Cellophane was invented in 1908 by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger. The new term was coined as a contraction of "cellulose" and "diaphanous", transparency being one of its chief characteristics. If transparency is not a new effect in perfumery, the reference to the material cellophane is. Cellophane is used to keep food, but also fresh flowers, and sometimes, women (certain rituals of beauty include the use of cellophane and olive oil, for example). It is both a functional and a beautifying material when wrapped around a bouquet of flowers, or candies, making them seem more fragile and precious, as if kept under crystal panes or ultra-shiny brittle silk. Its plasticky quality gives it a hard edge and a modernist sense of romanticism once you associate it with flower gifts. Even eroticism, if you go farther into the night...
There is also a sexual connotation attached to cellophane as it is an erotic inspiration for some to wrap a naked body in this thin, see-through film (the clingging kind often, but not only), which can nevertheless become more opaque as layers are added onto layers. Bondage fetishists make it one of their choice toys, together with latex or leather.
But cellophane is special. Perhaps it is the most transgressive of those materials, associating in one stroke memories of cellophaned bread on the kitchen table, decent, flirtatious bouquets of flowers, and a metaphor on nudity.
Precisely. Smelling the new Nuit de Cellophane by Serge Lutens one reaches a first conclusion that this work seems to be in its most characteristic aspect a work on the sensuality of floral notes, mostly jasmine, osmanthus, with a certain undercurrent of vanilla-and-magnolia softness, and narcisuss drenched in honey (as in Ozbek by Rifat Ozbek). Followers of Serge Lutens will recognize his palette of colors, his strokes, his self-referential quotes as he opens the boundaries existing between his different perfumes. But to what effect this time?...
Cellophane Show Girls, Rara Avis
Gerbera in cellophane by Rinthine
We were told that Nuit de Cellophane is an osmanthus perfume, but it is not an obvious osmanthus perfume at all at first. What is most striking at first therefore is a feeling of sensual mingling, in the end, of all those familiar Lutensian notes. What is new is more attention paid to the simple joy of feeling one's skin turn into a velvety, sticky trail of floral notes and the apparent desire to create an olfactory synthesis that is the sillage, which smells different from any preconceived notion you might have had of it. Like for Vanille Galante, I am struck by how the sillage or wake here becomes a sign of freedom, living its very own life, boomeranging back to you, telling a different story than the conscious one. It is a part of the perfume whose identity escapes you a bit, even quite a bit. And it smells good, interesting and intense. You are glad you were caught unaware.
But let me go back to my initial impression of a tension between hard floral notes and soft floral notes in Nuit de Cellophane. This tension can be said to exist throughout the Lutens and Sheldrake corpus of works : Tubéreuse Criminelle, Sarrasins vs. Fleurs d'Oranger, Un Lys. Nuit de Cellophane makes me think of a synthesis of Tubéreuse Criminelle and Fleurs d'Oranger with aspects of Mandarine Mandarin, plus unusual bready, cereal-y and oily facets and a certain pellucid quality in the midst of darkness.
This review could have started (and in fact did start at first that way) with a practical recommendation: Nuit de Cellophane is much more subtle and smooth when dabbed on rather than sprayed on. As the so-called export line offers both options (the package contains a screw-on cap and a spray nozzle. You can thusly modulate your preferred method of application). Dabbing on offers a more classic sense of harmonious balance, spraying on is more about the crinkly sound of cellophane.
How did I find out? I was intrigued by the feeling that Nuit de Cellophane seemed to hesitate between two states, that of a "hard floral perfume" contrasted to that of a "soft floral perfume." Notwithstanding the fact that the title of the perfume contains a reference to a synthetic material, cellophane, that has a "hard" side to it and which could be rendered with a slightly synthetic edge in the composition, I decided to verify my impressions with the dab-on method, which can make a significant difference in some cases.
The sprayed-on Nuit de Cellophane is hard, a bit synthetic indeed, reminiscent of hairspray (I have a theory about haispray-faceted vs. nailpolish-faceted perfumes which I started writing about) the dabbed-on Nuit de Cellophane is kittenish, immediately ambery, honeyed and soft. You will have to choose the mood you want to be in. Sprayed on it is indolic, a bit raw, a bit hard (aldehydes?), soapy, with a green floral accord that is often smelt in other perfumes but is wrapped up in softer, smoother notes here. It creates a light honeyed texture through which pierce rubbery and camphoraceous floral accents. The sprayed-on perfume is a bit weirder and interesting too as it unleashes better the jasmine indoles that smell like the real thing with their curious gustatory facets of fried dough - the smell of Chinese breakfast fritters at the market in Hong-Kong or Urumqi in the cool morning to be precise - and sesame oil. I can confirme this as I went to sniff my Jasminum Polyanthum comparing it with a bottle of sesame oil from Chinatown in my cupboard for confirmation, or infirmation. Jasmine indoles do have something in common with the base notes of a thick and dark sesame oil.
Nuit de Cellophane is presented as a fragrance composition resting on osmanthus from China. The interesting part of this program is that Nuit de Cellophane turns out to be a non-too-obvious osmanthus perfume and after giving it some thought, I would call it a "difficult osmanthus perfume" resolutely setting itself against any mainstream expectation of how prettily and diaphanously osmanthus might be treated. The petals and delicate nuances of osmanthus do not appear exactly like on a silken Chinese screen. You will not find here many of the echoes of the ravishingly delicate osmanthus rendition of Osmanthus by The Different Company, for example. Nuit de Cellophane is about an oily, intense osmanthus, a heavy one, weighed down by honey and depth, part of a dark atmosphere, and sticky rather than calling to mind the scent of osmanthus as carried by a breeze. The osmanthus being an osmanthus nevertheless brings a sense of crystalline, shiny fruitiness to the composition making the atmosphere less dark and more pellucid, but as if from within. The osmanthus appears rather late into the development of the fragrance and emerges more in the drydown together with white musks.
Suddenly the name of the perfume all makes sense. It is the contrast of a night lit by cellophane, its capacity to refract light, appearing bright and shiny. If you look at the picture of the chorus girls using cellophane costumes, you can see that it is a great light-catcher, making those girls sparkle on the stage like fireflies.
The composition seems to be very linear. After a while, one realizes that the flowers never really suggest luminosity and the familiar movement of blooming in the day. It is a slow-progressing scent, as if it crawled on the ground and the night kept a tight lid on its usually spontaneous exhuberance. The Lutensian spices have retreated, are more in filigree, although one feels like a dusty rosy veil of Ras el Hanout was left behind to linger on.
The impression I retain from Nuit de Cellophane is that of a meditation on osmanthus leading us down unsuspecting paths. I derive from it the same kind of feeling you experience when you watch some movies by Godard or read a philosophical text that questions your preconceived notions: a stereotype, a mental habit has not only been shot in the wing but was killed right in front of your eyes.
Nuit de Cellophane is a very intellectual osmanthus fragrance, quite brainy in its approach while finding a simple resolve, to the point where I fear it might meet with incomprehension.
The perfume officially launches in March of 2009.
For more information about Nuit de Cellophane, you can read our previous announcement