My Sultry Valentine : Dark Rose Perfumes

Veronica lake2
There is something captivating about darkness. It conceals, it frightens, it beguiles. In perfumery, dark notes like smoky woods, balsams and leather can give a new dimension to familiar impressions. Nowhere is this more obvious than with rose. Infuse the rose accord with patchouli and amber and the composition suddenly smolders, taking the rose out of the conventional prim and pretty territory. Instead, the sensuality of dark rose blends evokes a film noir set with a brooding femme fatale in the leading role.

Spices, incense, resins and other classical oriental notes create a dramatic setting in which even the most ebullient rose accord becomes dark and moody. When Jean-Paul Guerlain created Nahéma, he was inspired by the icy beauty of Catherine Deneuve, but the fragrance itself is a sultry rose accented with ripe plums and dark woods. Ormonde Jayne Ta’if takes a page out of the Arabian Nights with its cornucopia of spicy roses, saffron scented sweetmeats and dates. Ta’if teases with its gourmand impressions, but it alludes more to the boudoir than the patisserie. The lusty rose and amber gem of Annick Goutal Ce Soir ou Jamais makes it perfectly obvious to me why this perfume was called “Tonight or Never” by its creator.

The femme fatale need not bear her full cleavage to entice, and the rose likewise can be austere, but still irresistible. The rose in Frédéric Malle Une Rose gains a haunting beauty when contrasted with earthy accents. Une Rose evokes the nutty sweetness of fallen leaves, the mineral scent of rain on bare skin and the warmth of someone’s touch. Similarly wistful is L’Artisan Voleur de Roses, except that it is even darker. The accord of rose and plum is wrapped into so many layers of patchouli and balsams that as the composition develops, the flower petals are transformed into wood shavings. It is a surprising twist, which reveals that the androgynous quality of Voleur de Roses makes it equally seductive on a man or a woman.

What are your favorite  dark rose perfumes?

Image: sultry Veronica Lake, an American film noir actress.

Further reading: Marina’s tempting post  from 2006.

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59 Comments

  • Suzanna: All of these are favorites of mine, although only Une Rose has true shades of darkness on me. The rest have opening lightness depicted through fruitiness, or, in the case of the Goutal, an effervesence like champagne.

    Darker and more temperamental to my nose (and skin) is Lutens Rose de Nuit and the scratchy Regina Harris Frankincense-Myrrh Rose Maroc oil. February 13, 2012 at 10:00am Reply

  • Grusheczka: Dark roses are one of my favorite types of fragrances. Recently, I’ve been loving MFK’s Lumiere Noire pour Femme, which combines a dark, spicy rose with the Egyptian musk base you can find in Kurkdjian’s own Narciso Rodriguez For Her. It’s as good as dark rose perfumes get for me! February 13, 2012 at 10:25am Reply

  • rosarita: Oh, my favorite floral category hands down. You mentioned some gems, Nahema especially. My HG dark rose is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz Inner Sanctum. Montale Black Aoud is wonderful, and Gres Cabaret deserves a mention. L’Art de Gucci should never have been discontinued. C&S Dark Rose is pretty but not dark enough. February 13, 2012 at 11:21am Reply

  • Yulya: As much as I love roses, I for some reason, do not like distinct roses in perfumes… I cannot explain it. Having said that, I am more and more thinking about placing Nahema on my wish list. As a matter of fact, it is already there! February 13, 2012 at 11:24am Reply

  • Victoria: Rose de Nuit is great, there is so much moss and amber that it smells completely unexpected. Definitely not a waif rose. Not even a bombshell, but rather Lawrence of Arabia. February 13, 2012 at 11:41am Reply

  • Victoria: I am adding Lumiere Noire to my list of fragrances to revisit. Francis Kurkdjian mentioned in one of his interviews that it was developed out of a fragrance he made for Catherine Deneuve. She is someone I admire very much. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 11:43am Reply

  • Victoria: Gres Cabaret is beautiful! For someone who loves rose in a mossy setting, it is a perfect choice. DSH Inner Sanctum sounds interesting. I'm yet to start exploring her line. The choice is overwhelming! So, maybe this perfume could be a start. February 13, 2012 at 11:49am Reply

  • Victoria: Definitely give a bit of skintime, but I also can relate to not enjoying all types of scents. Overly sweet orientals just don't do anything for me. That's ok. There are so many other perfumes to choose from. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 11:51am Reply

  • mary ter heege: Rose Chypree by Andy Tauer is a very special one for me. Not for every day. February 13, 2012 at 12:20pm Reply

  • Absolute Scentualist: This is one of my favorite fragrance categories as well. I love the dirtiness of LAP’s Voleur de Roses, but my long time favorite would have to be L’Arte di Gucci edp. It is stunning and one that will always be in my collection. Frederic Malle’s Portrait of a Lady is nice, though not quite as dark as I’d hoped it’d be, and another nice, sexy dark rose is the original Agent Provocateur. And though they aren’t necessarily that dark to me, Paestum Rose, Rose 31 and L’Inspiratrice are really lovely and unusual takes on rose that stray from the often light and candied interpretation as well. February 13, 2012 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Alexp: My no 1 on the list of dark roses is Portrait of a Lady. Speaking about Francis Kurkdjian , my first discovery in this territory was Lady Vengeance February 13, 2012 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: L’Arte de Gucci was such a gem!
    Portrait of a Lady is so beautiful, but it is still not in my regular rotation. I actually prefer it to Une Rose, but on an impulse, Une Rose is what I go for. February 13, 2012 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is another sultry beauty! February 13, 2012 at 12:53pm Reply

  • Emily: I used to think I didn’t like rose, until one day I realized how many dark rose perfumes I owned. Love Voleur de Roses and Portrait of a Lady, and also Cabaret (though it’s not that dark on me — kind of a dark-rose lite, if that makes sense). I also get a dark rose feel from Aromatics Elixir. But my favorite is probably Parfum Sacre. February 13, 2012 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Rob: My favourite rose is Quartz Rose by Olivier Durbano. It is not so dark, maybe, but it changes considerably over time, just like a femme fatale does, and is never really sweet nor pretty. February 13, 2012 at 12:54pm Reply

  • Elisa: I love Tauer’s URC and Incense Rose, Sonoma Scent Studio’s Vintage Rose, Agent Provocateur, Tom Ford Noir de Noir (similar to Rossy de Palma, but for some reason I don’t think of RdP as “dark”) … and I just won a bottle of DSH Dirty Rose in a swap — it’s very dark with tons of rich leather and patchouli and just a hint of rose. Would be great on a man! February 13, 2012 at 1:05pm Reply

  • Gnosmic: Strange Invisible Black Rosette, Montale Aoud Damascus, and Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan all come to mind. February 13, 2012 at 1:10pm Reply

  • Vanessa: Ta’if is in my top five perfumes period, and definitely my go-to sultry rose! Just discovered the Neela Vermeire trio including Mohur, which is growing on me. I also have a soft spot for PG Brulure de Rose and Flower Oriental, though arguably the latter is more of a pepper and woodfest than rose, but still.

    Black Rosette reminds me…I once got someone to smell a sample of that once, whose first GF had been a Goth who chewed spearmint gum and drank a lot of tea. He was transported! February 13, 2012 at 1:35pm Reply

  • Joan: Liaisons Dangereuses by Kilian! February 13, 2012 at 1:52pm Reply

  • OperaFan: I second the votes for Portrait of a Lady and SSS Vintage Rose as 2 great dark roses of very different character. Montale has some truly wonderful dark (and bright) roses, 2 additions to black Aoud are Aoud Roses Petals and Aoud/Oud Queen Roses.
    Love this topic! February 13, 2012 at 2:05pm Reply

  • skilletlicker: Voleur de Roses is a scent that I personally love and love on others – just the other day a woman passed our table at a restaurant and left the most ravishing trail of scent – I said to my friend, that’s Voleur de Roses! I couldn’t leave w/o verification so on our way out, I asked the woman if she was wearing VdR and she was! We then had an impromptu chat about that perfume and other scents we loved. February 13, 2012 at 2:08pm Reply

  • Samarkand: I like very much Ta’if and Une Rose too, but would add Noir de Noir a very dark, spicy and sophisticated rose, Une rose chyprée and Portrait of a lady.

    There is as well some new niche perfume inspired by India, Mohur is the dark rose, whose creator is from India but Duchaufour is the nose.

    I have never found Nahema dark I’ll try it again for sure. February 13, 2012 at 2:44pm Reply

  • Natalia: Agent Provocateur is my favorite dark rose. Something i immediately think of when i hear “boudoir” 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 2:49pm Reply

  • minette: my favorite is lumiere noire pour femme – which i teasingly told francis kurkdjian he made just for me! it’s such a wonderful scent – i wish he had (wonder who inspired it)! another one i really enjoy is paestum rose – which is dark, wet, and cold with incense – really lovely and evocative of wet gardens and stone cathedrals. i also wear an arabic rose perfume that has a dark, almost bitter quality, and i can’t remember its name – lila perhaps?. caron’s or et noir is another dark, rich rose, to my nose. and their parfum sacre is also cold enough for me to think of it as dark. oh, and there are hermes rouge and parfum d’hermes. also have lots of warm roses – cabaret, diva, agent provacateur and l’arte di gucci among them. and i love rose in so many others… truly a gorgeous flower and note. February 13, 2012 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Rose D: Wonderful choice before Valentine´s Day!

    I am a huge rose fan in all of its facets. One of the creations I admire the most is Diva. Perhaps it is not exactly dark; but on my skin it is definitely sultry.

    For a more modern take of the note, I would choose the original Agent Provocateur. In addition of being a personal favourite; I have also noticed it gets lots of attention.

    And a full bottle of Voleur des Roses is currently on my waiting list. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 3:38pm Reply

  • Musette: My favorite ‘darks’ are Liz Zorn’s Cordovan Rose, with that heavy leather vibe and vintage Ubar (I love this best worn over Rosine’s Folie du Rose)…and of course, my beloved Tribute Attar (again worn over FduRose – it’s quickly become my go-to rose base). I also have a bit of a crush on Kilian’s Rose Oud.

    And here I thought I hated ‘rose’! 😀 February 13, 2012 at 4:33pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: One of my favorite “dark” roses is the original Stella MacCartney. It smells like roses that have been chain smoking, or a late night in an after-hours club where they don’t enforce the smoking ban. It’s floral, yet naughty, and I adore the dark purple juice.

    I thought Strange Invisible stopped making Black Rosette, more’s the pity. It reminded me of Grace Jones singing “Warm Leatherette.” Sultry and decadent. February 13, 2012 at 5:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like both perfumes, and Lady Vengeance has such a fantastic drydown. February 13, 2012 at 5:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: The rose note in AE really makes this dark chypre smile.

    I was like you. I thought that I didn’t like roses until I realized that I have a large number of them. Since then I’ve enjoyed all times of roses, but the dark ones are still my favorites. February 13, 2012 at 5:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I haven’t tried it, but I’m adding it my list. This comment thread is so full of inspiring ideas. February 13, 2012 at 5:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: DSH Dirty Rose… another dark rose to add to my list!
    And yes, Rossy de Palma has a beautiful rose note, but I also usually do not think of it as a rose. It is more a of woody-patchouli composition to me. February 13, 2012 at 5:41pm Reply

  • Victoria: Mmm, yes… the rose note in Serge Lutens Muscs Khoublai Khan really makes for a great contrast to the animalic musk accord. February 13, 2012 at 5:42pm Reply

  • Victoria: Ok, I now need to smell Black Rosette! This image sounds so intriguing. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 5:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: Another favorite! February 13, 2012 at 5:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: I knew that you will enjoy the topic of roses! 🙂 Montale roses are definitely in the sultry dark category. Amazing how much a touch of dark woods can render them smoldering. February 13, 2012 at 5:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Voleur de Roses has an amazing sillage. I’ve smelled it once on a young French girl at the art gallery, and I also had to ask her what she was wearing. It gave her such a beautiful aura–sexy, but understated and elegant at the same time. February 13, 2012 at 5:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have been wearing Mohur a lot as of late, and I agree, it is a beautiful dark rose. Its drydown feels like velvet, rich and soft. A beautiful combination. February 13, 2012 at 5:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Me too! I often mention it as my favorite sensual perfume, so I decided to focus on something else for this post. Just for a change of pace. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 5:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: Catherine Deneuve inspired Lumiere Noire! You are in great company. 🙂 February 13, 2012 at 5:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: Diva is sultry, and I am so glad that it still has its fans. It really deserves so much more attention. February 13, 2012 at 5:50pm Reply

  • Victoria: Those sound like fantastic combinations! I’m now craving them all, Anita. February 13, 2012 at 5:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: They still make it, according to them website. You and Vanessa (in her comment above) inspired me to order a sample, and I look forward to trying it. February 13, 2012 at 5:54pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: Wow, there are quite a few here I really need to try. My favorite dark rose is Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance. February 13, 2012 at 7:18pm Reply

  • mals86: My husband asked me to pick out a few fragrances that I liked to smell ON him – and Gres Cabaret, meant for women, was one of them. The bottle is unfortunately not very manly (snicker – actually it looks like a costume for a Vegas showgirl!), so I finally bought him a bottle and decanted it into a plain atomizer. I’ll give it to him tomorrow… and never tell him it was marketed to women, because it really is fabulous on him, all spicy-incense-musk with just a bit of rose. February 13, 2012 at 8:12pm Reply

  • mals86: (All that woody-patchy stuff is probably why I don’t love Rossy, Elisa.) February 13, 2012 at 8:13pm Reply

  • mals86: I just wrote a post this morning about rose perfumes for Valentine’s Day – and what a treat to come by and read your Dark Roses article!

    I love Lumiere Noire pour femme, and L’Arte di Gucci. And as I mentioned above, I really enjoy Gres Cabaret on my husband, though I don’t find its rose really dark enough to characterize it as a full-blown Dark Rose. Love Parfum Sacre as well – and wore Ta’if with pleasure until I overdid it one day, and from then on the thought of it made me feel slightly queasy. (It’s okay, I swapped my decant on to someone who really wanted it.)

    Lyric Woman seems dark to me, though not Gothic in the least, more like wood with a dark finish. Oh, and Citizen Queen! Love that rose-leather. February 13, 2012 at 8:18pm Reply

  • Jessica: A subject near and dear to my heart! I love all the roses you mentioned. Caron Pour Une Femme is another… and Perles de Lalique and Ava-Luxe Roses. February 13, 2012 at 8:34pm Reply

  • Musette: I have you to thank for the intro to l’Arte di Gucci, mals (“that’s pronounced Goo-chee, not Guk-ee” 10 points if you can identify where that possibly-grackled line came from:-)

    it really is pretty – and I like pretty – and I get lots of compliments when I wear it!

    xo A February 13, 2012 at 9:26pm Reply

  • Elisa: Have you tried Dirty Rose, Mals? The patch in it would probably kill you!! February 14, 2012 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, you are sneaky! You know, I’ve sprayed some Womanity on my husband on day without telling him what it was, and he loved it (and so did I.) It didn’t smell at all feminine. Of course, he rebelled when he heard that it is called Womanity. I need to follow your lead and make a decant. February 14, 2012 at 4:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Another one I like very much! Dark and sultry, for sure. February 14, 2012 at 4:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: I fear that I was unfair to Perles de Lalique when I first reviewed it. I like it so much better these days. February 14, 2012 at 4:49pm Reply

  • Victoria: So many interesting choices! I also love Parfum Sacre Intense, which is darker and warmer.
    Still on the fence about Lyric Woman, which occasionally dries down to be too sharp on me. However, the opening is magnificent–incense, roses and spices. February 14, 2012 at 4:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: I wanted to say that I wish that Gucci brings it back, but I imagine that it would be so different that it would be a disappointment.

    Please give me a clue, Anita! 🙂 February 14, 2012 at 4:55pm Reply

  • Emma: Lutens Rose de Nuit is my best dark rose although I’d prefer FM Une Rose to it if it wasn’t for a wine note in it that puts me off. February 14, 2012 at 7:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: I like it in spite of that wine note, rather than for it. Still, it is an interesting perfume. February 15, 2012 at 6:37am Reply

  • Alicia: My favorite rose fragrances are not very dark, the glorious Nahema, and the entrancing Lyric by Amouage.
    I adore roses, and from time to time I sprinkle my pillow with Tea Rose. August 6, 2013 at 10:30pm Reply

  • Lisa: Hey! I’m late to this party (very!)- forgive me? It’s Feb/2014, & I’ve only (just) newly discovered Sisley’s 2006 release “Soir de Lune”; Having tried, and tried, (and tried…) to love SdL’s Big Sis(ley’s) Eau du Soir, but she didn’t choose me. But, the 2006 release, Soir de Lune: Moonlight indeed- Holy Hell I am be-tranced / en-witched / mesmerized & ensorcelled, by this Deep, Dark, (Goth!) Earthy, Mossy/Woodsy, Spiced, thickly Honeyed Rose accented by fruits (classic Citruses in opening, & Peach in the heart!). Some reviewers reference comparisons w/ the under-rated, under-appreciated, timeless, beautiful, Italian classic honeyed floral: Ungaro’s Diva. Sisley’s Soir de Lune (EdP), which seems to instill strong reactions, pro or con, picks up where Diva left off, & went deep in-ground earth, waaay deep in the woods, where it’s so whisper quiet, I hike alongside the herd of deer that live in the 100 acre-nature preserve / along 2 deep emerald green glacial lakes, where my home sits with hike-in priviledges… So yes- For me it’s a given- I already know Diva is Fab, beyond compare, with her warm heart of spiced, honeyed Rose… She’s a blast from the past (1983), that I can wear, and love to do so regularly- Unlike some of her contemporaries/commonly compared sisters (ie mega florals Paloma Picasso, Knowing, etc- UGGHH I can’t wear them at all – They wear me!). Diva is the bomb- SdL is all that & sooo much more, + everything is AMPED & measured & blended to magical perfection! Absolutely dripping in thick Honey, (fear not- this is a non-sugared Honey!), & I’ve never, ever (ever!) experienced such a true rose in full bloom (except an actual 4 dozen, full stem red roses, in full bloom, given to me in hopes of reconciling, by/from a mistake of a bf I’d just dumped). SdL is the deepest, darkest, earthiest, mossiest, woodsiest, spiciest, Honey-est, truest Rose & the Earth it’s rooted in, including surrounding trees woodsy / mossy w/ (surprise!) a succulent Peach accent, beyond imagination! She’s off the hook! Btw- “spices” include not only Coriandre / (aka Cilantro) & Nutmeg, but also Pimento! Yes- There is a lot going on, how Sisley ever blended & balanced this sooo perfectly is nothing short of miraculous. I surely *never* imagined I’d tolerate a ‘fume that opens with a dash of (???!)Pimento… But, somehow, it adds just a perfect, complimentary “bite”. (I absolutely, positively, cannot tolerate ANY of the Cumin so prevalent in so many of Luten’s line). Soir de Lune- Think really Goth, Vampy, everlasting night-life- But, apparently, quite rather daytime-wearable, too! She has the incredible bang for your buck sillage & longevity of Aromatics Elixer, & as mentioned, she does tend to evoke strong reactions one way or the other- So, definitely try before you buy. I’ve sampled perhaps 1000+ perfumes, & have elected to purchase ~ 20 fb’s, most of which shall remain in my permanent rotation. Lightning strikes, for me to become so enthralled w/ a particular ‘fume- And, please know that SdL was NOT love at 1st bite- Something kept calling me back. I re-visited her (wore) fully 6 times, before realizing that I couldn’t go on living without a fb! Btw- EdP lasts 12 hrs. +, & lingers days/weeks on clothing (& my keyboard!). I greatly appreciate the numerous & varied perspectives here- Thank you all !!! 🙂 L’artisan’s Voleur de Roses sounds intriguing, based upon rave reviews here! Also- another spiced Rose for all history: Parfum Sacre- True that! I was likewise stunned into scent-rapture by Caron’s spiced Rose timeless, classic work of Art. I love her so much, that I just purchased Sacre’s vintage vessel- The old Gold-Gilded Clear Glass Globe (Splash). Say that 10X fast! And, I have puh-lenty of new issue, 100 ml. EdP spray bottles to continually refill the vtg. Gilded Bottle. (Sorry, I don’t see any option to attach photo). It makes me sooo happy to know that Sacre is recognized for Bomb that she is- Timeless, gorgeous, glorious! (And, a STEAL too!). Thanks for reading this rave 🙂 February 11, 2014 at 10:23am Reply

    • Aimbl: I am a latecomer to this topic obviously, but I wanted to express my thanks to Lisa above whose post has given me some new names of rose and rose chypres to try. Current FB favorites are: nahema, 2013 batch extrait; l’ arte di gucci, edp splash; FM une rose; ungaro diva, edp splash. I have samples of perhaps 30 others and will try soir de lune. I am also hunting for a 1950s vintage caron or et noir extrait which I think is significantly deeper and richer than the modern iteration. FM une rose body butter is also gorgeous. September 27, 2014 at 9:00pm Reply

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