Saturday, October 11, 2008

Caron Nuit de Noël

Caron Nuit de Noël (1922) is said to be the mother of my first Caron love - in fact, my first perfume love - Caron Nocturnes (1981). I never smelled the similarity between the two until today. Indeed, both creations are Aldehydic Florals with a wooded, powdery oakmoss base, with a heart of white florals including jasmine and ylang ylang. Nocturnes is the higher-pitched and more modern sparkling version, while Nuit de Noël is the sumptuous, base-heavy (think acoustic bass, finger-plucked) retro-modern classic. The composition of Nuit de Noël is very similar to Chanel No.5 (1921), credited for being the first Aldehydic Floral. I recognize in Chanel No.5 a Chypre-inspired, woody-mossy and softened Russian Leather accord which seems to have been popular during the 1920s as witnessed in perfumes of the era such as Weil Zibeline (1928) and Guerlain Djedi (1927). Although historically there are a couple of other Aldehydic Floral perfumes that came before Chanel No.5 such as Armingeat Reve D'Or (1905) and Caron's own Infini, originally created in 1912, Chanel No.5 was the hit that changed the course of perfumery during its era. It's no wonder the Aldehydic Floral family becamse the popular genre of the time, and Nuit de Noël certainly fit in with the new abstract (modern) floral trend.

However, Nuit de Noël is a classic masterpiece of its own, not to be confused with Chanel No.5 in its unique depth and ultrachic elegance. The most understated and chic of all the Caron collection (in my opinion, of course), Nuit de Noël takes awhile to understand. Like an intricate jazz piece or performance, it leaves in the dust those who have no advanced musical knowledge with which to follow its complexity. This is Billy Strayhorn played by John Coltrane, or Thelonious Monk, to Glenn Miller's simplified Big Band Pop music made for the mainstream's listening and dancing pleasure. There's a certain level at which you can't fake knowledge anymore, and Nuit de Noël hits that point in perfume appreciation the way Eric Dolphy might purge the less musically and rhymically inclined.

At first sniff, Nuit de Noël smells inky. That could be the dark and mysterious “mousse de saxe” or Saxon moss accord made famous by perfumer Ernest Daltroff, said to smell of ink. If I'm patient and allow myself to tune in with a focused yet open mind, I can smell the aldehydic top notes, the cool, damp mossiness underlying the deeply wooded floor of sandalwood, cedar, vetiver and even leather, more animalic tones, perhaps civet, and finally, I can detect rose. The rose gives it a red wine-like, somewhat dusky effect. Then, I could also detect spices, like Christmas potpourri, but muted and never jangly or sharp, and the whole thing is orchestrated to be as soft as velvet skin, with the classic Caron powdery finish. Not to be outdone by Guerlain, there's a touch of vanillic sweetness that doesn't let it veer towards Gourmand, controlled and ever disciplined, but seductively, rightfully, there. It's not as sweet as I like my perfumes on most days, but when I want something dry, this is dry like fine wine. All together, Nuit de Noël is something that might require mature taste to fully appreciate, but with a perfume like Nuit de Noel, there's always a new plateau to reach in scent discoveries.

(Image: Caron Nuit de Noël ad, 1959)