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.
Lost olfactory treasure from the 1940s, vintage essences, and an ancient recipe lie at the heart of a modern fragrance centered around a duet of lavender and leather. Cologne Reloaded takes the cornerstones of a very traditional barbershop fougère, and juxtaposes its cleanness with darkness, blackened leather, smoky resins, and a touch of musky dirtiness. The result is classicism with a twist and an elegant fragrance with a rather sensual drydown.
Cologne Reloaded is a 2013 eau de parfum from Bogue Profumo (hereinafter just “Bogue“), an Italian artisanal perfume house founded by Antonio Gardoni. On his website, Mr. Gardoni describes the fascinating story behind its creation. In a nutshell, an antique dealer told him about 40 bottles of raw essences and perfume preparations from an old pharmaceutical laboratory. The vintage materials dated back to the 1940s! The dusty bottles had been hidden away and forgotten in a dark cupboard of an underground warehouse, but they were still sealed, somehow unaffected by heat, and very well-preserved. You can see them below in the photo. (Isn’t it the coolest thing?!) Accompanying them was a fragrance mixture for something called “Cologne of Esperis,” complete with the original recipe and the dosage amounts for preparing an eau de cologne.
Mr. Gardoni started experimenting. As he explains on his website, he “mixed the ingredients following the instructions glued to the bottle for all the 5 different cologne variations with some very interesting results, full of granddad memories and old barbershop’s flavor.” He fell in love with the results in such a way that he decided to “exploit this treasure in order to create a completely new contemporary perfume.” He used the vintage materials, but increased the concentration from 4% to 15%, making the fragrance an eau de parfum instead of cologne, and added to this base “a mix of contemporary new materials”: Continue reading
Close your eyes, and imagine diving into a pool of lavender ice-cream. As the bracing herbal bouquet swirls in the air, tonka and vanilla coat your body like silk, enveloping you, soothing you. Yet, with every lap you take, the water starts to change its colours. The purple and cream turn to gold, then to bronze, and finally to brown-gold as the lavender gives way first to patchouli, and then to labdanum. Dusted with tonka, your body is coated with a sweet, spicy warmth that always feels expensive. It is the world of Amber Oud from Parfums de Nicolaï, a world that has absolutely nothing to do with oud and everything to do with soothing richness.
I’ve often said that my second favorite category of perfumes are “cozy, comfort” scents, and Amber Oud certainly qualifies. The last 6 weeks have been frustrating and stressful with the website changes, and I’ve repeatedly sought the creamy embrace of Amber Oud. It riveted me from the very first time I tried it, and I say this as someone who absolutely loathes lavender. To the point of a phobia, in fact. But, lavender or not, I think Amber Oud is truly marvelous. For me, it feels like a safety blanket, one that comes close to wiping away my worries, lowering my blood pressure, and comforting me — all with a luxuriousness that feels like the very best of Guerlain. Given that Madame de Nicolaï is a member of that family and is highly influenced by the Guerlain tradition, the similarities in feel are not surprising.
Nonetheless, let me be clear at the outset about one thing: if Amber Oud is an “oud” fragrance, then I’m Vladimir Putin. If you test the perfume expecting to detect a profound amount of agarwood, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I have worn Amber Oud a number of times, and not once did I detect even an iota of agarwood. Not once. Cedar and some amorphous, indistinct woodiness, definitely. Actual oud, no.
On her website, Patricia de Nicolaï describes Amber Oud and its notes as follows:
Amber Oud is created thanks to the famous perfumers amber combination, based on vanilla and labdanum. A perfume sublimated by the powerful agarwood note.
Top notes are lavender, thyme, sage and artemisia; middle notes are cinnamon, saffron, agarwood [oud], cedar, patchouli and sandalwood; base notes are vanilla, tonka bean, styrax, musk, castoreum and amber.
As noted above, I couldn’t detect any agarwood in Amber Oud, let alone a “powerful” one. So, a more apt description of the perfume might be that of Luckyscent:
Amber Oud embodies a golden effervescence, a freshness you wouldn’t expect from its name. Debuting with clean spice notes and a bubbly profile, the scent presents a generous herbal bouquet. Wafts of lavender, thyme, sage, and artemisia provide a stunning balance to the warm and rich notes lying deep within the scent. The warmth of amber, vanilla, and patchouli anchors the scent but doesn’t disrupt its clean and elegant persona. Laced with saffron and a dash of cinnamon, Amber Oud is sure to surprise you with its intriguing blend of grace and mystery.
As you can see, Luckyscent doesn’t mention oud once in their summation of the scent. On the other hand, I disagree with them on a few things: this is not a scent with “mystery,” I don’t think Amber Oud is really “clean” (thank God), and I’m a bit dubious about the “bubbly profile” bit. Yet, Luckyscent comes close in nailing the perfume’s essence. They are especially correct in noting the perfume’s golden touch infused with a generous herbal bouquet, and how patchouli is an anchor.
Amber Oud opens on my skin with a bouquet that is, at once, herbal and sweet. Immediately, you are hit with the lavender which is simultaneously pungent, brisk, dried, sharp, but sweet and creamy. It is thoroughly infused with tonka, then dashes of golden warmth from the amber, and slivers of vanilla mousse.
From afar, it’s nothing but a tableau of lavender and creamy sweetness, but there are other elements woven in as well. There is a tiny touch of greenness from the other herbs, most noticeably sage. A quiet spiciness and very muted, abstract woodiness also linger at the edges. The latter has a dried, peppery, aromatic and sweet quality that clearly stems from the cedar. Lurking far, far in the background, if you really focus, you can pull out the red-gold threads of saffron, mostly from a faintly buttery, spicy undertone. In the same way, you can just barely make out the contours of cinnamon dusted on the vanilla mousse. However, it takes a great deal of concentration to tease out these nuances, for Amber Oud’s opening on my skin is primarily just lavender tonka vanilla.
I normally despise lavender, shivering at its pungent harshness, its cologne-like briskness, its medicinal and soapy facets, but what a lavender it is here. Simply beautiful, and it just gets lovelier with time. The herbaceous quality of the flower loses much of its sharpness after 5 minutes, and turns more into lavender ice cream cocooned in a soft, golden glow. To the extent that there is “amber” in the fragrance, it really translates at this stage as a warm, deep richness upon which is anchored the dominant duo of lavender and tonka.
I find the whole thing utterly addictive, but I’d be the first to say that none of it is complicated, edgy, original, or even particularly oriental in feel. In fact, Amber Oud seems to straddle two categories — the herbal aromatic and the gourmand — without really falling into either one. And, for all that the perfume has sweetness, it never feels really gourmand to me. The tonka is just enough to cut through the lavender’s herbaceousness and stop it from being barber-shop pungent, sharp, or abrasive.
There is an incredible smoothness to the blend, and its seamless richness feels very luxurious. Amber Oud really evokes the best of Guerlain, because there is no doubt in my mind that the most expensive, high-quality ingredients have been used. (Minus the nonexistent oud note.) Initially, Amber Oud feels very concentrated and dense in its opening moments, like rich damask silk on the skin. Yet, the richness of the notes belies the perfume’s overall airiness and generally soft sillage. At first, Amber Oud’s projection is quite good. 3 tiny squirts from my wonky decant created a dense cloud of lavender cream that wafted 3 inches above the skin, but the sillage starts to soften and drop after only 20 minutes. By the end of the first hour, the perfume hovers just an inch above the skin.
Amber Oud shifts slowly and incrementally. After 30 minutes, the perfume is noticeably creamier, as the vanilla becomes more prominent. It combines with the tonka to create the silkiest, smoothest crème anglaise sauce into which the fragrant, aromatic lavender has been melted. It’s a sweetly spicy mix, shot through with subtle veins of cedar woodiness.
At the end of the 1st hour, the perfume begins its shift into the second stage as a patchouli note seeps up from the base, adding an additional element of spicy warmth. Those of you who are phobic about patchouli, don’t worry. This is a really refined, smooth take on the note, thanks to the tonka. The overall effect reminds me of Serge Lutens‘ beautiful bell jar exclusive, Fourreau Noir, the only other lavender fragrance I have ever fallen for. There are differences, however. Amber Oud lacks Fourreau Noir’s dominant tendrils of black smoke; the lavender here is much smoother and softer; and the scent as a whole feels creamier, sweeter, and slightly denser.
By the end of the second hour, the patchouli and amber share center stage with the lavender cream. Amber Oud has lost its purple and vanilla hues, and turned thoroughly golden. The perfume is drier, and less vanillic, but the amber feels quite generalized at this stage, instead of actual labdanum amber with its particular, distinctive character. As a whole, Amber Oud is a warm, spicy sweet, herbal amber with vanilla and patchouli, and the tiniest flecks of cedar. It feels as though it’s about to turn into a skin scent at any moment, but that only occurs just before end of the 3rd hour.
Amber Oud changes by such tiny degrees that you’re almost surprised when you suddenly realise that you’re wearing a patchouli-amber scent, infused with vanilla, and with only tiny streaks of the most abstract herbal bouquet. The dominant, main lavender ice-cream note of the beginning has largely faded away by the 2.75 hour mark, though you can still smell it in the background. Like fluid, liquid silk, the perfume flows into a new stage where the patchouli is increasingly the driving force behind the amber cloud, followed thereafter by tonka and vanilla. Small slivers of cedar dart about, lending far more dryness to the scent than initially existed, but the oud remains completely nonexistent.
3.5 hours into its development, Amber Oud is a blur of spicy, sweet patchouli infused with a darker amber that is finally starting to resemble labdanum. The vanilla melts into the base, losing its distinctive edge, while the first whispers of the latter’s honeyed, toffee’d, dark aroma takes its place. The effect is to turn Amber Oud’s visuals from gold flecked with cream, to bronze and brown. From a distance, Amber Oud is not as easy to detect, but, up close you are struck by its cozy warmth, its silky spiciness, and its woody sweetness. Eventually, the labdanum shows its true nature with a darker warmth that turns Amber Oud all brown in hue. The perfume clings to the skin like the thinnest glaze of labdanum and patchouli, dusted over by a fine mist of tonka that feels a little bit powdered at times. In its final moments, Amber Oud is an abstract touch of warm, soft, slightly spicy, slightly woody sweetness.
All in all, Amber Oud lasted just short of 8 hours on my skin, with generally soft sillage after the 2 hour. I loved every bit of it, but particularly the opening 90 minutes with the lavender ice-cream. It felt incredibly soothing, a bouquet that would lull you to sleep in a wave of serenity. I thoroughly appreciated how neither the tonka and vanilla felt like a cloying ball of goo, along with the fact that there was almost no powder throughout Amber Oud’s lifetime. The golden haze of the later stages — with patchouli that is first flecked with vanilla, then with amber, and finally with true labdanum — was wonderful. Everything felt perfectly balanced, seamless, and rich.
Amber Oud is not perfect, however. I wish it had taken longer for the scent to turn sheer in weight and soft in projection, but that is a minor thing. The real issue with Amber Oud may be its price. The Parfums de Nicolaï line has always been very reasonably priced — intentionally so, in fact — but Amber Oud and its sibling, Rose Oud, cost quite a bit more. A tiny 30 ml bottle is priced at $78 or €58, while the large 100 ml/3.3 oz bottle costs $235 or €174. Presumably, the reasoning for putting the new Ouds at a much higher level than the rest of the line is the fact that they contain a “powerful” oud note. However, no-one I know who has tried Amber Oud has found it to be an “oud” fragrance. As you will see in a minute, many Fragrantica commentators can’t detect any oud at all. In short, I feel as though I’m being treated like an idiot when a perfume’s price is yanked up for a note that is basically nonexistent.
Is Amber Oud over-priced at $235 given its safe and largely simplistic nature? I think it’s going to come down to personal tastes. I would have said it was ridiculously priced the first time I smelled it when I detected nothing but lavender-vanilla for the first two hours. Yet, the perfume as a whole is beautiful, feels extremely luxurious, and is something that I feel like reaching for continuously when stressed. So, for me, the price is worth it, but I realise that it is a very subjective, personal calculation which will be different for each person. I would not be remotely surprised if a number of you found Amber Oud to be lovely, but far too simple or basic for $235. (As a side note, I realise that there is a much cheaper option at $78 for 30 ml, but that feels a little high for such a tiny size. Plus, this is a scent that I personally would want to use frequently and to spray with abandon; 30 ml wouldn’t cut it for that purpose.)
Amber Oud is frequently compared to Kilian‘s Amber Oud, perhaps because the latter also contains virtually no oud. Personally, I don’t think the two perfumes are comparable except in terms of their overall feel. The Kilian fragrance doesn’t have any lavender or patchouli, and I didn’t detect any labdanum, merely a generalized “amber.” The price structure is different as well. Kilian’s Amber costs $185 for a 50 ml refill bottle, so it is much more expensive on a price-per-ml basis. (I’m not even getting into the full $385 cost for the proper, black, 50 ml bottle.)
On Fragrantica, a number of people find the Nicolaï Amber Oud to be much better than the Kilian fragrance, while a few strongly disagree. Personally, I’m not a fan of the very wispy Kilian version, so I’m with the first group. Below are a range of opinions on the Nicolaï scent:
- Its a very nice Amber+Oud combination. In comparison with Amber Oud by KILIAN, I have to say that Ms. Nicolai perfume is much better (as smell, longevity, projection & price). I think I made a mistake by buying the small bottle. 2 thumbs up
- Similar to Amber Oud by KILIAN, But to me Nicolai is much better. Great scent, happy to have in my collection
- I’m a little bit disappointed. You can’t detect the oud, and the amber note is not prominent in the opening nor in the dry down. Also the longevity is a bit poor on my skin. [¶] To me, you can’t even compare this with the Amber Oud of By Kilian! The Kilian version is supreme!! But then, everyone has his own taste. Beside all that, the fragrance has a pleasent smell!
- Nice surprise!!! I was expecting the ordinary but… Wow! Yes yes, it is Much more AMBER LAVENDER than AMBER OUD! But still so lovely! [¶] Smells soft and wonderful on skin… On me lasts 6-8 hours! Good projection too! [¶] Just one advice: if you’re looking for “the most prominent and strongest” Oud (that I particularly dislike)… Go look another place!
- This smells incredible. [¶] Very good quality scent and very well blended. [¶] If you like sweet-oriental frags. or amber fragances, you must try this.
Longevity and sillage are both moderate-low.
P.D.: The bad thing is the price…..
On Luckyscent, there are only two reviews, one of which is from a woman who thought the perfume’s herbaceousness rendered Amber Oud more masculine than unisex in nature:
This is not a unisex scent. I bought a sample of this to compare to By Kilian’s Amber Oud, which I really like. As soon as I first put it on, it immediately smelled like a strong men’s cologne. It brings to mind an upscale version of Old Spice, but also with some green notes to it, probably from the sage and thyme. I wouldn’t mind smelling this on a man, though. I passed the sample on to my husband.
The Perfume Shrine talks about both the issue of masculinity and the oud, though they categorize the last situation differently than I do:
Amber Oud by de Nicolai however is oud prowling in kitten’s paws, so delicate and purring you might be mistaken for thinking there is some problem with the labeling. Because Amber Oud is mostly a glorious aromatic amber fragrance with copious helpings of premium grade lavender fanned on resinous, plush notes of velvet. […][¶]
In Patricia de Nicolai’s Amber Oud the blast of lavender at the beginning is the dominant force which takes you by surprise and which might make women think this is more men’s gear than girly girl stuff. But they need not fear. Gents and ladies alike will appreciate the seamless procession into a balsamic smelling nucleus. […] Seekers of oud (lured by the name) might feel cheated and there is no eye-catching innovativeness in the formula itself, but de Nicolai is continuing on a path of wearable, presentable, smooth perfumes that have earned her brand a steady following.
The Non-Blonde has a similar assessment:
The first thing to notice about Nicolai’s Amber Oud and Rose Oud is that they don’t smell very oudy. […][¶]
Amber Oud doesn’t smell particularly ambery, especially compared to the Oriental fantasy of Kilian’s perfume with the same name. It’s actually a very herbal-aromatic concoction, like a darkened and deepened fougere that still maintains the bones of a great and classic men’s cologne. It took me a couple of testings to really find the oud in this perfume, but it’s there, hiding right behind the spicy front put by saffron and cinnamon. It’s instantly likable, decidedly fresh, and very refined. Amber Oud probably suits and appeals to me more than it does for women. I just wish it wasn’t so safe.
I agree, Amber Oud is very safe, but I didn’t find it to be half as herbal-aromatic as she did. On my skin, that phase was only a small portion of the scent, and always festooned by copious vanilla and tonka to create lavender ice-cream more than a fresh aromatic scent. Plus, the main heart of the Amber Oud was patchouli, followed by a resinous labdanum finish at the end. As for the hiding wood note, I found that it was always cedar, not oud.
Clearly, skin chemistry is going to make a difference in terms of what you experience, and how unisex it may be. Similarly, personal valuation will determine if the end result is too simplistic for the price, or cozy comfort that is well worth it. All I can say is that lovers of lavender, amber, and patchouli, as well as Kilian’s Amber Oud, should really try the Nicolaï version. I absolutely love its serene, soothing warmth and luxurious comfort.
Cost & Availability: Amber Oud is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes. There is a tiny 30 ml/1 oz bottle that costs $78 or €58, and there is a large 100 ml/3.3 oz bottle that costs $235 or €174. In the U.S.: Luckyscent sells both sizes of the perfume, and also offers samples. Beautyhabit only carries the small 30 ml size. Same story with Parfum1, but they sell samples for $4. OsswaldNY has some of the Parfums de Nicolai line, but not the two new Oud fragrances. Outside the U.S.: For Canadian readers, the US-based Perfume Shoppe carries the Parfums de Nicolaï line, but I don’t see Amber Oud on their website. In the U.K., Parfums de Nicolaï has a shop in London on Fulham Road. You can check the Store Link below for the exact address. For all European readers, you can order directly from Parfums de Nicolaï which sells Amber Oud for €58 and €178, depending on size. In France, the company has numerous boutiques, especially in Paris. First in Fragrance sells the large 100 ml bottle for €159.66. In the Netherlands, ParfuMaria carries both sizes of Amber Oud, as does Annindriya’s Perfume Lounge. In Spain, the PdN line is sold at Ruiz de Ocenda, but I don’t see the new Ouds listed. In Hungary, I found both sizes of Amber Oud at Neroli. For other locations in France and the address of the London store, you can turn to the Nicolai Store Listing. It doesn’t show any vendors outside France or the UK. I found no stores carrying the line in Asia, the Middle East, or Australia. Samples: Samples of Amber Oud are available from Luckyscent or Parfum1. Surrender to Chance does not carry it at this time.
Only he could do it. Only Serge Lutens could make a fragrance that a lavender-phobe would not only love, but buy. And not just buy a regular bottle of it, but buy a bloody expensive, exclusive bell jar! Only a true master could make a fragrance that is essentially everything that I dislike in a fragrance, and bring me to my knees.
It’s as though Uncle Serge decided to make me eat my hat by checking off every box that would normally make me wince — lavender, gourmand, sweet, sheer, discreet, and even sometimes vanishing, no less — intentionally combine them all into a single scent, and make the final result be something utterly beyond my ability to resist. It’s actually amusing at this point — and I say that as one who needs to take frequent breaks in typing to sniff the air around me with the glazed eyes of an addict. Only Le Grand Serge and Christopher Sheldrake could manage that.
Fourreau Noir is an Oriental eau de parfum that was created by Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2009. As noted above, it is one of the famous bell jar “Paris Exclusives,” which means that it not sold world-wide, but is generally exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters. That said, it can actually be purchased outside of France, either from Barney’s New York or directly from Serge Lutens’ international and U.S. websites, though it’s always at a big mark-up if you are buying outside of France.
Uncle Serge describes the scent and the meaning of its name as follows:
A fourreau in French means a sheath for a dagger as well as a form-fitting dress… ready to embrace the voluptuous contours of a widow’s body.
Maybe you’ve heard of the brown bean used to extract vanillin? Its name is the tonka bean. It grows in abundance on a tree in the Amazonian rain forest. Sweet and fluid, its fragrance lingers, living its mark.
As always, Serge Lutens keeps the perfume’s notes secret. Fragrantica says they are:
Lavender, tonka, musk, almonds, smokey accords
Based on what I smell, however, I think the list would be longer. My guess is:
Lavender, Incense, Patchouli, Almonds, Tonka Bean, Vanilla, Cedarwood, and Musk. There may be some ambery element as well.
Fourreau Noir opens on my skin with lavender. Have I mentioned lately just how much I loathe lavender? It is a note that I struggle with deeply, due to childhood experiences living in Cannes, in the South of France, where dried herbal sachets of the blasted stuff were ubiquitous. Their sharp, pungent, aggressively herbal aroma was everywhere, and it didn’t help matters that the driveway to our house had lavender growing as if it were on steroids. I had a sensitive nose even back then, and the aromatic deluge left a mark, making me avoid lavender as an adult whenever and wherever possible. As you might have gathered by now, this is the first of what will be several examples of Serge Lutens making me eat my hat because, yes, Fourreau Noir opens with lavender. And lots of it. En plus, it’s pungent, herbal, and dried — everything that would normally send a bone-deep shiver through my body.
Those magicians, Messieurs Lutens and Sheldrake, quickly coat and cloak the lavender with the black sheath talked about in Fourreau Noir’s description. Like loving tentacles, incense wraps itself around those blasted purple stalks, lovingly turning them dark and smoky. Within moments, my hated, floral, herbal nemesis is also infused with sweetness from a lightly spiced, chewy, slightly earthy patchouli. It, too, is a bit smoked, and the dark sheath is even further supplemented by what smells to me like dry, also smoky cedar wood.
There is something a little synthetic about all the sharpness, something biting that almost burns my nose, but it is soon countered by a wave of warm sweetness. Like a pale, white counterpart to the the black incense tendrils, creamy vanilla and tonka bean seep through. They curl their way around the sharp notes, fractionally dulling their razor’s edge. The sweetness is gauzy but strong, light but potent, and always feels like the very frothiest mousse. Subtle hints of a bitter fresh almond soon follow, along with an intangible woodiness that differs a little from the smoky, dry cedar.
Five minutes in, the patchouli starts to slowly become more prominent, feeling wonderfully red-brown with its spicy, sweet, earthy facets. It’s potent, but never dense, chewy, or opaque in feel. It is true patchouli, even down to the very fleeting, momentary and faint hint of something medicinal in its character. It is a touch which underscores the more herbal aspects of the lavender. Yet, despite that, the flower is never completely like the aggressively pungent, aggressively herbal, dried, acrid note that is the stuff of my nightmares. Thanks to the impact of the other notes, especially the patchouli and incense, the lavender has been transformed into something different. It is now simultaneously incense-y, a little floral, and a little darkly leathered, herbal, and sweet.
Fourreau Noir encompasses you like a cloud that is at once almost translucent and as tough as steel. I’ve worn differing amounts, but most recently tried 3 decent-sized sprays, and Fourreau Noir’s opening spread its tentacles about 4-5 inches around me. It is potent and intense, yet oddly feels as insubstantial and thin as the smoke it contains. It’s like being covered in a swirl of incense and lavender, tendrils that weave about you as thin as an invisible thread, but with enormous tenacity. I’m amazed by how sheer it is, and by the mental images of translucency. Take that as Exhibit No. Two of Serge Lutens making me eat my hat, as perfumes with a gauzy, almost invisible sheerness are far from my personal cup of tea.
What’s even more baffling about the odd case of Fourreau Noir is that it actually feels as though it disappears from my skin from time to time. On past occasions, there were times when fragrance felt as though it had evaporated after about 90 minutes, and it wasn’t always easy to detect. Yet, it still lingered all around me, an undeniable cloud of incense, patchouli, and lavender. It would follow me like a lap-dog, leaving a small trail in the air. At other times, however, I couldn’t detect any projection at all, but Fourreau Noir was clearly pulsating and evident on my skin. Occasionally, it seemed to slip away like a ghost, only to reappear, almost stronger than it had been before, just as I was about to apply more. Fourreau Noir is a perplexing creature with a mind of its own, flitting about, encapsulating you, weaving some mysterious spell around you that makes you ignore all your usual issues or concerns as you smell that entrancing mixture of sharp contrasts. Dry, smoky, sweet, earthy, herbal, and woody — it’s all there, all around you, potent and dark, and yet, as insubstantial as a ghost. How can I love it so?!
Exhibit Three of Le Grand Serge making me tolerate what I normally dislike is the synthetic feel underlying Fourreau Noir’s opening hour. It is most definitely there, and I can’t stand fragrances whose unnatural sharpness almost burns my nose if I smell my arm up close. It’s not only that a few of the notes like the lavender or the incense feel like a razor at times, but something genuinely synthetic in the base. I can’t pinpoint what it may be, though I suspect it’s the musk, combined with notes that are inherently a bit sharp in nature. And, yet, I don’t mind it. Even though it lingers high in my nose and burns a little, Fourreau Noir is simply too beautiful a combination for me to really care. Yes, Uncle Serge, I will have another piece of that humble pie.
The fragrance continues to subtly shift. Twenty minute in, the patchouli becomes increasingly prominent, while the almond and vanilla foam in the base start their slow rise to the surface. As the supporting actors begin to arrive on stage, they counterbalance the lavender’s herbal, almost leathery undertone, the fierceness of the incense, and the dryness of the cedar. The vanilla tames the beastly lavender and smoke, while the almond’s bitter facets add a fascinating contrast to the earthiness of the lightly spiced patchouli.
At the end of the first hour, Fourreau Noir turns much sweeter, and borders almost on the gourmand. The lavender is now creamy, rich, and feels like lavender ice cream infused with almond extract. Yet, the perfume isn’t really a true dessert-y fragrance, thanks to the constant presence of the dry notes that swirl all around like a dark cloud. From the temple-like, black incense trails, to the dry smoky cedar, and even the earthy spiciness of the patchouli, there are too many checks and balances to the creamy lavender-vanilla-almond sherbert. What the sweeter notes really do is to soften that early razor sharpness, though the synthetic undertone to Fourreau Noir still remains at the base.
The perfume continues to soften. About 2.5 hours in, it lingers extremely close to the skin, and the patchouli has become as prominent as the incense, while the lavender has started to recede. There is something almost ambered to Fourreau Noir’s base, though the golden sweetness and warmth may simply be the indirect impact of the tonka bean on the patchouli. Whatever the cause, Fourreau Noir is now primarily a bouquet of patchouli amber with smoky incense, atop a vanilla base that is infused with almond and lavender, and lightly flecked with musk and abstract, dry woodiness.
There is also the merest, subtlest suggestion of something that smells like gingerbread, and it becomes increasingly strong. By the end of the 4th hour, it’s quite noticeable and I suspect that the creamy woods, the vanilla, and patchouli’s spicy, earth sweetness have all melded together to create a sweet-spiced gingerbread accord. It’s too dry, however, to be like actual dessert or cloying; the sweetness is perfectly balanced. In fact, the unexpected gingerbread element eventually turns drier and woody, taking on an almost sandalwood-like aroma. The overall effect strongly calls to mind Chanel‘s gorgeous Bois des Iles with its very close replication of Mysore sandalwood in its base and drydown.
Fourreau Noir turns increasingly abstract, and its final drydown is a simple, utterly lovely mix of sweetness, woodiness, and creamy smoothness. It’s a patchouli amber gingerbread with the lightest hint of spices, incense, and creamy, wispy, gauzy vanillic sweetness. All in all, Fourreau Noir’s duration averages out to about 10.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with three sprays being the median quantity applied. A smaller amount yields about 9.5 hours, while 4 big sprays results in about 11.75 hours. At all times, however, the fragrance feels sheer, almost translucent, and gauzy in weight. The sillage generally drops after about 75-minutes with a small amount, 90-minutes with a medium amount, and 2.5 hours with more. Fourreau Noir only becomes a true skin scent on me around the end of the fourth hour, though there are the issues mentioned earlier about the fragrance sometimes acting like a ghost in terms of projection, as well as strength on the skin.
I was surprised to read some of the reactions to Fourreau Noir as it has alternatively been described as a very clean scent, a masculine one, a deliciously gourmand one, a perfume similar to Chergui, and even, on one rare occasion, an animalic, almost dirty fragrance. All those opinions are noticeable on Fragrantica and in blog reviews. The Non Blonde referred to the latter in her very positive assessment of Fourreau Noir where she compared it to a cozy, cuddly, fuzzy, long sweater with a slightly clean vibe:
Sometimes my taste in perfume makes me question my sanity. Many reviews and impressions of Fourreau Noir, a 2009 non-export Serge Lutens release, mention/lament/ celebrate two accords- black smoke and a dirty animalic heart. For some of the people who tried Fourreau Noir (the loaded name translates as black sheath) these aspects made it difficult to wear. Me? My skin diffuses smoke and domesticates large beasts. I find Fourreau Noir not just soft and cuddly but also as comfortable and embracing as an old hoodie fresh from the laundry.
I mentioned laundry for a reason. The lavender note is strong in the opening and quite persistent after. […] Fourreau Noir is fuzzy and warm as though it just left the dryer. The lavender over a sweet gourmand base supports this idea, though it’s not exactly Downy Lavender-Vanilla fabric softener. Don’t worry.
Fourreau Noir is musky, but to me it’s a fairly clean musk with a hint of fruitiness. The tactile equivalent is of a soft silk-merino knit, kind of like the long wrap sweater with caressing kimono sleeves I’m wearing now as I’m typing this review. This coziness is helped greatly by the sweet gourmand dry-down. Tonka bean, almond cookies covered in very light powdered sugar and lots and lots of immortelle. I love immortelle on its mapley goodness, and in this case the maple smells like it was aged and smoked in old wood barrels. This is the kind of stuff I expect and enjoy from our favorite uncle.
Obviously, my experience is a bit different from hers, and I don’t find that musk to be either clean or dirty, but I definitely agree that our mutually adored, favorite uncle created a beautiful scent whose drydown is of sweet, smoked, woody goodness.
At the end of the day, I find Fourreau Noir to be a delectably dark fragrance that is quite addictive in its coziness. It really shouldn’t have wrapped its tendrils around me in quite the way that it did. It is a fragrance centered, in large part, on a note that I despise, but it was genius to mix lavender with such unexpected elements as dark smoke, almonds and patchouli. It obviously helps that I’m a sucker for patchouli, but still, everyone who knows me is shocked that Fourreau Noir is the fragrance that I chose as my first bell jar. I am too, actually.
I had initially gone to the Palais Royal with plans to get a very different scent, perhaps the beautiful De Profundis with its delicate floral heart and gorgeous purple liquid. (I actually ended up with De Profundis as my second bell jar perfume!) While there, testing all the different perfumes, the gardenia-tobacco ode to Billie Holiday, Une Voix Noire, beckoned to me even more insistently than when I had tried it. My beloved Cuir Mauresque (the perfume that Serge Lutens himself wears) trumped both of them, but it’s ridiculous to buy it in a rare, expensive bell jar form when the perfume is also available for much cheaper overseas in a regular 1.7 oz spray bottle.
I was actually testing the Bois series of fragrances, and marveling over Bois et Fruits, when I happened to put Fourreau Noir on my wrist. It caught my attention almost immediately, but there was far too much going on, and I needed to assess each fragrance’s longevity. There were no samples to be had, so I clutched little scented strips wrapped tightly in plastic and went home to ponder the issue. Two days later, when I returned, I was still undecided. It was down between Bois et Fruits and Fourreau Noir, with Une Voix Noir perhaps in third place.
In the end, something about Fourreau Noir seemed more special to me, more unique, mysterious, and entrancing. I loved the mix of sweetness with the sharp, dry incense, and the way that dark smoke weaved its gauzy, tenacious tendrils around me like a witch’s spell. Fourreau Noir has never really seemed like a pure lavender fragrance to me; if it had, I would have run a mile in the opposite direction shrieking for help. It also seemed to be beyond easy categorization; neither “gourmand” nor “dark incense” really describe its core essence. In some ways, it’s everything and nothing, just like its peculiar, occasionally ghostly sillage that can also be a tenacious, sheer, potent cloud. It is a fragrance that seems at once very simple, but also very nuanced and layered.
Perhaps the best explanation for Fourreau Noir’s hold over me is the dark elusiveness at its heart, an elusiveness that is so very Serge Lutens. How else can one explain a lavender phobe falling for such a fragrance? I tried the much-vaunted, endlessly worshiped, lavender gourmand fragrance, Kiki, from Vero Profumo, and was bored to tears. I found it simple, uninteresting, lacking in nuance, and banal. Perhaps I simply needed dark magic? Or perhaps only a master like Serge Lutens can create a perfume that encompasses everything one dislikes, but make it so delectable that you can’t help but fall into its addictive embrace. Yes, the answer has to be Serge Lutens. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on some lavender, and eat some humble pie.