digging (into) vintage: Niki de St. Phalle, 1982

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(image Niki de St. Phalle)

Perfumer not cited.

I thought I’d love this fragrance. A bitter green chypre, my favorite genre. And then what I’d read: Risky. Strange. Exciting. Then why didn’t I like it? Niki de Saint Phalle hit the notes I should love (green, mossy, bitter) but didn’t really do anything with them. The top notes were strong, but indistinct and as it evolved, Niki de Saint Phalle started to seem more unsteady. It had some of the right stuff, but what seemed like haphazard composition and uneven editing made it seem both out of proportion and simple at the same time. The seams were showing. Not long into its evolution, it got patchier and then fell apart. The only interesting part—the bitterness—faded, leaving a vague resinous sweetness.

Proof I suppose that we’re not blind fans of any particular genre.


Then the shoe drops. I had a bad bottle. Not totally rancid, but off enough that I imagined it was simply a perfume that I didn’t like.

Niki de Saint Phalle is composed in particularly broad strokes and has that grab-you-by-the-balls feel of a huge aromatic fougère. In terms of notes, there is a lot of mention of Niki’s tagetes note. Tagetes essential oil has an appealing bitterness and I smell it in this perfume, but vetiver is noticeable throughout. It gets pulled like taffy, balancing the bitterness of the topnotes, taking on a tobacco-sweetness in the heart and paired with a dry mineral amber in the drydown.

For us chypre fanatics, Niki de Saint Phalle can be categorized as a green chypre, a leather chypre, a floral chype, albeit a marigold one. I love it as I do Scherrer by Scherrer and Lauder’s Private Collection. I love it as I love Piguet’s Bandit. It feels like horny version of Jacomo Silences, but Niki is its own thing. Distinctive. Unbuttoned. Unzipped yet utterly composed.


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