(Marla joins Perfume-Smellin' Things as a contributor. Look for her articles on Tuesdays.)
I confess to being a big fan of French-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle (1930-2002). It started when I had my graduation picture taken under one of her enormous Sun God birds in California. Niki was primarily a sculptor, of enormous voluptuous women, the “Nanas”, mythological creatures, and the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris. Her crowning work is the Tarot Garden in Tuscany, adorned with enormous surreal sculptures of the major arcana. To fund the building of this garden, which took many years, she developed a perfume line and designed the packaging and accompanying jewelry. Her creation has had a cult following ever since.
The official notes of Niki de Saint Phalle are woods, jasmine, rose, marigold/tagetes, ylang-ylang, vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, amber, and musk. In the pure parfum I pick up a little mushroom, though it’s not listed. The scent is a close cousin to the original (black) Shiseido Zen, but heavier on the vetiver and decidedly weirder. There is just a hint of floral (I mostly smell the tagetes and ylang-ylang), a little patch, some resins, and then lots of vetiver and amber that lasts a full day. It’s a true vetiver lover’s perfume, in fact. Of course, it could be that after many years (most NdSP was sold in the 80s and many bottles are more than 15 years old) the florals have faded and the vetiver and woods have taken center stage. It ages beautifully, and is quite a slap in the face with a white glove to the modern fruity, vanillic florals which have been so popular for the last 10 years.
As with many Long Lost Perfumes, it can be found on Internet sites and Ebay. The cobalt glass bottles are particularly stunning in the parfum version, with two entwined, multicolored snakes crowning the rectangular bottle. But the most fun edition for me is the Zodiac Eau Defendue, which were a limited edition and now very occasionally found on Ebay or auction sites. They consist of the 12 zodiac signs and 3 “Fantasy Signs” of Horse, Cat, and Bird (the latter of which she considered her personal animal guardian). From comments I’ve read on MUA, Basenotes, and other blogs, this seems to be love-it-or-hate-it scent. It’s complicated, strange, delightful, and definitely unique. Let me know what experience you have had with Niki de Saint Phalle’s creation.