Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Winter Rose (Seasonal rose series)

Briar Rose (Illustration Arthur Rackham)
How do you feel about rose perfumes? Some people perceive rose as a 'Grandmother' note, but this is mostly because of changing perfume fashions and consequent associations. (I'll save that thorny topic for another post).

Suffice to say, two factors have revolutionised the rose in contemporary perfume; Stella McCartney's rose/patchouli best seller Stella, and the rise of niche perfumery and a resurgent interest in the perfumes of the Middle East.

Middle Eastern perfumers mastered the art of the rose perfume back in the mists of time while Europeans were still strangers to the notion of bathing, never mind perfumery. What can I say in the Northern European's defense? It was too cold to bathe until central heating was brought to us by the Romans! Eastern perfumery was originally about religious ritual and perfumed smoke was used to scent clothes rather than skin, even now many Arabian people will scent clothes and hair alone.

Perhaps it behoves me to write about a winter rose perfume, given that my name is Rose and I was born in winter! But mostly I'm going to write about rose perfumes in seasonal categories because there's such a vast, perplexing range.

As far as flowers in perfumery go, I can't think of a flower that has such myriad perfumery moods. Roses in the wild or on the stem smell, well, rosy - with variations on a similar theme. But in perfumery it's far from simple. I love the scent of real roses, in particular the scent of Zephirine Drouhin  - an astonishingly rich-scented deep pink rose. I also love the scent of  Rose Otto (rose extract) from the Bulgarian Rose (otherwise known as Damascena or Centifolia) whose aroma varies from Turkish Delight-like to wine-like and boozy. But of this last variety I've only ever really experienced it in perfumery, also Turkish Delight and rose-flavoured ice-cream from my local Indian grocers! The Tea Rose is one most UK noses will be familiar with - they're almost lemon or apple-scented and originated in the snowy mountains of China, hence their affinity with the cooler UK climate.

It's probably easy to see why the deep, rich Turkish delight or wine-scented Bulgarian Rose lends itself to winter perfumes despite its warmer-climate origins; paired with amber (wood resins), cedar or patchouli, it holds its own in a way the Tea Rose doesn't, not to my nose at least.

I feel that a winter rose has to be intense to release its aroma in chilly weather, and moody, to reflect the dark skies. It has to reflect the formal, rich textures of winter clothing and isn't about the carefree, flesh-revealing mood of summer 

Here are my perfume favourites based on the idea of a winter rose:


Portrait of a Lady, Frederic Malle
This was my first experience of a rose/oud perfume. Oud, or Aoud, is an Arabian perfume note derived from a fungus that grows on Agar wood. Its scent can be medicinal, woody and various other descriptors, but most of all it's pungent, slightly hard-edged and very distinct. In Portrait of a Lady it's paired with high levels of excellent quality rose absolutes, patchouli, red berries, woods and musk. To say it's pungent is an understatement - of all my perfumes this wins out on longevity, to the extent that I only needed to buy a 10ml roller-ball decant as I'd be wary of the randomness of spray with this ferocious perfume. Just as well because it's pricy. PoaL requires just a couple of dabs on the wrist - any more and someone might report you to your local Council

To me it conjures up wooden chests discovered in an ancient castle, filled with red damask and dried rose petals. The red berries note is a surprise - sweetening the perfume yet further adding to its deep-red baroque mood. On skin it heats up to produce a strangely soapy note. It's hot soap though, glowing fresh from a shower, but at the same time decidedly Gothic. If Cathy from Wuthering Heights had a smell this would be it, rain soaked, wind torn, earthy, wild roses and lips stained from wild blackberries. PoaL can be worn by men too, many do wear it, so you can also throw Heathcliffe into this slightly alarming Gothic mix. However, once sniffed, it becomes very more-ish, hovering around you like a rose on fire.
Notes: Rose, patchouli, incense, raspberry, sandalwood, blackcurrant, benzoin, cloves, cinnamon, amber, musk

Voleur de Roses by L'Artisan
This rose/patchouli scent is in a slightly similar vein to Portrait of a Lady, though I'd say less ferocious due to plum in place of red berries (plum tends to be a more relaxed boozy note in perfumes, depending on how it's handled). The rose is more wine-like too and while there's an earthy/soily patchouli there's no oud, which is what gives PoaL its challenging edge and over all this is more relaxed and sensual in mood though far less complex and interesting. On a Goth-meter it wouldn't tip the scale quite like PoaL but it's fairly moody, gentler in dry-down
Patchouli, rose , plum 

Temple Priestesses

Epic Woman, by Amouage Perfumes 
I'll say straight away that this is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful scents I've experienced.

When I heard the name 'Epic Woman', I suppose I cynically imagined Amouage's idea of an epic female to be a pampered lady dripping with diamonds and fur, reclining in the back of her chauffeur-driven car. (Amouage are a high-end perfumery company based in Oman). Luxury for the sake of status alone is pretty repugnant, but Amouage give their carefully selected perfumers an unrestricted budget when it comes to perfume materials, so it would be pretty depressing if they came up with a dud.

Epic has everything, as though on its travels it's picked up every beautiful impression then woven it into the most evocative, exotic and perfectly blended incense ever. In this case the concept of 'Epic' conjures a woman of legend - a poet, warrior, artist and traveller as well as your standard beautiful princess, though the purity of this perfume conjures up Priestess more than Princess

The drydown at first reminded me of the sweet ash left after burning high quality rose incense, and I had to wear this a few evenings to notice its other more subtle facets. I found myself sniffing around for the source of a milky/creamy, sweet incense quality that was drifting around my nose and realised it was Epic. I think it's due to the rose-dominant floral blend, iris-root (orris) and high quality vanilla.

Epic starts with a rich incense/rose/oud, slightly medicinal (Frankincense) and with an intensity that initially reminds me of Portrait of a Lady. But into its heart it becomes far softer and more, well, elegant than PoaL and it veers more to the feminine side. (having said that, on a male friend it retained its medicinal facets into the dry-down, whereas it became softer on my skin)

Epic is probably the most balanced perfume I've ever tried. At the moment I have a small decant, but a full bottle, at about the same price as a decent pair of boots, is worth the price I think!
Notes: Caraway, pink pepper , cinnamon
Rose, geranium, jasmine, tea.
Amber, vanilla, incense, orris root, patchouli, agarwood (oud)

Al Kaaba, by Al Haramein
Another rose/aoud/amber. Al Kaaba is a surprise for the Western nose. Its particular oud makes it smell, quite frankly, like a swimming pool on first application (another roller-ball decant to be applied with caution!). It takes a full hour to heat up to a quite lovely treacle-scented rose. But it does retain a slightly hard-edged feel, which is perhaps only fitting for a perfume that refers to spiritual pilgrimage - it shouldn't come easily. I rarely feel like wearing this but I like having it. It's outstandingly inexpensive too
Notes: Rose, amber, oud

Woolen Muffler

Hiroko Koshino, by Hiroko Koshino
The name alone begins to conjure up a Japanese aesthetic, and it is in many ways. It's a perfume about natural and pure essences of nature, and it has a very light incense quality that's more Japan than India. But put the name aside and this is also very reminiscent, to my nose, of high quality rose pot-pourri. Proper pot-pourri has a chypre-like (resins, oakmoss and bergamot) accord thanks to oakmoss. The general feel is dry and light yet complex. Wearing this perfume I was transported to an ancient mansion house in York I visited some years ago, which was restored exactly as it would have been in the 16th cent. All around was the scent of aged wood, old Turkish carpets and a dried damask rose scent from the pot-pourri made from an Elizabethan recipe. Hiroko Koshino also has a natural ambrette musk (made from the Musk Mallow plant) which always gives an old fashioned hazy air to a perfume - what I'd describe as a clean cat fur quality. So it's this, and the sense of warm wood and dried rose, that gives this perfume its calming, cosy wool feel.
Notes: Cassis, green tea, rose, camellia, amber seeds, lotus, lily of the valley, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia, incense, Tonka, cedar, Guaiac wood, patchouli, sandalwood and agar wood.

Parfum Sacre, by Caron
For all its spicy notes, Parfum Sacre dries down to a light rose/soft incense sort of perfume. It's beautifully blended and has a very pretty, soapy rose.The spices are well blended and warm, not at all harsh. As it warms on skin the rose and black pepper become far more soft. There's a distinct touch of smoke, or incense smoke, in Parfum Sacre, hence why the title refers to a sacred perfume and the scent of holy rituals perhaps. But this isn't a Catholic Mass, it's on a more introspective, intimate scale somehow, and perhaps this is why I associate the gorgeous soft rose/wood incense with woolen mufflers - walking through the woods on a frosty day with the faint smell of woodsmoke in the air. 
Notes: Myrhhr, rose, pepper, cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon, musk, clove, jasmine, mimosa, orange


  1. I loved your rose post. I'm a fan of all its varieties but I do lust for Portrait of a Lady. I only have a small sample but it is fairly potent so I don't think I'll be getting a bottle. I probably would though if it was a bit less pricy!

  2. Thanks Megan! I also have just a decant roller-ball of PoaL, I'd be wary of a spray, and it's too expensive yes. I wish they'd bring out 15 or 30 ml bottles, they'd sell well I think - probably they want to be exclusive but it just means that we folks on an ordinary income seek decants!