Sour, green, fruity and intense, the perfume smells like the collision between a lime, a peach, and rattlesnake venom. It bursts onto the scene like an olfactory grenade, and as it dries down (I visualize this poison elixir literally dripping down a wall), the florals snake their way past the hissing top notes, and the mossy, musky, woody base provides some respite (but not quite anti-venom) to the bracing beginning.
Top notes: Green notes, tagetes (marigold), Artemisia, peach, bergamot, spearmint
Heart notes: Jasmine, rose, carnation, orris, ylang-ylang, cedar, patchouli
Base notes: Oakmoss, vetiver, sandalwood, olibanum, leather, amber, musk
Niki de Saint Phalle was a French model-turned-painter-sculptor-filmmaker-provocateur-perfumer who was influenced by Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. Her most famous work is a sculpture garden in Tuscany called The Giardino dei Tarocchi (The Tarot Garden). Opened in 1998 after 20 years of work, The Tarot Garden pays homage to Tarot card symbolism, and its garish colors and found-object style construction informs the style of this extreme perfume. (She also did "shooting paintings," in which colors underneath a plaster canvas were not revealed until she used a shotgun to expose them. No shrinking violet, this one! Way to move on from a modelling career!)
I’ve picked up and put down Niki de Saint Phalle for a good year now (this draft was dated March of last year!) and I think the reason I can write about it now…is that it’s morning time! This is the first thing, besides my coffee, that I’ve taken in, and it requires an olfactory blank slate because it’s so overwhelming.
Every time I picked it up before, I just internally screamed, “Too much! Too sour! Too fruity! Eeeeeeeeck!” And this is coming from someone who likes the greenest of the green scents (Silences, Bandit, Aliage, etc.) I think the cacophony of green notes, fruit, spearmint and herbaceous Artemisia/marigold at the beginning just scared me off.
Now I’m more receptive to its nuances: the way the amber and olibanum hum their low, warm, sweet songs at the opening as the top notes are screeching; that spearmint adds an uncanny freshness that’s largely unfamiliar in feminine perfume (when was the last time you smelled mint in perfume?); and that the rich florals are almost guarded by the top notes, as if we’re thrown off the treasure by the snake-guards/top notes. (Or maybe the true character of this perfume lies in the top notes? I think so.)
A lot of floral chypres (and I’m not sure why this one is not categorized between green chypre and fruity chypre in Haarmann & Reimer) mellow significantly from their bright top notes to their chypre bases. Niki de Saint Phalle’s joyous and intimidating green/sour/sweet/floral freshness sings through the chypre base. It's there hours into the drydown, and as I'm sniffing my wrists now, I smell a mossy/woody green note kissed with a touch of fruit. Gorgeous.
Niki de Saint Phalle's greenness and sourness keeps it from being as dated as other fruity 80s scents, so if I were in a particularly jaunty mood, I'd put this on. I truly have an appreciation for this intense perfume in a way I didn’t over the past year. A perfect way to get ready for spring…