“A dominant theme of Leather takes center stage in this creation” — so reads the official description for Great Britain, a luxury parfum from Roja Dove that was released late last year. It’s also supposedly a chypre, according to the company’s classification, and a leather enhanced by labdanum amber and animalic notes like castoreum and civet. The descriptions had led me to anticipate something in the vein of Roja Dove’s Fetish or his fantastic M for Puredistance. My experience turned out to be quite different.
Great Britain is an extrait that was released in October 2015, and its creation is linked to Roja Dove’s appointment in 2013 as a “creative Ambassador” for the Great Britain Campaign. (To avoid confusion, let me be clear that Great Britain is a separate and different fragrance than Britannia which Roja Dove released this year.) On his website, Roja Doves classifies Great Britain as a chypre, but also says that its dominant theme is leather:
Great Britain essentially has four phases on my skin, none of them very complicated and all of them driven by a handful of accords. The first is an iris woody scent laced with wood smoke. The second is a predominantly woody scent in which the iris and wood smoke are subsumed. The third is a wood smoke scent with an abstract leathery quality to its fumes. And the last is a simple smoky plushness. Most of these stages bear a surprisingly overt and obvious synthetic undertone (sometimes overtone) that I did not expect at this price point. Equally unexpected was the lightweight nature of the scent, and the absence of the brand’s signature heft, dense body, chewy notes, and opulence richness.
“Chypré : Warm & Dry – Sweet, Soft, Powdery, Very Leathery, & Very Sensual
“THE ESSENCE OF GREAT BRITAIN” “Regarded as one of the world’s leading perfumers, Roja Dove has been appointed an Ambassador for GREAT Britain. Embodying the essence of British creativity, Master Perfumer, Roja Dove was asked to compose The Fragrance of Creativity for the world’s first GREAT Festival. This is GREAT Britain.” – Roja Dove.
A dominant theme of Leather takes center stage in this creation, enhanced by Labdanum, where powdery Violet is amplified by Orris and Carrot Seed, which wraps around a heart of Rose and Jasmine, warmed by a blend of Cedar, Juniper and Guaiac Woods, Patchouli, Oakmoss and spicy Clove, which blends with ultra-soft notes of Tolu Balsam, and Styrax, made sensual by Ambrette and Ambergris, the whole counterpointed by Bergamot, Lemon, and Sage.
TOP: Lemon, Bergamot, Sage
HEART: Rose de Mai, Jasmin de Grasse, Violet
BASE: Clove, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Cedarwood, Guaiacwood, Juniper [Cade], Tolu Balsam, Carrot Seed, Orris, Styrax, Labdanum, Leather, Ambrette, Ambergris.
Great Britain opens on my skin with soft, puffy clouds of iris that smells immensely rooty, but also quietly woody, earthy, faintly floral, and a touch powdery at the same time. A handful of freshly shaved carrot slivers is strewn on top, then the iris is nestled amidst dark, singed, and occasionally ashy woods. There is cade wafting its great campfire aroma with its meaty subtext, followed by a mix of birch and guaiac; they’re similar in scent to the cade but smokier and slightly more leathery. The background is a soft, wholly abstract amber-ish warmth dotted with specks of greenness that are faintly herbal and occasionally suggestive of oakmoss. Once in a blue moon, wisps of citrus, musky castoreum, and civet dart by, but they’re tiny and almost invisible amidst the two main accords: the iris and the woods. If I had to estimate the breakdown of the bouquet, I’d say that 85% of Great Britain on my skin, perhaps as much as 90%, consisted simply of rooty, carroty iris layered between charred, smoky, and sometimes ashy woods. Everything else is either so muted, abstract, and/or fleeting as to be practically irrelevant in comparison.
I have mixed feelings about the opening. The iris is nice, and I’m always a big fan of cade’s complex, evocative facets. On the other hand, right from the start, there are also whiffs of something chemical that I find disappointing at these prices and from a brand like Roja Parfums. At first, the whiffs are as minor as the oakmoss, but they eventually grow quite strong. On my skin and to my nose, the note smells a lot like Timbersilk, the woodier, cleaner, and significantly stronger version of ISO E Super which is often used as a woody and floral amplifier. There is also hints of a woody-amber aromachemical lurking in the base, although that’s less overt at this point. Great Britain is too well-blended for me to pinpoint the source or material but, whatever it is, it appeared in both my tests.
My greater problem, honestly, is that the iris-woody bouquet isn’t the most interesting thing around. On my skin, it’s largely a two-chord melody: iris with smoky woods. Roja Dove is justifiably admired for his layering of notes and materials, creating such a densely packed symphony that it is usually complicated to dissect, but that is far from the case here. Putting that aside, I’ve encountered more interesting, complex, and striking versions of this refrain elsewhere. For example, Naomi Goodsir‘s Iris Cendré whose opening was a fantastic juxtaposition of contrasts centered on a rooty, plush iris ensconced in ashes, campfire smoke, incense, woods, and greenness. Granted, I thought Iris Cendré went downhill afterwards amidst a welter of white musk and sharp violet leaf greenness, but the opening was riveting. Great Britain, much less so. Significantly less.
Great Britain doesn’t even have the benefit of massively opulent thickness to set it apart or to counterbalance its simplicity. After all, there is nothing wrong with simplicity when it’s done right and with great chewy heft; some of my favourite fragrances are extremely simple, linear fragrances, but they have the benefit of intense richness. That isn’t the case here which I find to be odd both for Roja Dove and a pure extrait from the brand. The parfum is airier than I had expected, a light, weightless, and diffuse cloud that feels quite different than past Roja creations. It’s also softer in sillage and projection, too. I was sent a little atomiser and, using my standard baseline amount of several spritzes equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, Great Britain opened with about 2.5 to 3 inches of projection and about 3-4 inches of sillage. The latter grew fractionally after 30 minutes to about 5-6 inches, but it felt like mere fingers of scent curling outwards.
Great Britain changes slowly and in small degrees. Roughly 30 minutes in, the whiff of something chemical grows stronger and more noticeable. On my skin and to my nose, it’s starting to take on undertones of acetone, pepperiness, antiseptic, and a smoky but strangely sterile woodiness. 45 minutes in, the carrots disappear, smoky darkness looms at the edges, and the oakmoss starts to inch its way to center stage.
Given the company’s characterization of Great Britain as a “chypre” and the way Roja Dove has presented oakmoss in his other fragrances, I was surprised by its abstractness here. To me, it’s a blurry, anemic, and impressionistic suggestion, rather than the real thing. Perhaps the best way to describe how it appears on my skin is to compare it to a strangled whimper that is heard from a great distance through a long, fog-filled tunnel. It’s certainly not at the same level of clarity or strength as the two main accords.
As the first hour draws to a close and the second begins, the vast majority of Great Britain is nothing more than a peppery, smoky, woody iris that is lightly flecked by a vaporous, diffuse “oakmoss” and set against a backdrop of equally nebulous, diffuse “amber” warmth. Things change a wee bit at the start of the third hour. When I smell my arm up close, there are streaks of wood smoke, abstract leatheriness, spicy patchouli, and a woody-amber synthetic running across the face of the woody iris bouquet. At the same time, the Timbersilk is now a clamorous clang that is evident both up close and from afar. Once in a blue moon, a flicker of spicy, bitter cloves pops up in the background.
As time goes by, the focus of the scent and its balance of notes slowly skews to the woody side over the iris. About 3.5 hours in, it tips over completely, and Great Britain turns into a smoky mix of singed woods, dry patchouli, blackened birch leatheriness, wood smoke, woody-amber synthetics, and ISO E/Timbersilk-like aromas. It’s a dry, masculine-skewing mix of dark notes that is woven together with threads of a woody-smelling iris and a thinner filament of greenness which is occasionally a little herbal in nature.
I don’t like the bouquet when smelt up close, but it has a certain rugged panache to it from afar. For some reason, it makes me think of British aristocrats in shows like The Crown or Downton Abbey, trampling about a shoot in the woods, tweed-clad, bearing the scent of smoke, but also a certain chic-ness as well. I think the latter is thanks to the cool sophistication of iris, although the note is more evident from a distance than when I smell my arm up close. It weaves about, fluctuating in strength, but it’s turning as diffuse in nature as everything else. Like the woods and the wood smoke, for example, or the “leather.” On my skin, the latter is nothing like the solid, clearly delineated, incredibly smooth, supple leather in Puredistance‘s M, a molten marvel and a tableau that was painted in deep, rich, and warmly burnished oils. It’s not even like the skanky, chyprish, but equally unmistakable, powerful leather in Roja Dove’s Fetish. Instead, this is leather done in impressionistic brush strokes and, like the oakmoss, sometimes feels more like an abstraction than a strong reality. Still, at this point and while the iris lasts, there is a certain elegance to the scent.
Great Britain turns hazier, more abstract, and softer as it develops. Roughly 4.25 hours in, it’s a blur of smoky dry woods, wood smoke, abstract spiciness, leathery darkness, and amber-woody notes. There is no iris, but there is a lot of strangely sterile cleanness, no doubt from the Timbersilk-like note, and the acetone chemical whiff is now constant. At the end of the 6th hour and the start of the 7th, Great Britain’s focus shifts again from woods to leather layered with wood smoke. It continues to be a very diffuse “leather” to me, and it sometimes feels more like leather-ish smokiness than anything else. Folded within is sharp, parched, desiccated wood smoke and a woody-amber. That strangely sterile aroma persists, but it now feels industrial and sometimes also metallic in addition to wafting its acetone-like facet. Once in a blue moon, a ghostly pinch of iris darts by, smelling woody and a bit like cardboard. For the most part, Great Britain enters its 7th hour smelling of different sorts of smoky darkness: woody, leathery, and industrial. At the end of the 8th hour, Great Britain is nothing more than woody-amber wood smoke. I find it dry, boring, basic, and uninteresting.
There isn’t any significant change for the next few hours. In the middle of the 11th hour, Great Britain feels as though it’s close to dying out, which is rather a relief because the wood smoke smells extremely chemical to me. Yet, the fragrance lingers on, a mere whisper on the skin that is evident only if I burrow my nose deep into my arm. Around the 13th hour, the smoke vapors begin to take on a certain plushness. Gradually, they turn into a sort of soft, resinous, labdanum goldenness infused with a hint of vanilla sweetness. It’s actually really enjoyable. Soft smoke smudges its edges, but the focus has clearly shifted to the amber now, abstract and whisper thin though it may be. This continues for hours on end until, finally, Great Britain fades away as a sliver of golden sweetness.
Great Britain had enormous longevity, soft projection, and average sillage, although I found it softer than past Roja extraits. I’ve given you the opening numbers already but, to recap, with several atomiser spritzes equal to 2 sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with about 2.5 to 3 inches for the projection, and about 5-6 for the sillage. At the end of the first hour, the projection was between 2 and 2.5, and it dropped by a half-inch roughly every hour after that. 4.25 hours in, Great Britain skimmed the surface of my skin, and the scent trail was close to my body unless I moved my arm. The fragrance became a skin scent 7.75 hours into its development, and required effort to detect it after the 10th hour. In total, most of Great Britain lasted just a hair over 19.25 hours, but one or two tiny, dime-sized parts of my arm wafted golden sweetness into the 24th hour.
On Fragrantica, there are 5 comments, but only three men have actually tried Great Britain thus far, and all three love it. “Nbond007” calls it “absolutely the best leather fragrance created,” adding “Top quality 10/10 in all aspects.”
“BBjr” echoes him, writing:
Quite the heavy blast of castoreum initially and then it calms down within 30 minutes to one of the finest leather fragrances I’ve smelled. And it projects an absolutely wonderful scent that is different than what I smell when I put my nose to my skin. This really is a great fragrance.
“GenuineR30” offers a more detailed olfactory description of his experience:
Sweet/powdery scent from this has a very similar resemblance to Roja’s own fragrance. I don’t smell much citrus in this but it is there, very subtle, gives it a clean and fresh vibe. The labdanum and leather accords combine with wood are the backbones to “Great Britain’s” greatness. This scent in a nutshell is a sweet, vanilla (labdanum), leathery, powdered fragrance. It’s suitable for a man or woman 40-60 years of age. Like wine, you want to drink it at its peak. You need to wear this at the proper age. If your too young, you’ll smell old. If you’re too old, you’ll smell like you’re trying to be young. This scent is delicate it needs to be understood to be worn properly.
Special occasions would be most appropriate for this scent but it could be an all day everyday for the right person.
**Projection 10/10 this scent it gracefully bold
**Longevity 10/10 once you get it on its staying
I wasn’t impressed by Great Britain and I’ve already explained a few of the reasons why, but there are two others as well. First, I expect more from Roja Dove than I do from a lot of other brands: more intricacy and elaborate complexity; head-turning distinctiveness; more development; and more opulence. Second, those expectations are even higher when something bears Great Britain’s price. Roja parfums are not cheap to begin with, but this one is extra expensive at $1750 or £1250 for 50 ml. That blows the price for Diaghilev out of the water. Granted, it’s not as stratospheric a price as the one for Roja Haute Luxe, but at least the latter was a magnificently complex, prismatic, striking, and extravagantly opulent fragrance, and I would certainly buy it if I could afford it.
The same doesn’t hold true for Great Britain. If I wanted a Roja leather, I would stick with his M. To me, that is the best leather fragrance on the market. Even if his slightly similar Fetish didn’t work on my skin quite so well, that, too, is a very good leather. And both of them are significantly less expensive than Great Britain. As I’ve said before, I strongly believe that one cannot view fragrances in a vacuum when price points are high, let alone at stratospheric levels. It’s not enough to ask if a fragrance smells good; in my opinion, one must ask does it smells good enough, distinctive enough, luxurious and special enough to warrant the price and to make one want (or yearn) to actually buy a bottle? For M (or Roja Haute Luxe), absolutely. For Great Britain, no, not for me.
Be that as it may, if you are a fan of Roja Dove’s leather fragrances, you should try Great Britain for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was provided by EuroPerfumes, Roja Dove’s American distributor. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.