Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The (Almost) Lost Perfumes: Niki de Saint Phalle Parfum

It's spring and green perfumes are the order of the day. The problem is that too many of them fall under the "fresh" category, and I don't do fresh (or airy, or light, or... you get the picture). Also, my skin tends to eliminate green notes almost on application, so I can't really be bothered.

Except for when they have far more personality than the usual herbal stuff.

Niki de Saint Phalle, an 1982 perfume by the late French-born and NY-educated artist has that personality. It's as far from typical 80s creations as can be, but is still vibrant and full of life and surprises. The biggest one is the note that's most prominent on my skin: Marigolds (also known as tagetes).

I love these little tokens of summery sunshine and grow them in my yard every year. I plant them between my vegetables and herbs because they're a natural insect deterrent (if only they were as effective with Steve the groundhog and Sheldon the rabbit I could even have broccoli again). The flowers and leaves have a strong, pungent scent that I adore and could just roll in it. But I don't really have to, because I have a precious bottle of the pure parfum, a little masterpiece of presentation (see photo), that holds this lovely juice. I'm aware that some find this scent too weird to wear. Marigolds have this combination of green and tobacco, and are quite different than feminine flowers. But I think the other florals here, while mild and almost faceless, manage to keep the weirdness to a wearable minimum.

The marigolds are a bit subdued in the musky-mossy sweet dry-down, but are still present and maintain the green feel. I can't say that I clearly smell any other of the official notes (Jasmin, Rose, Marigold, Ylang-Ylang, Vetyver, Sandalwood, Patchouly, Amber, Musk ) other than, maybe, the amber. I'm actually glad about it. The perfume is so well-blended that it has a very distinct character that is all about the complete and final product.

While the common knowledge is that this fragrance has been officially discontinued, this official-looking site still claims that at least the EdT and the body line are still being made (which explains why they can be easily found from many online discounters). It's the pure parfum that sadly has been lost. The 80s were not just about Giorgio, though it's becoming harder and harder to remember with all the reformulations and discontinuations of lovely classics.

If you live in the UK and can get to Liverpool, their local Tate is running a Niki de Saint Phalle exhibition until May 5th.

Addendum: Here's a story about how I found a bottle of the Niki de Saint Phalle parfum in Paris, didn't buy it but got a much better deal here at home (and also a couple of photos of the artist's creations in Paris).

Golem, an architectural project for children in Jerusalem’s Rabinovitch Park,
Marigold Magic by Linda Falge, ebsqart.com
Perfume bottle image from the Niki de Saint Phalle Perfumes site, linked above

My vintage bottle was purchased on eBay.


  1. Great description of this weirdly wonderful perfume! I bought it eons ago, and I love the marigold too. It's one of those scents that is so addictive. I like the greenness of this fragrance very much.

    I saw this at The Perfume House in Portland last time I was there, which was a surprise; I thought it was gone for good. Too bad about the Parfum, but the lighter formulation works well too.

  2. I love this scent! I swapped for the edt unsniffed and was very happy that it smells wonderful on my skin. I don't own, and haven't smelled, the perfume, but I have seen it for sale online in a couple of places. Sounds like it's a must try. NDSP truly doesn't get enough mention in the perfume blogosphere, so thanks very much for a great review; I'll wear it today in your honor! :)

  3. I love the parfum, and find it dry, slightly bitter, fascinatingly beautiful.
    No rough edges, but not a crowd-pleaser chypre-
    Which is fine by me.
    A unique work of art.

  4. I think I need to smell this one again- I don't remember it from back in the day.

  5. Flora- I'll have to check the EdT. The zodiac bottles are cute, so I guess I should just treat myself to a little scorpio.

  6. Anita- I'm honored! :) If you have the chance, get a bottle of the parfum. It's gorgeous inside and out.

  7. Chaya'le- Yes, it is a work of art. I always feel special wearing it. You don't smell it on people at the mall, that's for sure ;)

  8. Tom- You really should. Really, really. Totally. Utterly.

  9. I've been wanting to smell this for ever, since judging from the notes and perfume comparisons I've found online, it seems like it will be something I'd love. I finally unearthed a miniature of it from my collection (been collecting since childhood) while I was in Greece last time, but unfortunately it has gone off :( That's something I've noticed before btw...minis go off much easier than regular bottles, even though I've always stored them with care. *sigh*

  10. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/17/fashion/17SNIFF.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    Interesting NYT article if you haven't seen it yet

  11. Thanks, Elsie. I saw the article first thing this morning and it was nice. Sort of. What I mean is that it was great that the Times is talking about Sniffa and acknowledges the online coommunity in general and bloggers in particular as a serious force. Too bad that not all the bloggers they listed are still active and that they skipped other important ones like Helg's PerfumeShrine and Heather's Memory & Desire.
    They even talked about niche perfumes but only quoted reps for unknown and obscure houses like Coty and Lauder...
    Still, if this article would get even a handful of new people to smell the Serge at Bergdorf and then search online for info, I'm happy. Eventually they might become interested in Malle, PG and Tauer.

  12. Interesting, I smell (ha) a letter to the Styles section...

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  16. I have visited an exhibition of Niki de Saint Phalles in Gottorf Palace in Schleswig/Germany this weekend and I was stunned by the great artwork, that was shown. They had the original "Dolores" and even the "Devil" from Tarot. It was so great, I loved that exhibition.


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