Shiseido Nombre Noir - Shiseido hired Serge Lutens away from Christian Dior in 1980 and in 1981 Nombre Noir was created by nose Jean-Yves Leroy (it was the only fragrance he ever created), one of Shiseido's in-house perfumers, under the artistic direction of Serge Lutens and Yusui Kumai. They were looking to create their first "western" fragrance.
Nombre Noir's power is in the perfume's use of damascone. Damascones are aroma materials derived from Bulgarian rose oil (rosa damascena). Both expensive to create and easily ruined by sunlight they have a potent scent and had only been used in small proportions in other fragrances. While alpha-damascone has rosy floral notes with a fruity aspect along with a camphorous note and wine nuances, beta-damascone has tobacco shades with plummy sweetness and this is what was used in Nombre Noir.
Nombre Noir did not survive long in the turbulent perfumed waters. It was difficult to source ingredients economically (especially the osmanthus), the damascone which was used in large proportions degraded easily when exposed to the light, and the packaging was said to have leaked out a fortune in product. It was rumored that Shiseido lost money on every bottle. There does not seem to be an exact date that Shiseido halted production on Nombre Noir but Kafkaesque and Luca Turin both believe it was around 1984.
Long discontinued and increasingly hard to find, stories have it that bottles were recalled upon its discontinuation and run over with a bulldozer. Luckily some bottles escaped this fate and are still floating around, and we were lucky enough to find one. We are decanting from an old stock bottle that has been sitting in its original box for the last 30+ years.
In an article about Nombre Noir from Kafkaesque
"What made it shoot into the stratosphere of legend was Luca Turin. He reverentially called it “one of the five great fragrances in the world,” seemingly in the annals of perfumery, and he publicly mourned its loss in Chandler Burr’s 2004 book, "The Emperor of Scent". It changed everything. People flocked to eBay, and prices for what little stock remained after Shiseido’s purge went through the roof."
Here is what Luca Turin wrote about Nombre Noir in the New York Times in an article entitled 'The Secret of Scent' on December 3, 2006 (taken from his book The Secret of Scent: Adventures in Perfume and the Science of Smell")
"In 1981, at the age of twenty-seven, I moved from London to Nice. .....Early the following year, during one of my periodic visits to the Galeries Lafayette, I noticed a shiny black arch in the corner of the perfume floor. This was the brand-new walk-in stand for a Japanese company I'd never heard of called Shiseido, and it showcased their first 'western' fragrance: Nombre Noir. I still remember the black-clad sales attendant spraying it from a black glass octagonal sampler on to my hand.
The fragrance itself was, and still is, a radical surprise. A perfume, like the timbre of a voice, can say something quite independent of the words actually spoken. What Nombre Noir said was 'flower'. But the way it said it was an epiphany. The flower at the core of Nombre Noir was half-way between a rose and a violet, but without a trace of the sweetness of either, set instead against an austere, almost saintly background of cigar-box cedar notes. At the same time, it wasn't dry, and seemed to be glistening with a liquid freshness that made its deep colours glow like a stained-glass window.
The voice of Nombre Noir was that of a child older than its years, at once fresh, husky, modulated and faintly capricious. There was a knowing naivety about it which made me think of Colette's writing style in her Claudine books. It brought to mind a purple ink to write love letters with, and that wonderful French word farouche, which can mean either shy or fierce or a bit of both. I immediately bought a very expensive half-ounce in a little square black bottle. It bore the initials SL for a mysterious name: 'Serge Lutens'. A few months later my girlfriend took it with her when we parted, and soon after the fragrance was discontinued. Little did I know at the time that I would have to wait twenty years before smelling it again.
In an interview with Serge Lutens on www.howtospendit.ft.com from an article entitled Seducer of the Senses, Mr. Lutens was quoted:
"Part of the problem was that it took an inordinate amount of the extremely expensive natural osmanthus to make it, another part of the problem was that, to quote scent connoisseur and writer Luca Turin, the “maniacally luxurious packaging” of a “black octagonal glass Chinese bottle nestled in exquisitely folded black origami”. However, it attracted a huge fanbase among perfume aficionados and is still much sought after."
From Memory of Scent
"There is this rare, elusive category of perfumes, the Perfect, Discontinued scent. It is the most sought after, exclusive, masterfully blended kind of perfume. It was so perfect that it had to stop existing. Its ingredients so pure and rare that they are no longer available. Every now and then a bottle appears here and there and everybody is either spending four digit prices or fantasizing about it. The lucky few that have smelt the Discontinued masterpiece are witnesses of its perfection: nothing available now comes near.
Nombre Noir is not a dark fragrance. It is a luminous and abstract scent. It opens with a very strong and abstract aldehyde accord that seems to hold captive a rose in its heart. The combination of intensity and light brings to mind a marble sculpture. Although it is bright and almost translucent it has a volume and weight that are disproportionate to the impression it creates. Although it looks light enough to lift like a feather it is in reality unmovable. I have never encountered this combination of lightness and strength in another perfume. From a distance it smells velvety but up close it has a peppery sting. The rose itself is an over-ripe red bloom with its petals wide open exposing sweet and powdery golden anthers. What is more vivid in this rose is not the photorealism of the rose scent itself but the reality of the velvety texture of its petals. It is not sweet but it has a mature fruitiness, a fuzzy, sticky abstract fruitiness. As time passes the red rose becomes paler and whiter. Softer and younger. Underneath the topnotes there is this exquisite, old-fashioned heart of iris, vetiver and greenness that supports the top and lifts it like a balloon. In the drydown the abtract rose is still there but now it is fresh, pale and coupled with a delicate suede note. Nombre Noir has nothing to do with darkness. It is all about regeneration. Watching its development is like watching a slow motion video of a bud blooming and dying, but in reverse. Maturity is followed by youth, freshness and potential. This is not a beautifully done rose dominant fragrance because everything about this flower is abstract. More important than the flower itself are the fuzz on the petals, the dewdrops, the dust."
Nombre Noir features notes of top notes of aldehydes, bergamot, marjoram, coriander and rosewood; middle notes of osmanthus, rose, geranium, jasmine, ylang-ylang, orris root, carnation and lily of the valley; and base notes of sandalwood, vetiver, honey, amber, musk, benzoin and tonka. It is an eau de parfum, edp.