In this Light of Mars: Noir Epices (2000)
At some point early in this decade, before oriental became subsumed under oriental-woody – before, that is, the middle-finger of perfumery was lopped off – Michel Roudnitska created Noir Epices for Frédéric Malle’s Edition de Parfums. It was one of the series’ inaugural perfumes, and remains sans doute one of its best. While it is neither the shoulder-pad-clad career-bitch perfume that Opium and Cinnabar are, nor the opoponax and vanilla confection that Shalimar is, nor even the date-lipped arabesque of Serge Lutens’ Arabie, it is oriental through and through.
Luca Turin speaks to its medicinal character, a view which, on account of clove, I won’t discount; but Noir Epices is something more than a clove-studded pomander of orange and rose. For me, it is an abstraction of cinnamon – and a non-Lutens’style abstraction at that. It grows, I believe, from a moody cinnamon that eschews all that happy-homemaker/pie-in-the-oven suburban bunkum. It is the sort of cinnamon that would feel at home (indeed!) in a scene from Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie or a Genet television play. Sad, but with an abiding sense of the nourishing absurd.
It is a disorienting scent, one that leads you out into a barren desert place and then confronts you, like a woman approaching out of nowhere with a book which, when opened, cannot be read. You turn the page and hear a child’s voice (orange blossom), next the voice of its mother (geranium absolute). It seems then that the sun has been replaced behind your back. Instead of slanting light, there is a strange neon intensity (nutmeg) and the nagging feeling that (that) nothing (sandalwood) that ever pleases you is just nice.