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.
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
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: The Leather Series (leather scents directory with history info &fragrance reviews)
Photo of Arielle, Monte Carlo 1982, by Helmut Newton