Monday, November 26, 2012

Observe the blood, the rose tattoo, of the finger prints on me from you.

Aftelier Perfumes Wild Roses EdP

Dear reader:

I am currently captivated by a song called "Marlene On the Wall." Suzanne Vega wrote it about a poster of Marlene Dietrich she kept on her bedroom wall, and what Marlene might think of Vega's life if Marlene could talk. It is an intriguing song about the elegant and coldly beautiful Dietrich's observation of Vega being her own worst enemy in love:

Marlene watches from the wall.
Her mocking smile says it all
as she records the rise and fall
of every soldier passing.
The only soldier now is me.
I'm fighting things I cannot see.
I think it's called my destiny
that I am changing.

The song is about a woman with serious trust issues, a woman who's inability to connect is makes it impossible to know when/if she's met someone she can really trust. Though she seems to be breaking out of this pattern, it is unclear how that will effect her current relationship. I've listened to the song more than a dozen times, and I settled on two different and conflicting meanings.

In the one sense, Vega seems to be unable to reach beyond her own boundaries, the walls she constructs for emotional safety, to reach a deeper connection. The song seems to ask if she will be able to muster to the courage to be vulnerable with her current paramour, to allow him to reach into the heart of her, not keep him at arm's length.

My second reading is of a woman who cannot break out of a bad pattern with a man she loves, but whom she remains in a self-destructive loop with. Whether that loop is one she repeats with different men who are all lacking in the same specific way or the same man she can't break free of seems ambiguous. The point is that, whomever the soldier(s) is/are, he is interested in Vega for her body only, and Vega cannot keep herself from falling into bed with a man/men who have no interest in her beyond what he/they can get from her physically.

I love the tension in the song. Will she be able to love? Will she think well enough of herself to demand love in return? If she is changing, is it for good or for ill? The narrative arch, left unresolved, allows the song to contain both hope and hopelessness in tension, both the bitterness of betrayal and the disappointing knowledge that one has allowed oneself to lose something potentially stunning out of fear.

I also enjoy the (admittedly mildly) feminist overtones I find lurking in the text.

"Don't give away the goods too soon," is what she might have told me.

I consider myself a sex positive feminist. I generally think that talking about sex clearly with your partner is good, that reproductive freedoms are fundamental, and that shaming people around sex is counterproductive to health and safety. At the same time, I think it's worth admitting that, emotionally and physically, we have a tendency to give ourselves away sometimes thoughtlessly to people who neither respect or deserve what we have to offer. I think women in general are often inclined to do this for a variety of reasons that revolve around the historical commodification of women's bodies, mass media messages about beauty image that are anathema to self-esteem, and competing messages about the value of virginity and the desirability of sexual prowess. There is something to be said for thinking highly enough of yourself to believe - regardless of whether this is your first, fifteenth, or fiftieth partner - that you are worth of love, attention, admiration and respect on your own terms. Virginity isn't magical, but human intimacy is a valuable experience, and not one worth wasting, as Laini Taylor's surrogate father Wishbone so accurately puts it in the terrific YA novel Daughter of Smoke and Bone, on "inconsequential penises." Or inconsequential partners, for that matter.

I like the idea that Marlene Dietrich, if she could talk to Suzanne Vega, would tell her, "if he's using you, don't give in, or at least have the good sense to be aware of what he's using you for." I always think of it as the Norma Jean approach to navigating the sexual pitfalls of modern pop culture commodification. You only have two options: don't play at all, or decide what you want to get out of it and play on your own terms. While I find it odious that the world constantly decides a woman's value based, at least in part, on sex appeal, I have a hard time telling the girl who would be Marilyn that she's a sell out for attempting to harass her own sexual agency for benefit and profit. Instead, I'd rather tell her to keep in mind that you have to know what your giving and what you're getting in return, and you better be sure it's worth it it in the end. Also, stay away from the Kennedys.

What does all this have to do with Mandy Aftel's new perfume, Wild Roses, well, in my mind, a lot actually.

If I've said it once, I've said it a hundred times: I love rose scents. Roses and vanillas are the two kinds of scents you can almost bank on my running toward. As a result, I've smelled a lot of roses on the market at a lot of different price points, from low dollar minis of Demeter Fragrances Pruning Sheers to L'Artisan Voleur de Roses and Drole de Rose to niche scents like Teo Cabanel Oha, Agent Provocateur EdP, and Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance to true independents like DHS Perfumes Beach Roses and the now sadly defunct American Beauty. And that's just naming the ones I can think of off the top of my head. Name a rosy category -- patchouli roses, dirty roses, leather roses, powdery roses, realistic roses -- and I've probably got a fav or two.

So when I tell you Mandy Aftel has created in Wild Roses an inventive take on the rose that might merit the creation of a new subcategory, it's worth taking note. Aftelier Perfumes describes Wild Roses as follows:
I wanted to capture in perfume the experience of walking around my garden and smelling each rose, as their perfumes blended in my nose. Wild Roses perfume evokes the garden in our imagination and memory -- the book of a hundred petals unfolding: balsamic, spicy, apricot, and honeyed roses, mixed with the smell of warm earth and herbs.

The apricot-rose heart is perfectly rooted in a base of tarragon absolute -- its herbal round anise aroma giving a nuance of both earth and leaves. The balsamic vanilla absolute and the whiskey-ness of aged patchouli support tarragon’s warm, powdery aspect. Indole contributes the almost animal aspect of ripeness in a rose. The heart is punctuated by pimento berry, lending its nuances of clove, ginger, and cinnamon. The candied-orange flower aroma of methyl methyl anthranilate, the soft powdery floral of heliotropin, and the slightly floral citrus of bergamot contribute a modern freshness to the opening.

Top: rose CO2, heliotropin, bergamot, geraniol, m-methyl anthranilate, damascenone.
Heart: apricot, Turkish rose absolute, pimento berry, p-ethyl alcohol, rose petals attar.
Base: tarragon absolute, vanilla absolute, indole, aged patchouli.
Upon application, Wild Roses is a sweet, dark cocktail of rose petals swirling in a sweet berry liqueur and strong shot of vodka. Slightly stringent or medicinal, this largely candied opening slides across the olfactory palette like a good drink or a terrible poison, the kind one imagine was concocted by a dark Queen with a serious grudge. It is a kind of biting sweetness, a traditional beauty that cuts, the thorn of the proverbial rose that, pricking a finger, sends one off to a dark sleep. As it ages on the skin, the medicinal aspect fades, leaving a berry-oriented jammy rose.

Wild Roses has a realistic quality, but clearly isn't meant to be exactly like a smelling a rose. It's more wearable than sticking a bloom in your hair. It's a rose plus a sweetness that draws you closer so it can take a bite. It manages to be both pretty, strong, alluring, and vulnerable, but without the direct sexiness of a patchouli rose or the delicate femininity of a powdered rose. 

Lots of terrific samples!
And the reason I told you that whole thing about Suzanne Vega and her Marlene Dietrich poster and my general sex positivity being tempered with a desire that we simultaneously promote sex respect is this: Every time I tried Wild Roses, I heard the song in my head. I imagined this vulnerable woman acting tough and trying to protect herself from being hurt and acting like she doesn't care when she really does, and this is what she smells like.

Beautiful. Vulnerable. Strong.

It's a heartbreakingly lovely audiolfactory experience.

So let's all welcome the new world of the candied rose! It's decidedly worth trying. Wild Roses EDP is available direct from the perfumer in 30ml for $170. Samples can be purchased $6.

And even if I am in love with you,
all this to say:
What's it to you?
Observe the blood, the rose tattoo,
of the finger prints on me from you....

Other evidence has shown
that you and I are still alone.
We skirt around the danger zone
and don't talk about it here.

I tried so hard to resist
when you held me in your handsome fist
and reminded me of the night we kissed
and why I should be leaving.
Marlene on the wall...

In the interests of full disclosure: this perfume sample was provided by the perfumer.


Amye said...

Sounds like I clearly need this one in my perfume lineup.

mandy said...

Wow, thanks Diana, I’m thrilled with your terrific review! In general, I too really take notice when there’s a song running through my head – I look for any meaningful connection to what’s going on around me. And in particular, I love the essential creativity of Suzanne Vega and her “Marlene On the Wall” song, and appreciate your very savvy connection with it to Wild Roses!

Natalie said...

Thanks for the review, and the reminder of that song, which I always liked and haven't heard in years.

Diana said...


I recommend trying it. Wild Roses is beautiful.


Diana said...


It's a beautiful perfume. Thanks for allowing me the honor of trying it!


Diana said...


I love the song. I'm still listening to it, almost two months later. I particularly like the live recording I have. I think the emotional complexity comes through in the tone very well.

Thanks for reading!