Earlier this summer, I purchased a 5-ml. decant of Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline because the list of fragrance notes sounded irresistible to me: cardamom, coriander, cumin, frankincense, pepper, smoked wood, oud, leather, precious woods, musk, amber, moss and patchouli. On my skin, Black Tourmaline is everything this list of notes promises: it is smoky, scorched wood, accented by a sprinkling of dry spices and dusty incense. Imagine an ancient wooden spice box from either India or Indonesia, one that has been salvaged from fiery ruins to emerge scorched on the outside but with its interior unscathed. This fragrance is arid and austere for the duration of its long wear and reminds me quite a bit of Caron Yatagan; it’s not that they smell the same, but both possess an oddly weathered quality that issues forth from their smoky, bone-dry depths—and because there is not a flower in sight of either one of them, they are strikingly virile.  (Which means nothing in terms of who should wear them, of course.  In Perfumista Land, almost every fragrance is unisex, which is why I like living here.)

The raw and weathered masculinity of Black Tourmaline is something I crave on its own, but I discovered that it’s also a great scent for layering—something I hadn’t played around with much before, as I was always afraid that the willy-nilly mixing of fragrances on my skin might result in an allergic reaction. To be truthful, I’m still wary of this, but last weekend I threw caution to the wind and sprayed Black Tourmaline on each wrist and immediately followed it with a spritz of Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille layered on top.

Spiritueuse Double Vanille (Guerlain’s limited edition scent of 2007) is a sultry vanilla fragrance with a slight booziness to it. It is vanilla combined with cedar, incense, ylang-ylang and rose (as well as other notes): elegant and refined, with a touch of mystery. When layered over Black Tourmaline, Spiritueuse Double Vanille matures into something that is darker, wiser, and riskier; something that falls into femme fatale category. The vanilla remains every bit as feminine, but underscored by the intense smoky woods and dry spices of Black Tourmaline, it goes from sly coquette to full-on woman—a woman who is part dominatrix, part mistress, and for whom the stakes of life are always high. Think of the heroine of a John le Carré novel and you get the idea. When I hit upon the combination of these two scents, I felt like I had evoked the ghost of the brave but doomed Madame Sophie from The Night Manager, le Carré’s 1993 novel of espionage and illegal weapons smuggling, who is described in the excerpt below:

HE HAD GLIMPSED her often but never spoken to her: a languid dark-haired beauty of forty, long-waisted, elegant and remote. He had spotted her on her expeditions through the Nefertiti’s boutiques or being ushered into a maroon Rolls-Royce by a muscular chauffeur. When she toured the lobby the chauffeur doubled as her bodyguard, hovering behind her with his hands crossed over his balls. When she took a menthe frappé in Le Pavillon restaurant, dark glasses shoved into her hair like driving goggles and her French newspaper at arm's length, the chauffeur would sip a soda at the next table. The staff called her Madame Sophie, and Madame Sophie belonged to Freddie Hamid, and Freddie was the baby of the three unlovely Hamid brothers who between them owned a lot of Cairo, including the Queen Nefertiti Hotel....

...when he discreetly sniffed the air around her, all he could smell was her hair. And the mystery was that though it was glistening black it smelled blond: a vanilla smell and warm. 


September 15, 2008:

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

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Olivier Durbano Black Tourmaline and Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille:

Madame Sophie, who is of French-Arab descent, belonged to at least two other wealthy men before Freddie Hamid “laid siege to her, bombarding her with bouquets of orchids at impossible moments, sleeping in his Ferrari outside her apartment.”  She appears in the novel only briefly, but is the impetus for it: the mistress who has grown weary of despots, and in the face of her weariness becomes emboldened; the mistress who ultimately betrays her wealthy lover because she views his smuggling activities as a betrayal of the Arabian people. Sophie is murdered in her penthouse apartment at the Queen Nefertiti Hotel, but her beauty and bravery continue to haunt the hotel’s night manager—a former British soldier who goes undercover to avenge her death—and so does her vanilla scent.

Excerpted from The Night Manager, copyright © 1993 by David Cornwell (aka John le Carré) (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1993, pp. 10-12)

Image: "Study of Female Form" by photographer Edoardo Pasero is from AllPosters.com, where it can be purchased.