Patricia de Nicolaï’s Odalisque is one of those white floral symphonies on which nobody really seems to agree: is it a lily of the valley? A tuberose? A gardenia? A jasmine? Or even an iris?
Check, on all of those flowers. The resulting blend gives Odalisque the hazy contours of a lovely face filmed through gauze... A lovely face that could be the Brooklyn-born Gene Tierney’s, playing an exotic femme fatale (she was a harem girl, a Russian, an Italian, an Egyptian princess, and twice a Chinese half-caste). Undefinedly foreign, but actually all-American.
And despite its name – I could never quite understand the logic behind the christening of some of Nicolaï’s fragrances – Odalisque is no more about harem girls than Ingres’ Grande Odalisque. Perhaps even less so, since unlike perfumes from the “oriental” family, which were Western fantasies of the Orient in the same way as most 19th century Orientalist paintings, Odalisque is pretty much a Big White 80s Floral, in the grand French manner.
But unlike its predecessors Giorgio (1981), Jardins de Bagatelle (1983) and Poison (1985), Odalisque¸ launched in 1989, has removed the shoulder pads and muted her tone. It isn’t a hard-hitter, but a haze. The tuberose is no more than a hot pink brightness with a mint-cool blush; the gardenia is a traditional “gardenia parfumeur”, i.e. the rendering of gardenia in classic perfumery rather than a portrait of the living flower with its slight mushroom stink. The lily of the valley is an abstract, fresh green feel. The jasmine is barely a whisper, underlined by a fruity note (listed as bergamot and mandarin, but it smells a lot like apricot to me), that brings to mind the much later Dior J’Adore (1999).
There is also some interesting action going on underneath the powdery iris-musk cloud halo, with a tiny hint of Shalimar (the warm, ambery opoponax) and the unmistakable woodland whiff of Evernia Prunastri. It is the oakmoss that grounds Odalisque’s diva-ish white floral accord by lending it an intriguing bitterness, and pulls it towards the chypre family (the PdN website lists it as a green chypre).
The scent is beautifully composed, a little retro and excellent value for the money, if you don’t care for packaging (the Parfums de Nicolaï bottles and boxes could definitely stand some revamping: they don’t do justice to the quality of the line).
If you love Odalisque, though, I would advise stocking up immediately: because of the oak moss, it is definitely slated for reformulation.
Image: Gene Tierney in Henry Hathaway's Sundown, 1941.