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Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Noir Epices:
Spice Liberated and Highly Polished
It’s a rare thing for me to fall in love with a spicy oriental fragrance, or at least those that emphasize the word “spicy” and lean heavily on clove or a clove-cinnamon combination. It’s not that I don’t care for the note at all, it’s simply a matter of proportion: I guess you could say that clove becomes a deal-breaker for me when it is used as a key note. There are exceptions, of course (Aroma M Geisha Rouge being a delightful one), but clove-heavy perfumes such as Yves Saint Laurent Opium or Caron Poivre make me feel claustrophobic, like my neck is about to break out in hives, which, come to think of it, is how clutter makes me feel too.
Now, lighten clove up with some aldehydes and floral notes—balance it against some other pretty spices and give it an urbane treatment—and a spicy oriental becomes something I can’t resist, apparently, because that’s exactly the way I feel about Noir Epices, from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. I can’t leave my spray sample alone, even though it arrived in a package with a number of other beautiful fragrances (thank you, Birgit!)—fragrances that would normally vie for my attention but which have largely gone ignored, so besotted am I with this one.
Like most fragrances of its genre, Noir Epices is a bold and assertive perfume, but there is also something spacious, uncluttered and clean about it. This is spice transformed into modern art, completely liberated from the claustrophobic environs of the spice shelf or from the historical confines of the Spice Trail, romantic as that notion is. This is also one of those perfumes with which I have a quibble with the name, because it smells not of anything “noir” but of something so gleaming it could bounce a light beam off its trim butt. If Noir Epices is a study in dark spices, then said spices have been strung like black pearls* on a silk cord: each dark note separated by a silken knot that maintains its olfactory space, and each one buffed to a brilliant luster, such that the entire effect is one of deep, vibrato shimmer.
Returning to the subject of clove again, I have to say that I only notice clove in the first five to ten minutes of wear, when the scent is at its darkest (and I suppose I would characterize Noir Epices as dark in its fleeting, top-notes stage). Had I been asked to guess the notes of Noir Epices, I would have said there was a pronounced cardamom note—and when I hold my sprayed wrist up to my jar of cardamom pods for a comparison, I could swear this is true. The piquant, perfume-y smell of cardamom, so full of uplift, is one of my favorite spices, but as it is not mentioned in the official list of notes that the company provides (and quite often these lists offer only a brief sketch of what’s in a fragrance), I have to wonder if it is a phantom note of my imagination. Later, as the scent dries down, I think I also detect an orris note lending a subtle powderiness to Noir Epices, but since that’s not listed either, let’s take a look at what does, officially, make up the framework of this radiant fragrance.
Created by perfumer Michel Roudnitska and launched in 2000, Noir Epices has top notes of orange, rose and geranium; heart notes of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove and pepper; and base notes of patchouli, cedarwood and sandalwood. It is characterized as being unisex, and I would say that while it gently leans in the direction of the masculine, that’s a pretty good assessment. Noir Epices is, according to some sources on the Internet, Catherine Deneuve’s favorite fragrance, or at least one of them (I recall reading that she is something of a perfumista who has a number of favorite perfumes), and it does strike me as uniquely suited to a woman of her leonine beauty and cool intellect.
I have not sampled enough perfumes by Michel Roudnitska to comment on his style, but of the ones I have, I am impressed by the way he puts a shine on notes that are so saturated they would normally read as heavy, yet somehow he takes the weight off of them without robbing them of their rich olfactory color. In Noir Epices, Roudnitska gives the illusion of stripping away density, stripping away gravity from the normally thick and heavy smell of spice—much in the same way that the sculptor Constantin Brancusi created bronze sculptures that were not only streamlined, but polished to a degree that they became both laser-like and weightless. If, like me, you find most spicy orientals to be claustrophobic affairs, give Noir Epices a try and see if you aren’t dazzled by its soaring brilliance.
*In one of those odd cases of coincidence, after writing this review I did a Google search on “fragrances by Michel Roudnitska” and came upon a page describing his unique, artistic background—which included, much to my surprise, his co-authoring a reference book on the Tahitian black pearl, titled La Magie de la Perle Noire.
Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle Noir Epices can be purchased from Barneys.com or the Frederic Malle website, where a 50-ml bottle is currently $160.
Image: photo of black pearls is from an article on the Four Seasons Hotel in Bora-Bora on Zimbio.com.
Posted by Suzanne Keller, 6/14/2011.
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