Rose of Cimarron (Tambela/Bellyflowers)

I grew up on the Prairie... not literally, but literately. Discovering Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books at age eight blew my little-kid mind wide open and triggered a lifelong thirst for the frontier. From scholarly books like Frontier Women: Civilizing the West to Tom Spanbauer's achingly beautiful revisionist romance The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon, from PBS' Frontier House to Dances With Wolves and beyond, I've never been able to resist the call of Manifest Destiny-- particularly where it concerns perfume.

I'm well aware that only saloon whores and madames used actual perfume in those days-- when they could get it, which was most likely seldom.  But I'm certain that frontier life had its own fragrance: sagebrush, sweet grass, woodsmoke, stove blacking, Murphy's Oil Soap, manure, and good honest sweat.    A woman probably smelled no different than a man, for all the hard work she put into homesteading.  Yet a feminine touch might be detected in small, homely details:  a handful of fresh-picked clover in a jelly jar, bunches of dried wild coneflowers hanging from the eaves, little things to shield the vulnerable self from the ordeal of carving a domestic life out of an inhospitable terrain.

In its egalitarian blending of 'tough' and 'tender' scent elements, Rose of Cimarron -- an all-natural perfume by Elise at Tambela/Bellyflowers -- attempts to capture this spirit of  contradiction.  At first, this hale, virile incense accord dressed up with flowers seems as nifty a way as any to express the frontier's true democracy. But when holes start to wear through the romance, interesting truths are revealed.

Opening with a huge chord of sage, smoke, and turpentine, RoC lets its flinty side expend itself early-- but the experience is memorable, perhaps too much so.  As it segues into a soft, fruity, forgiving rose, I can't help but wish for that rugged quality to return.  In fact -- since we've already mentioned the Little House saga -- I remember liking Laura Ingalls best in her stubborn adolescent years, when she was "a little piece of leather well put together".  The minute Half Pint started blushing and stammering over Almanzo Wilder, I lost interest.  In perfume as in literature, the spunky tomboy is always more likable before undergoing the requisite girlish makeover.  Afterward -- newly demure and dewy -- she's lost her charm along with her chutzpah.  (A recent study suggests that insecure people are more attractive to potential mates-- but why should that uncertainty leach into their perfume?)

By my reckoning, RoC's latter three-quarters (though pretty as all get-out) enjoy considerably less success than its first ten minutes.   I could live with that initial blast of incense forever, but it quickly dims into what almost seems like a room fragrance... a nice one, of course, but I wish the two could be separated.  That way, I'd have something to spray on the curtains for a hint of the Big Sky Country... and something to wear when greeting weary travelers at the door.

Scent Elements: Pink pepper, black pepper, pandanus, rose absolute, wild rose absolute, jasmine absolute, labdanum, patchouli, angelica root, ambrette seed, blond tobacco, amyris