Wednesday, November 12, 2014
Perfume of Contempt: Lancome Magie Noire
Magie Noire is difficult to talk about for several reasons:
1) It's so weird that you're unsure if it's actually supposed to smell like that or if your sample has gone off.
2) There's a good chance that it has gone off, because it's not a fragrance that seems to preserve well.
3) It was reformulated so many times even before the real heavy-hitting IFRA restrictions of the 00s that each iteration of it smells wildly different.
That said, I've owned roughly seven different bottles of Magie Noire over the years from many different eras, so I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. The really good stuff, that preserves the best and smells the most expensive, comes in the original orange and black bottle. It is a mind-blowing trip and should be smelled in 3-D under the influence of marijuana for maximum effect. It smells evil, and it's not just the marketing. It is disturbingly vegetal in the way that Yatagan is, but draped in feminine opulence-- stewing vegetables in an evening gown. Every real animalic in the book is present in large quantities, creating a rude honeyed dog foot effect. There is an addictive industrial gasoline cast to it all, like something it's unhealthy for you to be smelling.
Magie Noire wasn't considered that glamorous or highbrow a fragrance in its day, which seems unbelievable to us now. It was common for suburban mothers to smell like this (what I'd give to go back and inhale that air...). It was sort of a knock-off less expensive Opium that places the resins and spices and musty mystery of that fragrance on the framework of the more prevalent sour green chypres of the 70s. It borrowed Opium's image of oriental languor and added to it a satanic angle, with dark, ghoulish, wonderful advertisements and a package design that incorporated foreboding hieroglyphs. Considering the recent ubiquitous popularity of putting satanic imagery and goats and pentagrams on everything, even clothing for unremarkable hipster good girls, Lancome was ahead.
The subsequent formulation with the black plastic mushroom cap is still excellent but seems slimmed down and cheapened. It is more peppery and conventionally woody, but still disturbing in its vegetable sourness. There is also a weird formulation packaged in a black plastic flask; do not buy this. Because of the cheap packaging, none of them have kept and they have all gone completely off. You will see reports of this anywhere there is talk of vintage Magie Noire.
After this it was briefly discontinued and brought back in a still-interesting version in a clear bottle that smells not unpleasantly like a drugstore knock-off. It's all sneezy black pepper and sour rose and, like everything else from the 80s that's still in production, doesn't have base notes to speak of. This version is still easy to come by and gives you a hint of what the real stuff was like, and it can be appreciated as a sort of "If you like Magie Noire, you'll love Sexy Magic" body spray.
As with Aromatics, I once thought Magie Noire was my signature scent. I spent untold dollars amassing vintage bottles of it on eBay to wear for the rest of my life. I quit wearing it cause I smelled like a lunatic. It makes an exciting appearance in Working Girl, the perfume-lover's dream movie. Melanie Griffith is sitting at Sigourney Weaver's vanity and applies extrait from the black and orange bottle.