New generation rose perfumes and candles for Mother’s Day gifts
When Gertrude inserted that waltz line—”Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”—into a 1913 poem, she knew she had landed on something universal. She recycled the phrase over and over again, tapping into the flower’s meaning of beauty, ubiquity and eternity. “Civilization begins with a rose,” she later wrote, establishing her as a sort of matriarch; ditto the genesis of the perfume. But for all the ancient trivia – the Romans perfumed the wings of doves with rose water as an animated Febreze; Cleopatra used rose petals to lure Mark Antony in a proto-honeymoon sequel gesture – the dominant association is not millennial but two-generation. The rose belongs to Grandma.
Courteney Cox talks about it in a Zoom chat about Homecourt, her line of home care products that showcases the work of master perfumers. Steeped Rose is one of four scents delivered by room mist, dish soap and counter spray (like her Friends character, Monica, Cox is a fingerprint freak). Neither powdery nor sweet, it doesn’t register as “what you would imagine the smell of a grandma’s house to be,” she says, praising the scent’s dimensionality. “It’s the stem, it’s the leaves, it’s the petals – everything you think real roses smell like.”
Where does this bad reputation come from? We think of potpourri in cut crystal bowls and soaps in the shape of rosettes, which are too pretty to use. A 1935 photograph of a future Elizabeth II, wearing a frilly dress and ankle socks with a bouquet of roses, captures the vintage glitz. Harold McGee, the wizard behind Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the Smells of the World, notes that damascenone, a molecule found in the precious damask rose, is “one of the dominant aromas in baked apples” – a cross, perhaps, between grandma’s perfume and pie. But Brooklyn-based DS & Durga nose David Moltz ignores the anti-granny stance as some kind of posturing, learned distaste. His Salt Marsh Rose candle – “quite symphonic,” Moltz says of its “swampy, mossy” notes – is an example of what he means when he argues for a “modern, understated use of classic, beautiful fragrance materials. “. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater makes no sense.
Judging by the proliferation of new generation roses, this is a growing opinion. The Boy Smells Rosalita candle is inspired by saffron and cedar for an earthy riff. Raving Rose, from Dries Van Noten’s debut fragrance line, goes rogue with a double hit of pepper (black, pink) – a rose scent that would give you a metaphorical “kick in the face”, says the designer of its original brief to perfumers. Tom Ford turned to his Los Angeles rose garden – planted in a gradation of colors, with his least favourite, red, at the back – for a trio of scents, including Rose d’Amalfi with its heliotrope note similar to that of marzipan. Meanwhile, perfumer Olivier Polge unveiled the “fresh, lemony, slightly metallic” qualities of Damask Rose for Paris-Paris, the last entry of the month in Les Eaux de Chanel. Polge has no complex with Rose; since her father worked as Chanel’s nose for 37 years, the grandmothers of Polge’s family simply wore the fashion house’s fragrances.
For actress Michelle Pfeiffer, who runs her own perfume brand Henry Rose, her father’s Old Spice is an olfactory muse. But the new Sheep’s Clothing is a musky departure, with a “pink pepper dust on naive rose.” If that should trigger a whiff of nostalgia, all the better, says Sable Yong, co-host of the fragrance podcast feel later: “Our digital age is changing so rapidly.” A proverbial slowdown is in order.
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