This is a review of Roja Dove Enslaved Eau de Parfum, but it's going to take me a moment to get there, so please bear with me.
Not long ago I heard a perfumer disparaged because his work was stale. According to the person I talked to, the perfumer had said what he had to say and wasn't breaking any new ground with his newest fragrances. I understand this complaint, especially coming from someone who sees perfume as art. We already have so many beautiful fragrances. If you're not adding to what's out there, but simply creating more of the same, why bother? I won't buy new art unless it challenges me and draws me in. I won't stay up past midnight in a crowded club unless I know I'll be listening to music that feels fresh and engaging. And I'm certainly tired of the landslide of berry-patchouli or screechy floral-musks out there.
Then, Friday night I was at a coworker's going away party and I went to the bar to buy the coworker a beer. While I waited, a beefy, biker-type guy sat near me combing his long, red beard. "I like your scent," he said.
My wrist flew to my nose as I tried to remember what it was. "It's Jolie Madame," I said. I hadn't worn it in a while. I'd stumbled on a decant of the vintage Eau de Toilette that morning as I was trying to find my last few drops of Penhaligon Amaranthine. Jolie Madame's violets seemed perfect for a spring day.
The man's beard was truly luxuriant against his black leather vest. He continued to comb. "I like it. It's kind of masculine, but I like it."
On my (non-Harley) bike ride home, I realized there's still plenty of room for the tried and true. In fact, it's necessary. Not everyone has run through the gamut of every art form and is blasé to everything but the new, surprising take. Sure, an artist can comment on another artist's lack of development, but most of the rest of us benefit from having a range of art, traditional to avant garde, to experience.
After all, the bearded biker was entranced by Jolie Madame. It was new to him, and fresh out of the barrel or worn for decades, it's still beautiful. As I write, I'm listening to Ian Bostridge sing Schubert lieder. People who are real music lovers might shake their heads in pity. They've listened to the lieder so often it bores them. I think Bostridge sings like a really intelligent angel, and I could listen to him all day. Despite smugly writing I won't buy art unless it challenges me, hanging right above my desk are two drawings of swan-like women in invented evening gowns done in the 1960s by a man who used to draw ads for one of the department stores downtown. I love them.
This is where Roja Dove Enslaved comes in. Enslaved smells like a dozen or more other fragrances from the past 70 years, but that's o.k. It's well done, and it satisfies. Roja Dove created Enslaved in 2007 as part of a trio of fragrances including Scandal (a white floral) and Unspoken (a chypre). In his book The Essence of Perfume, Roja Doves describes Enslaved as an oriental and lists among its notes bergamot, orange, lemon, orange blossom, geranium, ylang ylang, rose, Grasse jasmine, carnation, oakmoss, cedar, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, ambergris, and musk. He wrote he "wanted something which would at once 'enslave' the wearer and those who smell it."1
Despite its plethora of notes, to me Enslaved smells like finely milled, expensive powder. It's not the violet-rose powder of Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose or the sandalwood-amber powder of Lorenzo Villoresi Alamut, but the spicy, vaguely woody powder of Molinard Habanita without the sweet tobacco. Enslaved is so well blended it's almost linear — what you smell at minute two is what you smell two hours later.
Right now, I'd choose Habanita over Enslaved because I smell a moist airiness in Habanita that Enslaved's tight powder doesn't have. Also, Habanita is a lot cheaper and easier to find. But I'd be upset if Enslaved disappeared, because it smells of high quality materials, and I'm not sure Habanita has fared as well over the years. Besides that, Enslaved may not be original, but I can't remember a fragrance like it coming out in a long while. Maybe instead of calling Enslaved derivative, we should think of it as classic.
Come to think of it, that bearded biker guy at the bar was a classic, too.
Roja Dove Enslaved is available in 100 ml Eau de Parfum (£120) or 100 ml Parfum (£343); for buying information, see the listing for Roja Dove under Perfume Houses.
1. p. 188.