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:
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.