As someone who didn’t really wear fragrances a few years ago, I have been on a real scent journey, and now it’s an area of the beauty industry i’m loving exploring. The scents I gravitate to most often are rose fragrances. To me, rose is an elegant, refined, feminine and calming scent. I wanted to share my current rose fragrance loves with you, and also share such an interesting chat I had with a perfumier about rose scents and how we respond to scent as humans.I love lighter rose fragrances for during the day (e.g. Jo Malone Red Rose, or Jo Loves White Rose and Lemon) and heavier, muskier rose scents in the evening – such as Jo Malone Velvet Rose and Oud* (£75 from Jo Malone). I only discovered Velvet Rose and Oud around a month ago, when my previous Jo Malone Cologne Intense, Jasmin Sambac and Marigold, reached its end. I am obsessed with Velvet Rose and Oud – to me, it’s such a sexy, romantic, feminine and luxurious scent. It has a smoky depth to it – something which I love in Jasmin Sambac and Marigold – that makes it the perfect fragrance for a night out. This rich fragrance has Damask rose, smoky oud wood, clove and praline. I was so surprised to find that there were cloves in this, as it’s a scent I despise. Luckily, I can’t smell that aspect of the fragrance.I also love scenting my home with rose fragrances. Most of the candles I choose either has a rose base or a lavender base. At the moment, i’m loving the Norfolk Natural Living Rose Garden Diffuser Oil Set* (£27 from Norfolk Natural Living). You get enough of the beautiful rose oil to fill at least three diffuser bottles, so it will last for around 6 months. The scent is light, but beautiful and it’s such a cost-effective way to scent your home with your favourite floral!
As part of my continuing perfume exploration/journey, I had such an interesting chat with perfumier Spyros Drosopoulos. He quit the world of academia 10 years ago in order to pursue full-time perfumery career. He is one of very few self-taught perfumers in the world. He has a PhD in Neuroscience and worked as a lecturer/researcher at the University of Amsterdam. He is fascinated by our how our brains respond to scents, and is a fountain of knowledge on the perfume industry as a whole. I wanted to share some of his insights with you.
What is the difference between luxury and high-street fragrances?
Well let’s first tackle the term “high-street” fragrances. It’s a fragrance that can be found in almost any department store or drug store. “Luxury” is a pretty subjective, relative term that I personally dislike and try to avoid at all costs when describing brands. Anything can be considered a luxury. To me, luxury is more of a mood rather than a hefty price-tag! Most high-street fragrances also label themselves as “luxury”. I think when people talk about “luxury” they are actually referring to niche brands.
A few years ago, I think I would have confidently said that the difference between niche and high-street is in the quality and creativity, but this is no longer the case. The boundaries have become really blurred in recent years as more niche brands appeared on the market in hope of making big profit margins. The main distinction between the two today is in advertising budgets and retail price points. Niche luxury brands usually have a much smaller budget for advertising than high-street brands and don’t tend to run huge ad campaigns involving celebrities, but instead rely on word of mouth. Price often tends to be higher because niche-luxury brands are aiming at a slightly different demographic than your average consumer. However, the high price is unfortunately no longer indicative of the quality.
Nevertheless, I think there is something for everyone in both niche and high-street sectors – it just depends on what you are looking for.How does scent affect people’s mood?
Significantly! Scent is the sense that has the strongest link to memory so it’s no wonder that it also has an effect on our mood. Most of the time, that effect is totally subconscious. Businesses and various enterprises are beginning to realise that too, which is why fragrance has become such a powerful marketing tool. A colleague recently told me about an experiment that was carried out a few years back in a children’s store. Researchers observed that diffusing an aroma similar to Haribo strawberry sweets encouraged purchases for pleasure such as lip gloss and cuddly toys. However, diffusing the smell of laundry detergent lead to functional purchases such as socks and underwear.
The research in that field has been ongoing since the 80s. In perfumery this type of research is referred to as “mood mapping”. In a nutshell, it involves providing volunteers participating in the research with various aroma molecules (natural and synthetic) and then getting them to plot on a diagram their positive/ negative emotions triggered by the fragrance as well as getting them to jot down colour, texture and attributes that they spontaneously associate with the fragrances. Clinique’s perfume Happy was created with the help of a mood-mapped database like that.
What emotions and responses does a rose fragrance trigger in people? Why is rose a relaxing, calming scent?
Roses have a very particular aroma that is often associated with passion and romance. Maybe that’s why a lot of people find rose to be arousing and stimulating (myself included). Some people find rose to be a relaxing scent but it’s not the case for everyone. As I’ve already mentioned, the connection between scent and memory is very strong. So, let’s say, when you were a child, you had a horrible aunt who used to grow roses in her garden or wore a rosey perfume. In that case I think you will struggle to associate the smell of roses with relaxation. But generally speaking, it is true that rose is often used in aromatherapy as a mood enhancer. Whether it does lead to relaxation, is hard to say actually as there are not that many studies available that demonstrate the link. I found one study from 2009 that shows that participants in the study showed a decrease of breathing rate, blood oxygen saturation and systolic blood pressure after inhaling some Rose Damascena Oil through breathing masks, as well as reporting a more calm, relaxed mood. However, that was a small study of 40 people and I am not sure how much other research there has been into the topic. If rose fragrances make you feel sexy, relaxed and calm, I say, just enjoy them!
How are rose fragrances made?
In the same way as any other perfume – through trial and error. In order to create a good perfume, a perfumer can easily spend a year working on one formula going through hundreds of different modifications. Patience is definitely an important quality if you want to be a perfumer. Any perfume is a mixture of what we in the industry refer to as “raw materials”. Raw materials can either come from natural sources (such as rose essential oil or rose absolute which are extracts from rose flowers and hence are mixtures of molecules) or can be of synthetic origin (single molecules).
When it comes to naturals, the difference between rose absolute and rose essential oil is in different extraction methods. Rose essential oil is steam distilled, and rose absolute is obtained through solvent extraction. They smell very different too. Rose essential oil loses some of its aroma molecules which are soluble in water in the process of steam distillation such as Phenethyl alcohol (also known as PEA). This is why rose water that is commonly used for flavouring and cosmetics is so abundant, and you can find it in almost any supermarket. It’s because it is the by-product of rose essential oil distillation. Because rose essential oil loses some of those molecules, it doesn’t really smell like a living rose. You couldn’t really make a true rose perfume out of just rose essential oil. You would need to add some (synthetic) molecules that got lost in the process (such as PEA) to make it smell like a real rose.
Rose absolute smells different and looks different. It’s a viscous reddish brownish liquid that is obtained through solvent extraction. Its smell is more earthy, honey-like and more full-bodied. And still it doesn’t really smell like an actual rose.
So, if a perfumer wants to make a rose fragrance and to use either rose essential oil or rose absolute in the formula, he/she will still need to add some synthetic molecules to the blend in order to make it smell more realistic, recognizable, and more “alive”.
Of course, it is totally possible to make a good rose perfume out of just synthetic molecules. The higher the proportion of naturals in your concentrate, the higher the cost of the fragrance will be. Naturals are superbly complex, rich smells. But they are not cheap and their extraction is labour and energy-intensive. The current price for French rose (centifolia) absolute is around €17400 per kilogram and around €11000 per kilo of essential oil. The quality can also vary greatly depending on the harvest and the soil etc. Hence, it’s difficult to predict a steady supply and steady price of the same material if you are turning out huge volumes of a perfume such as J’Adore for example.
A trick that’s often used by perfumers who don’t have a big budget but still want to use a natural in a rose perfume is to use geranium essential oil which costs around €80-90 per kilo (because geranium and rose actually share a lot of the same chemical components) and then they add some synthetic molecules to make it smell more like a rose.
In order to make a rose perfume, the perfumer (and the client who is commissioning the fragrance) needs to determine what kind of rose they want to create. Without boring anybody with excessive technical details, a rose flower consists of 4 categories of aroma chemicals which are called rose alcohols, ionones, damascones and eugenol (for reference: the cloves that you put in your mulled wine consist mostly of eugenol). By varying the proportions in which those four categories are used, the perfumer can create any kind of rose he/she may desire; powdery, bright, juicy, watery, you name it! And voilá – that’s how a rose fragrance is made!Can you recommend some true rose perfumes on the market?
It depends on what is meant by “true” rose. If we are talking about a perfume that contains actual rose extract in the formula, then I would recommend – Indigo by Baruti. And the reason why I’m recommending it is because I wrote the formula and I can guarantee that it contains rose absolute from Morocco and rose oil from Greece. It opens with a fresh mastic note (a type of resin which we source from Greece) and then on the skin it develops into a rose and a few other notes.
With many perfumes on the market, it’s sometimes hard to tell (even for a trained perfumer) if there is actual rose inside or if it is a synthetic reconstruction. If you are looking for a rose perfume that is bright, youthful and uplifting, I would recommend Eau de Protection by Etat Libre d’Orange. Narcisso Rodriguez for Her is a different kind of rose – powdery, musky, and quite gentle.
Also, Andy Tauer a niche perfumer from Switzerland has a fragrance called Phi-Une Rose de Kandahar which is said to be built around a natural rose oil from Afghanistan.
Gender in perfume – is it necessary? Is rose a feminine scent?
Gender is perfume was invented in order to sell more bottles of perfume. By saying that something is either feminine or masculine you can sell twice as many bottles. As a result, there are several generations of men who are terrified to wear anything remotely floral and several generations of women who are scared to wear anything that could be perceived as too masculine. So, no, gender in perfume is an obsolete concept and I’m very happy to see that more and more people are willing to be more experimental with the scents that they wear.
As far as whether rose is a feminine scent or not, i’d say absolutely not! In fact, in the Middle East, rose is commonly worn by men (but also by women). Oud and rose is a classic combination in the Middle East used not just in perfume but also in Bukhour (incense) which people use to scent their homes.
When travelling around the Middle East a few years ago, I found out a fun fact. Did you know that wealthy Middle Eastern men drink a spoon of rose oil as a natural Viagra/aphrodisiac?
What innovations can we expect in the fragrance industry/fragrance production over the next few years?
Personalisation is becoming a strong trend in perfumery as people want to have a stronger bond with the product that they are wearing. Consumers are showing an increasingly strong interest in how perfumes are made and in services such as “bespoke perfumery” where you get a perfume made for you from pre-mixed aroma mixtures. However, I think the real future lies in Artificial Intelligence. One of the projects I am currently involved in entails developing an AI machine which will be able to create perfumes for people based on their personalities.
To summarise the project, the machine is supposed to give consumers more control over what they smell like. The perfume industry is large but is for the most part controlled by a very small handful of individuals, a very small number of perfumers who create fragrances for various brands in the industry (that quite often end up smelling very similar). Scentronix (the name of the company behind the machine) would like to change that by creating a consumer experience where people will be able to walk into a store where the machine will be set up and design their own scent. The machine will ask you to fill out an extensive questionnaire, and the AI algorithm will interpret who you are and make you your own personalised scent based on your responses. The machine is still in its developmental stage but has already been successfully tried and tested during several festivals around the world. I really believe this could be a game-changer for the whole industry.
This post contains press samples, but all opinions are my own.
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