Roses have to be among the most beloved of all plants that are cultivated by humans, and hardly anyone does not like their scent. It is a rare person who is not affected in some way by the delicious aroma of a fresh, dewy rose blossom. But when it comes to rose perfumes, even those who love the flower itself are less than enamored of perfumes featuring the rose. Sometimes it is because they smell cheap, due to synthetic ingredients in the composition or because “rose geranium” leaves were used instead of real rose essence, a cost-cutting measure that can be easily detected by comparing it with a real rose fragrance. Memories of drugstore horrors linger long and make one wary of approaching anything calling itself a rose soliflore. I personally love a good rose perfume as much as anything, and I am always looking for the kind that makes me feel as I do when smelling a real one in my garden; I inhale slowly and deeply and if it’s really good, it has that same effect that a fresh rose does – the nose never tires of it and there is never any hidden unpleasantness in its depths like there can be with other flowers. Fragrant roses are sweet right down to the bottom, and a good rose perfume should be the same way, rich and deep and endlessly pleasing, with no “off” or strange notes to interfere with the experience.
Those rose perfumes that do measure up to the real thing usually have to do it in one if two ways: by recreating the effect of the fresh living flower or by making it abstract, stylized, and part of a greater whole. The first way is probably the more difficult approach, as the standard for a rose scent is so high: the icon of the genre is Jean Patou Joy, a seamless and masterful fusion of Rose de Mai and Grasse jasmine that is the measure of greatness for all that have come after it. Then there is the modern Serge Lutens Sa Majeste de la Rose, a worthy heir to the classic tradition. On the abstract side we have such gems as Frederic Malle Editions de Parfum Lipstick Rose and Guerlain Nahema, both clearly rose-based but each with a unique twist, and the very rosy but somehow also stylized Paris de Yves St. Laurent that somehow does not seem like a rose soliflore to me but more of an atmosphere, a series of pink-tinged cloud pictures in my head like the kind we see as children when looking at the sky. Then there is Lancôme Magie Noire, whose rich and sophisticated rose essence is surrounded by a haze of other notes, a velvety penumbra moon that is best worn at night. Of course, these are only a few of the multitude of rose fragrances in the world, and everyone has their own idea of what their ideal rose perfume would smell like.
So why do perfumers keep producing rose scents? I have to think that in the case of the best ones, it has to be for love – think of the high quality of the Parfums de Rosine line, the medley of rose themes encompassed by these wonderful perfumes. I have not tried most of them, but I love Un Folie de Rose very much; its slightly sharp greenness coupled with the rich, tender rose is a perfect balance. It is a line that I hope to know better in the near future. (I have tried a couple of other Rosines but I must confess I can’t remember what the names were, except for having the word Rose in them!.)
This brings me to my subject: Annick Goutal Ce Soir Ou Jamais (“Tonight Or Never.”), released in 1999. It actually reminds me quite a bit of Un Folie de Rose with its green opening and slight astringency. In fact, there was a very brief “oh no” moment for me when I first put it on, thinking it was rose geranium as it was so sharp, but it passed quickly. (Not that I could ever really imagine a Goutal perfume with a problem like that!) When it has been on the skin for a few minutes the sharpness subsides and it becomes softer, and a hint of violet peeks out. After a little while it gets richer and almost jammy, but never cloying, as there are other subtle notes in play that keep a certain immediacy and freshness to the fore. According to the Bergdorf Goodman site, it has pear and cassis in it; I can’t really separate them out from everything else very well (reportedly 160 essences are involved in the composition) but I think I can tell what the pear is doing. It has the comforting feel of a chilled, poached (or dare I say even canned?) pear, the kind of thing one eats on a hot summer day when nothing else seems worth the effort. The Annick Goutal web site says there is hibiscus as well, which is where some of the sharpness must be coming from. This is only a sense, a gossamer veil of cool greenness over it all, since the centerpiece of the scent is Turkish rose, and it is magnificent indeed. I never had to wonder for even a moment if any shortcuts were taken in the selection of the ingredients for Ce Soir Ou Jamais. This has within it one of the finest rose essences I have ever experienced, and it is further rounded out with very good jasmine and ambrette seed. The jasmine behaves itself remarkably well here, and is used to do what only it can, to showcase and enhance the rose, making it bloom with sensuality while keeping its own character in the background. The drydown of this perfume is very pleasing, as the ambrette seed accord melds with skin to create a long-lasting impression.
I have worn this fragrance to work several times now – the carded sample was quite generous. While it lasts on me all day, it never gets too strong, and I only catch fleeting sensations of it on myself. I find it to be civilized yet romantic, and far more wearable for day and even the office than some other more intense rose scents that are best left for evening wear, such as Magie Noire, Nahema or Caron Parfum Sacré. Yet it is not without a strong character of its own, and it is certainly not one of those pallid mass-marketed “rosy” scents that wither away to nothing after thirty minutes. It is simply a deliciously dimensional true-rose fragrance for rose lovers who don’t want to “save” their favorite perfume for special occasions.
I don’t know why I never discovered this scent until now. Perhaps it is because there are so very many Annick Goutal scents and I never can get through them all at my local shop before I am entranced with something else – they are displayed close to the L’Artisan, Amouage and Hermès lines, so I am always flitting back and forth like the world’s happiest honeybee; I think I need to check in to the Home For The Easily Distracted. Perhaps it is because the name does not have anything to do with roses so I never knew that’s what it was. In any case, this one goes right up among the top ten rose scents for me, joining Parfum Sacré, Nahema, Sa Majeste de la Rose, Un Folie de Rose, Magie Noire and of course Joy. The others on my list keep changing as I discover them and I say, Oh, I like that one the best; No, it’s that one. But of course the beauty of it all is that I don’t have to choose at all, until it’s time to buy a bottle. I can just keep falling for all those rose scents over and over, as long as it takes.
Image credits: Special edition Ce Soir Ou Jamais bottle & velvet case from Passion for Perfumes, a perfume bottle collectors’ site. Photo of the perfectly formed and extremely fragrant 1843 Hybrid Perpetual Rose ‘Yolande d’Aragon’ from roses.ausgarden.com.