Noir Epices for Frederic Malle

Along with Musc Ravageur, Noir Epices structurally may be the greatest creation in the Malle line. It is well captured too: “a woody oriental, a near chypre”. Noir Epices is exactly that, marked with a baselessness and transparency unusual for an oriental but quite right for a chypre.

Noir Epices is a roaring fragrance constricted by a long and invisible chain. In terms of its overall structure, Noir Epices can seem unconvincing as an oriental (far too scarce and reduced), and equally unconvincing as a chypre (largely asymmetrical horizontally) – but Noir Epices resolves that by grappling those factors and recreating equilibrium. Putting greater weight at the top contrasts the scarcity of the bottom, all whilst developing an equal distribution of mass. The result is a perfume of great contrast yet in balance top to bottom all at once. And in that way, Noir Epices appears to have no discernible middle in its composition, but a well played out duality.

Noir Epices - Tresor Prijs

Photo by Tresor Prijs


The generosity of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and pepper is usual for an oriental style, yet the restraint often delivered by a wash of vanilla, amber, or musk is unusually omitted. These notes are left as toned spikes in the fragrance – dosed heavily yet always appearing thin and unfinished. This is where pithy, pomander-like orange and the cool bitter of geranium work in a way commonly chypric, topping the spices with a thick viscosity to the arrangement, the ideal push and pull of textures that makes a fragrance both complex and interesting.

In every sense, Noir Epices is the colour black, a Rubenesque style of black where the shades themselves are multifaceted and deep. There’s enough inflection in Noir Epices to keep it interesting in the long run, with a creamy sandalwood in the back, perhaps mimicking the effect of vanilla onto a composition. What strikes me as technically clever however is the searing and blushing breath of rose – superbly clean, leaning towards that metallic lick found innately in the note. This is carried on with the clove, which too has metallic and pure associations. Orange adds counterpoint, creating a wonderful luscious wash against the long crisp dryness of the spices.

It’s ultimately very difficult to identify an accord or note that anchors Noir Epices. The way the apparent sense of base is blurred means that the other notes of spice can oscillate and hold themselves together. The result of this is that the blackness of the spice seems to get blacker and deeper, forever holding its tight grip. Noir Epices is thus a stern fragrance, concerned with its own internal combination and interplay of notes that it reads as authoritative and indubitably formal. It is tempting to describe it as reduced, but these particular notes continue to remain lavish yet thin; not quite full, not gaseous either, rather Noir Epices has a delightful gradient of transparency and in the middle exists are large mass.

Big thin spice

Subjective rating: 4.5/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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