Friday, January 13, 2017

Persolaise Review: The Night 'الليل' from Editions De Parfums Frederic Malle (Dominique Ropion; 2014)


The soundbites
If The Night were a colour, it would be a bronze burnished to the point that it starts looking crimson.
If it were a piece of music, it would be Al Awela Fel Gharam by Umm Kulthum.
If it were a place, it would be the Deira-side of the abra crossing alongside Dubai Creek, circa 1986.

The review
About two weeks ago, when I posted my list of the best perfumes of 2016, I hinted at the sense of frustration that's experienced when you don't manage to wear and test a praiseworthy scent close to its original release date. Given the number of new fragrances churned out each year, this is becoming an increasing problem and, as Luca Turin said, "from the standpoint of somebody who's interested in fragrance" the current state of affairs is "the stuff of nightmares". The predicament probably has no solution. Unless your name is Michael Edwards, it simply isn't possible to smell - let alone evaluate - all new fragrances. But that doesn't make the annoyance any easier to bear when you do come across a gem which should have received all the kudos and adoration that are bestowed on the contents of people's 'best of' lists. These are the thoughts that were high on my mind when I finally got to spend some quality time with Dominique Ropion's The Night for Frederic Malle.

Truth be told, I did smell the perfume very soon after it arrived in the UK in 2014. Like the devoted acolyte I aim to be, I made my way to Liberty and asked for a sniff. All I was permitted - Monsieur Malle's orders, apparently - was a single, needlessly theatrical spray from a hidden bottle onto a blotter which was then sealed in a plastic envelope. I concede, the scent which wafted up towards my nose was staggering, but I try to avoid writing about fragrances I haven't been able to smell on skin, at my own leisure, in a calm environment. And as it didn't look as though those conditions were going to be met any time soon (the scent retails at around £500 for 50 ml), I tried to put it out of my mind. Fast forward to late 2016: I finally managed to get my hands on a sufficient quantity of the stuff to allow me to wear it, smell it and think about it. And my verdict? Well, in a sentence, The Night should definitely have been on my list of the best perfumes of 2014.

Its idea and its structure aren't novel at all: a stable-ful of oud, flanked by an Arabian rose, leather, saffron, incense, patchouli and amber notes. In fact, on paper, it's the sort of thing that's been pumped through the ventilation system at Harrods for at least the last two decades. Uber-Dubai. Or should that be 'ersatz Dubai'? The difference here, as is often the case with Malle's wares, is in the execution. Like the expert chef who declares, "You haven't had a REAL chocolate mousse until you've had MY chocolate mousse," Ropion has fashioned what may well be the acme of this particular genre. The ingredients are of heart-breaking quality and, more importantly, they've been assembled with a smoothness and a seamlessness which lend The Night a texture unlike that of any other similarly-minded fragrance I've encountered. A cross between satin and silk. An oily, light-absorbing slickness. A darkness into which you're all too happy to descend.

Putting aside the question of its price (which is, I will admit, problematic, but no more so than that of other brands' products) The Night is surely one of the most respectful and one of the most beautiful homages paid by a western perfume-maker to the tradition of Arabic perfumery. It is aware of its ancestry, but it has an eye to the future. It operates within set rules but it is not bound by them. It is unashamedly grandiose, but it never unlocks itself from the wearer's skin. What's more, it plays on and develops its author's personal style: compare it with Ropion's Portrait Of A Lady and you'll notice how his grasp of Middle Eastern perfumery has strengthened in the last few years. In short, it is a breathtaking achievement of olfactory art.

So, yes, I wish I'd been in a position to write all this back in 2014. But I take comfort from the fact that a truly great piece of work doesn't need to be promoted. As time passes, it's discovered by increasing numbers of fans, who then transmit their enthusiasm to other converts, until eventuallythe work attains the status it deserves. I sincerely hope this happens with The Night

[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum obtained by the author in 2016.]

- To see what did make it onto my Best Of 2014 list, please click here.
- For my definitive guide to the best oud perfumes, please click here.
- For an interview with Dominique Ropion in which he discusses The Night, please click here.

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