Terry de Gunzburg is the kind of person I admire. She quit a career in medicine to train as a makeup artist, and thanks to her vision and dedication to quality, she has become so successful that she’s regularly called the Steve Jobs of makeup. Sounds odd, except that many of the cosmetics she launched have remained best sellers for decades, such as the famous Touche Éclat, a highlighter-concealer pen she created for Yves Saint Laurent. When she announced a perfume line two years ago, I prepared for fireworks.
But the first launch was disappointing, proving that a lot of money doesn’t instantly translate into great perfume. The names of the fragrances, Rêve Opulent, Parti Pris, Lumière d’Epices, Ombre Mercure and Flagrant Délice, were more memorable than the scents themselves. (After I wrote this article, I realized that de Gunzburg now has 12 perfumes in its collection, including the ubiquitous Oud.) The problem is typical of niche brands—the lack of editing.
Two subsequent launches, Rose Infernale and Rouge Nocturne, also lack editing—why have two similar oriental roses?—but here, the rose lover in me tells the pedant to be quiet and just enjoy the ride. And I do. Rose Infernale, in particular, is a striking fragrance, and I’m addicted to its dark roses smoked over incense and sandalwood.
Like everything else in de Gunzburg’s line, Rose Infernale smells expensive. “I smell crisp dollar bills,” commented a perfumer colleague, a typical wry—and slightly envious–remark on any perfume project with a big budget. I could drink the rose essence she uses; it’s lush, buttery, with a thick honeyed texture. The moment you apply Rose Infernale, you notice its bold accent.
On the other hand, Rose Infernale is so layered in dark notes that you would be disappointed if you came to it looking for sweet summertime roses. The perfume smells peppery and smoky, and as the rose grows bigger and mixes with the earthy roots (vetiver) and burning incense, it becomes edgier. Men can wear Rose Infernale easily.
The drydown arrives late—the perfume is very long lasting, and it’s the part I love the most. The brighter citrusy-peppery notes are gone, the rose has lost some of its gloss, but it still smells complex and rich. No, it’s not a rose corsage or a summer garden rose. It’s a rose garland given as an offering at an Indian temple. It’s wilting in the cloud of incense and is slicked with sandalwood paste. Maybe it’s much too rich and heavy, but it’s evocative, and I can’t get enough of it.
My infatuation with Rose Infernale is not surprising, since I already love voluptuous roses from Arabian Tales like Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule and La Fille de Berlin, Frédéric Malle Portrait of a Lady, and Guerlain Nahéma. Yves Rocher Rose Absolute and Caron Parfum Sacré are also sultry and get a bonus point for their affordable price.
If you have your favorite dark opulent roses, please add them to my list.
Terry de Gunzburg Rose Infernale Eau de Parfum includes notes of rose, incense, and vetiver. Available at Barneys, Harrods, Selfridges, First-in-Fragrance. 100ml/$210