3/28/14

Encre Noire (Lalique)



Iso E Super is just another synthetic aroma chemical, no more or less evil than the lot of them. Like most chemicals, it gets misused, but it is also used very nicely. A clumsier treatment can be found in Bleu de Chanel, where the material smells like olfactory overkill in a high-strung woody amber. Cartier's Déclaration is a vastly better fragrance that uses the stuff for a typical "buzzy" wood effect, which elevates the prominence of other notes in its composition instead of filling in for them. What's the difference in quality here between these two fragrances? It's splitting hairs, but BdC relies heavily on that "buzzy" sheer wood effect to act as a note (it depends on Iso E Super), whereas Déclaration benefits by using Iso E Super as a bit player in an otherwise independent composition that could work quite well without it. Jean-Claude Ellena seemed to feel that the material added a useful degree of texture and depth to woody and spicy accords, and I think he was right.

Nathalie Lorson must have harbored a unique philosophy about this approach when Encre Noire was composed. One thing that is obvious about this Lalique scent is that the perfumer recognized the cog-like purpose of Iso E Super, and mated it to several dry, saturnine woody notes. Yet unlike other scents in the same vein, Encre Noire's composition reverses the paradigm by allowing the chemicals that resemble "natural" materials (vetiver, cypress, black pepper, cashmere wood, birch tar) to complement Iso E Super. Under most circumstances this probably would not work very well, but going "whole hog" with the dark and smoky angle is what makes it smell so appealing. Its full-bore dryness is reminiscent of Arden's Sandalwood for Men, minus the lavender and patchouli, and with vetiver and "precious woods," which is really just Cashmeran, dialed up to the max.

The Iso E Super pushes through these dour notes like moonlight through tree branches, and the "buzz" is quite welcome for a change. Its transparent energy lifts and swirls the hyper-masculine pyramid through a gamut of inkiness, leatheriness, and even a decidedly agnostic incense note, and guess what? It smells great. Despite being relatively cheap, Lalique's vetiver-themed fragrance comes in a lovely bottle (we would expect nothing less), its contents akin to the papery rootiness of Guerlain Vetiver, the clean woodiness of Terre d'Hermès, the shadowy starkness of Chanel Sycamore, and the sheer radiance of Malle's Vetiver Extraordinaire. I've read questions asking where to find the best contemporary vetiver. To me, this is a top contender for that title. It draws on the seriousness of the old-school, but imparts a casual, sophisticated air, thanks to an enduring tension between traditional woody-chypre elements and contemporary synthetics.





5 comments:

  1. Great review, with a novel analysis... That is, despite the -- here it comes-- considerable ink that has been spilled by reviewers and posters alike, I have not heard anyone describe EN this way, but it makes perfect sense. It may also explain why I find the scent quite therapeutic. One quick question though: I've noticed that this scent definitely radiates (or, as I've heard you say, 'has some throw'), but I don't feel engulfed by my own cloud, even as my wife walks into the room and gets it right away (with a very positive reaction, thank goodness.) It also seems to give up little breezes of very dry sillage long after assume it's dried down. Is this a case of vibrating molecules or something else that will elude my social sciences brain? I've noticed it before with some other fragrances, but this one seems remarkably mobile.

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    1. First, the "vibrational theory of olfaction" is crap science. Discard it immediately. Luca Turin has been using molecular shapes as a reason to believe in vibrations, claiming that molecules with identical shapes can't smell different unless they "vibrate" differently. It's an interesting theory, but to this day most in the olfactory science community remain unconvinced. Turin has never proved it and never without a reasonable doubt. The simple fact that our noses are designed to filter multiple simultaneous olfactory experiences of recurring molecular shapes that are interpreted and reinterpreted differently regardless of shape or motion eludes him. But I could go on all day on that; I'll spare you the rest of my amateur opinion.

      The simple answer to your question is this: you experience olfactory fatigue. It sounds like you don't experience enough to completely cancel Encre Noir out, but it's enough to diminish how you experience its strength. Your wife and others around you are never fatigued by it because they aren't wearing it, so to them it's always a lively and fresh "top notes experience," so to speak.

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  2. Oh yes, I'm no stranger to olfactory fatigue, but I think it's something else, or maybe a specific aspect of it that I'd relate to your own frequent use of the word 'buzzing' to describe the ISO. ISO does seem to come across to me in ways that are not just olfactory but tactile: in Terre d'Hermes it feels bristle-y (which works with the pepper, vetiver and 'flint accord'), in Declaration it adds a kind of textural consistency to the grit of the dirty kitchen-drawer notes like cumin & coriander. In Encre Noire, I an airy 'buzzing', just as you describe, but also an impression of sauna-like remoistened-dryness (of course some of the latter is being fabricated by association by the cedar-like smell of the ISO.) In any case, what I think happens with EN, is that I get fatigued by the ISO and stop noticing it, but the other notes it is scaffolding - especially the vetiver - keep drifting in and out of touch; I just can't 'see' what's holding them together. The analogy might be to a black light theatre in which only light aspects of the actors' costumes or makeup are visible.

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    1. All of this sounds very possible - in any case, Iso E is particularly useful in "woody" compositions. I don't recall if we've discussed these two, but have you tried Bleu de Chanel back to back with Dirty English? They're in the same family thanks to Iso E Super. That chemical alone makes me think of DE as the "brun" flanker to BdC.

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  3. What an interesting idea... I never did get to try Dirty English, having only ever seen it in those little Plexi cases they box up discounted fragrances in at Marshall's (no tester). I was curious about it, as I was at the time researching things that had been compared to the late, lamented Gucci Pour Homme (Comme Des Garçons 2 Man, Dsquared Potion, etc.)

    One odd impression I did form though was that BDC reminded me in a funny way of a very old bottle Drakkar Noir I thrifted. It sounds odd, but both are so potently abstract in the top-heart full frontal assault of cool, tangy and artificial-woody (citrus/ginger/'robo-woods' in BDC, citrus/juniper-pine/that brand-new-air-conditioned-car-interior-leather accord in Drakkar). Both feel so engineered to be 'youthful' to me as well, and both, for totally different reasons (one a postmodern nod and the other a breakout evolutionary move) are linked to the aura of the aftershave. Anyway, just one person's perspective!

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