At Refinery29 Australia, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but we may earn commission or other compensation from the links on this page.
As a fragrance obsessive, I have to come out and say it: we’ve talked way too long about vanilla, musk, and sandalwood. Whether you're in New York, London or Sydney, almost all sidewalks will be a haze of Le Labo’s Santal 33, for example. With 47.7 million TikTok views and counting, not to mention countless dupes, the perfume’s universally inoffensive woody notes quickly became a great entry point for scent newbies and those who wanted their love of fragrances reactivated. In other words, it’s considered a safe option for most.
The acclaim hit its peak a few months ago, during summer in the Northern hemisphere — call it 'savoury girl summer’ if you will — an ode to greener, saltier and fresher fragrances over the typically sweet or gourmand notes that have reigned supreme in the past. Perhaps that’s because we’re embracing a softer, lighter and more gentle approach to life in general, or maybe it’s simply because these perfumes are something different than what we’re used to.
Though as we go full steam ahead into 2023, the most viral perfumes are embracing — but most importantly reimagining — what is arguably the most humble of perfume notes: rose.
Why does rose perfume have a bad reputation?
Hear me out. For a while, the rose had a pretty gnarly reputation for being, well, grandma. But there are a plethora of reasons why rose is a huge perfume trend right now. If you’re on TikTok, it’s likely you’ve seen a number of viral videos in which the Narciso Rodriguez Musc Noir Rose Eau de Parfum is the star of the show. One video with 15.5 million views particularly sticks in my mind. A woman walking through Paris stops another on the street and is desperate to know the name of the intoxicating perfume leaving a trail behind her. The very chic wearer in question pulls out a full size bottle of Musc Noir Rose. “It’s my favourite scent right now,” says TikTok user @yelenaa.x in another viral TikTok video. “It is so beautiful and romantic.” Another commenter divulged that her “husband went feral” while smelling it on her, while others have said they became obsessed instantly.
@ohuprettythings The French girl perfume? #narcisorodriguez #parfumlover ♬ original sound - ohuprettythings
Just like Musc Noir Rose, the attention-grabbing note in Parfums de Marly’s Delina Eau de Parfum (equally as TikTok viral, with 61.1 million views) is rose, and the same goes for Carolina Herrera’s Very Good Girl — another viral sensation. There’s no denying rose is everywhere again, but it’s clear that perfume brands are giving it a new lease of life, turning a once old-timey fragrance note into a cool and truly modern one.
Before I divulge my favourites, it would be remiss not to touch on the rich history of rose. Both rose oil and rose water are said to be some of the oldest ingredients in perfumery, and have been used for thousands of years in ritualistic and religious practices. Rose made an appearance in desserts, medicines and even love potions. The flower was often used by the ancient Egyptians (where it was sometimes an offering to gods), as well as by the Greeks and Romans, who used rose to scent cosmetics.
Throughout history, the rose has also become a symbol of status, not to mention love, passion and honour. So where did it get its grandma-esque reputation? This, say the experts, likely comes from a previously popular type of fragrance called ‘chypre’, which often uses rose in its composition. It’s strong and earthy — a truly acquired smell.
“Chypre fragrances were marketed to women as the sexier, more opulent choice to the otherwise traditional soft floral or green fragrances on the market,” explains Emma Vernon, perfume expert and host of podcast Perfume Room. “What’s really wild about this phenomenon,” says Vernon, referring to the contempt that rose fragrances often receive, “is that everyone’s grandmother who chose a chypre scent probably did so in an attempt to wear something young, sexy and avante-garde.” These young and sexy women obviously grew older, says Vernon, and so the negative association came to be. Of course, growing older is a privilege, but it’s no secret that society instils in us a fear of ageing.
Vernon also points out that a lot of people associate rose perfumes with the smell of straight-up roses, which in the perfume industry is known as a ‘soliflore’ (a one-note fragrance). “What do we associate that smell with? Potpourri,” says Vernon, “and what do we associate potpourri with? The bathroom.” It’s more than likely, continues Vernon, that you’re not going to want to wear a bathroom smell. And she’s got a point. I want my straight rose scents in baklava and baklava only.
Up until now, the rose suffered from a serious lack of imagination and innovation. But one of the main reasons why it's setting tongues wagging again is the way perfumers are pairing it with lighter, fruitier notes, which make the typically quite cloying rose much more wearable. I’ve noticed perfumers making a beeline for tangy citrus notes like bergamot and grapefruit to make an almost effervescent, sparkling fragrance that isn’t too sweet. Just look at On a Date from Maison Margiela which is equal parts juicy (from the grape and blackcurrant) and rose, or Fenty Eau de Parfum, which leans into fizzy tangerine.
“Rose fragrances have always been around,” says Mona Kattan, founder of viral perfume brand Kayali, “but it’s been really interesting to see how they have evolved,” she adds. Kattan thinks that beauty brands are modernizing the typically old-fashioned note, and therefore attracting a newer and younger demographic. Take the Kayali Sweet Diamond Pink Pepper 25 Eau de Parfum, for example. It pairs two different roses: Bulgarian rose (which evokes notes of honey, raspberry and green leaves) and rose centifolia (sweet but also slightly spicy) with gingery turmeric and zippy Sichuan pepper. “In the same way we see trends in fashion, we see cycles in perfumery, too,” says Kattan, who also adores Tom Ford’s Rose Prick (a rich and fiery rose) and the sugary goodness of Mancera’s Roses Vanille.
Emelia O’Toole, AKA TikTok’s Professor Perfume, also pinpoints the ever-popular pairing of lychee and rose, basically the Romy & Michele of the perfume world. They are so perfect together, it’s no wonder the aforementioned Delina and Good Girl EDP have hypnotised beauty editors and fragrance lovers alike. O’Toole also gives a heavy endorsement to Mancera’s Roses Vanille, just like Kattan, while Philosophy’s Amazing Grace Ballet Rose Eau de Parfum, is a more affordable option.
There’s a rose perfume for everyone — really
If you look at D.S. & Durga or Diptyque, you’ll notice that rose perfume has become gender-inclusive in a way it hasn’t ever been before. Previously, rose has been labeled as ‘girly’ or the property of ‘old ladies’, both of which were typically used as negative adjectives. The reason for that? Good old-fashioned sexism. Matthew Herman, creator and co-founder of Boy Smells, thinks that the enduring notion that women should smell like flowers and men should smell like leather or tobacco is outdated. “Rose got pigeonholed as culture and identity evolved,” says Herman, “and it began to stand for old ideas and ideals.”
“In the past, the rose was seen as ultra-feminine and glamorous, almost one-dimensional, agrees Firmenich perfumer Pierre Negrin (the nose behind Tory Burch Essence of Dreams Sublime Rose). Herman adds that by remixing something so overtly associated with bygone eras, we can catapult it into the future. “Rose now feels a little renegade,” says Herman, referring to the flower’s new lease of life thanks to the saltier, woodier, fruiter notes which encompass it. And you really think about it, there’s nothing gentle about a rose. It’s punchy and powerful, from the scent right down to the thorns.
“There’s something about the unexpected juxtaposition that seems to really resonate. Whatever the case, it’s great to see rose moving deeper into the ‘for everyone’ scent territory.” Courtney Somer, founder of perfume brand Lake & Skye, agrees and says that today’s rose perfumes include more genderless and skin scents (perfumes resembling the skin’s natural scent) rather than something cloyingly sweet or powdery.
Perfume lovers are searching for unique scents as a form of self-expression, says Shoemack. “You’ve got brands and perfumers becoming more explorative with their use of ingredients, for example, combining more traditional notes like rose with more futuristic notes,” like orris (a rare, fragrant root), sea salt and cannabis accord. “This leads to interesting and unexpected rose-based scents,” says Shoemack. “It’s a cool modern twist on the classic floral.”
Metallic rose, oud rose, mossy rose, boozy rose… When mixed well, they’re all exhilarating.
These are the best rose perfumes
If you’re looking to find your signature rose fragrance, but you’re unsure where to start, it all depends on your scent goal. If you want a lively perfume that makes you feel energised, look for blends of blackcurrant, lemon, tonka and musk, like Zara’s ROSE Eau de Toilette. If you want to feel warm and sexy, you’ll do well with a velvety rose combined with notes of amber, oud, patchouli, or labdanum. R29 rates Le Labo’s Rose 31, Mancera’s Roses Vanille, Byredo’s Rose Noir and Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady, not to mention Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Oud Satin Mood, with oud and vanilla. If you’re looking for something fresh and green, seek out rose paired with bergamot, peony or woods, such as Xerjoff’s Soprano, and Louis Vuitton’s Attrape-Rêves. Failing that, TikTok’s rose perfume connoisseurs are bound to inspire you.
At the end of the day, rose perfume really is for everyone. Just like any one of us individuals, O’Toole says that the humble rose can be feminine, masculine or androgynous. It can be soft or sharp, linear or multifaceted — and that versatility is the rose’s superpower.