Tobacco Rose is a rich, saturated, luxurious rose fragrance from Papillon Perfumery that would probably have inspired Shakespeare to write another dozen sonnets or plays. In Romeo and Juliet, he said “a rose by any other name smells as sweet,” arguing that names do not matter, only the essential nature of a thing. He’s right, but I don’t think that his philosophy always holds true for perfumes. Names do matter in the expectations that they create, and “Tobacco Rose” is no different. Yet, in this case, I find none of darkness that is suggested, and I think that the scent would appeal far more to a “Juliet” than to a “Romeo.” That said, if a particular Juliet were a really passionate rose fanatic, I suspect she might swoon far more over Tobacco Rose than any words spouted by a pimply Romeo.
Papillon Perfumery (sometimes called “Papillon Artisan Perfumes“) is a fledgling, British, artisanal brand founded in 2014 by Liz Moores. Ms. Moores is a self-taught perfumer whose first creation was Anubis, a fragrance that bowled me over with its magnificence and is one of the best things I’ve tried this year. The other two scents in her debut collection are Tobacco Rose and the floral-woody chameleon, Angélique. All three perfumes were released in the U.K. in June, are eau de parfums in concentration, and are now carried in America by Indigo Perfumery.
On her website, Ms. Moores describes the character of Tobacco Rose as follows:
Anthropomorphised throughout literature and poetry the illustrious rose is immortally bound to its sweet, old fashioned and pretty stereotype. Tobacco Rose combines the scent of overblown roses with rich, mineral notes, as though one were breathing in not only the fading petals but the rich earth from which a rose grows. This is a perfume that rejects prettiness but instead combines the opposing masculine and feminine elements that fuse within nature.
Top notes: Bulgarian Rose Otto, Rose de Mai, Geranium Bourbon;
Heart notes: Galbanum, Beeswax, Vetiver, Hay, Ambergris;
Base notes: Oakmoss, Musk blend [Perfumer’s original custom blend].
A quick word about the geranium bourbon note. As some of you know, that is another name for rose geranium, only in its richest, most concentrated, and most expensive form. Rose geranium has a powerful rose aroma, with strong elements of either fruitiness, lemon, or both. Sometimes, it carries a tinge of mintiness as well. For the most part, though, I think it creates a sense of a rather green, fruity rose.
Tobacco Rose opens on my skin with rose, rose, rose, more rose, then rose geranium and greenness. It is a really rich Otto-type of rose instead of the sort you’d find at the florist, and it simultaneously smells red, green, and fruity, all at once. For a brief moment, it feels as though the petals are coated with honey nectar, but it is a quiet note that soon fades away. Much more noticeable at the start are splashes of soapiness, though they are overshadowed within minutes by an even larger wave of greenness, followed by stronger fruity tonalities and lemon.
The rose does not feel “boozy” in the ways that the term is usually used, but there is a definite sense of something liqueured at play. Have you ever made a balsamic vinegar reduction? It’s a delicious, highly condensed sauce which ends up having a suggestion of tart, tangy, fruit (black cherry) liqueur. Something similar is at play with Tobacco Rose whose red petals have been coated with geranium fruitiness that feels reduced down to a super-saturated liqueured tonality.
The flower feels fresh, but it’s so concentrated, heady, and opulent that I’m not sure I would describe it as a photorealistic rose. Nothing in my mother’s garden smells quite as rich or as green. Yet, at the same time, there are stretches of time when Tobacco Rose feels like the most magnificent, giant rose has suddenly sprouted out of my arm, complete with dark leaves and prickly stem. So, perhaps this rose would be better described as the High Definition HD version of something growing in your garden. The fact that Tobacco Rose has an extrait-like density and heaviness in its first four hours certainly contributes to that feel of a hyper-saturated rose concentrated down to its richest essence.
After the rose, the second most significant element on my skin is a greenness that is both abstract and multi-faceted. It’s a hard note to describe; I can’t pull apart its individual components, but I know they’re there in this very seamless blend. The greenness is neither strongly mossy, nor is it similar to the way that galbanum usually manifests itself on my skin. The latter is usually a black-greenness with razor sharpness. I often find it to be a brutal note, one that I’ve struggled with in such fragrances as Etat Libre‘s Rien or Piguet‘s famous Bandit. Thankfully, it’s very different here. Tobacco Rose’s greenness is simultaneously soft but sharp like thorns, and a little prickly. But it doesn’t feel like it’s going to slice you apart like a scalpel. (No, I’m not a fan of galbanum in most instances.)
You may be asking where is the “tobacco” in all this, and why is there is no such ingredient listed in the notes? Well, it would be a good question, as it is something I wondered about myself. No, there is not one whiff of tobacco on my skin at any point in any of the few times that I’ve worn Tobacco Rose. There wasn’t even anything that could be metaphorically described as an abstract “tobacco” aroma. Not one shred, not even microscopically.
In fact, I have to say that Tobacco Rose does not change its core essence on my skin at any point. It is a linear scent that is centered almost entirely on a bright, natural, rather fruited rose that is thoroughly and seamlessly imbued with rose geranium and various forms of greenness. Some of the secondary or tertiary notes may occasionally vary, as I’ll explain in more detail in a moment, but they’re extremely minor on my skin, and the perfume is really just a rose soliflore without any darkness. (A “soliflore” is a fragrance that centers on or amplifies one key note.)
I wrote to Ms. Moores to ask about the absence of tobacco in the official notes, its inclusion in the perfume’s name, and my own experiences with the scent. Her reply helped to shed light on the situation. In a nutshell, the “tobacco” is supposed to be a blurry suggestion whose aroma replicates a particular scent combination that she experienced one day in her garden, but not an actual tobacco element:
It was the combination of damp earth, wet concrete and roses that sparked my imagination. The scent was incredible and I could detect faint tobacco nuances from the damp earth around the roses. I began playing with mods built around this olfactory picture with tobacco absolute being the obvious choice but it didn’t work; it wasn’t what I had smelled that day. The tobacco aspect had to be softer and blur with the roses. An idea came to me to create a tobacco accord than I could softly bury among the roses in my imagined perfume. I built this accord using oakmoss, hay absolute which has a lot of delicate tobacco nuances, labdanum, patchouli and Peru balsam.
Using this accord enabled me to build the olfactory picture I remembered. So you are completely right when you question the inclusion or not of tobacco absolute. The ‘tobacco’ is my interpretation and not the literal material. There is no listing for tobacco simply because it isn’t there and I wasn’t comfortable saying it was when it wasn’t.
The name itself sprung from the moment in the garden when I smelled a wet rose blurred with delicate tobacco facets. I could make out very ‘feminine’ notes and ‘masculine’ ones too. I love this juxtaposition in nature and remember thinking that Tobacco Rose would be a great name for a rose species, instead it became the name of my perfume.
My skin doesn’t bring out almost any of Ms. Moores’ hay absolute accord. There is no “delicate tobacco nuances, labdanum, patchouli and Peru balsam.” All that happens is that there is a brief, subtle whiff of hay which appears in the background roughly 20 minutes into Tobacco Rose’s evolution. It’s as quiet as a church mouse, and heavily muffled.
What is much more significant on my skin is Tobacco Rose’s distinct muskiness. It is hard for me to separate out the finer notes, but it seems like castoreum’s particular sort more than anything else. Apparently, I was right and Tobacco Rose does have castoreum in its custom musk blend, but such a microscopic amount that Ms. Moores was surprised I detected it. All I can say is that there is more castoreum sharpness emanating off of my skin than hay, let alone any of the balsamic resins that I love so much.
At the start of the 2nd hour, Tobacco Rose is still a High Definition HD rose with endless amounts of rose geranium and waves of greenness, but there are subtle changes occurring in the background. The lightly honeyed nectar reappears to coat the velvety petals once in a while. It also feels as though yellow pollen were sprinkled over it, which is odd as nothing about Tobacco Rose feels powdery on my skin in any way. Tiny strands of hay blow back and forth, carried on a soft breeze of subtle warmth, as if the amber had awoken in the base. It never rises to the surface, but Tobacco Rose feels deeper and slightly warmer now.
In the furthest reaches of the background, a tiny wisp of vetiver pops up at the edges. It adds to the bright freshness of the scent, perhaps to counteract the richer elements and Tobacco Rose’s slowly deepening character. It also serves to underscore or amplify what had been a microscopic dash of wintergreen in the geranium bourbon. The end result of all these combined factors is a different sort of greenness than what had appeared at the start. It’s brighter, warmer, and less sharp.
For the most part, however, Tobacco Rose is primarily a very fruited, concentrated blend of rose and geranium rose, followed by fluctuating levels of greenness, liqueured “booziness,” and muskiness. It feels highly feminine and romantic, as if the woman wearing it belonged in an elaborate ball gown in a Vogue photo shoot or in a pre-Raphaelite painting. Yet, it never smells old-fashioned or dated. Tobacco Rose may be an uncomplicated, linear scent on my skin, but it smells very expensive-smelling, luxurious, and timeless.
The only substantial changes involve sillage and soapiness. At the start of the 4th hour, Tobacco Rose turns slightly soapy, and by the middle of the 9th hour, that aspect is quite prominent indeed. In essence, Tobacco Rose is now just a rose that is covered by a thin veneer of soapiness, and it remains that way until its very end.
One of my more technical struggles with Tobacco Rose is its softness. The perfume opens with moderate sillage, but it drops at the start of the 2nd hour to lie just an inch above my skin. It acts like an extrait in that regard, as it doesn’t project much, though the bouquet itself feels like an utter powerhouse when sniffed up close for the first few hours. The real problem occurs at the start of the 7th hour when Tobacco Rose was so quiet that I thought it had vanished entirely. I noticed that someone on Fragrantica voted for “Poor” in the Longevity category, and I have to wonder how much the hushed sillage impacts that perception.
I myself was continuously thinking that the scent was going to die on me at any moment after the start of the 8th hour, so I was surprised at just how tenaciously Tobacco Rose held on. It was still vaguely noticeable when I put my nose right on my skin at the 12th hour and, for several quite while after that, the perfume could occasionally be detected on tiny, little patches scattered at random places on my arm. A patch here, a smidge there — one of them even held a gossamer touch of Tobacco Rose at the 17th hour. But it took a hell of a lot of effort to detect, I must say, and it wasn’t a uniform occurrence.
I’ll be honest, Tobacco Rose is far, far, far too much rose for me personally, especially given the linearity. As regular readers know, I’m not a rose person. I can handle the flower if it’s essentially squashed, drowned, sat on, and then beaten to a cowering pulp by a plethora of oriental notes, but pure rose soliflores tend to make me shiver in my boots and run screaming for the hills.
Yet, even I can see that Tobacco Rose is a really lovely, special version. I wouldn’t wear it if you put a gun to my head, but I respect it enormously and can objectively perceive the beauty it radiates so clearly. In fact, it would be one of my first recommendations to any woman who was a die-hard, hardcore, rose fanatic and was looking for a non-oriental, rich soliflore.
While I don’t have a vast repertoire of rose fragrances to which I can compare it, I think Tobacco Rose has the elegant luxuriousness of an Amouage rose-centric attar for much of its life. Amouage’s Homage is quite soapy on my skin from start to finish, so it may not be the truest comparison, but Tobacco Rose does have the same full-bodied, concentrated feel, along with Homage’s largely uncomplicated character, and its flashes of green. The Papillon scent is certainly more opulent than other fragrances I’ve tried in the rose genre, admittedly few as those may be, and it’s definitely richer than several “eau de parfums” in other categories that I’ve encountered recently.
What was interesting to me is that Tobacco Rose does not seem to have been a rose soliflore without darkness on everyone who has tried it. When I wrote to Ms. Moores to inquire about the “tobacco” note, I mentioned the soliflore issue in passing. I was intrigued to learn that Tobacco Rose was quite different on some members of her family. One person experienced a dark, “urinous,” dirty rose, but another had almost no rose at all on their skin. Clearly, it depends on one’s individual skin chemistry.
There are a few blog reviews already out for Tobacco Rose, and all rave about the flower’s lushness. For Tara of Olfactoria’s Travels, the perfume was a “seductive,” “intoxicating,” photorealistic rose that was the closest thing that she’d smelt to a flower in nature, but one which was also flecked by a dark earthiness. It was her favorite of the Papillon trio, and her review reads, in part, as follows:
Tobacco Rose starts off rosy green like a bud encased in leaves. Within half an hour it opens up to reveal a vivid red rose in full bloom. I haven’t come across a rose that is so close to the scent of the real thing. It feels like I’ve rubbed rose petals onto my skin and am left with a strong impression of their scent. Plush and intoxicating, this rose may be at the point of tipping over into decay but right now it is living and breathing at its absolute peak.
The distinctive honeyed sweetness aided by the beeswax is perfectly counterbalanced by hay and vetiver, creating a background of dark earthiness. This intensifies towards the end as the rose returns to the soil from which it came.
Although the composition also features rose centfolia, I happily find it dominated by the deeper Bulgarian rose Otto. I’ve loved this essential oil for a number of years but never really found it in perfume form to my liking. Tobacco Rose has now fulfilled that desire perfectly with its rich, seductive beauty.
Tobacco Rose was also The Candy Perfume Boy‘s favorite out of the Papillon trio. He writes, in part:
OBSESSED! It is the rose scent that sent me swirling off on my recent rose kick and it is nothing short of addictive. […] [¶] What makes this particular take on nature’s most famous red flower so wonderful is the fact that takes a straightforward rose accord and turns it on its head, making it something brand new by adding a few small and unique touches that have a big impact.
These little inflections – a touch of minty geranium, a dab of beeswax and strips of cold metal – bolster the rose, strengthening its many nuances and ultimately making for an exciting new presentation of the flower. They also give Tobacco Rose a multi-faceted feel, meaning that it appears to be refreshing (thanks to the geranium), metallic, oriental and vegetal all at once. It’s complex but not hard to handle in any way, in fact it is effortless in its wearability and feels suited to almost any occasion.
In the base, Tobacco Rose treads on familiar but welcome territory. It captures the essence of the rose in all of its sweet and powdery glory and even throws in a touch of moss for good measure. […] I for one, am well and truly smitten.
I can see how a hardcore floral or rose lover might react that way, because Tobacco Rose is a rich, seamless, beautifully blended fragrance that really does feel like a hyper-saturated version of the flower in nature.
Personally, I would recommend Tobacco Rose only to hardcore rose fanatics. I certainly wouldn’t suggest it to men (unless they were wholly obsessed with roses), because I think there is little to no darkness, and absolutely none of the tobacco that they might expect. As a result, it is a fragrance that I think skews profoundly feminine in character. I don’t know a single man who wears a pure rose soliflore, but perhaps I simply keep strange company and my friends have narrow tastes. That said, I think women who are die-hard rose addicts should definitely try the scent. I’m sure they would be impressed by its richness and, hopefully, Tobacco Rose would manifest some of the depths, earthiness, or dirtiness that a few people have mentioned.
Shakespeare may have thought that “a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet,” but I think some are better than others, especially in perfumery. Tobacco Rose is one of those.