Saturday, October 31, 2009

Lancome Magie Noire: fragrance review of the perfect Halloween scent

If there is one perfume which conjures up a devilish sorceress in full-wiccan attire it is none other than Lancôme's splendlidly devilish Magie Noire (pronounced ma-zhee nou-ahr and meaning Black Magic) by perfumer-alchemist Gérard Goupy.

Introduced in 1978, Magie Noire is an ardent scent full of insupportable sensuality which projects with the mysterious force of an evil heroine; having you grip your seat with a mix of justified horror and perverse admiration at the same time! Its heady, unsettling base accord acts like velvet or a caressing fur coat that is hiding a knife, its interlay of all the powerhouses base notes (musk, civet, castoreum) a sign of brandishing its bravado like a protective amulet against all odds.
Not to be confused with the 1949 classic Magie (its bottle reprised in the design of Lancôme recents Hypnôse and Hypnôse Senses), Magie Noire was conceived at the wake of Opium's oriental success which took the market by (olfactory) storm and along with exact contemporary Rochas Mystère presented the gutsy, murky mossy alternatives before ultrasweet orientals elbowed them off the central shelves in the 1980s.
The bottle was designed by Pierre Dinand in the same forbidden territories as Opium too: The inspiration being medieval alchemical alembics this time ~instead of Japanese inros~ and covered with cabbalistic signs standing for bismuth, verdigris, sulphur and gold.

Despite its murky depths of oakmoss and patchouli, nevertheless ~which have several perfumephiliacs designate it to the chypre fragrance family~ Magie Noire technically belongs to the woody oriental one.
Starting with an ammoniac opening, which oscillates between the feline and the human, and progressing into a purple fruity overlay over the darkest gothic roses imaginable, Magie Noire is a journey into a noir story that unfolds with each passing minute with a new twist and a new thorn to grab you. The white florals in its heart are not read as such, rather the verdant and sharp greens present themselves at an angle (galbanum and hyacinth amongst them allied to the leathery pungency of castoreum). The drydown of the fragrance is much softer, deliciously mellower and musky-incensy sensual with a microscopic caramel note that is kept on the skin for days.

The fact that several wearers of the original Magie Noire nowadays find it (catastrophically) changed is no illusion: Lancôme actually reworked the formula of Magie Noire when re-releasing it after its brief discontinuation. The 1980s Eau de Parfum and parfum versions were much edgier and headier with a pronounced spiciness and murkiness that could cut through fog like a beacon. The sillage was unforgettable and typhoon-like in its potency with a sex-appeal-oozing-through-pores vibe that could make you or break you: It was a scent that needed to suit your personality in order to work right and on many it didn't. I recall it worn by women with exquisitely coifed hair which seemed like they braved the elements.
Even in its attenuated form today Magie Noire is definitely not a perfume for young girls, not because perfume has an age, but because like a complex grand cru it requires some getting used to and is an acquired taste. Its distinctiveness lends it a special occasion ambience which it exploits to good effect; it would be both a great waste and a sensory overload to use it all the time. On the contrary, savoured drop by drop, it imbues its wearer with the magical charm of an undestructible protective mantle.

Not only Lancôme changed the formula, they also changed the flacons design from time to time, making it a confusing task for chronologising your bottle. I remember the bottle in the 80s was black, following the one depicted in the ads above, while a maroon version also circulated in the 90s. Recently upon its re-introduction Lancôme simplified the bottle into the columnal solid glass with a metallic-looking top depicted below.

Notes for Lancôme Magie Noire: Bergamot, blackcurrant, hyacinth, raspberry, honey, tuberose, narcissus, jasmine, incense, Bulgarian rose, patchouli, vetiver, castoreum, labdanum, musk and civet.

Magie Noire is available on counters and online priced at $55 USD for a 2.5oz/75ml Eau de Toilette and that's the only version Lancôme currently offers. I wish they'd bring back the parfum! There also was the enigmatic huile parfum (perfume oil) version, reputed to emphasize the greener notes, but I have not tried it (yet) to compare with extrait.

Ads via perfume4u.co.uk and pays.dignois.com. Glass flacon via Lancome.ca. Maroon bottle pic via qb.org.nz. Sorceress illustration via mythicmktg.fileburst


  1. Maria16:46

    Oh, that's my mom's favourite, the only one she's faithful to since it first appeared in Russia. She doesn't wear perfume daily, so every time she wears it the effect is striking. You are so right - MN demands an approach and a special woman. I don't know anyone here who dares to buy it: it's so bold, most women seem too timid for Magie Noire. And for me it became sort of a benchmark. Maybe thanks to mom's Magie Noire all those years ago I can't take fruity scents seriously now, and most florals too.

  2. I have told my Magie Noire tale so many times...this one was the first full bottle to appear in my possession as I fell down the perfume hole...why? Because I put it on, my husband sniffed, got a certain look on his face, asked if I liked it, and when I said "yes," he left the house on an errand.

    At dinner that night, he gave me a package. Inside...Magie Noire. I still love it. And so does he. :) And no, Maria...I can't wear it as an every day perfume. But a "for certain nights out" scent? Spot on.

  3. I've only sniffed the version in the black bottle--awesome stuff, but it always seemed like too much for me, so I never invested. I might wear it now, but as you say, it's been tamed. If I had known then what I know now...

  4. Maria,

    your mum sounds like a very determined and striking woman: this is a perfume that can be truly intimidating! I think if it suits her (or anyone) they shouldn't veer off, it's so distinctive it can become a great signature scent (only for evenings though!)
    And I agree that its fruity opening is nothing like the fruity scents of today. Same happens with the classic Poison (and in smaller part with the blackcurrant in Chamade): try them out sometime in their vintage form!

  5. S,

    you said the "only for special nights" part so much better than me! That is a WONDERFUL story and you deserve to tell it lots of times: I could never get bored of it. What a hit!

  6. M,

    I feel like the vintage stuff can be too much for me too most of the time. It does wear like iron too! However once in a blue moon the desire takes me and I have a hankering for its weird, mysterious embrace. (same thing happens with Paloma, another triumvirate of animalics in its base)

  7. Absolutely fantastic review, I've never tried this Lancome fragrance before but I will definitely be searching for it next time I'm out shopping :)

  8. Mysticknot07:00

    Excellent review as always !
    I love Magie Noire. I iwsh they would bring back the parfum and the old bottle design .

  9. i had a bottle of this that my Mother didn't want (a green lover) when I was little. To me it smelt so sophisticated and grown up! I wasn't allowed to wear it out but I loved spritzing it in the house and feeling very grown up and mysterious.

    Hope you had a good Halloween

  10. Oh, fantastic! I just wore Magie Noire last night myself! It was a little cool here and we had a fire in the fireplace, and I love the smell of Magie Noire's incense smoke mixed with the smell of our fire. It WAS the perfect scent for Halloween. Great post and review!

  11. Anonymous17:04

    Sadly, this scent was the first scrubber I've ever known (before the perfumista culture appeared to give us that useful term). My nose detects only a note of cat urine, and nothing else. At least that's one less hard-to-find parfum for my wish list.
    -- Gretchen

  12. Stefanie,

    thank you and glad you enjoyed it!
    I think ~even better than just ssampling when shopping~ you need to take a sample home and try it out when you feel especially naughty and devilish, it simply screams for attitude, this one!

  13. Mysticknot,

    aww, thanks! Isn't it s shame they pulled the parfum? It makes you scratch your head and wonder sometimes why they pull the most satisfying concentrations of things. I guess it didn't sell all too well...oh well.
    And the old packaging did spell "booh" in no uncertain terms whereas the new one elegant and spartan though it is defied the message inside.

  14. K,

    what a lovely memory!! I used to do that with my mother's perfumes as well (and sometimes mix them all together or use them in mixes of my own with other disgusting ingredients, but I will spare you). It IS very grown-up, definitely not an ease-into-perfume-wearing scent.

  15. Prosetry,

    it must have been really glorious!! Your choice to accompany a log fire with such a scent speaks of your great taste; it is often that perfume clashes with the enviornment, but not this time, eh?
    Happy you liked the review! :-)

  16. Gretchen,

    I can feel your pain, it is a difficult scent, to be sure. I often consider it too much myself, which is why I rarely ever wear it. And your nose isn't "broken" (LOL), there is a cat pee note (ammoniac) in there, especially in the current reformulation I'm afraid (where the blackcurrant buds note isn't too well balanced by the plusher elements and woods)

  17. Anonymous00:47

    Thank you for revisiting this magical brew at the most appropriate time of the year. My personal gateway scent many years ago - it's still my first choice for a bit of mystery. The reformulation is milder but still Magie Noire. You just have to spray a lot more to get it. Every time I visit the Lancome counter, they're either out or down to a few bottles. I hope Lancome figures out what they have on their hands and reissue a more intense formulation in all it's mossy/incense glory.

  18. Anon,

    you're most welcome and thanks for stopping by!
    You seem like a very assured of yourself person and for the sake of anyone like you, I wish the very same thing. If only Lancome is paying attention...

  19. Magie Noire absolutely blew my socks off when I tried it last spring. I'm sure I *looked* as gobsmacked as I felt - eyes wild, hair tornadoed...

    I put it away until fall. It is beautiful and amazing, and I cannot wear it often because it eats my thought processes.

    I reviewed it on my own blog last week as well. It does seem quite chypre-ish to me, but it may just be what age has done to my ebay-sourced bottle. That, or I'm as usual Whacked With the Patchouli Stick (I seem to be sensitive to it).

  20. The System ated my comment!
    I fell in love with MN when I was 17-ish, smelled it in the perfumery and it was oh-so-like-turpentine. I loved turpentine and all things resiny then as now. I couldn't afford it then and I only got it for last Christmas in the new version. Admittedly, the new bottle is a major design improvement.
    Surprisingly enough, my cat loves it too.

  21. Anonymous07:36

    I have been faithful to this scent for years. I was one of the lucky ones who had success with this scent(lancome's MN) BUT now it has changed and the second notes are a bit sour and I never get the same reaction I recieved before the change of the formula. So I am looking for another scent with the likes of this the woody, flower, fruity, type......any suggestions???

  22. Jill00:46

    So miss the original. The "toned down" version is not the same!

  23. This perfume is what reminds me of my childhood. It's my mum's scent too and I've been looking for the EDP version for quite a long time now. Shame it's been replaced by EDT, would have been a great Christmas gift for mum

  24. I still have a little lotion bottle in my junk drawer. I was given some kind of little gift that had a small perfume, or EDT bottle, and a lotion, and maybe even a soap. I gave the kit to my secretary at the time as it was too, too it wasn't me. It seemed evening, and I had Mitsouko. I felt I couldn't get away from it. I would test it by putting some of the lotion on my instep, and if I was aware of it at home, it wasn't for me.

  25. solanace08:28

    This was my signature scent when I went to University. My bottle was black, too, and I'm pretty sure today I chose it for its name and imagery. It turned out to be a fortuitous stupid choice (go do that today!), since this distinctive scent got me hooked into 'serious', or not too easy perfumes as the ultimate expression of elegance as I view it. It was the early 90's, so I heard the 'old lady' thing every week. Even that I enjoyed, it felt so mature, so empowering!

  26. Anonymous05:55

    When Lancome discontinued the original I was literally heartbroken like a bad breakup. I loved the body cream. It was my signature sent for 20 years and I wore it everyday. It was a head turner and I was stopped frequently by people inquiring about it but was never made to feel it was "too much". Always got wonderful comments on it. On special occasions, I would layer it with the perfume. I don't have as much love for the new version but at least it isn't all together gone. I definitely agree... it's very particular and not everyone can wear it or pull it off which makes it that more special. I actually was introduced to it by on older coworker when I was waiting tables at age 17. It was love at first wiff. At the time,I did feel I was too young for it. It was my 27th birthday gift to myself.

  27. Anonymous05:58

    Ps love your blog and you completely captured Magie Noire.

  28. Mals,

    LOL, who knows! It's always hard to see what happens to a beloved perfume through the ravage of different editions/batches/sellers etc.

    Thanks for the chuckle!

  29. L,

    cat endorsement stands for something! :-D

    The bottle..well, it's at least a sign of the new against old.

  30. Anon,

    difficult question. Maybe try Ormonde Woman? (by Ormonde Jayne brand, searchable on Google). Not the same but reprises some of your beloved themes.

  31. Rose red,

    I hear you...There's nothing worse than having to face a change to something that stood for a beloved's fondest memories.

  32. Nadine,

    funny and eerie. Wow!

  33. Solanace,

    you know, I wonder whether the "old lady" derogatory term came to being exactly during that grunge period that produced those "clear" limpid scents that everyone doused on in the (false) hope that they were "light" (they assuredly were NOT!)

  34. Anon,

    thanks for sharing with us your initiation to this marvelous scent!
    And thanks for the kind compliment too! :-)


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