KEEPING THE FAITH : On signature scents and ROMA by LAURA BIAGIOTTI (1991)

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Do you have a scent that you have worn for years; one that ‘becomes’ you, that truly suits you, that represents you, that is you?

One that everyone you have ever known associates with you; that, if left lingering in a room conjures you up like a living, disembodied phantom?

 

In other words, your ‘signature’?

 

For most perfumistas, perhaps not. Not just one.

 

I am not sure if even I do, to be honest, as we are promiscuous, and it is difficult for us to remain faithful to only one scent when there are so many temptations out there to make us stray from our betrothed. We are compelled to play the field, sample different lovers….

 

I myself have been wearing scent continuously and obsessively for twenty seven years or more, and there have been many, many scents that have come and gone in that time: some that I look back on with disdain, others that I see as cherished memories, and others that I still wear now. I imagine that many other fellow perfume lovers will have had similar experiences.

 

And yet : I think we all do have perhaps ten or so perfumes that more fully represent us, that have hooked us; that, if they were there, standing by the coffin, with testers and paper strips at our funerals, would partially bring us back to life for our family and friends…

 

 

For those who do stick to one perfume ( and I salute you! ) the associations left in people’s minds from your choice of scent will be final and incontrovertible: it will be you, bottled, and suspended in liquid, and people who have known and loved you will SMELL you in that flacon, the person and the scent they are smelling indivisible. Because some  people really do wear one scent for a lifetime (after all, it was once seen as the way to go: you bought a perfume and stuck to it), and Roma, a lovely Italian sweet thing from the late eighties that was very fashionable for a while back then, is my sister encapsulated. She has been wearing it ever since she entered her teens, and of all the people I have known, Deborah has been the most faithful to her scent. Roma is her signature, and has been for almost two decades: – a genial, fresh, minty oriental with a whiff of the confectioner’s (the first time I ever smelled it I immediately thought of those cola cubes that used to be sold in big jars at the sweet shop: concentrated, deep orange-pink; and frosted with sugar).  Rich and complex,  Roma for me is somehow sexy, knowing and ridiculously flirtatious while remaining young, carnally innocent and very cute (or is that just a big brother talking?)

 

The ‘floriental’  in its modern guise is a bane, so brutishly buxom, that tacky, bust out down the bar ‘siren call’ that I find so lacking in tact. The difference between these recent Saturday night floriental wannabes and Roma however, is that, like my sister, it has heart and soul (and guts as well). You would also never think of Roma as overtly animalic (despite the presence of those subtle additions far down in the dry-down: they exist more at the subliminal level), yet with this perfume’s insistent, gorgeous aura, my sister has consistently had compliments from people over the years, from men especially who practically want to devour her.

 

 

**

 

 

On a whim I once bought Deborah the original, boringly discontinued Fendi, that spicy 80’s perfume of broad-shouldered, Milanesque brocade that I have always enjoyed , and she loved it, and wore it for a time, yet kept getting asked by her colleagues if she had just been down the pub (apparently she smelled like soaked beer mats when she wore it, not something a girl wants to hear on a Monday morning at the office). It just didn’t work on her, and this only reinforces my belief that certain perfumes, do, obviously, suit some people, and others don’t, and not only in terms of temperament and atmosphere, but physically, literally. Some very good perfumes clearly smell horrendous on certain people, yet there seems to be a movement among some perfume critics which dictates that the whole ‘skin chemistry’ thing is a myth.

 

I can categorically state that it isn’t. If you sit me and my friend Helen down, for example, and spray us with any perfume, the differences will be immediately striking, often amusingly so.  On Helen’s skin, all orientalia, all muskiness and fattiness disappears, almost immediately. What is left is flowers and leaves; something light, pure and elegant.  On me it is the opposite: all is opoponax, vanilla, patchouli: flowers flown off, torn and mangled in the Sagittarian gusts.

 

Fendi is a great, operatic perfume, just not meant for my sister. Someone will be out there tonight at La Scala in this perfume smelling essential, fabulous, while another will be in some coffee shop stinking as though she has spent the night with her lanky hair sprawling among overturned beer barrels. And that’s just the way it is.

 

 

*****

 

 

 

 

There is a moment when man or woman and a scent meet, and it is love at first sight.

 

Until this point this we have made do with something that works fine, even though deep down we instinctively know that it isn’t quite what we want, that there is something either too much or not enough; that incorrigible something, that particular combination of ingredients or even a void, a lack that is somehow alien to our soul.

 

And then we find it: that scent that, like the lover we click with, feels so right. So natural. In whose presence we can be ourselves. A palpable, beautiful extension of our personality that reels people in, imprinting itself narcissistically on their memories….

 

If you have not yet had this experience then that is one of the joys of perfume; and of this and other perfume books and blogs: the persistent belief deep down inside that it is out there; that it exists, and knows you do too, but is just waiting, impatiently, to be discovered…

 

 

Deborah and Roma met some time in her early teens ( I am nine years older, and the poor girl was assailed with perfume from a very early age, not that she seemed to mind..), and  I can’t remember how this fateful union came to pass, exactly, whether it was me, or her and the school teenage posse, but in any case, it was love at first sight and she has worn it ever since (though in truth I am being slightly disingenuous: there have been occasional other perfumes worn over the years, a few sent by me for Christmas and birthdays, but none has ever stuck, and there always seems to be a bottle of this in her room, full, half-full, or nearing empty. Now that it is no longer available in England (but is, for example, at Amsterdam Schiphol airport – I often fly KLM from Tokyo to Birmingham), everyone on a trip to Europe is always instructed to bring back some Roma. My mum was even talking about it on the phone last night: she had had to go on Amazon to order a bottle, as ‘Deborah is low on Roma’ (as though she were a diabetic dangerously about to be out of insulin). It is a perfume that she always sprays on with abandon after her endless bathing and make-up rituals that always seems to take an eternity but which always result in a gorgeous vamp glamming up wherever she happens to be in her Debroarian splendour.

 

And Roma just finishes it all off to perfection.

 

 

As I have written before, I used to live in Rome, and you could find this everywhere (even the parfum, which must be very rare now), but I used to see it in various gift shops by the colosseum, where I would spend the days lying on the grass reading novels and listening to my walkman, delighting in the facts of being twenty one, and an adventure-ready, English boy in Rome. At the time, Lancôme’s Trésor was all the rage (you cannot imagine how much: I remember going to some rich girl’s house and her bathroom (I am always totally shameless in people’s bathrooms, raiding the closets and cupboards guiltlessly to see what is there), but this girl had everything: the bath foams, shower gels, body creams, deodorants, eau de toilette, parfum…and for a while on the metro it seemed that Trésor (which I do like, by the way) was being pumped from the central ventilation systems. You could practically taste it, and it seemed that almost every woman in Rome was wearing it.

 

My sister wasn’t. It was all about Roma: a fresh-fruity oriental, light and simultaneously licentious, that begins with a spritz of summery innocence (Sicilian bergamot, blackcurrant bud, grapefruit and, crucially, mint) over a cushiony, floral heart bouquet of rose, jasmine, carnation and lily of the valley. From the very start though, you cannot elude the sensuality of that base, which in its original incarnation in any case was  a warm, ambered accord of great complexity – patchouli, oakmoss, and a special accord known as ‘balsamo’: a whirl of North African myrrh, balsamic resins, and vanilla. On top of, or rather beneath, lies  a trio of animalics; civet, castoreum, and Siam ambergris, which smooths out the blend into a lingering, velveteen caress. I personally think it is a great scent, coming from a time when perfumers still made orientals that genuinely seduce. The more recent additions to the genre, such as Dior’s cheap-thrill Addict, and Calvin Klein’s Euphoria, just aren’t in the same league – competitive, hard-faced cows in comparison. An anaemic rip off of Roma (Armani White) was released in 2001 but disappeared quite quickly without trace. Roma is still going strong, in Europe at least. It is a scent of passion, and I’m glad my hot head of a sister found it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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41 Comments

Filed under Floriental, Perfume Reviews

41 responses to “KEEPING THE FAITH : On signature scents and ROMA by LAURA BIAGIOTTI (1991)

  1. Mel

    I loved this post – and your writing is beautiful. And no I don’t have a signature scent. And yes – skin chemistry thing is NOT a myth, there are some fragrances that smell absolutely revolting on me 🙂

    • ginzaintherain

      You probably can’t imagine how much this comment means to me, but it really does and thank you.

      I wish we all talked more on here…..some blogs have people toing and froing, but not on the Black Narcissus..

    • ginzaintherain

      (what DO you wear, incidentally? From your photo you seem born for perfume. What do you smell best in? I would seriously love to know!!!)

  2. The difficulties I have with this one! Forgive the essay that might follow! The on-going dilemma. How these considerations have changed since becoming a mother. I have a strong desire for a signature scent not just for the world at large and for the lovely man I share my life with, but also for my children, both of whom are hugely appreciative of a good scent. Burying their head in my neck when I carry them, little rounded cheeks, noses, lips resting on warm perfumed skin. I want them to have a perfectly fitting scent imprinted, inseparable from me, familiar, comforting but beautiful and full of love. Apres L’Ondee fits the bill perfectly and, from the responses I have had down the years, works in the wider world of the people I encounter as I go about my daily business. It would be truly magnificent as a signature scent. Some people do associate it with me I think, because I have worn it a lot and no-one else they know has. There is no perfume I love as much as I love Apres L’Ondee. (the reasons as to why I won’t go into here and now).

    But still I cannot remain entirely loyal and a huge part of that is, of course, down to the fact that I am so excited by really good perfume and I have you Neil as my closest friend, and you have introduced me to so many good perfumes down the years, that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, that I would have to be wilfully anti-perfume to not have switched allegiances once or twice (more like 15 – 20 times). That said I haven’t actually ever switched allegiances deep down, I remain true to Apres L’Ondee above all, but these other dalliances are an absolute delight, not just for their own inherent beauty but also because although Apres L’Ondee is multi-faceted it doesn’t capture or convey all that I am. Maybe a lot of what I aspire to be, at the most fundamental level (rising above it all in some kind of transcendent, self contained ethereal loveliness – how likely is that ?!) Can any perfume represent all that you are?

    I know there are plenty of perfumes that I can’t carry off. Much as I would love to wear the dark, heady, middle-eastern, oudh and rose laden wonders that you carry off so beautifully, it would be ridiculous, like wearing a really conspicuous hat, and one that gave me a headache by the end of the day. But on you and my gorgeous sister in law Georgia, they bring me enormous pleasure.

    I am often seduced by delectable gourmand scents, drawn in especially by all things almond scented, (Farnesiana was irresistible to me) and I guess I have enjoyed wearing them, or rather having them with me for the day, because if something just sits on your skin in the same way as it sits in the bottle, you’re only really wearing it in the most basic way.

    It is absolutely true that you and I Neil represent two ends of a spectrum in terms of skin chemistry. With some perfumes it is as though you could peel them apart with you wearing one half and me the other (although those proportions might not be right). I am filled with envy sometimes at how rich and full-bodied a scent smells on your skin, never overpowering, always just adding to the whole, beautifully, I will never forget the audacious elephant, incredible!!

    But I am not always aspiring to be so elevated as Apres L’Ondee makes me feel, I love some perfumes that I associate with a 70’s woman much more sassy and knowing, striding down the street, handbag swinging at her side, hair blowing in the breeze, confident, more involved and effortlessly sexy. I must remind you that I said, aspiring to be. Other times I want the mystery and daring androgyny of tabac blond. What I never yearn for is bubblegum fruitiness, though I might delight in someone else wearing it. I don’t any more hanker after a soliflore, bluebell, mimosa or the like, though they are undoubtedly very pretty, the lack of complexity is too much of a let down after half an hour of fun.

    And so I am, as you suggested, left with a pantheon of (in vintage parfum form on the whole but not exclusively): Apres L’Ondee, Y by YSL, Je Reviens, Infini, Chanel No.19, our beautiful little discontinued patchouli by L’ Occitaine… others come and go, Mitsouko, Tabac Blond, L’Air du Temps depending on my finances and luck, and more often than not your extreme generosity.

    Oh and by the way, when it comes to specific associations, Roma is forever the table in my room at university at which I wrote my Rilke dissertation. You sent me a fantastic compilation tape, you’ll remember: ‘Manhattan Skyline’, it came with an insert/cover made of odd, waxy, red paper DRENCHED in Roma and I loved it, both the tape and the perfume. I listened to it over and over as I toiled away, the tape box and its insert sat there as I did so, the perfume slowly seeping into the wood, bestowing the table with its own signature scent.

  3. tonkabeany

    Oh, and my current diversion, a strong contender for ‘how your mother should smell’: warm, comforting, wise and beautiful, is the exquisite Arpege (in vintage extrait, courtesy, quite some time ago, of the lovely you,)

    • ginzaintherain

      I didn’t know you liked it that much ( I adore it, as you will know from my ‘The Beloved’ and then its slapstick tragic follow-up, ‘Gone’, where I emptied an incredible 14ml parfum in a typical moment of Mr Bean….)

      It does appear though occasionally at the flea markets. These Lanvin eyes are peeled (in the mean time, feel free to scout the net for rejected eau de colognes of vintage Shalimar…I am out….)

  4. ginzaintherain

    And on the subject of Apres L’Ondee, Helen and I will be doing an extended treatise on it soon, as we discovered it together, two decades ago or so, and it is day that is seared on the collective memory…..

  5. ninakane1

    I love this conversation. Helen, your writing above is wonderful. Looking forward to the Apres L’Ondee treatise.

  6. brie

    In the past the closest to signature would have been Nocturnes. Now it would probably be Jour Ensolielle (SSS).

    • ginzaintherain

      I don’t know that one: what is it like?

      • brie

        If I was only allowed one perfume for the rest of my life it would be that one- orange blossom, jasmine,patchouli, beeswax among many other notes…as I described it in my review on CaFleureBon it is like honey drenched rays of orange sunshine….I don’t even need to wear it..just whiff it from the bottle and I am instantly happy.

  7. ginzaintherain

    It sounds divine. I don’t wear orange blossom but I like it on other people…I will check out your review (though it is late here now and I have to get to bed….)

    happy neroli dreams….

  8. brie

    Please do …December 30th Sonoma scent studio tea and perfume pairings

  9. Katherine

    What a lovely sister portrait!

  10. Lilybelle

    I have only recently become acquainted with Roma. A fragrance friend sent me her (partial) bottle, and then it took me months to actually try it on my skin. I have a problem with most oriental fragrances wearing me, making a big noise and overstaying their welcome – with very few exceptions. I tried a teensy spritz between the wrists…and Roma was wonderful in every way. For some reason it has a tranquilizing effect on me. I’m not sure what my signature scent would be if I had one. Not Roma. But I love having it as a deeply comforting scent. There’s something about the combination of elements, fresh & tart, spicy & warm, cool & sweet, creamy & aromatic, green & amber…with that lingering long finish…and it never feels overbearing, but it’s always interesting. Each time I wear it my skin seems to pull something different. I love it.

  11. Tezza

    Neil, I loved this. I am in a transitional process right now, not only with the Michael Kors(that I use to love), but in my life as well. I am trying so hard to find the one perfume that can fill a void. Perhaps it is just my hormonal changes of mid life that have changed my chemistry. I sprayed on the Kors the other day and was disgusted…I am not wearing it like use to and I can only chalk it up to my chemistry.I even tried on Estee Lauder Tuberose and Gardenia…it was a disaster. Funny though a gentleman friend I have been spending some time with was with me the day I tried it on…by force of habit I went to rub my wrists together and he yelled,”Don’t, you’ll bruise it!!!” He was horrified and reminded me of you. I miss you.

    • You too, babe.

      But perhaps you have overgrown the old tuberosa now, especially the synthetic ones like Kors (though it DOES smell gorgeous on you, I have to say) and it is time to try something different. Completely different. x

      • Or if you like to stick near tuberose, Tezza, there is a huge assortment. I recently sampled the series of 3 from Histories des Parfums, and although I can’t say that they were my cup of tea, they were certainly different takes on tuberose than I had encountered before, especially number 3, a musky-leathery butch take on tuberose, if you can imagine such a thing. Good luck in finding new scents. It can be frustrating. It seems that I sniff six or seven to find one that I would actually wear. But then, that ratio doesn’t quite account for the number of bottles in my cabinet….

  12. Beautiful writing about signature fragrances and your sister…… and I actually did find a partial bottle of Roma at an antiques mall recently. I haven’t had a chance to really give it a good test, but you have inspired me to do so….. as for me, though I do have a type, I do not have a signature scent. I guess that makes me polyamorous 😉

  13. So very lovely to have this reblogged, especially the delightful interplay between the writers. The whole question of a signature scent is out for me, because I don’t have that sort of self-discipline, but a group of ten or so “pick of the stable” scents seems much more achievable. But that click of rightness is an elusive thing. I can remember feeling it the first time I used Black Cashmere, and every time since. 7 Billion Hearts was utterly right on winter evenings, then on the first warm night drove its sharp little wooden fingernails right into my skin. Lyric Woman was immediately right, as if I could smell a gothic rose window. Orangers et Fleurs charmed with the very first spray, but is lackluster in the winter, like a tropical flower shivering in an inadequately heated greenhouse. Some things click once and never again. I was briefly but totally mesmerized by the Jar Jardenia at a time when I was obsessed with gardenias, then over an hour of wear became vaguely horrified by it, and have never been willing to put it on again. Ginza (and others), what ten have you most consistently chosen?
    Incidentally, in typing the above, it fascinated me that my spellcheck wanted me to be obsessed with Armenians rather than gardenias. Strange and wonderful things come out of Spellcheckworld.

  14. Filomena Anna

    Ginza/Neil, I enjoy all your blogs but this one especially was even more beautifully written (and all have been enjoyable to me). It hit home and brought back memories of when I once wore Roma (and several other Laura Biagiotti scents as well). I have worn perfume since I was 13 (I won’t even tell you how many years ago that was but would venture to say I am one of the oldest people who reads your blog). By the way, I can’t remember how I found your blog–even though it wasn’t very long ago–but I was having one of those cyber kind of nights and your blog popped up from whatever I was searching–and I’ve been hooked ever since. Of course I’ve been hooked on perfume for decades and decades…so long ago that I was sure that at that time no one I even knew was into it even remotely like I was. Through the years I can say that the closest I came to a signature scent was with the original Givenchy L’Interdit–so much so that when I had my first son, all I wanted from my then husband was a 1-ounce bottle of the parfum…and he obliged. I wore that fragrance through the births of my other two sons as well–even though I digressed from time to time with other fragrances (I still have my bottle of vintage Arpege parfum–which is still beautiful for its age and has retained most of its beauty.) During the last 15 years, I would say that the closest I have come to a signature scent is Hermes Hiris. I bought it when it first was available at the Nordstroms near me and immediately fell in love. I took my first trip to Italy that year and brought it with me. People on the trip kept asking me what perfume I was wearing and several people found it in Florence and purchased it (I also stocked up on it because at that time it was less expensive there than in the U.S.) I still associate that scent with Italy even though I went many more times afterwards and it is a “French fragrance. It is still my “go-to” scent.
    I probably own at least 200 perfumes (although I’ve never counted them) and if I had to only choose one, Hiris would be chosen from a short list of 10. At least that one still smells the same as when it was created–although I had stocked up on so many bottles, I haven’t had to purchase another one as yet–so perhaps even that has been re-formulated.
    Again, I want to thank you for the wonderful post and the beautiful photo of your sister Helen–you and she have ethereally beautiful faces and I can see that what’s inside of both of you is equally as beautiful.

    • The picture is of my sister Deborah, actually (though Helen is also very beautiful).

      Thanks for this response.

      I also love Hiris and vintage Arpege: I think it keeps simply because it is so packed with goodness and quality oils.

    • Loved reading your response, Filomena. I hope that you’ll hang out at The Black Narcissus on a regular basis. Ginza’s writing will wow you over and over. I’m very intrigued by your long experience of perfume. What others are top picks for you? Are there any that you loved for a while and then fell out of love with?

      • FeralJasmine, I have been reading Ginza’s blog faithfully since I discovered it two or so months ago and I love it!. I will ponder your questions and get back to you as I have some place to be today.
        Right now the first scent that comes to my mind that I fell out of love with is the original Paris (of course it is not original any longer),

      • What is? I smelled Eau Sauvage the other day and it smelled like Coco Madamoiselle

  15. I am so sad. I wrote an essay on your wonderful blog, your beautiful sister and you. It never posted and it was very long and heart-felt–something I cannot duplicate at the moment. I have no idea what happened but it has occurred with me on your site at other times…perhaps that is why you do not get as many responses as you would like–because they seem to disappear after one tries to post them. In any event, I will repeat that I love our blog–especially this one–and am very happy to have discovered it.

    • Thanks for saying so, and I am sorry that things disappear.

      Sadly I am literally a moron when it comes to computers and anything technical so there is nothing I can do about it. All I can do is write and press post.

  16. Rafael

    Eau Sauvage since I was 10 and nicked a bottle from an Uncle, Eau de Rochas (for 20 years until I had a heart-breaking break-up and now can’t stand it on me, though I still think it’s great.), Eau de Guerlain (for the bergamot note) and ANYTHING with an Iris heart: Fidji to Hiris to Dior Homme. Absolutely love Iris. I was in a club and ran into a friend from San Francisco who had just moved here. Apparently he’d been looking for me and hadn’t had any luck. That night I was wearing Dior Homme and he told me he

  17. Rafael

    walked into said club and turned to his friend and said “He’s here. I smell him.” That’s how he found me. Apropos nothing in particular, as I write I’m wearing Coriandre.

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