The arbitrary nature of gender divisions in fragrance becomes obvious as soon as you examine scent habits around the world. Both men and women splash themselves with sharp citrus colognes in Spain. Jasmine attars are shared in India, while rose is a favourite essence among men in the Gulf countries. But try to convince a chap in Europe to don some flowers and you are met with a quizzical look. Aren’t roses just for women?
François Robert, the “nose” behind the niche line Les Parfums de Rosine, doesn’t think so. Les Parfums de Rosine is devoted to fragrances based on rose and it includes a dizzying array of roses in all guises, including ones for men. Rose d’Homme (£84 for 100ml EDP, first picture) is a rose in soft focus blended into leather and patchouli. Rossisimo (£84 for 100ml EDP) wraps the red blossoms around a zesty accord of bitter orange and verbena, with a dash of white jasmine for a cavalier spirit. Both fragrances require a willingness to experiment, but the classical masculine scents such as leather and citrus take so well to rose that the outcome is refined rather than radical.
This versatility reflects the multifaceted nature of rose essence. When you smell it pure, you notice not only the heavy, fruity notes and honeyed sweetness, but also the bright citrus accents, along with green and metallic nuances. While research has yet to determine all of the components in rose essence, perfumers have discovered that it can shine in a variety of compositions.
For instance, Paco Rabanne’s bestseller 1 Million (£56 for 100ml EDT, first picture) uses rose to augment the sweetness of its herbal fruit accord. The contrast between the bright fruit, amber, moss and patchouli gives the perfume its unmistakable signature – and its virile character. Flowers are similarly important in classics such as Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel (£45 for 60ml EDT, first picture) and Houbigant’s Fougère Royale (£105 for 100ml EDP, first picture), with rose starring in both compositions.
Citrus colognes lend themselves well to floral notes, not only because rose essence is naturally zesty, but also because it can add warmth and complexity. In Ex Nihilo’s Rose Hubris (£150 for 50ml EDP, second picture), a cologne is updated with an infusion of rose. Jo Malone Tudor Rose & Amber (£42 for 30ml EDC, second picture) takes a similar approach, but with a bolder dose of flowers and warm balsams. The fragrances are marketed as unisex, and their appeal wouldn’t be lost on anyone who enjoys modern citrus blends.
There are also plenty of gentlemanly roses on the feminine side of the fragrance counter. The name Portrait of a Lady (£210 for 100ml EDP, second picture) shouldn’t put off men from trying one of the best offerings from Frédéric Malle. It’s a scent heavy on woods and amber with an aura of well-tailored elegance. Another intriguing option is Etat Libre d’Orange’s Rossy de Palma Eau de Protection (€125 for 100ml, second picture). It’s gothic, mysterious and moody. Irresistible.
The queen of flowers is also ripe for rediscovery for women too. But for scents that are a little more unusual, the arts are proving fertile ground for olfactory inspiration.