Caron is a prestigious French perfume house that thus far has not really appealed to me. I’m not exactly sure why, I suppose I have felt a little intimidated by the general high regard the perfume community has for Caron fragrances. Until very recently I have sought out the new and contemporary and edgy. Perfumes that allow me to come to my own conclusions without the heavy weight of acclaim effecting my judgement. I find it difficult to be confident in my own opinions, especially when the perfume in question has been widely critiqued. With the aim of educating my nose, I am dedicated to understanding the classics, but I often fear that I have nothing new to say. I strive for something other than a straightforward breakdown of notes and development, because for me this is secondary to my enjoyment of a scent. My emotional reaction to perfume is what inspires me to write. I also do not fully trust my nose to tell me what a fragrance contains.
For the sake of being informed, I felt I should probably sample some Caron perfumes, so I asked the online fragrance community for their Caron recommendations and ‘Narcisse Noir’ came top of the list. I know a little about the Art Deco era in which it was created and also that is has become forever linked with Gloria Swanson in the iconic film ‘Sunset Boulevard’. This knowledge conjures extremely potent imagery which is hard to ignore. However, when my sample arrived from Les Senteurs I promptly forgot it all.
‘Narcisse Noir’ is indeed a dramatic perfume, full of light and shade, except for me it is not so much the cinematic, sculpted impact of the black and white movie screen. I find a far more explicit chiaroscuro that sings of burning earth, dark desire and sorcery…
It is dusk and the wind whispers in the canopy overhead as the sky fades from blue to purple. Her fires burn more brightly as the gloom creeps in, licking expectantly at the dry wood. She kneels bare legged in the soft earth, watching the flames. Dark things gather in the blackness outside the flickering circle. She has wreathed herself in garlands of night flowering jasmine, picked just before the light departed. Now the tiny blooms are opening as if they still draw life force from the soil, releasing perfume to twine all about her. She perceives this to be a good omen.
In her hand she clutches a little flower bulb. Beneath it’s papery skin the flesh is luminous in the firelight. She waits here, burying her toes into the cool mulch of dead leaves, taking shallow breaths and listening to the thumping of her own heart. With every rhythmic pulse of blood she pushes a little of her own will into the bulb held tightly in her hand, concentrating all her desire for the man that who must be returned to her. She yearns for the warmth of his skin on hers, his musky scent as their bodies intertwine. She will have him back, by any means.
A sudden flare in the circle of fire tells her it is time to begin. Gathering her strength she raises both arms above her head, the living seed of her lust held between her palms. In a rush of excursion she drives her hands down deep into the earth, pushing the bulb beneath the black soil. Gasping out an incantation she stays buried to the elbows, forcing all her strength, all her love, all her life to flow into the ground and propagate the growth of her heart’s desire. If the narcissus blooms by morning, he will come back to her.
She is shaking, her breath comes too fast and the fires around her spin out into the darkness. Pulling her arms from the earth she reels backward, crushing the garlands of jasmine beneath her as she falls…
A fluttering against her cheek brings her to her senses. She is lying sprawled amidst the smoldering remains of the fire. The smashed and wilted jasmine is strewn about the coals, white on black. Clawing at the dirt to pull herself upright, she sees that the air is filled with moths. Drawn by the flames, they flitter like powdered shadows in the dying embers. Above her the sky is touched with pink, dawn is about to break. She casts her eyes desperately about the ruins of her sacred circle. Where is he? Where is her love?
In the very centre the moths are gathered like a cloak upon the ground. She crawls forward and brushes them away, finding beneath the first delicate shoots of a spring flower. Before her eyes the fronds uncurl and stretch upwards, a bud forming, fattening, peeling open in a perfect white star. The scent blossoming forth is heavy with pollen, intoxicatingly beautiful. With a sob of joy she once again pushes her hands into the earth, scooping it away in great furrows. Beneath, encased in a papery shell veined with iridescence, there lays the curled body of a man. She pulls away the flaking layers and heaves his head onto her lap, kissing his closed eyes, his forehead, his lips.
His skin is the colour of darkest wood, polished and smooth. His hair curls around her fingers like smoke. His chest rises and as he exhales his breath is scented with narcissus. Thick lashes part to reveal eyes black as the depths from which he has returned, her narcisse noir…..
This is a perfume of witchery and darkness, of desire and desperation. It would suit the stark monochrome of a silver screen siren perfectly, it has heft and presence enough to fill the whole cinema. I found it’s muskiness and burnt earth undertones equally reminiscent of an ancient, powerful magic.
The initial opening is all orange blossom, jasmine and other fluttering petals. Very quickly though, all becomes tainted with musky, smoke infused shadows. ‘Narcisse Noir’ billows forth from the skin with an intoxicating strength the like of which would usually have me whimpering in fear, (I am a sillage wimp) however here the change in the character of the perfume is too fascinating to turn away from. The delicate florals are all there, only turned animalic and suspended in textural musk that renders everything in deeper tones. Leaf mulch and moth wings and tangled hair beneath the blooms.
I was wary of the ‘black’ narcissus note before I smelt this perfume. Daffodils grow in abundance in England every spring, all along the roads, in window boxes and front gardens, in little pots and great drifts. They are the ultimate symbol of new life and have a green and yellow pollen smell unlike anything I have smelt in a perfume. When I have grown the lovely, star shaped blooms of narcissus inside, up close the scent is delicate and pretty, but from a distance the effect is one of slightly damp towels. Not overly pleasant.
In ‘Narcisse Noir’ the narcissus works it’s way out through the musk in green tendrils, before opening fully atop the whole composition in a breath of pollen dust. It is an amplification of the bloom itself, a deeper, heavier accord that holds it’s own in potent splendor. There is a point in the development where every note sings together in a cacophony of glorious sorcery. I feel hypnotised and can only wonder at the effect of the perfume on the people around me. ‘Narcisse Noir’ has a commanding, intoxicating nature with mysterious depths that leaves me feeling a little spun around.
Then as the perfume warms fully into my skin, more comforting woods subdue the wildness of the musk. ‘Narcisse Noir’ retreats behind it’s jasmine and orange blossom veil and the sorceress collapses into the embers.
The perfume is superbly dramatic, deep and brooding. Although it’s fading whisper is far removed from the intensity with which it begins, I never quite recover from the powerful and textural nature of it’s heart. I can only imagine the animalic growl of the original, so packed with civet and lashings of jasmine. It must have been a tremendous, smoldering masterpiece.
As it is now, ‘Narcisse Noir’ still holds incredible strength, sillage and longevity. This is a fragrance for one who wishes to intoxicate, to summon darkness and desire, to seduce and control. I would describe it as a heavy scent, although I appreciate that everyone has different standards. On my pale, magnifying skin the musk and indoles are almost too overwhelming but I think that maybe on others ‘Narcisse Noir’ would be the ideal evening scent, dramatic, timeless and ever so glamorous.
The smoldering femme fatale in the movie and the ancient sorceress are the same woman. Her powerful mystique unchanged by the passing of time, her seduction just as brutal. Wrap yourself in a swathe of ‘Narcisse Noir’ and discover that dark heart beating in your own chest.