A rich chypre with wonderful mossy depths, Risqué is a fragrance where you’d do better to just put the name aside and inhale happily. It is a scent from Roja Dove that is officially categorized (and titled) as being “For Women,” but Risqué (hereinafter just “Risque“) is truly unisex, in my opinion, in addition to being far too classical to really warrant such a dangerous name. But it is lovely, thanks to a complex verdancy that is laced with unexpected hyacinths, fresh chamomile petals, civet, and vetiver, along with the usual floral suspects of rose, jasmine, and ylang-ylang. At times, primarily in the opening hour, it bears a strong similarity to Amouage‘s gorgeous Fate Woman, but Risque preceded Fate by a year and is ultimately its own creature. [UPDATE: At the time this review was written, there was only Risqué for Woman, and no parallel version for men had been created. This review is only for Risque Femme, and the title of the post has been amended to reflect that fact.]
Risque was released in 2012, but is sold in America under the name Creation-R due to legal trademark reasons. It comes in two forms, an Extrait (or Pure Parfum) and an Eau de Parfum. This review is for the Extrait. On his website, Roja Dove indirectly tries to address the disparity between the name and the classical nature of the scent by saying its surface conformity is symbolic of social restraints and something that hides a wilder, sensual heart:
WARM, DRY, FRESH, SWEET, & LEATHERY
“When I created this I thought of how society tells us how we have to behave, think, and act. So I decided to create a perfume that seemed tailored and disciplined – but as it develops it starts to show its overtly sensual base, which gets warmer, darker and more overt with each breath”. – Roja Dove
HEART: Chamomile, Hyacinth, Jasmine, Rose, Ylang Ylang
BASE: Cedarwood, Civet, Labdanum, Oakmoss, Patchouli, Vetiver.
Risque opens on my skin with oakmoss and bergamot that are laced with fresh, barely herbal chamomile flowers, pink roses, and a drop of hyacinth. Hovering at the edges is a plush patchouli that feels green, springy, and fresh but, also, spicy, woody, and a tiny bit leathered. Vetiver soon follows on its heels, combining with the other elements to create a beautiful verdancy with multiple facets.
It’s a bouquet that really shines when you apply a decent amount of Risque, radiating so many different facets to the greenness that it almost caught my breath at one point. It’s crisp, mineralized, citrusy, cool, slightly brisk, and a wee bit salty like true, grey lichen. Yet, it’s also as bright emerald-green, springy, warm, and fresh as a blanket of moss in the Emerald Isles. At the same time, there are the tiniest nuances of something spicy, and wooded like the bark of the tree. And the best part? It’s a little herbal, floral, minty, dewy, sappy, grassy, and earthy, as though various elements from the forest floor had been crushed with both the stems and the flowers of purple hyacinths, then sprinkled with fresh chamomile petals on top, and squirted with a dash of crisp lemon.
This rich, foresty, mossy, layered wall of greenness twists and turns like a maze to show off different sides but, behind it, shimmers a quiet, pale, pink rose. It’s a delicate note that isn’t fruity or syrupy, though it is tinged with drops of sweetness that vaguely hint at being jasmine. More noticeable is the civet that hovers beside it, smelling a little sharp and citrusy, but never truly animalic, raunchy, or skanky. Darting all around like little fireflies are specks of balsamic labdanum and woody cedar, both working from afar to ensure that the citrusy crispness or the mineralised aspects of the oakmoss never turn the fragrance too cold in nature.
When I applied a small dose of Risque, the balance of notes was different. Using a few squirts from my atomizer equal to one spray from a bottle, the rose was there right from the start, front and center, and infused fully within the bergamot, mossy top notes, along with the civet. With a larger dose, roughly equal to 2 big sprays from a bottle, the moss really becomes the star of the show, radiating all those rich facets I talked about earlier and the civet-rose combination retreats to the background.
Taking the rose’s place is the hyacinth, though it’s not at all clear in the early minutes that that’s what I’m smelling. It’s as though the flower has been deconstructed to show off its various parts — its crushed stems, the green sap that oozes out, a vaguely floral nectar — each one peeking out in turn but never coming together to form the whole hyacinth initially. That happens later but, in the opening minutes, the various parts pop in and out of the mossy base, amplifying the sense of an incredibly lush, full, emerald greenness that just happens to be slightly floral in nature.
Actually, the whole composition feels brilliantly done. Again, you see it best when you apply a higher dosage, but it’s pretty marvelous the way the innate aspects of the chamomile, vetiver, and hyacinth have been used to fill in any missing gaps in the oakmoss stemming from EU restrictions. The vetiver brings a salty nuance that real mousse de chene has, while the hyacinth replicates the fresh black soil, sweet grass, dew, and sappy greenness of the forest floor where such oakmoss might grow. The hyacinth may not be hugely floral at this point, but it has just enough sweetness to add a dewy liquidity to the scent, subtle though it may be. As for the chamomile, it might not be the first thing that you’d think of in connection to oakmoss but, somehow, by some clever perfumer’s trick, it actually seems like amplify and emphasize the mossiness of the scent. I found the interplay between the two notes to be especially intriguing and unexpected, so much so that I truly couldn’t stop sniffing my arm in delight at one point.
All of it is perfectly balanced to accentuate Risque’s main focal point, without any one part standing out like a sore thumb. Regular readers know how much I dislike intensely citrusy notes, but the bergamot is modulated beautifully here. It feels crisp but never too chilly, sour, or sharp. Even better, it plays off the salty, mineralized aspects of the oakmoss perfectly.
I’m significantly less enthused by things when I apply a small quantity of Risque, particularly when I dabbed instead of sprayed. The biggest problem is the civet. It’s thin, reedy, wholly synthetic, and excessively sharp like the cheap civet used in Guerlain‘s modern eau de toilette version of Jicky. It also has the exact same unpleasant aroma that I struggled with in Serge Lutens’ new La Religieuse: a sour, acidic lemon that also wafts an ammonia-like undertone on occasion. At a low dosage (a few small dabs), the civet is noticeable from the opening minute and essentially just grows stronger as the hours pass, blasting away from the start of the 2nd hour onwards to vastly overshadow the oakmoss (by a mile), and pretty much lasting through until the end. I was far from happy, particularly as all the mossy, green accords were concomitantly thinner in body and depth in addition to being more muted.
Thankfully, though, the civet was not a major problem at all when I applied more of the fragrance. It’s still noticeable, but never so loud as to detract from the other notes or to feel overly sour. So, my suggestion to you if you try Risque is not to be miserly with the quantity, not to apply merely a few swipes of a sample stick and, if possible, not to dab at all but spray, because the perfume’s real beauty will not shine through that way.
Regardless of the details up close, the overall impression from afar in the first hour is of a blazingly chic, sophisticated chypre bouquet that reminds me strongly of the opening stage of Amouage‘s Fate Woman, only deeper, richer, and heavier in nature. The two fragrances may have very different notes, but their opening feels unbelievably similar. Risque came first, preceding Fate by a year, so it’s fairer or more accurate to say that Fate is Risque without civet, rather than the other way around. After the first hour, the two fragrances diverge quite a bit, particularly later on when Fate turns into an oriental, but the initial similarities when the two fragrances are smelled from afar in the opening stage are astonishing.
Up close, you can see the differences, but they aren’t enormous. Risque has civet; Fate has castoreum. Risque lacks even the early glimmers of vanilla that Fate showed on my skin in the opening; its rose note is not as substantial as right from the beginning in Fate; and it feels substantially mossier and denser than Fate, though the fact that I’m testing a pure parfum version of Risque may have some bearing on that last part. Yes, Risque has hyacinth and chamomile, but the notes are so consummately blended into the mossy greenness that they aren’t really a factor in separating the two scents during the first hour. Thereafter, the fragrances part ways, as Risque remains a pure chypre, while Fate turns oriental with warm labdanum amber and small streaks of custardy vanilla that almost feel gourmand at times.
From the 2nd hour forth, Risque always develops as some sort of floral, civet-y chypre but the specific details vary on my skin from wearing to wearing. The perfume is a bit of a shape-shifter in terms of which notes and flowers it emphasizes but, generally, its second hour is focused on the hyacinth. It’s hard to explain how the note comes across because it, too, changes shape. Sometimes, it feels like an abstract hyacinth, a shimmering, ghostly hyacinth that floats in and out elusively but then, minutes later, it feels as solidly concrete as the purple, potted blooms in my kitchen. There is the green sap from the crushed stems mixed with the sense of cool, wet, black soil and the heady sweetness of the flowers themselves. Then, 10 minutes after that, the note changes again, turning back into a pale shadow of the real thing, one that has been diluted with civet and flickers of roses, jasmine, chamomile, and vetiver, all atop Risque’s mossy base. As soon as I’m convinced that the hyacinth has retreated to the sidelines to make way for the rose and jasmine, Risque suddenly shifts its focus back to the unusual rarity of a hyacinth-dominated chypre, wafting a beautifully dewy, sweet floralcy that is unmistakably the flowers in bloom.
The rest of the perfume’s development is more consistent. At the start of the 2nd hour, Risque turns simultaneously smoother in terms of its notes, quieter, and a bit thinner in body. The mossy greenness feels hazier, weaker, less rich, and more mineralised. The chamomile starts to fade in and out, the cedar and vetiver are less noticeable, while the civet fluctuates in terms of its strength (and its sharpness).
By the time the 3rd hour rolls around, the notes have largely started to overlap, particularly the rose and jasmine which have become one. Together, they finally take over from the hyacinth, shifting the floral focus of the scent, though traces of the hyacinth’s sappy greenness linger. At the same time, a subtle layer of creamy softness appears in the base that is best described as a velvety texture. I suspect it is the indirect effect of the ylang-ylang, but the flower itself never appears as a clear, distinct note on my skin. The other elements are impossible to distinguish at this point. There is no cedar, bergamot, or chamomile, but the vetiver, patchouli, and labdanum seem to have fully merged into the nondescript haze of general “greenness.” None of it smells like oakmoss any more, alas.
Risque continues to turn simpler and quieter. By the middle of the 4th hour, the perfume is a rose-jasmine duo laced with fluctuating amounts of civet and lying atop a green base with a velvety texture. The jasmine is starting to dissolve to a mere floral sweetness, the rose feels thin and wispy, but there is a vague sense of warmth that has replaced the brisk, mineralised coolness of the first three hours. The perfume itself is turning quite discreet with sillage that hovers just above the skin at the start of the 5th hour. By the 7th hour, Risque is merely a chypre-like floral with a suggestion of roses and some greenness. In its final hours, all that’s left is a floral-ish smear with a trace of greenness.
Risque has average projection that is initially very strong and good longevity. Using 3 small spritzes from an atomiser that roughly equal 2 sprays from a bottle, the perfume opened with 5-6 inches of projection that left a nice scent trail after 10 minutes. Risque projected 2 inches by the end of the first hour; it hovered just above the skin at the start of the 5th hour; and only became a true skin scent after 6 hours. I had to put my nose right on the skin to detect it at the 8.5 hour mark and thought it would soon die, but Risque lasted 12 hours in total. The numbers were obviously less when I used the equivalent of 1 spray or when I dabbed. The opening bouquet projected 3 inches, the perfume turned into a skin scent after 4 hours, and Risque faded away after 9 hours. Extraits or pure parfums generally have softer projection than eau de parfums, and aerosolisation tends to increase the numbers, so you may want to keep that in mind if you try the scent for yourself.
I can’t find any blog reviews for Risque. The perfume’s name is mentioned in passing in a comment to a review of Roja Dove’s Danger, but there is no actual discussion on how it smells. Risque has no entries on its Basenotes page, but there are two reviews on Fragrantica. Both are positive, and the first one mentions the similarity to Fate Woman as well. They read in full as follows:
- Very alluring. The Civet is very apparent in the opening and becomes more more pronounced in the heart and base. This will be a pleaser to Civet lovers. [¶] There is a definite resemblance to Amouage Fate Woman.
- I am in LOVE! This is a truly gorgeous perfume with, I think an unfortunate (slightly naff) name which does not do the scent justice at all. In Risque there is a highly addictive bright note, slightly aquatic that shines through the top, middle and base. I had set out on a quest to find a fragrance that would appeal to me (green citrus preference) yet hold and linger without being either too floral or too masculine in the dry down – and this is it, so I’ve started saving up because at £226 this is not an inexpensive treat but I feel, probably worth the money.
Risque isn’t cheap as an extrait, though its eau de parfum version is closer to Amouage Fate Woman prices. I think there are enough differences between the two (particularly when each perfume’s full development is considered) to make Risque worth a test sniff even if you own Fate. The price is high, but at least the quality is there. Yes, the civet isn’t the greatest, but the issue can be surmounted by not being miserly with the quantity you apply. The real thing that makes Risque stand out in my opinion is the fact that chypres with any degree of hyacinth are not a dime a dozen. When it dominates Risque, the result is beautiful, as is the depth of that multi-faceted blanket of greenness in the first few hours. Really, those first few hours are wonderful. So give Risque a sniff the next time you’re in a store that carries Roja Dove or if you order samples from Surrender to Chance. It’s hardly a “risky” or “risqué” scent, but it’s very well done.