Perfume review: Bvlgari Black

Bvlgari Black, released in 1998 and composed by Annick Menardo, sits in the center of an odd Venn diagram that shows the overlap of “comforting” and “weird.”

I have a miniature bottle of Black and had been dabbing it, but finally decided to decant the bottle into a spray atomizer, for convenience. Well, no wonder I wasn’t getting any staying power from this stuff. With one spray on each wrist and one at the base of the neck, I smelled myself all day – without violating my 3-foot sillage guideline. Black is, in my opinion, a wonderful scent, but nothing like the brainy, astounding wonder Perfumes: The Guide calls it. I like it a great deal; it’s something of a comfort scent to me. A genius perfume? Huh. Probably I don’t know enough about aromachemistry to realize geniusity when I smell it. Black smells to me of Lapsang Souchong tea, smoky vanilla, and the powdery, exciting, slightly-bitter smell of new bicycle tire.

Here are the notes for Black, from (which categorizes it as a woody oriental, by the way):

Bergamot, tea, jasmine, sandalwood, cedar, leather, amber, musk, vanilla.

I work in an auto parts store, doing the books part-time. I love it when the counter guys have to make a new hose: they choose the correct metal hose end and the proper type and diameter of hose, then cut the rubber hose and attach the end with a piece of equipment that is located fairly near my desk. I love New Hose days – the entire back room smells of that faint rubbery dust. Mmm. I’ll walk through the area just to smell it. This is the rubber accord you’ll smell in Black – new tires, new bicycle tires, new auto-part hose. Oddly, it doesn’t smell funky or unpleasant or tarry (no CDG Garage here), but clean and dusty.

I puzzled for a very long time over Luca Turin’s description of Black as being “emerald green plush fit for Napoleon’s box at the Opera” and “a floral note green as a banker’s desk lamp.” That’s greeeeen. I still don’t smell greeeeen like that, not even after I pulled out my vintage (60’s era) bottle of Je Reviens and dabbed some next to Black. Good black tea smells quite floral to me, but I still smell “smoked tea” in Black, whereas Je Reviens smells intensely floral, with an overlay of the pleasant smokiness that you smell right after you blow out a candle. I see the family resemblance now, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a mental reference to this note as “green.” On the contrary, I now think of Je Reviens, in the vintage before they screwed it up (don’t bother with the currently available synthetic blue mess), as afternoon tea, with a bouquet on the table and blown-out candle smoke in the air.

Turin also calls the other big accord in Black “a big, solid sweet amber note.” This note is what I think of as the powdery version of amber, and it seems very vanilla-ish to me, without being terribly sweet. It’s not that gorgeous labdanum-y amber you get in 31 Rue Cambon, Attrape-Coeur, Alahine, and even Mitsouko (what is that stuff, the famous Ambre 83 base?), but what you get with Black is quite pleasant.

Black doesn’t seem to have a traditional development – it keeps cycling through its three stages of new rubber, smoky tea, and powdery vanilla, over and over. I find it somewhat fascinating and somewhat brainless comfort, depending on what phase it’s in, which is in itself sort of freaky. It’s like mercury – hard to put your finger on! When dabbed, it doesn’t last more than a couple of hours on me. Now I spritz four spritzes, and it lasts a good 4-5 hours.

Black is sometimes sold as being “for men,” and sometimes as “unisex.” Reviews on fragrantica and basenotes seem about equally split between “I can’t imagine this on a man,” and “Women shouldn’t wear this, it’s masculine.” Which is, de facto, a good reason to call it unisex. I did have a lot of fun wearing it to the Cub Scout’s Pinewood Derby races last year; the tire bottle seemed perfect.

I first wore Black and wrote down my impressions about it in my (in)famous Excel worksheet before reading either NST’s review or Bois de Jasmin’s, and I find that their reviews are so similar to mine that you might think I plagiarized. Not so. It was, however, vindication that I was smelling what several other people were smelling. To be honest, I still don’t really get part of Luca Turin’s review (a “battle hymn for Amazons”? Um, nope, too much fun for that), but I don’t care at this point. I like Black.

Review Report: Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, I Smell Therefore I Am, 1000Scents (by pyramus).

Image of Bvlgari Black and list of notes from  Middle image is New Bicycle Tyres from Michiel2005 and bottom image is Lapsang Souchong from selva, both at


16 thoughts on “Perfume review: Bvlgari Black”

  1. I own this and agree with your review completely – I don’t get green and nothing really strongly amber. And it is comforting and weird and some whiffs are better than others!

    I gave a male friend who had never worn scent 25 niche and designer samples to try and Black was the one he liked best, bought a bottle of, and even took it with him all the way from London to LA, that’s how much he liked it.

    I consider that a result!

    Now this is of course allegedly Angelina Jolie’s signature scent, and I have been hoping that repeated application will give me beestung lips. Hmmmm….

    1. Funny how appealing it really is. I was going to say your friend has good taste, but really Black is just so… nice, and so… interesting, maybe it’s just that your friend is nice, and interesting. You’re right, though: result!

      I’m definitely not an Angelina fan; I think she’s got all kinds of emotional damage that’s only partially assuaged by those children and the hot hubby and the media attention… I mean, sure, she’s beautiful, but I just look at her and think, “Sad woman.”

      But she must smell great.

  2. I think your review is dead-spot on (I could smell it as I was reading it): No green, but that *fabulous* mix of (rubber + smoke) X (vanilla + powder) that just keeps my nose guessing and guessing. (And yes, I agree with you, what amber there is in there, it’s definitely from the powdery wing.) Gosh, I may just go put it on right now myself!

    1. I think the most interesting thing about it is that the feeling of wearing it is such a mix of “Fast-new-bike-Wheeeee!” and “Soft fluffy blanket/cup of warm tea.” So maybe it IS genius to put those things together, I don’t know. But even the “thrills” part is, you know, familiar somehow… the thrill of, say, brand-new tennis shoes on your kid-size feet, on the first day of summer vacation.

  3. I really have to try Black again – I have a lovely decant sitting at home, but I’ve been busy with other stuff. I tried it earlier in my perfumista career and the trajectory went something like this:

    Hmm… what is that? Tea, smoky vanilla?


    Oh! There’s the burning rubber.


    Aargh… more burning rubber

    30 minutes later….


    Ugh… why do I still smell like burning rubber? Let’s see what rhymes with rubber? That’s right, it’s SCRUBBER.

    I’m hoping that my tastes have refined or changed a bit and I’ll finally appreciate it at this point. Or maybe not – that’s about how my sniffing of Jasmine et Cigarette went – only replace “burning rubber” with “dirty ashtray”.

    1. Awwww, Cynthia… bummer on your scrubber!

      It still doesn’t smell like burning rubber to me, just dusty-powdery new rubber. I wouldn’t find burning rubber appealing in the least. Nor would “dirty ashtray” be up my alley. (And jasmine is iffy for me, so I’m passing up the JetC).

  4. They actually could have named Jasmine et Cigarette – the Walk of Shame and it would have been just as applicable. It smelled like dirty ashtray mixed with used panties. I can do without smelling like that – I swapped that little decant away.

    I’ll have to check out the Mac MV3 – I’ve only smelled a few of their scents – Naked Honey (which I love and was lucky enough to find despite being late to the party) and Asphalt Flowers (which I didn’t love so much – it really did smell of asphalt. Interesting, but not what I want to smell like). Of course, after hating Havana Vanille, SDV, and Tobacco Vanille, I’m beginning to think that smoky vanilla might be the problem. Or at least smoky, boozy vanilla. I do love Tonka Imperiale – but tonka isn’t exactly the same as vanilla and it’s more incense-y than smoky.

    1. I haven’t tried MV3 either – just checked out the MAC site, and it says notes of bergamot, jasmine, vetiver, vanilla, leather, amber, and tolu balsam. Sounds like Shalimar Light, actually – at least until it got to the tolu balsam, which is pretty much death to my sniffage.

      Naked Honey was gorgeous for 15 minutes, followed by bathroom cleaner. Ugh.

      Tonka is sort of vanilla-ish, but so dark… I love both, but tonka does have that incense-y thing going on.

    2. Mals, to my nose, MV3 is darker, more vanillic, and more smoky than Shalimar. If you hated those three, Cynthia, I don’t see MV3 calling your name (although it’s not boozy). The MAC scents are actually pretty interesting, and very reasonably priced.

  5. Please can I use your phrase “sits in the center of an odd Venn diagram that shows the overlap of “comforting” and “weird”” – that’s just too good!

    I haven’t tried Black – but you make it sound intriguing, so I must find some.

    Some of MrT’s descriptions are spot on but others are way off (IMHO). I can’t help thinking that as an industy insider he must know many of the perfume creators. Half the time I get the impression that he’s just complimenting the perfume creators he likes and slagging off those he doesn’t. But that could just be my cynical mind. Not to say that his personal relationships are always swaying his judgement, but just that sometimes that might be the case.

    1. Use whatever phrase you like!

      I don’t know that he has personal bias for/against particular noses. I do think, though, that certain houses have a “family resemblance” for all their scents, and he likes or dislikes whatever-it-is that they have in common. For example, Estee Lauder scents are frequently praised to the skies, yet there’s not a one of them I enjoy, due to the Lauder base. (I bought a vintage miniature bottle of Knowing on ebay once, and it was Just Glorious for two hours, and then – cue the Jaws theme! – disintegrated into the characteristic Lauder smell. I had to scrub.)
      Have not tried a single Mona d’Orio, so can’t comment on those. PdNicolai, however – several of them have that Shaving Cream Accord that I find so distasteful, and several of the ones that don’t, I really like. In fact, two PdNs are on my can’t-live-without list: Vanille Tonka and Le Temps d’une Fete. I think that house is a bit more hit-or-miss.
      And to be honest, I think TS shares some personal preferences with him.

  6. I don’t know why I don’t own a full bottle of Black. It’s so very, very good, it’s discounted like mad; why don’t I have more than an unsprayable mini?

    I love the Whee!/Fluffy remark, BTW. 🙂

    1. Oh, dump your mini into an atomizer and try it. (Worked for Black. Didn’t work for Theorema, don’t know why.)

      Whee and fluffy was the best description I could come up with…

  7. I can’t find the contact address. I’d like to mail the person with all the perfumes. 🙂
    Please email me if you see this.

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