When it comes to fragrances, I like to think of myself as an equal opportunist and, yet, I have to confess: sometimes I’m a rose-ist. It happens involuntarily, during the first millisecond of encountering a rose-based scent, when suddenly, briefly, I’m in shudders. I try not to. I’m not proud of it. Although ironically, there hasn’t been a Bulgarian, damask, or Moroccan bud-based juice I haven’t added to my collection.
Wandering down the perfume aisle in a boutique, drug or department store, I actually find it impossible to not stop and smell the roses. Even when I purposefully swish past Dolce & Gabbana’s Rose the One, Lush’s Imogen Rose, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Drôle de Rose or Le Labo’s Rose 31 – their label, the red flag to my inner bull and matador – I’ll inevitably pick up Clinique’s spicy chypre, Aromatics Elixir; Caron’s sweet vanilla, Parfum Sacré; or Chanel’s woody animalic, Cuir de Russie and spray it on. All, I might add, contain more than a droplet of the flower swirled inside. And despite (or maybe it’s insurgent to) my curious pretense, Frédéric Malle and nose Ralf Schwieger’s genius, cosmetic interpretation, Lipstick Rose, is my current go-to scent for Sunday brunch with the girls.
Chandler Burr, author of The Perfect Scent and curator of the new Center of Olfactory Art at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, explains this aversion as an auto-pilot reaction. “When I hear people say ‘I don’t like rose,’” he says, “I think they’re saying, ‘I wouldn’t like to smell like my grandmother’s old rose perfume.’” He’s right, of course.
My snooty reflex resonates from memories of powder puffs and church pews, lace doilies and proper manners, strict rules and growing up. Perhaps, rightly so, after all, the flower is steeped in tradition, reaching far back into history’s archives. “Roses have been iconic in Western literature for at least a thousand years,” affirms Burr. “In a different artistic medium – going from writing to scent – rose is not only easily recognizable, it is, I think, olfactorily speaking, a broad spectrum. It has green aspects and fresh citrus aspects, along with its huge floralcy.”
This easy to identify quality and, better still, ability to play nicely with other notes is, in part, why the rose has been an iconic ingredient in perfumery since 1921, when Parisian nose Ernest Beaux and the legendary Coco Chanel put their heads together to create the first bottle of Chanel No°5. Jacques Guerlain’s classic Shalimar parfum followed suit in 1925, as did Lanvin’s Arpège in 1927 and Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps in 1948 – all reinforcing the delicate bud’s power and chameleon-like capabilities.
Since then, noses from fragrance laboratories from Paris and Grasse, France to Zurich and New York City have inspired a proverbial rose garden to bloom, including fantastical concoctions such as Juliette Has a Gun’s 2006 tropical punch-smelling rose, Miss Charming; Montale’s 2008 spicy wood-steeped incarnation Black Aoud for men; and Annick Goutal’s 2010 juicy pear-infused version, Rose Splendide.
“Great scent artists like Francis Kurkdjian, Dominique Ropion and Jérome Epinette are transforming rose; smell, respectively, the astonishing works of art that are Rose Barbare, Portrait of a Lady, and Rose Noir,” adds Burr. “And the material is absolutely contemporary, the works of art, state of the art.”
Art, tenaciously crafted by these experts, that evokes different sensations and emotions with every inhalation. At least that’s how I feel breathing in this season’s mix-mastered options. The talented perfumers, working in conjunction with the olfactory houses of Chloé, Diptyque, Givenchy, Paco Rabanne, Viktor & Rolf and Yves Saint Laurent have each cast the archetypal flower into new and complex compositions that have nothing to do with prim and proper ablutions. Highly finessed and worthy of a second spritz, these new scents are as unique in spirit as they are in their contemporary reinterpretation. And the best part: while the rose is undeniably the foundation for each eau, I’ve yet to shudder.
Chloé, L’Eau de Chloé
($82, at The Bay, Holt Renfrew, Murale, Shoppers Drug Mart, pharmaprix and Sephora)
The nose: Michel Almairac
The rose: The damask rose.
The remix: Zesty citrus notes with warm wood and spicy patchouli.
The rationale: While Chloé’s perfume signature is the rose, L’Eau de Chloé comprises 22 per cent natural rose water – derived from distilling thousands of rose petals – an abnormally high concentration in perfume. “The rose is loved for its beauty, prized for its colour tones and honoured since ancient times by many poets and writers,” explains Almairac. “It is the same particularities for its olfactory side.”
The scent: Thanks to the generous infusion of rose eau, this floral chypre has “an elegant freshness and a lot of character and originality.”
The fragrant symbolism: “The rose is a strong symbol of perfumery. An everlasting flower, which sublimates all fashions and trends to maintain its position as queen of flowers,” says Almairac. “It is feminine, stylish and romantic. It is also among the most mysterious.”
Diptyque, Eau Rose
($48 to $98, at Holt Renfrew)
The nose: Fabienne Mauny
The rose: The damask and the centifolia roses.
The remix: Tangy bergamot and juicy blackcurrant with balmy and fleshy honey, cedarwood and white musk.
The rationale: An ode to “Les Florales,” Eau Rose is the latest incarnation in the brand’s four-year-old collection of scented waters. This new olfactory composition was designed “to celebrate the multiple aromas of the flower,” says Mauny.
The scent: Thanks to the infusion of rose water, the overall effect is fresh and natural. “It’s like taking an olfactory stroll,” explains Mauny. “It changes as the hours go by and melts into the scent of the person wearing it.”
The fragrant symbolism: “According to the legend,” says Mauny, “the rose was originally white and symbolized purity, but turned red when Cupid accidentally spilled a glass of wine on it, transforming it into a symbol of passion.”
The packaging: An ink drawing emblazoned on the bottle evokes the symbol of the universal rose.
Givenchy, Very Irresistible Electric Rose
($68, at The Bay, Shoppers Drug Mart and Sephora)
The nose: Françoise Donche
The rose: A blend of five roses.
The remix: Zesty, fruity and floral citrus, cranberries and violets with subtle woody musk.
The rationale: First launched in 2003, this is the 20th incarnation (inclusive of five men’s fragrances) of the Very Irresistible parfum. “The image of the flower is very prevalent in fashion this season,” explains Donche. ”The perception of the rose has evolved over the last decade and is no longer considered old-fashioned.”
The scent: Luminous and watery with a fresh, soft quality that is “simple, spontaneous, modern, youthful and enticing,” says Donche. “It is a joyful message that is easy to understand and brings a positive energy.”
The fragrant symbolism: “A popular French song says: ‘Just like a rose that one reaps, no reason you took my heart, passing my house,’” says Donche. “This song describes perfectly the rose’s dreamy and powerful ability to attract.”
Paco Rabanne, Black XS L’Excès For Her
($75, at Sephora and select drugstores)
The nose: Emilie Coppermann
The rose: Rose absolute – an extraction from centifolia and damask.
The remix: Uplifting neroli, spicy pepper, heady jasmine and sensual cashmere wood.
The rationale: “This fragrance is all about seduction,” explains Coppermann. “Rose absolute represents the sensual and creamy facets of a rose petal. It is a symbol of femininity and gives a sophisticated touch to the exuberant jasmine, a flower that blooms during the night, like a rock star.”
The scent: Powerful, velvety and smooth. “I created it to be more vivid and exuberant by associating the rose with the nocturnal, queen-of-the-night jasmine,” says Coppermann.
The fragrant symbolism: “Aphrodite’s son, Cupidon, accidentally shot arrows into a rose garden and the sting of the arrows caused the roses to grow thorns. When Aphrodite walked in the garden and pricked her foot, she gave the rose their colour; she also dropped a bottle of perfume, which gave the roses their scent.”
Viktor & Rolf, Flowerbomb La Vie en Rose
($125, at the bay and Holt Renfrew)
The nose: Olivier Polge
The rose: The Turkish rose.
The remix: Zingy bergamot and mandarin, fresh lily of the valley, crisp green notes, warm pink peppercorn and sensual amber and patchouli.
The rationale: Typically, rose scents were blended with dark, powdery and animalic notes. “This rose is sparkling and young,” says Polge. “It has nothing to do with the old-fashioned soapy roses our grandmothers used to wear.”
The scent: Fresh, colourful and rich. “Like an explosion of happiness,” explains Polge. “For me it is like a whirl of floral, fizzy and ambery woody notes.”
The fragrant symbolism: The perfume’s name translates: ‘Life in Pink,’ “which means it makes you feel happy, like in the famous Edith Piaf song, La Vie en Rose,” says Polge. “Rose is, and will continue to be, one of perfumers’ cherished flowers. It is important to show the potential of an iconic ingredient of perfumery and show it is still contemporary, seductive and, even, how trendy it can be.”
Yves Saint Laurent Paris, Première Roses
($75, exclusively at The Bay)
The nose: Sophia Grojsman
The rose: The Centifolia rose.
The remix: Fresh and green lily of the valley; pretty and delicate peony, violet and orange flowers; and voluptuous and warm musk and sandalwood.
The rationale: An iconic scent, the original Paris made it’s parfum debut in 1983 and has since remained a classic; Première Roses is the line’s 12th eau. “The rose is a big part of the fragrance’s signature,” explains Grojsman. “It stays connected to the original Paris perfume, which is based on a generous bouquet of violets and roses with the sparkling effect of the Eiffel Tower in the midnight air.”
The scent: Gorgeous, like a luminous spring evening. “It is textured and crisp and it offers all the freshness and sensuality of a bouquet,” says Grojsman. “I wanted to create the sensation of an armful of fresh roses.”
The fragrant symbolism: The romantic city of lights. “Just as the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris,” says Grojsman, “The rose is, and will remain, one of the strongest symbols of femininity.”