To me, there are some perfumes that smell of particular things, and there are some that just sort of smell of . . . perfume. Through experimentation, I've learned that the "perfumeyness" culprit is none other than floral aldehydes, which were first used in abundance in Chanel No 5 in 1921 and have inspired generations of plagiari . . . um, perfumers since. Floral aldehydes by and large don't work very well on my skin. I may be unfairly tarring an entire group with the same brush, but floral-aldehydic fragrances, which can be beautiful on other people, often seem to create a metallic tang on me. This is not as entirely unpleasant as it sounds, and it does not stop me from wearing Chanel No 5 (in fact, I have a little bottle of the parfum which I handle with kid gloves), but as much as I love it, I always feel like I'm wearing someone else's scent.
Nuit de Noël is heavy on the floral aldehydes and, at first glance, close enough to Chanel No 5 to make a cynical person look askance at the House of Caron (especially since Nuit de Noël was launched only a year later). Both are full of ylang-ylang, jasmine, and sandalwood, and both dry down to that typical chypre/musk powder.
Nuit de Noël does have its own personality, though--for one, it's softer and less attention-seeking than Chanel No 5. To clarify their differences to myself, I wore them alongside each other. Through the heart, Chanel No 5 moves toward a subtle emphasis on rose, while Nuit de Noël retains more ylang-ylang; where Chanel no 5 is very very slightly sweet, Nuit de Noël is mossy. And both smell just a little wrong on me.
While I was wearing both and out with friends, my friend Zoë caught me sniffing my wrist. "I'm just trying to make mental notes for a perfume I'm trying," I said, offering her my wrist. "Wow, that smells lovely," she said. When I said that I'm wondering if it's, ahem, heavily inspired by Chanel No 5, she said that she couldn't see the similarity. So I offered her my other wrist. "That's Chanel No 5? It smells nothing like that on me! But yes, on you the two smell similar. I like Chanel No 5 but I just can't wear it; it's too much on me."
I want to love Nuit de Noël, really I do, but because I can't wear it successfully, I don't feel inspired by it the way some others are. But for people who can wear those old-fashioned perfumey floral aldehydes well, and who like Chanel No 5 but, like Zoë, find it overwhelming, Nuit de Noël could well be the answer. Zoë thought it was lovely on me, but I know it could be far, far lovelier on just about anyone else.
Nuit de Noël, Caron, 1922 Notes: ylang-ylang, tincture of rose, jasmine; sandalwood, oak moss; musk and amber