My roses have begun to be acclimated to the new garden and one has bloomed. It is such a pretty thing and the scent is so different from what rises out of perfume bottles that I am compelled to write about rose fragrances and how often they seem to go wrong when transplanted to human skin.
The rose in these pictures is David Austin’s Winchester Cathedral a white sport (A spontaneous change in flower, appearing on an established variety. It’s an odd term I know.) from his well known Mary Rose. Winchester has a smell that is not at all like what wafts from perfume counters.
There is something earthy and creamy, something faintly like the best soap, and something that reminds me of baby diapers. In short, this is a rose scent
that is intensely mortal. This scent reminds me too of hawthorn in bloom, and there is always that scatole element there, something I used to describe as “what died in the hedgerow?”
Nothing has died in the petals of this rose, but Winchester distinctly has that fleshy emanation, that little reminder that nothing lasts, not a conviction, not a life time, and not a rose in a glass. What is immortal about roses is their underlying similarity. Despite the fact that roses have such a tremendous range of smells in their repertoire, you always know that you have a rose under your nose. The only credible mimic is geranium, and even there, you sometimes get tipped off that it’s an imposter. How? Well, let’s say it’s remarkably like the mistakes that perfumers make when they imitate roses, there;s too much prettiness, and not enough beauty. Beauty has mistakes in it, prettiness, like gemutlichkeit, is faultless and therefore trivial.
Real roses, like Winchester Cathedral have this extra something, something, scata- logical, something odd, something disproportionate, like Sophia Loren’s long nose, or Audrey Hepburn’s big feet, that set off its startling loveliness. In short there has to be a bit of ugly in there.
Lately perfume roses seem to be the last survivors of the great chypre massacre. You still have oud and wood formulas with rose in the heart, cf, Guerlain’s Rose Barbare, Rose Nacree, Portrait of a Lady, Teo Cabanel’s Oha, and so forth. They are inclined to pair rose with something dry and heavy, usually wood, and while I like the pairing, wouldn’t some real rose be a break from all this?
It would but…which rose to emulate, and how do you recreate that perfume? Sa Majeste la Rose was one of my big disappointments because I felt the rose was static. Equally I found the splendid old Creed Fleur de Te Rose Bulgare a flat rendition. Roses are not suspended in time nor are they two dimensional. Does anyone do a rose that isn’t? Does anyone do a rose in the round?
My own candidate is Une Rose, the Eduoard Flechier Rose from the Frederic Malle line but as Mals from The Muse in Wooden Shoes has remarked, UR has a very menacing synthetic in it which can be down right off putting, and I find something similar which makes me cough in Diptyque’s Eau de Rose. Still, the Flechier composition comes closest to the rose as ideal. For one thing, Malle himself puts his finger on the point of perfume,”…a true perfume must seem to emerge from the skin of the person who wears it.” he writes in On Perfume Making, and he’s quite right.
Une Rose began anyway with an earth accord which came, Malle says from an experiment in recreating the smell of a truffle. The earth, garlic and nuttiness needed to be changed slightly, and when that happened, Flechier felt that he had a wonderful base accord. He and Malle then decided to pair it with a beautiful Turkish rose molecularly distilled essence that made this rose one of the densest, most intense, but also epidermally friendly fragrances ever composed.
Here is the kicker though, this rose is a rose for anyone with the skin to carry such a thickly petalled bloom, because there is absolutely nothing gender specific about this rose. This is simply a human rose, in the round. Have you found a perfectly wearable rose?