How should a perfumer make a masculine rose?
There are a few different answers to this question, but perhaps the most novel one was offered by Le Labo. In his (in?)famous guide to perfume, Luca Turin lovingly describes the classic masculine rose, Le Labo’s Rose 31, as “carrot juice”. Whether or not Turin spilled a few drops of carrot juice into his sample is unknowable, but in any case, what is certainly obvious about Rose 31 (possible vegetal contamination notwithstanding) is its polarizing nature.
Rose 31 is polarizing because Le Labo decided that rose can and ought to be made masculine with the smell of sweat. With this
sexist brilliant realization in mind, they slipped into their concoction an unseemly dose of animalic cumin. Apparently some consider it “feminine” for a man to smell like clean roses, and to prevent such a catastrophe, Le Labo ensured that the wearer will smell like he ran a cross-country marathon after forgetting to shower for a week he has been perspiring for hours.
Now before the reader gets the wrong idea, this isn’t to say that Rose 31 smells bad. On the contrary – the smell of sweat can be downright pheromonal. But in an age wherein one can (hopefully) find running water in most upright buildings, how often should a man smell like sweat? Not often, I would hope. Nevertheless, for the modern gentleman who finds himself at a more conservative workplace, it may not make the best impression to smell like he just had an extended and passionate tryst in the rooftop rose garden.
Alas, Rose 31 was not for me, but it should be noted that Le Labo stumbled upon the perfect ingredient that can balance against rose to make it more masculine. That ingredient is spice.
Of course there are many spices available in perfumery, and it should be perfectly obvious at this point that a fragrance with tons of sweaty cumin might not appeal to everyone. After a few strange wearings of Rose 31, I began to search for other rose fragrances that contained spice as a masculine counterbalance to the rose. After spending weeks shuffling through dozens of rose fragrance samples, one stood out as an unmistakable masterpiece. And unlike Rose 31, it did not smell of
carrot juice sweaty cumin, or, incidentally, of what one Fragrantica reviewer has eloquently described as “b.o. buttfunk”.
This fragrance, this beautiful masterpiece, is Lumiere Noire Pour Homme. What does this masculine rose smell like?
It smells of love.
First, a disclaimer: If you are male and find the idea of a romantic man to be disturbingly and unbearably effeminate, please stop reading now. You will hate this fragrance and for you it would serve no purpose. As for the rest of us, we shall begin by contemplating the smell of love. To me, love is a story, and in Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, this story is matched with a fitting scent.
Every story must have an introduction. Lumiere Noire Pour Homme opens with an invitation, aromatic, fresh, and clean – rose underpinned by the green herbaceous quality of artemisia and light patchouli. At this stage the fragrance is bright, bashful, and proper, with the very same airy element that Kafkaesque finds in the Pour Femme version. On the skin, the aromatic elements are most noticeable for the first hour, during which I get good projection. During this stage, the rose element is subdued, almost abstract. After the first hour, the aromatic elements (namely the artemisia and patchouli) begin to mellow, tapering the projection a bit, and the rose becomes most prominent for a very brief period of time. Here the fragrance does a disappearing act on my skin, blooming into a slightly soapy rose from being almost totally undetectable approximately 2.5 hours after it was first applied.
Then, almost magically, it returns as a different fragrance entirely. Much to my surprise around 3 hours into the life of this fragrance, one is ambushed by a very masculine mix of spice, including, unmistakably, our
nemesis dear friend cumin. Surprise! Before the reader stops to accuse me of aesthetic inconsistency, the cumin note in Lumiere Noire Pour Homme is much different than the cumin lurking in Rose 31. Instead of highlighting its sweaty and animalic elements, the cumin in Lumiere Noire Pour Homme is seed-like, contributing more texture than smell to the overall composition. Fortunately for the overall balance, the cumin is accompanied by the scent of cardamom and cinnamon, providing a nuanced touch of sweetness that smells marvelous on the skin.
The rose is still present behind the spices, but far from being the bright and blooming rose encountered in the opening, the rose encountered here is beginning to show another side, shrouded in mystery, darkened by a creeping shadow. This dark rose is not ominous, as in a few other rose compositions. Rather it is less fresh than it was at the opening, more elegant and suitable for the typical adventures of the night. Rose and spice are present on the skin until around 4.5 hours in, at which point the attractive medley of spice dominates the composition. Here is the stage of acceptance – the token of love (the rose) being offered and accepted, we are left with the smell and texture of warm spice on the skin. The many times I have worn this fragrance, it has lasted for an average of 6-8 hours.
I do not know why this fragrance is called “Dark Light”, but conceivably it is named for its two stages – one of light and one of darkness. Two acts in a captivating play, this fragrance tells a story of romance offered and romance accepted. In practical terms, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme is a romantic scent, but it never quite descends into the obscene or the erotic. It is not a powerful scent, nor is it a scent intended for the banalities of seduction. Instead, it captures the smell of a sensitive man, gentlemanly, but conscious of and mature enough for true love.
Fascinatingly, Lumiere Noire Pour Homme was created by the genius perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, who famously admitted in an interview that he does not wear perfume. Perhaps this is because he does not wish to develop a special attachment to any particular fragrance or ingredient, but I like to think that someday, inspired by the eternal story of love, he will find a special perfume that calls to him, only to him, and he will not be able to resist spritzing on the glorious creation.
For everyone else, we have Lumiere Noire Pour Homme, which has become, at least for me, both the best masculine rose and an olfactory symbol of romance. As the great poet Virgil once put it, omnia vincit amor – love conquers all. But while this naive sentiment undeniably makes for interesting poetry, the true beauty of love is found in the following realization: With any great love, one will experience times of light and times of darkness, and one must often brave the thorns in order to reach the roses.