The eternal dance… Narcisse Noir by Caron The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

Powdered and primped, feeling awkward and almost pimped, a life lived perpetually on point.

How happily she had left the stage for the last time, accepting the applause, the acclaim and the one final bouquet. Daffodils for her mother’s St David, African Orange Blossom in lieu of Papa’s Happy Valley crew who couldn’t make in time from Kenya to see her.

She curtseyed in pain as she always had, but this time despite bleeding feet, this time her smile broke free of its normal circuit of restraint and coursed right across her face.

No more Cinderellas and Nutcrackers, no more Swans, no more elegance on the surface and turmoil below the water line.

She breathes in deeply, drinks in freedom and drunk on air throws caution and her flowers to the wind.

Running for the wings she neglects to stop, fails to return, lets down her audience by succeeding in pleasing herself and declining to accept their umpteenth forced-upon-her curtain call.

Without missing a beat she is out of the building, her driver, soon to be dispensed with, and her lover, the one she means to keep, wait outside in a car already ticking over.

On the back seat under furs she harbours dreams of swapping pas de deux for secateurs, of leaving behind fifth position for the placing of plants in a landscape of her own choreography.

She sips strong always forbidden gin and orange from a flask, and once out of the city winds down windows to take in the scent of the season’s first hay sleeping off the day in the night’s fields.

And she is happy, for she feels that in the autumn of her life spring has finally come.

*************

Narcisse Noir is the smell of a small liberation.

It is the ecstatic unfurling of a muscle too long held in tension, the stretching out of long limbs too long constrained and now allowed at last to be lucid.

It is a perfume of performance not entirely suitable for rehearsals.

Opening with an entire corps de ballet of daffodils and orange blossoms this production has ambition from the start.

These first performers quickly cede centre stage to new stars: a robust if not downright rotund orange with its two partners a somewhat jagged and playful jasmine and a decidedly medicinal tincture of rose.

The narcissi never leave the scene though, and can be called upon at any point to lend force to every heavily choreographed and highly sexed set piece.

Our third act finds us in expansive territory, an imagined landscape of the Russian Steppes as they once were: wild grasses with antelope and feral cats here and there.

It is an animal world, the only trace of men the incense of unseen churches of the old religion.

Against this endless wilderness our drama plays out towards an enigmatic ending that hints at the eternal.

Narcisse Noir is by turns a joyous evocation of youth, an erotic dance of courtship and a meditation on the meaning of the final curtain.

It is classical ballet made scent.

Like all great dance it calls on dancers of every sex.

*************

The Perfumed Dandy was fortunate enough to sample the current extrait and an older eau de toilette formulation in a white spotted box and the traditional Caron flacon.

However, though lighter, he finds the current toilette to be a perfectly sensuous scent, much derided for no good reason.

Rumours abound that the eau de toilette is to be entirely discontinued if this has not indeed already happened.

Yours ever

The Perfumed Dandy.
The Perfumed Dandy

33 Comments

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33 responses to “The eternal dance… Narcisse Noir by Caron The Perfumed Dandy’s Scented Letter

  1. While it always gives me vicarious pleasure to read your reviews, this one struck a special (and personal) chord. I have nothing of note to add or even to say – except this:
    Thank you.

  2. Miss Misty

    Ah Narcisse Noir, she was my entrance into the world of vintage perfumes and high-end french classics. I was participating in a stage play in school, Sartre’s ‘No Exit’ and I was playing the not so nice Estelle Rigault, and wanted to wear “a very french fragrance that was very old world and very dark” at least those were my words entering our local perfume shop back then – lol

    Today my choice would be different I think, though having a darker side Narcisse Noir never smelled really noir to me.
    It is like the absence of the the bright spotlight, like a shadow play or in fact like a falling curtain.

    • Ah Miss Misty
      What an entrance into the world of vintage perfume and while playing in ‘No Exit’ no less, what a happy play on both words and the senses.
      I cannot better your line “It is like the absence of the the bright spotlight, like a shadow play or in fact like a falling curtain.”.
      It is precisely this sense of a I life after the performance, of an expanse of emptiness (the Steppes), that I perceive too.
      Thank you for your wonderful comments.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  3. rosestrang

    As always Sir Dandy your review brings a tear to my eye! I’ve never tried Narcisse Noir, but recently I’ve been pining for orange blossom (must be the promise of Spring) but I’ll never be satisfied with a simple floral. This sounds exquisite

  4. batkitty

    There is definitely something about Narcisse Noir that places it outside day-to-day mundane life, and the link between this perfume and the ballet stage is inspired. It is formal, even a bit removed, but I have never found it “noir”–it seems to bright and vibrant for that. It is fickle on me, sometimes incense, sometimes only orange blossom and narcissus, sometimes very animalic, but whatever the mood it’s always all in, no hesitations.

    Thank you for the review.

    • My Dear Batkitty
      Yes – I agree, there is something both formal and slightly removed – like the rigourous pose of a ballerina about Narcisse Noir – and yet at once earthy – as if a nod is being made to the hours of graft and sweat that must go into the appearance of efforless elegance.
      I am with you too on the capricious nature of the scent – never quite the same twice, but for me that is part of the excitement – like watching the leap of the principal dancer through the air not knowing how well the landing will be grounded.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy.

  5. My Dear Rose
    Dry your tears – my particular dancer went on to lead a long and happy life, rest assured.
    Narcisse noirI feel may be for you – particularly when extrait and toilette meet – she is complex and to my nose earthy – again the Steppes, or the scorched skin of a potato baked in foil on an open fire.
    For a spritz of zingy orange blossom that can easily be layered I can recommend the simple but effective Montaigne also by Caron, which I believe is also in the throes of discontinuation.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  6. Are there collections of vintage perfumes? I’m so fascinated that you were able to sample an original bottle… Of course your descriptions read to me like short stories, but somebody has told me it’s all in the scent! Could you tell me what a popular perfume would have been in 1926? In a boom town by the sea — just about to launch talking pictures?
    Merci beaucoup,
    V

    • Bonjour Madame Lester
      There is one library (of a sort – museum perhaps) the Osmatheque in Paris and various houses have their own, but alas no public institution in dear London.
      We are left to the whims of the vintage market – or the smiling face of good fate.
      A dear neighbour of mine – a devotee of Amarige – happened to mention she had a little ‘older’ Narcisse Noir – I don’t think it’s as much as two decades out the store but old enough for this purpose. Luck was in this case very literally a Lady.
      Now, your question immediately intrigues me…
      Where would the coastal town be and in which industry would it be booming…?
      Perhaps I can guess, but it would be better to know… c’est toujours comme ca n’est-ce pas?
      Amities
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy.

      • I wish I had a better grasp of technology – I have a photo of a night club in Santa Monica (LA) called the Club Casa Del Mar – and I would send it to you if I could… It’s a slightly disturbing image of some bored night owls sitting at a fully set table (sans alcohol/the prohibition era) and what appears (to my eyes) to be an underage cigarette girl dressed in a deco version of silk harem pajamas… Besides the cigarette smoke, and sea air, I wanted to know what perfume the ladies might be wearing?
        Thank you, oh sage and dear Perfumed Dandy!

      • Dearest L

        I have given much thought to this and there would seem to be a number of possibilities.

        No truly ‘American’ perfume exists at this point (though I know Caswell
        Massey had been in production for many a long year).

        So the scent a lady wore may well depend much more on her family’s roots and her economic position.

        Those with an Italian background might stay true to the various Acqui (perhaps he father’s Acqua di Parma) of that country, a British lineaged young lady would be in Penhaligon’s or Floris, but it would be a French femme that had the most fun.

        For by 1926 she would have had (if the disposal income were available) her choice of some of the true greats – Guerlain’s Mitsouko (1919) and l’heure bleue (1912) – though in a boomtown one thinks Shalimar (1925) would have been much more the latest rage.

        Of course the great aldehydes have just arrived and have yet to be cheapend by familiarity and copy cat soaps – so there’s Chanel No.5 (1921) obviously leading the way (though this is too early for Both Patou’s Joy (1929) and Lanvin’s Arpege (1927)) and Coty’s wonderful not quite No. 5 L’Aimant (1921 too).

        Indeed your answer – for the poorer sort of girl – would probably lie with Coty both the balmy Emmeraude (1921) and the era defining but now defunct Chypre (1917).

        If it’s not to be the brassy blunt hunk of beautiful chunk that L’Aimant is, I would like to think of our underage cigarette girl getting her paws on Caron’s masterly Tabac Blond (a rallying call for women to demonstrate ne found freedom through cigarette smoking, 1919) or even better to have gone in for some prima ballerina imitation with the same house’s Narcisse Noir (1911).
        On balance though cigarette girls probably wore Coty.

        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

      • I think the Dandy hit it out of the park on what would be popular just such a place as Santa Monica in 1926. And I have to say Wow to this review. I am dancing all around on point in shear joy at the beauty of this review. Bravo!

  7. brie

    Having once been a professional ballet dancer (in what seems like another lifetime ago) this review was quite poignant to me….and I have also been craving orange blossoms as the harsh winter has me pining for spring to arrive!

    • Dear Brie
      Oh I’m so pleased that my imaginings weren’t totally off beam as ’twere.
      The Dandy loves all things orange blossom and hopes it makes a big return this spring. I shall certainly be sporting it on days off!
      Thank you so much for dropping in.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  8. This particular review touched a deep childhood chord. I studied classical ballet as a child and was for two glorious years under the tutelage of Nathalie Krassovska many years ago in her Dallas studio. I never had the right feet or body type for professional work though. But I loved it all the same. I still love the ballet immensely. And I adore the Vaganova-style schooled dancers the most. The glorious, hyperfeminine, sensual, yet otherworldly extremity of elegance is indeed realized in this perfume. It isn’t for the ghastly horror of the Sunset Boulevard divas waiting for their close-ups. It truly is for the ballerinas, for exquisite creatures like Madame Krassovska as I called her. And you have captured the heart of that feeling in this review. Thank you yet again to the Perfumed Dandy for bringing a distant personal memory of such tremendous beauty to life again.

    • Dear Rosa Milena
      Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful glimpse of your time at Madame Krassovka’s I can almost feel the dance studio floors beneath my feet and smell the chalk. Just there, just out of reach.
      The Dandy too was once a keen and enthusiastic dancer – though in the modern form (Graham method). Alas though my feet were excellent (I walk in a sort of second position naturally and have excellent point) my frame is more suited to rugby football than the dance repertoire.
      Such is life.
      You too have allowed me to access a memory that had lain a little covered up in some corner of my mind.
      I thank you for that.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  9. Lilybelle

    A beautiful review, Mr. Dandy! I’m sampling the current edt of Narcisse Noir this morning. Unfortunately, for me this is a very dark fragrance. It depresses me. My nature is airy and thrives in light. At any rate, your review certainly helps me to appreciate what a great composition this was, and still is, imo, though I’m sure the vintage is better (it always is).

    • My good Lilybelle
      I agree about the current formulation, which is far from the awful weak affair it is claimed to be by some.
      Given that this does seem to be in the throes of discontinuation, I would recommend it to anyone as a little piece of history to be purchased before it disappears.
      I am sad in one way that it sits so darkly on your skin, but in another sense it lifts my soul to get an appreciation of an artwork so complex that it forms an individual relationship with each person who wears it.
      Thank you, as ever, for dropping by.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  10. TrishB

    Are you able to share more information about the discontinuation of Caron scents? I’m a bit of a Caron collector. Narcisse Noir was the first “grown up” scent I purchased for myself. I still have quite a bit left of the very large bottle of edt that I found in an odd apothecary on a Boston side street 28 years ago, for something like 3 months of my college earnings. Of course, I now have the extrait, the edp, and a newer spray bottle of edt, also.

    • Hello Trish B
      The Dandy bids you warm welcome.
      I have been told by the principal seller of Caron’s perfumes in London that a number of the EdTs and EdPs are to be discontinued – Narcisse Noire among them.
      Others they seemed unclear on are Montaigne, Bellodgia, Parfum Sacre, Nocturnes and Infini.
      In fact they said rather vaguely that they were ‘unclear what Caron were doing’.
      I am trying to contact Caron directly in Paris to find out and as soon and the Dandy know, you will do to!
      As you may gather, I am something of a Caron-ophile myself.
      I would be terribly interested to now if there are any from the ‘fema’ range you think would suit a man most awfully well.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

      The others are

  11. serafinarose

    Dear Perfumed Dandy
    Utterly divine.
    Sincerely
    Serafina

  12. Dear Dandy
    Lord, you have brought back happy memories of time spent at the Harrods Caron counter, where the most delightful blond gent regaled me with tales of the various scents, and we tutted together over the crassness of the perfume accessory brand boom. This particular fragrance is a delight – all blackberries and warm leather saddles I find. Dear sir, I am enjoying your blog. And I am too a gentleman lost at sea – or was back in the day when I merrily scrubbed decks courtesy of the Navy.
    Yours in shipmanship
    Seafarer

    • Dear Seafarer
      The Dandy does hope that you have found a suitable port in a storm here at his salon!
      Yes, the Caron counter at Harrods is a delight as is that at Fortnum and Mason.
      It is so sad that the consequence of the ‘perfume accessory brand boom’ is that a great house such as Caron is being squeezed to the margins of the scented world whereas it truly belongs to be centre stage.
      Until the tides bring us together again.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  13. Reblogged this on The Perfumed Dandy. and commented:

    Happy Mother’s Day!! Just the other day I proffered a list of scented suggestions for suitable gifts for this most important of days. Today a reminder of the aroma I gave my own dear mater… enjoy!

  14. It was a little vial of Narcisse Noir that first sent me tumbling down the rabbit hole. I was looking for a new scent, was bored and disgusted with the department store offerings, and decided on a web search to see if there might be a scent out there that smelled like poet’s narcissus. That was when I found that there were such things as niche lines and decanters, and I’ve been broke ever since. Anyway, I ordered a vial of Narcisse Noir, and my first thought when I smelled it on myself was “sharp, kind of musty, nothing like narcissus.” I ordered a bunch of other samples, then decants, then bottles…but your review reminds me that I never went back to that first sample. I will probably love it now. Oh, and by the way, if anyone knows of a perfume that smells just like the white-petaled orange-eyed poet’s narcissus, do let me know. That is one soliflore that I would cherish if I could find it.

    • Dearest Feral
      Thank you so much for sharing that tale of your entrapment….
      The Dandy adores it when friends recount their initial temptation. For myself I think it was Sisley’s Eau de Campagne or Shiseido’s Basala, but possibly Caron’s Nuit de Noel that sealed my fate.
      I do hope that on your return to Narcisse Noir you derive more pleasure than that first time… do let us know won’t you!?!
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  15. Lilybelle

    I see from my earlier comment that my sample is the current edt. I think I’ll dig it out and give it another try tonight to see whether it still rubs me the wrong way. Time of day often makes a huge difference (not the mention weather, season, mood, etc.).

    • Dearest L
      The has the current EdT and yes it has more orange than of old, but still it broadens out into something much fuller and richer on my skin.
      Time of day may well be key, this is a perfume for after the performance rather than the rehearsal room.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

  16. I love Narcisse Noir! Many years ago I found a sealed box containing that beautiful black flower stoppered bottle of it at a thrift store. It was still sealed with the gold string and medallion. I wore it with my 1920s dresses to the discos in the 80s. Every time I smell the original bottle, I remember dancing the night through in beaded chiffon and silk!

    • Dear Vivia
      Welcome to The Dandy’s, so splendid of you to drop by!
      I love this real-life fairytale of Narcisse Noir being reborn to dance again in 80s discos.
      I can se you amongst New Romantics in flapper gear floating on a cloud of this consummate Caron.
      Yours ever
      The Perfumed Dandy

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