Ombre Rose can be translated literally as “pink shadow” or figuratively as a rose’s shadow. Both readings suggest that the rose scent in this Françoise Caron-composed perfume will be softened, and we will smell its shadow rather than rose straight on. Shadows cast darkness over things, shrouding them and making them mysterious and maybe even sinister. But pink shadows? Not exactly intimidating!
A perfect name, really, for what you’ll find inside. The rose in Ombre Rose is, in fact, shadowed by peach, orris, coumarin, musk, heliotrope, vanilla, and sandalwood, turning it into something at once powdery, gourmand, spicy, and woody. (It’s characterized as an aldehydic floral, but it seems more like a Floriental to me.) You can smell its influence on Loulou — minus the incense — but Ombre Rose has some crackle in addition to its sweet, soft, and confectionary simplicity. Its spicy, musky, and woody drydown is near-intoxicating.
Head: Rosewood, honey, ylang, peach
Heart: Rose, lily, iris
Base: Musk, coumarin, vanilla, sandalwood (From Michael Edwards' French Feminine Fragrances, a book which also provided me with Ombre Rose's historical information.)
Top notes: Aldehydes, rosewood, geranium
Heart notes: Rose, sandalwood, orris, lily of the valley, cedarwood, vetiver
Base notes: Vanilla, musk, tonka, cinnamon, heliotrope (From Haarmann & Reimer's Duftatlas)
To me, Ombre Rose is a comfort scent. It got its start as an old Roure perfume base with a cosmetic note that smelled like vintage face powder.* From there, Françoise Caron gave it a huge dose of coumarin (along with vanillin) to create a praline note. To me, this makes Ombre Rose nostalgic and gourmand rather than sexy. (In fact, perfumer Pierre Bourdon goes so far as to say that Ombre Rose is probably the first gourmand scent that was ever created.)
I wonder if Ralph Schwieger, the nose for Frederic Malle's Lipstick Rose, was influenced by Ombre Rose. It was constructed to smell, in part, like vintage lipstick — some say vintage Chanel, others vintage L’Oreal. The heliotrope in Ombre Rose, a note that can sometimes give off an almondy/Play Dough facet,
gives it a bit of a plasticky/synthetic character that I don’t mind. And maybe it’s here that, mixed with powdery orris, the face powder accord is born.
Ombre Rose (like Balenciaga’s Fleeting Moment) seems to be a self-reflexive perfume, that is, a perfume that reflects on its Perfume-ness. Where Fleeting Moment addresses, in its name, perfume’s evanescent nature, its character as a substance that by definition disappears as soon as you encounter it, Ombre Rose calls out perfume as a medium for memory and nostalgia by using, as its base, a vintage perfume formula that smells like vintage face powder.
If I want to trace the self-reflexivity further (and I do!) it goes even deeper. That re-used base was itself being self-reflexive: by reproducing the scent of face powder (rather than a flower or something “natural”), it’s commenting on its own status as a cosmetic but also on itself as an aesthetic medium. It reflects; it doesn't merely reproduce.
Angela at Now Smell This wrote a great post last year about which perfumes were witty and which were not. It seems to me that there’s something inherently witty about a perfume that calls attention to the scent of cosmetics, and to women’s relationship to the whole culture of cosmetics: the ritual, the aesthetics, and (let’s face it) the fetishization of it. What could be more fetishy than liking the smell of lipstick or face powder? Maybe wanting to smell it in your perfume and on your skin!
Ombre Rose holds within it all these different shades (or shadows?) of meaning. To extend the analysis even further, a "shade" can mean: 1) a reminder of something, 2) a subtle difference in meaning, and last but not least, 3) a ghost.
Ombre Rose is The Haunted Rose, a mansion** filled with different shades of meaning and spirits of scents past...
* “The fragrance of the original base has a very cosmetic note. It rings a bell. That’s why it is so successful." - Pierre Bourdon on Ombre Rose in French Feminine Fragrances.
** The necrophilic resonances don't stop at the resurrected Roure base that became the foundation for Ombre Rose. Even the bottle was disturbed from its grave and revived for Ombre Rose: It was created in 1920 for a perfume called Le Narcisse Bleu. The moulds still existed for the bottle, so Bourdon and Caron went for it. The above image is from an eBay auction for Le Narcisse Bleu that's going on as I write this.