Although Le Couvent house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena art-directed rather than authored Smyrna, he almost certainly slipped whoever did it an early draft of his own Rose Poivrée (The Different Company). But while Rose Poivrée’s pepper, cumin, and coriander overload created a savory, metallic funk that came uncomfortably close to the scent of second-day men’s underwear, the formula for Smyrna has been stripped back to a simple premise of rose, woods, and a bit of black pepper.
Where Smyrna remains similar to Rose Poivrée (The Different Company) and even Rose 31 (Le Labo) is in that neat sleight of hand where, despite it ostensibly being a rose scent, the rose comes and goes, as unreliable as sunbeams on a cloudy day. Sometimes it smells like a peppery rose, sometimes like gently spiced woods. But never the twain shall meet.
Smyrna, for the most part, reminds me of the steamy, botanical smell of a warm greenhouse where you are dividing geranium plantlets – the vaporous aroma of sun-warmed wood frames, the peppery snap of the roots and stalks, the rosy-minty smell of the geraniums. The black pepper gives the scent a kick but no funk. It smells planty, not underpanty.
Simultaneously, though, it also smells like a body lotion or shampoo, one scented with Turkish rosewater or loukhoum. Unlike in Rose 31 or Rose Poivrée, therefore, every time the spice threatens to flare up to the point of pungency, there is enough of this balm to sooth it all down again. In fact, there is an almost Uncanny Valley lack of sharp corners here. The scent is preternaturally smooth.
I’m in two minds about Smyrna, to be honest. On the one hand, fragrances like Rose Poivrée (the original version at least) are too vegetally-sharp or culinarily stinky for me to enjoy comfortably. Smyrna resolves this by removing the more pungent spicing and adding an almost candied rosewater balminess. It is therefore much brighter and easier to wear. But ultimately, Smyrna remains a copy of something that, while not to my personal taste, was deeply original and artistic. Wearing Smyrna kind of feels like wearing the original soaked in stain remover and put through the hot cycle – it suits me better, but it also feels like a bit of a cop out.
Source of sample: Provided by the brand for copyrighting purposes.
Cover image: Photo by Bence Balla-Schottner on Unsplash