La Vie En Rose

An ex­plo­ration of the multifacet­ed rose in per­fumery

Solitaire (Singapore) - - Contents - Words by Christo­pher Chong

An ex­plo­ration of the multifacet­ed Rose in per­fumery

There is per­haps no flower or in­gre­di­ent in per­fumery that is more im­por­tant than the rose. In some scents, it is the key cen­tre­piece in the heart – the essence of fem­i­nin­ity. In oth­ers, it is the fra­grance’s in­vis­i­ble aura. I re­call the first time I smelled rose ab­so­lute oil and I was im­me­di­ately filled with joy and love, as my en­coun­ters with rose were limited to culi­nary experience­s. I had just started my per­fumery train­ing at that time and rose was one of the first few in­gre­di­ents that in­trigued me with its multi-faceted note.

On my jour­ney with the scent, I dis­cov­ered that roses cul­ti­vated for use in per­fumery breathes a dif­fer­ent space com­pared to those used for cut flow­ers dur­ing Valen­tine’s Day, as well as those grown in large-scale nurs­eries for retail pur­poses. While rose cul­ti­va­tors con­stantly ex­per­i­mented with new hy­brids, the va­ri­ety of roses used to make per­fumes to­day have sur­pris­ingly not dif­fered much since an­tiq­uity. To­day, the per­fume in­dus­try mainly uses two types of roses for cre­ation: The honey-scented, spiced Rosa dam­a­s­cena and the sparkling, del­i­cate Rosa cen­tifo­lia, which is also known as Rose de Mai in Grasse, be­cause of its blos­som­ing sea­son in May. The dam­a­s­cena va­ri­ety, orig­i­nat­ing from the Mid­dle East and now grown largely in Bul­garia, Turkey and Iran, ac­counts for more than 90% of the world’s pro­duc­tion of rose oil, while the more del­i­cate cen­tifo­lia con­trib­utes to the re­main­ing por­tion. To put things in per­spec­tive, the lat­ter’s essence is what makes Chanel No.5 spe­cial and iconic.

The two types of rose pro­vide a pal­ette of colours for me to paint my vi­sion. From a creamy rose to a trans­par­ent crys­talline rose, the vari­a­tions in their fra­grances are as imag­i­na­tive as the mind can be. It is the clever play of the nu­ances in rose that give rise to a dra­matic range of rose per­fumes.

Take for ex­am­ple Paris, which is Sophia Gro­js­man’s iconic per­fume for Yves Saint Lau­rent. It is a bom­bas­tic ro­se­vi­o­let com­bi­na­tion com­posed in 1983, par­al­lel­ing the su­perla­tive fash­ion and mu­sic of its time. Paris makes its pres­ence known by ra­di­at­ing pro­fusely in all cor­ners; but on skin, it blooms like a sur­re­al­ist rose gar­den blos­som­ing at its peak. If that sounds too loud for you, a re­al­is­tic paint­ing of a rose

like An­nick Goutal’s Rose Ab­solue is an ex­cel­lent de­pic­tion of some­thing more pure. The other rose-driven scent in the same range is Rose Splen­dide, which sparkles more beau­ti­fully. It is rem­i­nis­cent of English tea roses with over­tones of leafy green notes, all while lin­ger­ing del­i­cately on the skin.

On days when my home gar­den is filled with fra­grance, I re­alise noth­ing beats the smell of nat­u­ral rose and I start look­ing for an art­ful yet sim­ple de­pic­tion of it. This min­i­mal­ist treat­ment of rose can be smelled in Her­mès’ Rose Ike­bana, where the flo­ral note is light­ened and sheered by a com­bi­na­tion of grape­fruit and tea tones, re­sult­ing in an al­most trans­par­ent ef­fect.

Once the fa­mil­iar, per­fected rose theme has been ex­plored widely in mod­ern per­fumery, it takes cre­ativ­ity and courage to cre­ate some­thing new and dar­ing to sur­prise – or even shock. This brings to mind Serge Lutens’ Rose de Nuit, a rose-chypre com­po­si­tion. Its beauty lies in its por­trayal of a fresh translu­cent flo­ral melt­ing into a cre­pus­cu­lar scent. What you would ex­pect in a rose, the sweet­ness, flo­ralcy, and pow­der­i­ness is twisted in an un­sus­pected dark and con­trast­ing di­rec­tion.

When I am not study­ing, in­ter­pret­ing, or work­ing with the scent, I take the time to ac­tu­ally stop and smell the roses and in­dulge in a bit of in­tro­spec­tion.

It is on rare oc­ca­sions like this that a par­tic­u­lar line from “It Felt Love” by Per­sian poet Hafiz comes to mind: “How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty?” For with­out the rose, the world would per­haps smell a lit­tle less ro­man­tic.

“From a creamy rose to a trans­par­ent crys­talline rose, the vari­a­tions in their fra­grances are as imag­i­na­tive as the mind can be.”

Paris by YSL

Rose Ike­bana by Her­mès

Rose Ab­solue by An­nick Goutal

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