Bulgari Black : Fragrance Review

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Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

To smell alluring one would never expect to don the scent of rubber and smoke. Yet, Bvlgari Black with its smoke and resin accords that oscillate between dark roasted lapsang souchong tea and rubber is one of the most sensual fragrances I have tried. Its sensuality is not the skintight silk dress seduction of Robert Piguet Fracas or the strawberries and champagne charm of Yves Saint Laurent Yvresse. Black is Marlene Dietrich in the 1930’s film “The Blue Angel.” It is thrilling, smoldering and daring. Nothing about it is conventionally beautiful. The best way to describe it is arresting. …

The genius of the perfumer Annick Ménardo is especially apparent in Black, a composition that is marked by beautiful harmony, incredible depth and complexity. She takes the familiar and industrial scents of smoke and rubber and presents the fragrance as anything but predictable. Black was one of the first fragrances that revealed to me the difference between pleasant and striking. While I have tried many avant-garde and often quite surprising scents since Black came out in 1998, I often keep returning to it, being fascinated by its unique and memorable composition. I credit Black for turning me from an almost exclusive white floral lover into an olfactory omnivore.

Black balances between tarry notes and resinous leather. The heart of rubber and woods is dark and smoky. From the first inhale, Black maintains a distinctive character, and even if one is wont to recoil from it, within seconds one wishes to smell it again. As it develops, Black gains a subtle oriental character. The vanilla and amber lend a gentle sweetness, which rounds out the composition. The assertive smoke and resin notes assume a smooth and warm quality in the drydown. If Black started out like a cloud of smoky vapors, it attains a dark vintage cashmere allure.

Although technically Black is based on the tarry lapsang souchong, given its strength and complexity, it is difficult to place it alongside the wispy and minimalist Bulgari tea lineup which is comprised of Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, Eau Parfumée au Thé Blanc, and Eau Parfumée au Thé Rouge. While it would be an edgy fragrance on a woman, Black would likewise be spectacular on a man. After all, there are no gender boundaries when beauty is concerned.

Bulgari Black features notes of bergamot, smoky tea, jasmine, cedarwood, sandalwood, leather, amber, musk, vanilla, resins. It is available from Saks5thAvenue, Neiman Marcus and various other retailers carrying Bvlgari. European shoppers can also find it at Escentual.

Photo of Marlene Dietrich from “The Blue Angel,” the-sisterhood.net.

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58 Comments

  • Jason: What a lovely review – I always enjoy reading them, even if I know I probably won’t like the fragrance!

    What I like the most about this scent is the way she has rendered notes that should smell harsh into a well-ordered composition – like some syncopated melody that creates a beautiful harmony. I think ‘arresting’ is the perfect way to describe it! It is a lovely scent for autumn. November 15, 2006 at 2:48am Reply

  • Håkan Nellmar: Beautiful review of a beautiful fragrance. Unfortunately Black deflates to a nondescript vanilla pudding on me after an hour. For those it works it is splendid, though. November 15, 2006 at 4:12am Reply

  • Elle: “After all, there are no gender boundaries when beauty is concerned.” What a wonderful thought to start my day out with. 🙂 I so agree. Bulgari Black really is just stunning and was wonderfully unique when it came out. November 15, 2006 at 7:47am Reply

  • Judith: Well, you know, this is just a wonderful fragrance. And I think Annick Menardo is one of my favorite perfumers. Thank you for the review! November 15, 2006 at 7:58am Reply

  • kuri: What a gripping review! I must try this fragrance soon. November 15, 2006 at 8:21am Reply

  • Flor: Amazing review! I love the movie reference as well. I’m quite intrigued now and will try it out as soon as I can get my hands on it. I don’t know why I’ve waited so long. November 15, 2006 at 8:30am Reply

  • Marina: Annick Menardo can do no wrong where I am concerned. For things like this and Bois d’Argent and Bois d’Armenie and Patchouli 24, I’ve even forgiven her my arch-enemy, Lolita Lempicka 😀
    Thank you for a wonderful review! November 15, 2006 at 8:31am Reply

  • Dusan: Ah, one of my all-time favourites! As soon as I saw the title of today’s review, I got all ecstatic and spritzed some Black on the wrist to enjoy it while reading. Yes, arresting was definitely my first impression, too. Mind you, it never made me recoil 🙂
    Thanks for the lovely review, Vika. I’m going to wear Black today, that is if I manage to work my way around that darn on/off mechanism which I’d broken – it now releases only bashful amounts, which is so frustrating! Arrgh!
    P.S. When can we expect a review of your new favourite from the Bois series – Bois Oriental? 🙂 November 15, 2006 at 10:05am Reply

  • carmencanada: Marlene, smoke… rubber? I’m not so sure about rubber, but after reading you, this Bandit-lover will give it a try. I know Luca Turin thinks very highly of it, not necessarily a recommendation (I bought Paco Rabanne La Nuit unsniffed and never got his “Tabu on a horse” thing) but certainly an indication of how interesting Bulgari Black is to very different scent aesthetes. November 15, 2006 at 10:05am Reply

  • March: Well…. I DID finally came to appreciate Bandit… I appreciate Black as a creation, but not so much in person 😉 November 15, 2006 at 10:39am Reply

  • Ina: Black is very much a European city smell to me – car tires and exhaust fumes, masterfully blended together into an uber-cutting edge scent. I just tried it again yesterday and might need a bottle soon. November 15, 2006 at 10:56am Reply

  • violetnoir: Marvelous review, V!

    I tested Black at the same time that I purchased a bottle of the green tea one from Bulgari.

    I need to re-test this one again. It is indeed striking and utterly original.

    Hugs! November 15, 2006 at 1:03pm Reply

  • Cait: Hello,
    I really think I’d like this since I love Dzing! But if I adore Dzing! and already have some of Le Labo Patchouli would Black be de rigueur? Hmm, I’m sure I’ll pop for Black rather than ponder that question too long. Thanks for the review. Love the photo. November 15, 2006 at 1:26pm Reply

  • Anjali: As usual, wonderful review V 🙂 I love Black, and you’ve reminded me I really should have a bottle by now! November 15, 2006 at 3:29pm Reply

  • moon_fish: Thank you for the wonderful review!
    Personally I like Annick`s Patchouli more than Black – just because of Black`s drydown which turning out all-sweet-and-powdery vanilla on me… November 16, 2006 at 12:52am Reply

  • Laia: As always a magnificent review: intelligent, sensitive and “culte” (oh dear I just don´t find the word in English). I think describing a perfume comparing it with an ancient film or an ancient glamourous actress og the 30´s or 40´s or ever 5o´s is a wonderful way of describing it. I know Joan Crawford wore Youth Dew and Maria Callas Diorella but what was Lana Turner´s scent, or Lauren Bacall´s. Wouldn´t it be fun to know what perfumes they had? ( I just don´t care what Paris Hilton´s or those kinky celebrities wear).
    Your chiken is great and so the presentation of the photo.

    Fins aviat! November 16, 2006 at 4:37am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    Very lovely review as usual. Sounds very smoky, vanilla like and smoldering. I’m not sure how I would like it. Black Cashmere is very smopky on . Need to wait for the moment it dries down. I just got for a birthdat gift for Ange ou Demon. Very senusual and smoky. but – have to be in the cooler weather. I will check this one out ! Also . I will be travelling to las Vegas for a meeting – any suggestions for solid scents (for travelling ) ? Are you familiar with the travel regs w toiletries ? I know it’s Fracas or Hermes rouge . Any more ?
    Take care and would love to meet you at some Scent event sometime !
    Have a great scented day !
    Madelyn E November 16, 2006 at 8:05am Reply

  • Tania: I’m wearing it today. Black was the scent that showed me too that there was more to perfume than jasmine. What struck me about it then was how edgy, androgynous, and new it was. What strikes me about it now is how old-fashioned and classically feminine it is. That plush sweetness comes as such a surprise. So many niche fragrances with a modernist aesthetic try very hard to startle but give you nowhere to rest. You can really put your feet up in Black. November 16, 2006 at 11:49am Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Jason, what a great description! “like some syncopated melody that creates a beautiful harmony.” It captures the spirit of what Menardo did perfectly. Thank you, I am very glad that you enjoyed the review. November 16, 2006 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Håkan, thank you. Yes, it does dry down to a vanillic, oriental base, but on my skin, however, it is not overly sweet and the smoky whispers remain. November 16, 2006 at 5:18pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Elle, I just remember how amazed I was when I first tried it. Black was so different from everything I wore back then, but it became a fragrance that I could not imagine being without. November 16, 2006 at 6:01pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Judith, she is one of my favourite perfumers as well. No doubt about that! November 16, 2006 at 6:02pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Kuri, thank you! I hope that you will share your thoughts with me. November 16, 2006 at 6:02pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Flor, thank you very much! Black is such a striking fragrance, I think that it is in a league of its own for me. November 16, 2006 at 6:08pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Marina, Bois d’Argent, Bois d’Armenie and Patchouli 24 are excellent. I like Lolita Lempicka and I wore it for a period of time. November 16, 2006 at 6:10pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Dusan, isn’t it so special when the perfume just captures your attention from the first moment? I feel this way about Black.

    I am working on Bois Oriental review, and I hope that next week I will be able to post it. November 16, 2006 at 6:11pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: D, wonderful to see you! For some reason, I always think of you as a fan of Black, but perhaps it is because I think that you might wear it well. Please do try it and let me know what you think. November 16, 2006 at 6:13pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: March, maybe one day you will appreciate it in person too. 🙂 November 16, 2006 at 6:14pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Ina, I think that it is a good image. I also find that Black reminds me of a dark jazz club. November 16, 2006 at 6:15pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: R (violetnoir), I must say that I admire most of Bulgari creations. They are quite fascinating! November 16, 2006 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Cait, if you like all of those fragrances, then you must try Black! November 16, 2006 at 6:16pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Anjali, thank you! It is wonderful to see you here. My bottle of Black is almost empty, and I will need a backup soon. November 16, 2006 at 6:24pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Sergey, I also agree that Patchouli 24 and Black are similar. I prefer Black, because of its more careful balance, but I also enjoy Patchouli. November 16, 2006 at 6:29pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Laia, thank you very much! I am very glad that you enjoyed the review (and the chicken recipe). I also find it fascinating to know what perfumes actresses of the 30s and 40s wore. A couple of years ago I saw an exhibit of Marlene Dietrich’s clothes, and it was unforgettable. She did not seem to be much of a perfume person, based on the exhibit, but she loved to tan and she wore various sun tan oils. November 16, 2006 at 6:31pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Madelyn, I hope so too! I am sure that it will happen soon.

    As for flying regulations, you can bring liquids, but you have to pack them in a see-through bag and the bottles cannot be more than 4oz (I believe that it is 4oz, but you should probably check). There are a few solid perfumes–Stella Amber, new Molinard perfumes, Estee Lauder makes solids. Of course, Crazylibellules I posted about are solids. November 16, 2006 at 6:34pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: Tania, that is a very good way to describe it. Black starts out as modern and CdG edgy, but the drydown is the retro glamour. I find it difficult to resist. November 16, 2006 at 6:36pm Reply

  • carmencanada: V., you were right about me. I tried Bulgari Black and it has now moved up to the top of the “want and may actually be able to afford” list (as opposed to the Chanel Cuir de Russie parfum, for instance). I would’ve never made out the Lapsang Souchong / rubber connection without your review, but of course it’s there. Yes, Bulgari Black is a strange hybrid creature, post-modern in its juxtaposition of rubber kinkiness and old-fashioned poudre de riz. The perfect butch/femme scent after Bandit. November 21, 2006 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Bois de Jasmin: D, I am so happy to read this! I knew that you somehow were the one to wear Black. It is just incredible, and it never fails to amaze me. November 22, 2006 at 12:17am Reply

  • Daisy: Black is one of my absolute favorites. I love the black rubber/smoke/vanilla leather. It’s so distinctive, yet wonderfully wearable.

    The leather reminds me of Dzing without the clean elephants running around 🙂

    I’m actually wearing it today! The smell of confidence 🙂 August 2, 2012 at 4:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ha ha! Clean elephants aren’t there, that’s true. But it’s still a wonderful fragrance. I agree that it’s surprisingly wearable, given the notes. I get lots of compliments on it. August 2, 2012 at 4:07pm Reply

  • Daisy: I tried Dzing for the first time not too long ago, so it is still fresh in my mind!

    Actually, what made me pull out the Bulgari Black is kind of circuitous: a good friend of mine is a biologist up at Columbia with a passion for . . . trapeze! She has been doing it for years, and suggested I give it a try after the diss as a present to myself (I’m scared, but intrigued!). Anyway, all the trapeze talk started me thinking that I should make her a sample of Dzing, which made me think of other leathery things she should try.

    If I get up on the trapeze, I’ll send you a picture! August 2, 2012 at 4:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes!! I want a picture of you on the trapeze. I had a chance to do it, but I got too scared and backed out. I can’t say that I regret it, only a bit disappointed that I couldn’t fight the fear in myself. August 2, 2012 at 4:26pm Reply

      • Daisy: I’m scared too! She said that her mom cried . . . not the most encouraging thing to tell a friend, but she added that after she cried, she loved it.

        Pictures will definitely be taken! August 2, 2012 at 4:30pm Reply

  • Bibitry: Oh, yes! I really love and admire this one, and it always brings compliments from colleagues, some of them looking as if they would like to drown their noses in my neck 😆 August 18, 2012 at 1:28pm Reply

  • Courant: I am a New Zealander and Bvlgari Black is not marketed here. As a result it is not popular. I finally bought a bottle, blind, from a U.S. online store. It is early days but I think it’s a keeper. I’m calling it my Terminator perfume and rocking the Sarah Connor vibe. It does seem to be half machine, half human. Wearing this I feel compelled to re-read Heinlein’s ‘Time Enough for Love’ or any Sci Fi epic. Total Recall also comes to mind. It has satisfied a need in me and that alone makes it sensational. Did I mention Star Trek? May 4, 2013 at 8:58pm Reply

  • rosestrang: Comments still going on from 2006 to 2013 I see! I’m not surprised as this is a true classic I feel. I fell in love with Black around 2001, and I always have a bottle whatever other perfumes I grow to love.

    The only other perfume that stands close to Black, for me, is Shalimar and I’ve heard people mention a sort of resemblance in structure. I love this review of it, though I never recoiled when smelling Black, and I reckon that’s because I love Lapsang Souchong Tea! So rather than a tyre and rubber note, I have associations of a tea ceremony and with the lovely amber, vanilla, touch of rose and cedar I find this almost a femme fatale perfume, but in a subtle way. Very trench coat on a rainy day.

    I discovered a few years ago that wearing rose otto body lotion underneath creates a beautiful effect, and I’ve had more compliments in this perfume than any other, genius stuff! June 23, 2013 at 2:17am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m with you, Rose! Black has a classical status for me too. It’s a very special perfume, and I love how you’ve described it as a “trench coat on a rainy day” perfume. June 24, 2013 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Sexy Sadie: I bought it unsniffed after this review. November 23, 2013 at 11:21am Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, I really hope that you liked it! Blind buys are so risky. 🙂 November 24, 2013 at 5:44am Reply

      • Sexy Sadie: Came yesterday and I love it! November 29, 2013 at 1:49pm Reply

        • Victoria: Phew! I’m so glad. 🙂 November 29, 2013 at 3:13pm Reply

          • Sexy Sadie: I like my perfume dark and interesting. No sweet fruit and floral for me, please. 😀 November 29, 2013 at 3:20pm Reply

  • Adriana Galani: “olfactory omnivore”, just loved that. 🙂 Good to know Bulgari has some good fragrances as well, lately I have been almost traumatised by there over prised short lasting products. Unfortunately not a friend of the house at all. And that Jasmin Noir (Mon) is on me an olfactive drama, which does something bad to my stomach.
    Is black still available? February 28, 2014 at 2:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s still around, thank goodness. February 28, 2014 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Bernadette: Is it true that this is being discontinued? I guess that may very well be the case given that many of the ingredients are now banned 🙁 . The Bvlgari website has it listed as out of stock, but Target has it online for 1/2 off. Well worth it!
    V, do you know of any other scents one might want to pick up now–in anticipation of being discontinued. Also, can you recommend a site to purchase discontinued scents. I have not had positive results with ebay or etsy. Thank you! November 5, 2014 at 4:04pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t think so, but I’m not really keeping abreast with discontinuations. For now, I thought it would stay. At least, I hope so, because I also love this perfume!

      My mom says that she sometimes orders from strawberrynet and likes their service. November 5, 2014 at 4:54pm Reply

      • Bernadette: Thank you, once again, for your valuable input! November 6, 2014 at 10:02am Reply

  • MassiveAttack: Thank you so much for your review.
    Black is one of my favorite fragrances without any doubts.

    Black is so unique and the composition is really mysterious, that somehow does not fit into the modern mass market.
    However, such qualities like Black could have been one of -let´s say- Dior Prive or other boutique´s private collections. May 15, 2016 at 8:49am Reply

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