Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rose Barbare by Guerlain: fragrance review

Barbaric rose, rose of Attila, rose of the Goths, Rosicrucian and mystic. Where are you? The lines of Walt Whitman in my ears: "I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world".
Or even this:

"November sun is sunlight poured through honey:
Old things, in such a light, grow subtle and fine.
Bare oaks are like still fire.
Talk to me: now we drink the evening's wine.
Look, how our shadows creep along the grave!--
And this way, how the gravel begins to shine!

This is the time of day for recollections,
For sentimental regrets, oblique allusions,
Rose-leaves, shrivelled in a musty jar.
Scatter them to the wind! There are tempests coming.
It is dark, with a windy star.

If human mouths were really roses, my dear,
-- (Why must we link things so?--)
I would tear yours petal by petal with slow murder.
I would pluck the stamens, the pistils,
The gold and the green,
-- Spreading the subtle sweetness that was your breath
On a cold wave of death....

Now let us walk back, slowly, as we came.
We will light the room with candles; they may shine
Like rows of yellow eyes.
Your hair is like spun fire, by candle-flame.
You smile at me--say nothing. You are wise.

For I think of you, flung down brutal darkness;
Crushed and red, with pale face.
I think of you, with your hair disordered and dripping.
And myself, rising red from that embrace".
~from a poem by Conrad Aiken (1889-1973)

Rose Barbare by Guerlain is an elegant rendition of a floral composition that features rose notes, soft and a little astringent at times on my skin, like the Centifolia variety grown in Grasse rather than the opulent Damascena of the Ottoman and the Bulgarian variety. Rather sweet and not particularly powdery, underscored with some peach fruit ~but not as loudly fruity as Sa Majesté La Rose by Serge Lutens, nor as mysteriously chypré as Rose de Nuit by the same house~ Rose Barbare bears a passing resemblance with Nahéma, especially as it develops on skin. However the latter is fiestier, like a red-haired woman in wrath, whereas Rose Barbare is a dark blonde affair of sweetness, chic and insouciance.
Although the formal brief talks about a "heady and incisive Ottoman rose", I don’t find this one heady nor incisive. On the contrary it is light and chyprish and quite modern, in a retro-chic way that is au courant. It is a proud young scent, made for a house that needs an injection of young clientele.
Personally I am a little overwhelmed by Nahéma, so the prospect of a less potent rose would seem like a good idea to a person who is no big rose lover by my own admition. But it is also supposed to harness other elements of the Guerlain tradition and the chypré base of Mitsouko, Parure and Sous le Vent is one of them. Mitsouko has achieved legendary status through the years and is often used as an example of what great art in perfumery can achieve. However its impact on modern noses is demystifying and for that reason Guerlain probably wanted to keep the best elements of it and modernize the idea behind it. But whereas Mitsouko is all loss and poignant introversion, Rose Barbare is pride and prickly fingers.
The addition of synthetic musks, some honeyed fruit and aldehyde C11 gives both booziness and volume to the scent of Rose Barbare and alludes to its rich heritage. This one is a perfectly soft composition with some grassy accents and a base that hides a green and dusty quality reminiscent of oak moss, but not quite (since the latter is one ingredient that has had its fair share of allegations to be an irritant); instead patchouli, like in most modern "chypres", with its rich aroma anchors the composition into deeper waters of sexuality that might lure me in to explore further my dysfunctional relationship with rose.
Created by nose Francis Kurkdjian, who was one half of the creative team behind the winning composition of the mesmerizing Narciso Rodriguez for Her perfume, conceived in only three weeks for the opening of the renovated main boutique La Maison Guerlain at 68 Avenue des Champs-Elysées, Paris in 2005 and without a brief from the House according to Chandler Burr, it is a feat; a little enigma in that it stands alone in its pedestal as something unique, but at the same time it doesn’t produce a visceral reaction to it, which is perhaps to its detriment.

Notes for Rose Barbare by Guerlain:
honey, rose, spices

Rose Barbare forms part of the L'Art et la Manière line sold exclusively at boutiques Guerlain and the Guerlain espace at Begdrof Goodman, in tall architectural bottles with the name on the side in a wide golden "band" and an optional bulb atomiser included (My advice on those is not to leave them attached on the bottle as they allow evaporation of the juice).

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: the Guerlain series.

Painting courtesy of mica1224art/Flickr. Bottles pic via Guerlain.


  1. I always consider Rose Barbare to be a girly version of Rose de Nuit. It is quite sweet as you say, but still avoids to be an ordinary fruity floral. Francis Kurkdjian is the master of roses.

  2. Anonymous02:48

    I am so enjoying this series on the Guerlain fragrances. Thank you for such inspired writing!

    May I submit my entry into the "rose poetry" category?

    i do not know what it is about you that closes
    and opens; only something in me understands
    the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses
    nobody not even the rain, has such small hands
    e.e. cummings

  3. Lovely review (as always) love the poem. I am a rose fan and I really enjoy Nahema in parfum form (I'm not normally a parfum snob but in this it seems to make a difference) but I think overwhelming is a good word for it. I liked the red head description! (I'd love to have red hair, just for a day)

    This sounds a little tamer, but in a good way, perhaps a bit more wearable on more occasions.
    Those bottles are rather lovely!

  4. L,

    nice description! Perfect, I might say! Kurkdjian was indeed churning out the roses something crazy two to four years ago, wasn't he?

  5. R,

    thank you honey for your support, I appreciate it :-)

    What lovely verse! I am copying this now to have on a sticker on my notebook. Thanks!!

  6. K,

    thanks, sweetie, glad you enjoyed it. I like Nahema (I agree it's glorious in parfum) but it's a bit too much sometimes: I rarely wear it because of that. (a pity, but hey!)I find all the L'A&LM line is quite wearable, very easy to pull of, in varying degress of pleasantness...(The bottles look good too (Lutenesque!), I agree; especially with the bulb atomiser on, but I never attach it for fear of evaporation :/

  7. I've enjoyed ALL your Guerlain commentaries !
    They were my first 'house', and hold a dear place in my heart.

    RB is gorgeous, no doubt- I find it very beautiful; but on me, Nahema sings SO tenderly and lovingly.
    [ I WAS a redhead, for 5 years- a fab look, but waaaay too much work !]

    Have loved Conrad Aiken for yonks.

    Many kisses to you....

  8. My dearest I,

    how nice to hear from you and so sorry I have neglected our correspondence (have had so many things to attend to, no thanks to asking for them; forgive me!) Are you OK?

    Thanks for your kind words. I bet Nahema is simply great on your giving, generous, bigger than life personality! Red-headed huh? Must have looked great :-))

    Hugs back at you, sweetheart!

  9. Anonymous12:53


    This was the last verse of his poem that began with:

    "Somewhere I have never travelled, gladly..."

    Since none of his poems were named, you can google that for the full poem in case you don't already have it.

    This is probably my all time favorite poem, although a few of Mary Oliver's are in close running. Funnily enough, long before perfume blogs, boards, etc., I always associated that poem with the smell of Je Reviens extrait.


  10. Anonymous13:32

    Good review of an extremely pleasant scent. I think I may have mentioned, once or twice before, how much I love Guerlain scents and yet in the matter of rose scents I prefer, for once, the Lutens versions. Nahema is glorious but too much for me whereas Sa Majeste is about right if what I wanted was a fruity rose and Rose de Nuit is a proper thorny dark chypre ish rose which this pretty little Rose Barbare is not (at least to me). No denying the quality of any of them though but I suppose as I'm not a huge rose fan I'm maybe not the best person to judge! Hope you have a quiet weekend in Athens, H! donanicola

  11. And then he (Francis Kurkdjian) set his eyes on vanilla, I'm curious to see what's next. FK is really going his own way, I guess if you have talent then you can afford such things. Just read about his new project, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, I won't mind getting some nice smelling detergent, as long as the price is reasonable.

  12. Bloody hell Helg - you are posting at a rate of knots and I cannot keep up! LOL
    I have to say - I like Nahema more than this. I get a bigger hit!

  13. D,

    thanks so much for the additional info and the rec on Mary Oliver (which I had't heard of before, not being natively English-speaking myself; so forgive my ignorance).
    How lovely that you associated it with Je Reviens! :-)

  14. N,

    I also prefer Rose de Nuit to Rose Barbare: I like bastardised roses, you see....
    Sa majeste is too much rose, too much fruit for me :/

  15. L,

    I am sure Francis is talented enough to do as he pleases. He seemed to collaborate on hundreds of projects on roses, this is why I mentioned it. Vanilla is more cliche I'd gather, so an innovative touch is even more needed. Let's see!
    The functional end of the business I always thought was the hardest, really! :-)

  16. M,

    awww, thanks for the nautical comparison! I am probably thinking of that glorious Cup you're running on your shores! :-))

    I would surmiss Nahema would be more to your style. ;-)
    I wish I could wear it often myself. It's glorious.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine