Perfume Review: Shiseido Nombre Noir
I first knew about Nombre Noir, Serge Lutens’s legendary first perfume for Shiseido, from Chandler Burr’s book, The Emperor of Scent, which famously described Nombre Noir as one of the five great perfumes of the world and with one paragraph made the perfumistas all over the world crave this discontinued wonder:
“Molecularly blacksmithed by one of Shiseido's in-house Japanese perfumers, it [Nombre Noir] arose from components selected by Lutens (an extremely expensive natural osmanthus straight from the flower and a synthetic, a big-stock damascone molecule of rosy-woody plus prune-"a brilliant juxtaposition of the two," said Turin). … And then it disappeared. "Just too wonderful for words, one of the five great perfumes of the world, and I have none left, none," Turin said, despondent. "I had no idea they were going to discontinue it."”
Not having smelled Nombre Noir when it was first launched, I cannot possibly tell whether (or rather how much) the mini I received from the wonderfully generous C., has been damaged by the passage of time. It does not smell “off” in any way, to my nose, but still, some notes could have been lost, weakened or changed. My first impression was black, woody rose with a certain boozy, wine-y undertone, which I believe fits the description of damascone molecule. It is a stunning accord, rich, dark, and smoky. As the fragrance develops, it assumes a vaguely fruity quality, these are not fresh fruits, rather, the note makes me think of raisins and dried plums. Closer to the drydown, Nombre Noir acquires an accord that I can only describe as very black tea, almost lapsang-souchong-like in its dark smokiness. At this point it actually reminds me a little of another very smoky scent, Eau des Iles by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier. Nombre Noir is a gorgeous, brooding, nocturnal perfume, perhaps “gothic” would be a word to describe it. It is exactly what I wanted Lutens’s Rose de Nuit to be like.
Nombre Noir is beautiful and unusual, and if it were more widely available (and much less expensive), I would have bought a bottle. Having said that, when facing a very expensive and very rare fragrance, I always ask myself Hemingway’s question from For Whom the Bell Tolls: “But did thee feel the earth move?” In the case of Nombre Noir, the answer is no, I did not. Striking as it is, this perfume strangely fails to amaze and captivate me.
I will leave you with Luca Turin’s description of his encounter with Nombre Noir after years of searching for it:
“Nostalgic encounters are fraught with danger. Nombre Noir was still beautiful, God knows, and I could see what I had loved, a sort of playful fierceness unequalled in fragrance before or since, but I was no longer in thrall. Egged on by the cruelty that makes us dismember what we cannot truly love, I sent it off for analysis. When I read the list of ingredients with their proportions, I felt as Röntgen must have done when he first saw the bones in his wife's hand: no longer the beautiful, but the sublime. At Nombre Noir's core, a quartet of resplendent woody-rosy damascones, synthetics first found in rose oil forty years ago. They break down in sunlight, hence the nastiness. But the secret was a huge slug of hedione, a quiet, unassuming chemical that no-one noticed until Edmond Roudnitska showed with Eau Sauvage (1966) that its magic kiss could put back the dew on dry flowers. Knowledge may be power, but power is not love.” ( From Luca Turin’s blog, Perfume Notes)
Nombre Noir can sometimes be found on eBay, where it can go for as much as $40.00 (and often more!) for a 4ml miniature.
*The painting is Black Rose by Anthony Falbo, it and other Falbo’s works can be found here.