The Scent of Roses: The Inward Fragrance of Each Other’s Heart

One does not need to be a perfume connoisseur to recognise the scent of a rose. Its liberal use in modern perfumery has familiarised many with its characteristics and made the rose a part of our olfactory language. However, this ubiquity belies its enduring and mythic status.  Throughout history, rose perfumes have been variously used to anoint royalty, cleanse heretics, symbolize Gods, express virginity, cure ailments and flavor celebratory food but this correlation between the scent, beauty and divinity is not fixed. Rose perfumes have also embodied immorality, announced subversion, and signified death.
Whilst many of these uses are a distant memory, fashion houses and perfumers still draw upon and reconfigure these contradictory connotations in the development of their perfumes today.  The talk will chart this history and consider the role that mythology, religion, horticultural advances, literature and the growth of the popular press have played in the shifting fashionability of the rose and its perfume.


Mairi MacKenzie is a historian and curator based in Glasgow. She is Research Fellow at The Glasgow School of Art, and a visiting lecturer at Liverpool School of Art and Design and Glasgow University. Mairi’s current research is focussed upon social and cultural histories of perfume; the history of dressing up and going out in Glasgow; and the relationship between clothing and identity in the life and work of the artist Steven Campbell. Her publications include Dream Suits: The Wonderful World of Nudie Cohn (Lannoo: 2011), Football, Fashion and Unpopular Culture: David Bowie’s influence on Liverpool Football Casuals (Routledge: 2019); The Inward Fragrance of Each Other’s Heart in ‘The Rose in Fashion: Ravishing’ by Amy de la Haye (Yale University Press, 2020): and Perfume and Fantasy: Scent in Popular Culture and Everyday Life (Bloomsbury: Forthcoming).