Vintage Vol de Nuit by Guerlain is a marvel. Named after the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novel about night pilots in the early days of aviation, Vol de Nuit (“Night Flight”), the scent, translates the mystery, danger and poetry of night-flying into perfume notes.
Vol de Nuit’s balance of disparate notes is part of its mystery — it starts off green, citrusy, and dry; moves toward a subtle floral heart; and evolves into an orris/vanilla and amber drydown with a mossy finish.
The perfume’s surprise, and what pulls everything together, is its heart of tentative sweetness, from a facet of the narcissus and a subdued jasmine combined with amber and vanilla. It’s as if the dark night sky (the coldness of galbanum and citrus?) suddenly revealed a twinkling star, and the loneliness and danger of flying turns into an existential adventure, exhilarating instead of treacherous. The mossiness (and what Octavian at 1000fragrances says are “two resins” that comprise its unusual key accord) help to maintain the perfume's austerity and gravity, but it’s that moment of warmth that creates Vol de Nuit’s emotional center.
Top notes: bergamot, galbanum, petit grain; Heart notes: jasmine, jonquil (narcissus); Basenotes: spices, woods, iris, vanilla, amber (from The Perfumed Court)
Top notes: Hesperidic (citrus) notes, galbanum; Heart notes: Narcissus, green notes; Base notes: Woods, oakmoss, iris, vanilla, spices (from Basenotes) Perfumer: Jacques Guerlain
Having just recently reviewed Must de Cartier, with its unusual combo of a green/bitter top note (galbanum) with warm vanillic/ambery base notes, I find it interesting to see that this universally-beloved classic yoked together the same radically different notes. (Granted, Must de Cartier is not as subtle in this juxtaposition as Vol de Nuit, but to hear Luca Turin talk about it, you get the impression that to even think of this "indigestible" combination of galbanum with classic oriental notes is a crime against perfumanity.)
Octavian, as usual, has fascinating things to say about Vol de Nuit and can read notes better than anyone. To him, Vol de Nuit can be broken down into three components: a rich floral facet, a woody facet, and ambery-resinic notes. In addition to the unusual resins he says make up its key accord, “sweet cinamic alcohol and a special methyl ionone are structural ‘bones’ of the perfume.” (Methyl ionone is in violet and imparts a powdery and woody scent.)
I have the vintage EDT Vol de Nuit, but I would love to get my hands on a bit of vintage extrait. There’s a gorgeous 30s bottle on eBay now with the amazing animal-print box going for $375. (Yikes.) I think the Vol de Nuit bottle is one of the most beautiful vintage bottles of all time. (I love square things, too, so there’s that!) It’s supposed to resemble an airplane propeller, with the name “Vol de Nuit” as the propeller’s tip, and the textured glass radiating outward as propeller blades.
Originally marketed to “the woman who likes to take risks,” vintage Vol de Nuit is a perfect winter scent. Its coldness mimics the season we’re in, but its soft heart will keep you warm.
(Note: I just noticed something funny about that gorgeous 30s Vol de Nuit ad. It's perpetrating a serious case of Unnecessary Quotation Marks.)