Of 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.
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.
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!