Monday, August 20, 2007

London Calling...part 4: at Roja Dove's place

When one is faced with greatness it manifests itself in no uncertain terms. Awe, amazement and a feeling of having tingles down the spine greet you upon entering one of the sacred altars of perfume, Roja Dove’s Haute Parfumerie on the 5th floor of Harrod’s, the Titanic of all stores: impressive, astounding in fact and certain to lead you to your doom. Financially speaking, that is.

Roja Dove is no stranger to perfume and his very special place in that Mecca of shoppers is magnificent. Formerly professeur de parfums at Guerlain (a title he gave himself, when they were at a loss on how to call him, as he is not a “nose” ~meaning a practicing perfumer) he is in reality a Roger who spelled his name the way it is pronounced in a heavy-set aristocratic English accent.
Haute Parfumerie was a concept near and dear to his heart, as it is meant to work like a museum and a shop combined: among the myriads of vintage bottles in opulent Bacarrat crystals there are many recreations and infinitesimal versions of favourite smells for customers to pick and choose, so that they are guaranteed to find their perfect holy grail scent or just the latest fling with which to dance the night away. All subject to their taste.

The grand staircase that recalls an Egyptian tomb fit for a Pharaoh in a modern version of Liz Taylor’s "Cleopatra"is nowhere near possible to describe without being unjust and the evocative lighting of the space is akin to entering a shrine to the high priest of perfume indeed. Rows and rows of vintage bottles with impressive names stand in aloof poise, among them the Bacarrat rarity Les Larmes Sacrees de Thebes (=sacred tears of Thebes ~fit for the Egyptian theme!), Nina Ricci’s discontinued classic Coeur Joie (=heart of joy), Ombre Rose by Jean Charles Brosseau with its rich powdery hay and oppoponax base or the individual Caron masterpiece of Ernest Daltroff En Avion, dedicated to aviation and its brave first steps. Indeed they do have many of the Caron urn perfumes: those are the pure parfum/extrait perfumes that the venerable French house only sells from big crystal “vats” at their boutiques by request.
They also have the rare gems of Christian Dior from the days of their illustrious past: Diorama and Diorling. They are too beautiful to dismiss in a single expletive, so they deserve their own space and time in the near future to which you will be treated shortly.

Additionally Roja has created some individual scents for selling there, as I found out for about £2000 a bottle. The price being prohibitive I was reluctant to even try them out for fear I might have to break down and put a little mortgage to acquire one of them. On the other hand he is also launching three more moderately priced yet quality superior feminine scents for the upcoming season (October to be precise). They are based around one fragrance family each and they are named Scandal (a rich white floral), Enslaved(an oriental) and Unspoken (a chypre).

Roja’s theory of why smell is so important to us is interesting though and worth recounting. He maintains that the part of the brain that deals with odour is empty when we are born and we spend the first years of our lives (well into our puberty and beyond, I get to understand) forming preferences and distastes. This might be the reason why babies and small children often do not have a notion of “bad” smells and they venture into skatole-filled adventures that would make us shudder. It might also explain why there are definite preferences in certain aromas when we grow up that we can’t seem to shake off: they just move us on a deeper level, reminiscing of our childhood experiences and memories.

Roja elaborates that this is what is called an “odour profile”, sounding very much like a special FBI agent intent on capturing a serial killer, and in a way, you might want to think that smell is a serial killer, the way it strikes again and again and again with shocking results every single time. This odour profile constitutes what we find appealing and what not and also pinpoints which fragrance families tend to attract us more, giving a glimpse into our personalities in the process. This also coincides with what Mandy Aftel has to say when creating a bespoke fragrance for a client, by the way. She maintains that you can judge somewhat the tendencies of a personality according to the basenotes they choose for their tailor-made fragrance: shy or conventional types go for vanilla; hell-cats go for hay or blond tobacco and so on.
It’s an interesting thought, to be sure.

To revert to the subject at hand though, Roja continues by elaborating on how to choose an appropriate scent for oneself, using the odour profile. First there is some testing to determine which fragrance family is most appealing in general. For general purposes this is three-fold, encompassing floral, chypre and oriental. It is essential to clarify at this point that this is not meant to exclude one from the other or indeed disregard the nuances of cross-pollination that very often happen across families. It is simply a matter of simplifying a basic tendency that might produce more recommendations that would be most suitable. It doesn’t mean that a person can’t very well enjoy certain fragrances from all those families above.
Indeed after establishing a preference, one then goes through a process of elimination and specification that involves smelling separate notes. This is done through the use of scented candles, Diptyque it was from what I recall, and they let you smell the glasses they came in and share your impressions, as those particular candles are single-note based. My own preference for Oak, Oeillet, Jasmine and Pomander resulted in recommendations of Bellodgia, Mitsouko, Bal a Versailles and Coup de Fouet. Oh, dear, I already knew that…, I inwardly think.
Still, the process is fascinating, especially as there is no divulging of what you are smelling till after you have proffered an opinion. Which maintains the quintessential factors of a good test: objectivity and no influence by advertising or packaging.
I highly recommend the trip!

Pic "Favourably inclined" originally uploaded by cishikilauren /flickr


  1. Your picture reminds of paintings or sculpures of "ladies at le bain" around a lake or fountain, exuding sensuality and abundance.
    Roja Dove seems a mandatory detour for me now. With an empty credit card & a couple of American Xpress carnet ;)
    There are experiences in this 21st Centure of ours that are meant to be lived. I totally agree with you!

  2. R,

    great comparison!! Indeed that was the idea behind choosing the pic to accompany this post.
    Oh yes, Roja's is a spot not to be missed: his book (linked below the post) is also a sight to behold; the pictures of his collection of flacons is staggering and breathtaking!!


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