Night in the Desert

It´s a truism that not every old formula in the Coty vault would yield a classic. I believe to some degree in the Darwinian laws as applied to fragrance. And, in an age when the first move of a wannabe starlet is to release her own celebrity scent, I comfort myself with the fact that in a year or a decade, much of this stuff will be gone (although, frankly, in many cases extinction isn´t coming fast enough for me.) There are also glorious fragrances (Donna Karan Chaos springs to mind here) that were killed off in their prime for reasons unrelated to poor sales. Anyway, all of those thoughts crowded my mind as I meandered my way to today´s topic, which was triggered by my tiny vial of Gobin Daude Nuit au Desert.

If you´ve never heard of Gobin Daude, don´t feel bad. I think the line existed for an eyeblink in perfume time. I´m going to sketch in some details from faulty memory, because in a way it doesn´t matter, but feel free to fill in and/or correct me. The perfumer was Victoire Gobin-Daude. There were five fragrances. The only other Gobin Daude I´ve smelled was Jardins Ottomans, a yuzu-laced oriental of such allure I sometimes wonder, now that my sample’s gone, whether my memory exaggerates it. I never smelled Sous le Buis or Seve Exquise, the green ones (boxwood and sap) with their own hardcore fans, and that´s okay because I don´t think I would have appreciated them. However, I´d hand over one of my kids for a taste of Biche dans l’Absinthe (Doe in Absinthe), with its notes of absinthe, immortelle, tobacco and leather. Anyway, there were distribution issues with the Gobin Daudes, or perhaps it was supply. My analogy is watching your favorite new, small restaurant bite the dust. The chef´s a genius, the food is a miracle. But the overhead´s killing them – they´re bleeding cash, the rent´s too high, suppliers balk, the pockets aren´t deep enough. Eventually the backers pull the plug. And where does that leave you?

Well, it leaves me with a few drops of Nuit au Desert. According to a defunct perfumery website, the notes are cedar leaf, hibiscus flower, nard, agar wood. I have no idea what desert Gobin-Daude had in mind, but the one it conjures for me is the desert Southwest, night in New Mexico. I´m pretty sure I´m smelling cedar and vetiver – but they´re dusty, an outdoor smell, footprints in the dark. There´s a note of something green and limpid that runs along in there forever, like the chamisa next to the arroyo. There´s also the faintest note of sweet and herbal – wormwood, maybe, or agastache, mixed with hummingbird vine. If I listen I can hear the wind.

In the end it´s the strange, sheer differentness of Nuit au Desert that breaks my heart. It´s like smelling the Guerlain base for the first time, or an Ormonde Jayne. There´s a shift in the tectonic plates, and in a small way, your world will never be the same. Whether you “like” Mitsouko or Ormonde Woman or Chaos or Narcisse Noir is on some level irrelevant; it´s the gift of smelling them that matters most. The day they locked the doors for the last time at Gobin Daude, at IUNX, and any other small perfumer with a gift, Darwin´s grand theory failed. Or maybe survival of the fittest is not survival of the best, in perfume. Maybe it all comes down to money.

It´s been awhile since we´ve had poetry hour here on the Posse. This one, which I read the first time sitting on a boulder south of Santa Fe, thinking I´d pretty much died and gone to heaven, was written by Loren Eiseley, a naturalist and essayist who was no slouch as a poet, either.

Words for Forgetting

Go forward on these simple roads,
Do not turn back.
The stars behind you in the wind will blow,
The coyote´s track

Delicately replace the lifted dust
Of your own heel.
Go forward and the dark will close
About you. You will feel

The fragrant emptiness of prairie miles.
Now you will own
Nothing that is not yours, yourself
Down to the naked bone.

coyote track: nps.gov

  • dinazad says:

    Thank you again for the poem, March – the second time a reference in a perfume blog made me go out and order a book! Perfume addiction obviously can make a girl smarter and further her education!

  • Katie says:

    Oh god! “Huevos!!!” At one time, I rather innocently did NOT know that was Spanish espanol slang for balls… but when invited over for breakfast with a co-worker who grew up in Spain, she asked me what I would like, and I told her “Me amo huevos!” a little too excitedly, she cracked up and could not stop laughing. She consequently nicknamed me “Huevos,” and it took me weeks to get the reason why she did that out of her. Seriously, for like, three weeks whenever she needed me to venture out of my workshop and come to the warehouse, she’d page “Huevos.” So now you know my “secret” nickname ;P

  • BBliss says:

    Gorgeous post, March! I too will have to get onto Alibris. I’ve only smelled the green G. Daudes, but did enjoy them…I’m wild to try Nuit and Biche – I like tacos, so I’m not easily put-off. ūüôā I think these are really special, and am hopeful someone else with backing-money will think so too, and resurrect them!

    And we also call them cojones (I NEED those ones for the rearview mirror -it would really help our family Volvo) but my husband says “nads” – I think it’s a Rhode-Island-thing.

  • Emotenote says:

    Perhaps you put your finger on just the allure of fragrance, of memory and of life. These sentiments created world movements from buddhism to Tao. What a way to add value in a world were so much is valueless. Lovely.

  • Donna says:

    I was lucky enough to buy a bottle of Seve Exquise and have Nuit au Desert in a decant. I love these two VGD’s fragrances the most. I hope that they become available again in the future.:d

  • Donna says:

    I was lucky enough to buy a bottle of Seve Exquise and have Nuit au Desert in a decant. I love these two VGD’s fragrances the most. I hope that they become available again in the future.

  • Donna says:

    I was lucky enough to buy a bottle of Seve Exquise and have Nuit au Desert in a decant. I love these two VGD’s fragrances the most. I hope that they become available again in the future.

  • March says:

    Tigs — I’m going to email you. I’ve never smelled Anarchy. I’ve read: it’s the same; it’s different; it’s better; it’s worse. I saw a bottle here but the dude wouldn’t open the package, so I can’t say.

  • March says:

    Chaya — thanks!

  • March says:

    Katie — I had NO IDEA about Nards. Lack of education. Around here we flaunt our Hispano heritage by referring to them as huevos or cojones. The great thing about living in NM was you could buy giant plastic ones to hang off the back of your pickup truck. Dang, I miss that.

  • March says:

    Judith — well, it was worth every penny. Did you see Robin’s comment that there were maybe 2 others waiting in the wings? Would love to smell those.

  • March says:

    Maria — Patty bought this special Santa that shakes his fanny :d but we’re worrying he’s going to short out in the snowstorm. I bet she’s out there right now with a broom sweeping him off.

  • March says:

    Sybil — exactly. I just thanked Robin for that. Suddenly, my desire is gone.:-?

  • March says:

    Robin — I laughed so hard when I read your comment! You know what I want you to do every time I long for some absurd thing?

    I want you to write, “it smells like tacos.”

    Having trouble thinking what would kill off my desire faster …

  • Tigs says:

    March: I don’t like to think of these ones at all. Now, on to even more heartbreaking topics… Chaos. Does the Long Lost Perfume version, Anarchy, smell anything like the original? Do you know? It is very inexpensive, and I know some of their versions are pretty faithful.

  • chayaruchama says:

    Exquisite.
    Delicately rueful.
    Thank you.

  • Katie says:

    I admire your restraint – it lists nard as a note, and yet you were able to write such a lovely post and refrain from titling it “I Love the Smell of Nards.”

    I think quite a bit comes down to money – so many of these smaller, less popularly acclaimed houses exhibited sheer brilliance, and yet their creations have been abandoned in the fog of forgotten history.

  • Judith says:

    Nah! If it makes you feel better, I got my bottle after those at Tak were gone; it was from Belgium, and not so cheap–still, I am very glad to have it!

  • Maria B. says:

    March, thank you so much for a beautiful post. The Eiseley poem is a perfect evocation of the desert and of fragrance.

    Transience is a central characteristic of perfume. It weaves its magic on us through evaporation–that is, through vanishing into thin air. Loving perfume is heartbreaking.

    I’m sorry I have never smelled a Gobin Daude, and didn’t even know till recently, through Perfume Posse, that I was missing something. I hope she can get back into business.

    BTW, Patty is in quite a snowstorm even as we write. It’s too bad snow isn’t more quickly transient.

  • Elle says:

    Love ABE and Alibris. Just got All the Night Wings (70 cents – somehow seems very wrong that it should be so cheap) and Notes of an Alchemist. Am a total poetry sl*t. Thanks for the recs!

  • sybil says:

    What a great poem, and a really evocative post to go along w/ it. I also long to smell Biche–but I feel a little less burning desire since Robin mentioned it smelled like tacos…

  • Robin says:

    Someone once said, somewhere, that Biche smelled like tacos, and I thought it was right on target. But I treasure my Sous Le Buis & Seve Exquise, and still hold out hope that Victoire Gobin Daude will find a way to get these back on the market. The real killer is that rumors were flying that she had 2 new scents just before she lost her distributor…I want to smell those 2 very badly.

  • March says:

    Micki — thanks.

  • March says:

    Patty — well, I was hoping (since I can’t find it anywhere) that I’d send my little vial of JO to you months ago … but maybe not. (Although you could dig around in your stash of 5,000 samples and look for it:) )

    The ones you have strike me as more for sniffing than wearing, although I think Robin at NST would beg to differ. But you’re right — they ARE like art.

  • March says:

    Marina — what does Absinthe smell like to you?

    Okay, the IUNX waters were, I guess, pretty much water. But L’Ether is pretty fabulous, don’t you think? And Splash Forte was loads of fun. I’ve seen photos of their boutique, though, and I think I’d have been too intimidated to go in.

  • March says:

    Dinazad — yes, those tiny desert flowers, blooming in spite of everything. Oh, that climate is amazing. I have no idea what Ms. Gobin-Daude is doing these days, but I too hope she gets back into perfumery. Think what she could do.

  • March says:

    Julia — thanks! Melancholic in a good way was exactly what I was aiming [email protected]};-

  • March says:

    Judith — are you one of those people who got the bottles at Tak for $19 or whatever it was, when they were on clearance? I can’t decide if I want to laugh or cry about that. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t appreciate the Seve, based on others’ descriptions, but it sounds amazing.

  • March says:

    Elle — thanks — see my note to Leopoldo, I think Loren Eiseley’s poetry is wonderful. Accessible, spare, but none the less worth reading. If they’re out of print I’m sure you could find them for a song on ABE.com (where I’m spending money when I’m not on eBay!)

    I wish wish wish she’d been in business longer. Then at least it would be like Chaos — you’d have to pay a fortune, but you could buy it.

  • March says:

    Pam — thanks for writing. I love fragrances that take me someplace new and unexpected. I think the GDs are all like that.

  • March says:

    Nina — yes. Ormonde opened my eyes. Guerlain. Caron. Others. Interesting that other commenters talk more about just enjoying smelling these, rather than wearing them. I think they’re extraordinary.

  • March says:

    Leopoldo — thanks! You’re a teacher, right? Anyway, I’m not sure if his poetry is still in print, but my favorite volumes are All the Night Wings (the one I quoted is in there) and Notes of an Alchemist. Some of the poems are much longer, but he wrote in that spare, lyrical style I find very appealing. They’re mostly about the natural world, and some of them are just astonishing.

  • Micki says:

    Lovely poem. Perfect for mourning Seve Exquise. xoxo

  • Patty says:

    I’m going to crawl off and cry now with my little teeny bits of Sous le Buis and Seve Exquise. I didn’t smell any of the others, and I’m a little glad I didn’t… just more to regret.

    Weird thing about the GD’s, though, I don’t really find any of them incredibly wearable. I just love to smell them. It was one of the first times that I thought of perfume as art to be enjoyed and not worn.

  • Marina says:

    Biche dans l√Ę‚ā¨‚ĄĘAbsinthe is lovely and so is Nuit…I am indiffirent to the others, although I know that Patty and Robin love Sous and Seve. It does not surprise me that IUNX has gone bust though….ok, don’t mind me, I am in a grumpy mood :-w

  • dinazad says:

    What a lovely poem! Thank you for sharing it. As for Nuit au Desert: heartbreakingly lovely indeed. It reminds me of flowers: the tiny, bright flowers you sometimes find in the wildest, most surprising places where nothing else grows, on some bare mountainside, or in the desert or even the antarctic… But then, all the Gobin Daud√ɬ©s (even Jardins Ottomans, which never made it to my skin – one of those I can’t smell at all) were incredibly beautiful, suffused with light, as if they were from a different world completely. I’m still praying and hoping Victoire Gobin Daud√ɬ© manages to get on her perfumed feet again – and will then re-issue these fairy-fragile, bewitching scents!

  • Julia says:

    This was a lovely review! Lovely and also quite melancholic in a good way.

    /Julia

  • Judith says:

    Wonderful poem!! I love the perfume, too, and was fortunate enough to get one of the last bottles around. All the others are definitely worth trying too! I know Patty is big fan of Seve Exquise–and there is nothing like that one, either!! It’s really a shame they closed.

  • Elle says:

    What a gorgeous poem. Must go look for more of his work.
    Nuit au Desert is my fav of the GDs and I will *never* forgive myself for having tried it while it was still available, but not having instantly seen its magic. After it was d/ced I was rifling through my samples, looking for something else and saw my little vial of this. Casually tried it again. Almost fell to my knees w/ shock and love. :(( It’s so unbelievably perfect I do *not* understand how I couldn’t have adored it from the start. Temporary olfactory insanity is all I can think of.
    I think the distribution issues were what did this line in. A while back there were rumors that she has new scents, but isn’t getting financial backing. Don’t know if that was true or not, but I’m praying she gets a new business manager, awkward as that might be. I think she’s a genius perfumer.

  • Pam says:

    March, I think I have left the same teeny number of drops of Nuit au Desert as you. Recvd a small vial once and fell in love with the scent, but by that time the GDs were sadly d/c. I think you’re right in that survival of the fittest in the world of perfumery doesn’t mean survival of the best, hence the pursuit of some of the great vintage fragrances from yesteryear.

    When I smelled Nuit au Desert I thought of an Arabian desert. Something distant and exotic and a place I’ll never visit.

    Lovely post, March.

  • Nina says:

    ‘The fragrant emptiness of prairie miles’…beautiful. I sometimes wonder if people recognise how much they’re taking in with their nose when there’s nothing to see? The GDs will haunt us forever; I own Sous le Buis and daren’t wear it often because I know I will never be able to replace it…just take it out of the box now and then to experience it. But I get exactly what you mean about the tectonic shift; it’s like discovering a new theory of mathematics that opens up unexpected ways of seeing the world. Once you ‘get’ Ormonde, you see all scents in a different light.

  • Leopoldo says:

    Glorious poem. I love discovering things I’ve not come across before – there’s a spare haunting beauty to those words, which seem to capture, with a precision as lean as the desert itself, how the phenomenological world can transport us into a greater sense of who we are… That implied menace (yet natural grace) of the coyote, the juxtaposition of movement (‘the stars behind you..) and stasis (‘fragrant emptiness’)… Lovely stuff.

    Okay, lit crit twaddle done.

    ‘Spare haunting beauty’ are apt words for the GDs too – I’ve smelled three – JO, SE,B dans l’A. Unbelieavable that they’re no longer with us.