Monday, February 11, 2013

A Dozen Roses: Best Rose Fragrances List & Valentine's Day Tips

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.

Feminine Roses, as Soft as Goose Down
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.

Edible Rose
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.


Rose-scented Skincare
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
Scent Hive


  1. Prince Barry17:49

    Some amazing rose fragrances mentioned there E. My beloved Hammam Bouquet is a mere shadow of the version that was available when Sheila Pickles owned the company. My favourite from that time was the HB Extract, amazkng.

    I don't have Rosine's Rose Hommd, but I do have their Twill Rose, I must refresh my memory and have a sniff.

  2. Solanace19:16

    Thank's for the récipe! It is summer here, I'll make it with my roses!

  3. What a lovely idea - spraying your cookies with rose water. :)
    Unfortunately, it's neither easily available here (only in health promoting stores) and neither is it cheap. Not that I could buy it in half a litre quantity unless buying 4 small bottles.
    I will definitely check the jam recipe you posted - I like the sound of that. :)

  4. E, You've put two of my favorites on your list whether it be rose or otherwise, Paris and T'aif. What a lovely post and very informative as always.


  5. Anonymous19:48

    For most of us, roses are our first initiation to fragrance. My Grammy made rose water with petals and hips. I now have many roses, and I can tell you that they are all so very different to the discriminate nose. I have a new one(s) Angel Face that almost knocks you on your ass. So unbelievably fragrant that it startles all your senses.

    Moroccan Rose is my favorite-lime/tangerine lifted, labdanum rooted, and palmarosa/cedarwood
    for a nice mossy green leaf.

    The Hammam B. sounds like something that would appeal to me.

  6. Anonymous23:54

    Yardley Rose is affordable and sumptuois reminds me of Turkish Delight yet not as sweet Unisex too!

  7. Jo Malone's Red Roses is one of my favourites, and I adore it in the bath oil

  8. Miss Heliotrope05:02

    The problem with a garden that is Australian-native heavy is the supreme lack of roses for admiring or cooking - modern environmental theories have some problems...

    My top rosy scent is Anthropologie's Happ & Stahns 1842 Rosa Alba - a simple rose, fresh & lovely - a bit away from my usual style, but pretty & enjoyable. I've only tried the solid as they wont ship the liquid out to me, which is a pity bc the bottle is also very pretty.

  9. palmward05:06

    I can't talk about the current form (don't know) but IMHO the purest rose I've ever smelled was Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose...probably ignored because it was never expensive AND American

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Natalie05:55

    Crabtree and Evelyn makes such a lovely rose scent. rosewater lasts all day,so feminine and light and never fails to lift my spirits.

  12. Hello dear heart, what a delicious, fragrant post you have created. I am salivating over the rose jam, must make some as soon as I have fresh roses.

  13. Elena, I am riveted by your selections and sprinkling of mythology and rose water cookie baking tips! I'm intrigued that you included one of my very favorite perfumes, Aromatics Elixir, your compendium of roses. I never think of it as a "rose perfume" the way I do all the others you listed, but of course the rose is so very there. And now I'm off to dig out my sample of Rose de Nuit to revisit its honeyed darkness.

  14. Ahh... Parfum Sacre and Ta'if... Two of my biggest rosy loves!
    And I'm tempted reunite with my Aromatics Elixir oil tonight; like Katie I never really thought of it as rosy, though the note is unmistakeably there.

    Now I'm haunted by the olfactory imagery of Amouage Lyric Man. Rose with angelica, nutmeg, saffron and ginger?! - that's unheard of ;-)

    And I am very grateful for the rose petal jam recipe, which I was trying for years to get from a friend's grandmother. Only a minor little detail - I do not really have access to fresh rose petals... But that would be remedied somehow, right?

  15. My favorite roses: Perfumer's Workshop Tea Rose edt, X-Ray Lacquered Rose (rose/oud), MFK Lumiere Noir Pour Femme, and for skin- Dr. Haushka's Rose Day Cream!

  16. This is one of the best reference lists for all that's rosy! I like just about everything you've mentioned, and you already know that I crave rose petal jam.

  17. Anonymous16:22

    don't forget a few drops of rosewater in your greek coffee when you eat the rose jam ....

  18. Anonymous17:12

    What a great comprehensive list of rose scents. Although there are a few not mentioned namely, Rose Poivree by A Different Company and Ègoïste by Chanel. Not a fan of the Chanel number, as it is mainly a spiced and dried fruits fiasco with no rose in sight. i havent smelled Rose Poivree, but I hear its a raunchy smelling rose with lots of cumin and civet to boot. My personal favorite in Amouage's Lyric Man. It is the best smelling rose scent and I don't think anything else can trump it. Simply put, it is amazing. The only problem is the price, which is terribly expensive.

  19. thank you for this "rosy" post...though it can be trite at times, when well-executed, rose perfumes can remind us why the rose is queen amongst flowers. and there are rose styles for almost everyone; i like mine on the gothic or oriental side, richly-rosy but spicy, balmy, & perhaps a bit thorny too.

    love that you included a mention of rose petal jam---one of my childhood favorites, and i will be featuring roses in my valentine's day sweets, thanks to the timely reminder. (home-made rose-water laced dark chocolate truffles, rose-water scented almond tart w/ candied petals on top...)

    ah, the romance of the rose.

  20. As far as niche houses go, L'artisan, I think, is still one of the best and that spicy rose fragrance proves it. I can almost feel it in my nose, spicy notes mixing with the nutty undertones that come with the complimenting woody notes that you can expect from an oud. Fantastic, almost makes you forget the scent of roses!

  21. Ariadne00:55

    Perfect post! I adore roses and Lady Vengeance is a fave of mine. For a complete opposite of that though I love Annik Goutal's Ce Soir Ou Jamais, which to me is of a bouquet of wild rambler roses growing on the edge of a stone walled field. Not a sharp or buxom rose scent.... really like smelling wildflowers, innocent and rugged in one.

  22. B,

    thanks! I recall you have a fondness for Hammam Bouquet and am saddened to hear it's thinned out.
    Twill Rose is also a good one! (Ecume de Rose is probably unique, but an acquired taste)

  23. Solanace,

    please do and let me know how it turned out!

  24. Ines,

    the spraying happens after your get them out of the oven when still hot (so that they absorb it) and you then roll them in dust sugar or some toasted sesame or something and it sticks. It gives them an added depth of aroma (same with orange blossom water which I love even more!)

    If you ever want rose water bought here for your use, let me know. It should be cheaper than over there, I bet.

  25. Trish,

    thank you honey for saying so. :-)
    It's not easy to come up with a rose that hits the spot for me, but all of these do (and isn't Ta'if just beautiful? And Paris too)

  26. Anon,

    you have an excellent point there, hadn't thought of that but you're right for a lot of people I bet.
    Is Angel Face the one made by Serena Franco? (Ava Luxe)

    HB is quite Victorian in feel so if you have fond memories/associations of that "ambience", I bet it would be a good fit! ;-)

  27. Anon #2,

    I admit I have bypassed the Yardley Rose for their Iris (which is stellar) but I will remedy the error of my ways next time I am at the store.

  28. Unknown,

    another good one. Personally I found it a bit simple for what I'm after but layering it with the woody "154" in the JM line (they do encourage us to layer, don't they) it's perfection. Have you tried it that way?

  29. C,

    I sympathize. We do have roses here, though not as populous as jasmine or orange blossom. The hot summer means the rose season is briefer than on Anglo soil.

    Ah, Anthropologie. Now, one needs to chastise them for being unavailable. Tsk tsk tsk!

  30. Palm,

    oh no! Tea Rose is a classic. It's only that it's *too much pure rose* for me to handle. For a pue of heart rose lover it's definitely a classic!

  31. Natalie,

    there, there...more suggestions coming my way. Thank you!!

  32. Roxana,

    thank you darling for your kind words.
    Rose petals jam is really delicious and on a par with sour cherry preserve (which I adore). There's a softness to the flavor which elevates it from the pure sugary stuff.

  33. Katie,

    ah, you're too kind.
    If you ever bake butter cookies try sprinkling them with a little rose water when hot off the oven and roll them in dusting sugar -and serve them to your beloved with a mischievous smile and a wink. ;-) (I'm getting carried away here)

    I always loved Aromatics Elixir (it's HUGE over here, constant best-seller) and always wondered how it could be that much rosy in the heart and me loving it so much, but there you have it; the patchouli and the herbal elements make it deep, scrumptious, sexy, and almost candied (it's a sweet rose in that heart). Fun and funny in its way. "Honeyed darkness" is exactly it!

  34. Ayala,

    thanks honey for organizing this and for bringing your beautiful suggestions to the fore. I like how you are offering scented products with rose too, wish I could attend one of your workshops, must be tremendous fun.

    Like I said above to Katie, it's funny how I always adored AE and it's so rosy amidst all that chypre woodiness and earthiness. But it's there all right. I do have a thing for "bastard roses" (Sacre is another one, isn't it?)

    Amouage Lyric man is GORGEOUS, truly. Do get a sample if you haven't tried it yet. The pairing with the incense is perhaps what is more compelling.

  35. Anina,

    thanks for bringing more worthy suggestions to the list!

    As an aside: Wish I could like the Dr.Haushka but my skin rebelled (so thick and didn't spread well). Maybe I was doing something wrong? I know this is cult stuff.

  36. Gaia,

    thanks darling, it's very kind of you to say so.

    We do share a lot of common tastes, so I'm not surprised we're both craving the same thing. Right now I would do justice to some rose jam dolloped over thick creamy yoghurt....yum!

  37. Anon,

    ha, now this is something I haven't tried! Good going, I will try it. Thank you! :-)

    (usually I put cardamom or mastic in my Greek coffee or buy it ready-made at the grinder's)

  38. In the nose,

    thanks, and thank you for your suggestions.

    Rose Poivree has been declawed I hear and I feel like it would be a bit traitorous to suggest it and then having people going "huh?" when trying it. It used to be indeed a gorgeous rendition (and very simpatico to me).
    Not so clear on the Egoiste: Surely, more a woody sweet spicy thing than rose, as you say? (so tad confused why you mentioned it in the beginning)

    Lyric Man (like a few of their Attars) is worth every penny, as they say. It's superb! Think of it that way when opening that wallet ;-)

  39. Nofixedstars,

    indeed, it's the multitude of takes that rose can take which explains its popularity among perfumers. Plus it's such a great modifying note, it makes everything pliable and more agreeable.

    Good god, can I be a fly on the wall of your kitchen?? Your plans sound positively mouth-watering!

    Have a great Valentine's Day!! :-)

  40. Gabe,

    I absolutely adore that L'Artisan, so yes, your description is on the spot! It all projects as an earthy, mossy, nutty symphony. Delicious!

  41. Ariadne,

    thank you for the lovely compliment! :-)

    I do like the Goutal roses for what they are (have a separate review of the three of them, on the bottom of the post, if you haven't checked it out), though I find the wine-like note of Ce Soir our Jamais is more pronounced than I'd like. I like your description of wildflowers on a a stone walled field, "innocent and rugged at once". Isn't that romantic? *sigh*

  42. Anonymous02:27

    I'm very tempted by your description of Traversée du Bosphore - and the Tauer one has always interested me but I've never got round to trying it so far.

    (By the way I sampled Eau de Merveilles which you recommended and it is beautiful - such a lovely skin scent feel but with fantastic longevity, it's softer than I expected, lovely!)

    I quite fancy the idea of a rose perfume that smells like rose flavoured ice cream and Turkish Delight (There's an Indian shop near my house that sells rose flavoured ice cream, or 'Kulfi' and the ingredients are milk, cardamom and rosewater, it's seriously addictive!

    Naively, I bought a small sample of Montale's Sweet Oriental Dream because I thought it might smell like Turkish Delight, it wasn't at all though - just a good quality honey/almond/tobacco perfume with a tiny, tiny hint of rose and violet.

    I agree rose really works in creams - my favourite is Holland and Barratt's Rose Otto, it's seriously lovely and has the Turkish vibe and it's all organic ingredients. I probably mentioned before that I sometimes layer this rose scent with Bulgari Black and it really works for some reason.

    I have a scent memory of a little porcelain-like pot my Grandmother had that had dark pink crystal beads on the lid, and a delicate pou pourri rose fragrance (it must have been a face cream) I never forgot it, and I'm thinking Tauer's Incense Rose might be just the thing

  43. Miss Heliotrope04:43

    As an afterthought, I have just purchased a second jar from a deli/local foods store 40mins away in the Yarra Valley, of the best jam I've ever had:

    Strawberry & Rosewater - fabulous.

    (& inspired by this post, have mixed in some rosewater with my usual plain sorbelene face cream in a dark glass jar, and am indulging with pleasure)

  44. Rosestrang,

    so glad my rec wasn't amiss and you liked the EdM!! Isn't it perfect for that "subtle yet definitely there scent"?

    I notice that what passes as "turkish delight" in perfumery is often an almond interpretation with some rose thrown in for good measure, whereas the authentic "loukhoum" recipe is most often a pure rose with a mastic overlay, which gives it an oily- nutty tone, but one which is "greener", oleaginous and more "open", if that makes any sense, than the "thick" almond interpretations. Montale's is a nice perfume -among their good ones- but not a *true* loukhoum type (and neither is Mecheri's in my experience, which is suffocatingly powdery). Although Traversee is so much more than *just* turkish delight, I find it interprets the note much more respectfully and gives it an overall softness and transparency to show it off at its best advantage. This is what makes it superior in my eyes. ;-)

    Your cream and ice-cream suggestions sound absolutely riveting. The rosewater, cardamom and milk combo sounds much more authentic (see above).

    Please note the Tauer chypre rosee feels a lot like a chypre, rather than as a rose soliflore. And its chocolate-y patchouli note is delicious. Do try it!

  45. C,

    stop it, you're making me crave sweet stuff!!!
    (seriously, sounds totally yummy)

    I'd keep the pot of cream in the fridge so as to keep better and warm a dollop in my hands before applying to release the aroma. ;-)

  46. This is a great "guide" for any person wanting to explore the versatility of rose in perfume. So many wonderful perfumes made your list!

  47. Thanks honey,

    glad you liked it. It was fun compiling!!


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine