Paloma Picasso Eau de Parfum by Paloma Picasso Review

Collage of Paloma Picasso perfume and its notes, including carnation, rose, mimosa, castoreum, lemon, amber, and civet.

Paloma reminds me of a stanza from one of my favorite poems, T. S. Eliot’s “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”:

“The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.”

T.S. Eliot, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night”

These are female smells, alright: of big sparkling dresses, and of the bodies that lie coiffed and coiled underneath. I don’t believe in gendering fragrances, but there is something essentially carnally feminine in this one that was composed with womanhood in mind.

A pile of four square white bars of soap.

When I first tried Paloma Picasso’s eponymous Paloma Picasso perfume, I wished there was a way to fast forward through the first 1-2 hours of this fragrance. The first hour is ruled entirely by soapy, aldehydic florals. The heart of the floral accord is a classy rose, with a strong rose of carnation and coriander lending a peculiar herbal spiciness.

Personally, I’ve never been a fan of that carnation-coriander spice accord, or of florals generally, particularly such neat, clean, soapy ones. At this opening stage, it has similarities to department store floral perfumes, and I would catch myself thinking about gifting this to my soapy-floral-loving mother. It is overwhelmingly floral, rose-y, and clean. It is too spicy, in a way that vaguely assaults the nose with its scrubbing cleanliness. It has a screeching edge that is just too loud, and a boring soapy body.

But then I gave Paloma a few more wears. And suddenly, I adored that spicy floral opening.

A branch of deep red carnations alongside a wide-rimmed glass filled with red liquid with another carnation flower in it.

It’s a singing, lilting, honeyed-feeling carnation floral with a faint rose undertone. Powerful. Sexy. Prominently musky. There’s no honey note, really, but the accord is polished with a brush of golden yellow florals, ylang-ylang and mimosa, that tie the whole thing together on me.

This is one of those complex accords I simply can’t split up into notes. I put off writing this review for so long because I honestly can’t give as much of a granular beat-by-beat, note-by-note report of Paloma.

Nor do I want to. Paloma is a cohesive front that can only be described as Paloma.

A pair of red lips.

It feels a little bit vintage, but not in a way that feels dated or wistful for days past or simply old. No, this feels vintage in a time-traveling-young-woman-from-the-eighties way. It’s shoulder pads and power suits and oversized accessories, oversized everything, really, simply dripping with loud, bold excess.

It’s vampy, dear reader. It’s edgy dark eyeliner and a skirt that’s just a little risque. It’s glittery red pumps and smudged lipstick to match.

I no longer think of this floral accord as at all soapy. Yes, it’s made up of vintage carnation and rose and coriander notes that one might mentally associate with vintage soaps of days past, but it’s a cultural trick of the mind. This doesn’t actually smell like soap or any kind of body product. It smells like perfume, the very definition of perfume, with all its clichés about femininity and sensuality and excess.

It’s sexy, dear reader, and it’s also powerful. Too powerful for some days, some activities, some outfits. But when you need a little push, it’s a godsend.

Botanical illustration of a light pink rose with buds, leaves, and a stem.

Today I was having an incredibly exhausted day when all I wanted to do was sleep. I took a whiff of Paloma Picasso out of the vial, and boom. All of a sudden, I’m awake. Alert. Powerful. I feel like everything is going to be okay.

Like some sort of strange 80s-scented smelling salts, Paloma revived me, giving me the energy to get out of bed, go for a walk, and go on with my day.

But I didn’t appreciate all this about that gorgeous floral opening at first. Nope, at first I wrote it off as unpleasantly loud and soap-like and too carnation-spicy.

I love the spicy nature of that bright red carnation now. It reminds me of eating big crunchy orange nasturtium flowers, an association I also had when smelling the spicy green geranium note in Yves Saint Laurent’s Y Eau de Parfum.

More than anything, to me the floral arrangement of Paloma is defined by a vegetal-spicy carnation spiced with warm coriander. The vegetal green facet is emphasized by a faint yet artful arc of musky, woody, rooty angelica. Neroli and jasmine add power to the heart of the bouquet without turning it into an aggressively indolic white floral display. That sensual yellow floral gloss of ylang-ylang and mimosa gives it all a lilting, honeyed edge.

A glass jar filled with pink, white, and blue hyacinth flowers.

Hyacinth, bergamot, patchouli, and Amalfi lemon add hints of freshness and breathing room, keeping all this from ever getting at all stuffy. There’s a lot packed into Paloma Picasso, but it never leaves me feeling sick or like I need to open a window, the way something like Rochas’ Femme Rochas (as much as I love that stellar composition) sometimes does, or like an intensely sweet floral such as Amouage’s Journey Woman.

Is there an aldehydic sparkle here? Maybe. Sort of. Paloma Picasso is loud, bright, and bold. There’s something lifting it, keeping it from getting too heavy and dark. But, reader, this is nothing like the heavy dose of aldehydes in something like Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds.

I’ll admit I am not at all a fan of aldehydes, but I don’t get anything explicitly aldehydic here. Sure, there’s a loudness and a sparkle to Paloma that’s probably supported by something aldehydic, but, counterintuitively, it’s subtle. It’s more about volume and lift than about projecting an explicitly aldehyde-like accord anywhere.

Somehow, Paloma is incredibly powerful without ever giving me a headache or nausea or making me feel self-conscious and like I’m being too loud. She’s calm, collected, and incredibly self-possessed, unabashed in her intoxicating strength.

A civet, a majestic spotted small and lean furry animal.

And then… after the first hour, I start to grasp hints of something under the florals that shows me why exactly people call this fragrance skanky. And, as they say, Friday I’m in love — or, rather, ninety minutes in, I am rolling around in a delicious animalic stench like some sort of ecstatic lobotomized dog.

Finally, I understand the meaning of all those little rodents in note pyramids that I’ve shied away from for so long. Civet and castoreum, you delightful little creatures. This is undeniably the sexiest fragrance I’ve ever smelled. It literally smells like sex. It’s rather indecent. I get a touch of oakmoss, a dash of cozy tobacco, maybe a hint of sharp vetiver and warm sandalwood, and animals, animals, musky, musky animals.

A dark brown wet beaver with a large flat tail.

Getting here from that previous clean, soapy, spicy floral is like night and day, and it’s an incredible trick. I feel like I’ve secretly been wearing a glow-in-the-dark gown on an evening date, shocking everyone only once the sun goes down.

I once disliked the first hour of Paloma. I respected that she likes loud, spicy soapy aldehydic florals, but I simply did not. But I just had to break her out a few more times to enjoy that incredible transformation and divine drydown. And oh, was it worth it.

I’m now madly in love with every part of Paloma Picasso. Thinking about her, I often think she is too headstrong to wear today, but then I break out the vial and am proven wrong over and over again. This is a sexy, vampy, deep red power scent. Eat your heart out, Hugo Boss. This is what a deep red perfume smells like.

And, of course, I love a good fragrance redemption arc. I love falling in love with scents that I’d previously decided were just not my thing. Isn’t it funny how we can find new things to love once we’re rooting for something? I love the way this is crisp and green in its opening. The florals have animalic nuances and a heart that’s honey-sweet. The sharp loudness of the herbaceous spice grew unbelievably on me, and the flowers, while a touch soapy, are comforting.

I’m excited to keep exploring Paloma Picasso. It truly feels like one is never done exploring with her.

Both of these came out long after Paloma, but two other perfumes I’ve tried and loved come to mind as representatives of the two halves of Paloma Picasso. So In Love by Victoria’s Secret embodies the clean soapy flowers of the opening, the witchy feminine magic of roses and carnations and yellow florals and honey.

And Myths Woman by Amouage encapsulates the wilder side of Paloma, the fresh green notes and wild musky animals and the most solemn and histrionic of flowers.

I like to think of Myths Woman as Paloma Picasso in her nightgown, running barefoot among fields of flowers, a glorious Pre-Raphaelite Ophelia with her hair down and tangling in the wind as she watches the little animals of the night.

If Paloma is a Pre-Raphaelite painting, on the other hand, she’s John William Waterhouse’s Soul of the Rose, with its traditional femininity and delicious rich sensuality, its bright colors, its wonder, the dramatic deep red hair, the perfect pink roses.

If you think one side of Paloma Picasso sounds like something you’d like but are apprehensive about the other, I’d consider giving her a try all the same. Much like Chloé’s Nomade, this is the sort of perfume that bridges gaps with its duality. Where Nomade makes fruity designer scent lovers fall in love with oakmoss and niche chypre freaks appreciate a good fruity note, Paloma lets animalic lovers appreciate a sublime floral bouquet, and lets floral lovers get a taste of something darker and more carnal.

This is phenomenal work by the mysterious perfumer Francis Bocris, who seems to have composed a grand total of two perfumes and then dipped (this and Cher’s Uninhibited, if you’re curious).

One-hit wonder? Maybe, but oh, what a hit this is. It’s a stunner.

There was significant guidance and collaboration with Paloma Picasso herself in creating this perfume, and you can tell. This is a potent and unabashedly feminine artistic masterpiece. It’s powerful, formative, iconic.

You certainly don’t have to love Paloma, but her cult-classic status is well-earned, and she has left an indelible mark on perfumery. This is the paragon of perfectly balanced vintage floral-animalic scents, and it is glorious.

The projection, sillage, and longevity are all strong. It’ll stick to your skin all day and well into the night. It honestly feels miraculous how well this has held up despite years of reformulations, and how strong, powerful, and cohesive the formula continues to be in an age when so many perfumes get ever-weaker.

The vintage of Paloma Picasso is relatively affordable and easy to find as well, since this is, fundamentally, sort of a designer scent. So if you want even more of that oomph, you may want to take a chance on the vintage.

Two gold rings, as are customary for wedding rings in some cultures.

This is a bit of a subversive classic, simultaneously elegant and a little bit racy. Paloma Picasso feels fundamentally glamorous. She shines the brightest paired with a stunning dress or at least some jewelry you’re quite fond of, but can infuse that dramatic, deep-red glam into anything you’re wearing and anywhere you’re going.

Though the clean soapy florals have all the makings of a solid office signature, this probably isn’t an office scent unless you’re feeling that level of high-class glamor in the office (in which case, more power to you). Honestly, if you’re in a position where you think you could get away with a slightly risky work perfume choice, the confidence and charm of Paloma could be very well-suited to a woman in a role of authority.

A laptop, phone, and apple.

It’s also a great choice for a woman who wants to feel like more of an authority, even over herself. Maybe you’re just trying to walk with your head held high, stand up for yourself, and stop running errands and doing favors for everyone who asks. Paloma is not the type of woman to end every single sentence of her emails with an exclamation point to show just how happy she is to be here and what a pleasure it is to do this work that isn’t my responsibility and how glad I am to be at this meeting that is utterly wasting my time.

If fake it ’til you make it isn’t working for pretending to be happy, try pretending to be an over-confident, powerful man.

A pair of red shiny high heeled shoes.

Paloma is versatile and will meet you where you’re at, but there’s a certain allure here that’s at its strongest when paired with clothes you feel really good in. This is a perfume to seduce people in. It’s perfectly preserved and bottled 80s confidence, perfect for dates and going out on the town (or just pretending you’re the badass-in-high-heels main character in a movie as you go about your day).

Powerful. Alluring. Vampy. To me, Paloma Picasso is a spy, seductress, business magnate, undercover high-class frondeur sort of woman that’s here to take over the world and take a few lovers while she’s at it. (Not as a strategy for getting what she wants. Oh no, she’s perfectly capable of getting what she wants by other means. Just for fun.)

An excellent boost of brazenly feminine confidence and energy.

Strange signed black diamond-oval-shaped black bottle with a clear yellow glass center filled with Paloma Picasso Perfume.

Where to Find Paloma Picasso Eau de Parfum by Paloma Picasso

You can find samples and decants of Paloma Picasso EdP at MicroPerfumes.

Want more? You can find full bottles at The Perfume Spot, Jomashop, and MicroPerfumes.

These are affiliate links. If you click on them and buy something, the seller pays me a commission, at no extra cost to you. You can learn more about them here.

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