Une Voix Noire is a dark and spicy gardenia, which could have been called « Black Gardenia », if deemed appropriate. But that would have been possibly un-PC. This is a composition signed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and artistic director Serge Lutens. The scent is almost too complex for words, not so much, it seems, because its structure is unduly complicated, as because of the impression it leaves on you : the perfume is elusive, hard-to-nail down, yet present...
This is a perfume which moves you to give up a bit on the unrelenting urge to analyse pushing you instead to listen to the voice which inspired it hoping to find some affinities.
My choice settles on Lady Sings the Blues because it is one of her least smooth and pretty songs plowing as she seems to be through the mud of life, raking it with her voice, singing through trials and tribulations giving renewed life to a jerky style reflecting the many stop-and-goes of a difficult existence. It is also one of the few songs she co-wrote - here with Herbie Nichols. She seems to express more of her personality in it, is less tempted to feel responsible for someone else's material attempting to sell it by beautifying it. In that song, she is at one of her rawest.
Put on some Billie Holiday and listen and inhale at the same time.This is where singing and perfume can and do mesh: they are both too thickly made of life experiences, sorrows, memories, longing and hope to be easily taken apart. But they can both be memorable and help you live your life better.
Perfumistas who follow the development over time of the work of Lutens have now probably understood that rather than to expect sheer originality and renewed creative clout, or edge, each time a Lutens fragrance is released, we are offered fresh expressions of oniric escapes, including into the lives of characters as varied as a Chinese mandarin, a Mongolian Khan (Muscs Koublaï Khan) - somewhat related in this case - a 19th century dandy (Vitriol d'Oeillet). The rose is called Majesty (Sa Majesté la Rose) and the amber is a sultan (Ambre Sultan). Serge Lutens likes potentates, divas - historical manly divas, as well as feminine singing divas; Rousse was partly inspired by French songstress Mylène Farmer's red dress. And now Billie Holiday gets top billing in this perfume attempting to recapture her teetering, broken accents rising in the night, in a smoke-filled, muggy cabaret standing as an acceptable, liminal doorway to the underworld.
The common threads that run through these magnetic figures are, it seems : beauty, awe, and Serge Lutens himself. His biography is ever present in his perfumes expressed in his own perfumistic palette of fruits, woods, spices, and smoke. For Une Voix Noire, he expressly confessed to the same kind of fusing of personalities as when Gustave Flaubert said « Madame Bovary, c'est moi » (Madame Bovary is me). Billie Holiday is also Serge Lutens, according to Serge Lutens himself.
Going back to the song, one can feel how Une Voix Noire is actually illuminated by Lady Sings the Blues. It helps you put words on morphing sensations, isolating them. The perfume has this acidic side, like the shrill top accents of Lady Day's voice ; it is bitter like her sorrow; it is slightly singed like the anecdote about her hair getting burnt and repaired with a patch of fresh gardenia.The fragrance is maybe trying to express that moment with its note of beeswax which smells like heated wax on the verge of burning. The sweetness is minimal in spite of the fruity-floral aspect of the perfume. The tobacco and rum notes have melted into a new texture, that of the perfume and of Billie Holiday's voice bruised by cigarette smoke and booze, rather than stand apart. A slight nuance of aldehydes might be there to convey the sensation of « champagne foam ». If the story behind the perfume is hard-living, the scent itself is comforting - an effect Lady Day has on many people who are able to experience catharsis thanks to her unique, existential voice.
The fragrance is a gardenia all right, but it is not realistic or natureprint. It is stylized. It smells of gardenia in the midst of a sombre composition, even at the outer edges of it. There are licoricey, grapey, beeswaxy and cassisy nuances which contribute to the dark mood.
If you listen to another one of her great interpretations like As Time Goes By, you can feel how the darkness contained in Une Voix Noire seems to stay as in a retreating stance behind a smooth, polished surface. The turmoil of her inner demons, all of that remains unsaid is less glamorous than the song itself. If you care to listen to Tenderly, the smoke in the perfume seems to soften to become ombré and seductive like an eye-shadow.
Through a play of music-listening as external addition to the bottled composition itself, the notes of music become mood ingredients that lend meaning and nuances to the perfume, now a porous, sensitive material with chambers of communication opening onto an outer atmosphere - outside the bottle. As I often like to point out, there is more to perfume than the sum of its notes. There is a life out there, which is waiting to shed new light on the soul of your perfume.