Of all the floral notes available to the perfumer, Rose is by far my favourite. There is a complexity that extends beyond the type of rose, to the method employed for extraction, making it one of the most versatile notes for use in fragrances.
Varieties that are used in perfumery include Rosa damascena, which is the most common species used. Many rose oils, originate from this species, Bulgarian Rose, Croation Rose, Rose Damask and Turkish Rose, just to name a few. The less common Rosa centifolia can sometimes be found in blends, usually under the name Rose Maroc. Each type brings its own subtle olfactory nuances which can be exploited to create a multitude of pure rose fragrances.
When you are creating a rose fragrance you more than likely start with a Rose Absolute. In general, an absolute uses a solvent to extract the fragrance, whereas an essential oil uses steam distillation (the resulting product being called Rose Otto). The two methods produce end products with vastly different fragrance profiles, an absolute often smells "fresher" as it has not been exposed to the high temperatures associated with steam distillation. I use both products when experimenting and blending a rose fragrance, however, when I want something that smells most like a fresh rose in bloom, I always reach for an absolute.
The cost of using a rose absolute or rose otto can be prohibitive, however, the sheer strength and staying power means you often only use a very small amount to generate a very large rose smell. The high cost is understandable when you consider that a quality producer will pick the rose petals at dawn, as light and heat can degrade many of the sensitive components. To produce roughly one kilogram of rose otto, you need to distil one thousand kilograms of rose petals!
There are many synthetic rose substitutes on the market and some of them are very good. However, nothing can replace the smell and strength of real rose absolute or otto. It really is night and day.
I had always thought of rose fragrances as a very "Nanna" smell, indeed my own Italian Grandmother, my Nonna, who was incidentally, named Rosa, used to slather herself in very sweet rose fragrances. It was only recently that I revisited rose fragrances and found many that are not cloyingly sweet. The following are my top picks for adding some rose into your life.
Byredo - Rose Of No Man's Land (Eau De Parfum)
A light blend of Turkish Rose and amber. For the first ten minutes the rose is dominated by pink pepper and raspberry (which I suspect perfumers often put in to try and sweeten the rose and give consumers that sweet, freshly picked rose smell). Thankfully it fades quickly leaving you with a light rose scent with remarkable longevity and sillage.
Jo Malone - Velvet Rose and Oud (Cologne Intense)
When Oud became all the rage the market was flooded with Rose and Oud perfumes. Only a couple stood out for me and the Jo Malone version was definitely a winner. This is dark and syrupy and unctuous. The typical rose and oud blend is sweetened with a chocolate/praline note that makes this almost edible.
Armani Privé - Rose d'Arabie (Eau De Parfum)
The king of rose fragrances as far as I am concerned. Rose grounded with Oud, Vanilla and Patchouli. It is heavy, almost phenolic and mysterious.
Jo Malone - Red Roses (Bath Oil)
My love of rose extends beyond perfumes, and into bath and body products. Jo Malone's Red Roses Bath Oil is sublime. To me this almost sits more on the side of a Rose Hip smell, than true rose, perhaps because there is a little bit of lemon in there. It is not heavy, rather light and whimsical. It works well in a bath, as anything heavier might be too over powering in the warm water.
Molton Brown - Rosa Absolute (Body Wash)
A spicy, deep rose body wash that leaves your skin slightly scented with rose. There are some berry notes, but these are tempered with pink pepper, patchouli and geranium. I think there might be some cinnamon in the blend, but I can't be 100% sure.
The rose fragrance I created for Lenzo+Merchant Damask Rose Bath Oil and Body Wash hangs its hat on Damask Rose Absolute, I wanted this to be an almost "true" rose fragrance. I spiced it up with a touch of black pepper, then grounded it with patchouli and benzoin.
Jason Lenzo, 12th March, 2017.