Ten years after its remarkable debut, this drop-dead-gorgeous fragrance (now available for bath and body) is more enticing — and versatile than ever.
Written By ANNIE TOMLIN
In the pantheon of perfumery, Frédéric Malle’s Portrait of a Lady occupies an unusual and unique place. It shares its name with Henry James's 1881 masterpiece of a novel, and upon learning that the fragrance revolves around rose — often dismissed as the banalest of perfume notes — you may assume that the “lady” in question is, well, basic, too.
That assumption would be invalid because, in the 10 years since its debut, Portrait of a Lady has become a contemporary classic that topples staid, predictable ideas of what a “lady” might smell like. The scent, created by French master perfumer Dominique Ropion, is a disarmingly gorgeous rose garden. Its 400 roses per bottle are spiked with notes of sandalwood, blackcurrant, raspberry, frankincense, clove, and patchouli. Deeply romantic yet imbued with a spirit of independence, it’s synonymous with a certain type of woman: elegant, sophisticated, strong, and sensual. (Under the right circumstances, she’s just a little bit provocative, too.) In short, it is an unapologetically feminine fragrance, which may explain why it’s one of those “smell once, wear forever” scents.
Given the intense loyalty that Portrait of a Lady has inspired among fragrance obsessives (and people who simply like to smell wonderful), it is no surprise that the juice has been remixed beyond the original perfume spray. There is the Hair & Body Oil, whose never-greasy formula glides over the body to soften and add an alluring glow while bringing out the glossiest shine when applied to the ends of your hair. The latest — and quite possibly the most necessary — interpretation translates the iconic scent into a decadent self-care experience.
A few drops of the Portrait of a Lady Foam Bath, housed in a sleek black bottle, transforms a tub of warm water into a moisturizing, delicately perfumed, sybaritic soak. There are indeed few things more relaxing than disrobing and slipping into a watery cocoon of thick, fluffy bubbles before sinking one’s body into clean sheets (spritzed with Dans Mon Lit, of course) at the end of a long day. Whether used to amplify the longevity of the traditional perfume or simply to wear fragrance in a different way, the end result is pure allure — as the scent of a modern woman deserves to be.
“Heaven on Earth! I never wanted to get out of the bath! This is one of those products that is perfect for the person who has everything — or when you need an escape from the world.” —SUNNIE BROOK, Hairstylist
“A little pour goes a long way! These bubbles lasted for at least an hour and felt silky the whole time. The scent was heavenly and romantic, like being submerged with a million rose petals. A well-earned splurge if baths are your thing.”—BRIDGET BRAGER, Hairstylist
“I love the packaging! The black glossy bottle looks decoratively chic. It also makes my skin feel noticeably softer and the relaxing bouquet of floral aromas takes me back to the ʼ90s when I would walk through my grandmother's rose garden.” —MELISSA HERNANDEZ, Makeup Artist
As with every product on VIOLET GREY, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady Foam Bath reached our shelves once a minimum of 70 percent of testers deemed it a winner. At that time, we added it to our bath and body care edit with the Violet Code's official stamp of approval.