Monday, January 24, 2011

Vol de Nuit Isn't

Subtitled:  A Failed Narrative but a Great Perfume  (A Review)


No matter how you approach perfume, completely naive, or studiously researched, it would be hard to come upon Vol de Nuit and not immediately conjure a back story.  Even if you don't speak French.  Because--and, fine, I will speak for the American audience here, hoping one of you Brits speaks up regarding your school experience--most American school children are exposed to "The Little Prince."  Lay Payteet Prahnce, perhaps your teacher added.  Or, perhaps, if you moved fairly frequently, you were exposed to other helpful pronunciations of the "original" title; Luh Pehteet Prince being among my favorite clarifications.  Mind you, I didn't know a speck of French as a child, but even I was able to ken onto the fact that Peter Sellers could have done better at awful.  I could READ, for heavens sake, I just wasn't French-knowledgeable.

The petit point?  Said teachers would generally then offer up, another title by the same author, should we wish to consider reading further:  Vol de Nuit.  Night Flight.  Which sounded romantic, but made me wonder if it was a sequel or prequel that would help me figure out the plight of the lonely guy and his flower, kind of like one wonders what became of Scarlett after Rhett left not giving a damn.  (After I started writing this, it occurred to me that there is now a generation of students who might get a malevolent association with the sounds of Vol de Nuit, being similar to Vol de mort and all.  Which might serve them better when thinking about the perfume.  But that is another story.)

In addition to the teacher voices in your head, there is the "official story," and if you at all poke your nose into Guerlain's business, you are pointed toward Antoine de Saint-Expury and how the fragrance was created in his honor / drama of aviation / a pilot / blah blah blah.

So, in my head, I have:  Vol de Nuit = Night Flight.  Vol de Nuit = perfume.  Vol de Nuit ≈ smells like a night flight.  Vol de Nuit ± solves/addresses the problems of the little prince.  Vol de Nuit ≅ will transport me so I don't worry about existential conundrums.

(For further cognitive miasma, see Kevin's lovely review of Vol de Nuit as a night flight, wherein he constructs his own narrative.  Or Helg's review, where she acknowledges the narrative and locates where she finds Vol de Nuit among a pantheon of galbanum scents.)

There it is.  Identified, labelled, sorted, catalogued, told.  If you are me, you try Vol de Nuit many times, starting with early in your fall down the rabbit hole.  It strikes you as difficult, as bitter, as old, as a potential scrubber, as interesting but probably not you, worth coming back to for academic purposes but not for pleasure.  It's no night flight.  But you go back, repeatedly, looking for nocturnal, or at least crepuscular, lift off.

And then, thank goodness, you have the good fortune to one day out of the blue decide to spray in the bright light of mid morning, and spray generously, and just let things be, immediately forgetting what you have done.  So that this waft springs up from your wrist, and you say "wow," and you spend hours upon hours with it.

And find you are happy.  And decide to relocate yourself vis-à-vis Vol de Nuit.

The Review Part

What Vol de Nuit isn't:  blackblue and murky hard to see with the only clearness being the stars above you and the whole experience gravity defiant, transporting you through the air.  Vol de Nuit is not a night flight.

What Vol de Nuit is:  greenherbybitter powder mashed in such a way that earthy bits (perhaps the daffodil, certainly the oakmoss) ground you and yet eartly lifts (sparkly citrus bits or invigorating herbal sniffs with florals interwoven just enough to keep it from being a total Druid potion) keeping things from being all around your ankles.  Vol de Nuit is a tree growing in the forest, knowing which way to reach for sunlight, aware of all it touches from root to leaf.

Vol de Nuit is more "Tree of Life" than "Flight of Night."

In less fanciful terms, it is a green plant-focused woody with plenty of powder.  The notes mention flowers, but I don't get much (read "any?") of that.

In mathematical expressions, Vol de Nuit ≠ transportation, literal or existential.  However, Vol de Nuit = an interesting perfume that I will sometimes want to wear.


My long day into night with Vol de Nuit was interesting.  Repeated pleasure from huffing, frequent wrist to nose and/or putting nose to the waft like a dog might kind of day.  It was a totally different experience of exactly the same thing...unlike those times when you have an "a-ha!" of something different, some new note or aspect striking you, this was one of those times when you know full well you are experiencing the very same input you did last time, but it's coming in differently.  Like...the first time you think in a different language.  Or when you see the vase and not the human faces in that picture.  Or when you have been spending your time playing jazz copying other solos and/or carefully constructing a line based on the key and the tempo and the meter but then WHOOPS! you are just playing the thought without worrying about the parts behind the expression.

Or like when you shift your angle slightly, and instead of seeing the reflections in the plate glass window, you see the display inside.

It's always been the same information available to you.  Were the earlier reads "correct" also?  Were they your own?

Here's what I know:  I've been spending years assiduously checking out fragrances whose notes or explanatory copy mention "forest" or "green woods" or "druidic potion."  (Okay, haven't come across that last one, really.)  Little did I know that adding a healthy dose of powder, and accepting the sentence constructions of a writer from the PREVIOUS turn of the century, rather than the one I lived through, would best express the thought.  Herbalgreenbitterwoodyhintsofsmoothdefinitelypowderystuff that smacks of/with my beloved galbanum but doesn't bite hard, I'll be back.

What I was sniffing:
Vol de Nuit, parfum concentration.  That iconic Guerlain purse sprayer holds a refill of VdN parfum.  I sprayed the day of the revelation.  I've dabbed for my return while writing.  The sample vial is for size reference; early in my perfume explorations, I was surprised by how small those expensive extraits were.  Chalk it up to a supersize culture plus an edt life?  Plus, I suspect, there is something about how large things loom in our imagination.  Those Lutens bell jars are not cookie jar size, for example.  You could hold one between your thumb and finger, thumb under the bottom, finger on the top.  Not that you'd want to.  Just saying.  So, there's my Vol de Nuit, purchased as a gently used item, quadrilobe stopper already undone.  Purse sprayer new old stock.  Have since smelled samples from other vintage and new bottles, am satisfied the partial bottle was not altered.  (I may not be so good at identifying notes, but I can do pretty well at recognizing watered down side by sides, thank you {cough cough} Chanel Coco NOT.)

Um, that'd be your disclosure statement for the day.

The image is the author's own.  As usual, play fair if you wish to use it.

19 comments: said...

I enjoyed reading your journey with Vol de Nuit, especially as I am currently working on my review too. For me it was love at first sniff. I think spraying works way better with Vol de Nuit, it shines then.
Thank you for your lovely review. :)

Musette said...

I'm always have to 'course correct' when I come upon the word 'crepuscular' - I know what it means and yet and just always sounds like a sort of decay to me.....

You reintro'd me to Vol de Nuit,iirc (and that's another one - why isn't 'If I Recall' IIR? :-) Like you I do not see it as midnight blue - more deepwater-brackish green, like a cold pond in a forest on a summer's night, with frogs croaking their brains out.

I love it!

xo >-)

ps. I had to read LPP in French for my 7th grade French tutor. le sigh.

Ines said...

As usual, I love to follow the paths of your mind, even though sometimes I need to re-trace some of my steps. :)
I love your Vol de Mort association (of course I would).
Btw, someone needs to explain to me the point of reading Little Prince when you're 12 (I think I was twelve, I wasn't older than that for sure).
Just because the main character is little does not translate into a children's book.
That's my rant for the day.

I'm glad to see you have a healthy quantity of Vol de Nuit left to enjoy (now that you two are together). ;)

p.S. My verification word is inesses. :D

ScentScelf said...

Olfactoria, nice to see you here. :)

And yes, the dab vs. spray thing...which, for those not keeping score at home, I have gone on record as saying I think definitely affects the experience, more with some scents than others...when it comes to Vol de Nuit, a hearty spray was what really allowed it to take off, as it were.

Will seek out your thoughts when you are ready to put them out there.

ScentScelf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ScentScelf said...


Yes! That.

As for 7th grade reading, come along for my response to Ines...

ScentScelf said...

Ines, I figured if you came by, you'd be one to appreciate the Voldemort. I mean, He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken. gum, I mean Voldemort! Heh.

Thanks for following along, even when retracing required.

As for the all-too-common mistake of immediately assigning a child narrator or childhood memoir to the "suitable for young readers" category...augh. Augh, argh, and zoiks. This can be SO wrong. I remember people bringing me suggestions for books...I LOVED this one about so and so's childhood. Or, hey, this Scout...she's pretty young; how about having those 8 year olds read about that Mockingbird?

It's a multi-layered street, and complex decision. I mean, when does one go from Encyclopedia Brown to The Basketball Diaries? (Not sure if you've met Jim Carroll in Croatia...though maybe the Leonardo DiCaprio screen version of the protagonist has come across your radar.) It drives me crazy, that.

Then there are simply silly cross-assumptions. Let's take those same Basketball Diaries...hey, it's a high school sports film! Shoot, says the adolescent youth program director, I can't get The Blind Side, or We Are Marshall. How about this one?

I think your rant made me rantier, Inesses. ;)

Marina said...

I love how your mind works. This is genius: "Vol de Nuit = Night Flight. Vol de Nuit = perfume. Vol de Nuit ≈ smells like a night flight. Vol de Nuit ± solves/addresses the problems of the little prince. Vol de Nuit ≅ will transport me so I don't worry about existential conundrums. " :)

Josephine said...

Let's see...I never read 'The Little Prince' unless it exists in the Dark Hole of Lost Memories, along with other parts of my childhood.

After two years of French, my speech is dismal at best, although good enough to eat well.

Please don't ask me to use 'crepuscular' in a sentence, but I wouldn't mind getting in line for a late night existential conundrum.

Vol de Nuit is an unsniffed mystery to me. And aside from samples, those coercive little bastards, I never, ever dab.

Nevertheless, it's a delight to crash your lovely review, in all my pedestrian glory.

ScentScelf said...

Josephine, had I had a beverage, I would have snarfed at "those coercive little bastards." An act which is, I think, fairly pedestrian, no? ;)

Please--crash, walk in, bring your late night existential conundrums. Heck, they're less romantic if seen in the bright light of day, but bring them in at a non-crepuscular hour if you like.

Okay, chalking up one non-Little Prince exposed American childhood. (Hmmm, does that sound quite right?....)

ScentScelf said...

Marina, if only my mind worked the magic that allowed the perfume to actually SOLVE the existential conundrum.

Maybe I should have tried harder in math?

Ah, well. I still like the forest powder that is Vol du Nuit. Even if it isn't pointing to the answer to any Big Questions. Or little ones.

Ines said...

I haven't come across Jim Caroll (in any incarnation) but I have a friend Google who can help with that. I do get your point. :)

Btw, I'm appreciative of all HP phrases regardless of where they appear, I'm just a bit crazy that way.
Anyway, I hate it when things crystallize in my mind so late that I feel stupid. I'm pretty sure JKR meant Voldemort's name in exactly the manner you wrote it - he is a flying harbinger of death after all...

Vanessa said...

Completely agree with your classification of Vol de Nuit as:

"a green plant-focused woody with plenty of powder."

The clear starry night image is completely off the mark.

Like you, I initially found VdN (the EDT in my case), bitter, dark and old fashioned, but came to like it on a summer's day last year thanks to the good offices of The Scentimentalist, who insisted I give it a retrial.

Now I have a friend who is a dead ringer for Amy Johnston, and I so wanted her to like this scent in the spirit of resembling an early female aviator, but she didn't - heavy and headache-inducing was her verdict when she tried it the other day in Fortnum & Mason(?). She also thought my beloved Eau Duelle was too like a Gin & Tonic. How could that be bad, one wonders?

Regarding your current bout of "cognitive miasma", and routine philosophical musings on other matters, it comes as no surprise to me to learn that you share your birthday with Jean-Paul Sartre.

Vanessa said...

Amy Johnson, sorry!

ScentScelf said...

Ines, you make me remember why not only is Google the Devil, but Google is a *good* devil....

I am grateful for when things crystallize in my mind. Period. I've learned to stop being frustrated by the wacky hour "A-ha!"s. It's just how it works sometimes. Besides, you can remember things all over blog comments, and not necessarily wake me up... ;) Yes, btw. I think Rowling meant that very much. One of the fun things with Rowling and younger readers is the semi-transparent Latin-focused etymology game she plays. With English. Come to think of it, I wonder how that plays in other languages. Which language did you read the Potters in? (See, now you'll be sorry you revealed your "aha" to me... ;) )

ScentScelf said...

...and then I had to make Google my friend to learn more about (and see images of) Amy Johnson. I have always been a fan of Amelia Earhardt, Beryl Markham, Bessie Coleman; how did I miss Amy Johnson?

Thanks for that introduction. I fear the possibility that a national slant played into it, though I'm going to plead Beryl Markham if called to the stand.

Okay, as much as I (now) adore Vol de Nuit, I can understand why your AJ-resembling friend nixed it. Though to have Eau Duelle dismissed on the same day as a gin & tonic? The pain, the pain.... Especially since, in my mind, I'd put Eau Duelle closer to a rum and coke than a gin and tonic. Wait, let me think; mint julep? Bourbon plus sweet? Now I need to find that sample again...

Last but not least: Knock me over with a feather. Google further reveals that yes, I do share a birthday with JPS. Look, this whole Cancer/Gemini cusp thing raises a host of problems in itself, let alone adding in the possibility that all may be skewed and I am cuspy with a Taurean bull. Though I'd be happy to claim all if I could use that to explain my inconsistent behaviors, Sartric and otherwise.

Ines said...

Actually, I read HP in English. And had occasional forays into Croatian translations when my copies were around and I just had to read it again.
The problem with me is that I read for the story so the more intelligently put parts escape me on my first run (or second, sometimes third...). Anyway, each time I read HP I get more and I do love the way JKR plays with language.

I would have absolutely no problem with the Croatian translation (the new words were actually translated quite well and appropriately) but the tone of the books is wrong. I mean the series starts obviously written for children, employing language appropriate for children, etc. Well, the Croatian translation doesn't. It reads like serious literature that accidentally has a children's story used as the backbone. When it gives me pause while reading to make sure I got it right, it can't be right for children (as I don't have problem with the English version and I do know Croatian better than English after all - just so there's no confusion ;)).
I've been ranting all over regarding this since I first read it. Are your sorry now you asked? ;)

ScentScelf said...

Nope, never sorry, Ines. :)

I believe we spoke of this somewhat over on your blog...and yes, there is a definite progression to the Potter books. They start off more simply, both in terms of language and story, and also of course of degree of danger and emotional consequence. This is the very thing that made the series just right to be discovered by a kindergarten boy I knew, when the series was two books old, and he was a precocious reader. There was a bit of a gap waiting for the next, and then again...meaning that by the time the seventh book came around, he and his mother went for a second time to the midnight release party, this time with his younger brother old enough to tag along, and they read the pre-agreed number of chapters, went to bed, got up early, and read in the rest of the day in the backyard under a summer sun.

At that point, the fifteen year old was prepared for the inevitable. The mother teacher has trouble sometimes relating to parents what a slippery slope lies ahead if their child is an avid reader and gets started early. The decision of appropriateness is theirs...but what you get in books one and two does not indicate the pound your penny buys you at the start, and would be best noted at the start. ("In for a penny, in for a pound.")

Which is an extended narrative path to telling you why I understand your rant.

Vol de Nuit, btw, would start to be an appropriate scent for reading Rowling no earlier than Book 5. ;)

Ines said...

I absolutely love it how you took your children to the midnight party and you all read the book together.
I hope once in the future when I'll hopefully have children that they will love to read (at least half as much as I do).
And I've already been thinking how it's going to be a bit problematic letting them into the world of HP - as I already promised buying the series both to my nephews and my boyfriend's nieces once they are old enough.
I guess we'll deal with that when the time comes...

And now I know when to sample Vol de Nuit. ;)