This Perfume Is the Le Labo Santal 33 of Europe

Perfume choices are always personal. They are called signature scents, after all. But there are those certain fragrances that become popular enough to achieve cult status, and we begin smelling them everywhere. In the 2010s, this happened with Le Labo Santal 33, when the woody fragrance ubiquitously penetrated the noses of restaurant patrons and subway riders, as detailed in a New York Times article from 2015

Over a decade later, a similar fragrance phenomenon is happening in Europe. When Who What Wear’s editor in chief, Kat Collings, visited Paris, she noticed a particular scent dominating the air: Frédéric Malle’s Portrait of a Lady ($290 for 1.7 ounces). After Kat consulted a local friend, she theorized that Portrait of a Lady was in fact the new Santal 33.


(Image credit: @fongminliao)

In Portrait of a Lady, Malle and perfumer Dominique Ropion created a fragrance that feels both vintage and fashion-forward at the same time; mysterious and alluring yet comforting. It has a heavy dose of Turkish rose (exactly 400 flowers per 100-milliliter bottle), alongside notes of patchouli, sandalwood, blackcurrant, raspberry, and frankincense. Overall, it’s an intense, darker rose scent. Malle describes it as a "mixture of profound elegance and spectacular.” 

According to Elena Vosnaki, author and senior editor at and founder of, Portrait of a Lady has been duped numerous times, and the inspiration behind the scent has to do with the burgeoning trend of Arabian-inspired perfumery. "The perfume deals with a rose note and spices in a new, modern way that varies between the oriental and chypre theme with patchouli, natural and intense, dominating the heart of the composition,” she explains. "It is Arabian-inspired but clearly aimed at Western consumers. In a way, it recalls older rose chypres, like L'Arte di Gucci and Parfum de Peau by Montana. Yet modernized without much of the bitter oakmoss note and the too heavy, dirty ‘animal’ background. It feels groomed, not lived in!”


(Image credit: @stylestalkercom)

While the scent has found fans on fragrance TikTok (the hashtag #portraitofalady has 2.1M views), Vosnaki says that whether it will reach a sort of ubiquity in the States remains to be seen: "That is the land of ‘clean, aldehydic florals’ recalling classy ladies of old, so the sensibility is towards that.” Carnal Flower ($290), another Dominique Ropion creation that’s said to contain the highest concentration of natural tuberose in the perfume industry, is another popular fragrance from the brand.

Vosnaki points out that rose and patchouli is a very classic combination, especially in the Middle East. "I think Europeans have embraced it because it recalls older "classy” chypres they recalled from older relatives and ladies, yet presented in a contemporary way,” she says. Keep scrolling for more "darker rose” perfumes to try if you like Portrait of a Lady.

More Perfumes to Try If You like Portrait of a Lady

Up next, "Smell Is Our Most Ancient Sense": The 14 Most Enchanting Perfumes of All Time

Marie Lodi
Freelance Beauty and Fashion Writer/Editor

Marie has covered beauty, fashion, and lifestyle for almost 15 years. She contributes to the beauty section here at Who What Wear. Previously, she was the Looks Editor for Bust Magazine, built the beauty vertical at HelloGiggles as its beauty editor, and was a founding staff writer at Rookie mag, giving fashion advice to teens. Her bylines have appeared in The Cut, Allure, Glamour, The Hollywood Reporter, and more. She was born and raised in Southern California and is based in L.A. Marie is a self-proclaimed costume design nerd and a co-host of Makeover Montage, a podcast about fashion in film and costume design. You'll see her writing about her beauty obsessions: red lipstick, winged eyeliner, pink hair, nail art, and skincare for people over 40. When she's not working, she's playing with her dog, Gnocchi, and writing her style newsletter, Overdressed.