Roses de Mai Marathon: Rrose Selavy

“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose,” said Gertrude Stein in 1913.  Rrose Selavy is named for the alter ego of Stein’s contemporary and acquaintance, the Dadaist Marcel Duchamp. I really can’t explain this any better than perfumer Maria Candida Gentile’s website copy, so here it is:

A velvet rose, persistent and unique, dedicated to one of the leading artists of Dadaism: a homage to Marcel Duchamp and to his “double” Rrose Sélavy.

With Rrose Sélavy, Maria Candida interprets the “double” of Marcel Duchamp, and his jeux des mots Rrose Sélavy which sounds in French like “eros, c’est la vie”, or “arroser la vie”, to make a toast to life. Maria Candida pays tribute to Duchamp, making a toast to life with her velvet, soft, fresh, just harvested scent, with its olfactory vibration and which fills the air and the space, tridimensional just like his art crafts. The name Sélavy emerged in 1921 in a series of photographs by Man Ray of Duchamp dressed as a woman. Throughout the 1920s, Man Ray and Duchamp collaborated on more photos of Sélavy. Duchamp later used the name as a signature name on written material and signed several creations with it.

What does this perfume smell like? It smells like “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” And indeed, the list of notes is: top notes of Turkish Rose, May Rose, Michelle Rose; heart notes of Rose Petals, Rose Accord; and base notes of Rose Stems and Rose Leaves. A rose is a rose is a rose indeed! The phrase is often said to mean simply that a thing is what it is, which suits this fragrance. It is Rose with a capital R, but with all the complexity that an actual rose has, with over 400 natural chemicals that make up a rose’s scent. Rrose Selavy is also parfum strength, so a little goes a long way. It is also quite linear, but that doesn’t make it simple. Different facets of the classic “rose” fragrance dance back and forth on my wrist, shape-shifting, but always, always, and undeniably, a Rose.

Rrose Selavy is such an intriguing fragrance! It opens up all kinds of possibilities for metaphor and analogy, just like the Dadaists themselves, and other early 20th century artistic luminaries like Gertrude Stein and her circle, who took apart written texts, painted surfaces and sculpted shapes to discover their essence. But perhaps the fragrance itself is more like the lesson of “Le Petit Prince”, in which a rose figures so prominently. Ultimately, St. Exupery tells us, abstraction is meaningless and even dehumanizing.  As critic Adam Gopnik writes, the recurrent lesson of “Le Petit Prince” can be distilled as: “You can’t love roses. You can only love a rose.”

I love this rose. It is fresh and fruity, but only in the way a real rose is fresh and fruity. It’s almost easier to describe it by what it is not, than by what it is. It is not woody, or green, or incensey, or spicy, or musky, or jammy. It is a Rose. That is all, and that is everything.

Rrose Selavy book

by or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Selavy

Have you experienced any of Maria Candida Gentile’s fragrances? I have a sample of Lady Day which I haven’t yet tried, but I’m looking forward to that.

Featured image from Le Petit Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.


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