In the name of the nose: smell-good skincare with Duchess Marden's rosy product roster

Rose as an ingredient in beauty and perfume products never goes out of fashion. I don't care what anybody says... You know what I say? PANTS to the Debbie Downers who call it old-fashioned. On the contrary, it's more updated than ever. Gone is that powdery, sneeze-inducing approximation of the past, now replaced with a heady, oriental rose. It's a spicy rose, like the Scent Systems rose. Le Labo's signature scent is a rose. REN's most popular products are their Rose Otto ones... it's exotic, it's not your garden-variety blushing bloom. In fact, it's anything but an insipid, powdery, lonely floral nowadays. It's been re-invented to work with our more adventerous post-modern palettes.


Duchess Marden is a niche brand (maybe you've heard of it, maybe not) that's been gaining ground (and stockists) over the course of 2009. It's HQ-ed among the redwoods of serene Marin County, CA... a short jaunt north of San Francisco. Although situated in the rolling, green landscape of Northern California, the brand's inspiraton stems from a trip to India, where brand founder Marla had what seems to be a bit of a religious experience with rose water, which is fine by me. Because she came home and straight away founded Duchess Marden.

The hero ingredient of the range (8 products. I'm such a sucker for small ranges) is, duh, rose. Each product was developed to be effective but, more interestingly (I think, as most products are effective (to a point)), they are a complete olfactory experience. They have such a heady rose essence to them, like the steamy innards of a green house at the height of a sunny summer's day. They are also meant to be good for the skin and system (as well as the sniffer) as the products are free from the usual suspects (petrochemicals, parabens, chemical preservatives, GMOs...). And they're all vegan. Not all that common (great for vegans with a penchant for luxe skincare).

The bottles and labels wouldn't look out of placed on a mirrored vanity table -- cloudy glass bottles, mottled gold caps and beautifully bright (like Indian saris) lables, fittingly embossed with crowns. A Victorian lady back at home after Le Gran Tour, could certainly have pilfered these from the Ottoman Empire, traditionally regal yet Oriental.

The various textures of the products are all rather nice and rich. The face cream is thick and needs to be slathered on. The hydrating mask is gelatinous... the foaming cleanser gently slides across the skin and the cream cleanser has the texture of yogurt and, I find, can simply be wiped off if you want an even gentler clean. The neck and decollete serum feels just like a serum should (sort of slimey but in that comforting high-concentration-moisture-giving-benefits way)...

What does it do? It's meant to be anti-ageing. Not being of the pseudo-scientific ilk, though, many woman might have a hard time reconciling that something so fragrant and pretty could be more than just an indulgence. However, it is incredibly moisturising and that plumps the skin, which makes you look younger (if that's what you're aiming for).


The scent is, to me, intoxicating (although the husband doesn't like when I'm slathered in rose), the bottles are beautiful, the formulas (on what I tried) were moisturising enough to be useful during Chicago's and London's respective cold seasons. The foaming cleanser did not leave my skin taut or stripped. The hydrating masque is absolutely lovely -- plumping and brightening. Keep it in the fridge if you want it to work even harder for you. The are also close with their suppliers (working with, say, a matriarchal community in Uganda to source their unprocessed shea butter).


The exfoliator isn't very exfoliating (there is a low scrubby bead to cream ratio), the anti-wrinkle serum is more of an oil, it's easy to forget to use the neck and decollete serum, some find the scent of rose off-putting (not me).