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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Scent of a [Russian] Woman

Frozen winters, Dr. Zhivago, the last tsar and a woman with high cheekbones, wide-set almond eyes, naked under a fur coat...


These were the images that filled professional perfume creator Martin Gras' head when he was given the task five years ago of capturing the essence of the Russian woman in a bottle of perfume.


The result: Maroussia and Authentic Maroussia, two scents that went on sale Tuesday bearing the names of cosmetics giant L'OREAL and top Russian fashion designer Slava Zaitsev.


Packaged in green and red flasks with caps vaguely resembling Russia's onion-domed churches, and priced at up to 75,000 rubles ($13) a flask, L'OREAL publicists hailed Maroussia as a perfume for the well-heeled as opposed to still available Soviet-era scents such as Krasnaya Moskva, Red Moscow.


"In creating the scent, I thought of the contrasts of Russia," said the slim, gray-haired Gras, a professional nose who came to Moscow for Friday's presentation. "East and West; boldness and romanticism; borshch and caviar; man and tsar; communism and capitalism."


Given the make-up of the Russian woman's character -- complex and difficult to grasp, changing even now as the country changes -- Gras explained that only two Maroussia scents were capable of painting a full olfactory picture.


The name, Maroussia, is both an elegant version of the name Maria or Masha and a not-so-subtle play on the name of the country. To advertise the scent a genuine homegrown Masha -- with a splash of Claudia Schiffer in her baby face, full lips, high cheekbones and blond tresses -- was introduced Friday as the "Maroussia Girl." And next month Masha Vitayeva, crowned in white fur, is set to hit Russia's fat, glossy fashion magazines, running through plush spring fields and spraying herself in a state of apparent ecstasy.


"I think this is wonderful, just what Russia needs -- a scent that is truly our own, and Russian models to show that," said photographer and former model, Masha Zatselyapina, after Friday night's debut.


The idea that it takes a unique bouquet to describe the Russian woman may not be far-fetched, said Anna Olegovna, director and founder of the Moscow cosmetic company "Sanna," which sells French cosmetics to professional cosmetologists.


"We have a different climate, different winters and springs, different weather and nature. We are used to different foods and different natural smells," said Olegovna at Friday's presentation. But Russian women's understanding of cosmetics is still evolving from as recently as five years ago, when people were making homemade creams and scents from household items like oil, eggs and oatmeal.


"Quality isn't really important to them. More than anything they just want complete transformation," Olegovna added.


Whether or not the Maroussias will transform the average Russian woman into an embodiment of Russian passion and freshness remains to be seen. The perfume was created for sale in the West, and more than 4 million flasks and spray cans have been sold in France since 1992. But it is only now, L'OREAL officials explained, that Russia is politically, culturally and economically prepared for Maroussia.


The two perfumes are meant to complement each other. The red-bottled Maroussia, heavy with smells of musk, amber and sandalwood, is meant to be the more mature of the two. Authentic Maroussia contains lily, coriander, amber and cedar and is intended to represent cold, the moon, the night and youth.


"That is very far from the moon or from cold," said Natalya Kazantseva, 36, a clerk at a Moscow food store speaking about Authentic Maroussia. "That perfume is hot, sweet, and way too strong."


Kazantseva said she likes lighter scents, a preference shared by her 17-year-old co-worker, Galina Govrushena, who according to L'OREAL and Zaitsev's calculations should have been enraptured by the green bottle and felt completely free, fresh, unleashed and understood in all her Russianness from the first sniff.


"I don't have any idea what women in the West like," Govrushena said, "but this perfume is not for me."


But as Zaitsev explained Friday night: "These scents, of course, are the imaginings by a Frenchman of who a Russian woman is."