At $19 for a 1/4 ml vial from the Perfumed Court, that whiff does not come cheap. (A 1 ml. promotional vial is what they occasionally give away at perfume counters.) Don't get me wrong — I'm not complaining. Once Turin proclaimed its greatness, the already hard-to-come-by perfume became prohibitively expensive for all but the craziest and richest perfumistas. When I checked eBay today, Nombre Noir parfum, sealed and in its original box, went for $699 for 15 ml. or 1/2 oz. Gulp. (But hey, the seller is throwing in free shipping!)
But let's move on to the perfume. What is it like? Does it deserve the hype? Although Turin later qualified (if not altogether recanted) his undying love for Nombre Noir, I think he was onto something the first time. Nombre Noir is indeed something special.
TOP NOTES: Aldehydes, Coriander, Bergamot, Marjoram, Rosewood
HEART NOTES: Rose, Geranium, Orris, Jasmine, Ylang-ylang, Carnation, Lily of the Valley, Osmanthus
BASE NOTES: Sandalwood, Vetiver, Honey, Amber, Musk, Benzoin, Tonka
If Vent Vert smells like the color green, then Nombre Noir smells like purple. "It is built around a note of dark rose," says one writer, "perfectly balanced between acid and sweet, with a pepper note." This writer goes on to say that it is attractive from the first note. To that I would add, and also past the last note. The mark of its greatness for me is that it produced a response I have to only a few perfumes that I enjoy: I craved it once it wore off the way one craves chocolate or the line of an almost forgotten poem.
Jammy, plummy, woody and rosy, part of Nombre Noir's power lies in the perfume's use of damascone. Expensive to create and easily ruined by sunlight, damascones are "aroma materials derived from the Bulgarian rose oil (rosa damascena). Encompassing rosy and fruity aspects, damascones have a vibrant and potent scent, marked by woody and tobacco like qualities, depending on the type."
I've read that damascones impart an almost waxy or oily quality to scents, too, and I would argue that it's this sensual heaviness and depth that adds the "noir" to the floweriness of Nombre Noir, much as civet and costus add libidinal ballast to the flowers of My Sin and Rumeur. Dior's over-the-top but sexy-as-all-get-out Poison (heavy with damascones) is almost like Nombre Noir's slutty, younger sister. She shares her genetic makeup, but none of her elegance or mystery, like Megan Fox's tartiness to Angelina Jolie's smolder.
In the drydown, the woody-rosy-lipstick-waxiness of Nombre Noir settles into a bed of powdery honey with a not unpleasant little chemical kick. (Perhaps it's like that chemical hiss that tuberose emanates after you've left it in a vase for too long and, as you pass by it in the hall, are shocked to find it's coming from your flowers. Or, to make a taste analogy, it's the wonderful chemical taste of Jolly Rancher green apple candies. You taste apple — but you also taste the buttery-sour chemical that accompanies it, and it's this rich/sweet/sour combination that makes it appealing.)
But I will leave you there with my purple prose about the purple-smelling Nombre Noir. I'm off, like a lepidopterist, to capture another fleeting and beautiful thing.
"Nombre Noir was created in 1981 by nose Jean-Yves Leroy, one of the in-house perfumers for the Japanese brand Shiseido, under the artistic direction of Serge Lutens and Yusui Kumai, aiming to create their first 'western' fragrance. Lutens chose an extremely expensive natural osmanthus and a synthetic aromachemical, a big-stock damascone molecule of rosy-woody with prune. . .The perfume became infamous for its breakthrough packaging designed in collaboration among Serge Lutens, Shuichi Ikeda and Masataka Matsubara . . .Despite its high retail price, however, Nombre Noir was losing money because of the packaging according to rumours. And then it disappeared, to be lamentably discontinued shortly thereafter. The real reason seems to be because the high percentage of damascones contained contributed to the perfume being photo-sensitising." — From Perfume Shrine.