Has anyone else noticed the explosion of incense fragrances over the past decade? In past years, incense seemed to play a backstage role. Sure, the old classics Creed Angélique Encens, Chanel No. 22, and Lanvin Scandal all have incense, but a trip to the perfume counter these days gives you the choice of at least a dozen fragrances featuring incense front and center, from the Comme de Garçons incense series to L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer and Dzongka to Etro Messe de Minuit to incense “soliflores”, if you can call them that, from Lorenzo Villoresi, Crazylibellule and the Poppies and others. One incense-based fragrance that stands apart from the crowd is Yves Saint Laurent Nu.
Nu was Tom Ford’s first fragrance release when he was at Yves Saint Laurent, and the Tom Ford touch shows. Unlike Etro Messe de Minuit or Comme de Garçons Avignon, which are damp, churchy incense scents, Nu is an urban incense, cold and metallic until the deep drydown, as if a drop of chlorine were added to the formula. I normally think of incense as personal and spiritual, but this is incense I could imagine David Bowie wearing on stage. Only when the scent has faded to a whisper — several hours after spraying it on, it lasts a long time — does the scent soften and the tiniest suggestion of sandalwood and musk warm it.
I’ve read that Nu’s release party featured a stage full of partially-clad models writhing in dim light. Somehow that image and even the name, Nu, are at odds with the actual scent. When I think of a scent that is “nude”, I think of the scent of skin and sleep or a well-used bed or a bathrobe that is ready for the wash. To me, Rochas Femme, Vivienne Westwood Boudoir, or The Different Company Rose Poivrée could double as scents named variations of “nude”, but Nu is too modern, crisp, and in some ways too monastic to be particularly carnal. If Obsession weren’t taken, it would have been a good name for Nu.
Jacques Cavallier created Nu Eau de Parfum in 2001. (He created a Nu Eau de Toilette the following year, but it is a different fragrance — more sheer and floral.) The official listing of notes cites a topnote of bergamot; a heart of white orchid, black pepper, and incense absolute; and a base of woody notes and spicy notes. I’ve seen cardamom, vetiver, sandalwood, and musk listed, too, in reviews on various fragrance blogs. I can certainly make out the bergamot, but the pepper smells more to me like white than black pepper, and the white orchid is completely lost to my nose.
Yves Saint Laurent Nu Eau de Parfum comes in a chromed disk like a shiny version of a Dean & Deluca spice canister. You unscrew the top, and the sprayer is flush with the cobalt blue plastic lining the inside of the top. To me, the design is more irritating than inspiring, but it’s flat, so you can store another perfume bottle on top of it. I’ve seen Nu sold at discounters online for as little as $31 for 100 ml, which is much lower than its retail price of $95 for the same size. Yves Saint Laurent no longer lists Nu on the English version of their website, although it is still there on the French side. Does that mean it’s slated to be discontinued soon? If so, urban-monastic-David Bowie-loving types — or any of you who value incense — stock up. My bottle is safely stashed away.
Note: image via Images de Parfums.