House & Fragrance: Guerlain, Vol de Nuit
Formulation & Concentration: Vintage, EdT
Type, Source, & Method: 1 ML glass vial, The Perfumed Court, Skin (Inner Wrist)
I've got to give you a brief & concise bit of background so I can effectively explain my point. Please bear with me.
I had the fortune/misfortune to be raised as a Hare Krishna. We would get up early in the morning, go to the temple and chant and dance in front of an altar. Every day, someone would come around with a Q-Tip dipped in Indian oils and wipe them on everyone's inner wrist. There were only a variety of maybe 5-10 different vials in constant rotation. They were these little glass bottles, about 2 inches tall with a plastic cap coated in gold metallic paint. When you opened the bottle, there was a white, semi-transparent plastic rod that was attached to the inside of the cap that reached to the bottom of the bottle and was, of course, used for application (sort of like the tube in an atomizer, but not hollow). All of them contained one or more of the following ingredients in varying concentrations: Jasmine, Vrindabana Flower, Amber, Patchouli, Gardenia, Champa/Nagchampa, Sandalwood, Saffron, Musk, Rose, Lotus, Magnolia, Radhey Shyam, Myrrh, Sage, Bergamot, Lavender, and other (hard to pronounce) essential oils.
I am extremely accustomed to these smells. Each one was either a single oil, or a combination of some of the above ingredients. Each one had a distinct character.
Are they all natural? Yes, the Indian manufacturers generally won't use alcohol for several reasons. Are they imported from India? Yes. Are they common in the USA? No, not really, but you can sometimes locate them at new age stores or head shops. Do they cost a lot of money? No, they are very cheap; you can buy them as singles for around $6 per 20ml glass vial or in lots. Does Guerlain's VdN smell EXACTLY like one of those vials? Yes---EXACTLY. Upon application, I do smell alcohol, but as soon as that evaporates, it's a dead-on replica of one of these cheap and, to me, common vials of imported oil. There is no distinction whatsoever. Once the alcohol is gone, I detect no change from the scent's top notes to the dry down to the base. One of the most linear perfumes I've ever smelled, but it actually does smell good---the problem being that it is entirely unoriginal, and lacks the character and depth that so many fragrances have (even the cheaper ones!).
My experience with Frederic Malle's Noir Epices was similar; the immediate and distinct recognition of a very familiar fragrance (those oils from childhood) with no trace of anything else! To my relief, though, NE eventually changed, shedding its top notes to reveal something much more elegant and mysterious---a shy, bashfully aroused girl in eastern garb.
VdN smells great to be sure, but I'd rather buy 15 little vials (approx. 280ml) of the Indian oil than spend the same amount of money for a 50ml bottle of this.
So many sparkling reviews, and not only here either. This fragrance was one of the few that got a 5-Star rating from Turin in "Perfumes: The A-Z Guide". To quote Turin, VdN "is by Guerlain's standards a somewhat shapeless perfume, lacking a legible structure". And it got 5 stars? Whatever. I think I know why, but this review is already long enough.
It makes me wonder what the rest of the Guerlains will smell like to me. Hopefully nothing like this one. The only Guerlain I own, L'Instant de Guerlain PH, blows VdN out of the water as far as an in-house comparison goes. It's like standing Leonardo DaVinci next to Bam Margerra. There's no comparison to make! I'll try this again sometime down the road just to get some closure in case there is some factor involved here that I have not taken into account.
It boils down to something quite simple: VdN smells great, but it's not a perfume. It belongs on cotton balls stuffed into the back of kitchen cabinets for a gentle, pleasing house scent.