Like each year, Paco Rabanne release an annual limited-edition duo of revisited Black XS perfumes for Valentine's Day. Last year, they were the Black XS L'Aphrodisiaque duo. In 2014, they are Black XS Potion for Her and Him.
Black XS Potion for Her opens on a thick and deeply dark sensation while betraying immediately what makes it so: oud. It has both the raspberry and bandaid tonalities you can associate it with. It is not listed as such the brand preferring to use the moniker "black sandalwood", a synesthetic twist where oud is there to provide black pigment. In the first fragrance, a note of "black hellebore" was listed which serves to show to you how metaphoric these ingredients are. The scent manages to give the impression that there is a malevolent flower lurking somewhere in the potion, no doubt the Hellebore or "rose of the witches". It is a slightly sepulchral imaginary floral note with a hint of dusty and humid crypt and even nuances of chrsysanthemum and dirt. As said before, Black XS is about Gothic aesthetics and codes. They get amped up in the limited-editions.
What is interesting about this new flanker composition is how natural and internalized the exotic note of oud or agarwood feels in this European mainstream perfume sold though big perfumery chains. In fact, it approaches in naturalness and casualness of attitude that other oud scent made by the house of Arabian Oud, Woody, an oud fragrance remarkable for its pleasant sense of balance and lack of self-consciousness, a scent you can experience not just in the Orient but at their flagship store on the Champs Elysées in Paris. The simply named Woody makes you feel like oud is as easy to wear as drinking a glass of, not tap water perhaps, but bottled mineral water.
Black XS Potion for Her borrows a leaf from that bottled book of good manners on moderately subtle and plain pleasant fragrance-wearing etiquette for oud.
Here the amber wraps itself around the oud and together with the sweetness of the vanilla and tonka feels almost honey-like. That gentle and sweet syrup, which is however not literally syrupy, envelops the rose while oud acts like a camphoraceous spice adding a wintergreen nuance as well as offering woody depth.
Another analogy would be to make a parallel with rahat lokoum which is supposed to offer the sensation of gliding down your throat, creating both tactile and gustatory pleasure at the same time. This Black XS Potion is rahat, easy-peasy, without being devoid of character. It has however a less forceful personality than Black XS L'Aphrodisiaque for her (2013), preferring to cruise as a soft floriental and convey the sense of being a centrist in its political affiliation, or maybe a bipartisan at heart, just like M & Ms chocolates, as an article on candies and politics in the Washington Post recently underlined it to be the chocolate of choice to be offered to all White House guests regardless of their political affiliations.
The fragrance composition seems to form like a circle in which all the ingredients were thrown in at once to become a potion, identifiable by a specific smell without pretending to offer a storied development. It turns out to be very much of a single-note oud perfume with "Baccara rose" underneath and that lurking Hellebore.
Mimicking real oud, the note after a while starts literally reverberating, gaining in intensity as if it fed upon your carnal energy and body heat creating the sensation of a symbiosis between woman and oud and recalling to my mind the famous line by Michel de Montaigne about his unique friendship with his friend Etienne de la Boëtie, "Parce que c'était lui, parce que c'était moi," "Because it was him, because it was me,"
A fuller quote from this passage from "De l'Amitié", Of Friendship, explains how seamlessly their two personalities seemed to be joined together in this experience of a higher-plane and rare friendship,
"Au demeurant, ce que nous appelons ordinairement amis et amitiés, ce ne sont qu'accointances et familiarités nouées par quelque occasion ou commodité, par le moyen de laquelle nos âmes s'entretiennent. En l'amitié de quoi je parle, elles se mêlent et confondent l'une en l'autre, d'un mélange si universel qu'elles effacent et ne retrouvent plus la couture qui les a jointes. Si on me presse de dire pourquoi je l'aimais, je sens que cela ne se peut exprimer, qu'en répondant : « Parce que c'était lui, parce que c'était moi. »
"Moreover what we ordinarily call friends and friendships, they are but mere acquaintances and familar relations struck up thanks to some opportunity or for a convenient reason through which our souls converse. In the kind of friendship I am talking about, souls mix and blend into each other, forming a mixture so universal that they erase and cannot find the stitches that joined them. If anyone urges me to explain why I loved him, I feel that there is but one way to express it by answering "Because it was him, because it was me. "
On Valentine's Day wearing and reviewing Black XS Potion for Her is to use the perfume as support for musings on exceptional feelings such as love or friendship. Paco Rabanne however are inspired more by love as in passionate love and in particular reactivate the foundational European myth of the love story between Tristan and Isolde. There is this simple catch phrase known to all virtually, "Neither with you, nor without you," an impossible conundrum to live which ends badly always as the modern film adaptation of the myth, La Femme d'à côté by François Truffaut demonstrated once more. However, because their target audience are adolescents and young adults (18-25 year-olds) the brand are responsible enough to insist on a positive outcome to today's rock 'n roll love stories which will be ignited by the perfume, hopefully, but will not be doomed in the end.
Notes: Grapefruit, Baccara rose, Hellebore, and black sandalwood
Next up a review of Black XS Potion for Him