Bvlgari Black, 1998

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(image source The Japan Times)

Perfumer Annick Ménardo

The classic Oriental fragrance reads as ‘old school’. It seems dense, lingering. Unfashionable. Likely the open use of the racially insensitive term “Oriental” dates the genre as well. But the Oriental perfume is a creation of the Modern era. Oriental perfumes relied on modern synthetics (coumarin, vanillin, eugenol and benzyl salicylate…) and fit the fascination with exoticism of the early 20th century. Emeraude lead to Shalimar lead to Tabu. It was a big time for rich, resinous bear-hug perfumes.

Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake (with Pierre Bourdon) are said to have rewritten the Oriental perfume with Feminité du Bois in 1992, making it more accessible to the contemporary nose. Just a few years later Annick Ménardo advanced the genre further. Notes like rubber, powder, smoky tea and vanilla are an unconventional mix but the perfume doesn’t come off as outlandish or intentionally bizarre. She shrugged off the traditional pyramid structure, instead developing a linear format that suspends the perfume for you to explore at your leisure. She takes the best of post-modernism: the breaking-down of form, a grasp of the tools of abstraction, the value of simplicity. Equally impressive, she avoids postmodernism’s traps: colloquialism, cleverness posing as consideration, default irony. Vulcanized rubber, something well outside perfumery’s play-list of notes, smells good. No shock value, no in-joke smallness, no sarcasm. A hockey puck, for Christ’s sake. Who knew?

The most striking new perfumes are clear and uncomplicated. Black fits the ticket—it is significant but simple. Ménardo’s Lolita by Lolita Lempicka, is hardly a simple perfume, but it shares another interesting trait with Black. They are both fun. Not trite, truly fun–enjoyable, exciting, something to engage you, something you want to share. I think it’s telling that every person I’ve shared Black with, 1) finds it beautiful, and 2) then wants to talk about it. I couldn’t ask for more in a perfume.

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