roses: 2 posts

On the Rose Trail: The Art of Distilling Rosewater

The 10th century Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna is credited with many contributions to astronomy, geography, psychology, logic, mathematics, and physics. He also found time to delve into perfumery and devised methods to extract essential oils, experimenting on roses. If Avicenna were to step into a fragrance lab today, he would orient himself quickly enough–modern perfumery is a curious amalgam of state-of-the-art science and traditional techniques. For instance, rose oil is prepared in much the way as in Avicenna’s time through the process of steam distillation.

Even older than rose oil is rosewater, an ingredient with a history predating Avicenna. Lebanese food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, whose award winning cookbook Mouneh explores the traditions of preserving fruit, vegetables and flowers, includes a section on making rosewater. “Yes, the distillates from roses and orange flowers continue to be made in villages,” she commented on the vitality of the tradition. “Older people still believe that homemade is best.”

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A Rose Like No Other

Rose is a classical flower in perfumery, along with carnation, jasmine and violet. Yet, it need not be interpreted in a classical manner. It can be made either daring or innocent, dark or pale, smoky or soft. I like roses in all of their guises, but some of my favorites are roses with a twist. My FT column, Unusual Roses, was originally prepared for Valetine’s Day, but since I wear these roses all year round, I’d like to take them further into spring.

When the Spanish actress Rossy de Palma decided to create a fragrance, she selected rose as her main theme. While the choice of such a classical flower from the star of Pedro Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown might have struck some as surprising, the perfumers Antoine Lie and Antoine Maisondieu weren’t taken aback. They were the co-authors of de Palma’s scent, and when it was released as Eau de Protection (£82 for 50ml EDP) by the niche perfume house Etat Libre d’Orange, the result was anything but staid. As the perfumers knew, rose had many faces, and it could be made as smouldering or as innocent as an artist’s skill allowed.  To read more, please click here.

What are your favorite unusual roses?

Pablo Picasso, 1905, Garçon à la pipe, (Boy with a Pipe), fragment. Private collection

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