Sunday, December 25, 2005

Nuit de Noel

It is Christmas night and raining outside, but it is, like a night in Paris, rather warmish for winter. I am admiring the beautiful sparkly Eiffel Tower which I can now call my own, a gift from my baby brother and his family, and it transports me back to the City of Lights, where it is probably raining, too. Woody Allen, in Wild Man Blues, said he loved Paris because it was always grey there. I know exactly what he means.

This is also the only night of the year when I can wear one of my favorite fragrances, Caron's Nuit de Noel, with no reservation. I was surprised to find a reference to it recently while reading Evelyn Waugh's satirical novel from 1930, Vile Bodies, recently adapted for the screen as Bright young Things by Stephen Fry Hilariously, it was worn, not by any of the "bright young things" of Waugh's book, but, instead, by a young gay Italian waiter in the employ of Lottie Crump, an eccentric cateress/hotelier modelled on Rosa Lewis of the Cavendish Hotel.
Before the war Anthony Powell appears to have found the more relaxed atmosphere of The Cavendish Hotel in Jermyn Street (where Evelyn Waugh had been barred for portraying its proprietrix, Rosa Lewis, as "Lottie Crump" in Vile Bodies) more sympathetic. The redoubtable Rosa, once cook (possibly mistress) to Edward VII, was already becoming rather confused and mistook Anthony Powell for an Edwardian dandy called "Bimbash" Stewart. Rosa herself was eventually barred from The Ritz on account of her distressing habit of accosting elderly peers in the Palm Court with fortissimo remarks like, "Hullo, mutton chops, still fancy a nice clean whore?"; or, "How's the old waterworks? Still as unreliable as ever?"; or, "Hullo, droopy drawers, when're you coming round the Cavendish to bounce a cheque?"

At any rate, Nuit de Noel first captured my imagination as a teenager many years ago while strolling through the cosmetics department at Pogue's in downtown Cincinnati. I loved to linger at the fragrance counters, sniffing out new finds, and this day I happened upon Nuit de Noel. I spritzed my wrist with it and waved it airily around to dry. What was that unusual scent, I wondered, so familiar and yet so strange. To me, what it came to reveal was a certain essence of...could it be...butterscotch??? And yet, according to my research it is more like this:
Nuit de Noël was created in 1922 by Ernest Daltroff for his lover, Félicie Vanpouille, who loved Christmas Eve and the scents associated with it. Indeed, it is a quiet, whispering fragrance, conjuring perfectly the silence and the serenity of the night before Christmas. "Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house/Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…" (by Clement Clarke Moore). Nuit de Noël is one of my favourite Caron scents because of its interesting composition and exquisite dry down. Overall, Nuit de Noël is a soft wood-based scent with a floral heart. The top notes are very classical rose, jasmine and ylang ylang--dry floral notes rather than the creamy modern composition. The most interesting changes take place after the fragrance dries down slightly. Suddenly the floral blend is dissipated by the wetness of oakmoss. Then the spicy notes become apparent, albeit remaining very soft and intertwining with sandalwood and vetiver. The fragrance does not lose its dry quality which is wonderful and comforting. I imagine walking around in the city as the snow is falling softly.

Just the same, it is a lovely intoxicating fragrance from another age, and one which brings to mind sensual pleasures which cannot be denied!

From the creators of Masterpiece Theater, purchase the DVD set of Season One of "The Duchess of Duke Street".

Or buy Stephen Fry's recent film adaptation of Vile Bodies, Bright Young Things on DVD.