Rose Barbare (Guerlain)

Francis Kurkdjian is a very talented man. His range is amazing, yielding a portfolio with everything from Dior's coveted Eau Noire to Arden's easy-going Green Tea. The man also authored Le Male and flanker Fleur du Male, Acqua di Parma's magnificent Iris Nobile, and the notorious Grey Flannel clone Narciso Rodriguez for Him. In the early 2000s Guerlain commissioned him to produce a perfume for their L'Art et la Matiere line, a series of perfumes based on different raw materials. His entry was none other than 2005's Rose Barbare.

His rendition of rose offers a smooth and well-rounded flower, dripping with honey and tempered by woody notes. I particularly enjoy how the woods fuse with the sweet rose and create a low-key, romantic, and genderless fragrance. It isn't particularly complicated, but this scent is the result of masterful craftsmanship. Thus far, after wearing several terrific rose perfumes and contemplating their strengths and drawbacks, Rose Barbare is my categorical favorite. The richness of the rose and sweetness of the honey and spiced amber is simply decadent, truly a work of olfactory art.

Rose Barbare's only drawback is in its soliflore nature. The entire world of soliflores is lamentable because a single flower is rarely enough to raise eyebrows. Comments are usually "oh, you smell like roses," or, "shit, you smell like a girl." Making a decent soliflore means a chemist calibrates one floral element alongside several complimentary notes, with a pair of contrasting accords (one for the opening, one for the dry-down) for ongoing tension. A soliflore should cross into a second category, either floral chypre or oriental. Grey Flannel is a good example: the violet and violet leaf represent a singular floral note, one that penetrates and defines the entire scent. Yet it's sandwiched between a brusque lemon and bone-dry oakmoss, making the fragrance a chypre. Rose Barbare is a relatively dynamic rose perfume with excellent longevity and sillage, but I'm not sure there's enough underlying the star note. Still, the honey and spices adequately fill out the rose, amplifying its density, the velvety sweetness of its ruby petals, and the bitterness of its greener core.

I haven't smelled them, but I'm fairly certain the rest of the L'Art lineup wouldn't move me. Cruel Gardenia reads like a poignant and modern white floral; Tonka Imperiale sounds like a redundant relative of Chanel's Allure Homme; Iris Ganache reminds me of how little I like white chocolate. Good thing I tried this one - the pickings are slim when it comes to Guerlain. Let's face it, this house isn't breaking new ground anymore. But that's not to say it doesn't continue to have its moments of genius. Rose Barbare is in keeping with that tradition, too.


  1. This is my favourite of the L'Art line up, along with Bois d'Armenie, and it is a bit of a Francis K sleeper in perfume circles! I'd say that Tonka Imperiale is somewhere between Havana Vanille and Shalimar Light - I would certainly try those two in another sampling session. Angelique Noire I rememeber as unpleasantly dark and sticky and Cruel Gardenia I have completely forgotten, which may not be a good sign.

  2. Amazing how underrated it is, very true. Thanks for the descriptions of the others in the lineup. I guess Tonka Imperiale is worth checking out after all. I'll try all of them if I get a chance.


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