Thursday, December 22, 2011

Paco Rabanne La Nuit: fragrance review

Smell La Nuit by Spanish-born designer Paco Rabanne and nostalgise about the 1980s with a vengeance. In that carnal decade, La Nuit was aimed at "the sensual, sophisticated and modern woman" "partout où est la nuit" (everywhere where it's night-time) and was quite abruptly discontinued in the following decade. Paco Rabanne fragrances from the 1969 cool Calandre to the 1988 men's aromatic Ténéré and the excellent 1979 Métal suffer from market maladjustment despite their pitch-perfect tune-in with their times; they fly under the radar for no good reason and get discontinued all too unjustly. La Nuit (1985) is a similar case in point.

Poised between a leathery chypre with fruity accents and a deep oriental (with no great sweetness), Paco Rabanne's La Nuit, composed by perfumer Jean Guichard, is vaguely reminiscent of the danger and swagger of vintage Narcisse Noir by Caron: c'est troublant! It also has elements of the sharp scimitar weilded by Cabochard and the urinous honeyed leather of Jules by Dior. 
Once upon a time a certain biophysicist with a keen interest in perfumes had given away the perfume's core character by (positively) claiming that it smells "as if you sprayed Tabu on a horse", thus delineating the two main directions the composition goes for: civet (of which Tabu has oodles) and leather. This of course goes contrary to prior writings in French where he compared the upkeep of interest in smelling the dissonant top notes with musicians tuning up their string instruments before a concert. His apology and excuse?
 "My extenuating circumstance was that at the time (1985) I lived in Nice, where women can be toe-curlingly vulgar, and it was a big hit. [...] Now that the Niçoises have moved on, I see it for what it was all along: the sexiest fragrance since Cabochard”.

The construction of Paco Rabanne's La Nuit lies in the precarious juxtaposition of unassuming, fresh ingredients over "animalic" notes (those smells which recall real animals or rather our libidinous animal urges, as delineated by the discourse between Jung and Freud). The top of La Nuit is profuse in linalool, rather aromatic with a hint of spiciness like basil and myrtle, and a "bruised" citrusy note that results from the aging process in the vintage bottle. In the evolving process, golden hued plum and peach skin (the note made famous by undecalactone in Guerlain's Mitsouko) lend an old-school, rich saturation; compared to the graphic shrill effects that many contemporary fragrances go for in their search for "freshness", 1980s fragrance seem akin to canvases painted by the Great Masters. Of course this tells us more about the state of perfumery now than about La Nuit.
What transpires through this deep, pungent fragrance is an animalic, sweaty mantle (made slightly austere by a woody note of cedar) that engulfs a honeyed rose heart, the latter perhaps reminiscent of L'Arte de Gucci; the rose isn't what it's about nevertheless, but serves as a feminine counterpoint to the more unisex animal notes: Not only a huge dose of civet, but also the whole kit-and-caboodle of retro musks, intimate-smelling beeswax and bittersweet leather, almost urinous notes. The effect is a rich, individual leathery fragrance which can be quite alluring on the right type of defiant woman (or a discerning man); personally I can easily imagine it on Violetta Sanchez.

Extremely tenacious for an eau de toilette and even an eau de parfum (the latter slightly better nuanced) and very discernible sillage make this a vintage fragrance to use sparingly, especially if you "don't want to offend". (Then again, what are you doing playing with La Nuit?). The parfum (procured via a valued friend collector) is frankly exquisite.
I don't find it as debauched or decadent a scent as other hunters of the vintage scented gems (the term affectionately used is "skanky"), but rather edgy and quite French in its "je m'en foutisme" that French perfume wearers always had about their personal choice.
No wonder it's discontinued...

Notes for Paco Rabanne La Nuit:
Top Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Tangerine, Myrtle, Cardamom, Artemesia (Armoise)
Heart Notes: Jasmine, Rose, Pepper, Peach
Base Notes: Cedarwood, Leather, Patchouli, Oakmoss, Animalic note, Civet

Photo of Arielle, Monte Carlo 1982, by Helmut Newton


  1. H, I think you mean "je-m'en-foutisme" (not "je m'en fous' way").

  2. J,

    you're right; that's what I must have meant. Thank you! :-)
    I didn't know this, like Bovarysme (among my most favourite French-isms), had been turned into a noun as well! With your approval, I'm editing it right now.

  3. Thanks for another very intriguing review! Of the other three PR you mention, I found a store selling Metal - love, and last week I found Tenere, another big like (and I found a place selling Calandre as well, buy soon). So La Nuit has now moved to the top of my "must buy" (even blind) list.


  4. Anonymous22:55

    I have seen a real similarity between La Nuit and Indiscret (Lelong), did you compare both?

  5. I love your reviews of such perfumes. When these perfumes came out I was too young to appreciate them.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. M,

    indeed both Tenere and Metal are worthwhile seeking out. I'm surprised the PR brand hasn't been more acclaimed when it started.

  8. D,

    what an intriguing thought! I should do a side by side comparison.


  9. Civava,

    most of us, I believe.
    I vaguely remember I loved the print ads but couldn't find the perfume to try out. It came and went in a flash, it seemed.

  10. No spam with commercial sites, please!

  11. Nathan14:15

    La Nuit creates strange and unusual images in my mind. A fascinating piece of work, imho, but I don't think I would be attracted to someone wearing it.

    In colours: gold, red and dark leaf green.
    A place: The beast's garden in Cocteau's 'La Belle et la Bete'. Oppressive, overripe and animal.

    A witches' brew: honey, period blood, darkest rose, a deer's foot...

  12. Nathan,

    I love all your referents even though I find La Nuit quite wearable (on me at least). Then again I can't be really sure what impression I'm giving to others! :-D

  13. Nathan14:47

    I have only tried it three times on fabric. If I sprayed it on me my wife would freak out, she is sick of me getting her to smell things :)

    The fascinating, yet acrid, dried blood smell that I get in the dry down could be entrancing on an Amazon.

    Maybe this is the scent for when we return back to nature and appreciate beautiful strong smells again...

  14. Anonymous14:28

    Nathan I think every one cerates his own associations to scents. I am wearing this scent right now. I suppose it smells differently on men than on women and I wouldn't classify this as unisex. It is not a "loud" scent, it is rather subversive catching attraction through surprise, wonder and confusion. It doesn't allow classification! On an aggressive woman it could be "a witches's brew". On a sweet or reserved woman it is an invitation for an appointment at an imaginary land. Period blood it is not. Sweat is it also not. Maybe it is the juice of a beautiful narcotic fruit. But it is too dark at night to make out what it is exactly. It depends from the narrator who chose to wear it! :-)
    All the best to everyone here,


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