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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Long Lost Perfumes: Niki de Saint Phalle

By Marla

(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.

22 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

have a look at this cologne ad i shot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwBH1GZymas

9:44 PM EDT  
Blogger Kelley said...

That is a very strange video! However, I am "diggin" all of those fake mustaches!

Great review and the mushroom accord sounds very interesting. I am trying to remember which bottle I own that has a similar note...

11:01 PM EDT  
Blogger The non-blonde said...

Welcome, Marla. Great review of this gorgeous scent. I have a bottle of the parfum, with its snakes and charm and I absolutely love it. I don't know how it smelled when it was fresh, but the vintage juice is, indeed, great. The only thing stopping me from wearing it more often is the hoarding instinct. I'm scared of running out and being unable to replace it.

11:35 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

HI Marla,

Thanks for reviewing one of my old favorites! It is really a shame that this one is not around anymore - not to mention Niki herself, who was a truly creative person. I always got the tagetes from this, I wonder what it's like in the older stuff, with the florals fading out. This was probably the first "edgy" fragrance I ever liked, and it led me to appreciate other unusual perfumes as well.

11:56 PM EDT  
Anonymous dinazad said...

To my great surprise I found the EdT of Niki sitting on a shelf in a chain perfumery in Germany - at a very reasonable price, too! Not the perfume, which I crave (that bottle! WANT!), but great for the occasional fix of - on me - lightly sweetened pine needles. It makes me feel like "my own woman", free to be what and who I want and independent of other people's opinion.

3:29 AM EDT  
Blogger Patty said...

Welcome, Marla! This one works for me in EDT/parfum, any concentration. It's definitely weird and wonderful!

6:31 AM EDT  
Blogger Colombina (Marina) said...

Marla,
Thank you for a great review!
Unfortunately NdSP is...don't know how to put it...a scent that is bigger than me :-) It wears me instead of the other way round. But it is so gorgeous.

8:04 AM EDT  
Blogger marchlion said...

Love it AND hate it. It's so very, very weird. I can't even imagine a house releasing something like that today. I wore it awhile in the 80s and wound up with a bottle recently. I think I've decided it's a bit much on my skin; the way I love it best is walking into my perfume closet six hours later with the smell in the air. Thanks for the review!

8:22 AM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

You're taunting me, Marla.

It sounds ravishing-- and I totally missed it. I suppose I have to figure out eBay SOMEday. =)

9:33 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...

welcome Marla!

A wonderful review- I have to admit that I didn't appreciate this one when it came out. I thought it was too weird. I'll have to see how I like it two decades later, when my definition of wierd has narrowed..

11:16 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Gehring said...

Welcome Marla, what a wonderful review!
I am absolutely entranced by the work of NdSF, her sculpture garden in San Diego is one of most beautiful and enchanting installations that I've ever seen. She was an amazing talent who died way too young. Alas, I've never tried the perfume, but now I am obsessed with finding some. It sounds like a very unique fragrance that I would adore!

4:40 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are they still making this perfume? I see a lot of it for sale at many different perfume shops online. Is it new or from the 80's?

9:02 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! They're still making it!
I had to leave my story, because I have been hunting down this childhood memory I have of my mother's cobalt blue perfume bottle w/ the gold snakes on it. She wore this in the 80's & the bottle was so different, it was etched in my mind. I never knew what it was called, & Mom doesn't remember. I recently met an ederly French woman behind the perfume counter at a Neiman Marcus, who was taking me through the Creed line. We began discussing various French fragrances unavailable in the States, and I described the blue bottle to her, wondering if by chance she remembered what that long ago perfume was called. She immediately said "Niki de Saint Phalle! I sold it for years and years! I love this fragrance, and they still make it!" I was thrilled to know the name, and ordered a sample from a company online. It arrived, I took one whiff and said "Ah yes". I was instantly 5 years old again, smelling my lovely mother. I did some research and found that the rights to Niki were purchased by a Swiss co.(producer of Clinique La Prairie) in the 90's. I emailed the company in Switz. & and they responded that they are indeed still producing it, and it can be ordered through their La Prairie office in Miami, FL. In case anyone is interested, the contact for ordering is Cecilia Fakhoury & her email is: a-mattli@msn.com
(I have a feeling that many of the online perfume co's are selling very old Niki from the 80's, as mentioned in above posts.) I'm so thrilled to have found this memorable fragrance! :)

8:13 PM EDT  
Blogger Haley Patton said...

What a great review! And thanks for the welcome news that Niki's still being made. I've been wearing it since 1996. Nice to find my perfume pack. I stumbled on to it in Miami in a perfume shop in the basement of the Amerifirst building. I tried on a different perfume every day, and, six months later...voila. I told the elderly woman behind the counter I wanted to buy it (I'm sure she'd given up all hope of me every turning into an actual customer), and she refused to sell it to me.
"This perfume is too old and dark for you. It's supposed to be an aphrodisiac. Try this instead." And proceeded to squirt me with Escada. I insisted on buying the the little blue bottle. She still refused. "Come in every day, put it on for a week, and if you still want it, I'll sell it to you. But it will bring strange things into your life, I think." I did so, and, at the end of a week, she reluctantly sold me the bottle. She only charged me $10!

5:46 PM EDT  
Blogger Joi said...

I was working in Chicago in a sports bar in the 80's selling merchandise upfront and one evening a women came in and smelled so wonderful and mysterious.
I had to know what it was. So I asked her and she said " It's Niki de Saint Phalle and it's very expensive." So I said "Oh really?".
The next day me and my Neiman Marcus card went shopping for NdSP. And the rest is history.
I wear it during the day and evening, but in the evening it makes me feel so naughty! Very lusty... you know. Like I have this secret that I'll never tell.
There's only a few special people that have walked this earth and have left their mark. NdSP is one of them.
I thank the heavens above.

1:31 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for putting me in touch with a source in Miami - it means a great deal to me as I miss this scent very much. I used it in my late 20s and hopefully again.

11:57 AM EDT  
Blogger vsamas said...

Hola: yo solo escribo en español. Tengo un perfume de 15ml que compre en mi viaje novios a Paris. Me enamore de su belleza y color perfectos, apesar de su caro precio. Es el mas bonito de mi coleccion. vsamas@hotmail.com

5:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Loved the Niki de Saint Phalle!! I saved my little 3 oz bottle with the snakes on it BUT mine came with a snake bracelet!! I remember, and so does my mother, it was a promotion being done but we cannot find ANYTHING on the internet showing this bracelet with a promo with that perfume but it came as a gift set....any clues? I have if for sale on my Etsy page, www.ravyns09.etsy.com but have been curious about that promotion with that bracelet for years!!! You would think I would be able to find it by now! I can be reached on my Etsy page, would love to know what you think!!

4:42 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was the most glorious scent. I'd give anything to have it recreated. The scent was so unusual and beautiful--just remembering it takes me back to a very happy time in my life. A very dear man I knew, back in the day, loved it. It's amazing how a perfume can intensify feelings as well as bring back so many memories. I was really happy to hear that it's still around--I actually found it on Amazon for about 32.00. I wonder how it's changed.

6:01 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just splashed a bit on after not wearing it for 20 years. It is a heady, rich, deep scent, heavy on wood and vetiver notes. It has aged gorgeously. Thanks for the wonderful review.

8:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Miss Truesdale said...

I really love this fragrance. I bought some years ago used it up and ordered more over he internet. Today I wore it and two men told me they thought I smelled great. So fresh!

6:56 PM EST  
Anonymous Siobhann said...

When I first encountered this perfume, I fell in love with it (like you, I fell in love with the artist's work first). It is the only scent that I have worn for over 25 years - everyone I've ever dated (male and female) has loved it as much as I have. It has depth and you are right - very unique.

2:18 PM EDT  

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