Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
Of all the fragrances attempting to convey the idea of darkness, Lancôme Magie Noire stands out as particularly successful. The layering of animalic notes, the opulent florals like ylang ylang and tuberose and a lush dose of moss results in a fragrance of such mysterious, dusky and brooding character that I cannot describe it in any way but haunting. It is not easy to like as a fragrance since it is simultaneously quite dark, animalic and intensely green. Despite its rich floral accord, it is not particularly feminine either, and in fact, I can see it as an interesting, unconventional masculine scent. I cannot help being fascinated by the way Magie Noire evolves and goes from challenging to spellbinding.
Magie Noire was created in 1978, and several perfumers are responsible for it, including Gérard Goupy, Jean-Charles Niel and Yves Tanguy. The tone of the composition is set from the first accord and the first sensation as it seeps into the skin. Resinous, bitter, green notes of blackcurrant buds and galbanum that are a hair away from turning sulfuric lend Magie Noire its first dark layer, against which citrus, aldehydes and crisp lily of the valley notes seem like delicate sparkling embellishments. Magie Noire is built through the fusion of an oriental accord (amber, tobacco, musk) and a chypre (moss, patchouli, rose.) One is heavy, opulent, decadently rich; the other is moody, earthy, and dry. The tension between the sensations that they produce is what gives Magie Noire its sustained illusion of something that is yet to happen.
Over time, the fragrance settles into a rich, animalic composition, where honeyed-musky notes of castoreum, sweet-plush accents of musk (no crisp, sheer white musks here!) and the sensual breath of civet are balanced by the indolic sweetness of tuberose and ylang ylang, on the one hand, and austere dryness of woods, on the other. The green character that was obvious at the outset remains apparent, and it keeps Magie Noire from settling into the heavy-lidded languor of a typical oriental. She is beautiful, but she is not an odalisque, reclining on silk brocade. Magie Noire is not interested in being likable or in pleasing anyone in particular. It simply projects a powerful aura of confidence and strength, and this is what I find special about it.
Magie Noire shares as much with Robert Piguet Bandit and Clinique Aromatics Elixir as it does with Guerlain Vol de Nuit and Yves Saint Laurent Nu due to its combination of warm oriental and cool chypre facets. I much prefer the parfum version, which is heavier on both tuberose and leather, and yet somehow also darker, more androgynous. The EDT is thinner, crisper, greener. When I tried Magie Noire at the Lancôme counter earlier this winter, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it still retains its dark and mysterious character. It is definitely not as mossy and leathery, but it has plenty of rich, ambery and woody notes to compensate for the changes in other facets. It has nothing that today’s audiences would like, so the fact that it is still around should be taken as a sign that it nevertheless has a following.
Lancôme Magie Noire (fragrance family: green chypre/woody oriental) includes notes of bergamot, hyacinth, mimosa, galbanum, blackcurrant buds, raspberry, iris, jasmine, lily of the valley, narcissus, rose, tuberose, ylang ylang, honey, patchouli, sandalwood, cedarwood, oakmoss, amber, labdanum, musk. It is not to be confused with Magie, an ambery floral fragrance from the same brand. In the US, the EDT is sold at almost any Lancôme counter, while the parfum is still available in Europe.
Sample source: my own 1980s bottle of the parfum and 1990s version of the EDT.