A few weeks ago, Robin posted an update to her much-loved post 100 Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try, adding twenty-five more fragrances worth seeking out. Angela has pitched in with a tempting selection of 25 Vintage Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try, while Kevin has expanded our view with a list of 50 Masculine Fragrances. And what’s my “beat” here on Now Smell This? I’ve always gravitated towards florals, particularly rose-based perfumes, so I’ll do my part with a run-down of some must-try rose scents.
Annick Goutal was one of my “gateway” houses into perfume obsession, partially because it offers several rose-inspired fragrances. Rose Absolue is the most “true” rose of the group. It brings together essences of six different roses (May, Turkish, Bulgarian, Damascus, Egyptian, and Moroccan) into a radiant bouquet.
A more recent release from another French “niche” perfumery, Eau Rose is a delightfully uncomplicated sunny-day rose, pink and freshly picked, with hints of lemon and honey. Bonus: the pretty label design and packaging!
3. Jo Malone Red Roses
Jo Malone gained her original following by offering fragrances that smelled just like their names — an unusual idea at the time. Red Roses has always seemed to me more like a bouquet of florist roses than a bunch gathered in a garden. It’s linear, with no surprises, and it feels lush yet cultivated.
This “queen of the flowers” is one of Serge Lutens’s more accessible early fragrances, which is not to say that it’s simplistic or cheap. Not at all: Sa Majesté La Rose subtly reveals the rose’s varying aspects of brightness, softness, and sweetness. Beautifully crafted, and just plain beautiful.
Diptyque was ahead of its time in 1983 when it combined a fresh rose accord with notes of green grass and tart black currant. L’Ombre dans L’Eau’s evocation of a place and a mood (a riverside garden, a day shared by friends), its poetic name (“shadow in the water”), and its modernized Art Nouveau label design all add to its artisanal-chic appeal.
This “Hermessence” is a minimalist fruity floral that brings together sheer rose, crisp grapefruit, tart rhubarb, and a very subtle vanilla.
If you weren’t shopping at high-end department stores or niche boutiques in the early 2000s, you might not have seen any rose fragrances at all. Stella McCartney changed that situation with Stella, an easy-to-wear citrus-rose-amber fragrance in a lovely purple bottle. It was a great commercial success, and thus it spawned dozens of imitators.
Nahéma is a dramatic arrangement of overblown roses, spiced honey, ripe peaches, and mossy wood; it feels like a classic film with the color intensified and the volume turned up. Lush and elegant.
Ormonde Jayne’s Ta’if places its Damascus rose in a setting of saffron and pepper, dried fruit and resins. When I wear this fragrance, I feel as though I’m journeying across foreign lands, even though I’m just headed to the office or the corner-store.
10. Le Labo Rose 31
When Le Labo opened in 2006, its Rose 31 became a critics’ darling in no time at all. Despite the name, this fragrance is more of a masculine spice-woods composition, heavy on the cumin, than a traditional rose scent; but it does include some rose, and it was named “Rose,” so it changed many people’s ideas of what a rose fragrance could be.
11. The Different Company Rose Poivrée
The Different Company took a risqué approach to rose, encircling it with an animalic civet note, some slightly sweaty cumin, and a dash of pepper. Naughty, yet civilized.
12. Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit
I don’t wear many true chypres, just because they’re not my style. However, I can appreciate the dark, untouchable beauty of Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit, and now that the former “exclusive” line is more widely available, I can recommend it without guilt.
Even with the inclusion of some mossy “Guerlainade,” Rose Barbare is a somewhat lighter, brighter take on the concept of a rose chypre. It’s polished and dressy, but in a modern-classic way.
A 1980s classic! This effervescent, fruity-sweet blend of roses and violets needs to be worn with magenta lipstick and heels. A little goes a long way.
15. Les Parfums de Rosine La Rose de Rosine
If you’re looking for a dozen variations on the rose theme, Les Parfums de Rosine is the fragrance line for you. La Rose de Rosine, the brand’s initial release from 1991, is a warm and feminine rose-violet composition with an Oriental drydown.
16. Lush Imogen Rose
Lush’s Gorilla Perfumes concocts Imogen Rose from real rose absolute and rose oil and other natural ingredients (tonka, orris, vetivert). The result is a warm, powdery rose with a soft, woodsy base. Very long-lasting.
17. Rochas Tocade
There are a few rose-and-vanilla perfumes worth trying, but Tocade has been around longer than the rest. It’s fabulously fake, not at all discreet, and a perfume-lover’s perfume. It’s also very affordable.
Roses and chocolate are two of the biggest “romance” clichés, but S-Perfume brought them together in a fragrance that’s anything but predictable. The rose is neon-pink, the chocolate is dark and cocoa-like, and a heaping of pulpy red fruit adds to the fun.
In their own corner of the fragrance world, botanical perfumers like Mandy Aftel have never lost sight of the rose’s endless potential. Wild Roses has a heart of true rose petals edged by spiced apricot and a swirl of incense.
20. Sonoma Scent Studio Rose Volupté
Sonoma Scent Studio has added several rose-inspired fragrances to its catalogue over the years. Rose Volupté is a reworking of the earlier Vintage Rose: it’s a dusky, plummy rose surrounded by amber and woods. It’s a perfect cold-weather rose.
A sales associate in an upscale department store once regaled me with a tale of a member of a Middle Eastern royal family who spritzed Une Rose into the air, sniffed it, and ordered nine bottles for her various residences. The story may have been apocryphal, but it fits the fragrance. Une Rose is a lush, wine-like rose with a deep, root-y “truffle accord.” If it were a flower, it would have thorns as well as velvety petals.
If money is really no object, you could indulge in this East-meets-West tapestry of rich, creamy rose and other florals (geranium, ylang ylang), spices (cardamom, cinnamon, etc.), frankincense, sandalwood, and many, many other notes captured in a deep red bottle. Lyric is complex and demands an emotional response. Its $300-plus price tag may evoke an entirely different set of emotions.
Of course, an enjoyable rose fragrance doesn’t have to cost a king’s ransom. Tea Rose was popular in the 1980s and early 1990s, and it’s still around, for less than $15. It can feel oddly prim and strident at the same time, but it’s pretty, and it’s worth giving a try if you’re in the mood for a bit of nostalgia.
We’ve certainly all grumbled over the high prices currently being charged for uninspired fruitchoulis and fleurmands at department stores these days. Yves Rocher’s Rose Absolue was developed by the same perfumer who created 2000 et Une Rose / Mille et Une Roses for Lancôme, and it’s a good-quality nouveau rose (ambery-sweet, with a dash of patchouli) at a bargain price.
Crabtree & Evelyn’s signature English-garden sensibility means that we’ve always been able to find one or two rose-based scents on its tidy shelves. Rosewater Eau de Toilette is a sheer, cheerful blend of rose with peonies and light leafy notes. It can even be paired with a full line of matching bath-and-body products. After all, rose happens to work beautifully as a scent for toiletries as well as perfume.
Of course, this isn’t the final word on rose fragrances; I’ll probably think of a few other must-trys as soon as this list has been posted. Do feel free to share your own suggestions in the comments!
1. If I were including discontinued fragrances, I’d begin with Creed Fleur de Thé Rose Bulgare, which was my favorite true, fresh rose soliflore for several years. I scored a new tester bottle on some discounter website years ago; I loved it, I used it up, and I’ll never have it again. Alas.
2. My grandmother wore Caron Bellodgia, and I came to love its spicy-sweet, rose-carnation composition in my thirties. I even wore it on my wedding day. However, it has been reformulated to the point where I can’t honestly recommend it. Such a shame.