Roja Dove Britannia: A Vintage Floriental for the Modern Gourmand Age

Something that feels familiar yet also unexpected…” — so reads one part of Roja Dove’s official description for Britannia, and it is a somewhat accurate description. This is a fragrance which does indeed smell very familiar, thanks to the way it echoes, at different points in time, everything from vintage L’Origan and vintage L’Heure Bleue to modern gourmand floral orientals and modern spicy-woody oriental ambers, including several from Roja Parfums. For me, the “unexpected” part of the equation arises from the degree to which Britannia’s first stage harkens back to the opulent vintage aesthetic which had originally made Roja Dove so incredibly popular, rather than the mainstream designer or Middle Eastern bouquets which have characterized so many of his recent releases over the last two and a half years.

Britannia Parfum. Source: Roja Parfums’ website.

Britannia is an extrait de parfum that was released in 2016. Let me emphasize again that it is a pure parfum, because one or two retailers have it erroneously listed as an eau de parfum on their websites. Also to be clear, it is a completely different fragrance than Great Britain which Roja Dove released a year earlier, in 2015.

Britannia via Roja Parfums. [Photo lightly cropped by me in the white sections at the top and bottom.]

On his website, Roja Dove describes Britannia and its notes as follows:

Oriental : Rich & Soft – Fresh, Sweet, Fruity, Warm & Powdery

“REGAL OPULENT LUXURY”
“I wanted to create a very self-assured scent; something that feels familiar yet also unexpected… That sense of quality you can’t quite put your finger on, as I believe that is what the British are like.” – ROJA DOVE.

A lively blend of Cinnamon and Clove is underscored by the warmth of Patchouli, Vetiver, and Sandalwood on a soft, sensual base of Vanilla, Cocoa, Orris, Ambergris, and Musk, where a rich bouquet of Rose, Jasmine, Champaca, Heliotrope, Cassie, and Violet is further sweetened by fruity Peach, the whole freshened by a citrus medley of Bergamot, Mandarin, Tangerine, and rare Cedrat.

TOP: Cedrat, Bergamot, Mandarin, Tangerine
HEART: Rose de Mai, Jasmin de Grasse, Champaca, Heliotrope, Cassie, Violet, Peach
BASE: Cinnamon, Clove, Patchouli, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Cocoa, Orris, Ambergris, Musk.

Britannia essentially has three phases on my skin. The first phase is a vintage-style floral oriental bouquet which juxtaposes old-fashioned and modern olfactory themes: classical powdery, fruity, spicy, and pastel-hued feminine flowers are paired with modern unisex gourmand elements like salted ambergris caramel, hot chocolate powder, and creamy vanilla custard. The second stage pivots away from either the vintage or the floral in favour of a modern oriental in which a soft, largely amorphous, syrupy floralcy is subsumed within torrents of ambered resins, chocolate, vanilla, spices, and dry-dark woods. The third and final stage drops all lingering vestiges of floralcy for a completely unisex, amber-centric fragrance layered with gourmand elements then lightly flecked with spiced woodiness and a tinge of smoke.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Britannia opens on my skin with an orchard of fruits hanging ripe on the branches, oozing their sticky nectar with such gusto that it’s as though you had just taken a bite and the juices were running down your chin. There are: sweet Meyer-like cedrat, bergamot, even sweeter oranges, sweet-tangy tangerines, and practically syrupy peaches. A cloud of spices is flung on top of them: cinnamon (which initially smells rather like the woody bark), then lesser amounts of sweet-earthy clove, and a touch of anise.

Cassie or Acacia. Source: botanicplanet.ca

In the earliest moments, Britannia’s flowers peep out from the sidelines, smelling soft and delicate but nevertheless as diverse as a floral arrangement at the Chelsea Flower Show: soft pink rose petals are paired with syrupy jasmine, meringue-like vanillic heliotrope, and, above all else, cassie. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the material, cassie (or acacia farnesiana) is somewhat related to mimosa but quite different in aroma. For one thing, it’s spicier, thanks to eugenol which gives it a clove-ish, cinnamon-like subtext. For another, it’s more complex in character because its profile can also resemble violets (due to ketones), heliotrope, lilacs, orris, floral powder, anise, and anisic meringues. The cassie in Britannia smells like all the above, simultaneously. In addition, its spicy eugenol combines with the soft roses to create something which vaguely resembles spicy carnations as well, although it’s only a light suggestion and nowhere as strong as the violets, lilacs, or anisic floral powder aspects.

L’Heure Bleue vintage parfum, Marly box and Baccarat bottle. Photo & bottle: my own.

The net effect of the floral combination is heavily vintage in aesthetic, although not as powdery as the fragrances which are the unmistakable template for Britannia: vintage L’Heure Bleue and Coty‘s L’Origan (which was, itself, arguably the template for L’Heure Bleue and its predecessor). Yes, the florals here in Britannia are both heavy in feel and powdered, but they’re actually not half as powdered as the origin scents. Nothing about Britannia evokes memories of a Grande Dame’s make-up table, powder puffs, or lipsticks, and I think there are a few reasons why. First, the amount of powder has been dialed down, in part because there is significantly less heliotrope here than in the two template fragrances. (I’d estimate that Britannia has only a fifth of the amount of heliotrope that appears on my skin with the other two scents, or even less.) Second, Britannia has a whopping amount of fruitiness in its opening, fruitiness which helps to cut through any potential excess in powder. Finally, the base notes have the same effect, diluting or killing any excessive powderiness with a flood of gourmand and oriental sweetness.

Salted, chewy caramels. Photo: Kathi at her blog, Deliciously Yum! (Direct link to site and recipe is embedded within.)

Those base notes are evident right from the start, although they’re initially soft in the earliest moments and far outweighed by Britannia’s fruit and citruses. The main base note is sticky salted caramel which is formed out of salty, marshy, musky ambergris and benzoin. Running beside it in quieter fashion and to a much lesser degree are: creamy vanilla custard (with its own caramelized facets), hot chocolate cocoa powder, spicy patchouli, and a hint of white woodiness.

Britannia changes extremely quickly. Less than 5 minutes in, the “salted caramel” ambergris, benzoin, vanilla custard, and hot chocolate powder shoot up to the surface, blanketing the citruses, peach, orange, and flowers in such a way that they result in a rich, heavy, co-equal partnership of fruitiness, florals, and gourmand orientalism, a mix which is both modern and vintage in feel. Floral powder, spice powder, vanilla powder (from the heliotrope), and cocoa powder swirl all around. The flowers are initially so thickly encased in salted ambergris caramel and vanilla custard that they are a mere blur of sweet floralcy but, increasing, minute by minute, they coalesce into something less hazy and indeterminate. 15 minutes in, they bloom, becoming a strong, sultry rose-dominated floral bouquet. The fruits change around the same time. The sweet, Meyer lemon-like cedrat and bergamot give way to much heftier, thicker, and more encompassing waves of sweet, honeyed peaches and equally sweet orange-tangerine.

“This Gives Life To Me.” Art photo by Margriet Smulders via her website. (Direct link embedded within.)

The cumulative effect is a cornucopia of summer fruits at their very ripest and sweetest paired with a lush floral extravaganza, both of which are then drenched in a veritable waterfall of vanilla custard and salted caramel before being dusted off with generous heapings of cocoa, cinnamon, and patchouli. The latter eventually adds a new tonality at the 30-minute mark: a quiet slug of fruited cognac. It works beautifully with the salted ambergris caramel, peach, mandarin-tangerine, and vanilla custard.

It’s essentially a wall of notes, layered in thick but seamless fashion, one next to the other, but both the finer details and the larger picture are absolutely lovely. Lush and opulent, too. First, I adore the strong gusts of lilac, violets, and orris emanating from the cassie as well as its quieter, softer whispers of carnation. Second, I enthusiastically applaud the fragrance’s clearly intentional vintage aesthetic because, frankly, I far prefer it to the direction taken by Roja Parfums over the last two and a half years, one which has veered heavily into designer, commercial-style territory (see, Elysium) or adopts the Middle Eastern style but with noticeably synthetic materials (and often with an excess of “cotton candy” as well). I haven’t been enthused by either one. In my opinion, the reason why Roja Parfums became such a big hit when it initially launched was, in large part, because of the exceedingly vintage aesthetic which its fragrances embodied. DiaghilevDanger, Risque/Creation-E Pour FemmeInnuendo/Creation-I, the original NuWa, and Roja Haute Luxe are all built around vintage refrains or templates. (And Mr. Dove does “vintage” extremely well.) The more recent releases have moved away from that, but Britannia is a welcome return to the brand’s original aesthetic.

Some of my L’Origan bottles in EDT and PdT versions. Photo: my own.

The specific vintage inspirations here are, as mentioned earlier, L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan. To be specific, I see strong parallels to the caramel-laced 1970s version of L’Heure Bleue parfum (minus the latter’s indolic orange blossoms, leather, or smoke) and the pre-Pfizer formula for L’Origan (particularly its 1950/1960s Parfum de Toilette formulation). On Fragrantica, a few people have noted the similarities between Britannia and L’Heure Bleue and they’re absolutely right, but I think L’Origan is just as much of an influence. The two fragrances are not identical. I’ve been meaning to do a lengthy treatise on L’Origan for a while now because it’s actually one of my favourite vintages, even more than L’Heure Bleue, and I collect bottles of the 1950/60s PdT in an obsessive fashion, but it’s a daunting task because of the number of versions and concentrations, not to mention the arguments about its specific origins, formulae, and authorship, and the lack of a precise bottle-dating system. For our purposes here today, however, all you need to know is that Britannia parallels the 1950/60s PdT version of L’Origan even more closely than it does L’Heure Bleue parfum on my skin, thanks to loads of cinnamon, cloves, pastel floralcy, roses, violets, lilacs, orris, vanillic heliotrope, jasmine, carnation-like cassie, peach, mandarin, bergamot, custardy vanilla, creamy-spicy sandalwood, patchouli, labdanum, and caramel ambered benzoin.

Source: gnt.globo.com

In fact, Britannia turns into the heftier, thicker, more concentrated, and more purely gourmand replica of that bouquet right at the 45-minute mark. There are differences to be sure, like the presence of salty ambergris and powdered cocoa, both of which L’Origan and L’Heure Bleue lacked, but everything else is merely a difference in the degree of individual notes or accords. For example, Britannia has: a whopping increase in the amount of vanilla custard and caramel amber; significantly weaker floral powder, lilacs, and violets from the heliotrope, orris, and cassie; only a quiet, subtle reconstitution of carnation; much greater and more prominent fruitiness (particularly the peach); and heightened degrees of patchouli and sandalwood right from the start (as opposed to much later on). Despite the technical difference in note ratios, however, Britannia feels very much like an updated L’Origan, one which has been modernized for current tastes by eschewing the highly powdered femininity of old in favour of more gourmand elements and a more unisex profile.

Photo: Andrew Yee for Aveda’s 2015 “Sublime Spirit” campaign. Source: brieshi.com

To be completely clear, though, Britannia does not smell like a modern fragrance in its first stage, even though it does so in its later phases. From the first sniff until the 90-minute mark, Britannia smells completely vintage, and no amount of modern gourmandise can mask its early 20th-century, 1905/1912-era inspirations or character. The young, modern generation of perfumistas whose tastes have been shaped (or, in my admittedly biased personal opinion, corrupted and ruined) by things like Chanel‘s Chance or HermèsTerre d’Hermès, the Ellena air in a bottle aesthetic, Guerlain‘s modern concoctions, or the revolting travesty of YSL’s Black Opium‘s gunk are bound to recoil in horror. In fact, I’ll say it bluntly: anyone who is expecting a floral oriental in the light, fresh, modern style is going to be sorely disappointed, as will those who hate heavy, dense, powerful bouquets and those who view the vintage style or even a small puff of floral powder as “old lady-ish.” To those people, I say: Britannia is not for you. No way, no how.

Roughly 1.25 hours in, Britannia shifts in what is a short transition into its long second phase. The patchouli rages in force next to the caramel, vanilla custard, and cocoa while the citrus, fruits, spices, floral powder, and more syrupy florals begin to blur into one. The cinnamon and clove are actually stronger and more clearly delineated than the fruits which have now fused into a single citrus-dotted peachiness. At the same time, the amber accord changes: the salty, marshy, musky ambergris vanishes, replaced by toffee’d labdanum and praline-caramel benzoin. Sandalwood and a distinct cedar note also start to seep up from the base, turning things significantly woodier than they were before. When taken as a whole, Britannia is now a rather blurry blend of rich floralcy bracketed on all sides by toffee, caramel, an equally caramelized and sugary vanilla crème brulée custard, cocoa powder, spices, spicy-smoky patchouli, dry-dark woods, and lesser, lighter streaks of peachy fruits. The woods emit puffs of smoke, but they’re tiny and can never put a dent in the syrupy or dessert-oriented elements which are now running roughshod all over the floral bouquet.

“View from Above,” by Louise Mead. Source: Art Finder. (Direct link embedded within.)

That bouquet is now almost as candied sweet as everything else on my skin. The clearest and strongest component is the rose, then the cloud of amorphous powdery florals. I can’t tell if they consist of heliotrope or cassie. Liqueured floral syrup gushes all over them like candied floral honey but it, too, is indeterminate and I can’t tell if it’s composed of syrupy champaca or syrupy jasmine. All the flowers are hard to pick out except for the roses. And everything is far, far too sweet for my personal tastes, particularly in conjunction with the flood of caramel amber, toffee’d labdanum, caramel-praline benzoin, hot chocolate powder, and the increasingly cloying, gooey, sugared vanilla custard.

Roja Dove’s Profumi d’Amore Collection. Source: passion4luxus.com

The transition phase ends roughly 1.5 to 1.75 hours into Britannia’s development, which is when a new aesthetic starts, one which is no longer vintage in feel but purely modern and gourmand. The vanilla not only turns into pure crème brulée but also becomes one of the two leading elements in the bouquet. The caramel-scented mixed amber accord (ambergris, labdanum, and benzoin) is the second. The intensity of the duo and the sheer degree of their sweetness on my skin ends all similarity to either vintage L’Origan or vintage L’Heure Bleue. Instead, I’m reminded strongly of Roja Dove‘s Profumi d’Amore Collection, specifically Ti Amo and Amore Mio, both of which took an increasingly blurry floral-oriental bouquet of roses, jasmine, floral powder (heliotrope, orris, violets), spices, cocoa, patchouli, and dry-smoky woods, then encased them in a thick sheath of vanilla custard and caramel-scented amber. The Profumi d’Amore trio were released in early 2016; Britannia was released in late 2016. I don’t think the overlap is coincidental or accidental. I think the same Robertet nose was probably responsible for all four fragrances and that he or she re-used a number of materials or accords in creating Britannia. I wouldn’t be surprised if the same person also created Roja Dove‘s earlier Amber Extrait because the overlap and similarities during Britannia’s drydown are unmistakable, in my opinion.

Photographer Andrew Yee for How to Spend It Magazine. Source: Fashion Gone Rogue. (Direct website link embedded within.)

The shift towards a gourmand-infused, ambered oriental continues as Britannia develops. By the end of the second hour, the flowers are muted and soft on my skin. There is absolutely no doubt that the fragrance has a floral component but the notes so drowned out by everything else that they feel quite secondary, almost tertiary in comparison. If I sniff up close, I can clearly detect the existence of flowers infused with floral powder and floral syrup, but I have to bring my nose right to my arm and sniff hard to single out the specifics (roses, jasmine, champaca, lilac-violet-y cassie, and heliotrope-ish marshmallow powder) amidst the now bombastic torrents of caramel amber, vanilla, and cocoa.

There are other changes as well. The fragrance is significantly woodier than before. In fact, the spiced woods are almost as strong as the gourmand notes now. They have also changed in scent. Unlike before, they now smell just as much of cedar and a smoky woody-amber synthetic as they do spicy-creamy sandalwood, sometimes even more so. Something about them feels a little acrid on my skin. My guess is that it’s due to the woody-amber aromachemical which I’m convinced is part of the base. I would bet money on its existence. After hugging my Teutonic Overlord during one test, I detected a dry, acrid, smoky woody-amber aroma on his fur which lasted for days. Plus, I could smell its smoky, clearly chemical twang after I washed Britannia off in another test. Finally, Britannia’s note list does not mention cedar but the fragrance definitely smells of it on my skin and I think it’s a by-product of the woody-amber. I have to say, I’m disappointed that a fragrance which costs $1000 or €990 would use only a light, passing touch of ambergris and a stronger, greater amount of aromachemicals, but it is what it is. Amber Extrait also had a rather rasping woody-amber aromachemical in its base, and the two fragrances have a lot of overlap on my skin from their middle phases onwards. (That said, Amber Extrait cost much less than $1000. Noticeable synthetics are a lot more forgivable at low/lower prices points, in my opinion.)

Amber Extrait. Source: Neiman Marcus.

Britannia continues to shift in small degrees during this second stage. Roughly 2.75 hours, it grows spicier and spicier. Even woodier and more chocolate-y, too. The bouquet is now driven by amber resins, cinnamon, sandalwood, a separate mixed woody accord, milk chocolate, and slightly lesser degrees of vanilla crème brulée and spicy, occasionally boozy patchouli. The florals have now retreated to the distant background where they emit quiet, muffled, indeterminate puffs of floral powder and floral syrup. Every once in a blue moon, there is a fleeting flicker of fruitiness, something vaguely orange-peachy-ish, and something nebulously boozy, but both are will o’ the wisp and darts away rapidly. If one puts them and the dying floral elements to the side, everything else reminds me a lot of Roja Dove’s Amber Extrait. There is the same Willy Wonka treatment to amber and orientalism, only Britannia feels more nuanced and significantly spicier in addition to being stronger, heavier, and richer. The latter may be why it feels even more gourmand on my skin than Amber Extrait, comparatively speaking.

Source: Pinterest.

By the end of the 4th hour and start of the 5th, the main bouquet shifts even further into gourmandise. It’s basically a gourmand oriental sundae made out of intense, forceful, and thick blocks of toffee’d labdanum, caramel-praline benzoin, crème brulée vanilla, and milk chocolate, with lighter layers of sandalwood, patchouli, cinnamon-driven spices, and dry-spicy-smoky cedar ensconced in-between. The only vestiges of floralcy no longer smell of actual flowers on my skin but of marshmallows, meringue, and fluffy vanillic powder, compliments of the heliotrope and, to a lesser extent, the cassie. In the base, a new arrival begins to slowly stir, the first sign of a dark musk, though it’s lightly imbued with sweetness from the main top notes and doesn’t smell remotely animalic.

Russian Oud. Photo: my own.

Britannia loses all trace of floralcy when its long drydown begins roughly 6.75 hours into its evolution. In the simplest nutshell, the drydown smells like a mash-up of Roja Dove‘s Amber Extrait and Areej Le Doré‘s new Russian Oud: ambered caramel, chocolate, patchouli, and sandalwood, lightly veined with drier, smokier woods as well as spices, smoke, and a light amount of dark musk. The difference between Britannia and Russian Oud, however, is that the Roja fragrance has no oud; continues to have a ton of vanilla cream and vanilla meringue-marshmallows; has significantly less smoke and dark muskiness; and also has a noticeable woody-amber aromachemical component.

Photo: my own.

Britannia doesn’t change or morph significantly beyond this point. It merely grows simpler and hazier. In the 8th hour, it eventually dissolves into a darkly bronzed haze of spicy, sweet, vanillic, chocolate-y, creamy, and woody components, lightly and softly streaked with sweet powder, smokiness, and muskiness, then enveloped within a thick, powerful force field of resinous caramel amber. I’m reminded of the drydown of Amber Extrait but also, again, of Russian Oud, though I have to emphasize that Britannia is significantly more vanillic than the Areej scent and nowhere near as rich on my skin at comparable points in their respective development. It also does not last as long as Russian Oud does on me.

Britannia had excellent longevity, soft projection, and an initially strong scent trail that gradually turned soft. I tested the fragrance three times in total, always using several generous smears, equal to 2 big sprays from an actual bottle or a little bit more, on a single 3 to 3.5-inch patch of skin. With that amount, Britannia consistently opened with about 2 inches of projection and about 4-5 inches of sillage. The latter always grew in size as the richer, sweeter, and heavier base notes melted on my skin and bloomed. As a general rule, the sillage grew to about 7 or 8 inches after 30 minutes, then to about a foot and a half at the 90-minute mark. The sillage dropped back to about 7 or 8 inches late in the 3rd hour. Roughly 5.5 hours in, the projection hovered between 0.5 and 1 inch above the skin and the sillage was closer to the body. The fragrance seemed to dissolve quite quickly in presence, force, weight, and notes in the middle of the 5th hour. Britannia turned into a skin scent just before the 7th hour, although I could detect its presence easily if I put my nose on my arm. In total, Britannia typically lasted between 14.5 and 15.5 hours.

On Fragrantica, the reviews for Britannia are, by and large, exceedingly positive. The fragrance also scores well in terms of numeric votes with 4.21 points out of 5, from 54 people. It receives high marks, too, for longevity with the majority of votes (9 each) opting for “long lasting” or “very long lasting” (defined as 12+ hours). The few negative reviews all echo the same issues which I warned up about at the top and which I will sum up in three words: “vintage” and “old lady.” Or as “Mooniq” put it: “To heavy, To oldfashioned, To much of everything for me. For an old and oldfashioned lady – in Downtown Abbey-style. No thanx.” Someone else, “Nyse,” echoed a similar refrain with a comment which explicitly warned: “It is a nice fragrance for a 50+ year old lady. […] Girls step aside, 50+ ladies indulge.” As I said upfront, this is not a fragrance for those with modern tastes or with no appreciation for the vintage, the heavy, or the ornate.

The majority of reviews, however, are positive. “SuzanneS” summed it up as: “Genius. Voluptuous, full figured fragrance in the best way. Opulent. Britannia.” She described its specifics as:

Britannia is the whole world in a bottle. [¶] It opens with a slight bittter citrus then the giant peach note takes over and toggles with a cocoa presence. A beautiful orris/ambergris combination surfaces and changes its nuances much like a well running swiss clock with a large list of notes and experiences dancing for attention. You want a chypre..its in here.. a dusting of a fruity sweet light gourmand? Its in here.. a powdery violet candy.. well you can have that too.

Others compare Britannia either to Amore Tio “turned up to an 11,” “an opulent version of FM Parfum de Therese,” or vintage L’Heure Bleue. “Najgirl,” however, thought that Britannia was both a welcome improvement on L’Heure Bleue and actually not one of the more vintage-inspired Roja fragrances, at least not on her skin. She wrote:

This is one of the most amazing fragrances I have ever encountered. It is a perfectly blended floral, fruity, powdery, spicy (but not too spicy) oriental. The opening is woodsy and creamy. As the fragrance develops, powdery and fruity notes take over. I don’t understand the references to L’Heure Bleue – in my opinion the two are entirely different. That heavy, shoebox/cardboard/valentine’s day candy odor that I struggle with in L’Heure Bleue is nowhere to be found in this wonderful creation. The fragrance is distinctively Roja, but definitely not amongst the more vintage-inspired Roja pieces (e.g.., Karenina, Enslaved, Bergdorf for her). I find Britannia to be very modern, unisex, and quite unique.

Men like Britannia as well as women, although I’ve noticed that the most enthusiastic guys are the ones who love BIG, opulent, extremely vintage-skewing floral orientals and who also have no issues with gourmands. Like one friend of mine who was once a total Roja junkie but who thought that Britannia was the only seriously good release in all of 2015 and 2016. He loved it. In a Basenotes discussion thread comparing Diaghilev and Britannia (which I personally think is rather like comparing apples and mangoes), one chap, “Gerbick,” wrote: Britannia is “definitely the more unisex of the two in this thread. To answer the original question, I like Britannia more.” In a similar vein, “Papillo” wrote: “Brittannia easily. Diaghilev has waaaaayyy too much going on in there. Brittannia is easier to wear and smells better to me.” For “Jazznpool,” however, Britannia was more suited to women.

Bottom line: here, as always, your interpretations of the possible degree of femininity, the possibly unisex character, or the “old lady” vibe is going depend entirely on your personal, subjective definitions of these issues, the notes or facets which are amplified on your skin, your experience levels with vintage or vintage-skewing fragrances, and your appreciation or dislike thereof.

I think the same subjective filter of perception and skin-related issues will also impact your view of Britannia’s sweetness. If you have the lowest threshold for gourmandise (as I do), and if you’re not keen on this modern trend of layering dessert-oriented traits in orientals, sometimes to a bombastically cloying degree (as is the case here, in my unenthused opinion), then I think Britannia will be a bit difficult for you. On the other hand, if you adore flamboyant florientals engulfed in positively torrential deluges of gourmandise and amber in addition to vintage-skewing powdered floralcy, then I think you should try to get a sample of Britannia right away. It will probably be right up your alley.

For me, Britannia suffers from another problem in addition to those I’ve mentioned up above: redundancy at a very high price. I’m not going to mention how many bottles I have of vintage L’Heure Bleue and L’Origan across the different concentrations, decades, and formulations because it’s embarrassing at this point, but it’s a lot. (My reaction to a sighting of 1950s or 1960s L’Origan PdT is utter madness at this point.) I also have more than one bottle of Areej le Doré‘s gorgeous Russian Oud. The most expensive of these bottles was still just ONE-THIRD of the price of Britannia which costs $1050 or €990, and that was for a huge Baccarat flacon of 1940s LHB parfum. The most recent bottle of L’Origan PdT that I bought was a mere $15 (!!) for 60 mls, but it is a rich, voluminous, heady floral oriental powerhouse which has been concentrated down over the last 60-something years to the feel and effect of a full parfum.

The other night, I layered several sprays of vintage L’Origan PdT over a single spritz of Russian Oud on one arm, and a moderate amount of 1960s L’Heure Bleue parfum over a similar light quantity of Russian Oud on the other arm. Honestly, the overall effect was not all that far off from Britannia. Sure, there was nowhere the same degree of sticky peaches and citruses as Britannia; Russian Oud also added smoke, dark musk, leather, and animalics, none of which are present in L’Origan PdT, although they are present to a lesser degree in the 1960s formulation of LHB parfum (or 1930s L’Origan parfum). But, by and large, the combinations were close enough, or at least close enough in light of the nose-bleed price differential. If you’re a big Roja collector, I think you’d end up in the same general orbit as here if you chose to layer Amore Mio and Amber Extrait (with possibly a spritz of Lilac Extrait), or if you are a Roja/Guerlain collector and you combined pre-1980s vintage L’Heure Bleue parfum with Roja’s Amber Extrait. (Even more so if you added spritzes of Lilac Extrait and Roja Haute Luxe with its amplified peach-rose-jasmine notes and its more heavily ambered, resinous twist on vintage Mitsouko.)

Obviously, only Britannia combines all these strains, elements, and different fragrances into one unified whole, all in a seamless fashion and without any fuss or complication. Is that worth paying more than €900 or $1000? Only you can decide that. For me, the answer is decidedly “No.”

Having said that, I liked Britannia more than any new Roja Dove release that I’ve tried in the last two and a half years. And it was lovely to experience the brand’s original vintage aesthetic again, even if it didn’t last and even if the scent turned wholly modern (and gooey) after the first two hours. In the last 18 months, I’ve heard repeated whispers that Mr. Dove is looking to sell his brand to Estée Lauder or to another luxury conglomerate, so perhaps that’s why recent releases have skewed into the approachable designer aesthetic or have used generic, mainstream Middle Eastern scent profiles (but elevated) to target that wealthy market. Both trends make a super-luxury niche brand like this one a better fit for a mainstream-oriented multi-national with an eye to making inroads into profitable luxury markets.

But, in my opinion, it was the vintage character of his fragrances which originally made Roja Parfums so popular and such a decadent luxury. So, going forward, I personally hope that he’ll skip the “Tutti Frutti,” the candy floss Qatar or Kuwait ouds, the Chanel Bleu-like Elysium mainstream nonsense, and the increasingly overt synthetics in favour of what he does so well: vintage-skewing scents with opulent, mostly natural-smelling raw materials but also with a modernized twist or update. For me, those fragrances are always, hands down, his best and most appealing creations.

Disclosure: My sample was provided by Luckyscent last year. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Britannia is a pure parfum or extrait that comes in a 100 ml bottle for $1050, €990, or £795. In the U.S.: As a general rule, Roja fragrances are available at Luckyscent, and they actually carried Britannia before because they were the ones who sent me my sample. However, I no longer see the fragrance on their website. I also do not see it listed on Osswald NYC‘s Roja page either. However, you can find it at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Outside the U.S.: you can buy Britannia from Roja Parfums, along with a 7.5 ml atomizer for £65. That size is exclusive to Roja Parfums. Britannia is also available at: Harrods, Selfridges (which incorrectly lists it as an EDP), Jovoy, First in Fragrance, Belgium’s La Maison du Parfum, Ireland’s Parfumarija, Russia’s Orental and Aroma Fleur, and the UAE’s Souq. Samples: I haven’t found any American decanting site selling Britannia samples at the time of this review. However, an eBay seller called “none_k” is selling samples or decants in different sizes, starting at $42.90 for a 2.5 ml spray atomizer and going up from there. I don’t know him or her and can’t comment as to their items or reliability. In Europe, you can order samples from First in Fragrance or Roja Parfum’s exclusive 7.5 ml decant.

3 thoughts on “Roja Dove Britannia: A Vintage Floriental for the Modern Gourmand Age

  1. L’Origan is just so pretty.

    I would probably enjoy this until it rolled around to the drydown, which doesn’t sound like my kinda thang. I’d rather eat my chocolate salted caramels, thanks. 😉

    The only Roja I’ve really fallen for is one not even under his label; it’s Pierre de Velay Extrait No. 11, a very classic chypre that reminds me of the first, limited-edition version of Diaghilev edp (minus the freshly dry-cleaned velvet stage curtain accord that made me laugh out loud). Or maybe a modern version of Coty Chypre (the old one, not the 1980s powder-bomb rerelease). I’d have had a bottle by now if the company shipped to the US.

  2. I’m going to try layering L’Origan PdT over a spritz of Russian Oud today. You’ll recall that I found the L’Origan in an antique store for $5.00! Britannia sounds beautiful, but way too expensive for me. Thanks for the detailed review. I loved reading about Britannia’s stages.

  3. Kafka – love this entry! Not a huge fan of Roja’s but may seek this out.

    A question: it seems like there’s something wrong with the links for all the Sultan Pasha reviews you’ve done! I was trying to revisit an old one. I’m getting an error message whenever I try to visit one.

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