Last year, Parfums de Nicolaï released a new perfume dedicated to the heliotrope flower baptized Kiss Me Tender. While not totally absent from perfumery, it is not one of the most popular floral notes to be experienced today. Treated in a certain manner, it can come across as a revivalist note hailing from the 19th century and Belle Epoque era. Perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï decided to take a floral scent often perceived as child-like thanks to its fluffly, sweet and regressive gourmand nuances and turned it into a more challenging and difficult scent, making it come of age and enter the realm of the complex soliflore...
Notes: Orange flower, bitter almond, star anise/ Spices, cinnamon and cloves bud, ylang-ylang and Heliotrope flower/ Vanilla, musk and opoponax.
Kiss Me Tender opens on a plush and sweet almondy note traversed by a nuance of green, further clawed by a clove-y streak. The spices, opoponax and amber mingle to recreate a touch of a Coca-Cola accord. Medicinal hints are present. The perfume recreates some of the dreamy pillowy marzipan richness of Sacrebleu - an heir to L'Heure Bleue - as well as the medicinal aniseed kick of Après L'Ondée. Both classics are by Guerlain, making us remember that perfumer Patricia de Nicolaï is a scion of that family as a descendant of Pierre Guerlain and a niece of perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain.
The composition then unleashes the gentle and rich effect of a generous, full white vanilla body only lightened by specks of citrus and aromatic herbs. The anticipated sweetness of this pastry of a floral perfume is cut through in fact by a dry counterpoint.
I initially thought that the opening felt quite demure and didn't reveal much about the fragrance's intentions. But on this reading, and in the lighter air of spring (this review was started much earlier this year), I can see the clubbing effect the vanilla has. After the overture which felt a bit flat for all of its sweet character, the perfume takes on some lift and conveys a stronger sense of personality, thanks to the interplay with dark anchoring resins (opoponax) mingling with strong yet folded-in citrusy notes.
The composition at this stage falls short of feeling heavily heliotrope-centric, or if it is, it is never so in any obvious way. When one reads the word "heliotrope" in perfumery, there is a tendency to think of a soliflore due to the popularity of the genre in the past. The vestigial L.T. Piver Héliotrope Blanc is a testament to that vogue. More than the cherry pie scent I expected - a nickname for heliotrope - it reminds me a bit more of a lemon meringue, as far as the gourmand nature of the flower was captured, and of Shalimar Light, but with a sharper lemon note and more marked oakmoss underpinnings. Thinking of a lemon and oakmoss meringue resting on a piece of leather would be it. The natural genius of the scent of heliotrope flowers appears better after a while when the marzipan effect becomes more dewy, more flour-y and cherry-fruity like.
Despite the Guerlain quotes, rather than evoking for me the aura of the Belle Epoque and its predilection for the sweet cherry-pie note of heliotrope, Kiss Me Tender makes me think more of the oakmoss-laden compositions of the house of Caron, which evoke to my mind more readily the 1920s and 1930s or 1940s. At the same time, the perfume is a reaffirmation and a reinforcing of the signature sensitivity of the De Nicolaï house for deep, plush and layered accords; one likes to think of Scarlett O'Hara's nanny revealing her many layered petticoats frou-frouing coquettishly before Rhett Buttler to offer a visual of this kind of careful and artful layering.
The blooming accord of the perfume becomes more arresting with its slightly clove-y medicinal nuances (cinnamon, clove, star anise), its herbal, aromatic hints, the gasoline and camphoraceous touch of ylang-ylang. The perfume is complex, a bit austere, reminiscent now more characteristically of L'Heure Bleue. There are delicate touches of green anise and fresh, grassy nuances.
Kiss Me Tender is anything but a maudlin, gentle scent despite its affectionate name, which might have made you think otherwise. It is a grown-up, vintage-y dame's perfume with a certain dose of grit. She wears couture silk stockings (or paints them on if need be), a belted jacket, an A-line woolen skirt, a cross-body leather bag and a 40s funnel hat. If it were more brutal and leathery, I could see Germaine Cellier herself wearing this.
While I usually enjoy the Victoriana impression of a sweet heliotrope soliflore like that of Bourbon French Parfums Heliotrope in their Southern Favorites, Vintage & Exotic Scents collection, Kiss Me Tender is a much more bitter, absinth-y rendition of the flower, thanks to a good dose of bitter almond. If I envisioned a milk chocolate tablet, it turns out to be a dark, bitter one. The natural gourmand nuances of the flower are minimal here. Instead, one feels the presence of a woman with an overdose of character. This is a Parisian, tailored interpretation of heliotrope betraying much seductiveness thanks to its angular, uncompromising nuances and leaning towards woods. There is an absence of easy smiling, the presence of a very French brand of femininity where much is communicated preferrably through silent body language and smoldering, dreamy, deep gazing, behind the cloud of a pensive, intellectually reclining cigarette.
Parfums de Nicolaï Kiss Me Tender confirms to me that the house remains a stronghold of the parfums à la française done in the old manner when the more boisterous broadshow circus prefers to play pink and sweet notes to the public. The perfumer could have taken the path of least resistance and offered a cherry-pie treat, and who knows, maybe even a heliotrope version of Angel, but instead, she went for a moody, almost sullen interpretation of heliotrope. When the floral note blooms in all of its traditional characteristics, cherry nuance included, we know now that the meandering of the perfume is pointing to a very complex personality.
If you want to experience a slow-moving, slow-evolving composition in all of its authenticity, you should try Kiss Me Tender. It feels to me like a veritable time capsule from this perspective.This is an authentic fragrance. It does not aim to please. It might even rub you the wrong way, but it is what it is.
As Barbara used to sing, "Je suis comme je suis et chante ce qui me plaît." (I am the way I am and I sing whatever pleases me.)