Close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a field in Provence. Fresh lavender stretches out in an aromatic purple expanse as far as the eye can see. Slashes of white are interspersed throughout, heliotrope whose delicate blooms launch a powerful cascade of vanilla, marzipan, fresh anise, and powdered meringue. Running through the heart of field is a river of vanilla, silky and creamy, coiling its way around the purple and white flowers to create the scent of lavender ice-cream dusted with meringue and anise. The earth below them is made of patchouli, its spiciness complemented by something a little extra that smells of cinnamon, cloves, and chili-pepper. All around, encircling the field like a dark wall, is a forest filled with myrtle, wafting its unique aromas of spicy herbs, fruity sap, herbal flowers, and green woods. Cedar grows there, too, along with green vetiver that first smells mineralized, mossy, and minty, and then, later, smoky and woody.
Now imagine yourself at the center of that field. You place your blanket on the spicy patchouli ground, seeking shade under a massive myrtle tree that grows on the banks of the vanilla river. You have a picnic of lavender ice-cream and heliotrope meringues, their pastel colours decorated with emerald leaves of vetiver, fresh anise, and mint, then twigs of myrtle and cedar. Everything swirls together, their taste and scent gradually taking on a patchouli and cinnamon spiciness as well. As you fall asleep, the earth kicks up a storm of patchouli, the sky grows darker, the trees thump their chests and take giant strides to encircle you, as the vanilla river shrinks into a stream, then to a trickle.
Slowly, woody and spicy shadows fall upon the land, blanketing and swallowing up the lavender, silencing the sweetness and gourmandise. When you awaken, the world has become a seamless fusion of spicy patchouli and myrtle that is infused with lavender and cedar, then wrapped up with thin ribbons of smoky vetiver and vanilla. As you slowly pack up your things to make your way home, the sun sets, and you’re enveloped in a cozy, comforting cocoon of spicy, sweet, aromatic woodiness and warmth.
That’s the world of Ennui Noir, one of two new releases from the Italian niche house of UNUM. Personally, I don’t think the name fits very well given the fragrance that appeared on my skin. Nothing about it felt black, or anything remotely dispirited, grim, and existential. To me, Ennui Noir started out as a rather happy, sweet little thing, an oriental fougère with a semi-gourmand streak, before turning into a pure oriental with robust spices, warmth, woods, and fragrant aromatics, then finishing off as a cozy, comfort scent. The matching or parallel colour scheme is a slew of pastel purple and white, edged with greenness and warm browns that slowly turn red-gold-brown with a few smudges of darkness at the corners. Personally, I find all of that infinitely more appealing than blackness inspired by the philosopher, Heidegger, with angst-driven meditations on the role of boredom in Man’s existence (which seems to be Unum’s interpretation of the scent).
Ennui Noir is a pure parfum or extrait that was released earlier this month, but I don’t know the nose who worked on it. I’m going to skip my usual practice of quoting the company’s official copy and description of their fragrance because, in this case, I’m afraid I don’t understand it. To be precise, I don’t understand its direct, specific relevance to the fragrance or its character because it’s a page-long, Heidegger-influenced, esoteric philosophical tract on “black boredom” and its existential reflection of mankind’s inner self and turmoil. (Or something to that effect. I think. There was talk of “demoniac” voids, being a “lonely flute in the fog” of oneself, digging “in the linear treasure of eternity in order to become profound and circular joy,” “the endless matter of the lost and rediscovered Time,” and, then, briefly, passing mention of olfactory notes embedded within something-something about “horizontal language.”)
I don’t have the words to even begin to describe my reaction to all that, so I’ll simply jump ahead to providing Luckyscent‘s note list for Ennui Noir:
Lavender, myrtle, cedar, heliotrope, patchouli, vanilla, vetiver.
Ennui Noir opens on my skin with lavender that is as sweet and creamy as lavender ice-cream. It’s more than just a case of vanilla-infused lavender; the lavender has been treated in a way to bring out its fresher, aromatic, and more floral sides, whilst also minimizing the dried, pungent, and medicinal ones. The pastel creaminess is edged with a touch of green, thanks to the vetiver which smells crisp and mineralised. It’s a great counterbalance which is further accentuated moments later by the minty undertones that vetiver always wafts on my skin. Something about it occasionally skews towards the actual peppermint side, and its refreshing coolness is a lovely parallel to “ice-cream.”
Other elements appear within minutes. There is a big burst of myrtle that is sappy, woody, woody-fruity, zesty in a freshly herbal way, but also lightly floral, and just as cool and crisp as the vetiver. It’s followed by an aromatic, clean woodiness that smells of more than just plain cedar; it reminds me a lot of the freshly cut Italian cypress I helped to distill in a perfume class. It’s a sort of woodiness that is green, fruity in a coniferous way, almost leafy, and, above all else, briskly fragrant in a very particular way that’s hard to describe. I suppose Ennui Noir’s perfumer must have used a very coniferous cedar oil, but, whatever the source of the cypress-like note, it’s a great touch with the lavender ice-cream and the growing waves of myrtle. In fact, the two woods merge together roughly 5 minutes into Ennui Noir’s development, and rapidly become the lavender’s main dance partner. The mineralised vetiver follows several steps behind, while the soft, rather silky vanilla lags behind at a distance, bringing up the rear.
All of it feels like a modern, strongly woody interpretation of the classical fougère. It places the creamy lavender and Guerlainade vanilla of one of the most famous, traditional fougères, Guerlain‘s Jicky, inside a forest where myrtle grows besides cedar and vetiver. I’m a big fan of combining myrtle with semi-gourmand lavender in a warmer context than the traditionally brisk, bracingly fresh, cool-skewing fougère, thanks to MPG‘s Ambre Precieux and the many modern interpretation of Jicky’s lavender-tonka accord that helped me to get over some of my lavender phobia.One of those fragrances is a scent that came to mind mere minutes into Ennui Noir’s development is Histoires de Parfums’ 1725 Casanova. It’s part of an uncommon subset of fougères, the oriental fougère, and it that gives lavender a semi-gourmand treatment as well. Ennui Noir resembles it enormously for the first part of its life, and a big reason why is the heliotrope.
It shows up 10 minutes into its development, dousing the lavender ice-cream in a shower of fresh anise, almonds, marzipan, powdered marshmallows, and vanilla meringue aromas. They burst on the scene simultaneously and individually, one minute wafting almonds, one minute more or leafy anise or powdery vanilla meringue, and the next all of them at once. Most of the time, though, the heliotrope in Ennui Noir’s earliest stages smells like bright, green, fresh, anise fronds that have been dusted with a few pinches of marshmallow powder, some confectioner’s sugar, and a good, heaping dose of crème anglaise (vanilla) sauce.
As regular readers know by now, I have an aversion to extreme sweetness, but this is not only a more balanced, measured approach, but right up my alley on a purely olfactory basis as well. I absolutely love heliotrope, and crème anglaise is my favourite type of vanilla. Neither of them are dropping with granulated sugar, neither of them are so heavy or thick as to feel cloying. The heliotrope never strays too much into the powdered, candied, or confectionary realm, and it thankfully never smells like baby powder, either. (That’s one of its rarer, more negative aromas at times.) As for the vanilla, it’s rich, smooth, and silky, but rather airy at times (unlike the vanilla custard at the heart of Unum‘s Opus 1144).
The thing that makes all of this work, in my opinion, is the critical counterbalance provided by the other elements. The heliotrope’s anisic side is paralleled by the vetiver’s minty and mineralised aspects, by the woods’ aromatic freshness, and by the quiet hints of herbaceousness wafting in the background. Granted, most of you probably won’t get the “mint” because that is something my wonky skin chemistry does to vetiver, but you’re bound to experience the other aspects of the note, the general woodiness, and particularly the myrtle’s beautiful aroma. The latter actually becomes one of Ennui Noir’s most distinguishing features as time goes on, remaining long after the scent loses its semi-gourmand and fougère characteristics.
But one of the things that I cannot emphasize enough is the balance shown here right from the start, at least on my skin. Nothing about the scent feels as loud, bombastic, or over-the-top the way Opus 1144 did on me. This is a softer and much better modulated fragrance. To be clear, Ennui Noir is a strong scent in both power and aroma, but it’s not as loud as either Opus 1144 and Unum’s incense fragrance, LAVS.
For those of you who may have been alarmed by all the gourmand references, let me assure you that Ennui Noir is, at its core, an aromatic and woody oriental, and it doesn’t take long for the scent to transition into its main heart stage. The first sign of what is to come appears roughly 30 minutes into the fragrance’s development when it turns spicier. I had initially thought the patchouli was responsible, but the note smells more like actual cinnamon and cloves, with a bit of pepper and chili pepper mixed in as well. The former is a great touch with the lavender ice-cream, anisic heliotrope, meringue, vanilla, and woods, while the clove adds a nice bite. (That said, something about the chili-like pepperiness irritates my throat quite a bit).
Over the next hour, Ennui Noir continues to lose its crisper, cooler, fresher, green, and herbal facets, and turns more distinctly woody, spicy, and oriental. The semi-gourmand accords acts as a bridge or intermediary between the two sides, but they’re no longer the pure, solo focal point. Imagine a big bowl of heliotrope-dusted lavender ice-cream sitting front and center in a photo, then shrinking in size as the various oriental elements begin to converge on all sides until it’s merely a small blurry ball in a sea of brownness.
That’s what happens at the end of the second hour and start of the third. The woods are no longer a backdrop, but a powerful force on center stage with the patchouli shining above all else. It smells very woody to me, perhaps because the spices continue to feel like a separate entity, one composed of cinnamon, cloves, and pepper, though they’ll eventually merge with the patchouli. The woods change at the same time. The cedar becomes rather amorphous, a haze of woodiness that is licked at the edges with a quiet smokiness. For a time, the myrtle actually disappears entirely, its aromatics swallowed up within the creamy lavender. The latter has becoming this dancing note that feels both clear and subsumed within the other darker elements. Half the time, its Jicky-like aroma is clearly defined, dancing around the woodiness, spiciness, and patchouli; but half the time, it feels as though it’s been swallowed up by them, wafting from within the belly of the beast. It’s almost the same situation with the vanilla. The woods have cut its presence by half, turning it into a side note or even a background one. It’s also drier now, less creamy, and smells like Guerlainade tonka instead of than creme anglaise.
Ennui Noir pivots dramatically at the start of the 4th hour, turning from a semi-gourmand oriental fougère into a pure oriental. The lavender is completely subsumed within the patchouli, and fluctuates in strength. Center stage is now dominated by two baritones, the patchouli and a mixed myrtle-cedar accord, while a smoky vetiver stands a few steps behind. The vanilla has become a mere backdrop, smells mostly of tonka, and fluctuates in strength, shifting like a curtain moving in the distance. Its aroma sometimes carries more strongly than other times. Once in a while, it takes on a ghostly character, practically disappearing amidst the haze of spicy, woody, aromatic brownness, but every time I think it’s about to die out, it reappears, almost stronger than before. Its presence is most noticeable when I smell my arm up close, as opposed to the scent trail in the air which wafts mostly spicy patchouli, lavender, and a hint of woody smoke.
The result of all these changes is that Ennui Noir loses all resemblance to HdP’s 1725, and turns iinto a woodier cousin of Serge Lutens‘ Fourreau Noir instead. But there are differences between the two fragrances: Ennui Noir is devoid of incense and there isn’t much smokiness in general on my skin; it is substantially spicier than the Lutens, and, later on, bears a heaping amount of myrtle as well; and, as a pure parfum, it’s also a much stronger, heavier, deeper, and richer fragrance than Fourreau Noir. (I’m talking about the older version of the Lutens, not the reformulated one which is I’ve heard is even lighter, sheerer, and filled with a profusion of clean white musk as well.)
Ennui Noir changes again roughly 5.5 hours into the fragrance’s development. The myrtle returns, intertwining around the patchouli and the lavender to form the dominant accord. The lavender is no longer particularly creamy, and is more aromatic and fresh in bent. The spices have been swallowed up by the patchouli as well, and no longer give the impression of being separate, unrelated cinnamon and clove. What’s interesting to me is how clean the patchouli is in a way. It smells purely spicy and woody; none of its earthy, camphorous, green, dusty, boozy, tobacco, chocolate, smoky, or leathery facets show up. Instead, it’s streaked at the edges with cedar and smoky vetiver, while the vanilla remains a wafting, shifting backdrop.
Ennui Noir’s long drydown stage begins after 7.25 hours. The myrtle is extremely pronounced on my skin, its aromatic freshness replacing the lavender which now retreated to the background where it will soon disappear entirely. There is no vetiver or smokiness at all. Ennui Noir is almost entirely a blur of spicy patchouli and myrtle. For a short time, scattered wisps of vanilla, lavender, and general woodiness waft around its edges, but vanish at the end of the 10th hour and start of the 11th, replaced by a few strands of clean musk. The fragrance is now simply myrtle-patchouli in a cozy blend of spiciness, woodiness, clean aromatic freshness, sweetness, and almost ambery warmth. It remains that way for another 6 to 7 hours, depending on test, until the fragrance finally dies.
Ennui Noir had very good longevity and, like many pure parfums, slightly low projection and average sillage. I tested it twice, always using several spritzes from my atomiser sample that amounted to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle. The opening projection was typically 3 inches; the sillage was around 4 before rapidly growing to about 6 or 7 inches for the next two hours. Roughly 2.5 hours, the projection was around 1.5, while the scent trail dropped back to around 4 inches. The projection hovered above the skin at the end of the 6th hour, the sillage was about 3 inches. Ennui Noir became a skin scent after 7.5 hours, but was easy to detect up close without much effort until the 12th hour. In total, it typically lasted between 16.5 and 17.5 hours.
Ennui Noir was just released, so I haven’t found any detailed reviews to provide you with comparative perspective. I haven’t seen any blog reviews, there is nothing written on the fragrance’s Basenotes page, and Fragrantica only has one short review that merely states:
A calming scent , not for teenagers that for sure . [¶] Good smell , but not something I would buy.
So, you’re stuck with me for now, I’m afraid. I actually liked the fragrance quite a lot, and was considering buying a bottle if the chili-like pepperiness hadn’t irritated my throat and if it came in something other than 100 ml size. I like how the fragrance wasn’t just a semi-gourmand oriental fougère, and transitioned into something darker, spicier, and more purely oriental. Even if it feels a bit derivative at times, most noticeably in its 1725 Casanova opening hour, Ennui Noir still smells good. At that point, it was a comforting, soothing, happy little scent with a confectionary touch for coziness, but never too much of it to make me shy back, and always with enough aromatics and freshness to give it a balance. Later on, the cloud of spicy warmth, patchouli, tonka, and dark woods left me feeling just as cozy, but there was a sexiness to it now as well.
I also appreciated the deft touches between masculine and feminine accords. Fougères are traditionally seen as a masculine style of composition, but it was given feminine touches here with the heliotrope and the semi-gourmand accords. Even when those notes were lost, they were replaced by largely unisex oriental elements of spiciness and woodiness, though something about the second half of Ennui Noir tilted more firmly into masculine territory, in my opinion.
There a definite place for a scent like this in the market, in my opinion. Even though Ennui Noir occasionally nods to other fragrances, it ultimately does its own thing. There aren’t a ton of oriental fougères out there, and only one or two that I’ve encountered with a semi-gourmand character. I can’t think of any fragrance which transitions from that into a fully oriental spice-woody-aromatic fest.
My one word of caution, though, is that I think you have to really love four of its notes in order to enjoy Ennui Noir. First and foremost, the heliotrope. (If the word doesn’t trigger any olfactory cues or associations, it’s the main note in Carner Barcelona‘s Tardes and Guerlain‘s Cuir Beluga, and a lesser one in L’Heure Bleue and SHL 777‘s Khol de Bahrein.) To like Ennui Noir, you must enjoy its powdery, vanillic sweetness and its faint suggestion of feminine floralcy because that’s a big part of the fragrance’s first 2.5 hours. You should also be aware that some people think heliotrope smells like a sweet type of baby powder or play-doh. I’ve encountered both sorts of heliotrope in the past and didn’t experience that here, but it it will depend on your skin. In addition, I think you must also love: patchouli in its original, true, and spicy form; myrtle; and the creamy version of lavender. I have the feeling that either the heliotrope or the patchouli may be a sticking point for some people. I wouldn’t be surprised if some men found the opening to be too gourmand or powdery for their tastes; or if some women felt Ennui Noir skewed too masculine, not only because fougères are often associated with colognes, but also because of the strength of the spiciness and woodiness in the heart stage.
For me, though, Ennui Noir was a solid composition that was very enjoyable to wear, and I think you should try it for yourself if you like any of the fragrances mentioned here. I found it far preferable to Unum’s other new release, Symphonie Passion, which I’ll talk about briefly.
Symphonie Passion is a pure parfum whose notes are:
peony, lemon, cashmeran, vetiver, sandalwood, musk and cedar.
It opens on my skin with a foghorn blast of smoky vetiver and a painful resemblance to Lalique‘s Encre Noir, a vetiver fragrance with one of the highest percentages of ISO E Supercrappy on the market. The two fragrances are virtually the same in the opening, right down to the eye-watering pepperiness that made me want to sneeze. Dry and dusty tonalities quickly follow suit, vaguely wood-like in nature, but none of them translate into any distinct, clearly delineated “cedar,” white cashmeran woods, or even synthetic sandalwood on my skin. Instead, they merely add a layer of dust and dryness to the increasingly peppery, smoky vetiver. A few people on Fragrantica apparently experienced a lot of lemon in Symphonie Passion as well. I was spared that addition, or maybe I couldn’t detect it amidst the billowing ISO E Super that was practically clubbing me on the head.
The vetiver wasn’t thrilling either. Its smokiness wasn’t smooth or natural-smelling like that in Encre Noire’s high-end counterpart, Chanel’s famous Sycomore in its Exclusifs Collection. It didn’t bear foresty, earthy, or woody aspects like Sycomore, either. It was merely smoky, and accompanied by a rather separate, independent sort of smokiness that felt increasingly scratchy as well. I suspect it was an indirect by-product of one of the harsher sandalwood synthetics, probably the dreaded Javanol that always does me in.
I lasted as long as I could manage given my sensitivities to things like ISO E Super, but it wasn’t long. For 15 minutes, the pepperiness vied with scratchy smokiness and wood dust to be the vetiver’s main dance partner. Hints of a different type of desiccated (synthetic) woodiness were starting to appear, but so did my migraine. When my throat tightened and became painfully sore at the 30-minute mark, I gave up and scrubbed the scent. (As a side note, It took me almost an hour of repeated washings using various things like acetone, hydrogen peroxide, Tide, baby oil, and more to get most, but not all, of it off my skin. I think that says something about the nature of the scent and the materials which were used.)
Reviews for Symphonie Passion on Fragrantica are not great. Others have noted the similarity to Encre Noir, and the presence of ISO E Super. I’ll let you read the reviews for yourself if you’re interested. I’ll merely state that a 100 ml bottle of Encre Noir EDT can be purchased for as little as $26, while the new 2015 Encre Noir Extreme in the richer, more intense, and stronger eau de parfum form retails for $135 for a 100 ml bottle. Symphonie Passion costs $220 for the same amount. True, it’s a parfum in concentration, but it didn’t feel all that much richer on my skin. In fact, one Fragrantica poster, “Domii” went out of his way to discuss this point, saying flat-out that Symphonie Passion had the same projection and longevity as Encre Noire EDT does on him, and didn’t feel stronger.
In short, if you like smoky vetiver-woody fragrances, I think there are either cheaper or better versions out there, in both the mainstream and niche worlds.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of UNUM via the Esxence show. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.