A visit to a French patisserie that turns into a smoky, woody oriental vanilla — that’s the gist of Noir Exquis, the latest fragrance from Bertrand Duchaufour and L’Artisan Parfumeur. Large dollops of whipped pastry cream are squirted atop dark vanilla that is layered with candied chestnuts (marrons glacés), smokiness, and a profoundly tobacco-like note, all above a smoky sandalwood base. It’s actually quite nice at times (and less sweet than you might think), but it’s a fragrance that requires a little patience and some augmented quantities in order to see the traits that lie beyond an initial Tobacco Vanille vibe.
Noir Exquis is a new eau de parfum that is intentionally designed to evoke a Parisian patisserie. As L’Artisan explains on its website:
The inspiration for Noir Exquis is an unexpected rendez-vous in a French patisserie. Two people meet over a coffee. In this delicious atmosphere of patisserie and coffee, hushed looks are exchanged. This delightful rendez-vous is the beginning of a new story with Noir Exquis.
Noir Exquis is a work of contrast and the unexpected. The addictive note of coffee, combined with the warm and comfortable notes of maple syrup, glazed chestnuts and orange blossom, brings an intriguing juxtaposition to this fragrance. [¶] Rich and velvety, Noir Exquis connects these two persons during this moment beyond time and place. [¶] Opulent and gourmand, Noir Exquis is a fragrance with a warm and charistmatic aura.
Chestnut, orange, orange blossom, coffee, maple syrup, ebony, heliotrope, vanilla, tonka, sandalwood.
Sniffing Noir Exquis in the vial, I was taken aback by a powerful similarity to the main vanilla base accord in the drydown of Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille and that is, in fact, precisely how the L’Artisan fragrance opens on my skin. Noir Exquis may not have any tobacco in its notes, but the vanilla is syrupy sweet, candied, and overlaid with dark elements that smell exactly like pipe tobacco on me. Again, though, I have to emphasize that the similarity is to the main base accord in Tobacco Vanille, not to the scent as a whole because there are important differences here. Noir Exquis has no candied fruits or spiced plums on my skin, and its vanilla is not profoundly boozy, either.
There are other big differences, too. Instead of ginger spiced, boozy plum pudding, the vanilla is covered by thick scoops of a sweetened creaminess that consistently make me think of the sort in Reddi-Wip cans that you find in a supermarket. In the base, there are slivers of a synthetic, quietly smoky woodiness, though it’s more like generic beige woods in the opening moments rather than anything resembling proper “sandalwood.” That will change later on.
Lying midway in-between is something that vaguely approximates café au lait. Well, at a stretch. If you squint your eyes, really pretend, and wish upon a star, one might possibly construe the note on my skin as “café au lait.” Only in an alternate universe would it actually be considered as dark coffee. I’ve tested Noir Exquis a number of times, and never once have I detected a solid, clear, profound coffee note on my skin.
The iced chestnut note is more successful, though it is the merest wisp at first and I was initially quite disappointed. I love chestnuts of any kind, but I practically have a Pavlovian response to marrons glacés (candied chestnuts). Forget vanilla, cakes, pies, or anything else that most people drool over, it’s marrons glacés for me (along with marzipan, frozen cookie dough, and Nutella, though I’m now digressing). My point is, I know the smell of marrons glacés extremely well, and I would never have guessed that Noir Exquis contained it had I sniffed the fragrance blindly in its opening moments. There is a toasted, vaguely nutty sort of earthy funk, but that’s about it. Plus, it’s massively overwhelmed by the Tobacco Vanille and whipped cream accords.
I think the key to experiencing the candied chestnuts is fragrance quantity. The more Noir Exquis I applied, the more the chestnuts were noticeable right from the start. I’ve tested Noir Exquis about three times, varying the dosage amounts in different patches of skin on my arm within the same test, and those areas with only a few light dabs of the wand emitted the least amount of marrons glacés. Those areas wafted Tobacco Vanille almost exclusively in the first two hours, trailed at a distance by that sweetened creaminess that might vaguely approximate “cafe au lait” if you pretended and the very synthetic white woods in the base. However, the areas where I applied a good amount of Noir Exquis wafted quite a distinct marrons glacés note, a fractionally stronger “café au lait” accord, and a nice slug of booziness that was splashed over the vanilla.
Regardless of quantity, at no point in any of my tests did I ever detect actual orange, orange blossoms, maple syrup, immortelle-ish maple syrup, or heliotrope (neither floral, powdered, almond marzipan, nor sweetened meringue) on my skin. None. Those notes simply never show up, not even vaguely. While the vanilla is definitely syrupy, golden, and sometimes deeply sugared, it is not maple syrup as I (or many Canadians) would know it. There is, however, a definite smokiness to Noir Exquis that I assume is meant to represent the fantasy “ebony” accord. I don’t know if it’s the source of the “tobacco” that wafts from my skin, but something consistently smells like the sweetened pipe tobacco and vanilla accord in the drydown of Tom Ford’s famous scent.
At the lowest dosage, Noir Exquis bears the least distinctive and most simplistic bouquet for the first half of its development. It’s basically Tobacco Vanille that grows smokier and darker as it develops, taking on a definite sandalwood vibe in its base after 2 hours, and incense-y qualities up top. The toasted, creamy notes retreat to the sidelines, while the main, smoky, syrupy tobacco-vanille accord slowly takes on a quiet booziness that makes Noir Exquis increasingly resemble parts of other fragrances: the smoky, non-citrusy bouquet of Couvent des Minimes Eau de Missions and a lighter, thinner, smokier version of Guerlain‘s Spiritueuse Double Vanille. The difference here is that Noir Exquis is accompanied by a lot of sweet pastry cream, occasional wisps of something vaguely resembling “cafe au lait,” and a distinct, strong, smoky woodiness in its base that isn’t noticeable in either of those other fragrances.
The real separation occurs much later on, about 6 hours into Noir Exquis’ development when the marrons glacés finally (finally!) arrive. At times, they smell a bit like an earthy, chocolate-y, sweetened truffles. On other occasions, there is a full similarity to candied chestnuts. The syrupy vanilla weakens substantially and no longer is the lead note, though it is still very noticeable at the edges for a while to come. A certain sugariness also remains to give the chestnuts their icing or glaze. Noir Exquis no longer smells like any other fragrance, and is finally its own creature. It’s a soft, sweet, nutty, and golden scent infused with a creamy plushness, laced with strong tendrils of smokiness, and placed atop a semi-smoky, semi-spicy sandalwood base. In its final moments, all that is left is smoky, warm sweetness that is vaguely candied and nutty.
Noir Exquis is far more interesting, distinctive, and nuanced when I apply a large amount. I was intrigued by how, within the same test or wearing, the parts of my arms with double or triple the quantities manifested quite a different bouquet, especially from afar. Using smears amounting to 2.5 or even 3 big sprays from a bottle, Noir Exquis opened with a dark vanilla that was layered with far more booziness and smokiness than strong streaks of tobacco. Its syrup was covered by that sweetened cream note that more clearly evoked café au lait.
What fascinated me was how, from afar, the scent trail wafted a definite marrons glacés note. Up close, it smells more like a nutty, almost chocolate-y, truffle-ish funk which has iced vanilla slathered on top so heavily as a glaze that it obscures much of its character. But from a distance… my word, it’s clear marrons glacés! It’s layered with a plush creaminess that almost smells coffee’d at times, and lies above a base that wafts a clear, smoky sandalwood note right from the start. The whole thing is then splattered with a few drops of boozy brandy, then nestled in an ambered cocoon.
Noir Exquis’ opening bouquet doesn’t change dramatically for the next 5 to 6 hours, and all that happens are constant fluctuations in the strength and order of the various notes. The smokiness, sweetness, cream, and occasionally tobacco-ish darkness take turns dancing with the vanilla, while the sandalwood steadily grows stronger in the base and begins to make its way upwards. The marrons glacés are always clearest, most distinct, and noticeable from a distance, as opposed to when I sniff my arm up close. As the fragrance grows smokier, it feels drier and far less gourmand, though it is still primarily a sweet scent from afar where the candied gourmandise qualities are most visible.
Yet, slowly, to my surprise, Noir Exquis is gradually taking on more of an oriental facade. By the end of the 6th hour, the smoky sandalwood is on top and the main note. It’s layered with a soft, sweetened creaminess, though it’s no longer the Reddi Whip of the opening hours, and is far too abstract to ever translate as tonka. The thinnest coating of sugary, vanilla icing lies atop the sandalwood like a glaze; ribbons of smokiness weave back and worth; and a vaguely ambered, sweetened warmth finishes things off. Occasionally, the iced chestnuts pop up on the sidelines, but they’re not a constant, solid presence on my skin. The Tobacco Vanille vibe is more solid, less fleeting. There are times when Noir Exquis’ drydown is like a smokier, drier, woody sandalwood twist on Tobacco Vanille’s main accord in its drydown. Yet, ultimately, that doesn’t last either, and Noir Exquis loses its smoke, woodiness, and vestiges of “tobacco”-ish darkness. What’s left in its final hours is a simple plush, creamy, golden sweetness with hint of vanilla about it and a vaguely chestnut-ish nuance lurking underneath.
All in all, the fragrance typically lasted between 10 and 12 hours on my skin, depending on whether I applied the equivalent of 2 small sprays from a bottle or more. I have to admit, I was surprised, because L’Artisan fragrances frequently have below-average longevity on my skin. The sillage and projection seemed to depend on quantity. With 2 small swipes equal to about 2 small spritzes, Noir Exquis opened with about 2.5 inches of projection, had maybe 4 inches of scent trail at best, and almost felt like a strong eau de toilette more than an eau de parfum. However, the fragrance grew in richness and body, even if its projection and sillage continued to be on the soft side. Noir Exquis turned into a skin scent on me at the 3.5 hour mark, and felt as though it were about to die after 5.5 hours, so I was pretty astonished to find it clinging on tenaciously as a thin coating until the start of the 10th hour.
The numbers are much better with a larger application. When I applied the equivalent of 3 big sprays from a bottle, the opening projection was about 4 inches, the scent trail wafted a bit more than half a foot, the notes were rich from the start, and the fragrance felt like an eau de parfum. It took 5.75 hours for Noir Exquis to turn into a skin scent, but small tendrils continued to waft in the air around me when I moved and it wasn’t at all difficult to detect the scent up close until the 9th hour. All in all, it lasted just a hair over 12 hours.
Noir Exquis is a very new scent, so there are only 3 comments on its Fragrantica page at this time. I’m not sure one of those people even tried the scent, since they seem totally put off by the mention of “orange” in the notes and say that they are “not even bothered,” presumably to test it. The other two really seem to like Noir Exquis. The first detected a variety of notes, from maple syrup woodiness and saffron to floweriness and the almond qualities of heliotrope. The second person smelt roasted chestnuts and a distinct heliotrope note that later segued into maple syrup and coffee, before the scent turned smokier. They thought the base resembled Dior Addict. I’ll leave it up to you to read the comments if you’re interested.
I liked Noir Exquis a lot more than I thought I would, but you have to put that statement into context. I have an extremely low threshold for sugariness, and gourmands are not really my thing. Noir Exquis is surprisingly smoky and woody after its debut, with far greater dryness and more of an oriental profile than I had expected from reading L’Artisan’s patisserie description. The counterbalancing dark accords ensure that Noir Exquis does not have the intense granulated sugariness that dominates Carner Barcelona‘s new Palo Santo, or the burnt caramelized creme brulée vanilla that made Parfums de Nicolai‘s new Ambre Cashmere Intense approach diabetic levels of sweetness for me. The opening resemblance to Tobacco Vanille did give me great pause but, as a whole, I think Noir Exquis is far less sweet and it never felt cloying to me the way the Tom Ford scent does.
Noir Exquis isn’t an edgy, different, or truly distinctive scent, but gourmands rarely are, in my opinion. I think both the marrons glacés note and the vague abstraction of coffee try to be a new twist, but neither one is a dominant, driving force on my skin, especially up close. From a distance, though, Noir Exquis was thoroughly enjoyable, at least when I applied a large quantity that brought out the iced chestnuts and more of the café au lait accord. I found it to be a pleasant surprise, with better balance than many gourmands that I’ve tried. Be that as it may, I think Noir Exquis is L’Artisan’s attempt to capitalize on darker, oriental treatments of vanilla and to thereby capture some of the Tobacco Vanille/Spiritueuse Double Vanille fan base.
I think it will be successful, and a number of people may find Noir Exquis to be cozy, comforting scent that is great for fall or winter. Of course, it should go without saying that individual skin chemistry will determine just how much of the chestnut, coffee, “maple syrup,” booziness, or even the listed floral notes you experience on your skin, not to mention whether you detect a “Tobacco Vanille” vibe as well. My suggestion to you is to be generous with the quantity that you apply, because a tiny spritz or a light swipe of the sample wand won’t bring out Noir Exquis’ full range of notes. That said, I think true coffee aficionados should not expect much in the way of that note, while some of you who are extreme sweet-phobes will probably find Noir Exquis to be too sweet and foodie for your tastes. Others, though, may find themselves pleasantly surprised by the dark, smoky, woody, and oriental elements, so you may want to give Noir Exquis a sniff for yourself.