"Fit for nuns and virgins" is as enticing a description of fragrance  for some of us as talking of a scent weaving a web of seduction the way a femme fatale would. Clearly, it's not because we belong to either category, but rather that its programmatic unconventionality of what feminine fragrance should stand for makes it ripe for personal exploration. It's so easy to underestimate a fragrance just because it's widely available and comes from a brand that doesn't have haute or luxe pretentions such as Cacharel and Noa. I bet good money that were Noa issued by a niche company into some fancy-named contraption and fronted by a du jour perfumer it would elicit more enthusiastic response. Despite Cacharel's fashion presence and their rather large input in fragrance history (a pre-emptying floral in Anais Anais, a magical retro heliotrope in Loulou, the first aquatic fruit-oriental in Eden, a good effort at tobacco-laced feminine in discontinued Gloria) they fly under the radar on what concerns hard-core perfume lovers. Which is why we're here and have been reviewing the Cacharel canon for a little while now on Perfume Shrine.
Noa is an underappreciated little gem that didn't deserve the lack of attention it receives and which spawned somewhat less noteworthy flankers, called Noa Fleur (2003) and Noa Perle (2006). But let's see the strong and weak points of each and compare them.
The original Noa by Cacharel (1998) was composed by perfumer Olivier Cresp, the fragrance encased in a diaphanous bubble of a bottle, a zen approach to the spiritual 1990s (hence the tag line "the gifted fragrance", one would almost expect a Messiah in a bottle), designed by Annegret Beier.
The passage of a few minutes results in a slight recalibration of one's original view of Noa, which would have been of an aquatic floral: it's really a floral musk with a hint of powder and soapiness and a delightfully unexpected smoky wood top note. The initially detectable ylang-ylang blends into the background, while the soapy aspect of the musk intensifies as the minutes pass by, boosted perhaps by some aldehyde. This produces both a smooth, clean scent, but also a reduction in volume, making Noa appear "light" and "fresh", although don't let that fool you into thinking it doesn't last; it does.The musks are fuzzy, cozy, warmish and comfortable, accented by a small note of spice like coffee laced with cardamom. Tania Sanchez identifies the spice as cilantro.
Noa Fleur by Cacharel came next in 2003 and its take is more unisex than its rosy character would suggest. Essentially a clean, rather screechy floral, flanked by musky notes like hibiscus and white musks, plus pale balsam and indeterminate notes that project with a faint powderiness, it's predictable and pliable. The inclusion of black currants gives a rather fruity facet to the proceedings, but there is no denying this is a rose fragrance with more woodiness than a typical soli-rose. This would make it fit for those occasions when you just don't know what to wear; rushing out of the door to get the kids on the school bus, going shopping impromptu, having a last-minute "wanna pick you up?" date when you're uncertain of your date's tastes...But you could do better than that: Grab Gucci Eau de Parfum II or Miracle So Magic.
Cacharel's Noa Perle (2006) was co-authored by perfumer Domitille Bertier and Olivier Polge. The formula was reprised, resulting in a more fruity floral mold, in which however the distinctive note of hazelnut swifts things to a slightly more interesting direction than the average fruity floral. The opening is lightly sweet citrus reminiscent of clementines with that standard "clean" floral that companies peg as peony nowadays; the drydown is an inoffensive powdery musk plus milky woods. Noa Perle is a nice enough if completely inadventurous scent, but for the price and the lack of pretence, it's still a better option than many out there. Points taken for the glaringly fake "pearl" inside, made from 100% plastic. With a name like that...
 by Susan Irvine, 2000 Perfume Guide