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Friday, December 23, 2005

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.


Blogger marchlion said...

What a delicious review! I've been wondering about this perfume for some time, having read LT's raves in his book and on his blog. You've given me permission to move on to something else. Having said that, I'm curious: what perfumes have moved the earth for you?

3:15 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Please don't move on just based on my ramblings, what if you miss you Holy Grail perfume? :-)
I think it is a case of expectaions having been inflated by LT's raves and the fact that Nombre Noir is so very hard to find. One expects something absolutely out of this world. And it is gorgeous and so very well done. Just- no fireworks, you know?

As for things that move the earth for me, Shiseido's Feminite du Bois does, Chanel's Bois des Iles, Hermes Ambre Narguile...
What about you?

3:49 PM EST  
Blogger Caitlin Shortell said...

Dear M,
I agree with you about Nombre Noir. It's got something, but then, somehow ... not. Maybe it's the representation of negative space (harhar). I kept waiting for it to burn my skin in the sunlight, but it was left stainless. Whew. I am glad you reviewed it, and very well done, I might add.

4:12 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Dear Cait,
Thank you for making it possible for me to finally try Nombre Noir.
I like what you said about it being the representation of negative space, and I bet you Serge Lutens would love that comment too :-)
I hope your Holidays are Happy!

PS I am so glad you now have a perfume blog!!

4:28 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I believe that you might like this one. It is a deep perfume. It has rose. It is darkly beautiful. What is not to love? But yes, imagine trying to find - and finance- a full size bottle!

As for Idole - do tell! Did you find a site that ships to the US?

4:43 PM EST  
Blogger Caitlin Shortell said...

Happy Happy Holidays to you and all! I am revving up with my Legerdenez blog and did a new entry! Patty, I think I still have your address if you want to try NN ...

4:54 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I just saw, it is a delight to read!!

4:57 PM EST  
Blogger marchlion said...

Pretty sure it's not my HG -- we all like what we like and, in general, rose is not my thing. But it sounds perfect for Patty! My fireworks list is still pretty short: Mitsouko, Jicky, Apres l'Ondee. I'm working REALLY HARD to find another line to fall in love with! I know, cry for me...

5:19 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I can't cry for you when so many Guerlains work for you. :-) How wonderful.

6:29 PM EST  
Blogger NowSmellThis said...

M, I have yet to hear of anyone that found it earthshattering other than Luca...on the other hand, he smelled it when it was still fresh.

I was vastly disappointed, although more because of the build up & anticipation, perhaps. Do wish I could have smelled the original though.

6:59 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

R, even LT himself was not as enthralled as he used to be after he sniffed it again.

I do think our great expectations are to blame. We expect something WOW. Poor Nombre just can't possible live up to that kind of hype. :-)

7:04 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

*evil cackle*

7:14 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Is that so? :-)

Patty, don't worry, you might not even like NN enough to want a bottle. After all, so often, as soon as we can actually *have* the things/perfumes we want, we lose interest. This is the kind of observation my DH usually makes, muttering to himself "women" and rolling his eyes LOL

8:34 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

V, I don't mind woodiness and gothic-ness of my mini, but I would LOVE to know what was supposed to be like in the first place.

Happy Holidays to you too!!

10:06 PM EST  

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