Neil Morris Midnight Shadows

By March

Neil Morris has a lot of fans in perfumista-ville.  He tends to make big-boned scents with good lasting power and a certain retro vibe to them, and I mean that as a compliment.  He also knows his way around a rose.  While I’ve enjoyed several of his fragrances (e.g., Dark Season), I hadn’t fallen sufficiently in love to want more than a small sample.

Then Louise met me for coffee, sporting one of the scents Neil Morris just released, I think at Sniffa:  Midnight Shadows.  I hoovered her décolleté with abandon, thinking want want want.  This new fragrance is an interesting direction, more spare and strange than what I’ve come to expect from the line.

I’m going to drop in the list of notes further down, but I emailed Neil and here’s what he wrote:

“I was heading home after visiting with a friend one summer evening and decided to walk 20 minutes instead of taking a cab. Boston is a wonderfully walkable city! So my walk took me through one of our beautiful parks called The Esplanade and I remember it was around midnight. It was quite warm and humid but there was a breeze and a full moon. The shadows from the trees were dancing across my path and I remember picking up a sweet scent in the air that I couldn’t identify. It was floral but more than that. I wanted to capture my magical midnight stroll with its damp earthiness, sweet floralcy and midnight shadows…”

I’ve never been in Boston late on a summer evening, and I’m afraid the thought of downtown Washington on a humid night doesn’t inspire a fragrance I’d want to wear, ever.  But I’m glad Neil was inspired, because what he’s come up with is (at its essence) a smoky incense with a hint of oud and a faint, delicate sweetness that femmes it up a little.

I’m a huge fan of incense frags, and/but it’s possible to reach a point where you think: well, this scent here is sorta like Avignon but with less x, or this kind of reminds me of YSL Nu only more woody.  The cool thing about Midnight Shadows, and I think Louise agreed, is that it doesn’t immediately bring to mind any other incense I’ve smelled.  It’s not churchy.  It’s wonderfully smoky, but for those who fear the smoke because it’s got that edge reminiscent of grilling meat, this is different – more like the sweet maple-leaf of CB I Hate Perfumes’ Burning Leaves and less like a leathery birchtar bratwurst.

Notes (directly from Neil) are cade, caramel, oud, labdanum, Arabian frankincense, tuberose, civet, musk.  Now you see why I dropped them in a little later.  Caramel isn’t something I long for in my perfumes, although the rest of that list sounds pretty swell.  And I never in a million years would have identified tuberose – or any floral, really.  It’s more resiny than floral to my nose, and easily unisex.

A note on cade: I’ve never smelled the essential oil, which is used medicinally in various ways and for aromatherapy.  It’s distilled from juniper shrubs and descriptors include smoky, green, woody, and dry, and it’s often found in incense.  Some favorite perfumes (Cuir de Russie, BNTB Exhale, and SSS Fireside and Winter Woods) contain cade; the last two also have birch tar, which makes them smokier.  My guess is birch tar, which is in a lot of leather scents, is the roasted-meat culprit.

Midnight Shadows needs about five minutes to set up properly on the skin, it definitely warms up and opens up sillage-wise, and thus I’m warning you – a little bit goes a very long way.  Louise made my roll-on decant from a spray bottle, and I can’t imagine spraying this thing on.  Three or four sprays might clear a building, but two discreet dabs (on the wrist, on the chest) is perfect.

Feel free to name your favorite Neil Morris fragrance(s) in comments, and what you like about it/them.

image: Midnight Shadows, Chez VH,

  • dissed says:

    This went straight to the sample list.

  • Jared says:

    I think Rumi is still my favorite of the bunch. Patchouli and ylang? Hello! Midnight Shadows is intriguing. I just have to see the word “civet” in the list and I’m there. I like your description of the fragrances as “big-boned.” I’ve been struggling to classify them myself in a way because just smell “different” than a lot of other things out there: more raw, elemental, natural, etc. Anywho. Thanks for putting Neil Morris back on my radar! Must get that fb of Rumi……

  • katya says:

    Thank you for the great review
    I love me some incense:d:d:d
    When will this be available-just cannot find it on the site:-?

  • Vasily says:

    I’ve only tried a few Neil Morris frags, and so far nothing has completely wowed me except maybe Burnt Amber — I like the way smooth amber tempers the smoke. Its longevity on me wasn’t great, however. I also like Cafe very much, though again, longevity wasn’t the best. Dark Earth, I didn’t like so much — a fairly obvious patchouli, in my opinion, and the shortest longevity of those I’ve tried.

    Leather Garden and now Midnight Shadows are on my list of Morris frags to try next.

  • brigitte says:

    I have perused Neil’s website time and time again but have yet to purchase samples. Now I am inspired after this review. Never was much of an incense lover until I met SSS Incense Pure. If Midnight Shadows is similar I am sure that I will love it. I spent a summer in Boston 25 years ago and very much remember evening walks through the Esplanade. I love that Neil always gives us an inner glance into the inspiration for his fragrances.

  • Sharon C. says:

    I have several FBs, and have sampled most of the Vault perfumes. My favorites are October (exactly like childhood autumn smells in northern PA) and Gotham. Midnight Tryst is pretty sexy, as well.

    I love the notes Neil writes on the bottles, and the extra samples included with each order, too. Neil and his business partner David Garten are two of the nicest people in the world as well, even though I’ve only met them via e-mail.

    • March says:

      You know, I forgot that. They’re generous with the samples, for sure. I met Neil at Sniffa and he’s an incredibly nice guy.

  • Neil says:

    Dear March – Thank you so much for your wonderful review of Midnight Shadows! I’m glad you and Louise feel it smells like no other. I work very hard trying to create scents that don’t smell like everything else out there. This was a tough one to balance. Tuberose and Caramel don’t really love each other so this went through many renditions before I was satisfied.

    I also want to thank everyone who commented and all your kind words; very much appreciated. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!!

    Fragrant Dreams, Neil

  • DinaC says:

    Neil Morris is another line that I haven’t sniffed yet. Boy, I really need to get on the stick and get sniffing! Sounds like I’m missing out on some great stuff. :-) *goes back to rolling out pastry dough for pies*

    • March says:

      Ooooh, what kind of pies?

      I’m making pumpkin and sweet potato. I’m the only one who likes sweet potato and I don’t care. [-( More for me.

      • DinaC says:

        I did blueberry (not very Thanksgiving-y, but a favorite anyway), apple and pumpkin. That should cover all our pie bases. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, March!

        • March says:

          Thanks, you too! We ended up with an extra sweet potato pie. In my opinion, mine was better :d The other was very orange-y. Nice, but not exactly sweet potato, I think she must have put orange juice or rind into it.

  • Sandy says:

    I have Hippie and Summer of Love – I love them both, but my husband complains that they are too strong (probably because he didn’t grow up in California in the 60s?). I commute to work on public transit so I tend to not wear these as often as I’d like to, but I really like Neil’s work and the stories behind his scents.

    • March says:

      He’s very thoughtful, and it’s always interesting reading how a scent was developed. Yeah, I can see how you might not want to drench yourself before getting on public transpo, but then again I’m sick of being trapped next to someone wearing Angel, so…

  • (Ms.) Christian says:

    I love Neil’s spirit, his inventiveness, his big heart but none of his scents (and I have tried 95% of them) work on me. I read reviews, I get excited, I anticipate, I spray or dab, and then I get something that smells like Country Time Lemonade mixed with acetone. Or worse. It’s not that he makes BAD things, it’s that they smell bad on ME. I want to try this one but am afraid that my NM track record will rear its head.

    I am thankful for many things this year, and also mourning the loss of many things-and I am very thankful that you are posting again, March. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

    • March says:

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I have all sorts of things to be thankful for, including Posse folks. @};-

      You know, some lines just flat out don’t work on some people. So you can probably take a pass on this one.

  • Musette says:

    I’ve loved Neil Morris since Time Began but have had trouble attaching myself to his fragrances – until Leather Garden. I love what he did with that and it wears beautifully – I was stunned to find I loved it enough to buy a FB!

    I think I’ll wear that today. And I christen today Neil Morris Day! (*)

    xo >-)

    ps. this sounds excellent, though you know I waver and dither with incense….

    • March says:

      Leather Garden, sounds right up your alley. I’m not sure I’d define this as an incense scent, come to think of it. I don’t know WHAT I’d define it as. It’s wonderful, I am wearing it right now on a dreary day.

  • rosarita says:

    I’ve just sampled a couple and they were ok but not something I’d save up to buy. I enjoy reading about NM himself though, and I like his views on perfumery and the stories behind his inspiration. Your review changes my mind because dear Louise is my scent twin, so this would be a good one for me to sample.

  • Louise says:

    This Shadow has quickly risen high on my list of incredibly original, beautiful, and a bit edgy perfumes. The edgy is a great thing…I’ve never smelled anything remotely similar. I am generally not a fan of tuberose (well, except Carnal Flower), but I do smell it here. For me, the smokiness brings out a fleshy side of the flower. I get no caramel at all, just s touch of sweetness that balances the incense.

    Favorite NM? Hard for me, but I do love Dark Season. But, also Midnight Tryst, and Neils new Teahouse-this being my favorite dark, leathery tea ever.

    That was a great description, March, and you sure know how to hoover :x

    • March says:

      I keep looking for the tubey … wearing it again today, I might just have put a hair too much on. /:) But no complaints. and thanks again for introducing me to this. 😡

  • This sounds incredible! I love eating caramel, so it will be interesting to see what it’s like in a fragrance =)


  • dinazad says:

    WANT!!!!! That sounds absolutely glorious!

    I like what I’ve smelled of Mr. Morris’s scents, and Izmir and Rumi have been on my wishlist for quite some time – I’m afraid I’ll have to make myself a Christmas present…..

  • Joanna says:

    This scent sounds lovely. I’m not a lover of caramel in fragrances either but I’m always looking for that scent that will change my mind.

    • March says:

      I’m not sure this will change you mind, in that I can’t actually smell any caramel in it. :d Which is fine by me.

      • Joanna says:

        He really likes to walk at night apparently. I think Gotham was based on a stroll one night in Manhattan. I really like Gotham, it’s on the FB list. Intrigued with Midnight Shadows, the caramel scent that isn’t. I think caramel is a hard scent to pull off but it seems to be a popular note right now.