Why This Small French Town Has the World’s Best Roses

When is a rose not just a rose? When it’s Rosa centifolia, an old varietal so highly scented that it makes the florally obsessed downright covetous. “It’s a little fruitier, deeper, and more voluptuous than any other rose,” says Fabrice Penot, co-founder of the New York–based cult perfume line Le Labo, known for its complex yet clean, single note–inspired scents. Centifolia’s allure is heightened by the fact that it’s still grown commercially in relatively few places: The most famous is the small town of Grasse on the French Riviera, where decades of rising real estate prices have shrunk thousands of acres of rose fields to just a few plots. And although the Frenchborn Penot has traveled around the world to find inspiration for his perfumes—including recent trips to Quebec and China—his favorite pilgrimage remains the one he makes to Grasse’s annual Rosa centifolia harvest in May.