The Rose, queen of all flowers

Once a queen, always a queen!

Used since antiquity, by Cleopatra herself, and main element is Aphrodite’s myth, the highly appreciated rose flower has become a universal symbol of love.

The legend tells that the beautiful goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, wounded herself with the thorn from a white rose, which became red tinted by her blood… Until nowadays, red roses symbolize love and passion, while white roses symbolize friendship, innocence and purity.

As you may know, different kinds of roses exist. The most famous ones used in the world of fine fragrance are the Turkish rose or Damask rose, whose Latin name is no other but Rosa damascena, and the May Rose (Rose de Mai or Rose de Grasse in French), whose Latin name is Rosa centifolia.

Even though it bears the name of the capital of Syria, the Damask rose (Turkish rose) is actually believed to come from India. A French knight Robert de Brie brought it to Europe from Persia during the era of the crusades, in the 13thcentury. After that it was introduced in Bulgaria in the 17th century, when the country was under Ottoman rule.

Until now, Bulgaria is one of the main exporters of Damask rose, and the city of Kazanlak, is the capital of their rose producing region, named the “Valley of the Roses”.

Turkey is a fierce competitor, and is also one of the world’s main Damask rose producing countries. Its city Isparta is the capital of the Turkish rose and produces 320 tons of roses each day of the year!

In the perfume for women and men, Rose Shot, the Damask rose essence from Turkey is the star ingredient!

The Turkish Rose essence in the fragrance Rose Shot

The Rose in Rose Shot, is dressed with many raw materials that adorn her with elegance and highlight all her facets.

In Rose Shot, we have very fresh, acidulous start, typical of citrus. This one is particularly lemony, thanks to the essence of Bergamot (Citrus bergamia). We feel immediately the Turkish rose (Rosa damascena) in this complex rose “soliflore” (perfumes olfactively built around a main floral raw material). We encounter a fresh rose, belonging to the "rose essence" type, with a fruity lychee/pear facet and a little artichoke aspect. Lychee and artichoke are representative of natural rose essences and absolutes, unlike synthetic rose recompositions, which do not offer these facets.

Rose essence like the one present in Rose Shot, has more rosy alcohols that are top notes (mainly citronellol and geraniol), while rose absolute is composed mostly of heart notes (phenyl ethyl alcohol). This explains the singular freshness of the rose essence when compared to rose absolute. 

The head of the perfume is also aromatic with a strong peppery side given by the essence of Elemi (Canarium luzonicum) and Pink Berry (Schinus molle), both spicy raw materials with a lemony facet due to their component limonene (also present in citrus raw materials).

In the heart, the White flower lactones are associated with the rose to enhance the floral dimension of the fragrance, and bring a creamy-lactonic aspect.

The base reveals itself gradually, following the freshness of this top noted rose. Atlas Cedarwood (Cedrus atlantica) is recognizable thanks to its milky-sandalwood facet. This one underlines the lactonic white flowers found in the heart. Guaiac wood (Guaiacum sanctum) intensifies the woody base of Rose Shot while offering vanilla and smoky facets, which make it so recognizable and pleasant! Finally, the Tree Moss Absolute (Evernia furfuracea) adds a woody-mossy touch with a slight leathery facet, providing depth to the fragrance.


What do you really know about the origins of the rose?

The word “rose” originates from the Latin word rosa, which comes from Greek ρόδον (rhódon or wródon in Aeolic), itself derived from Old Persian wrd (pronounced wurdi).

As mentioned earlier, the rose has been a symbolic flower for millenniums, starting in ancient Greece and its association with Aphrodite. The flower is even quoted in Homer’s Iliad, when the goddess protects Hector’s body by giving him the "immortal oil of the rose". When the Roman Empire became Christian in the 1st century, it was no other woman than Virgin Mary who was identified with the flower. Rings a bell? That’s why Christians pray to Mary with a rosary! In England, it serves as the national flower since the fifteenth century, and since the 1880s rose is a worldwide known symbol of socialism.

Unsurprisingly, the rose belongs to the Rosa genus and Rosaceae family, and botanically speaking, it is a woody perennial flowering plant. More than three hundred species exist worldwide, in an astonishing range of colors! Grown by Man for ornamental and fragrant purposes for hundreds of years, roses have also been genetically engineered, just like blue roses, which do not exist in nature and whose mysterious blue tint is completely artificial.

When it comes to their birthplace, most rose species are Asian babies as they are endemic to this continent. A minority of species comes from northwestern Africa, North America, and Europe.

Did you ever notice that despite the variety of size and shape that roses offer, the majority of rose flowers each possess only five petals! Do you want to hear another fun fact? The fruit of the rose, a “rose hip” that is mainly produced by wild species (as opposed to domestic cultivars), contains one of the highest proportions of vitamin C out of any plant!

And what about the rose in perfumery?

Now let’s focus on Rose essence and absolute in perfumery! The freshly cut flower is harvested. We obtain a liquid with a fatty phase after steam distillation, and an aqueous phase, which corresponds to rose water (or rose hydrosol), mainly used in cosmetics for its anti-aging and skin soothing properties (among many other virtues). To eliminate the fatty phase, the solution is immersed in alcohol (most likely ethanol), macerated and then glazed at 0°C or 32°F, in order to precipitate all the non-solubilized impurities. The remaining product is filtered to obtain a clear Rose essence.

About two thousand flowers are necessary to obtain one gram of Rose essential oil, which equals to 3-5 tons of petals for 1 kilogram of essence.

If a more opulent product is wanted, a volatile solvent extraction is used to obtain a Rose absolute. When using this method, 400kg of rose petals are required to obtain 1 kilogram of Rose absolute!

The producing regions are, in order of quantity, Bulgaria, Turkey, Morocco, and China (of lesser quality). The two first countries combined produce 80% of the world’s Rose essence supply!

As a perfumery natural raw material, Rose essence and Rose absolute are both heart notes (like most floral ingredients). Rose contains regulated allergens in its essence and absolute, but is self-limited by its high price within a fragrance’s formula. As a matter of fact, its cost ranges from 5000 to 8000 euros per kilogram.

Spotlight on the Damask Rose…

In terms of chemical constitution, the main components of the Damask rose essence are citronellol (30-40%), and geraniol (10-20%), which are called “rosy alcohols” and have a fresh rosy odor, nerol (5-10%), phenyl ethyl alcohol, which has a honey rosy and even reminiscent of wine cork odor, and methyl eugenol (2%), which has a spicy rosy odor. A significant trace component of Rose essence is β-damascenone (0.01%) which possesses a rosy fruity scent.

The scent of the Damask rose essence is obviously rosy and floral, with a honey aspect, and slightly sweet notes. Some essences offer spicy, fruity, or even lemony facets, due to the soil where the roses are grown, which plays an important part in the olfactory rendering of the ingredient.

When compared to its absolute, the variation lies in the main component, in this case phenyl ethyl alcohol, which represents 60 to 80% of Damask rose absolute, making it less volatile than its essence. In terms of olfaction, this means that Rose absolute is not as fresh as its sister essence and offers a thicker honeyed scent.

In Turkey, roses are harvested between May and June during a forty-day flowering season. Rose essence is so volatile that the flowers are manually picked up before or at sunrise. Two distillation methods are used in the country. First, there is the traditional, but hard to find nowadays (mainly in villages), distillations using long-fired crude coppers called Imbeks. Secondly, we have the more common industrial production method, which uses hydro-steam distillations named the Kanas.

…And the delicious May Rose!

 And what about the May rose? When the French city of Grasse established itself as one of the world’s perfumery capital in the 19th century, the production of its iconic rose, the May rose, increased to reach a peak in the 20th century.Nowadays the demand exceeds the supply because only about fifty hectares are dedicated to its production against 700 hectares in the 1900s.

This huge drop in production can be explained by the flower’s fragility, its obsolete hand-harvesting process in a mainly industrialized country where its low yield doesn’t fit a factory-scale production.

Very picky queen flower, the May rose blooms only once a year and you must have guessed when! That’s right, in May! Its delicacy allows it to be used only if picked up on the same day it blossoms.

The May rose is the most prized by perfumers, and especially its absolute, more complex than its essence. 

In terms of chemical constitution, it closely resembles that of Damask rose absolute with phenyl ethyl alcohol being its main ingredient (70%).

Its honeyed floral scent is so sought-after because of its unique rose facet, which distinguishes it from all other roses. From time to time, it can even reveal very particular animal and leathery notes!

In fine perfumery Rose essences and absolutes are used to give a rosy note to a perfume, in floral bouquets, it is often accompanied by Jasmine. In the Lily of the Valley notes (a"mute" flower which is too fragile for its scent to be extracted) it offers a floral-thick aspect. Rose becomes very interesting when combined with Violet, as in the mythical fragrance Paris by Yves Saint Laurent, and is also one of the key materials in feminine Chypre fragrances.

To name a few symbolic perfumes of Rose in the history of modern perfumery, the La Rose Jacques Minot by Coty, a rose soliflore, was created in 1905. Then came a rosy Chypre, in 1973, Coriandre by Jean Couturier, and in 1979 the famous oriental perfume Nahéma by Guerlain.

There are also "rose bases", created to adapt the Rose essence to the price limitations often faced by perfumers (much less in niche perfumery), to the restrictions, and to the variability of the supply. These bases can contain Rose essence, making them more expensive, and can also promote new molecules called "captive bodies".

Queen of all flowers, the rose undoubtedly has been and remains one the most fascinating flowers out there! 

Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio