by Angeliska on June 13, 2014
I was raised to adore roses. My mother loved them passionately, and watching her nurture them, prize them, photograph and paint them, I always knew that they were sacred to her. From early on, I came to associate her name, Margaret, with a certain kind of rose. Now I know that Margaret means “pearl”, and though my mother did very much appreciate baroque pearls, her name does not evoke the moony whiteness of an oyster’s gift, or the simple daisies called marguerites, but something far redder, wilder, thornier. If my mother were a rose, she would be a very particular one indeed. I know what it looks like, because when I see one twining over a neighbor’s fence, I am struck with a deep and visceral longing – like what I feel for my long gone mother. My mother’s rose is deep magenta, the color of the lipstick she used to wear (that I so fiercely coveted) – a ripe fuchsia with a blue sheeny undertone, so dark that it looks purply-black in dim light. This is a wild rose, some cabbage-y pillowy tea rose bred with a cherokee outlaw bloom, cultivated in rare gardens, tricksy and uncommon. This is no tame garden variety long stem, no – this rose, were you to attempt to pluck one, would prick your fingers cruelly, and then drop all her petals out of spite. Not that’s she’s an evil flower by any means – just one that won’t be contained, curtailed, or bartered for a kiss. This feral rose climbs rampant over stone walls, her spiky canes heavy with dusky nodding heads. These are the fairytale briar roses that enveloped Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and tore her suitors to pieces – enchanted by dark magic and ancient witchery. My Margaret rose only grows way out in the country, on the edge of the woods, and if she could sing a song it would be a strange old one, played on a crackling fiddle with words sung in a low aching voice about lost love. A wild Irish rose, singing gypsy lullabies.
I’ve never found one for sale in a nursery, though they do sell a few that come quite close online. Short of ordering one of these bare-root babies, I think the only way to have my own is to work up the courage to knock on the door of one of the granny-ladies in my neighborhood who’ve been growing them for decades and beg for a cutting. One day I’ll figure out the spell to get them to root, and my garden will be tangled with heady blossoms. I do have a beautiful Basye’s Purple in a pot, a birthday gift that came from the Antique Rose Emporium in Brenham, Texas. If it were combined with a Night Owl and perhaps a Midnight Blue, I think it would be the rose I see in my dreams, my mother’s rose.
And what would such a rose smell like? Well, certainly not like your grandma’s tea rose sachets, oh no – this is a far more exotic and intoxicating aroma. Imagine smelling a color, breathing it in deep and holding all that richness in your lungs. A spicy earthiness that threatens to cause swooning. A dangerous rose. For years, I imagined what I thought a rose perfume ought to smell like, and was continuously dismayed to find only prim and proper pink roses, powdery and cloying. I wanted to smell crimson red, burgundy, mulberry scarlet – I wanted to smell tempestuous, dark and somewhat peculiar. I think I’ve finally found what I was looking for in L’Artisan’s Voleur de Roses, described as “The brutal yet tender collision of rose and patchouli. It captures the chaos of a rose garden shattered by a thunderstorm.”
“Michel Almairac created Voleur de Roses (French for “rose thief”) in 1993. The L’Artisan Parfumeur website lists its notes simply as patchouli, rose, and plum. That sounds right to me. Voleur de Roses smells like a Syrah-soaked rose washed over with wet patchouli, moldering wood, and cold plum. The wet has an almost metallic edge, like the ocean. The fragrance’s patchouli is one of its main features, so if you don’t like patchouli, steer clear. Rose-phobes who do all right with patchouli might like Voleur de Roses. Its rose would be more at home at a dive bar than a garden party.
More than any other perfume I know, Voleur de Roses seems to elicit gothic descriptions. I’ve heard it compared to graveyards, dirty roots, and haunted basements. There is definitely something moody about the fragrance. Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff might have worn it. Or, for a less lofty comparison, remember the turret organ room in The Ghost and Mr. Chicken? (Even Bon Ami couldn’t get rid of the blood stains on the organ’s keys, the ladies’ psychic society said.) It had to smell of Voleur de Roses.”
– L’Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses – a fragrance review from NST
In my mind, Voleur de Roses evokes a bandit with flashing eyes, who kidnaps (consensually, natch) his rose, a lady fair clothed in red silk. She faints beneath his road-dusty cloak, dank with earthy patchouli and sweat, coming to in his arms, nestled a thorny grotto made from rose boughs. A wet garden dripping after the storm, strewn with fallen fruit and scattered petals ground into the damp dirt. Imagine kissing your dashing lover underneath the brambles, and pausing only to feed each other over-ripe jammy plums. Sticky fingers with dirt beneath the nails winding through dark locks, grazing flushed skin striped bloody from rosy kisses. Perhaps that’s a bit extravagant, but Voleur de Roses is that kind of perfume: seriously seducing, yet playfully – slightly nasty in a faun-like way. This is what a very refined satyr might smell like, were his goat’s horns draped with a garland of stolen roses. Not your grandmother’s kind of rose at all. Or my mother’s, really – but it’s a perfect scent for me, a gothic romantic to the core.
I haven’t yet smelled it, but another perfume that might tango well with my dark dream of a perfect rose is L’Arte di Gucci . My friend Barbara Herman, (writer of a brilliant book about vintage perfume, Scent and Subversion) describes it tantalizingly:
“A dark, leather-patchouli rose, L’Arte di Gucci has a cult following among certain perfume lovers, and after hearing them sing its praises, I had to see what was up.
Black, inky and goth, L’Arte di Gucci is an Edward Gorey-esque animalic-rose chypre. In my fevered imagination, its rose comes from the rose bushes surrounding the dilapidated and haunted Victorian home of Merricat, the witchy protagonist from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle. (On a less literary romantic note, it first brought to mind Calvin Klein’s 2005 perfume Euphoria, a spicy, woody floral that also has “exotic” flowers and notes: rose hips, Japanese apple, green leaves, Lotus, black orchid, red woods, black violet and amber.) L’Arte is definitely the darker — and more beautiful — of the two.
As L’Arte di Gucci dries down, the rose just radiates from its dark lair lined with leather, vetiver, musk and oakmoss, the patchouli prominent throughout.”
“Ombre Rose can be translated literally as “pink shadow” or figuratively as a rose’s shadow. Both readings suggest that the rose scent in this Françoise Caron-composed perfume will be softened, and we will smell its shadow rather than rose straight on. Shadows cast darkness over things, shrouding them and making them mysterious and maybe even sinister. But pink shadows? Not exactly intimidating!”
Barbara just passed through Austin on a mini-book tour, and did a reading from Scent and Subversion at Coco Coquette, where a roomful of perfume enthusiasts were kept rapt by her tales of scents from days of yore. Read more about her work here:
Along the way in my search for the perfect rose perfume, I found this helpful list: 25 Rose Fragrances Every Perfumista Should Try. The only one I’ve tried on it is Jo Malone’s Red Roses, which caught my attention when I smelled it on a chic lady shopping for antiques. It does smell red to me, a little – just not quite red enough.
Rose de Nuit:
“It repeats the rose theme in the base, suggesting its smooth, satiny touch, but never offering the full view. Like glimpsing into the dark room through the carved screens, one is left to imagine the rose that is hiding under the layers of woods and amber. Yet, whether those veils conceal a lover or a flower is a mystery that Rose de Nuit never answers with certainty.”
– from Bois de Jasmin
La fille de Berlin:
“It’s a deep red rose that dries down to a lusty animalic drydown and takes you on a whirlwind journey along the way. I love its explosion of crimson rose petals, which smell almost sinfully rich with their hint of overripe blackberries. (In the less poetic industry parlance, it’s called smelling money–a rose like that requires a generous budget.) Just like some roses can smell of violet, La Fille de Berlin takes a turn towards dark, jammy violets, making a small nod towards Bois de Violette.
…the scent was about finding beauty in the darkness and persevering through adversity with strength and humor, as women in postwar Germany had to do, when they were as plundered as their cities by occupying forces meant to restore order. This story is movingly told in the anonymous best-selling autobiographical book titled “A Woman in Berlin,” clearly an influence.
“Beauty is the moment when you rise up. It is the moment when you pick up your head, stride through your own ruins, and climb up the mountain,” explained Lutens. “That’s La Fille de Berlin. We all have our own ruins.”
– from Bois de Jasmin
“I wanted to capture in perfume the experience of walking around my garden and smelling each rose, as their perfumes blended in my nose. Wild Roses perfume evokes the garden in our imagination and memory — the book of a hundred petals unfolding: balsamic, spicy, apricot, and honeyed roses, mixed with the smell of warm earth and herbs.
The apricot-rose heart is perfectly rooted in a base of tarragon absolute — its herbal round anise aroma giving a nuance of both earth and leaves. The balsamic vanilla absolute and the whiskey-ness of aged patchouli support tarragon’s warm, powdery aspect. Indole contributes the almost animal aspect of ripeness in a rose. The heart is punctuated by pimento berry, lending its nuances of clove, ginger, and cinnamon. The candied-orange flower aroma of methyl methyl anthranilate, the soft powdery floral of heliotropin, and the slightly floral citrus of bergamot contribute a modern freshness to the opening.”
I made a music mix in honor of my rose obsession: Ashes of Roses – Music for burning rose petals on gray days. A soundtrack for burying your nose in a rose.
IN YOU THE EARTH
tiny and naked,
as though you would fit
in one of my hands,
as though I’ll clasp you like this
and carry you to my mouth,
my feet touch your feet and my mouth your lips:
you have grown,
your shoulders rise like two hills,
your breasts wander over my breast,
my arm scarcely manages to encircle the thin
new-moon line of your waist:
in love you have loosened yourself like sea water:
I can scarcely measure the sky’s most spacious eyes
and I lean down to your mouth to kiss the earth.
― Pablo Neruda
This was written in honor of tonight’s Full Rose Moon. To read last year’s moon honoring, please follow:
SUMMER SOLSTICE – STRAWBERRY ROSE MOON
More writing about perfume:
L’AUTRE – Exotic Autumn Perfumes
ENDLESS SUMMER – Summer Perfumes
SUPRISES + SUCHLIKE – Coeur de Vétiver Sacré
MAGIC WINDOWS #12 – Iris Perfumes
COLD WINTER MOON, SOLSTICE BLUE – Winter Solstice Perfumes