‘THE JOY OF EXTRAITS’ : : PERSOLAISE INTERVIEW WITH THE BLACK NARCISSUS FOR THE PERFUME SOCIETY’S ‘SCENTED LETTER’

PERSOLAISE : Would you agree that the extrait is the most luxurious form of a perfume?

THE BLACK NARCISSUS : I suppose it could be argued that buying an extravagantly huge bottle of vintage Shalimar cologne and splashing it on willy-nilly over yourself would also be an undeniably luxuriant experience – truly indulgent – but at the same time, the experience of taking a boxed extrait from your perfume cabinet, carefully removing the inner box with its plush velvet interior and lovingly applying some precious Shalimar extrait from the stopper (knowing that with each drop you use from the 7.5ml you have been given, the contents gradually disappearing, almost a mascochistic pleasure) cannot entirely be beaten. Just that one drop, which will unfurl and reveal itself over time and reveal the essence of the perfume’s message. There is something special about all of this.

Why do you think extraits fell out of favour?

Perhaps because popular fragrances became so strong and powerful in the 80’s and 90’s (Giorgio etc), that no one needed a more potent version of the same thing when the mileage was already so impressive with a simple ‘edt’ (having said that, the original extrait of Calvin Klein’s Obsession is actually pretty sublime), or else the perfumes in question were ozonic, aquatic – light by design.

And why do you think they are becoming a bit more popular?

Regarding the current rise in popularity of extraits, the cynic in me thinks it just another way to capitalize on ‘exclusivity’, by making already expensive perfumes even more so (it is amazing to think how reasonable the old extraits were!). On the other hand, it is possible that perfume lovers are just rediscovering the enjoyment to be had from a more private experience that is less about sillage and more about a certain private intensity.

Do you think that some perfumes were ‘born’ to live as extraits, whereas some simply work better as an edt or an edp?

I do. Grès Cabochard is incomparable in the extrait; the balance of the leather patchouli hyacinth combination is perfect; I find the top notes in the light versions extraneous, almost an obstacle to ‘get through’, where in the most concentrated version it just is what it is, how is was ‘meant to be’. Other perfumes, say Givenchy Ysatis, I am not sure benefitted from having an extrait version, as the gorgeousness of the edt allowed all the multifaceted components to shine through more fully. You shouldn’t necessarily try to ‘condense’ something which is perfect already.

To be honest, it all depends on the type of perfume that are in vogue at any one time. I don’t think fruity florals or ‘florientals’ lend themselves as well to the eau de toilette/ parfum stratification as well say, say, the chypres did. The vintage extrait of Yves Saint Laurent Y, for example, is very dark and moss/ patchouli rich, quite private, moody and autumnal, whereas the far fresher edt was all honeysuckle and mirabelle plum and green notes that made it incredibly joyful and springlike. If you were an Y lover, you could have modulated the precise tone of the perfume you wanted on any given day, wearing either/ or depending on the weather, or both together for more layered and intriguing effect. I can’t imagine the same thing happening with a perfume like Angel.

Many other perfumes also come in different concentrations, of course, almost making them feel like entirely different scents; in which case it is a question of trying them and seeing which iteration speaks to you personally. While many people adore the No5 extrait, for the quieter, but more concentrated and fulsome jasmine ylang rose triumvirate over the very perceptible old fashioned musk and iris that holds it all together, for me, in the extrait you totally lose the essential aldehydic triumph of Ernest Beaux’s creation, which needs the lighter zest and delirium-inducing orchestrations in the edt to properly shine through. I also never really felt that Après L’Ondée entirely worked as a parfum (despite the chilly, extra cold almond-stone atmosphere that the now discontinued extrait contained……..) as it was actually even more attenuated and shy than the original (which is very diffident to begin with!).

What defines an extrait? Is there something operatic? Intimate?

Some extraits are truly operatic: outrageous. The old Carons were like a miniaturised box at the opera and the stage and the theatre as well; opening up with crenellated satin fan interiors like a diva’s drawing room, taking up a huge amount of space on the dresser: attention-seeking, resplendent, to reveal the star of the show – the bottle of extrait – at the centre. A perfume like Poivre studded with tears and glowering with spiced menace, was a true duchess and prima donna. Mess with her at your peril.

At the other end of the spectrum, because you usually apply an extrait with a stopper, not the more workaday action of spraying from a slight distance, physically touching your skin in order to be judicious about how much you want to wear – there is a bond between you and your perfume once this ritual has been enacted – and that action in itself makes this form of perfume far more intimate.

If you had to choose…..

No19 vintage extrait is my ultimate perfume in terms of just smelling fantastic; a scent I can trust, and admire very deeply. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t know that I love it more than Vol De Nuit, which is so extraordinary and emotive in extrait it truly takes me to another realm……

Some of these decadent Narcissian quippings form part of Persolaise’s recent piece on Extraits, the full article of which you can find in the latest edition of The Perfume Society’s Scented Letter.

Thank you to Persolaise for letting me pontificate on these glorious preciousnesses. x

12 Comments

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12 responses to “‘THE JOY OF EXTRAITS’ : : PERSOLAISE INTERVIEW WITH THE BLACK NARCISSUS FOR THE PERFUME SOCIETY’S ‘SCENTED LETTER’

  1. PS. Thanks to anyone (hi Tara C) who joined the Art and Olfaction thing on Vintage Perfumes. Sorry I couldn’t talk to you more and that I am so crap with technology.

  2. Joan Rosasco

    It was wonderful to hear your voice, Neil —even via Zoom! — and to see some samples of your legendary collection!
    By the way, I remember those days in Paris when the shops on Rue de Rivoli all had Japanese speaking salespeople. That was when the luxury brands began putting big logos on their handbags and products. I think those tourists all needed to bring home lots of presents for friends and family that were recognizably French and luxurious— perfume must have been perfect for that.

  3. Joan Rosasco

    Yes, very strange! I was watching you from my bedroom in New York.

  4. Robin

    Sorry that I missed it and am even more crap at technology and squinting at jerky moving images on a screen with bad sound. I can’t really even handle FaceTime. But I’m sure you were lovely and this interview was smashing. I am so with you on everything you said about extraits and various lesser concentrations. It all depends! The examples were perfect, great ones. It’s as is you were channeling my own thoughts on it all.

    • Great to read.

      I haven’t quite got a handle on Zoom yet, to put it mildly, but it was a novel experience and it was nice to meet one of the founders at Art And Olfaction, Saskia and see other friendly faces in the background.

      HURRAH FOR EXTRAITS.

  5. I am so sorry I missed the Art and Olfaction event, was not feeling too well that evening. It must have been wonderful.
    I have so many fragrances in extrait and edt/edp, as you stated, many are almost different fragrances concentration-wise. One of my favorite scents, Fete by Molyneux, I only enjoy in the extrait version. The edt of it was just wan and too “bright” it lacked the depth and character of the extrait.
    Many fragrances, especially ones from the 40’s, I prefer to just own in extrait; the edts leave me uninspired.

  6. Amy

    Ah, I’m sorry to have missed the Art and Olfaction event! If it was recorded, would it be possible to share a link to it?

  7. Great interview, Neil. Very insightful. I need to explore these far more.

  8. JulienFromDijon

    What you said was very instructive.

    It’s true that before the creation of the EDP concentration, perfume composers underestimated the need of client for huge silage. Maybe they were too influenced by the “bourgeois” taste of 30% of the clientele, whose education forbade them to show off.

    So EDT and EDC were like “musique de chambre” : it could be extremely refined, but made with less instruments. And the extrait was the full symphony with the whole orchestra.

    Part of the ritual with the class stopper, is that one really enjoy the very first top notes by not spraying them. Spray are easily making the nose blind. Some lutens are more enjoyable by tiny amount on the skin. (smart marketing move!)

    It’s implicit, there is more risk when buying / offering an extrait, because the thing is pricey. It had weight to the way you’re discovering and befriending this perfume, as you would with a stranger. Also, it’s easier to fill like you “own” a bottle when you can re-use or re-fill it (and I put the mugler, the goutal and lutens, refillable bottle in this category).

    And indeed, not all extrait have sillage.
    For example, I love true sandalwood in perfumes. It was cheap before, but now the price have skyrocketed because of over-exploitation.
    Still, it seems that true normal sandalwood is not strong enough per se. It does not amount to enough silage for me. (ex : Sublime extrait is meh, as most old Arpege copy has some of it.) A story says, that attars were often just any ingredients preserved in sandalwood oil. 0_o It’s like it was the palm oil of yore! (just joking).
    (In Europe, we have the same story with benjoin chunks in alcohol, as preservative). On the contrary, semi-synthetic sandalwood perfume like Samsara extrait, Bois des îles edt, Castaña of Cloon keen atelier, or huge load of Safran troublant are doing the trick. Also, there are stories about different grade of sandalwoods, the most prized being aged ones (century old ones?).
    And maybe, like with iris, progress in chemistry gives us the nutty facet without having to wait for years. Producers have now new ways to “cook” the thing.

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