Perfumer Thierry Wasser.
Hermès and Guerlain have both introduced new neroli perfumes into their line-ups this year. Hermès’s golden neroli Cologne (Eau de Néroli Doré) suited a summer launch and brought to mind sun, tanned skin and escapism. Guerlain skipped the gold and went for the black.
“Outrenoir” (translated as ultra-black or beyond black) is a painting method practiced by Pierre Soulages. Textured, dense black paint absorbs and refracts the light that strikes it. Black is the mirror that reveals color, even if it doesn’t directly reflect it. Name aside, there’s not a hint of darkness to Néroli Outrenoir. The top has a sweet, resinous touch that’s a hair’s breadth away from gourmand. Sweet but not saccharine. A lightly vanilla-smoked tea note matches the neroli and makes a neo-Earl Grey tea accord that is more floral and higher pitched than the traditional bergamot-tea pairing.
The vanillic-smoke gives the tea presence, but it runs quiet for a foreground note. It gives the fragrance an aromatic lift and bridges the orange flower to the woodiness of petitgrain. It’s a prominent component of the perfume’s central accord, but noir it ain’t. Apparently beyond black lies pastel.
Neroli Outrenoir creates a luminous if soft-focus hesperidic image. Neroli, bergamot and petitgrain are the flower, fruit and leaves that create the portrait of citrus tree. It’s not a particularly new trick. This citric mix combined with the soft musk is not far from the recipe for Eau de Cologne, and Guerlain’s own Eau Impériale has a prominent neroli note. It’s not a Cologne per se, but if I were told that Neroli Outrenoir was an Aqua Allegoria, I wouldn’t hesitate to believe it. It’s a version of the two-note accord that the Aqua Allegorias have mastered. Simple, pretty and non-threatening in equal measure.
The resinous touch at the beginning of Wasser’s Néroli Outrenoir could have been used to create a bit of shadow. Instead it segues seamlessly into the recognizable framework of a white musk base (Guerlain list ambrette seed.) The gentle haze does suit the perfume’s soft touch, but it reads like a slo-mo landing on soft pillows. It reassures you that any challenge or threat (or exuberance or inspiration) that might have been found in the topnotes has been redacted and you can rest your head easy. It reads as a concession.
This dénouement-style of drydown has become Guerlain’s feminine marker. Witness the line of perfumes from l’Instant and Idylle through the Shalimar Parfums Initiales and the Robes Noires. It is the feminine counterpart to the masculine ‘boisée sec’ style found in the Guerlain Hommes and Idéals. Guerlain’s uniform, conservative rectangular bottle for the boys and dated, fussy bee bottles for the girls are a regrettable acquiescence to a reactionary, proscriptive understanding of gender. But they are at least a candid outward indication of what’s been going in inside the bottles for a while.
Sample provided by Saks Fifth Ave.
(Image by William Claxton. John Coltrane in front of a Pierre Soulages painting at the Guggenheim Museum in 1960.)