So, I guess luxury “Choco-Florals” have now become a thing. This year alone, there have been three luxury-priced Roja Dove chocolate floral orientals ($500+) and a luxury-priced Amouage ($300+) one. And, at first glance, Serge Lutens‘ new Veilleur de Nuit (“The Night Watchman” or “Watcher of the Night”) would appear to be joining their ranks.
The reality feels different, though. To me, Veilleur de Nuit is quietly and only tangentially floral, and the fragrance is primarily an animalic chocolate with leathery, musky, and smoky facets. When wearing it, I never thought of something like a chocolate version of Tubereuse Criminelle. Not even once. I thought of a chocolate twist on Boxeuses instead, albeit only briefly.
Veilleur de Nuit is a pure parfum or extrait that is part of the elite Section d’Or Collection, and it was created by Christopher Sheldrake. It is Serge Luten’s second new release this fall after Bapteme du Feu, and his description provides a few, vague details about the scent:
“In us, the night works. My guard watches himself there. Without knowing too much why, a soft-bitter disorder makes its pulse pound.”
Built around a somber agreement of sweet and slightly bitter chocolate, this fragrance brings an animal note and a sensual heat.
The reported note list is:
Cacao, dark chocolate, vetiver, castoreum, civet, tuberose and musk.
Based on what appeared on my skin and to my nose, I would add jasmine, probably some birch tar leather and incense, and maybe some tonka as well.
It’s difficult to know where to start in talking about Veilleur de Nuit because I experienced two rather different versions. Both were dominated by and centered on chocolate that went from being heavily powdered and lightly sweetened — like hot chocolate powder — to something darker, smokier, leathery, animalic, and flecked with an incense-like quality. However, one version had additional nuances and layers, reflecting facets of other notes besides the musky, animalic, and leathery chocolate, even if they were purely abstract and even if they varied in strength, clarity, and prominence. Oddly, this more nuanced version appeared only on my right forearm, not on the left. The only explanation I have is that the skin on one arm must be drier than the other, thereby impacting the notes that came out.
There was an added wrinkle to all this: in both cases and on both arms, the longevity was surprisingly low for an uber-expensive pure parfum. It was low by the standards not only of other extraits, but also as compared to all the other Section d’Or fragrances that I’ve tried. I’m talking about a mere 8 hours with my standard baseline quantity of several generous, wide smears equal to 2 good sprays from a bottle. The time frame was even less with the 1-spray equivalent that I sometimes use to assess note variations. The sillage was also pretty weak, relative not only to traditional parfums but also to past Section d’Or ones.
So I started from scratch, and I tested Veilleur de Nuit several more times. Since my first test (the one that had yielded the two different versions on two different arms) had involved different fragrance quantities, subsequent tests used the same amount on each arm in each test. It was done not only to assess the notes that came out, but also the longevity and sillage issues.
What was bizarre to me is that Veilleur de Nuit felt even simpler, even less nuanced, and even more linear in the subsequent tests, especially at higher dosages, and this was true on both arms. What few vaguely, nebulously, abstractly floral tonalities there were became even weaker or more microscopic on subsequent wearings. The notes blurred together far more quickly (and believe me, they blurred quickly even the first time around), and the abstract, impressionistic quality of the elements was much higher. All of this will make more sense in a minute when I described the semi-nuanced version of Veilleur de Nuit (Version 1) versus the one other (Version 2), but what you need to take from this now is the fact that most of my tests resulted in the most minimalistic, uncomplicated, and simplistic of scents that revolved almost entirely around a quietly animalic, quietly smoky, and quietly leathery chocolate — and basically, to all intents and purposes, little to nothing else.
In the semi-nuanced version, Veilleur de Nuit opens on my skin with rich waves of lightly sweetened, heavily powdered chocolate that is layered with syrupy and intensely jammy white flowers. To my surprise, the latter smell like the grapey jasmine in Sarrasins‘s opening phase, not like tuberose. They’re certainly nothing like the tuberose in Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle. On the sidelines is a quiet, floating suggestion of something animalic, and an even more muted whisper of greenness that is vaguely suggestive of vetiver. Both are mere blips in the opening sea of chocolate powder. In fact, I’d estimate that as much as 85% of Veilleur de Nuit’s opening bouquet smells of powdery cocoa of the hot chocolate variety, with 10-12% consisting of syrupy white floralcy and the tiny remainder composed of animalics.
Veilleur de Nuit shifts quickly. Roughly 10 minutes in, the civet joins the main notes on center stage, fusing with the chocolate, turning it darker and slightly drier. At the same time, the white flowers begin to radiate indolic, camphorous, slightly smoky facets, facets that are accentuated by tiny pops of vaguely incense-like and leathery darkness in the base. They feel like completely unrelated, separate notes as opposed to being merely a different side of the indolic flowers.
Speaking of which, the floral accord is painted in the broadest of brushstrokes and, while it doesn’t smell of tuberose to me, it becomes increasingly difficult to pull apart or identify beyond its most generalized features. None of the innate or potential tuberose attributes appear on my skin, not the heady, sparkling, liquidy, floral, mossy, green, Fracas-like, bitter, or even mushroomy aromas that the flower can manifest. There is merely a jasmine-ish, syrupy sweetness and generic white floral indolic smokiness which quickly turn into a simple floral jam. Part of my difficulty in assessing the floral component is the impressionistic, abstract nature of Veilleur de Nuit in general (except for the chocolate), but the other part is the fact that the non-floral, dark elements are growing stronger by the minute.
A mere 20 minutes in, a streak of smoky and musky leatheriness shoots across the chocolate. It’s definitely not a side-effect or by-product of the indoles, and it doesn’t smell purely of castoreum, either. It smells like a mix of castoreum and birch tar leather, with perhaps a drop of a woody-amber synthetic tossed in as well. It’s a quiet and sometimes hazy note at first, but it gradually grows stronger as the first hour comes to an end, fusing with the chocolate, and thereby giving the latter greater complexity or layers. The civet undergoes the exact same process at the exact same time, and the three notes soon form one power accord.
In a way, facets is all that Veilleur de Nuit has in its opening phase. Rather than being a “choco-floral,” it’s really one or at most two main elements, each of which have lots of different nuances or underlayers to them. I don’t really count the floralcy as one of those accords; it is too abstract and also becomes increasingly tangential on my skin.
At the 45-minute mark, Veilleur de Nuit is predominantly animalic, slightly growling chocolate that is layered with smoke, thick black leather, tinges of incense, and an amorphous floral jamminess. The sum-total effect feels like a chocolate version of Serge Lutens’ much beloved, bell jar leather, Boxeuses, rather than anything close to a chocolate version of Tubereuse Criminelle. Having said that, and being completely honest, the thing that comes to mind most of all whenever I wear Veilleur de Nuit is a Black Forest cake or Torte except this one has no cream but smoky leather, chocolate mousse, and red jam instead. (For photos of a truly exquisite Black Forest Cake with fresh red fruits, as well as an accompanying recipe, go to Butter and Brioche, but don’t do it on an empty stomach if you have a sweet tooth or you’ll end up wanting to lick the screen.)
While I’m one of the few who actually loves chocolate notes in perfumery, I confess I’m not completely sure about the version here. It’s lovely when smelt from afar but, up close, the civet is peppery and a little sharp, the leather isn’t particularly smooth, and something about the combination mixed simultaneously with floral-scented jamminess ends up simultaneously repelling me and drawing me in. I think it’s the floral aspect — muted or minimal though it may be — that is throwing me off because no matter how much I love chocolate in perfumery, I’m dubious about “chocolate florals.” On the plus side, though, at least the result isn’t a tuberose fest to freak out the many Fracas haters, and Veilleur de Nuit gradually takes on more unisex or masculine qualities than I had expected.
From the 30-minute mark to roughly the 2.5-hour one, all that happens is that the secondary notes ebb and flow, fluctuating in their nuances even more than in their prominence. The animalics sometimes growl, sometime mewl softly like a baby; the flowers constantly veer between vaguely floral jamminess and completely non-floral syrupness; and the smokiness constantly switches between being leathery, incense-like, and occasionally indolic in nature. The leather is even more of a chameleon. One minute it’s got a birch-like aroma, the next it feels purely like castoreum; one moment it’s merely abstract muskiness that is engulfed by the chocolate, the next it’s a fully realised, concrete and predominantly leather-scented aroma that is just as evident as the cacao.
As the notes waft different characteristics, as the fragrance grows muskier and more leathery, the mental image it evokes changes as well. Instead of a Black Forest cake, I’m sometimes left wondering if Oncle Serge is a fan of Game of Thrones and its Night’s Watch. It’s not a completely illogical question or thought given the aromas wafting off my skin, the fact that the Night’s Watch wear black leather draped with animal furs, and the alternative interpretations of the perfume’s name. Seriously, the Watcher of the Night, or The Night’s Watch(er)? With notes that manifest leather, animal/fur musk, and smoky blackness? With tuberose, a flower that is known to sometimes have an ice-y side? Don’t tell me that a few of you didn’t also think, even fleetingly, of Game of Thrones! (I have to say, the mere possibility of someone as serious, philosophical, and esoteric as Serge Lutens being a Game of Thrones fan leaves me feeling simultaneously bemused and tickled pink, and, shallow though it may be, it also makes me like Veilleur much more.)
To the extent that a fragrance as impressionistic and linear as Veilleur de Nuit has stages, the next one seems to begin about 3 to 3.25 hours in when the notes realign. The tiny leaves of vetiver-ish greenness that had re-appeared a short while earlier suddenly sprout and unfurl, fusing with the animalic, leathery, and smoky notes surrounding the chocolate. At the same, the amorphous floralcy and its jamminess weakens, and grows soft. Once in a while, it actually does waft some tuberose now, although it is primarily a green floral sweetness that had mushroom-like and earthy undertones. Still, the floralcy is no longer a distinct component of Veilleur de Nuit. Sometimes, it feels like a minor sideline note, sometimes it ripples distinctly but very quietly over the chocolate, but it frequently feels as though it has been swallowed up by everything else.
Like Bapteme du Feu, there is a floating nebulousness to most of the secondary notes in Veilleur de Nuit, an elusive quality of abstraction that is suggestive more than real or actualized, and that rarely to seems to stay in one place for long. It’s the exact same situation with all the notes, in fact, other than the chocolate, including the civet, the amorphous incense-like note, and the vetiver, but it’s most applicable to the floral accord — which is why I don’t really consider Veilleur de Nuit to be an actual “choco-floral” in the vein of Amouage‘s Lilac Love or Roja Dove’s Ti Amo and Amore Eterno. Instead, it is primarily animalic, civet-laden chocolate, layered with smoky, vaguely castoreum-ish leather and smoky vetiver, all wrapped up with thin tendrils of largely abstract floralcy, something incense-ish, and, once in a blue moon, a smoky woodiness that is somewhat suggestive of birch tar.
Things become even more amorphous and abstract when the drydown begins roughly 4.25 hours into Veilleur de Nuit’s evolution. Sometimes, the fragrance seems like a vetiver-laden chocolate. Sometimes, it’s smoky leather-vetiver chocolate. But then, in one test, there were also distinct whiffs of a vanillic tonka. It turned the notes creamier, rendering the leather into a plush suede, and coating the vetiver enough to mute its smokiness. However, the tonka plushness didn’t appear the other times I tested Veilleur de Nuit. (As you may have gathered by now, this is not an easy or straightforward scent that lends itself well to my usual sort of breakdown or analysis.) The only thing that was clear in all my tests is that Veilleur de Nuit went from having an animalic chocolate-leather focus in its second stage to an animalic chocolate, leather, and vetiver one that transitioned to a vetiver-chocolate one, before finally finishing off in its last hours as minutely animalic, vaguely chocolate-ish, and semi-dry sweetness.
Things were even vaguer and more indeterminate in Version 2 of Veilleur de Nuit. Difficult as that may be to believe, they really were. The fragrance opened again with semi-sweet chocolate, but all the other notes were there right from the start, albeit in fluctuating and completely imprecise form, much like splatters on a modernist Jackson Pollack piece. There were the jammy florals (that sometimes seemed more like merely floral-scented jam instead), followed by woody incense-ish smokiness, peppery civet-ish animalics, leatheriness, and whispers of something vaguely green. In one test and only for brief, fleeting instances, there was even a strange floral freshness that was almost watery, but nothing like actual tuberose at all. In another test, the opening bouquet right from the start was primarily animalic, smoky, leathery, musky chocolate drizzled with an indeterminate syrupy and jammy sweetness, but there was nothing remotely floral about it at all.
In most of the tests, at varying points in the first 2-2.5 hours, Veilleur de Nuit typically turned into a distant chocolate cousin of Lutens’ leather Boxeuses before transitioning later into a fragrance that was predominantly semi-dry, sometimes animalic chocolate with castoreum muskiness and smoky vetiver-ish elements lurking deep within. The drydown was simple musky chocolate with surprising velvety textural plushness to it as well as lingering vestiges of smoky vetiver. The final hour or two were basically identical to that in Version 1.
When smelt on the scent trail — what little there was of it — and from afar, Veilleur de Nuit was basically 85-90% chocolate, quite often right from the start and even in the opening moments. Everything else was a ghost, a mere passing suggestion that would elusively waft by on the wind like a tease.
ALL IN ALL & FOR BOTH VERSIONS:
In all cases, the fragrance was smooth and deep in its early hours, but generally quite discreet in both sillage and projection when taken from start to finish, and with longevity that was below the norm for a pure parfum. With several generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, the opening projection was about 2.5 inches, maybe 3 at best, and the sillage was about 4-5 inches. After 90 minutes, the numbers dropped to about 0.5 to 1 inch, at the absolute most, while the sillage was about 2 inches, again, at the absolute most. To my astonishment, Veilleur de Nuit turned into a skin scent 2.75 hours into its development, and died just a hair after the 8th hour. In two different tests!
I was so perplexed by this anomalous behavior for both an extrait and for something in the Section d’Or line (low sillage but major longevity) that I tested Veilleur de Nuit with repeated, wide, heavy smears equal to somewhere between 3 and 3.5 very generous sprays. That improved things. The opening numbers were 3-4 inches for projection, and 5-6 for projection. Be that as it may, a mere 3 hours into the fragrance’s development, everything seemed to hover just above the skin and there was no scent trail to speak of. Veilleur de Nuit became a skin scent 6.25 hours in and lasted just under 14 hours in total. So, at least the longevity was improved substantially. That said, given the price of the fragrance, one would hope for better performance without having to resort to heavy application amounts.
And the price is high indeed. Veilleur de Nuit costs €600 for a mere 50 mls. I don’t know yet what the American price will be, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were higher than the $600 figure charged for the other Section d’Or fragrances. Those generally had a Euro retail price of €480, while Cracheuse de Flammes which was priced at €600 (similar to Veilleur de Nuit) went for $700 over here.
In my post, Super-Luxury Fragrances & The Issue of Price, I’ve explained why my perspective on exorbitant prices differs from that of other people, and why it doesn’t actually bother me, per se, if brands have what others might call “ridiculous,” “over-priced” or heavily elitist, exclusionary approaches to pricing. However — and it’s an extremely big “however” — my shrugging and my accepting viewpoint is completely conditional on complexity, luxury quality, and a host of other factors, none of which appear here with Veilleur de Nuit. Given the complications that I’ve described above — the overwhelming simplicity of the scent, the fact that some of the notes barely rise to the level of an abstraction, the linearity, the poor (to nonexistent) note delineation and clarity, and the longevity issues and discreetness — I think Veilleur de Nuit would be an expensive scent at the Black Label price of €120, never mind the Section d’Or one of €600. For only 50 ml! Six hundred bloody Euros!
If I’m spluttering as a hardcore lover of chocolate notes in perfumery, I cannot begin to imagine what someone less enthusiastic about the note might say after testing Veilleur de Nuit and seeing the price tag. If their response were gales of laughter, it would not be completely undeserved, if you ask me.
Veilleur de Nuit is too new for there to be a lot of reviews for me to share with you. On Fragrantica, there are two comments at the time of this posting, but only one person has actually tried the scent and describes it. “Florista” writes:
Nestle Quik powder that becomes inedible when the scent of Phyto shampoo rises up and takes over. The only good I can say is that it develops very dramatically from phase to phase, like 3 completely different perfumes in one: cocoa, tuberose, and musk.
Nesquik is not a happy comparison at €600. The Phyto shampoo comparison isn’t any better. The scent I recall from the Phyto that I used eons ago was a vaguely green and very herbal floralcy, but that is not the point. Who wants to smell of Nesquik and floral shampoo at these prices?
At The Perfume Posse, Patty was very enthusiastic about Veilleur de Nuit. As a side note, she said that she tested the Lutens while also wearing 6 Bottega Veneta Parco Palladiano fragrances on her arm at the same time, and that it was “distracting.” Still, she describes Veilleur de Nuit as follows:
The open is chocolate – thick cocoa, like the kind you get in Paris. The drydown starts to surface some of the other notes, the cacao steps back a bit, and I get a slightly chocolate-dusted tuberose musk. This is what I think of as the second phase. [¶][…]
Back to the last phase, which is my favorite, though the open is lovely because the smell of cacao is something I love. This never turns over into the cacao civety castoreum smut-fest I was hoping for, but it’s beautiful and something I love to wear. Rich, a little decadent, smooth, a little inky. I can’t of anything else quite like it. Not even commenting on the price tag. It’s a lot, it’s a parfum and well. I got nothing else. I still really love it and find myself putting it on regularly even in this soul-sucking heat.
I agree with her, Veilleur de Nuit is a rich, slightly decadent chocolate fragrance and it is certainly not a “smut fest.” I was lucky to experience the civety animalics and castoreum leatheriness/muskiness in all my tests and across all versions, while she did not, but, like Patty, I enjoyed wearing the fragrance, “even in this soul-sucking heat.” Unlike her, however, I think one cannot separate the price from the scent — not at these sky-high levels, not with the extreme simplicity (and linearity) that is manifest here.
On an unrelated matter, Patty’s mention of the word “inky” brought something else to mind: the colour of the liquid. It’s the exact shade of dusky, blue-black ink that’s been diluted with a drop or two of water. It left the faintest, bruised-coloured tinge to my skin and, while that faded as time passed, I think Veilleur de Nuit might leave noticeable marks on white or light-coloured fabric. If you buy one of the black opaque bottles, I suggest being careful where or on what you spray the fragrance.
Finally, I should add that I don’t think Veilleur de Nuit is a gourmand in the usual sense of the term. Yes, there is chocolate, but it’s dark and only semi-sweet. The other notes, particularly the castoreum leather and occasional incense-like smokiness keep things in check, preventing the cocoa from entering into proper gourmand territory. Nothing here bears the sort of tooth-aching, cloying, saccharine sweetness that would send a diabetic into a coma (and me running screaming for the hills). As a whole, the fragrance feels more like a quasi-gourmand oriental. I also think it’s completely unisex.
If you love chocolate fragrances and if you would enjoy the potential (but not certainty) of experiencing some smoky, musky, animalic leather and abstract floralcy to go along with it, then you should give Veilleur de Nuit a try for yourself.