One Thousand Scents

Friday, August 15, 2008

Duality: Bulgari Black

A few weeks ago I was in Winners, which is a clothing discounter that also carries home decor and stuff like that, a step up from it-fell-off-a-truck but still a real mixed bag. The only reason I go in there every couple of weeks is that they also carry brand-name fragrances; if you wait long enough for them to get marked down to clearance prices, you can get some real bargains.

I'd gone in after work to see what, if anything, was new. There wasn't anything, but two Bulgari scents, Black and Thé Rouge, had been reduced for clearance. I'd owned Black before, but hadn't even tried Thé Rouge, and since there was just the one bottle and the box was sealed, I went home to Google it before investing the money (even though I could have had the both of them for less than $40). Thé Rouge sounded like the kind of thing I would like, so I decided I should have them.

You know how this turns out: the next day on the way in to work I went in to buy them, and there were still three bottles of Black left, but the Thé Rouge was gone. The hell with it, I said. If I can't have both, I'll have neither. That'll show you, stupid store!

I naturally told my almost equally scent-obsessed co-worker about this, and then she went and bought a bottle of Black for me for my birthday! And this is why I can wear it today and tell you all about it.

I'd bought Black shortly after its launch: it was one of those strange, compelling things that I always seem to need to own as soon as I smell them. (Such things are generally in a strange, compelling bottle, too; this one is a glass disc wrapped in black rubber like a tire. That big metal cap isn't a cap at all; it's the sprayer, which you twist one way to unlock and spray, the other to lock.) And then, as so often happens, I got tired of it after a few years, swapped it away, and began wishing a while ago that I had some. I have really got to stop doing that: I swapped away Le Feu D'Issey and Donna Karan Fuel for Men in the same way.

Black consists of two disparate, one might say incompatible, ideas duking it out for supremacy. The first thing you smell is, if not quite burning tires, then something very close; smoked black tea and a bit of rubber. It's not unlike walking into Princess Auto or Canadian Tire. There's a spiciness to the smoke, too; it's aggressive and more than a little hostile.

Alongside the smoke and rubber is...pretty vanilla. It's soft and musky and creamy. It isn't blended with the smoky-tea-and-tires element; it seems to stand alongside it, and the two ideas wrestle to present themselves to you.

Black is confusing, which is delightful. People are still arguing about whether it's too rough for a woman, too sweet for a man, whether it's actually unisex (as Bulgari marketed it from the start). Is it masculine? Feminine? Aggressive? Comforting? Prickly? Velvety? The paradox is that it's all of these things, not simultaneously but in turns, and you can't tell which side of it you're going to be smelling at any given time.

When it was launched in 1998, it was baffling and enraging to a lot of people, because it wasn't like anything else on the market; they had no point of reference for it. In the interim, there have been plenty of scents that take inspiration from it to some degree or other, so people have gotten used to the strangeness. (Givenchy's 1999 Organza Indecence seems to borrow from it a little, L'Artisan Parfumeur's 2000 release Tea for Two very much.) It doesn't smell as avant-garde as it used to; that's the nature of the avant-garde, I guess, where yesterday's brazen new idea is tomorrow's commonplace.

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  • I love me some Bulgari Black, and wear it whenever I know I'll need to be on the top of my game that day. The way I explained it to my wife was "it reminds me to be as sharp and clever as it is."

    Other scent-to-mood matches: Estee Lauder Beyond Paradise For Men on days where I'm going to need to have something reminding me to "relax" a lot. Chanel Pour Monsieur on days when I'm in the tailored suit and cufflinks and feeling particularly Sixties.

    By Blogger D.J., at 11:50 PM  

  • God I love your blog.

    By Blogger Brian, at 12:43 PM  

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