Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nina Ricci Nina (modern): fragrance review & comparison with vintage

I always wonder whether appearances correspond to the reality, the essence of a personality and vice versa, as I am sure you do too. The duality of a person is always fascinating to unravel. And an inconsistency often contributes to a greater fascination! Whether one will tolerate one in favor of another is entirely a personal matter. Nina, the modern perfume by Nina Ricci is such a case in point. It's hard to pass her by, because she's so popular ~even the bottle design was snatched by the producers of Twilight saga films, but courts decided in favour of Ricci in the end and it's now missing in action~ but the reality is less than convincing; at least for a purist such as myself, because it delivers and it delivers satisfactorily to its intended audience which is teenage girls if sales are any indication.

Created as a perfume to evoke in ladies' minds a modern fairy tale for “all young women searching for surprise and fantasy… in a wonderland where dreams dress reality”, as the advertising tells us, it promises to be magical and enchanting, full of charm and seductiveness. Fairy tales are the escapism valves of modern hectic lifestyles and if one is so easily within one's grasp, it seems like a much healthier idea than downing a couple of pills, don't you agree?

The store when the scent launched devoted their windows: a huge silver tree was posing, with factice bottles resembling glorious red apples hanging from its branches like magical instruments of witchcraft and pieces of ivory organza interlaid on a silvery snowy ground in the middle of summer. It was beautiful…. The bottle, designed by French agency LOVE, is indeed one of the most gorgeous of recent years, paying homage to Hypnotic Poison, Lolita Lempicka and Be delicious, but managing to be more friendly that any of those and less heavy than the former two. It is also reminiscent of another great bottle that has launched a few seasons ago, Delices de Cartier. Made of transparent glass and silver metal it becomes raspberry red by the inclusion of the bright-hued juice. On the top, silver leaves crown an ergonomic sprayer that sprays a fine mist.

The fragrance itself is touted as the brand's single most important release in 10 years, after several trials that didn’t take off as expected: Premier Jour and its variations – let’s face it- never took off (the same goes for Les Belles de Ricci, 3 interesting variations in similar bottles, long discontinued) although it’s a likeable perfume and the name of Nina Ricci has remained in its dove garlanded laurels for too long.

The modern Nina was composed by noses Olivier Cresp (the nose behind Angel, revamped Femme by Rochas and Noa) and Jacques Cavallier (of Eau d’Issey, Feu d’Issey, Ferragamo woman and Poeme fame) of Firmenich "with the Asian consumer in mind". I am not sure if by Asian they mean Chinese, Japanese, Thai people etc. (i.e. Far East) or they mean Middle-East and India, but the perfume could accommodate both tastes being tied with neither tradition or culture. The brand was simply hoping to strengthen their appeal in the international fragrance market and in particular in Asia, which is the emerging giant of consumerism.

Nina has a hard act to follow: Nina Ricci was one of the most popular couturiers in the mid-20th century fashion scene. Born in Turin in January 1883 she started as a highly talented apprentice, before devoting herself entirely to design.
She formed a partnership with her only son Robert in order to open her own Haute Couture house at 20, Rue des Capucines, in Paris. Her effort paid off well in quick success and just before the war the NINA RICCI firm occupied 11 floors and its workshops were filled with 450 workers.
Madame Ricci had a flair for highlighting the personality of her clients, resulting in very becoming dresses. She always favoured femininity over trends and elegance over dare. Ricci tried her hand in perfume making with the iconic spicy floral L’air du Temps, a fantasia of delicate undertones and tender warmth encased in the gorgeous Lalique bottle with the pair of doves on the stopper, that has been worn by our dearest and nearest for years. It managed to inspire numerous mysterious florals, Fijdi and Anais Anais being two of those and it became a bestseller in many countries, managing to sell one bottle every 3 minutes somewhere around the world! Alas, it has been so tampered with in its present version, as to render whiffs of it disappointing, failing to bring back the images of those loving female figures in our lives. A pity…
Farouche and Coeur Joie are another two legendary Nina Ricci perfumes that remain in the confines of the vast vault of on-line auction shopping...

Robert Ricci , however, Nina’s son, created or rather art-directed the original NINA perfume, a powdery floral with fruits and woodsy, green notes in homage to his late mother in 1987. Very recent in perfume terms... The experiment was very successful artistically, however the business end was not met satisfactorily, resulting in a semi-retirement of the old version, which is not available anymore.

The new Nina bears absolutely no resemblance to the older one, but the identical name surely causes trouble to the consumer and confuses those who like to order things on the phone or on-line. To compare modern and vintage Nina, whereas the old version was an affair of traditional elegance with a rich sparkle of aldehydes in the opening and a green chypre accord that was quite popular in the 1980’s ( if one considers the success of Diva by Ungaro), the new one is very different: The overall effect of the older version was delicately powdery and it smelled the way all perfumes smell in a young child’s mind: sophisticated, fabricated, not found in nature. It used costly ingredients that managed to evolve and mingle with one another in trails of white light.
The modern Nina is predictably a fruity floral with a gourmand touch. It opens on a very pleasing initial note of hesperidic crisp fruits that cascade off the bottle in rapid succession: lemon, bergamot, mandarin and especially lime"Caipirinha" (its approximation in non alcoholic form at least). The effect is sharp and surprisingly uplifting, like that of another pleasing fruity floral: Gucci Eau de parfum II (the lilac-pink juice in the heavy crystal lid square bottle), minus the berries.
The heart accord of red toffee apple with moonflower (an abnormality of nature, a new breed after a tornado at the Mohave desert, from what I recall from The Body Shop version) and peony is nicely balanced, quite sweet for comfort though, with a little vanillic veil that heralds the base of white cedar and cotton musk. That last ingredient alludes to lab work that produces the bulk of synthetic musks today. It manages to smell soft and enveloping, with an average tenacity on the skin, although on the blotter the candy and cedarwood effect are what remains mostly after the more effervescent notes have vanished. The drydown is vaguely reminiscent of the base of Mugler’s Innocent , a perfume variant on the Angel recipe without the patchouli, more orientalised/gourmand than Nina, surely, but with the same praline afterthought; of the two I vastly prefer the Mugler iteration.

Overall, it will disappoint those who expected something similar to the older version, and get the spirits up of those who love the fruity floral semi-gourmand recipe, although I can’t bring myself to say I love it and the genre has overstayed its welcome for faaaaar too long. The bottle however is another story…

The modern Nina is available in eau de parfum at major department stores.
The advertising commercial includes the late Russian model Ruslana Korshunova.


  1. Anonymous03:11

    the new one is dull and predictable.

    the old one is interesting and sophisticated.


    seriously... they shoulda just given this new concoction a totally different name. the original nina is so different. it contains shades of farouche and l'air du temps and then goes its own way and gets a little dirty. quite nice. i lucked out on some parfum a few months ago, and am so glad.


  2. Anonymous09:41

    I have 3 backup bottles of the original Nina. I can't make myself like the new one, probably because I love the old one so much.
    Thanks for this review nice to see a comparison being made. The old one gets hardly any attention on the blogs.
    I suppose the bottle of the new one is "cute", but not my style at all. Maybe I am just cranky that one of my absolute favourites has been discontinued.

    thanks again,


  3. "it smelled the way all perfumes smell in a young child’s mind:"...

    You've encapsulated the heart of the reason why I loved the original Nina and all of her sparkling floral chypre relatives from the same era. It was a kickback to the glory days of perfumery in the early to mid-20 century, and those are the ones that come to mind when I think "classic perfume."
    Thank you so much for writing about one of my favorite perfumes. I agree with the previous commenter who said it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

  4. J,

    I agree, the name repetition is criminal. At the very least they could have used "nina" ~since it was copyrighted and of cours emblematic of the house~ alongside something else: "Nina young", "delicious NIna", something!

    I loved the way the original Nina had a friendly and yet coolish quality about it. It wasn't too haute but it created mystique.

  5. Barbara,

    what a fantastic stash!! Can I raid it? :-O

    The modern isn't too bad, the bottle is very nice in person and the promotion put it too good use (the hanging silver apples from the artificial trees with the ribbons in the stores were delightful) but it's not exactly high art. It's predictable.
    The old one had unsurpassable class.

  6. OF,

    thanks for stopping by and for your kind words, glad I stroke a chord with you! What you say resonates with how I feel about many classics; a glimpse into history and glamour.

    It's a mystery why the vintage Nina doesn't get more love indeed: I attribute it to the house not being as "hip" as some others.

  7. Anonymous22:37

    I've been searching ebay on and off for the original Nina - I don't remember it, but I think I'd love it. I'll go hunting again!

    True, the bottle for the new formula is absolutely adorable, but I'm not intrigued enough to buy one.

  8. Anonymous13:32

    Your review is spot on in what concerns the differences with the concept and the execution, I find the modern a good gourmand fruity floral with its candied apple note while catering to teenagers, surely not the worst in that group, while the old is all class all the time. But I have trouble with the old, because it reminds me of a very uptight aunt who was always nagging and preening and having complaints and you don't want to know more about her, lol, so I have some specific association that keeps me from enjoying it.
    Great writing, by the way and thanks for the note you sent, got it.

  9. M,

    it's a very elegant floral with chypre tonalities, I think you'd like it! Good luck!

    Oh well, I haven't added a bottle of the new in my stash either. I figure if I love only the bottle, I might "snitch" one from someone in a swap when it's empty.

  10. Thank you Aline, glad the note reached you and thanks for the compliment.

    I think teenagers are usually looked down on by perfume companies, as if they're eternally damned to wear inferior stuff and it's a shame. NR has a certain elegance in what they do and it's nice to see they worked on this one.

    Sorry about your associations with your less than agreeable aunt. Isn't that terrible when this happens? I find I cannot shake the impression off my head no matter what.

  11. Anonymous09:29

    Teenagers are given safe choices in everything, in an agressively conservative manner that is conceived by headquarters of who knows what powers, in order to restrain their natural resistance to bullshit and make them pliable, it's a shame and it angers me that most people don't see it for what it is. Products off the shelves is just the tip of the iceberg, don't you think, so it's a misdemeanor really, but indicative of a larger trend.

  12. Aline,

    that's a very interesting opinion, to be sure. I hadn't thought of it that way. But come to think of it, you might have some point, although myself I'm more prone to think it has to do with profits and easy acceptance rather than conspiracy theories. But I'm not knocking it either!

  13. My favorite Nina Ricci fragrance is Bigarde...absolutely heavenly! It can never be duplicated!

    1. Ah, blast from the past. I think there are oceans of difference between Bigarade and Nina! Funny in retrospect.
      Thanks for commenting!


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