"Rrose Sélavy, the feminine alter ego created by Marcel Duchamp, is one of the most complex and pervasive pieces in the enigmatic puzzle of the artist's oeuvre. She first emerged in portraits made by the photographer Man Ray in New York in the early 1920s, when Duchamp and Man Ray were collaborating on a number of conceptual photographic works. Rrose Sélavy lived on as the person to whom Duchamp attributed specific works of art, Readymades, puns, and writings throughout his career. By creating for himself this female persona whose attributes are beauty and eroticism, he deliberately and characteristically complicated the understanding of his ideas and motives." 1
The name "Rrose Sélavy," interpreted/translated in at least two ways: "Eros, c'est la vie" (eros, that's life) and "Arroser la vie" (to drink to life or, more sensually, to moisten life, as in arousal), is niche perfumer Maria Candida Gentile's toast to Marcel Duchamp and his female (drag) creation, Rrose Sélavy. As perfume inspirations go, it's intriguing and FUN — just like Gentile's Elephant & Roses idea.
One of my favorite Duchamp/Rrose Sélavy projects was the 1921 readymade "perfume" Belle Haleine Eau de Voilette (translation: Beautiful Breath, Veil Water, see image above); using a found object (a Rigaud perfume bottle that had once held the popular perfume Un Air Embaumé), Duchamp, with the assistance of Man Ray, added a new label showing himself as Rrose and voilà — a new "fragrance" was born. Not that long ago — 2009? — the Duchamp/Ray Belle Haleine bottle was sold at auction by Christie's for, sit down, $11,489,968!
Rrose Sélavy, the Maria Candida Gentile creation, had many Duchamp/Ray symbolic ideas to work with: male/female (unisex), true/false (natural vs artificial), pure/impure (clean and fresh or dirty) and appropriation (copy...or original). The formula might read: Maria Candida Gentile + Rigaud + Ray + Duchamp (Rrose Sélavy) = Art (or Art?)
Rrose Sélavy goes on smelling sweet, like rose liqueur, with a BIG-rose aroma (I'm imaging deep-red, thick velvety petals on blossoms the size of softballs). I'm a rose lover: I grow many roses, make rose preserves in summer and also use faded rose blossoms in potpourri. The roses I tend, enjoy and use must possess one thing to justify the time and water they require: SCENT, and plenty of it. Rrose Sélavy delivers my kind of roses...roses in a variety "moods," from jammy to rose water "pink" to dry, bittersweet rose petals. There's a phase that reminds me of cosmetics (rose cold cream) and a moment when rose is joined by what smells like immortelle (this reminds me of Etat Libre d'Orange The Afternoon of a Faun). As Rrose Sélavy develops further I detect a vegetal scent: a mild green-bitter aroma floating in the background (perhaps the non-floral parts of a rose bush).
After wearing Rrose Sélavy for several days, it was added to my "to-buy" list (ever-blooming but never pruned, if you know what I mean); it joins Frédéric Malle Une Rose, Maria Candida Gentile's own Elephant & Roses and Serge Lutens Sa Majesté La Rose and Rose de Nuit as a favorite rose fragrance.
The Duchamp-Ray-Rrose Sélavy collaboration has layer upon layer of possible meanings (many more than I mention above); Gentile, in her perfume, accents 'romantic' androgyny (male, as well as female perfumistas, I think, will feel comfortable wearing Rrose Sélavy) and complex Rrosy aspects (the perfume contains "rose petals," Turkish rose, May rose, rose accord, Michelle rose, rose stems and leaves). I'm betting Marcel Duchamp would be thrilled that Rrose Sélavy lives on in another guise.
Maria Candida Gentile Rrose Sélavy Eau de Parfum is available in 15 ml (€36) or 100 ml (€170); for buying information, see the listing for Maria Candida Gentile under Perfume Houses.
1. Top quote and top left image: Marcel Duchamp as Rrose Selavy, by Man Ray, Philadelphia Museum of Art; Martha Chahroudi, Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections, 1995, page 241.