New Perfume Review Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge- The Soul of Introspection

There has been a lot of great art born of solitary introspection. It isn’t a necessary ingredient, but it seems to allow an artist to access something more emotional. Being kept inside for part of this year I think we have all participated in a lot of inward thinking. The independent perfume community has also been allowing an outlet for these artists to express these feelings. Especially from this group 2020 has been a year of emotional storytelling through scent. Maria McElroy for American Perfumer Desert Rouge completes that theme for the year.

In truth all the limited editions overseen by owner of American Perfumer, Dave Kern have been personal statements of perfumery infused with emotion. Maria McElroy was one of the first to create a limited edition for Mr. Kern. He has asked these perfumers he taps to be unafraid to let their emotions run more freely. In that earlier perfume called Desert Flower Ms. McElroy accessed her childhood memories of traveling through the desert. By crossing them with unique materials sourced from Morocco. In her mind its evoked Jack Kerouac.

Maria McElroy

Desert Rouge is kind of a sequel as it is set with the adult Ms. McElroy as she gazes out at sunset in the Sahara. She also has a literary muse for this in the person of author Paul Bowles’ book “The Sheltering Sky”. The quote she references is, “How fragile we are under the sheltering sky.” What this comes together in as a perfume is a rich floral gourmand.

She is again working with small batches of uniquely sourced materials. It becomes apparent right at the start with the rose oil she uses. It forms an odd variation on the dewy debutante rose. This is not a debutante this is an experienced rose which can still look innocent. I am calling it dewy, but it is more reminiscent of rose water without the transparency. I am usually bored with rose in perfumes. This one is compelling in its complexity. The floral accord is rounded out with sandalwood and Siam wood. The woods provide that sweet touch to the rose while setting up the gourmand accord to come.

As she did with Desert Flower this perfume finds a childhood memory embedded in the gourmand accord. This is that remembrance of Greek pastries cooling on a fresh linen tablecloth at home. Ms. McElroy calls this out as her earliest recollection of fragrance. It connects because it is easy to imagine a plate of pastries which smell like this on a table as you watch the desert change colors.

She uses that rose water quality I mentioned to become the foundation upon which she builds her accord. A classic mélange of spices within a syrup of Moroccan vanilla. What takes this much deeper is tendrils of tobacco and honey. Ms. McElroy uses a deft touch so that they add to the lusciousness of the gourmand accord. When complete this is that hybrid of Arabic, through the rosewater, and Greek pastry through the honey and spices.

Desert Rouge has 16-18 hour longevity and minimal sillage as a pure parfum.

It is the gourmand piece of Desert Rouge which makes this such a compelling experience. I have lost myself within it for hours performing my own introspection. It also reminded me of another passage of Mr Bowles from the same novel, “How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”  Ms. McElroy has made a limitless perfume which is born of the soul of introspection.

Disclosure: This review is based on a sample provided by American Perfumer.

Mark Behnke

Editor’s Note: These limited editions have proven to be very popular selling out extremely quickly. Mr. Kern in an attempt to make it more equitable is moving to a lottery system for Desert Rouge. There are 50 signed and numbered bottles for sale. The lottery is scheduled for December 26, 2020. If you are interested you can send your name, phone number, and address to to be entered. Or you can supply the same info on the Instagram page @theamericanperfumer via message.