Embrace the dark side of scent

Embrace the dark side of scent

By Deborah Fulsang

Vampire-themed blockbusters, global natural disasters, foreboding talk of nuclear war: no wonder we’re in a black mood. It’s the zeitgeist, whether one is discussing pop culture, politics or perfume.

A black cloud hovered over this season’s runways too: Eyes were smoky, black-lined and dramatic at Lanvin and Prada; lips were blackberry-hued at Rochas and Gucci; and nails were oxblood at Catherine Malandrino, black chrome at Behnaz Serafpour and navy velvet at Ruffian. Goth, without a doubt, is glamorous.

In perfumery, the return of dark scents represents an inevitable trend cycle come full circle. It also illustrates our need for something deeper and more soul-satisfying than sugar-noted fruity florals.

POISON AND PERFUME
The almost magical—and potentially poisonous ingredient of belladonna sent the media abuzz when Coty announced that its new Lady Gaga perfume—the first black fragrance, by the way—would be laced with its “tears.” The accord comes inspired by the deadly nightshade flower.

Then there’s caladium, the leaf of which is used in Balenciaga’s new Floribotanica. It’s also toxic. Talk about goth. (No wonder casting Twilight star Kristen Stewart’s sombre mug as the perfume’s face seems so apropos.)

Poisonous berries and flowers, however, have long been used in perfumery—lily of the valley and frangipani, for example, are ingredients that are also toxic to consume but delightful to whiff.

It’s a matter of perspective and we are looking on the dark side these days: Gaga’s scent, after all, also includes honey, apricot and saffron as well as an allusion to death.

THE PRIMAL URGES
Ben Gorham, the founder and creator of Byredo, believes the blackness of the newest fragrances “appeals to us in a very primal, sort of elemental way.”

“Just like in art, there’s idea-based art and then there’s art that needs to come out of people,” he says. “I think the noir and the dark [of these scents]—the primal part of it—is more based on that as opposed to something idea-based.”

But Gorham’s new black-themed fragrance, Black Saffron, is not all darkness. To make it wearable, Gorham mixes saffron with leather and woods, “mystique and darkness,” he says.

RULE OF OPPOSITES
The return to darker, richer fragrances—from orientals and florientals to chypres—can also be seen as a reaction to today’s sea of sweet florals. It’s also the rule of fashion opposites at play: where light, bright little-girl scents live, there must also reside the flip side. In this case: the dark, moody and thoroughly grownup counterpoint.

Fragrances, like fashions, also cycle in and out of vogue. And it’s been some time since dark spritzes took centre stage. Hello 1985 and Obsession.

NEW NIGHT MOVES
Today’s dark scents do differ from the high-powered perfumes of the eighties. Take Tom Ford Black Orchid or his new Noir, Byredo Black Saffron and Chanel Coco Noir for example, elegant perfumes that mix together woods with flowers, spice and fruit. Although the notes are similar to ingredients popular in that 20th century decade of excess, they make more nuanced statements closer in line with the fragrance tastes of the 1930s. They suggest mystery, seduction, intrigue—and nod to perfumery’s powerful, story-telling past.

So whether you’re looking for a new signature scent or heading out to holiday shop for another, there’s no time like the fragrance-minded present to embrace the night.

Shown above (clockwise from centre): Chanel Coco Noir, www.chanel.com; Donna Karan Woman, www.donnakaran.com; Lady Gaga Fame, www.hauslaboratories.com; Tom Ford Noir, www.tomford.com; Byredo Parfums Black Saffron, www.byredo.com

Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by

Deborah Fulsang has spent the last two decades as a journalist covering news and trends in the worlds of style—in fashion and beauty, design and décor, food and entertaining. Her long-held love of fragrance led her to launch The Whale & The Rose, a destination for all things perfume-related. Now, when she indulges in a crazy-expensive bottle of fragrance, she can do so guilt-free. Well almost. It’s all in the name of research after all.