Wise to the scent of a woman

Fragrance: Guerlain's ambassador for scents-ible education Roja Dove - and his highly discriminating nose - are nothing to sniff at.

May 02, 2001|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

CHEVY CHASE - As it turned out, the famous nose was disappointingly ordinary.

It wasn't tiny, nor anywhere near big enough to earn the label "honker." It was neither bulbous nor did it possess flaring nostrils of Napoleonic proportions.

Instead, it merely was elegant, slender and amazingly average - except that it wasn't.

For 19 years, the nose has toured the world - attached to a person, of course. And attached to the person is a business card that says "Roja Dove, Professeur des Parfums" for the legendary perfume house of Guerlain in Paris.

Roja (pronounced "Roger") Dove's powerful, trained schnozzle can identify about 800 scents. That talent has earned him the reputation of having one of the world's premier noses. And his job is to criss-cross continents to educate women on the different scents at perfume counters and advise them on selecting the fragrances that suit them. Yesterday morning, Dove's speaking tour brought him to Saks Fifth Avenue, where he had a rapt audience of 30 women sniffing scented paper wands as he spun romantic tales of perfumes inspired by ancient Indian royalty and Japanese brides craving forbidden love.

"It bothers me that people often don't spend that much time picking a perfume when your perfume says more about you than your clothes, your jewelry or your makeup," said Dove, 44, who looked dashing in a black pants, a powder pink shirt and a glorious purple velvet Versace jacket.

Strong memories

"People won't remember the suit you have on or your hat," he added. "But often they'll remember your perfume - even if they don't smell it for 20 years."

Dove, who lives in Brighton outside London, said he knew he wanted to be in the perfume industry since his boyhood in England.

The first whiff of his future came when he was 6, lying in bed one night and waiting for his mother's goodnight kiss. He remembers it all: His mother quietly entered his darkened room. The light from the hallway gently framed her. The gold lame cocktail dress she wore shimmered. Her lips were rouged.

But it was her smell that struck him the most - the intoxicating floral scent of her perfume that enveloped him as she leaned over to kiss him.

"It was as if perfume had the power to transform something ordinary, something everyday into something magical," Dove said in a private moment.

And so began a fascination with perfume that led Dove to start collecting perfume bottles when he was 18. He decided against becoming a medical researcher and instead took up modeling. By then, he had developed something of an obsession with "Mitsouko" by Guerlain - a rich, spicy, oak-filled women's scent that Dove has been wearing for 26 years.

His love for Mitsouko led him to find out all he could about the French company, which was the world's first perfume house when it was founded in 1828 and is the last where the founding family still is part of the business. (Jean-Paul Guerlain, 64, who heads the company now, still designs the company's perfumes and is the only person who holds the formulas to all 600 of them.)

As Dove's fascination with Guerlain grew, he began badgering the Paris office of Guerlain. He sent fax after fax until finally, he said, he got a job because they decided "I'd be less of a nuisance in the company than out of it."

Dove's knowledge of the history and making of perfume earned him the title of Guerlain's "Professeur des Parfums." And he's been happily traveling the world ever since, his Louis Vuitton bag packed to the brim with an arsenal of Guerlain perfumes and eau de toilettes.

The perfumes cost between $100 for a quarter-ounce bottle to $250 for one ounce. Eau de toilettes are $55 for 1.7 ounces.

Dove's love for perfume is more than evident - he so adores Mitsouko that he dabs it in his hair every day. ("I have to surround myself with it," he explained.)

But he said his lectures are fueled by a passion for fragrances and a frustration that many people don't know more about perfume.

"There are a lot of women who buy perfume because of the brand or because it's fashionable," Dove said. "But that may not be what suits them."

Simple strategy

Dove's strategy for pairing women up with scents is simple.

There are three main categories of perfume - floral, oriental and chypre. Floral perfumes are sweet, flowery and suited to women who tend to be happy-go-lucky. Orientals are powdery, sensual and bewitching, for the woman "who likes to wear a slit in her skirt," Dove said. And chypre perfumes are deep, oaky and suit sophisticated women who "like understated tailoring," he said.

Even though the women in his audience seemed generally well versed in the art of self-maintenance, they did have some misunderstandings about perfume.

Most looked surprised when Dove explained that dabbing perfume behind their ear-lobes is a waste of money. The skin in that area, he noted, produces an oil that affects the scent.

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