Several years ago, I showed up to a work Christmas party in an orange sweater and got some (jokingly) disapproving remarks—after all, most of my colleagues had donned red or green and there I was dressed like it was Halloween. To be fair, I wore that orange sweater on most other days during the fall, winter, and spring as well… This year, though, I won the “ugly sweater” contest at my department’s holiday party with this sweater, much to my surprise. The older I get, the more I appreciate how silly rituals bring people together by making up something in common, if only for the occasion.
Now, I’m going to write about a perfume that others have associated with Halloween for the December holiday season. I wonder, though—would it possess this association independently from its name? In my defense, I had bought a vintage bottle of Lancôme Magie Noire (“black magic” in French, by perfumers Gérard Goupy, Jean-Charles Niel, and Yves Tanguy) EdT in time for Halloween, right after losing a bid on another bottle of it, but the first spritz was so heavily lily-of-the-valley on me that I got scared off of trying it properly until today.
Perhaps this was meant to be. To me, it’s quite suited for traditional Western holidays, where the older generation spoils the younger and various odors fill the air with nostalgia. This is not a time for newness and innovation, fresh starts and resolutions. Yet. It’s a time for togetherness and reminiscence, putting aside our differences, and finding commonality in eggnog and other liquids and solids and…
I’d read about Magie Noire before, but sometimes one needs multiple reminders to finally shift behavior. For me, Barbara Herman’s evocative description in her book Scent & Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume was what spurred me into action:
In Magie Noire, there are the narcotic elements of honey, tuberose, narcissus, and rose (a dark, forbidding rose rather than a come-hither one). This is intensified by top notes that don’t sweeten or even introduce the perfume so much as stand behind the heart notes and back up their message of dark beauty. Ripe berries and currants recall magical fairy-tale forests.
How could I resist this well-organized kitchen sink of notes?
- Top: cassis, bergamot, hyacinth, raspberry, green note
- Heart: honey, jasmine, lily of the valley, tuberose, narcissus, orris, rose oriental
- Base: patchouli, castoreum, civet, vetiver, musk, oakmoss, benzoin
With several brave, definitive, proper sprays, Magie Noire delivers the magic of green-tempered florals with a respectable backdrop of animalic sourness, which somehow ties back to the green notes seamlessly. It interrogates in a sweet chorus (dare I say honeyed?) of a cappella flowers flanked by hard, green bodyguards before drawing the subject in to the inner sanctum of base notes, the earthy, mossy depths of the real party and afterparty.
It’s the comfort of having someone present who is of a previous generation, who remembers things I may have only heard of and wondered about; the gentle and subtle yielding of old ways to the new; the will to keep tradition alive for another year despite the hassles. Tough on the inside, soft and sweet on the outside.
I haven’t smelled that many vintage perfumes, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think Magie Noire could be a sister to Jacomo Silences (from the same year, 1978), with its foresty green backbone and complex powdery, rosy whispers. These floral greens know what they’re doing.
Wishing all a peaceful holiday season.