dimanche 31 mai 2009

Parfums de Nicolaï Odalisque: Anything but an Oriental

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.

8 commentaires:

  1. Ce commentaire a été supprimé par un administrateur du blog.

  2. Hi!J'attends avoir l'occasion de connaître ce parfum. Il doit être précieux ! Avant les restrictions sur oakmoss fassent leurs effets.Bises Elisabeth

  3. Betty, il est très beau et... il faut faire vite!

  4. Hmmmm. I have so far been immune to the charms of Odalisque, but after your review I feel like I should retry it. I wish PdNs were easier to sample here; you never see them anywhere, which is a shame. And I agree that her packaging is inelegant, but I'm grateful for the price point and so pretend not to notice. I'm still enjoying yesterday's Fig-Tea on my skin!

  5. The more I wear Odalisque from my little sample vial, the more I like it. It has a chypre feel to me, which is a genre I struggle with, but Odalisque is so strongly floral that I can wear it with pleasure. Finally I have found a chypre that is cool, dry, aloof - but doesn't try to strangle me with her bare hands.

    Isn't Gene gorgeous? Girl-next-door sultry.

  6. March, if Odalisque and you aren't meant for each other, then so be it! It *is* a very good fragrance though... Let me know about samps, I'll see if I can overcome my post office phobia...

  7. Mals86, Odalisque is pretty unclassifiable, actually, isn't it? In the French comments, reader who admires chypres but doesn't wear them said she found it too chypre-ish for her. It's really a matter of perception.
    And yes, Gene was almost unbearably beautiful but in such a touching way...

  8. Odalisque is my official Saturday at home perfume. How did this happen? There's something so unassuming and humble about it. I had pushed it to the back like a sad brown pair of shoes, but over the ensuing months, there she is, fresh and pert, and peppery, spurring me on as I prutz, putter, and do whatever I want all day. I read her as a chypre for sure. I bought her used, and I am assuming the bottle is "preformulation." I dread running out. I hope you are radiantly well!