Sandalwood Sisterhood

narniaOf course, it was obvious all along, but I never saw it.  Call it one of those annoying instances when your subconscious mind realized something from the get-go but chose not to share it with your waking consciousness.  Very irritating, very sneaky, very left brain of it, but then, as it is the left brain, very typical as well.

The apercu in this case is that the great classic  Chanel Bois des Iles is of course, a do-over of Caron’s Nuit de Noel.

Oh yeah! Right?  You always knew that. We always knew it, but critical opinion had a way of making us think that the two things were poles apart and probably at opposite ends of the good taste spectrum – well, not so much.

Winterscape from Wallpaper2020

Winterscape from Wallpaper2020

The bridge between the two scents which I read about in Michael Edwards’ Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances, and which I should have figured out long ago, is chiefly carved out of sandalwood.  Everyone who is interested in perfume soon learns that Bois des Iles is heavily predicated on sandalwood (by which I mean santalum album, or Indian sandalwood) but it was only recently I learned Nuit de Noel was too.  In fact, the original formula of this “most Caron” of all Caron perfumes was made up of 25% sandalwood, which is a huge amount of a natural ingredient, and bound to give the resulting perfume a quite distinct caste.

Nuit de Noel is an interesting perfume to perfumers and wearers alike for probably the same reasons, namely that it is an oriental perfume that teeters on the edge of becoming a chypre. The perfume ceaselessly gyrates around its heart, a rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, and orris core common in orientals. It spins like a top, winding down on the Mousse de Saxe base made by de Laire, and finally rolling to a stop on the aforementioned 25% sandalwood which would be more appropriate to a chypre perfume than an oriental one.

OLd advertising for NUit de Noel

OLd advertising for NUit de Noel

Nuit is a marvel of elegance, the stages so subsumed the one into the next, that it’s hard to realize there is a progression to its spherical dance.  The fragrance also has the mysterious ability to make certain people swear they smell a wintry universe in the formula, while others find nothing, but stale chestnut paste and a little slush.  Nuit de Noel is one of those perfumes that enchant when least expected to do so, and like the wardrobe in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, sometimes surrounds the unwary in its Christmas-time world , while others, when encouraged to enter the classic, discover nothing more than a lot of  dusty wood,  mothballs, and some neglected fur coats.

However hit or miss its enchantment is these days, back in 1922 when it was released, Nuit was a great success, and must have made a great impression on other perfumers, among them Ernest Beaux, because in 1926, he added to the Chanel lineup with Bois des Iles, very similar to Nuit in its use of aldehydes and an oriental floral heart (including the same jasmine, rose, ylang ylang and orris notes) over a sandalwood dominated drydown.

The difference was that the great originality of Nuit de Noel is toned down in Bois to give it a pretty gingerbread house domicile in which there are never witches.  Everybody loves Bois des Iles, and it is charming, and makes few demands on its smellers.  Tanya Sanchez
found it “sleepy and collapsingly soft”, while her husband found Nuit de Noel by comparison “the least Caron perfume of all Carons, with ample flesh but no discernible bone structure.” There is of course no accounting for tastes, but one assumes he didn’t find Narnia in that wardrobe.

For anyone determined to thread their way through to Nuit de Noel’s icicle hung landscape, the best route is provided by the extract.  The EDT is too unpredictable a door into that other world, and older samples are best if you can find them. But I warn you that if the enchantment takes, its just as durable and addictive as the candy that White witches hand out to strangers in strange lands.

THis post first ran more than a year ago, but although I seldom if ever re-post, I found that my thoughts on Nuit de Noel were unchanged.  Happy Holidays to my readers!

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8 thoughts on “Sandalwood Sisterhood

    • Thank you, Miss Meg! Really loved writing it, which must make a difference.

      Must score one of the antique Nuit de Noels one of these days. Frankly, I covet the bottle which is very Japanese.

  1. What a delightful post! really. Despite the fact that it’s in the upper 70s and 94% humidity (yes, that’s official) here right now, and I canNOT even think of winter at the moment.

    Bleargh. Can’t wait for summer to be over, honestly.

    I have tried DSH Perfumes’ dupe of Nuit de Noel and hated it, and then I tried Nuit de Noel itself and hated that too. Mothballs and dusty fur coats indeed. I like Bois des Iles very much, but I find the LE version unsatisfyingly lightweight. Cashmere should FEEL like cashmere, not like silk.

    Think I’ll go for SSS Champagne de Bois instead. :)

    • 94% humidity makes me want to wring out my t shirt in sympathy. Here it has merely been wet and too cold to go to the beach, which makes my newly minted teen very cross.
      I used to detest Nuit de Noel, but it has an annoying habit of growing on you, and while I used to try to “get” both Narcisse Noir and Nuit de Noel, something always pushed me to persist with the latter, not being anybody’s idea of a femme fatale, and now I really like it. Christmastime in a Cathedral when it is snowing outside.

      Enjoy Bois des Isles too but, given the choice, these days, like you would plump for Champagne de Bois, great stuff.

  2. No, I can never get through the wardrobe. Old wood and musty fur coats is all I get out of Nuit de Noel. I’m sad but also relieved in a way to hear that I’m not alone. I have just been rummaging through my stash looking for my decant so that I can try again, but I can’t find it. I might have given it away but I don’t think so. Probably my decant has realised that it can never get any love out of me and has magicked itself off to someone else.

    Tremendous post – thanks! I had never made the connection with Bois des Iles (another perfume that does not love me).

    • Just about smacked myself in the head when I read about the inspiration for Bois des Isles being Nuit de Noel. The scent stubbornly doesn’t reveal itself, so you’re definitely not alone in not getting it, although annoyingly, some people seem to love the fragrance and understand all its quirks from the the first sniff.

      Now I love it, but still have to convince my Hub that it’s a sleeper and a keeper.

  3. I love Bois des Iles, and did find Nuit de Noel much more accessible than many Carons, though it is ages since I tried it. I know I swapped it away in the end, but I may have regrettably missed a portal to Narnia that I would notice now…;)

  4. I wrote this because for years i could not for the life of me see the point of NdN. One day when I ran into a tester at a counter in NYC and loved it.
    So annoying because when you want it to enchant it doesn’t and when it doesn’t matter anymore, and you’re out of patience with it-it does. This is why I don’t keep magic wardrobes in my house.

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