Set to the south of the Balkan mountain range, Rose Valley stretches across central Bulgaria and produces almost 50 per cent of the world’s rose essence. The mild climate and unique soil composition create a flower with a sumptuous and intense aroma of honey, lemon peel, gingerbread and raspberries. The most popular variety is rose damascene, and when the fields burst into bloom in May, the air becomes sweet and fragrant, as I witnessed when I was there earlier this year. I would pick a few flowers and bring them to my hotel in the evening, and the following day I would wake to a suave scent wafting through the room.
Perfumer Sophia Grojsman, whom I’m fortunate to count among my mentors, once said: “Rose petals have a luxurious, rich smell that is, at the same time, familiar.” This combination of the recognisable and the exotic is one of the reasons why rose remains a beloved perfume ingredient and Bulgarian essence, with its many nuances, in demand. A fragrance like La Rose de Rosine (€120 for 100ml EDP) by Les Parfums de Rosine features Bulgarian essence unvarnished, accenting the pink flower’s sweetness with violet, jasmine and tonka bean. Annick Goutal Rose Absolue ($167 for 100ml EDP) is likewise an “everything coming up roses” story, with the Bulgarian rose at the heart of the composition. It smells natural and delicate, like freshly plucked blossom.
Studying with Grojsman, I’ve grown to appreciate the versatility of the rose and its ability to acquire different tones, depending on the other ingredients in the formula. In Saint Laurent Paris (£65 for 50ml EDP), Grojsman used the rose accord to capture the heady feeling of being in love, while in her equally famous Lancôme Trésor (£54 for 30ml EDP) she conveyed the sensation of a warm embrace. If Paris has the effervescence of champagne, Trésor suggests the lushness of Sauternes.
Showing a similar complexity is Diptyque’s L’Ombre Dans L’Eau (£70 for 50ml EDT) by Serge Kalouguine. The perfumer paired the fruity warmth of Bulgarian roses with the tartness of blackcurrants – an original choice. The effect is darkly green and bittersweet, with a subtle honeyed undercurrent. It’s the olfactory equivalent of Monet’s paintings, and its mood changes from light to dark, airy to seductive, as the scent evolves. I’ve been wearing L’Ombre Dans L’Eau for several years and keep finding new elements in it – a touch of wood, a whisper of musk, a twist of blackberry. As Grojsman would say: “Though it may seem familiar, rose holds many secrets.” Discovering them is a pleasure.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog boisdejasmin.com since 2005. Her explorations of fragrance touch upon all elements that make this subject rich and complex: science, art, literature, history and culture. Frolova is a recipient of three prestigious Fragrance Foundation FiFi Awards for Editorial Excellence and, since receiving her professional perfumery training, has also been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher. @boisdejasmin.