Roses: aphorisms say to stop and smell them, to realize that by any other name they’d smell as sweet. And the practice of using their scent as a desirable addition to man’s natural musk is not a new one: in ancient Rome, roses were signs of luxury and power; Emperor Nero was known to shower guests in their petals. But roses also bring with them an aphorism that isn’t so sweet: beware the thorns. Applied to fragrances, the thorn is the edgy olfactory element that makes a rose scent complex and, if used judiciously, good for a masculine scent. If used poorly, it can scar with an overly feminine sweetness.
Rose scents for men are trending (just ask GQ, Elle and Details), but are by no means mainstream. Perfume houses are taking the traditional rose scent and interspersing it with other fragrance notes, resulting in smells that are symphonic, playing on opposite, complementary and transitional flavors. Each fragrance takes the wearer through a different experience, from an English garden to smoky woods, so different olfactory stories are told with each scent. Find the one that best suits you, and embrace the intoxicating effects of love’s most iconic flower.
A Note on Notes
Like wine or a musical arrangement, fragrances possess notes that work together to form a composition. Typically, three notes work together to form an overall impression that changes from first spray to end-of-wear. The following explanation draws from the chapter “Perfume Qualities” in Bruce Goldstein’s 2010 textbook, Encyclopedia of Perception, Vol. I. The top or head note of a fragrance refers to the small, volatile molecules that make up its first impression. As these molecules evaporate — “anywhere from two minutes to 11 hours after the application of a perfume” — the middle or heart notes can be sensed. As the middle notes disappear, the base notes have full rein. In contrast to the molecules of the top notes, the molecules of the base notes are heavy, sometimes lasting for over 24 hours.
Byredo Rose Noir
Light, then Dark: Rose Noir, made by Stockholm-based company Byredo, creates an experience of being wooed. Byredo calls it “decadent and dirty,” and even “animalistic.” The first impression is a crisp citrus that does not overpower. Floral notes are light, like rose water. Then comes the “animalistic” quality: something musky and earthy emerges, but the rose scent remains. The result is a complex, textured scent.
Notes: Top: grapefruit and freesia; Heart: rose damascena; Base: cistus, moss, musk.
Le Labo Rose 31
Big Start, Smooth Finish: You’d be hard pressed to find a roundup of rose fragrances without seeing Le Labo’s Rose 31. Le Labo’s aim is to turn the classically feminine idea of the rose into “an assertively virile fragrance” suited for both sexes. The result is a dance between feminine and masculine. It starts sweet and thick, transitioning to a smoky, woodsy scent of cedar and roses. Rather than leaving the top notes behind, Le Labo compounds upon them. The scent is like walking past a pile of smoky cedar, with notes of spicy, warm vanilla, musk and a hint of rose.
Notes: Top: rose and caraway; Heart: rose, vetiver and cedar; Base: musk, guaiac wood, olbanum, labanum and agarwood (oud).
Diptyque L’Ombre dans L’eau
Clean and Green: Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’eau is technically a rose fragrance, but it’s more stem than flower. Diptyque describes it as “a walk in an English garden”. It’s light and green without much texture. Within seconds of wear, as the scent transitions through blackcurrant to rose and musk, it stays clean — roses are distinct yet soft, and it remains grassy, green and floral, with the slight nuance of sea-salted air.
Notes: Top: grape; Heart: blackcurrant, blackcurrant leaf; Base: rose, musk.
Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady
Spring Day to Spring Night: Frederick Malle’s Portrait of a Lady is a hard-won mixture; the company claims that hundreds of trials were necessary to create a balanced fragrance, and that it contains the “strongest ever dosage of rose essence and patchouli heart”. The scent opens with rose. It has body to it — it’s clean and spicy, carried along by sandalwood incense. Despite the spice, it smells unmistakably like a spring day. After a few moments of wear, amber and a slight whiff of patchouli turn a spring day into a spring night.
Notes: Top: cinnamon, raspberry; Middle: rose, sandalwood incense; Base: amber, patchouli.
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Lumiere Noire
Spicy and Sweet: Francis Kurkdjian, creator of fragrances for brands like Versace and Dior (before he started creating his own), introduces Lumiere Noire. The fragrance plays on opposites: as its namesake suggests, light and dark play back and forth, as do spicy and sweet. The rose component of the Lumiere Noire is slight. It’s first masked by spicy cinnamon and cumin, maybe a hint of sugar. Then come hints of the rose and patchouli. Despite its sweetness, it remains clean, almost like the scent of a barber shop or eau aftershave.
Notes: Top: spiced Bulgarian rose (cumin, pimento); Heart: patchouli; Base: mugwort herb.