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Message in a Bottle: Thierry Mugler, Narciso Rodriguez, and Profumo


ingredients: vetiver, gardenia, vanilla

Every once in a long while something comes along that feels like a good idea properly executed and carries with it the unstoppable force of cogent thinking. Legendary examples of this in perfumery are Opium [1977] and Angel [1992], not coincidentally both put together by strong-willed artistic directors who worked directly with perfumers and designers through the entire process, without distraction or dilution of intent. Coherence is to art what concentration is to martial arts: it enables you to use the same means everyone has, be they vetiver or bare hands, and achieve miraculous effects: one-inch punches and landmark perfumes. Conversely, at the receiving end, critics are put in the tricky situation of being knocked senseless and then having to pronounce quickly, which ideally would take time. I would not have minded a few more days to assess Narciso but, even with only a few hours to copy date, I can confidently assert this thing is going to be huge.

Onto the fragrance itself. My first impression upon smelling it, which was quickly snowed under by later thoughts, was “Brut!” [1964] one of my all-time favorites, because of the fougère-like dissonant top note accord of powdery amber, wood, and musk. The second thing I noticed was tremendous radiance, of the sort that sneaks up on you to fill the room effortlessly. The first NR fragrance, For Her, was impressive in this respect but I think Narciso outdoes it. Then, as the fragrance gets into gear, the fun starts properly. There is a trick of scale to Narciso which I believe has not been achieved before. The first ten minutes are full of references to well-worn clichés used in recent perfumes, such as the familiar pastel palette of vanilla, mimosa, and floral-soapy notes. All of this feels winsome and soothing, until you realise that what you thought was a cutesy-pie doll is in fact a creature fifty stories tall kicking buildings out of the way with its buff-colored patent-leather Mary-Janes.

The reason this all works is, as always, that the perfumer —Aurélien Guichard, he of the magnificent Chinatown [2005]— not only took care of the massive structure but also filled in all the gaps with absorbing detail ranging from gardenia to suntan oil. Even though it embodies a completely different idea, I am reminded of Patou’s Sublime [1992], the last woody-floral-sweet fragrance this good. The deciding factor for me in liking it is that Narciso, unlike some of its recent relatives, is not a clean fragrance. There is an unhealthy sultriness about it reminiscent of recent Amouage perfumes like Ubar [2009], and more distantly of the great ambergris leviathan to rule them all, Guy Robert’s original Dioressence [1969]. Pretty daring to try that today, and in a mainstream fragrance. Finally, a word about the packaging, which normally I do not care a fig about but I feel deserves a mention. The cubical bottle with the inner liquid bubble frosted in white (how do they do that?) perfectly sums up the intent of the fragrance, and not by coincidence. Just like the rest: outstanding top-down design.

woody creamy


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