingly in Bloom’s back in February, so I just recollect the similar opening to PoaL, but it didn’t move me – rose and oud don’t tend to, though my friend Gillie loves that combination, eg in By Kilian Rose Oud, or Roja Dove Oud (I think there was some rose in there). Or Thirty-Three indeed. I guess I was hoping for a more diva-ish, vampy rose with this latest launch – another gourmand like Brulure, maybe – not a wan thing with a masculine slant.

    • Tara says:

      Thanks, V! Good of you to read and comment when you’ve got so much work on.

      Isparta is definitely not diva-ish or vampy and although it has some lovely jammy sweetness, I wouldn’t describe it as a gourmand. I have to say, I still prefer PG’s Brulure de Rose.

  10. Heya Tara,
    I remember thinking Isparta was nice when we smelled it at Blooms earlier in the year but my brain has zero recollection of what I smelled. Rather telling really. You have enticed me though to get a sample and smell the story again, though you don’t adore it I think it sounds like Isparta could be a good entrance fragrance or a softer version for people who need a bit of quiet.
    You said the resins are rough and ready, are you saying Isparta has less that seamless blending?
    Portia xx

    • Tara says:

      Very interesting question, Portia. You know, I wore the remainder of my sample yesterday and didn’t notice the sour resins stage at all. I registered the lovely rose a lot more. I wonder if smelling so intently close up for the review made me pick up on something that you wouldn’t if you just applied and wafted it.

      I think it could be a good option for those who want to try a subtle rose oud with patch.

  11. Natalie says:

    Even though I get the impression this wasn’t your favorite scent of all time, your description does make it sound very appealing. I think I would probably be more inclined to stick with Portrait of a Lady, though. I think I prefer my rose fragrances a little more feminine, a little less spicy-woodsy.

    • Tara says:

      Yes, exactly. It’s not really my style either but it’s nicely done and will find its fans I’m sure.

      I’m starting to wonder if spicy-woodsy is actually my least favourite kind of fragrance. They are usually firmly on the masculine side of things and like you, I much prefer traditionally feminine perfumes.

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