All Hallows’ Eve approaches. I’ve been waiting to review this perfume for months, and so I suppose I’ve had months to think about it but had not yet written a post before today. I first heard of Magie Noire last spring, from a commenter on one of the perfume blogs. I no longer remember which one. In any case, the comment was something like, “Magie Noire is the most sensual potion I’ve ever smelled, I’m so sad they’ve reformulated it.” I didn’t know much about what to expect from a list of notes at the time, and I thought it would be a good idea to find a home for vintage Magie Noire, so I trolled ebay for it. What luck! A mini bottle of vintage edt for something like $12 including shipping. The seller had several on hand, having inherited her parents’ pharmacy. She was attempting to clear the back room of old fragrances they had bought in the 80’s and stored.
I bought it. On the day it was delivered, the weather here was warm and characteristic of early spring. Daffodils were out; I was wearing a spring green blouse. I came home from work and found my package in the mailbox. The box was ugly – black, with russet, orange and gold curving stripes and zodiacal symbols on it. I rolled my eyes (those crazy mystical types! The things they’ll buy!) and opened it, expecting the tones of the spicy floral oriental of Fragrantica.com’s listing. The top was a bit tight, so I had to work it loose, getting a drop on my fingers in the process.
This is what went through my head: What the heck? This is NOT an Oriental! I jerked my hand away from my nose. What the heck IS thi – wait a second, I want to smell that again. I did smell it again. And again and again. I sat at the computer desk in the basement for what seemed like hours, just sniffing. I didn’t have to bring my hand to my nose; the sillage was tremendous.
I was immediately transported to an evening from my first year at college, when I was walking back to my dorm after a choral dress rehearsal that had gone late. It was not raining, but it had rained earlier in the day, so that the dead leaves, oak and maple, felt like just-made papier mache’ under my feet. A huge harvest moon sailed overhead, shining pale orange as clouds scudded behind it. The wind blew in swirls. I remember being stunned by beauty. I didn’t stop at my dorm; I kept walking in this windy November night: through the little cemetery, through the Dell, up Observatory Hill. It grew chilly. I walked back to my dorm. I barely slept, for the moonlight and the drama and the silence, for the romance and the longing.
Coming back from the past on that spring afternoon, I realized that the weather had changed. It had been sunny and pleasant, but while I was dreaming the clouds had come in and covered the sun. It had begun to rain. I had the eerie feeling that Magie Noire had effected the change all on its own.
Notes for MN: Created by Gerard Goupy, released by Lancome in 1978. I keep seeing it classified on perfume forums like fragrantica and basenotes as a floral oriental. This is crazy talk (at least for the vintage version). It is clearly a woody chypre with floral elements, and a Big, Honkin’, I Mean Business Chypre to boot. A man could wear this, if he had enough confidence and a very, very light hand on the applicator.
Top: Blackcurrant buds, galbanum, raspberry, hyacinth, bergamot.
Heart: honey, tuberose, orris root, jasmine, ylang, lily of the valley, cedar, narcissus, Bulgarian rose.
Base: spices, sandalwood, amber, patchouli, musk, civet, oakmoss, vetiver.
Some fragrances are far, far more than the sum of their notes. This is one of those fragrances. I could not tease out individual notes at all the first few times I wore it. I still cannot identify more than a few: the cassis buds stand out as always. Narcissus has become a favorite, and after falling in love with PdN Le Temps d’une Fete, I can pick it out now. There is a ton of oakmoss and vetiver in this, too. And although it’s not listed, I seem to smell something quite herbal, like coriander, in the top notes. Everything else is a blur, even tuberose and rose, two more favorites of mine. I freely admit that my bottle may not have been stored properly. In fact, I can’t imagine that it was kept properly in a warehouse in California for 25+ years. It doesn’t matter to me whether it smells the way it did when it was created, because it smells amazing.
I cannot wear Magie Noire frequently – I have only worn it a handful of times, and only in very small doses. For one thing, it seems to call for cool weather, and particularly weather in which one might wear a sweater and boots. For another, the sillage is so enormous that it seems wrong to subject other people to it. Lastly, Magie Noire hijacks my thought processes. If I wear it, I can think of nothing else, but am lost in the sensuality, the elemental earthy quality of it. It makes me think of people who worshiped the Earth and its powers, its changing seasons, in centuries past and – who knows? Even now. I am not comfortable in it, but when I wear it I do not want comfort. I am like Bilbo Baggins, unceremoniously yanked from his cozy burrow and set on a quest for treasure.
Magie Noire turns. It turns like the turning of the seasons – it cartwheels, rotates, opens doors ponderous on their hinges. The wind blows in with a blast when the door is opened into November forest, floor damp and spongy with leaf mould, glowing rose at the heart like shafts of sunlight through treetops. It is the death of many leaves and the life of trees, the heart of the earth beating under a blanket of dead leaves and moss. It is warm under the blanket, when the night air is chilly. There now, don’t cry at the loss of the summer: we will make our own. It will be fecund and humid with exhalations from our mouths, and this will be our own summer. It is a kind of magic, do you see?
One of the songs we’d been rehearsing that November night was a piece by Samuel Barber, with text by James Stephens: The Coolin (The Fair Haired One). Here is the poem, and following it is a link to a beautiful rendition I found on youtube.
Come with me, under my coat,
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Or wine if it be thy will.
Reincarnations: The Coolin (Barber/Stephens), about 3:45 minutes long.
And we will talk, until
Talk is a trouble, too,
Out on the side of the hill;
And nothing is left to do,
But an eye to look into an eye;
And a hand in a hand to slip;
And a sigh to answer a sigh;
And a lip to find out a lip!
What if the night be black!
Or the air on the mountain chill!
Where the goat lies down in her track,
And all but the fern is still!
Stay with me, under my coat!
And we will drink our fill
Of the milk of the white goat,
Out on the side of the hill!
I have no info on the top image, having found it on a free image site – but I can’t remember where or when. If you know, please tell me and I’ll credit it properly. Bottom image is my own bottle of Magie Noire, bought off ebay.