Lumiere and Noire (Light and Black), an attraction and repulsion.
A black hole lit with the image of a mysterious perfume that attracts until it provokes self-abandon. It is the idea of two opposing powers that unite to create a whole that relates, at its turn, a new story. The mention of this duality is imposed as an obvious fact, like the emblematic blend of Rose and Patchouli.
That is the press description of Lumiere Noire Pour Femme, a chypre eau de parfum from Maison Francis Kurkdjian which was released in 2009 and which attempts to cast a new light on the rose-patchouli duet. Reading the description brought to mind the paintings of the artist, Azadeh Ghotbi, who often plays with textured reflections and with the duality of light and darkness.
Yet, Mr. Kurkdjian’s Lumiere Noire seems to be an attempt to go beyond his prior exploration of the rose-patchouli pairing in his creations for Guerlain (Rose Barbare) and for Juliette Has a Gun (Lady Vengeance). This time, it seems he sought to create something that was darker and much more of a “full-on” rose. To quote Denyse Beaulieu at Grain de Musc, Lumiere Noire Pour Femme is:
a full-on bodice-ripper of a rose, Baudelairian in its celebration of majestic female flesh –a courtesan trussed in velvet the colour of drying blood trimmed with jet beads, hair tumbling down her back as she downs a flute of champagne. Her shawl carries the smell of the patchouli leaves it was packed with to repel the moths on its way from India. A bunch of jasmine exhales its dying breath between her breasts. A sweaty tendril of cumin rises from her corset…
What a stunning visual! That description — in conjunction with the very cool, gothic vibe behind the name “Black Light” — made me fully expect a lascivious, debauched, sexualized rose fragrance. Yet, I found the perfume to be very far from sexual, dark, and twisty. Instead, on me, it was a beautiful evocation of Spring — a rich take on a field of fragrant, yellow daffodils intertwined with a fresh, mossy green, along with sweetly dark earth, dry woody notes, and a spiced rose.
The notes for Lumiere Noire on the Maison Francis Kurkdjian website are simply listed as: “Spiced Rose (cumin, hot pepper) Patchouli – Narcissus.” However, I have seen a significantly more detailed set of notes from Muse in Wooden Shoes who cites a very different list from the company:
Notes, according to the MFK site: rose, narcissus [or daffodil], pepper, lily of the valley, patchouli, balsam, orris, cumin.
I think that seems far more accurate, judging by what I smelled on my skin, so we’ll go with that version.
Lumiere Noire opens with a haunting note of daffodil-rose. It’s a dry rose with sweet hay, a rose turned on its head with a slight bitterness that is, indeed, a little dark. Yet, at the same time, it’s sweet and bright — a very successful interplay of the themes of light and dark. The daffodils add a mesmerizing touch that is very different and which I adore, though I confess to having a huge weakness for the flower in general.
Lurking underneath is a fresh, springy, brightly green patchouli, accompanied by light touches of dusty, dry spice. Though the hay note is the most prominent, the spice and chili pepper swirl imperceptibly in the background, working their magic on the rose to transform it into something much more fiery and much less sweet. At the same time, there is almost a citrus-like nuance, along with an earthy iris note from the orris.
I can’t get enough of the daffodils and how brilliantly Lumiere Noire seems to replicate the whole flower. The scent feels just like a daffodil pushing its way up through the dark, loamy, rich earth (orris), and the fresh, sweet, green grass (the mossy patchouli), until its woody, brown stalk (the hay) rises up to meet the sun and the bud unfurls its golden heart to release its sweet floral scent (daffodil and spicy rose). It is a very Spring interpretation of light and dark, if you will.
The perfume is beautifully modulated, reflecting different facets at different times. Though the rose is always subsumed within the daffodils, sometimes it’s much more noticeable in the early hours; at other times, the daffodil glows even more brightly. Around the thirty minute mark, it’s the earthy, woody element which seems to rise to the surface, joining in the lead with the daffodils. After one hour, the rose returns undulating in greenish waves with the patchouli and narcissus, sharing the stage with the two in equal measure. Something about that patchouli note isn’t always pleasant; it can be a little sharp, very synthetic at times, and almost verging on the point of burning. Thankfully, it soon recedes, softening and blending in much better with the other notes.
Five hours in, Lumiere Noire is a narcissus-patchouli fragrance with soft hints of hay, rose, and earthy orris. There is a musky feel to the patchouli, along with some balsamic amber undertones, but they are not strong. For some inexplicable reason, the perfume feels a little like the middle stage of Tom Ford‘s Arabian Wood — a dry, mossy, green, patchouli with rose chypre that is neither Arabian nor primarily woody. The difference, though, is that Arabian Wood has a strong sandalwood foundation, along with honey, and more varied floral notes. Lumiere Noire’s daffodil note imparts a similar sort of dry woodsy character to the rose-patchouli duet, but it is a much stronger, dryer perfume as a whole. In both, however, the patchouli takes a turn into something much darker from its initial start. It’s not dirty, black patchouli by any means, and always feels mossy but, visually, it’s no longer so grassy. In Lumiere Noire, in particular, the patchouli turns from bright green and fresh into something much more potently dark and dry.
In its final hours, Lumiere Noire becomes dusty patchouli with narcissus, musk and the merest hint of rose. A few people on Fragrantica have said that the musky note in the drydown is like that of Narcisco Rodriguez‘ For Her — a perfume also created by Francis Kurkdjian. I don’t really agree. Yes, Lumiere Noire has a subtle tinge of soapiness in the musk drydown that may evoke fabric softener, but it is just to a small degree on my skin. On a scale of 1 to 100, “For Her” would rate in the high 90s, while Lumiere Noire would be around a 10. To me, it does not smell clean, soapy, and white in the way that “For Her” does. The patchouli in Lumiere Noire is too green, mossy and dark for that, and it winds its way through every part of the fragrance. Nor is the musky element in Lumiere Noire so white and synthetic. I am not a fan of “For Her,” so trust me when I say that I don’t think the two perfumes share any great similarities.
Lumiere Noire lasted approximately 11 hours on my perfume-consuming skin which is quite impressive. The sillage was initially quite strong before it dropped, remaining at a moderate level until the sixth hour when Lumiere Noire became a skin scent. As a whole, Lumiere Noire is quite an airy perfume, almost transparently light in feel, but it is also extremely potent at the same time. I chalk it up to the powerful patchouli with its synthetic undertones. Whatever the exact reason, Lumiere Noire is not a fragrance that I would spray with reckless abandon; people may have to come near you to smell it, but once they do, it is quite pronounced.
All in all, I enjoyed Lumiere Noire and, at times, found myself sniffing my arm again and again with appreciation. I chalk it up to my love of daffodils and how, on my skin, the note either completely dominated the rose or lived side-by-side. In fact, I would say that the perfume had narcissus and patchouli in equal measure, followed only then by the rose. Either way, Lumiere Noire was a far cry from the bodice-ripper, sexualized rose fragrance that Grain de Musc recounted. No, my experience was much closer to that of the many commentators on Fragrantica who repeatedly mention the narcissus notes, the greenness, the grassy patchouli, and feel of Spring. Like me, very few of them experienced any cumin or chili pepper as an individually distinct, noticeable and isolated phenomenon. I ascribe that to the fact that Lumiere Noire is beautifully blended, but the absence of those notes in an individual manner may explain why so few of us shared Denyse Beaulieu’s hyper-sexualized interpretation of the fragrance.
As a side note, there are a few fragrances to which Lumiere Noire has sometimes been compared. On Fragrantica, a number of people found it similar to Vengeance Extreme by Juliet Has a Gun, while others mention Perles de Lalique, La Perla or Eau du Soir. I’m not familiar with any of those fragrances, so I can’t comment. You may be interested, however, in an analysis from Muse in the Wooden Shoes who compared Lumiere Noire with Frederic Malle‘s Portrait of a Lady, “one on each wrist”:
Before that, I would have described Lumiere Noire to be a Dark Rose, a dark gothic rose with kohl-lidded eyes. But next to each other, Lumiere Noire glowed like a candle, while all light disappeared into the far, far darker Portrait of a Lady, proving PoaL to be the true Darkest Rose I’ve come across. Eventually, I grew tired of the heavy balsam in the drydown of PoaL and sent my decant off to a good home with a friend. Although I think PoaL is a truly wonderful fragrance, I just couldn’t manage to wear it myself.
She far preferred Lumiere Noire, calling it “very sexy” and evocative of a boudoir.
I find the contrast between the two bloggers’ perception of Lumiere Noire and those of regular users to be fascinating. The bloggers write about the “celebration of majestic female flesh,” courtesans, boudoirs, and the spicy cumin evoking a trail of ravished, heated skin. The commentators on Fragrantica and Basenotes talk about Spring, wafting honeysuckles, aromatic gardens and green grass, the dominance of the narcissus over the rose, and even occasionally use that dreaded word: “clean.” It’s almost as if the sharply divergent impressions mirror that duality of light and darkness mentioned in the press release.
Well, I’m on the side of those at Fragrantica, because I thought Lumiere Noire had nothing to do with the boudoir. It is an elegant, sophisticated chypre that evokes Spring, sunshine, yellowness, and green. It’s very unisex, in my opinion, regardless of the “Pour Femme” designation and it’s also very wearable as a day-to-day matter. Lumiere Noire may not make a huge statement, but then I don’t think it’s trying to. It is meant to be an elegant, refined chypre, and it succeeded in that goal. For me, personally, it’s not full bottle worthy, but I think many men and women would appreciate its complexities.
As a side note, the “Pour Homme” version is similar, but has slightly different elements. It has cinnamon instead of cumin, and artemisia (or mugwort) in lieu of narcissus. You can read a brief comparison between the two at Grain de Musc, though the essence is yet another sexualized impression: “the mugwort keeps the rose tightly under wraps – as though the marquise de San-Réal had bandaged her breasts to slip into her half-brother’s slim black frock coat.”
If you enjoy chypres and are looking for a Spring scent that isn’t a typical, light, clean, fresh floral, but, rather, something with depth, body, green darkness and allure, you should give Lumiere Noire Pour Femme a sniff.