Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady Fragrance Review

It’s not all in the name.

I was confused by it, at first. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a ladies’ perfume, and I obtained a sample of it for my partner.
However, while marketed as a women’s perfume, it’s actually quite a unisex fragrance. Apparently, the name for it was a reference to a 19th century novel. Interestingly, my partner ended up deciding she viewed Portrait of a Lady as a masculine leaning scent, and the sample returned to me.

The perfumer behind this scent is Dominique Ropion, who has quite a catalogue of fragrances under his belt including works for large designer houses and niche houses. He has created a number of scents for the house of Frederic Malle, including what is quite possibly my favourite scent from the house, Vetiver Extraordinaire.

Initial Thoughts

This is one of those scents that’ll have you let out a sigh of pleasure as you first take a whiff of it. It’s got quite a floral character, with a strong backbone of incense. A variety of musks and spices round it out.
The scent is strong, but not offensive. It’s balanced, with a good mixture of top, heart and base elements – none feels particularly heavier on the nose than the other.

I do think the presentation is a bit boring, given how complex, opulent and interesting is the scent contained within it. It doesn’t look cheap, but I wouldn’t call it elegant minimalism. Rather, it’s just a plain Jane bottle with a deep and complex artwork hidden within.

Olfactory Notes and Performance

Portrait of a Lady is a veritable olfactory buffet from the very beginning. There’s so much contained within it, which I would say makes it one of those scents you want to wear when you have time to dwell on it.

In the opening, the scent is given a bit of punch from some sharper notes, of which I can only truly detect rose, raspberry and a blend of spices which is stated on the olfactory notes to be cinnamon and clove.
A strong heart note of incense is present, even in the opening. Once the top notes have dried away, this incense is complemented by sandalwood and a minor patchouli.
After some of these have dried away, the perfume lingers for a long time thanks to its base of musk and amber. Benzoin is also cited in the olfactory notes; however, my nose is either not currently trained well enough to sniff that out, or just doesn’t pick up the balsamic vanilla note that it should provide.

Characteristically, I do find this scent powdery at times. As such, I wouldn’t find myself wearing it once temperatures ascend past around 24 degrees Celsius.


For a primer on my ratings system, read this post.

Longevity: 1/1

Portrait of a Lady has some serious staying power, and I find it lasts through to the next day on most occasions.

Projection: 1/1

It’s also a scent that will grab attention. It makes itself known, and leaves quite a trail of sillage in the air.

Blend Quality: 1/1

The blend is exceptional. I can’t find reason to fault it.

Presentation: 0.5/1

This is the only real letdown to this scent, and the rest of the Frederic Malle range. I get that the focus is on having fantastic scents, but it doesn’t hurt to have the presentation spark some interest. Especially when you’re paying the price that the Frederic Malle range commands. It’s not cheap stuff.

Personal Smell Score: 1/1

Full marks for this aspect as well. I derive pure enjoyment from this scent, from start to finish.

Total score: 4.5/5

What Would I Wear This With?

This is a great fragrance to accompany sartorial style. Wear it when you’re dressed up. Wear it when you’re in a suit. Wear it when you’re feeling confident in yourself.

If you’re a bit of a dandy, Portrait of a Lady is a scent that will match your character, and your sense of style, quite well.

I would only recommend wearing this with more casual clothes if you’re a real fraghead. That way, people will probably already expect that your scent may not necessarily match your clothing.

Concluding Thoughts

I want to conclude this by starting with disqualifiers, rather than recommendations. Firstly, if you’re brand new to wearing fragrance, avoid this. It’s easy to overdo it and not realise until it’s too late. Secondly, if you’re a man who isn’t confident in his masculinity, avoid this fragrance. You will get the occasional question from strangers of ‘isn’t that ladies perfume’ (especially if you mention the name) and if that’s something that would genuinely bother you, you’re just not going to get the enjoyment out of this scent that you deserve from your scent.

If you don’t fit either of those descriptions, get your hands on this scent. Don’t blind buy it, because it isn’t cheap. But test it at a store (Mecca if you’re in Australia), or acquire a small decant.
Given its character, complexity and power, I’m not going to guarantee that you’ll like it but you have a good chance of it. It’s a piece of olfactory art that should be ‘viewed’ regardless of your taste, in my opinion.

Thanks for tuning in,

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With content features ranging from appearances on popular menswear hubs (The Rake, StyleForum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is a writer, designer and enthusiast in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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