There is a Persian proverb I love that goes "The world is a rose. Smell it and pass it on to your friends". If, like me, you have always found yourself challenged by the double edged sword of rose perfumes (veering into either screechy bathroom deodorizer or stale, dusty pot-pourri), you know that finding the perfect rose fragrance is an order as tall as the Himalayas. Yet landing on a satisfying, nuanced, fresh and yet deep (or even thorny) rose scent can be like savoring a great Bordeaux; the satisfaction lies in anticipation as much as in the aftertaste, prompting you to intellectualize what is fundamentally a sensual experience. Rose fragrances can be petulant or in histrionics, sometimes sour and pinched, or they can be powdered in granny cardigans & sensible brogues, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, there's a wealth of discoveries underneath. Roses can take on myriad of nuances: from soft and powdery, to childlike & tender, to green with a hint of the dew still on its rosy petals, to the nectarous and honeyed roses, passionate and full, all the way to dark, angular and gothic with thorns still attached. So when Smelly Blog suggested I select my rose favorites I knew this would be a rewarding exercise!
Therefore, here you can find a selection of what I consider some of the top rose fragrances for women & for men and a guide to some other rose-scented delights which are precious to me, including rose petal jam, rosy skincare and scented tea.
I classify them through idiosyncratic categories which are more mood & character driven than according to notes. And remember, if you're offering actual roses this Valentine's Day, all roses are beautiful, but not all are equally fragrant.
The ancient Greeks believed that the first rose was created when Chloris, the goddess of flowers, came upon a dying wood nymph and transformed her into a flower. Then the goddess of love, Aphrodite, gave the flower its beauty and the god of wine, Dionysus, contributed an intoxicating fragrance. 'Beauty~love~intoxication and death all in one package; add thorns for a hint of sorrow and danger, and you have the perfect symbol of the human condition'...
Real Rose, All the Time
Creed's Fleurs de Thé Rose Bulgare is that rare thing; a true rose fragrance, composed of the choicest rose essences of tea rose, fresh but never sour, and as beautiful as the dawn of your wedding day to the partner you've loved all your life. The fact that the scent has been discontinued in its older guise is criminal (I hear the newer one just isn't the same).
Bulgarian rose otto is a treasure in its wooden amphora with the pyrocaustic motifs. I first got some as a child when a relative travelled to Bulgaria. I didn't understand then why it smelled so much like pear liqueur and why it was so heady, when real roses in the vase were velvety soft and rather airy. It's a prime example of how essences do not smell exactly the same as the living thing.
But this thing is alive, oh yes, it's alive!
Roses, Roses in the Woods: Gothic & Thorny
The dark green foliage, the mossy earthiness, the exacerbation of scents when the air is pregnant with the promise of rain render the rose sweet and nectarous, like sweet preserve. Some of these roses are in the chypre mold, others in the woody floral, others yet have oriental elements, but they all display their thorns with pride and defiance. My favorite category!
L'Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses: the perfect marriage of rose & patchouli (with a hint of plum), making the rose unfurl to infinity. Perfect in rainy weather and delicious when shared by lovers. Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance is its little sister, a thorny gothic woody rose fit for modern heroines.
Aromatics Elixir (Clinique) hides a candied rose in the heart like the great big woods boasts a Red Riding Hood alongside the Big Bad Wolf and all the other enchanted creatures. Full of starlit mossy notes and patchouli and starched, dry elements that perform amazingly well from a little distance.
Tauer Perfumes Une Rose Chyprée: a delicious oriental rose on a chypre base, like the name suggests, long lasting and rich with chocolate-y patchouli and "rutting animal" labdanum resin, a bit retro and yet totally modern.
Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit: Although Sa Majesté la Rose is more of a stand-alone rose in the Lutens line, it's rather too literally green rosy and fruity-like for me (with lychee, chamomille, honey). I prefer this other, nocturnal version with Turkish rose, yellow jasmine, apricot, amber, musk, sandalwood and beeswax, which softly shimmers like opal earrings in the dusk. If you like this, also try the discontinued L'Arte di Gucci.
Arabesque Orientalized Roses
Guerlain Rose Necrée du Désert: in the new line Les Déserts d'Orient, this is a prime example of how Arabian tradition has metamorphosed rose into a creature of a 1000 Nights. Oud and rose, eager bedfellows, revel in mystery and languor.
Caron Parfum Sacré: a spicy rose steeped into mace and cardamom, folded into resinous, bittersweet myrrh, seeimingly as old as the world itself and as promising as a kiss on the eye lids. Real love!
Ormonde Jayne Ta'if: Named after the locale of some of the most gorgeous roses in the world, this fragrance (which can be worn by men as well as women) pairs the rose with dates, resulting in an orientalized take that is succulent and rich, yet not wildly calorific.
L'Artisan Parfumeur Traversée du Bosphore: Saffron and golden spices, almond and pistachio rose loukhoums, softest suede, an Istanbul sensual panorama, this is beyond just a rose fragrance; among the loveliest things to try if you like your roses not immediately identified and plenty nuanced.
Yves Saint Laurent Paris: an ebullient rose, sweetened with tender violet and sparkling from all angles like a precious gem, Saint Laurent's tribute to the city he loved and one of perfumer Sophia Grosjman's greatest hits for a reason.
L'Artisan Parfumeur Drôle de Rose: candied rose with a violet, cosmetics-reminiscent retro facet, lighter and less waxy than F.Malle's similar Lipstick Rose; playful and teasing like a pink baby doll. Notes of rose, aniseed, orange blossom, white iris, violet, almond, honey, rose powder, a hint of leather.
Fruity, Jammy Roses
Liaisons Dangeureuses (By Kilian): Surely there is no more beautiful fruity liqueur-like rose fragrance, this side of Guerlain's Nahéma (which can feel a bit much sometimes). Not a femme fatale rose or evil, gothic rose, but instead an erotic one, lush, succulent, almost gourmand. With plum, prune, peach, cinnamon, coconut, moss and vanilla.
Roses for Men Who Aren't Shy
Rose d' Homme (Les Parfums de Rosine): a woody rose which can be worn by men or women, somber, stable, and very fetching.
Hammam Bouquet (Penhaligon's): musty, musky roses never smelled so good. Spicy and warm yet totally Victorian in character (powdery, heavily floral). I can see how this is an acquired taste, but one worth exploring all the same.
Amouage Lyric Man: Spicy, oriental, lush, very complex, sensual, intimate. Superb! With orange blossom, angelica, nutmeg, saffron, ginger, sandalwood, incense and musk.
Lastly, a word of advice: Rose lovers will find a lot to recommend them in the Les Parfums de Rosine range of perfumes. The brand is focused on rose interpretations with intriguing twists.
If you have never taste rose petal jam/preserve or rose petals spoon sweet (a local Greek delicacy) you are missing out. Making it is even more delicious as the whole kitchen fills with the aroma of ripe roses kneaded into sugar paste, so I'm going to actually encourage you to make some if you have access to non-pesticide-sprayed roses. You can check out this recipe, it's really not hard to make. (You can thank me later). And if you have a Greek or Arab ethnic deli around you can buy it ready made. Delicious by itself, spooned over Greek yoghurt, on cheesecake, on mastic-flavored ice-cream...
Trying a rose-scented tisane is also a richly rewarding experience. Here are a few options.
Annick Goutal Creme Spendide is a rose lover's dream come true. Applying this rich yet non greasy cream onto my face is an aromatherapeutic experience if there ever was one and it only takes one step to finish the routine; it's supposed to be anti-ageing, hydrating and soothing at the same time. The delicate, fresh yet true scent doesn't irritate my sensitive skin and lulls me to sleep in no time. The box is a cutie too!
Korres Wild Rose is my other beloved rose-scented face cream and one I have been faithful to ever since Korres hadn't launched beyond the confines of its apothecary in old Athens. This one smells musky rosy, as it's based on the variant rosa moschata (a rich variety which doesn't yield enough for perfumery, but is often used in skincare instead) and is a dream to apply for any normal to sensitive skin like mine. Decleor's Aroma Night is another option, its scent a bit more orientalized rosy and the texture thicker, more balm-like.
Last but not least, I have long ago abandoned toners in favor of natural organic rosewater. I buy it by the half liter locally at the chemist's and use it on a cotton pad for refreshing the complexion in the morning. And of course to spray on my cookies too before I roll them in sugar. "Bad" habits are hard to break :-)
Please follow the links to the other participating blogs:
All I Am A Red Head
Katie Puckrik Smells
The Non Blonde
Roxana Illuminated Perfume