Fashion is in the midst of a passionate affair with feminine classics. Romantic hits of chiffon, lace and ruffles appeared on runways for Gucci, Rochas and Chloé this season. Carolina Herrera admitted to being “in a rose period” when she designed her flirty collection in varying shades of pink perfection. Across the globe, the highlight of the experimental Lebanese designer Lara Khoury’s spring presentation was a floaty organza dress made from silk gazar, with the colour and delicacy of a rose.
The ubiquitous perennial is also having a moment in interior design, fine art and, most strikingly, fragrance. The houses of Elie Saab, Giorgio Armani and YSL have all launched roseimbued scents, as have niche perfumers such as Byredo and Memo Paris.
This isn’t what your grandmother would have worn. “It’s a new, fresher, sweeter rose that isn’t powdery or flooded with patchouli or sandalwood,” explains Elena Vosnaki, a perfume historian and fragrance expert based in Athens, Greece. “Young women find it hard to accept overtly floral notes and associate them with a maturity that doesn’t speak to them.”
Some of that disconnect stems from how intense rose perfumes used to be, adds Michael Edwards, a fragrance expert based in London, England. “In traditional perfumery, the rose was often heavy and richly floral,” he says. “But roses come in many different scent types – some fresh and petallike, some green or with citrus or tea nuances.”
It’s these olfactive nuances that are inspiring perfumers today. “The rose has evolved and become more textured than we have seen in the past,” says Honorine Blanc, the nose for Firmenich who created a “juicy” rose for the “young, fun and sparkling” Viva La Juicy Rosé Eau de Parfum. “It’s truly multidimensional: It can go from being incredibly pure to strikingly erotic.”
Take Dolce & Gabbana Rosa Excelsa, which combines African dog rose, a rare ingredient from South Africa, with notes of an almost “translucent” lily of the valley, papaya flower and Turkish rose absolute. “It combines a purity and luminosity without the indolic [a pungent scent used to evoke the earthy, raw smell of flowers], dry or almost dirty facets that traditional rose notes tend to have,” says Enrica Perrotta, the nose behind the perfume.
Other factors are contributing to this rose redux. “The world we live in is full of economic, environmental and political uncertainty,” says Francis Kurkdjian, the creator of À La Rose Eau de Parfum, which features centifolia and damask roses paired with lychee and honey. “Classic codes and symbols are always a way to reassure people, to offer them a comfort zone. Rose is a timeless icon of femininity.”
Edwards notes that perfumers are using this imagery to tap into the powerful nostalgic emotions a fragrance can evoke. “Although many people would agree that they don’t want to smell like a grandmother, the positive connotation that comes from the subtle presence of a familiar note can create subliminal preferences,” he says.
It’s true: We often want to revisit the past – albeit through rose-coloured glasses. “There is a psychological component to colour,” says Leatrice Eiseman, colour expert and executive director at the Pantone Color Institute. “When there’s a feeling of unrest in the world, people have a tendency to look back at yesterday.” Eiseman knows a thing or two about colour and culture: She declared Rose Quartz, a chalky pink shade, as one of Pantone’s two Colors of the Year for 2016. (The other is Serenity.) After years of high-octane, saturated colour schemes, this declaration is an influential message heeded by florists, marketers and fashion and interior designers. It’s also a nod to the shifting zeitgeist.
“There is a general sense that we need to escape from some of the heaviness around us,” says Eiseman. “The timing is right to bring about a softness and a more Zenlike, blissful feel. [A rose tone] is something that is thought of as being sweetly scented and lightweight; it’s approachable because it has some warmth to it.”
Sandy Silva, industry analyst for fashion and prestige beauty at NPD, agrees. “Softer tones and palettes are prevalent everywhere right now because we’re looking for the simplicity of times past and compensating for the rapid growth in technology by paring back other aspects of our lifestyle.”
The rose is resonating right now because it gives us connection and comfort. “We are looking for a greater sense of transparency and clarity in our lives and for things that are true and authentic,” says Blanc. “We live in a time where femininity can be expressed with self-confidence, romanticism, sensuality and sensitivity. The rose allows for that to happen all in one scent.”