On my second day in Rome, there I was having lunch with my husband in one of our favorite restaurants in Trastevere, La Scala, when lo and behold, a friend of mine happened to walk past with her partner! After dragging them in and making them taste all our food, we discovered that neither Ana nor George were enjoying Rome very much. They thought it too gritty, too dirty, and the people a little gruff. They’d even had bad pizza the night before, which in Italy is like turning up to an orgy and finding everyone already engaged. I’d imagine.
My husband, being a lover of Rome, felt that all they needed was a little bit of good pizza to start seeing Rome in a good light. Me, I suggested perfume. There happened to be, I suggested innocently, a little niche perfume store just down the road, would the men mind waiting….?
The men did indeed mind waiting, a fact they made clear in very loud, complaining tones of voices that we, however, could no longer hear, because we had long since disappeared into the cozy gloom of Roma Store. Looking back at them through the window, I saw that they had adopted the centuries-old stance of men waiting on women – dazed, slightly defeated, and weighed down by shopping bags.
So Ana and I proceeded to smell all of the perfumes in the shop. We both wanted to test Map of the Heart v4, said to be Feu d’Issey smell-alike and an artistic achievement in its own right. We thought it smelled a bit like fruity, milky vomit, and on my skin in particular, there appeared a slight biscuity undertone, like standing really, really close to someone who’d just eaten a packet of McVities digestives.
Spotting a big bottle of Parfums de Nicolai Number One Intense, I grabbed it and sprayed it on the back of my arm. I was immediately transported. This was a Chypre, Goddammit. A real-life, honest-to-goodness Chypre with a capital C. In the middle of all these cool, trendy, somewhat “out there” niche perfumes, this perfume felt like the air was splitting open to reveal a third dimension, allowing me to slip into a dark, cool forest, its atmosphere sodden with the inky, bitter smell of oakmoss absolute and thick with jasmine.
“Smell this,” I urged Ana, excited and grinning like a love-struck fool, “Now this is a real chypre, right?” Ana smelled my arm, and made a little face. “A little bit too polite,” she said, “A real ladies-who-lunch kind of scent. Not sensual enough for me.” She also noted that it was more about tuberose than jasmine, and that it also smelled a little like Odalisque, which she owns. And she is correct, of course, on both scores. But I can’t explain it – right there, at that moment, this unassuming little thing – a De Nicolai! – was the most exciting thing in the shop for me.
When I got back to the apartment that night, I looked up the reviews, and to my surprise, they backed Ana up on the general tone of the fragrance – a nice, somewhat staid white floral in the classical French manner. Patricia de Nicolai had won the Mouillette d’Or for Best International Perfume Creator in 1989 with Number One.
But I insisted – no, no, I smell oakmoss! This is surely a floral chypre. A sexy, jasmine-soaked chypre with a dark, womanly feel to it. I convinced myself that I needed it in my life and that I’d be the only person on earth to divine the true sexual, earth mother, Goddess-like nature of this perfume that everyone else thought was boring. I would walk the streets leaving a trail of devastated men in my wake. So, after a month of humming and hawing I ordered a small bottle of it directly from Parfums de Nicolai.
Yeah, so….I was wrong.
This is not sexy. It’s also, as Fragrantica and Basenotes correctly identified, not a chypre but a white floral. There is a smidgen of oakmoss absolute in the formula, but it’s not enough, no, not nearly enough, to spread a much-needed dark, velvety layer of forest under the feet of the sumptuous white florals.
And without the chypre bitterness, this is truly all about a big block of white flowers – orange blossom, jasmine, tuberose – bleeding into each other and smoothing out any of the individual, interesting identifiers of each flower. There are no fruity indoles from the jasmine, no buttery, mentholated weirdness from the tuberose, and no honeyed orange notes from the orange blossom.
It’s, well, it’s “Nights in White Satin” (“I looooovvveee yeeeewwwwww”) and shoulder pads and big hair, and it’s also, clearly, Giorgio.
A friend of mine wears this, but she is a young, hot, sexy girl who has hordes of men panting after her. I think that in order to wear something as old-fashioned as Number One, you have to either wear it with irony, or you have to be beautiful enough yourself to subvert the essential staidness of the fragrance.
But I’m mostly too tired to be ironic, and I’m not cool or sexy enough to make it ripe. I guess I’ll have to reserve it for those special occasions when I want to clear an elevator and make people hate perfume all over again.