Just days ago, a book I have been eagerly awaiting (despite the controversy its authors love to stir) was finally published: “Perfumes: The Guide 2018”, by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. Of course, I’ve spent more time than I should browsing its characteristically snarky, idiosyncratic reviews — agreeing with some, disagreeing with others, but always informed and amused by their points of view. One thing I do like is that Turin and Sanchez are quite upfront about some of their individual tendencies and how those may affect their reviews. For instance, Turin doesn’t really like rose soliflores. And yet he gave four stars to Parfums Nicolai’s Rose Royale and listed it among the top ten florals of the last decade. Good enough for me, since I love rose soliflores and we’ve just finished June, the month of roses! Here is Parfums Nicolai‘s own description:
Real rose without any frills or fuss, fresh and vegetal thanks to its magnificent natural essences. With just a few strands of coriander as well as base notes of immortelle to give it punch without any distortion … simply the perfume of the rose at the end of its stem. A longing for nature becomes a scent of vegetation enhanced by blackcurrant and passion fruit, over an explosion of Turkish rose essence. Coriander and ambrette seeds enhance the fragrance. Bottom notes of guiac wood and immortelle strengthen the long lasting, lingering spell of Rose Royale.
After having visited the RHS Chelsea Flower Show this spring, I renewed my obsession with David Austin’s English Roses, which added to its medals with another spectacular display of his stunning flowers. If you don’t know of them, they are the result of Mr. Austin’s lifetime of hybridizing roses to restore the fragrances and forms of the older French roses he loves, combining them with the vigor, disease resistance, color range, and repeat flowering of more modern roses. Each entry for a rose in his catalogue lovingly describes not only the growth habit, color, form and size of its blossoms, but also each variety’s individual fragrance. One such entry reads:
Munstead Wood: Light crimson buds gradually open to reveal very deep velvety crimson blooms, the outer petals remaining rather lighter in color. The flowers are large cups at first, becoming shallowly cupped with time. The growth is quite bushy, forming a broad shrub with good disease resistance. The leaves are mid-green, the younger leaves being red-bronze to form a nice contrast. There is a very strong Old Rose fragrance with a fruity note. Our fragrance expert, Robert Calkin, assesses this as “warm and fruity with blackberry, blueberry and damson.”
Munstead Wood was recommended to me by someone who used to work with David Austin, and so I am now growing it in a large pot on my front terrace, which faces south (much of my garden is shaded at least part of the day, which doesn’t suit roses). And Rose Royale smells a lot like it, with its top notes of blackcurrant buds, passion fruit, and bergamot moving quickly into the heart of rose, coriander, and ambrette seeds. I love it! Yes, Mr. Turin, I do love a good rose soliflore.
Rose Royale has a delectable opening, the blackcurrant buds dominating, followed by bergamot lending its green-citrus pop, with passion fruit hovering behind them and adding sweetness to the green. If I had to pick one genre of fragrances to love, it would have to include greenness (green florals, green aromatics, etc.), and Rose Royale fits the bill. After the lively opening, the rose takes center stage, but the fragrance never loses its “fresh and vegetal” character. Mr. Turin refers to it as a “soapy rose” but it doesn’t smell soapy to me, or at least no more so than a real rose often does. I suspect this is because rose notes have been so heavily used to scent soap that our Western noses merge the two. Be that as it may, here is his review of Rose Royale in “Perfumes: The Guide 2018” (Kindle Edition):
Tomes of perfumery prattle are churned out annually on the subject of the Her Royal Majesty the Rose, Queen of Flowers, and all associated romance and grandeur. Yet when you smell rose soliflores, they do tend to let you down: flat or thin, a whisper of phenylethyl alcohol or a mere goofy fruity fantasy. Patricia de Nicolaï’s take is a perfect soapy-aldehydic white-floral froth with facets of lemon and raspberry. If you are the sort of gold-rimmed-teacup gripping, pinky-finger sticker-outer who will insist against all advice upon a rose soliflore uninterfered with by complicating ideas, here is a beautifully silly one for you.
While I do own gold-rimmed teacups, I don’t stick out my pinky finger while drinking from them, and my hands are often too grubby from digging in my garden’s dirt to grip them very regularly.
Like the rose Munstead Wood, which has some of the sharper thorns I’ve encountered among roses I’ve grown, Rose Royale has a little more bite to it than is immediately apparent. As it dries down, there is enough light wood and spice to suggest that there is more to this rose than its soft petals. I would agree with Mr. Turin’s overall assessment, though, that Rose Royale evokes a certain elegance and delicacy one might associate with gold-rimmed teacups. Patricia de Nicolai clearly intended this, as her company’s website describes the fragrance as inspired and named for “a stroll in the calm of the Palais Royal, with a French garden framed by perfect classical architecture.” It has been far too many years since I myself visited Paris and strolled through the Palais Royal, but Rose Royale takes me there with one sniff.