Monday, October 25, 2010

Niki de Saint Phalle

(AIDS awareness campaign art by Niki de Saint Phalle - image from Paris and the Spirit of Modernism

Niki de Saint Phalle was a French sculptor, painter, and film maker. Although she was not a perfumer, she had a hand in the development of the unforgettable '80s perfume bearing her name. To me, this smells very typical of a perfume born in 1982, its razor sharp minty top notes instantly attention-getting and even a bit hair-raisingly cold and unfeeling in combination with orris (violet root); the dry, Floral Chypre-Animalic scent is comparable to Nicky Verfaillie Grain de Passion (1984-85), Paloma Picasso (1984) and Emanuel Ungaro Diva (1983). After the success of Halston (1975), it seems many '80s perfumes took after the popular Chypre, following in its snake-skin, dry and leathery Studio 54 dance steps. Still, Niki de Saint Phalle is a unique, distinctive fragrance, Green on the blue-purple spectrum, showcasing orris within an Animalic Floral-Chypre composition like none other.

Top notes alongside mint include bergamot, artemisia and a hint of peach. The heart notes are richly floral with jasmine, rose, carnation, ylang-ylang and marigold, but combined with herbaceous and deep, forest green notes, the florals don't overpower. The base notes are pervasive, warm, and very civet-and-castoreum raunchy, animalic-musky, woody, leathery and mossy, but neither do these overwhelm. Overall, this is a scent that's beautifully balanced; with a cool floral center, it's reminiscent of Givenchy III and Giorgio Armani Armani Femme (1982).

This is a hard scent for me to wear because it is heavy, strong and retro, but I admit it is a rare beauty, all that I think of when I hear the word "Perfume". I didn't care for it when I first smelled it because my perception of it was that it smelled musty, but I grew to love it, and love it, I do. It's nice to encounter it again after I've worn my fresher, fruitier or vanillic scents for weeks on end. The wide span of pitch (the contradiction between the high and low notes) and the juxtaposition of cool and warm, are exaggerated, theatrical and almost surreal, but the orchestration is lush, complex and full, a unified composition that defines a memorable creation. It's a scent I might describe as naughty and refined at once; it's not at all the Agent Provocateur dominatrix Chypre with a whip, but rather a cultured seductress that whispers suggestions and waits.

More Chypre perfumes born in the '80s include Drakkar Noir (1982, US launch 1984 according to Michael Edwards), Givenchy Ysatis (1984), Enrico Coveri (1987), Estée Lauder Knowing (1988), Parfums de Nicolaï New York (1989), Van Cleef & Arpels Gem (1987), Armani (sometimes classified as Green Floral like Deneuve), Trussardi and Gianni Versace (1982).