Although the name suggests it to be a night-invoking perfume, I find it extremely summer-like and full of light. It starts off with a citrus splash of bergamot and tangerine, backed up with a feminine floral notes of jasmine, and a more masculine eau-de-cologne like notes of orange blossoms and a hint of musk, that adds sensuality to that blast of freshness. As the top notes start to fade, they reveal a luscious fruity note of peach supported by vanilla, which gradually pushes away the dominant orange-blossom and tangerine accord. The dry down gradually enters with an interesting and surprising accord dominated by a fresh, woody and masculine vetiver notes, accompanied by green notes, orange blossom (softer and more subtle now), and a very modest hint of vanilla and rose. This perfume is full of surprises, I love the way the stages fade into each other. The overall impression is of freshness and vivacity, mingled with a tad of melancholy, which brings to mind Chopin's expressive piano nocturni.
It’s surprising to see that such an old-fashioned aldehydic floral was launched in the 80’s (1981 to be exact). The perfumer behind Nocturnes is Gerard Lefort.
Top notes: Aldehydes, Bergamot, Mandarin, Green notes Heart notes: Orange Blossom, Jasmine, Ylang Ylang, Tuberose, Stephanotis, Lily of the Valley, Orris, Rose, Cyclamen Base notes: Vetiver, Musk, Sandalwood, Amber, Vanilla, Benzoin
Narcisse Noir is a smoldering femme fatale. Once you succumbed to as much as a single dab on the wrist, you’re in for a big voice declaring unrecruited love with flamboyant stare of black-countered eyes and dramatic uttering of painted lips.
It takes about half an hour of full-on flowery menace, prowling orange blossom and high-pitched tuberose. Painted in oily strokes full of powder and grapey bittersweet salicilates redolent of old rouge compact, vintage lipstick and perfume-stained satin intimates that smell like peering between the sheets of a turn-of-the-century’s escort. But beyond all the dirty scandals and high-maintenance drama lies a surprising secret and her even more dangerous side...
Once the rather sickening flowers dissipate, Narcisse Noir becomes the code name of a World War I spy mistress. She lures the enemy into her bed, and the moment they are charmed by her chalky whispers and softened by her velvety gown – she flips around and becomes the master of torture in patent leather attire, with spurs in her heels that fill the dusty boudoir with incense smoke, cigarette butts and a mysterious, inexplicable animalic presence that is somewhere between a cat and lion. And on the not so rare occasion when her victim becomes aware of her betrayal, she will escape the gunshots with the nostril-pinching scent of burnt rubber tires, leaving long skid marks and an even longer trail of enigma.
Top notes: Bergamot, Petitrgarin, Lemon Heart notes: Orange blossom, Tuberose, Jonquil, Jasmine, Rose Base notes: Leather, Musk, Vetiver, Civet, Sandalwood
Narcisse Noir is an iconic scent, created in 1911 by Ernest Daltroff (Caron's founding perfumer). The Art-Nuveau bottle is just as legendary as the scent itself, with its squat jar reminiscent of ink vessle, and a black carved glass stopper with a flower motif of the "black narcissus". Legends could be told (or made up) about such flower, and the familiarity of it as well as the mystery and intrigue came well before "Noir" was so fashionable... Narcisse Noir is the kind of perfume that inspires intrigue, writing, and perhaps even films. It's not a perfume I often reach for, yet I don't think it will ever leave my collection.
As an aside note: I've heard mentioned time and over again, that Narcisse Noir or Black Narcissus is mentioned by Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard". This is the only reference I had confirmed from the film that refers to a scent - tuberose, to be exact: "She'd smell of tuberoses, which is not my favorite perfume, not by a long shot" (filmsite). This could be Narcisse Noir or could be from any number of other tuberose-laden scents of the era. And I won't be surprised if Gloria Swanson was overdosing on that perfume before that scene to get an authentic reaction from William Holden.
Which reminds me of another eccentric theatrical character of similar overbearing presence. Neither ladies might have worn Narcisse Noir; but they sure have the same super-imposing personalities of the perfume. It takes a long time to warm up to them - once you've discovered their volnurability; or in the perfume's case - it's leathery, deep and non-floral aspect.
Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi (1927) has the attitude of a bygone era, when perfumers tried to capture the scents of impossible-to-extract bouquets of flowers. There is nothing light or cheerful about these sweet peas: they are so self-absorbed in their seriousness that they literally smell like they’ve been rotting in their own green leaves for a while once first inhaled.
Green hay note is dominant at first, alongside powdery and sweet-cloying notes that bring to mind old scented lipsticks and face powders from the 40’s, and flowery linden and lilac milled soaps. Like most Caron’s perfumes, it takes some time to unravel the density of what smells like an aldehyde boosted sweet pea absolute (if such thing was to be found). A spicy cinnamon-and-bay-rum note attempts to rise above the bouquet without much success, and only once the hay and aldehydes subside, the almond-and-vanilla of heliotropin nearly take over with very little floral bouquet or greens left. It is similar to Farnesiana but not at all a comfort scent, but a rather uncomfortable and complicated floral bouquet past its prime. Hours later, the orange blossom is revealed, but more as an aspect of heliotrope flower rather than on its own.
These nights, I’m haunted by dreams of aviation. Flying small primitive aircrafts of not-particularly functional structure; descending overtop clouds, green lands and fields of ice stretch beneath me; arriving at unknown continents in unpredictable timing.
In the days when aviation was used mostly as a method of combat and breaking human records, the metallic frame of an aircraft symbolized not a commodity but an experiment on breaking the bounds of the human body and descending into the future. The destination to which the airplane arrived at was less important than the airpath itself. Clouds, winds and painful, misty frosted death were all obstacles that could be felt through the bones rather than speculated by the faint of heart at the leisure of the passenger cabin…
Perhaps this is what brought me to pull out the sample of En Avion I had buried for quite some time. I have never quite given it a try for a prolonged period of time. Perhaps it is my love affair with Vol de Nuit that prevented me to really experience En Avion until now. It’s as if there is room only for one aviation perfume at a time. There is something particularly fascinating about female aviators – take mankind’s artificial abilitly to fly, independence and femininity and put them together on the horizon where a great ocean meets the even vaster skies… That is where magic and mystery prevails. Add to that the interesting life stories and achievements of women aviators such as Adrienne Bolland (1896-1975), the first woman to fly over the Andes; Hélène Boucher (1908-1934), a pioneer French aviator who broke several records including altitude and speed and was one of the first women to perform aerobatics; and Maryse Bastié (1898-1952), the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic ocean in a solo flight. There are many honours after her name
And of course there is the mythological Amelia Earhart (1897-1837), the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928 (and the second to fly it solor after Maryse Bastie), and who disappeared in her flight above the Atlantic but despite her many other accomplishments as a aviatrice, she’s most famous for her mysterious disappearance towards the end of her flight around the world. She disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, between Lae, New Guinea and Howland Island – the destination Amelia never reached. Of course, this lead to many conspiracy theories, most of which rely on a firm belief that Amelia was in fact a spy, who’s disappearance was either staged by Roosevalt’s administration as to not jeopardize her operation; or, alternatively, was in fact caught by the Japanese while on her espionage mission.
And last but not least, my classmate from high school, who played the accordion and the piano, the beautiful Anat Kalechman, the talleset, shyest and longest-haried tomboy I’ve ever met. She lost her father (a combating pilot in the IDF), and felt compelled to follow his footsteps and become one of the first few young women to train for flying a combat jet plane in the military, and along with 4 other female comrades of that year - defy the many stereotypes about the abilities of women to function in battle. Rather than cutting her career as a pilot short because of sudden death during training, Anat exit combat airforce was through the gate of the most lively dramas of them all – she fell in love with another pilot and got married; an act that many real-life Diana-like goddesses fall for at one point or the other... Instead, Roni Zuckerman has become the first Israeli female fighter pilot in 2001…
So what’s with that and perfume you ask? Well, in the first decades of aviation, when we were all blinded by the glare of heroism and miraculous ascent of human spirit above the clouds, defying gravity and other enemies – aviation has inspired art – including books (Antoine de Saint Exupéry, an aviator, spy and an author, has written several books inspired by the topic). And lastly there are two grand perfumes inspired by aviation – En Avion (Ernest Daltroff, 1932), dedicated to the pioneer female aviators mentioned above – Bolland, Boucher and Bastié; and the infamous Vol de Nuit (Jacques Guerlain, 1933), inspired by the book of the same name by the abovementioned aviator-author, which I have already reviewed on this humble blog.
En Avion opens dark, like all Caron extraits, and with a certain bittersweetness that does remind me somewhat of Vol de Nuit (though I have to admit, the only reason I compare the two is because of their common theme). While Vol de Nuit is green and sharp, herbaceous at first – En Avion starts off more spicy and floral. Carnation is apparent immediately, but so is orange flower, which smells like an echo of l’Heure Bleue with pilot-hat and goggles… Although Vol de Nuit has the signature powderiness from the classic Guerlinade and iris notes engrained within its structure; En Avion takes powderiness nearly into central stage, and in a far softer and lady-like olfactory context: rose, lilac and violet, and underlined with powdery opoponaxs which almost instantly bring to mind the scent of vintage face powder. As for the base of En Avion, it is redolent of Atlas cedarwood with its suave, polished olfactory-texture, a bittersweetness of tonka bean (again, a reminder of of Vol de Nuit; but let’s not forget that En Avion preceded Vol de Nuit’s launch by a year…). There is, however, a subtle presence of burnished leather at the base, however it is not as animalic or leathery as other Caron creations (i.e.: Narcisse Noir, Tabac Blond), it is almost as soft as suede… If Vol de Nuit is a wild, ambitious woman with restrained emotions and top-notch professionalism; En Avion is not any less ambitious woman that secretly displays her femininity even when boarding an airplane for what might be her last flight ever… Underneath the pilot jumper, she is still wearing silk stockings and laced lingerie.
Perhaps En Avion is a bit like Mml. Boucher, who interestingly enough, started her career as a dressmaker, which led to her designing leather gear and accessories for pilots; she than became so fascinated with flying she felt compelled to pursue this dangerous field. I wonder if she was the kind of lady who would take her maquillage with her to the aircraft to get all perked up before performing her aerobatics…
According to Perfume Addicts database, the notes of En Avion include: Top notes: Rose, Neroli, Spicy Orange Heart notes: Jasmine, Carnation, Lilac, Violet Base notes: Opoponax, Amber, Musk, Wood
To that I would add that in the top notes I can smell orange blossom rather than neroli (there is a different between the two!), I can't say I'm particularly smelling orange (there is a citrusy freshness, but it is well hidden with all the additional dense notes); and there is definitely a dry allspice note weaved in, as well as cloves and perhaps even a hint of nutmeg. While I can't say I smell much of the lilac (I would have to go back to it once I'm fully recovered from my cold though...), violet and rose have a strong presence, and so is the carnation. The base is neither particularly musky nor ambery; but there is certainly the animalic powderiness of opoponax weaved into a dry tobacco-leather base that might include castoerum, and the woods in question are the beautiful Moroccan cedarwood from the Atlas mountains.
Of all perfumes, that one that reminds me most of a Northern Christmas isn’t actually Nuit de Noël, but Parfum Sacre. The olfactory connection of Nuit de Noël to Christmas did not reveal itself to me until few days ago. It suddenly dawned on me: Plum pudding and ink!
Nuit de Noël bears the mark of many of the Caron perfumes created by Ernest Daltroff: density, complexity and a vast mystery which is reflected in the seamless connection between the notes. It is not easy to dissect the notes from one another, not to mention categorizing the perfumes.
The dryness of cedar wood is evident at the start, and roses unfold from beneath a dark dress. There is a certain dustiness to it all, as if the perfume was collecting dust for a year before being noticed again. But now that it did, time and age has only improved it. Powderiness is not absent, and in some regards, this perfume is akin to N’Aimez Que Moi in darkness, density and the thread of rose and powder. But what gives Nuit de Noël its distinct character and its important place in the Caron family is Mousse de Saxe.
Apparently, Mousse de saxe accord is what gives many of the Caron scents their dark undercurrent. It is said to include geranium, licorice, leather, iodine and vanillin. In Nuit de Noël, this accord is used in higher proportion to the rest of the composition, making it quite memorable even among the many rose perfumes of its era (not to mention only those from the house of Caron).
Sharing similarities with other powerhouse perfumes, Nuit de Noël is at once rosy, leathery, powdery and sweet. It reminds me of a less sweet, less in-your-face Habanita, a more leathery sister to N’Aimez Que Moi, and an inspiration to daring, feminine yet unsweet rare appearances of present day, such as Agent Provocateur, and even the dry down of Opium Fleur de Shanghai.
The flacon of Nuit de Noël is made of black crystal glass, and looks like a cross between an ink bottle and a hip-flask, adorned with a Charleston-style gold headband. It was said that Nuit de Noël was made for Daltroff’s lover, who loved Christmas. Somehow, I can only envision a very lonely winter night, with Charleston-music playing in a gramophone, and many glasses of red wine and whisky being used up until that lover finally shows up, hours after the family Christmas dinner is over.
While the connection of plum pudding to Christmas is quite obvious, that of ink isn’t. In any case, use Nuit de Noël as an ink for expressing your innermost feelings only when the time is ripe. Otherwise you may need to be dancing more than just one round of Charleston.
Notes: Cedarwood, Rose, Orris, Mousse de Saxe accord (Oakmoss, Licorice, Myrrh, Cedar moss), Vetiver, Sandalwood, Castoreum