EdT: A sharp, mossy blast upfront with a slight ammonia-urine tinge—a byproduct of materials such as silver fir and black spruce. It’s a dramatic, melancholic way to start a scent, but the darkness breaks a little as spiced citrus notes begin to assert themselves. A uncomplicated sandalwood undergirds this one, and it’s all seamlessly integrated to a point where I want something about it to snap. Although I’m turned off by it’s perfection (nature—which the scent is clearly attempting to reflect—simply isn't this polished or polite), Vol de Nuit is one of the handful of Guerlain scents that I look at as something I might wear myself rather than simply admire as an artifact or a stepping stone for modern perfumery. I think there are far more evocative foresty scents available than this, but it’s still a solid candidate when exploring the genre.
Parfum: A greater emphasis on the bitter galbanum at first that’s then tempered by a noticeably sweet fir balsam. The pissy facets of the EdT have been replaced with something that, while deep and intriguing, feels overly saccharine and out of sync with the scent’s maudlin nature. The citrus and the spices are still there though, and I’d say that the overall experience of the Parfum in relation to the EdT is that the Parfum feels pressurized whereas the EdT allows for subtle dynamics. Furthermore, there’s a rooty and slightly metallic orris peeking through, yet it’s kept subtle so as not to destabilize the sharp galbanum opening. As it dries, the Parfum leans more soapy than the EdT and the array of floral notes (violet, lavender?) surface as more substantial players than in the EdT. The main issue that I have with this version is that it’s loud and therefore lacks any of the subtlety and space that existed in the EdT. While there’s perhaps more to look at here, and it’s rendered more people-pleasing through the use of a sweet fir balsam, it’s all a bit full-on whereas the EdT unfolds in a graceful way.
(Review of vintage cologne)
I've always loved the imagery around this perfume - the adventure of air travel, with a hint of the aviatrices of the 20s and 30s - as well as the notes that seemed to compliment it: the intellectual dryness of oakmoss and iris, underpinned by an animalic base, suggesting a woman hiding a passionate nature under a cool exterior.
Alas, after repeated tries, I have to say, the longevity on this is pretty weak, meaning I only catch the top and heart notes, with very little of the warm base notes coming through. I get a clear citrusy note to begin with, a bit of powdery iris, and a teensy bit of oakmoss, but that's it. It's elegantly pretty, but because I miss the growl of base notes, I can't say it's much else.
The version of Vol de Nuit I originally came to love was the parfum available the 90s. My reference now is the modern EDT. I haven't smelled the reformulated extrait as it's kind of a lose/lose proposition for me - if it's drastically different and diminished, that will make me sad; if it's not drastically different and diminished, I'll want to buy it!
Others have captured this one-of-a-kind scent beautifully in their reviews, and I'd only add that even the modern EDT manages to be interestingly "fat" while objectively light. Like long-simmered stocks, duck confit, heavily reduced sauces, truffle oil, Vol de Nuit is a perfume equivalent of French cuisine in its depth of "flavors", contrasts, and earthy funk.
Genre: Woody Oriental
Vol de Nuit is an odd experience for me, especially in light of other Guerlain classics like Mitsouko, Shalimar, and Apres l’Ondee. I love the sharp galbanum laden opening, and the transition to plush, semi-sweet iris and vanilla is a delightful surprise. The drydown of lingering vanilla with dark spices is a treat as well. What’s so funny, you ask? The whole thing zips by in less than half an hour on my skin. And that’s in pure parfum concentration! Am I anosmic to most of Vol de Nuit’s development, or is this time lapse perfumery? I don’t suppose I’ll ever know.
Ephemeral as it is, I give Vol de Nuit a thumbs up because, like a rainbow or a butterfly, it’s beautiful while it lasts.
This is the ultimate balsamic green oriental chypre. It opens up with a fleeting note of bergamot, the same stinky grade of bergamot used in Jicky and Shalimar, but it is gone before your brain even registers it properly. Then, the greenness comes. Let me be clear about this type of greenness. It is not green as in the sappy, spring green of scents such as Le Temps d'Une Fete, or sharp and citric as in Cristalle. It will not put a spring in your step or keep you awake. It is not a shot of vitamins to your arm. The galbanum here is not used to create that ice-picky sharpness and unfriendliness you get in the opening of Chanel No. 19. Rather, it is the homely smell of winter greens simmered long and slow on the stove. It is the gray-blue green of the shadow cast by an oak tree in the middle of a forest. It is all softness and collapsing warmth. Oakmoss adds character, but it is not the inky, bitter blackness that provides other chypres with their backbone - here it is a sprinkling of woodiness and salt in the gentle green.
The heart is a shimmering accord built mainly out of narcissus absolute, specifically the jonquil type, or common daffodil. The smell is earthy, green-gold, and slightly animalic. The jonquil is supported by a smattering of aldehydes, just enough to provide a subtle lift to the general earthiness, and a sprinkle of spices (I would guess a gentle warming spice such as nutmeg or clove). Interestingly, the narcissus absolute itself can throw out little shoots of what feels like jasmine and hyacinth. It is not an overwhelmingly floral smell, to be honest. Vol de Nuit is always quite earthy, mulchy, brown leaf green and gently spicy/woody.
What's more, despite the small shifts in tone owing to the jonquil absolute, Vol de Nuit remains essentially the same from top to bottom - a gentle, earthy green balsamic fragrance. It doesn't evolve much. I see what Luca Turin means when he says that Vol de Nuit is a somewhat boneless fragrance, because it seems to be entirely composed of heart and base notes, all of which rise to your nose pretty much at the same time. The chypre dressings here are either too brief (the fleeting bergamot) or too soft (the gentle use of galbanum and oakmoss) to provide much of the traditional iron rod backing to the fragrance. This is a positive, to my nose - the inky bitterness of traditional chypres is not missed here. But is it an oriental? I am not entirely sure of its oriental credentials either, to be honest - the supposed vanilic amber and sandalwood in the base is not at evident to my nose at all.
Anyway, enough about the notes. I don't want to miss the woods for the trees. The moving parts of Vol de Nuit don't matter, it's the total effect and feel that's important. This fragrance, out of all the great Guerlains, is the most "me". It is not as challenging or as shape-shifting as Mitsouko, but it is nonetheless complex. It is not as sweet or as smoky as Shalimar, but it is still sexy in its own earthy way. It is outdoorsy and natural, but at the same time, impossibly grand. It is gently green-grey, calming, grounding - almost motherly in its embrace - and therefore acts an a magic elixir on frazzled nerves. It feels ancient and modern at the same time, both co-existing with everyday activities and zoning out the white noise of life. I love it and don't ever want to be without it. I have small samples of the EDT and the parfum, which is use layered with each other for body and longevity, and I plan to get larger decants when I run out.