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English version | The jewel of perfumery

07 May 2021
By Ana Saldanha

Or the crown jewel - of the flower crown, of course. We’re talking about the rose and the thousand roses that delight perfumers and perfume lovers. And the proof that rose is no longer just for girls is that male and unisex fragrances are using this flower more and more.

Or the crown jewel - of the flower crown, of course. We’re talking about the rose and the thousand roses that delight perfumers and perfume lovers. And the proof that rose is no longer just for girls is that male and unisex fragrances are using this flower more and more.

Throughout the history of perfumery, the rose appears as a centerpiece or as a helper for other notes. It almost always is associated with beauty, femininity, seduction, and it is said, in Greek mythology that this flower was born from the tears of Aphrodite, goddess of love when she wept for her lover Adonis. But it was only in the 20th century that the reinforcement and imposition of gender roles imposed the flower as the heart of feminine fragrances. Until then, the rose was used in all perfumery and there are even records of French recipes from the 18th century that explained how to make perfumed water for men and in which one of the ingredients listed were roses in abundance. “Roses are often associated with ‘feminine’ fragrances in Western culture, but they have most definitely been included in masculine scents for centuries! Indeed, in Middle Eastern culture, rose (often combined with Oudh) is very popular for men to wear. Nowadays we’re seeing a rise in roses for more mainstream masculine fragrances too. Rose can be incredibly sexy on a man’s skin”, says Lorna Mckay, co-founder of The Perfume Society ( and author of The Perfume Bible. The popularity of the rose in the world of perfumery is also related to the variety of species. From what is known, there are more than three thousand types of roses, each with its own particularities and characteristics, however, the monopoly of rose production is held by a few countries, explains Lorna: “The roses most commonly used in perfumery are the Turkish rose, the Damask (or Damascene rose) and Rosa Centifolia (the ‘hundred-leaved rose’), which is grown around Grasse in the south of France, and generally considered to produce the highest quality rose absolute. This rose is also known as Rose de Mai, because it generally blooms in May, and  – romantically known as ‘the painter’s rose’ because it features many works of the old masters. Around 70% of the rose oil in the world comes from Bulgaria;  other significant producers are Turkey, Iran and Morocco, and precious, more limited quantities from Grasse”. 

In the world of mainstream perfumes, mass-produced and present on almost every shelf, the rose appears here and there, but it is not always easy to find it as a star ingredient. This is due, in part, to the price of the raw material, which comes from how difficult it is to prepare it. In addition to this factor, the flower is also very fragile its life is very short from the moment it is harvested. “Rose is very expensive in perfumery because they have to be hand-picked before 10 a.m. at the latest when the sun evaporates their exquisite magic. So fast does the rose fade, in fact, that some farmers in Turkey and Bulgaria transport their own copper stills to the fields, heating them on the spot over wood fires to distill the precious Damask Rose oil, which separates from the water when heated in only the tiniest of quantities: 170 rose flowers are said to relinquish but a single drop. It has been considered in the perfume world as liquid gold –as it takes approximately 3.5 tons of roses to create just one kilo of rose oil! ”, describes the expert. But even with this drawback, this ingredient still makes the delight of any nose. The charm of the flower is in the multiplicity of species available, of course, but also in the chameleonic uniqueness that characterizes it. The rose can be whatever the creative wants it to be. “Rose is one of the most complicated single ingredients in perfumery”, Mckay begins to explain, “it can be fruity and raspberry-like, or deep, dusky and velvety. Perfumers say it’s one of the hardest ingredients to master because of its complexity. So to re-create or preserve its majesty and that just-plucked from the rose-bush scent takes immense skill. The ‘rose’ smell is dependent on what it is surrounded by – it can be sweet, musky, fruity, spicy, voluptuous, crisp, subtle, powerful, masculine and feminine”, describes the expert. So can we say that the rose is one of the bases of perfumery? Technically, no, as Lorna will explain later. But objectively, yes, since it is a widely used ingredient and its versatility makes it present in perfumes from various fragrance families, whether they are female or male. Although it does not always appear prominently in the description of a perfume’s notes, the rose may be present to enhance another note - that’s also where it gets its mysterious flare, acting as a secret agent in the formulation “There are rose notes found in so many fragrances, even if they’re not classified as a floral or rose perfume. Rose can add so many different facets to a fragrance, so it depends on the type of rose, and how the perfumer has chosen to use it in their composition. Roses are said to feature in at least 75% of modern feminine fragrances, and at least 10% of all men’s perfumes – but they might not even be listed in the notes described. It is technically wrong in most cases to say that they are the base as they are often created as middle notes in the construction of the fragrance as flowers are most often in the middle notes of a fragrance. They bring a magical mystery to the smell in different facets ”says the specialist to Vogue.

Speaking of the history of Perfumery, we asked Lorna to tell us about some iconic fragrances that celebrate the rose aroma. The question is complicated and it is almost ungrateful for the flower to ask for a small list since we are not talking about a novelty or a trend. The rose has a strong and very central place in perfumery, but there are, of course, highlights in its already very long history. “Lancôme Trésor (launched in 1990) is an icon for rose fragrances, used in such a romantic way by Perfume Sophia Grojsman, embodying the softly swooning aspect of the petals with a nuzzle of peach skin, (I actually launched it in 1990 when I was the Perfumery and Cosmetics Buyer in Harrods and I have some of the bottles from that time. It was a powerful sparkling fragrance created for women who like musk and oriental overtones in their fragrance. The bottle was a work of art. Yves Saint Laurent Paris (1983) is another exquisite example of a modern classic – another of Sofia Grojsman’s creations – which was the quintessential floral scent of the 80s, now beautifully updated in Mon Paris, which explores a more sensual side of rose”, describes the specialist. But there are still new ways to innovate and make the rose shine. There are recent fragrances that honor and reinvent the floral note. “ More recently, a brilliant example of a modern twist is Neon Rose by Floral Street, a  clean, crisp, green, floral fragrance”, concludes Lorna Mckay. Long live the rose.

In Rose Aria, the star is the rose centifolia, which is the heart note of this fragrance and which is combined with top notes of green leaves and base notes of musk, saffron, and sandalwood. Rose Aria, € 175, Heeley. The Eau de Toilette version of Kenzo World is the freshest and floral of the collection and one of the examples in which the rose appears in the background to enhance other notes. Kenzo World Eau de Toilette, € 40.05, Kenzo. 212 VIP Rosé is a  classic feminine floral with notes of rosé champagne, lychee, peach blossom, and rose bouquet. 212 VIP Rosé, € 80.59 Carolina Herrera. In Coco Mademoiselle, the floral notes are Turkish rose, jasmine, mimosa, and ylang-ylang. Coco Mademoiselle, € 142, Chanel.

Muda makes damask rose (Taif rose), absolute coffee, and jasmine shine as its heart notes. Muda, € 160, Holds Perfumes. Rose Goldea has rose as a top note and damask rose as a heart note. Rose Goldea Kathleen Kye Edition, € 126, Bvlgari. Sí opens the olfactory experience with blackcurrant and crystallizes it with May rose. Sí, € 68.63, Giorgio Armani. The flower market is fresh and floral, as the name evokes, and has a tuberous, sambac jasmine, Egyptian jasmine, and May rose heart. Flower Market, € 49, Maison Margiela. Mon Guerlain is a woody amber with iris, sambac jasmine, and rose as heart notes. Mon Guerlain, € 90, Guerlain. Jo Malone presents the apple first, but then follows it with peony, rose, jasmine and cloves. Peony & Blush Suede, € 108, Jo Malone London. The modern floral from Floral Street combines apple blossom and bergamot on the top, rose, peach, and amber as base notes. Neon Rose, € 69, Floral Street. Rose Cruise gets its name from the Bulgarian rose, rosa centifolia that has as its main notes. Rose Cruise, € 129.40, Herrera Confidential Collection.

This Penhaligon’s softens the notes of red lily, centifolia rose, and absolute rose with a hint of cinnamon. Elisabethan Rose, € 163.90, Penhaligon’s. Givenchy presents another example of the combination of a pear top note with a heart of rose and iris. Irresistible, € 77, Givenchy. The spicy opening of Rose Prick, brought by the fragrant Szechuan pepper, awakens our senses to the heart notes of May rose, Bulgarian rose, and Turkish rose. Rose Prick, € 197.45, Tom Ford. Olympéa Blossom is a feminine and sensual fragrance with pink pepper, rose, pear, blackcurrant, vanilla ice cream, and cashmere wood. Olympéa Blossom. € 82.84, Paco Rabanne.

Translated from the original on the "Pink Issue", from may 2021.Full credits and story on the print version.

Ana Saldanha By Ana Saldanha


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