The datura flower, a ‘poisonous vespertine’, is one of nature’s very deadliest. So toxic, in spite of its undulous, alluring odour, that it has been used since antiquity to poison one’s enemies; one’s lovers’ with the most fatal, agonizing death: a psychotic madness ensues; convulsions, heart seizures, oblivion.
I took these pictures of a datura tree on Saturday night in Tokyo, lost along the streets of Ikebukuro trying to find a friend’s house whose party we had been invited to, but the Japanese address system is so hopelessly convoluted and illogical, that after an hour ( our cell phone batteries had died), we just gave up.
Still, I was curious to see those Angel’s, or Devil’s, trumpets hanging there like that at this chilly time of the year (the datura in my neighborhood, which has a bedazzling number of flowers: an obscene amount of poison, I’m pretty sure flowers in the heat of late summer): though its scent was not discernible in the starry, December air.
I like to stand under datura bells, inhale their slow, balmy cream, their evil saturnalia – like suspended tropical umbrellas’ the skein of their big wide petals laced with scent:: : : and poison.
Just The idea that death could be so close, and wrapped so enticingly, in the form of a mesmerically fragrant, and silent flower.
It it is a smell that looms faintly. Part tuberosian jasmine: tiare, with a touch of the beach and of cyanide, there is a bitterness there that is offset by the voluptuous cool, sloe-eye of its delirium; its femininity.
Like many flowers in perfumery, datura, in fact, can only be created from memory, from observation – a reconstruction. And from a distance, Christopher Sheldrake’s strangely introverted approximation is woozily impressive: a touch of creamy, coconut- infused tuberose flowers and osmanthus; a heliotropic, lemon- scented lilac: vanilla: tonka bean: almond – the overriding note at the heart, probably, of this oozing pointillist portrait – and a note that I am always drawn to in any case ( see my review of Louve ).
Up close, and personal, though, the perfume, on me, is much more problematic. It is a shape shifter. Some days I think I love it. Some days I almost hate it. I received a bottle as a Christmas present last year, but have only recently starting wearing it, trying it out tentatively in the smallest of doses. And the perfume is weird………….it doesn’t quite come together. The lemon and the coconut. The quite odd addition of myrrh……………………….. At times there is a jarring, bungled plasticity; an effect, like the plant’s poison, that at times can smell almost nauseating.
At others, though, when its mood is right, the perfume sinks into my skin with a fabric softened comfort and delicate vanilla that makes it almost suitable as a winter work scent, nuzzled under my shirt cuffs, tamed and in stasis until my skin warms up in the heat of the moment and then one of those ill fitting notes raises its head, its voice, and I regret having worn it ( and common sense would surely tell you that a perfume called Datura Noir is hardly suitable for my profession).
And yet it is too bland, too sweet and falsely, gentle for me to wear as one of ‘mine’. Like Fiore Di Riso, which I wrote about yesterday, another citric, vanillic floral, it is ‘somewhere in between’. Not quite day, and not quite night. Not rude or intoxicating, but not quite respectable either. She is out of place, this Datura Noir. She watches on my shelf, and she waits.
18 responses to “THERE’S SOMETHING NOT QUITE RIGHT….. SERGE LUTENS’ DATURA NOIR (2001)”
Datura Noir was the first Serge Lutens that I bought, and three years later I still try it now and then and think “I love big white florals, so I must love this one by now!” Alas, not yet. It lacks the narcotic element that I crave in BWFs, and I often notice a slight plasticity which I’d not as strong to me but is rather repellent all the same. I love datura, and wish this one worked, but there isn’t a hypnotic trance in a bottle full of it.
There most definitely is not. And yet I can’t quite imagine getting rid of it, somehow.
Datura Noir was one of three Serge Lutens scents I purchased all around the same time frame( the other two being Fleur d’Oranger and Clair de Musc). I always felt like Datura Noir was somewhat schizophrenic. Sometimes it smelled great on me and other times I wanted to scrub it off. I still have almost a full bottle (having used up one many years ago) but I rarely wear it. I will have to revisit it once again.
It IS schizophrenic: exactly. Certainly not a harmonious blend. Perhaps that’s almost part of its appeal?
Ultimately I don’t think Sheldrake quite pulled it off with this one unless it just happened to smell perfect on one of his test subjects.
I chose Datura stramonium for my 16-page herbal monograph during a botanical medicine class in med school and fondly remember how atropine, which has a very narrow therapeutic dosing range and is otherwise quite toxic, was named after one of the Three Fates (sisters) in Greek Mythology (Atropos, Lachesis & Clotho). Other species that contain atropine include Belladonna, which also contains hyoscyamine, in turn also found aplenty in Hyoscyamus. The deadly nightshade family has many mafioso members, not to be messed with. Lachesis, of course, is also another poisonous species, but from the animal kingdom: the bushmaster snake Lachesis mutus.
This is fascinating. You make them sound quite salivating, attractive.
What is datura used for? Can it really be administered safely?
Datura seeds can be smoked or tinctured as herbal medicine such as for asthma. Atropine was historically used to dilate pupils in ophthalmology; I think I read somewhere that women in olden days would put a drop of belladonna solution into each eye to dilate their eyes to render them more attractive to suitors. Datura has also been used in Native American shamanic/spiritual journey for its strongly hallucinogenic properties. In all cases, the risk of overdosing/poisoning is high, again due to its extremely narrow therapeutic dosing range. When I was still working out of the school apothecary/pharmacy, we did use datura tincture but in drop-dose only, and under very strict & careful clinical supervision.
The power you wielded….
Thank you, by the way, for mentioning Bal a Versailles; I thoroughly enjoyed reading your review of it from awhile ago and am now on the hunt for a vintage bottle/sample to experience it myself (I live in the impossibly cold & snowy midwest, so amber scents- esp. naughty ones- help keep my mood in check). I assume I have to fork out the cash for the parfum to experience the civet & other animalic tones, vs. the cologne, EDT or PDT? I also finally got Mandy Aftel’s Fragrant Companion Kit myself to sample ambergris and you’re right, its scent (or rather, stench) only makes sense once combined with other notes. I now wish I owned a whole spray bottle of it, if it weren’t so costly [gulp]. Have fun in the U.S. while I’m visiting your turf later this month.
Bal A Versailles is actually dirtiest, bizarrely, in cologne. But for that thickness, which is essential, you need the parfum. The dry down really is to die for. I top it with talc for extra powder heft and find it swoonsome.
Great insight into Datura Noir. It really is a terribly dangerous scent, at least on me. My one experience with it was my last.
I tried it many years ago and it was love at first sniff, but then trouble ensued. Over the course of the next few hours I started feeling hideously nauseous and had a migraine the likes of which I cannot explain.
I remember thinking ” Sheldrake has not only captured the essence of the flower, but it’s poisonous qualities also”
Now, it may just have been a bad day for me health wise, but I have yet to retry DN. Something in it is just truly unbalanced, I cannot place it exactly, but something is just “off” with the scent. We should all look further into this mystery of DN.
I am clearly a pervert, as this poisonous nausea of which you speak, something unhinged ( or are we just making this up?) is drawing me back to the scent.
The idea that despite its blandness superficielle, it was actually designed to be experienced as toxic.
Quite clever, really.
( incidentally I am presuming mine is a reformulation:it’s bound to be )
I don’t think we are making it up. My friend who was with me said it was a disconcerting scent, and made her nose twitch.
But, I guess that is its allure. We want to tame nature, so we wear scents of toxic flowers (albeit not the real scent). At least we are not using droppers full to dilate our pupils, that seems much more risky to do on a regular basis.
The one I smelt was probably the original formula, it was quite awhile back, possibly 10 years.
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
I adore Datura Noir; it was also my first Serge, and my bottle is the original formula, which may account for some differences in perception. I don’t get a “plastic” note, but then white florals love me. I do get the poisonous vibe though, which I also love.
This is exactly how I WANT to smell it as well. The notes don’t properly unpixellate for me somehow. I never get the whole picture.