Epic Road Trip: Ten Fragrances From ROADS Ireland Reviewed

Roads Range Shot

The original range of ten fragrances from ROADS

I first heard about ROADS fragrances during a visit to one of my favourite local haunts, Kleins Perfumery in Fitzroy, Melbourne. I was surprised to come across this brand as I’d not heard of it before, nor had I heard of many Irish perfumers or perfume houses either. The friendly sales assistant (who knows about my blog and my penchant for all things cross-media) thought that ROADS might appeal to me as the company also produces books and movies as well as perfume. “Gosh yes!” I said, and she kindly wrote down the ROADS website address for me to investigate later.

Investigate I did. I wrote to ROADS and my request for further information about the fragrances and the chance to review some samples was responded to by the lovely Annalee from the Australian distributor for ROADS, T2M Scents. Annalee very kindly provided me with a Selection Box of 4ml samples of the original ten ROADS fragrances for review; all are eau de parfum strength, and all were launched at the same time in 2014. A further four fragrances – The Africa Collection – have been released since, but I haven’t tried these yet. Today I’ll be reviewing all ten fragrances from the original range.

ROADS Luxury Group & Company Ethos

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ROADS fragrance Selection Box (Image borrowed from ROADS Website: http://www.roads.co)

ROADS was founded in 2013 by entrepreneur, businesswoman and RADA-trained actress Danielle Ryan. Ryan is also an heiress to the vast fortune made by her family, who founded Ryanair and other successful businesses. ROADS is based in Dublin, Ireland and the company also deals in publishing (including classic literature, among other things) and film-making. You can read more about the company and its diverse creative output over at the ROADS website.

Intertrade, the European distributor for ROADS, describes some of the themes as well as the ethos underpinning the ROADS brand:

“The ROADS brand ethos is about having the freedom to be a part of any product environment without constraints, whilst still remaining firm to the highest standards of modern luxury, expanding horizons and rewarding enquiring minds. ROADS fragrances bring together beautiful artisan scents with innovative themes and engaging creative elements. Curated by Danielle Ryan who works alongside a team of highly renowned noses and some of the world’s finest perfumers, ROADS fragrances explore new paths of research, leaving the door open to new forms of olfactory poetry… ROADS is a school of thought, a creative curation of sensory experiences meant to enhance and deepen one’s cultural and intellectual understanding. Ryan’s quest was to invent a brand that was not limited by its own definition, but could follow customer’s desires, bringing together art, ideas, people, places, and of course scents.”
Source: Intertrade Europe website

ROADS Fragrances

Roads Harmattan

ROADS Harmattan

The ten scents that I reviewed are based on interesting creative concepts, and deviate somewhat from the kinds of narrative- or character-based concepts that seem to dominate the contemporary perfumery landscape. Some of these concepts are quite abstract: for example, the fragrance Supernova is influenced by the idea of a supernova exploding; This Weekend tries to capture the spirit of anticipation for the weekend ahead; and Lights is about optimism and inspiration. Other fragrances are inspired by specific places or geographic/environmental phenomena: Harmattan captures the spirit of the hazy, dusty trade wind that traverses the Sahara desert and Bitter End captures Danielle Ryan’s own scent memories of the harshly beautiful West Irish coast.

Roads Bitter End -2

ROADS Bitter End

The packaging for each ROADS fragrance is clean and minimalist and they are all packaged identically, in simple glass columns with white plastic caps. There is an almost total absence of gendering with the fragrances. As is often the case with niche fragrances, ROADS’ offerings seem to be marketed as unisex, and some if not most of the range would wear well on either sex, with the possible exception of Clockwork (which is based on the theme of masculine elegance, although it smells perfectly unisex to me) and Graduate 1954 (which is based on the notion of 1950s femininity, and which smells ultra-girly). I personally think the ROADS range leans more towards the feminine end of the spectrum as a whole, but I don’t like to prescribe or dictate who should like or wear a particular fragrance or specific fragrance ingredients, so I won’t.

Roads Cloud9

ROADS Cloud 9

The perfumer or perfumers involved with creating the ROADS fragrance range are not named, although a British perfumer appears in the following YouTube video, in which he and Danielle Ryan have a brief discussion about the range and the concepts/artistry behind creating the scents:

ROADS also produces a range of fragranced candles based on different concepts to the perfumes.

ROADS Fragrance Reviews

Clockwork

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Clockwork is “about ease and control”… it is “a fragrance that is very exact, it is subtle and timeless, like clockwork.” It is also “a very discerning, smooth and weighted fragrance.”

Danielle Ryan explains: “The concept for Clockwork started as an ode to the stylish men in my family. I was raised by nearly all men. Men of the world. Men of business. Stylish and calm. Streamlined elegance. Streamlined thoughts. Always every detail considered. Absolute precision.”
Source: Roads Website

Influence: Seamless style
Key notes: Black pepper, cedar wood, oak moss

What I think

Clockwork is one of the more interesting fragrances in the range, and I can imagine it being appealing to many wearers. It is a smooth and elegant fragrance, and while it is interesting, it is not challenging or strident in any way. Nothings sticks out, the ingredients are well-blended and rounded and the fragrance has a warm character. Although Danielle Ryan states that this fragrance was influenced by a certain type of stylish, precise masculinity, I don’t read this fragrance as overtly masculine. It would work well on men, yes, but also on women. It has a nuttiness to it (like hazelnut, though this isn’t listed), a very strong nutmeg note, a dash of pepper that tickles the nose and an underpinning of oak moss. I detect a tiny hint of vanilla and the dryness of cedar. A handful of other notes are mentioned on the website (violet leaf, vetiver, amber, fir and citrus) but they aren’t very apparent in the overall composition to me.

Lights

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Lights is about inspiration and how being inspired can light up a person’s mind and open their eyes. Without inspiration “it would be a dark, boring and closed-minded world.” Lights is “an uplifting scent, cool and contemporary with a deep, mellow floral introduction.”

Danielle Ryan goes on to say: “With Lights, my theme was the small lights of optimism. In modern life, mental struggles can make the world feel like a very dark and lonely place for many people. I built this fragrance to represent the small lights in the darkness and how, by being inspired by something, just a small thing, it can light up our minds for a moment…”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Optimism
Key notes: Geranium, ylang ylang, white jasmine

What I think

Lights is the most innovative, strident and challenging fragrance in the collection of ten scents that I tried. While I probably wouldn’t wear it, it is admirable for its degree of confidence and daring. It is one of the most indolic fragrances I have ever smelt (giving off whiffs of bad breath and mothballs at times) and after the initial spray, the indole keeps on intensifying through the fragrance’s development, only tapering off at 2-3 hours in. It is packed with white flowers (ylang ylang and jasmine), which are the source of all that indole, and it reminds me a little of Guerlain’s Samsara, but without the creamy, sickly sweetness of Samsara’s faux sandalwood to offset it. There is sandalwood in Lights too, but it is drier and less apparent. It is indeed a cool scent; cool and airy yet strong.

I’m not sure it’s overtly illuminating or bright (as the concept suggests), neither would I call the floral opening mellow and deep, rather, challenging and intense, but I’m not a huge fan of indole. There is something ever-so-slightly sweet underpinning the strident skank of the white flowers: possibly one facet of the ylang ylang itself provides this sweetness, but it is hard to isolate or identify many of the other notes with all that indole. Other notes listed include clove, geranium, citrus, violet leaf, vanilla, amber, sandalwood and old musk. Of these I can smell a hint of musk and a tiny bit of citrus at first spray.

The fragrance mellows considerably around the 2-3 hour mark; the indole fades down to a tolerable level and the fragrance is much more balanced as a result. I quite like it at this phase; it’s like a more sophisticated, nuanced, niche version of Samsara now. The juice itself is coloured a suitably strident, bright red, making it stand out visually from the rest of the Roads fragrance range (which ranges from clear to pale yellow in colour). If you’re enamoured with white flowers and like bold and unusual creations, try this. This fragrance should be a modern classic: it is unique, challenging and offers something new.

Harmattan

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

“Harmattan is a strong trade wind that crosses the Sahara desert once a year and creates a strange, warm haze in the air with the dust and sand it transports.”

Danielle Ryan goes on to say: “It is seen as very special and has many folklore stories associated with it. I travelled first into the Sahara in my early teens and the effect of this sacred, hidden place has remained fundamental to my life. When there, I was told the stories about this wind. I wanted to create a warm, solid and broody atmosphere with this fragrance, which would be full of soul. For me it has held the magic and mystery of the old stories of the wind and has a lot of charisma. With Harmattan, I wanted to create an oud fragrance that was light with a wind blowing through it.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Sahara wind
Key notes: Cambodian oud, myrrh, saffron

What I think

My first impression is that Harmattan is a variation on Donna Karan’s Black Cashmere, a spicy incense fragrance, and one of my favourites. It also offers an unusually realistic take on oud. Having smelt a couple of samples of real oud last year, one of which was probably Cambodian, I’m happy to report that this fragrance seems to contain the real thing, or, a at least very good synthetic replica of oud. The oud is deeply woody, with mentholic and minty aspects, just like one of the samples I smelt. Other than the starring oud note, Harmattan is a dark, woody, and indeed brooding fragrance, heavy on incense and saffron and with a distinctly dusty, exotic character. Harmattan is an impressive olfactory expression of the Sahara trade wind concept and is a well-constructed fragrance that should appeal to many.

Cloud 9

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan: “With Cloud 9, I wanted to create a scent of happiness. Not euphoria, but a very true happiness that takes its form in moments of simplicity, when you feel very safe and loved. I wanted to pay tribute to this feeling – the bedrock of safety through a quiet assurance. For me, the idea was the gentleness and peaceful contentment of a Sunday morning. Duvets and children. Where all is right for a while. Hot milk and a sense of floating. This is a clean and comforting scent that is quite delicate and peaceful.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Safe and calm happiness
Key notes: Nude amber, vanilla, sandalwood

What I think

This fragrance is simple and safe, cuddly and cosy, creamy and clean. Cloud 9 is a sweet and non-threatening fragrance in the vein of Cacharel’s Noa. It is classed as a floral woody musk fragrance on Fragrantica (as is Noa), which is an accurate categorisation. Cloud 9 smells mostly of musk, jasmine and a sweet sandalwood, with a subtle hint of calming chamomile. Cloud 9 is just like the girl next door: pretty, pleasant and sweet. Everyone will love her.

Bitter End

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan: “The influence for Bitter End is the West of Ireland. Being at the furthest point of Europe, this area is a beautiful, but barren, place of isolation. It is a harsh and unusually bare landscape due to the constant storms coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. The sharp impact of its unconforming beauty demands those that experience it to stop and consider everything. The West of Ireland has been a major source of inspiration for multiple works of art and literature. Bitter End contains cut foliage and bracken, which emulate a distinctive memory I have of the place. So I wanted to create a very natural, beautiful and somewhat sharp herbaceous scent. I think it offers a different approach to freshness.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: West of Ireland
Key notes: Wild bracken, foliage, Irish moss

What I think

Bitter End strives to be a sharp, herbaceous and beautiful scent that celebrates nature, but sadly for me, falls short of the mark. I can smell hints of what the perfumer was striving for: an earthy, herbal thyme is quite prominent, grass and mint are noticeable, and there is a dash of sweet fig leaf and violet leaf too. It is slightly citric, slightly sharp, a touch sweet, but not edgy. I want edgy: I want sharper, more angular smells, I want a fragrance that is odd and interesting and strangely beautiful, but I’m not getting it. In the promotional video for this fragrance we are shown rocky and barren cliffs with uninhabited grassy fields on top, and a menacing ocean below (like the photo above). Salty oceanic notes would have worked beautifully, pumice or stone would have been a nice touch, and the moss and bracken should have been stronger. I want to smell something that represents this landscape better. Instead, Bitter End is safe and quite synthetic smelling, which  doesn’t gel well with the natural and dramatic concepts that underpin the fragrance.

Neon

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan says the scent was inspired by her younger sister and youth:

“Neon is about youth or at least living youthfully. It’s about being alive, laughing and having fun… I didn’t try with the theme of youth to create something rebellious or provocative. I wanted to re-examine it, focusing on the endearing elements of youth. It is very elegant but at the same time it is a fragrance that doesn’t take itself too seriously… As the name suggests, Neon is bright and unapologetically modern.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Elegant youth
Key notes: Heliotrope, vanilla, nutmeg

What I think

Unfortunately there is something in this that grates on me – a kind of faux-berry sweetness underpinned with a sickly synthetic vanilla. It is bright, neon bright in fact, and the scent reminds me of a bubblegum flavour. It’s a bit simplistic for my tastes and too strong. It most certainly is modern, but in a very synthetic and teenage way. I wish I could smell some of the other notes in this fragrance: woods, iris, cinnamon and nutmeg, for example, but the vanilla and something sugary sweet seem to dominate. However, if this fragrance was more nuanced and complex, it might be more to my taste, but it probably wouldn’t express the “neon” theme as well as it does!

Supernova

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan says of Supernova:

“It is a giant burst of life that’s hugely colourful… This is an exciting fragrance. It wakes you up and shakes you off. It stimulates you with a sense of energy. The inspiration for this fragrance was the supernova itself. With it I focused on the action of the supernova instead of what it may stand for philosophically. Once a supernova explodes, for that moment it outshines a whole galaxy and radiates more energy than the life of a star. I felt it was an interesting concept for a fragrance to represent this explosion of energy. With energy – anything can happen.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: A supernova exploding
Key notes: Gin, grapefruit, lime-leaf

What I think

Supernova is indeed uplifting and energising. It is citrus-centric, with petitgrain, bergamot, grapefruit, and lime leaf all listed as notes. Lime leaf and grapefruit dominate and combine with cardamom, ginger and juniper berries to create an exotic, gourmand take on the classic cologne formula, with a Thai curry kind of vibe. This is the most aromatic and zesty fragrance of the ten fragrances. Supernova is clean and bright and would be refreshing to wear in hot weather. The concept of the exploding supernova is well expressed in this vivid and high-octane fragrance.

White Noise

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan says she was inspired by technology when she came up with the idea for White Noise.

“It was once said: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” I wanted to explore this idea. How can we define technology? Should we reflect on our dependence on it; how it strings all the elements of contemporary life together? Technology is a life force of its own. I wanted to create a fragrance that represented this powerful silent presence. White Noise is the constant hum of computers around the world, the white static on our TVs. This is a fragrance that is both active and calm. With it I have tried to create what has become a modern sense of stillness on standby.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Technology
Key notes: White grapefruit, blue iris, plastic (not mentioned on the ROADS website, only in the promotional video)

What I think

This is a soft, slightly sweet, powdery, soapy-clean, inoffensive and light fragrance with vintage overtones. The inclusion of old-fashioned floral notes (iris, heliotrope, violet, jasmine and rose) is interesting and seems like an odd decision for a fragrance that is supposed to be inspired by contemporary technology. Nevertheless, this vintage vibe is balanced out by subtle, yet zesty citrus and green apple, and a rounded, sweet sandalwood base note, both of which balance the composition and provide interest. White Noise is easy to wear and will appeal to many, particularly those who like softer fragrances and don’t want a scent to overpower them. It is indeed very still and quiet. It radiates very little and lasts only a couple of hours on the skin.

This Weekend

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

Danielle Ryan says:

“This Weekend is all about the preparation and excitement for the weekend ahead, when there is a willingness to let go of formality and structure… The idea is not based on the two days of the weekend itself, but on the build up to it. I have often felt the greatest moments of fun are found more in the anticipation of a moment than in the moment itself – in the waiting, arranging, predicting what could happen, the fun and the art of preparing…”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Preparing for a great weekend
Key notes: Mandarin, vanilla, musk

What I think

While this fragrance is instantly likeable, it is similar (though not identical) to other popular commercial fragrances on the market, such as Miss Dior and Coco Mademoiselle, with its dominant notes of mandarin, musk, jasmine and patchouli. Nevertheless, This Weekend is a very pretty fragrance; it’s easy to wear, and is energising too. The concept of anticipating the coming weekend is a very abstract and difficult one to capture in a fragrance, but I think the lightness and uplifting nature of the fragrance expresses the idea of the impending weekend (a time to relax and to have fun) quite well.

Graduate 1954

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What ROADS says about this fragrance

“This represents a woman who, as a result of the limited freedoms offered to her in the early 1950s, had to rely on her femininity and elegance as tools to achieve her goals regardless. In a modern sense it is about finding strength through femininity. Not allowing femininity to be made redundant. It is a beautiful quality and can bring with it great strength and integrity. This is a fragrance of extreme heightened femininity that is to be worn as a badge of pride. It says: ‘I am a woman and I am proud of what that means.’ Ingredients in vogue in the 1950s were used to create an old-fashioned ambiance. Something that stands out as being pure vintage elegance. This is a fragrance that reintroduces classic perfume with a fresh perspective.”
Source: Roads website

Influence: Classic femininity
Key notes: White flowers, musk, patchouli

What I think

This fragrance does indeed use similar ingredients to those used in 1950s fragrances, but with a modern twist. It is lighter, cleaner version of a 1950s fragrance, and is very pretty and approachable. Graduate 1954 is ultra-feminine: it’s chock full of a seamless blend of sparkling aldehydes, pretty floral notes (including a creamy frangipani, sweet tuberose and rose), and a noticeable dose of a cosy animalic musk, all of which is underpinned by warm, soft woody notes. None of the notes in this fragrance is particularly dominant. Graduate 1954 has no angular, sharp notes or screechiness; rather, it boasts a pretty femininity and rounded curves, just like the shapely and soft, womanly image of 1950s femininity the fragrance is moulded upon. An accessible, approachable version of a 1950s perfume for the modern wearer.

Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed Epic Road Trip, my review of the original ten fragrance releases from ROADS of Ireland. I really enjoyed discovering and reviewing the brand. I found a lot to like and some wonderful gems in the range, especially the audacious Lights (which every perfumista should try), the exotic Harmattan, the smooth and elegant Clockwork and the very cosy Cloud 9. I particularly enjoyed the original and somewhat abstract creative concepts underpinning the fragrances and how the simple packaging allows you to focus on these concepts and the scent itself, rather than being distracted by the design of the bottles. I look forward to seeing what ROADS does next with fragrance.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Annalee of T2M Scents for providing me with the ROADS Selection Box and related publicity material, including the product photos that I’ve used in this review. Much of the information about the ROADS fragrances was sourced from the ROADS Website and a promotional video made by ROADS and provided by T2M Scents. You can watch that video on the Barney’s website and I highly recommend it if you’re interested in the brand. It’s a very atmospheric video with lovely imagery and music.

Where to Find ROADS

European and North American stockists of ROADS can be found on the ROADS website. In Australia and New Zealand, ROADS fragrances can be found at the following retailers:

Kleins Perfumery in Fitzroy, Melbourne
Bloom & Co in Williamstown, Melbourne
Hill Station in Red Hill, Victoria
Manyara Home in Newport, NSW
Bangalow Pharmacy in Bangalow, NSW
Bowery 475 in Noosa, QLD
Ricarda in Subiaco, WA
World Beauty in New Zealand (various store locations – check website)

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