Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Vintage Lancôme Magie Noire ~ For My Mother

I have no idea if it was normal or strange, but I had an idolatrous love of my parents for much of my early life. From my earliest memories, they stood out from the crowd of people I knew in the rather homogeneous farming community where we lived (and I feel somewhat ashamed for saying that, but it was how I felt at the time) because they were young, liked to travel and throw big parties, mixed with people from various walks of life, and included my sisters and me in as many of their social doings as they could. My mother, in particular, liked to celebrate occasions big and small, and she always knew how to dress for them, whether it was in hip-hugger velvet slacks and a flowy blouse for a night out with their graduate student friends in the early ’70s, or in an elegant suit and hat for a meeting with members of the statewide, dairy promotion committee she served on in the late ’70s. Even at strictly family events—birthday parties at my grandparents’ house, in the cramped dining room where we sat on metal folding chairs and were confronted with our step-grandmother’s collection of commemorative presidential dinner plates that hung on the wall—she wore something classy that involved heels and stockings and an upbeat vibe.

With her thick, dark, wavy hair, her wide-set hazel eyes, and her knack for grooming, my mother could give Joan Collins a run for her money when she got dressed up. My father loved to indulge her clothing habit, and from an early age my sisters and I tried to duplicate his efforts, only with accessories. I remember the year when we were all still rather young but were collectively turned loose at the local shopping mall with a certain amount of cash with which to purchase Christmas gifts for one another. We bought my mom long strands of necklaces: mine had an oblong peace sign dangling on the end of it, its lines undulating, as if Salvador Dali had created it with the intent of emphasizing the words “Far out!”; my youngest sister, proving that taste bears no relation to age, selected one with tiny fish shimmering at intervals along the length of its delicate chain and which my mom is wearing in the photo below). Though they were undoubtedly cheap, my mother not only ooh’d and ahh’d and insisted she loved them, she managed to make them look chic whenever she wound them into her ensemble, which she did quite often. This was her gift back to us: making us feel validated in that deep way that is demonstrated through action, long after it has been voiced in words.

Pictured at right, my mother, from a 1978 newspaper article

As I grew older, I frequently gifted her and other members of my family with perfume, beginning with a bottle of Diane Von Furstenberg Tatiana, a white-floral number that I would later understand was more suited to my tastes than hers, but which is probably the first gift I gave her that demonstrated any sophistication on my part. (I was in my teens.) Then, sometime in my late twenties or early thirties, I found the fragrance that was really, truly her: Lancôme Magie Noire. One of the greatest feelings in the world is when you stumble upon something you instinctively know is right and perfect for another person, and, while I’ve come to realize that this is a very difficult thing to do with fragrance, a deep and knowing chord hit me upon first whiff of this plummy indulgence. I bought it, of course; she loved it so much that she asked for it again and again over a period of years; and though it was never a fragrance I wore myself—I was, back then, a firm subscriber to the notion of a signature scent—it became one of the formative perfumes that cemented my enduring love of perfume. I adored smelling it on her—it was a scent I came to memorize and long for in later years, when she stopped wearing it to accommodate perfume gifts given to her by others and, eventually, to graduate to another signature scent (Clinique Aromatics Elixir, practically a scent sister to Magie Noire, but with a potency that is too aggressive for even my intensity-loving self, though it somehow worked for her).

If I were to gift my mother with a bottle of Magie Noire today, I wouldn’t bother going to the Lancôme perfume counter, as I have read in one place after another that it has been reformulated to the point that it’s now an unremarkable shadow of its former self. The vintage version, however, can still be found on eBay, and recently another perfume blogger gifted me with a vintage sample of the eau de toilette. French for “Black Magic,” Magie Noire is a mossy, woody, rose chypre fragrance that reminds me of dark-haired beauties, of women who carry an air of nighttime glamour about them at all times, and of roses held in the mouths of tango dancers—roses that come out to play only after the sun has sunk well below the horizon. It’s quite difficult to separate out the fragrance notes for Magie Noire—only to say that its most prominent note, rose, is sharpened and deepened by its berry accompaniments of blackcurrant and raspberry, as well as honey, yet never becomes shrill—likely due to its marriage to waxy tuberose. In terms of the overall feeling it gives off, this is a confident perfume with a purpose, a definite assignation in mind; and just as any kind of intent seems to have an actual heft to it (think of the weightiness of certainty), Magie Noire requires a certain amount of commitment from its wearer. There is nothing breezy or flaky-shaky about this perfume: should you wear it with anything less than a persuasive and present mindset—should you wear it with anything less than well-fitted and stylish clothes—Magie Noire is likely to wear you.

Maybe that’s why it suited my mother so well in her heyday: she had a rapt way of moving through the world, and if she chose to wear something, she really wore it—whether a peace-sign necklace from her little girl or a glamorous fragrance from her grown-up daughter. No wonder I idolized her; she intended it, I’m sure—knowing that whenever I looked up at her, I would be getting back a little piece of myself.

Vintage Magie Noire eau de toilette has notes of blackcurrant, bergamot, hyacinth, raspberry, honey, tuberose, narcissus, rose oriental, patchouli, vetiver, civet and castoreum. My sample came from gracious perfume blogger JoanElaine of Redolent of Spices.

Images are my own.  Bottom photo is of my sister (left), my mom and I at a birthday party at my grandparents' home in the early 1970s. Rather interestingly, my mom has her hair "frosted" in this photo, as was the fashon then; her natural haircolor was dark, almost black.

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May 16, 2011: