Because I danced to the Nutcracker and used to perform an imaginary role of Schéharazade in my room (I secretly really loved the ballet: not something you admitted to at the school I went to), when I was nine, my mother took me to see Coppélia. What was to have been a magical night at the theatre though, was me, mortified; slumped in my seat at the sissifying shame of being a boy – a ‘ponce’ - at the ballet. Deep down I was thrilled, but watched the stage in mortified paralysis, slumped in my seat with embarrassed, feverish cheeks.
But the excitement of the big night out is something that stays with you; when you close the front door behind you and go out, dressed up, to the theatre: the darkness; that red-ruched, velvet claustrophobia. This perfume by Hermès reminds me of that sense of occasion, the emotion beneath it; your mother cleaning your face with powdered lipstick-spit as you climb the carpeted staircase and hear the first animated murmurings from arriving crowds. A ravishing, stupendously romantic perfume (Rouge is very much a perfume, not a ‘fragrance’) that deserves far wider recognition. In the extrait especially, Rouge dazzles in its compact, tiered complexity: impossible glamour from the first spray, but with that Hermès impeccable taste: a shimmering rush of powdery myrrh-fused roses, lit with bright ylang, cedar, and a light veil of spice. Pulsating beneath this delicious cloud is a costly seduction of resins, vanilla, costus, and musk. It is this troubling finish, the Oedipal animality at the heart of this fragrance, contrasted brilliantly with the beautiful first notes, that makes Rouge so exciting as a contemporary perfume.
Superficially similar to Guerlain’s Chamade, Rouge has far more self-composure. Where the former has an almost embarrassing sincerity (the most ‘in love’ of all perfumes), Rouge is the same woman twenty years later: richer, harder, yet still incredibly beautiful.