Bulgari fragrances are known for many things, including their sophistication and luxury. From the weighty glass bottles, to the jewel-like embellishments on the flaçons and caps, these scents are as precious as the fine jewellery that the Italian house produces. But more than their presentation, Bulgari fragrances are truly luxurious as they use the finest natural ingredients to create something sophisticated, faceted and utterly wearable. Rose Goldea was created by master perfumer Alberto Morillas.
Inspired by Cleopatra and her decadent approach to perfumery, as well as the power she wielded using her feminine wiles, this newest scent is a revelation. Riffing on the rose, surely the most recognisable and classic of fragrance ingredients is never easy, but Morillas and his team from Firmenich have outdone themselves with a scent that is delicate, sophisticated and expensive all at once. The secret? The luxury of the natural Damascena rose, one of the most expensive kinds in the world, and a new distillation technique that captures the flower in all its complexity and fragility, and then bottles it.
Dominique Roques, the international sourcing executive director at Firmenich, explains how rose oil was first discovered, when roses were put into canals in India, and the heat caused the natural distillation process. Since then, roses have come to symbolise everything from purity to love, and are one of the most precious ingredients, with one litre of rose oil, containing an estimated one million flowers. But it is not just the one ingredient that makes a scent, often it's the combination and how they play off each other that leads to a perfect, bewitching brew. Says Roques, "Alberto [Morillas] is a genius in that he can combine 60 different ingredients in the perfect proportion to create magic." What he's done to build this complex, yet ethereal scent? He's mixed three kinds of rose extracts: floral rose musk, extract of rose petals and rose absolue, along with other ingredients like jasmine grandiflorum, white incense and patchouli. We spoke to Roques and Bulgari's managing director of perfumes Valeria Manini, to find out more about the scent, the unique double process that one rose extract undergoes, and the concept of returning to the luxury of natural ingredients.
Why was the inspiration for this fragrance?
Valeria Manini (VM): We wanted to complete the Eau de Parfum offerings at Bulgari and wanted to continue the story on gold. And we knew that with yellow gold we had explored an amber-y fragrance that was sensuous and rich. With rose gold, we wanted a more sophisticated yet lighter fragrance. We wanted to connect Cleopatra with rose gold and we dug into her life to understand this facet about her. Everbody knows that she was a serious lover. [Cleopatra famously seduced Mark Antony by surrounding her bedside with rose pink petals.]
To ask a perfumer to do a rose fragrance, is creating a very big thing in perfumery. It's like asking a composer if he wants to write the song of the summer or a symphony — he will definitely choose the symphony. The rose is a multi-faceted scent, but we wanted something very rich and modern. We wanted to offer a rose of contrast: with power and delicacy. Rose Goldea is a sensual scent, but you can wear it at any time of the day and it suits almost any woman.
Was it difficult to reinvent the rose?
Dominique Roques [DM]: What a perfumer has in his palette is the rose absolute, the rose oil and the rose Damask from Grasse. He basically has three ingredients to start with. We have a large innovation team, and Alberto [Morillas] wanted to see if with some of these ingredients, we could make technical changes to the process of distillation and extraction for a different result.
We took the concrete which is a result of extracting the scent with solvent, and tried to distil it. We built an ingredient resulting from two techniques that are superimposed. Technically it's not easy to make a concrete distillation. The result is very low in yield. But the result was surprising for all of us, and Morillas was very enthusiastic about that. In reality, it allowed him to create a multi-faceted rose inside of the bottle. If you co-distillate two ingredients, you won't get the same result as just blending them together. In rose you have floral, fruity and spicy notes. For example, if you smell the calyx of the Damascena rose, you'll smell other notes. There's also a jammy aspect in roses. With this process, you get a combination of these four aspects in proportions that are really new. If you pay attention, you can smell the different layers.
VM: It is more faceted, as through the different processes you lose facets. This fragrance keeps both the character and the delicacy of the rose.
How do perfumers decide which rose to use?
DR: It's completely up to them, but most of the people will not choose the Damascena rose as it's very expensive. Many roses have been tried out, but the Damascena rose is the best to be cultivated in a large scale and distilled. About 200 roses goes into one bottle of this scent. They've tried to synthesise the rose fragrance in the lab many times, but it always fails. Rose oil contains more than 350 different molecules. You can capture and recreate maybe 50 molecules, but you'll still be missing the other 300 molecules. And then trying to replicate this synthetically will be too expensive.
As far as climate changes and its impact, our company, Firmenich, needs to find countries that are able and willing to cultivate roses. There is rose distillation in Afghanistan and currently there are roses grown in Bulgaria, Turkey and even in India. The same plant cultivated in different countries don't give you the same result. Perfumers love that as they can play with that. Morillas was very much in an Egyptian journey, so he chose an Egyptian jasmine.
Can you describe the process of working with Alberto Morillas?
DR: Alberto [Morillas] is an incredible character as many perfumers are. He is the sweetest and toughest man, both at the same time. He is a genius in his kind and is an incredibly creative person. Time has no effect on him. He is working today as he was working 30 years ago with the same passion, the same freshness and the same desire for new ideas. Working with him is a genuine pleasure. He is always interested in anything that you have to show him. We have quarterly meetings with him, where we show him our latest ideas and ingredients, he smells them and he tells us if it is completely uninteresting or if it something he can use. Once he smells something, he is playing on his iPad and he is already thinking how he can incorporate it into his scents. This man is literally smelling in his head. He is thinking of how an ingredient will work any one of the 16 fragrances he is currently working on!
VM: He is ultra-passionate, hardworking and humble. He is not afraid to reinvent, listen and to restart something from scratch. He also has a passion for women. He treats perfumery creation like an artist would treat a sculpture. He asks questions about what the woman we are creating for is like, what she would wear — it's like shaping an invisible woman as a painter and a sculpter would. He always approaches perfumery creation from the aspect of the woman, rather than from the the more technical aspect of the ingredients.
Is a rose's scent affected by its colour?
DR: Nothing is by chance. The intensity of a rose's colour is linked to how it attracts or repels insects. And the smell is in that balance. The general rule is that the more intense the colour, the less smell. That is not always true, the Damascena rose is very intense pink. Rose starts to distillate with the heat of the sun, and when the oil is removed, it loses its colour. The Damascena roses will lose their colour by distillating to the sun.
What are the challenges in picking roses — since they only bloom for a few weeks each year — and then distilling their scent?
DR: The challenge is all around the picking in the first hours. The more fresh the flower, the more oil you get. Once you get the oil, you're fine. If you protect this oil from light and oxidation, you can keep it for five to 10 years — eventually it gets better, like wine. Even something as simple as rain can affect your yield. You have to do things large scale so that you can compensate for years when the yields are poor. The quality of the producer is very fundamental. If you want to create the best perfume in the world, the whole chain has to work: from the pickers to the distillers to Firmenich and then to the perfumer.
The perfumer has to trust that the ingredient provider can provide the same quality and enough quantity of an oil. And the perfume brand, has to trust that we will deliver the same concentrate and the same juice, without a fluctuation. This is really tough: you have to win the rose battle, the jasmine battle, the patchouli battle! The solution for the future, now that naturals are more required and more expected in perfumes, is that we must organise this as a really luxurious industry, starting in the fields. We need well-paid farmers that love their job, and we need fantastic distillers. All these connections, you build over time and the key for the future is to have a complete chain working. Who will be the growers of tomorrow? We have a duty as perfumers to really give them a 'luxury' status and highlight the preciousness of what they are growing.
What are the challenges with working with a natural ingredients?
DR: We have experienced a shortage, with an ingredient called benzoin that grows in Laos. Two years ago, there was a climatic accident and the trees from Laos simply did not yield the sap. There was no carry-over so there was a big panic. It's a good question as to what can happen in the future. Sandalwood has been difficult to secure in the past. Usually you start from an ingredient shortage, but benzoin caught us completely by surprise.
It's our responsibility to anticipate these things, but it's not always easy to find alternative sources of the same quality. It's not my choice where something grows and whether a tree should yield an ingredient or not... it's nature that does that.
Rose Goldea comes in a perfume charm (25ml) and 50ml and 90ml bottles. From $86-$232. Also available are a bath and shower gel and body milk, from $80-$89. At Bulgari stores