Rose essential oil, as well as the other various types of rose extracts, has been widely used in perfumery since ancient times. Because of this long, rich history, accounts vary about where exactly rose oil was first used as a fragrance, but it is widely believed that the first rose oil perfumes originated in Persia (present-day Iran).
In the late 18th century, the city of Grasse, France became known as the perfume capital of the world because of its fragrant and abundant fields of roses and other flowers that produced essential oil for the perfume industry. According to legends, Catherine de Medici, Queen of France at the time, was inspired to start an essential oils industry in Grasse while visiting and becoming greatly impressed by the profusion of fragrant flowers in the area and on the coast of the Mediterranean. Bored with the exotic and expensive perfumes that she was importing from the East, she chose Signor Tombarelli, a member of her entourage and perfumer by trade, to create a workshop in Grasse where he could make pomades, enflurauges and essential oils from the local gardens and fields, including rose (France Monthly, source, 2006).
During this period, Grasse was renowned for its community of tanners and leather goods. The tanners of Grasse, in order to get rid of the strong odor of the leather, used the natural essences of the region to scent leather gloves, especially the fragrances of rose and jasmine. After Catherine de Medici’s encouragement to start a perfume and essential oils industry in Grasse, a new guild was born: the Glovers Perfumers Guild. However, the glove and leather good industry slowly fell into decline as the tanners of Grasse completely abandoned the glove and other leather goods in favor of producing essential oil and enfloruages for perfumes (Avignon-et-Provence, source, 2014).
What is thought to be the first great perfume establishment was founded in 1768 by Antoine Chiris. Chiris’s fragrance house was considered to be the first and perhaps the greatest of the enterprises that made a business of harvesting natural materials and using them to produce perfume. Chiris, inspired by the scents of the rose and other flowers which permeated the city of Grasse, bought several fields in the region, including rose plantations, and obtained early patents on a steam distillation process capable of producing significant amounts of high-quality oil at a lower cost. Chiris’s grand perfumery became the model for many others that were to arise in the 19th century (Perfume Projects, source, 2014).
Today the fragrance of the rose is still one of the most desired aromas in the perfume industry. Rose oil is a fundamental ingredient in virtually all fine perfumes made by most famous perfumers, including Christian Dior, Givenchy, Lancôme, Bulgari, and Chanel (Omda, source). Because Rosa damascena is renowned for its fine fragrance, this species is the most widely used rose in perfumery (Biolandes, source, 2014). The petals of the damask rose are frequently commercially harvested to create rose oil for perfumery, and the perfume industry often refers to this rose as the Damascus rose. The Taif Rose, a species of Rosa damscena, is also especially valued in the perfume industry.
The essential oil of Rosa centifolia, or Rose de Mai, is also very highly valued and still grown and extracted into the concrete and absolute in Southern France where it is used to produce many perfumes, including Guerlain’s Shalimar and L’heure Bleue as well as Chanel’s Chanel No 5 and No 19.