CARON’S NUIT DE NOEL (1922)

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For most people, Caron’s famous Christmas perfume is a cosy, Yuletide Noel of sweet mosses, spice, and mellow florals, a quaint, comforting refuge that is perfect come this nostalgic time of year.

 

For me, though, it conjures up remembrances of dazzling sunlight; palm trees; and the almost sinister fascination of glittering, uptown LA in summertime: all piercing dark shadows, rich people behind sunglasses, and a humming bird I saw fluttering behind a flowering bush on Rodeo Drive.

 

The Beverly Hills Perfumery is a magnificent Babylon of treasures for the perfume collector. Boxes and boxes of vintage perfumes, still in their original cellophane wrappings, piled ceiling high, all Shalimar body creams and shower gels and soaps and face powders and and hair gels and glorious, discontinued originals; rarities, things you thought would never be found again, and things you have never smelled, but are dying, just dying, to get your hands on.

 

 

I only had enough money for one bottle. And god knows what I thought that should be. I wanted Ungaro Homme I, now so hard to find, I wanted all manner of things (let’s just rob a bank together and go there in a pick up truck, shovelling the entire stock into the back of a van and take it home).

 

 

Seriously. This is not a department store, it is not a niche fragrance boutique, it is not a flea market, it is a repository. A cavern of precious, olfactory loot, and my eyes wouldn’t stop darting over the merchandise, salivating, panicking, and  wondering what to get.

 

 

Then I saw the beautiful green, gold and black box of Caron’s much feted Nuit De Noel, a scent that looked so intriguing and was so reasonably priced, a perfume I had read about and was most eager to smell, and suddenly I just knew that it was going to be the one that I would buy.

 

 

 

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And so for me, now, this dusty, old fashioned creation – woody, resinous, harmonious and affecting, the smell of spiced plum puddings and hair-spray, is not snow, and Christmas trees, and carols, and all the familiar trimmings, but rather the smell of adventure. Of my Lynchian fantasy of being in Los Angeles (just to be on Mulholland Drive, and to be able to re-enact a film that I was so obsessed with), a pungent celluloid based-desire that was just, at that moment, coming true.

 

Of my first time being so woozily in the cinematic centre of the universe, of seeing Larry King walk by us on the way back to the hotel. Of so much furniture spray and overly cold air-conditioning in that hotel room that we could hardly breathe.

 

The smell of America. Of that first martini in the bar downstairs that felt like a crystallized whirlpool of the brain; and the weird plastic-surgery lady walking her dressed-in-pink chihuahua that we giggled at, and us, google-eyed, jet-lagged, and overstimulated from our flight from Japan, Nuit De Noel oozing, sparkling, providing the soundtrack.

 

 

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As I sit here and take the perfume out of its box and smell it, as I often tend to do at this time of year – just to see if the perfume has become Christmassy yet – I can’t tell you quite how three-dimensional and real these memories are.

 

The experience is quite startling. It is time travel.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “CARON’S NUIT DE NOEL (1922)

  1. David

    This post was very interesting to me. Nuit de Noel is the fragrance I always wear when I travel back to the USA, no matter the time of the year. I don’t know why, really. Maybe it’s just the name. I like to wear it and think about Christmases past with my grandparents, again no matter what the season. The original bottle makes me think about art deco. I love searching for vanishing remnants of art deco on trips into NYC. I think about old movies and, of course, dab just a little more on when I watch the Turner Classic Movie channel at my parent’s house. I think I read somewhere it was Bette Davis’ favorite. If an old movie has a bedroom scene, I always look to see if a bottle will be on the vanity table . I wonder if my grandparents ever went to one of those long-gone cinemas with the velvety red curtains to see an old Bette Davis picture? Did they ever sample Nuit de Noel at a fragrance counter in one of those grand old department stores? I brought a sample of Nuit de Noel when I went fragrance shopping at Neiman Marcus in Boston last year. I was curious if any of the Tom Fords would layer with it. The charming sales associate had never heard of it, but she immediately loved it. She gave me lots of samples to experiment with…. I never ever wear Nuit de Noel here in Brazil. I know I could make it work here, but I just don’t want it here. I need to have a strong strong strong fragrance demarcation between the USA and Brazil.
    This post also made me remember I have a bottle of Ungaro boxed away in my parent’s house. I never have time to look for it when I visit them. Next March I will find it. That and all of my family’s old fragrances that date back to the 1960’s. I guess having a mother who is a packrat will finally pay off.

    • What you write here is equally fascinating to me.

      I got the Nuit De Noel extrait from the flea market for nothing, but it is too soft for me. Only the edt, the one I bought in LA, has exactly that quality that I can’t quite put into words, which despite being Parisian, worked PERFECTLY in a totally American context, and how funny that you also feel the same way.

  2. Robin

    Oh, no. I fear that when I take my annual sniff from my old bottle of Nuit de Noel parfum, what will spring to mind is not lovely old-fashioned French chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but “the smell of America. Of that first martini in the bar downstairs that felt like a crystallized whirlpool of the brain; and the weird plastic-surgery lady walking her dressed-in-pink chihuahua.”
    Come to think of it, that might be a heckuva lot more fun.
    Thanks for another great read, N.

    • Thanks. I was just in the middle of watching a film yesterday morning and there was a Nuit De Noel extract on the side that I nonchalantly picked up and sniffed. And then I had to run into my bedroom and get the edt and whoosh, there I was again.

      • Robin

        Nice. I have dreams where I find myself in the same kind of fragrance treasure repository as the Beverly Hills Perfumery, and everything is priced at five or six dollars. I wake up feeling initially elated, and then the letdown when reality sets in. But what a fantasy. I think that’s why those places crammed with new stuff at insane prices, even thought they’re NICHE and limited edition and beautiful and hyped and everything, kind of leave me cold. It’s almost the antithesis of what I love.

      • I feel ya, utterly.

        Have you been to the Beverly Hills place?

        Or did I in fact just dream it up?

  3. Holly

    It’s fascinating that out of everything there, you gravitated towards Nuit de Noel. I just bought a vintage sample of it which is perched here on my desk, waiting for Christmas. I recall smelling it decades ago, and I remember that I was a lot younger, in a department store with my mom, approaching with barely contained excitement the carefully guarded glass cases that could give you a shock, and the discreet ever-present chiming of bells that I assumed was some sort of communication with the staff. I thought it smelled weird.

    I have taken a few whiffs of my sample, and all I’m getting is that distinct Caronade which to me is warm, round and glowing. After reading this post, I’m wondering if I should actually save this for Christmas, as I will not be spending it with loved ones and may associate it with that in the future. For all I know, that could also be just fine.

    • It is precisely that ‘Caronade’ that I can never fully get with to be honest, as on my skin it just smells too old-fashioned. And yet that is also its appeal, obviously. Also, I don’t think it is poignant or melancholic enough to have piercing associations (I hope you aren’t spending Christmas alone!), but really rather comforting.

  4. What a wonderful post! I have a scent memory of LA as well. Two years ago I went to visit my son who lives there and the first thing I wanted to do is visit the Scent Bar. He patiently waited for an hour while I perused the perfumes in the small store–small in size but filled with more perfumes than one could imagine.

    • I love such places, stacked with (usually too expensive to buy) niche perfumes. There is something about a real Aladdin’s cave of no-longer available perfumes, though, like there is at the Beverly Hill’s perfumery, that is beyond thrilling.

      • Robin

        Yes! The real thrill is there, among the names that will soon be completely extinct or long-ago reformulated into unrecognizability, and the ingredients – the nitro-musks; real, unadulterated oakmoss; civet – that will never again find the inside of a bottle of fragrance. It’s even in the bottles themselves and the packaging: the lead crystal, the ground glass stoppers, the folds of satin around the half-ounce of extrait, the box-within-a-box and the funky typefaces. The last ones standing. Whereas, when you go to a modern place and you know that in the back there’s a dozen bottles of everything . . . for me, that kinda saps the magic, you know?

  5. Zubeyde erdem

    Yesterday my boss came from
    Turkey. Since today, I’m planning to take 1 week holiday. I’m exhausted. Just , planning to relax by going to my recycle shops again. Be ready for shalimar. If my name is zubeyde I will got it in one week, let’s see! ( and try to save some drink money if you are buying at your lunch time. Cause , I will charge you most probably 1000yen, cold , metalustic world huh ??) I’m a dream maker this week 😜

  6. brielle8383

    I I had to change my avatar.

  7. brielle8383

    That stinks with FB. It was nice connecting on there. It is just so difficult for me on this. It lets me post for awhile, then nothing for months. I don’t know why. Hopefully you will have the FB issue sorted out shortly. I wonder why they would want your passport info?

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