rose: 52 posts

Famous Perfumery Roses : Rose Damascena

Last week I covered the topic of rose de mai, or rosa centifolia, and it’s only fitting to turn my attention to the other famous perfumery rose, rose damascena or rosa damascena. Richer in essential oils than centifolia, it’s the most important rose cultivar for fragrances. In my video, I will describe this variety, show how rose absolute and rose oil look alike and explain where it’s grown.

Of course, I will also discuss rose damascena in fragrances. Although associated with feminine perfumery, roses of all types, natural and synthetic, are are used in masculine fragrances as well as compositions that are not obviously floral. I will explain how perfumers use rose nuances and to what effect.

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Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume

Every spring I make a Persian rhubarb sherbet by cooking sliced stems and sugar in water. Once the flavor and pink color infuse into the syrup, I filter the liquid and add rose essence. Enjoyed from tall crystal glasses, the sherbet has a voluptuous taste that calls to mind the warm light streaming through the stained glass windows of the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a pink-tinted jewel of Shiraz.


Since perfumery has much in common with cuisine, rendering my sherbet into a fragrance accord with a similar ornate impression is not difficult. Rhubarb has a natural affinity with rose, violet and berries, because they are complementary notes (and raspberry, in a nesting doll twist, contains elements of both rose and violet, which makes it an especially felicitous partner.)  Jo Malone White Lilac and Rhubarb explores this combination by augmenting the floral layer of rhubarb with a cocktail of rose and lilac. It’s a bright and happy perfume, with a nod to retro glamour.

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Why Bad Smells Are Important in Perfumery

One of the paradoxes of perfumery is that to create a good smell, you need a bit of funk. A strawberry accord won’t smell convincing without a sulphurous accent. Recreating a dewy white blossom requires the same substances that are present in horse sweat. There is even a space in every perfume lab devoted to materials with strong, reeking odors, and it’s appropriately called “the stinky room.” Next to the roses and vanillas in a perfumer’s palette, notes reminiscent of dirty hair, musty fur, burnt toast or decaying fruit have their place of honor–costus, musks, civet, pyrazines and many other pungent ingredients. They may be used in small quantities, but they’re important enhancers, giving vibrancy, texture and spice to an otherwise conventional fragrance.

Traditionally, the raunchy notes in classical perfumery were of animalic origin—musk, civet, and ambergris. Today they have been replaced by their synthetic analogs, but they play the same role, warming up a composition and giving it a lush character. Chanel No 5 wouldn’t be the marvel that it is without a cocktail of musks that lingers under the layer of champagne-like aldehydes, rose and jasmine. In Hermès’s Calèche, a whisper of sunwarmed skin keeps this refined blend from becoming icy and aloof. Even more unexpected is Cartier Déclaration, a citrus cologne with a shot of cumin, a spice with a distinctly sweaty odor. For a proper bombshell you could turn to Schiaparelli Shocking, which transforms musk, honey, and civet into a symphony of ripeness.

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5 Moods, 5 Roses

Rose is a classical note in a perfumer’s palette. It can be a natural type-rose, with rich honeyed facets, a citrusy blossom, or a musky bouquet. While some iconic fragrances like Guerlain Nahéma and Jean-Charles Brosseau Ombre Rose are rose-dominated, it often finds itself in a supporting role, which it performs beautifully. As I hope to demonstrate to you with my list below, rose is versatile and can suit a variety of moods and fragrance styles.

Although rose is most closely associated with feminine perfumery, I encourage men to disregards such labels. The truth is that citrus, metallic rose notes are already present in many masculine compositions, such as Amouage Lyric Man, Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire Pour Homme and Cartier Déclaration d’Un Soir. The darker the rose becomes, the more you can experiment with it. For instance, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady smells devastatingly sexy on a man.

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The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley

Located in the southern part of the Balkan mountain range, Rose Valley stretches across central Bulgaria and produces almost 50 per cent of the world’s rose essence. The mild climate and unique soil composition create a flower with a sumptuous and intense aroma of honey, lemon peel, gingerbread and raspberries. The most popular variety is rose damascena, and when the fields burst into bloom in May, the air becomes sweet and fragrant, as I witnessed when I was there earlier this year. I would pick a few flowers and bring them to my hotel in the evening, and the following day I would wake to a suave scent wafting through the room.

In my recent FT magazine article, The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley, I describe five fragrances based around Bulgarian rose essence. I explain what makes this essence interesting and how perfumers use it as part of rose accords.

To read the full article, please click here.

And of course, please share your favorite rose perfumes. I know that we have quite a rose loving contingent here, and rediscovering old favorites is always a pleasure.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Bulgaria, Kazanlyk.

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