Thierry Wasser and Delphine Jelk 2016
[nero'li utʁnwa:r]
Family: citrus, floral, woody
Notes: pear, bergamot, orange, neroli, petitgrain, orange blossom, rose, smoked tea, carrot seeds, ambrette, guaiac wood, cedarwood, vanilla, white musk
Black orange blossom
Period: The recapitulation years

In 2016, Guerlain's L'Art & la Matière collection received its tenth member, called Néroli Outrenoir. Advertised as an olfactive paradox, "beyond black and still luminous", it married the bright neroli note with black tea. It was the French abstract artist Pierre Soulages who coined the term "outrenoir" ("beyond black") for the paintings he began working on in the late 1970s. He demonstrated that total blackness can actually be used to reflect light and colour nuances.

Neroli is the name of the essential oil of orange blossom. Compared to orange blossom absolute, which has a deep, sensual scent, neroli smells fresh, spicy, and cleanly floral. Therefore, it’s a typical note in fresh colognes, but high-end brands have made it fashionable to use it in very costly perfumes. According to Guerlain, Thierry Wasser wanted to express all the facets of orange blossom, "the orange-like zest of neroli, the woody-aromatic petitgrain, and the orange blossom absolute."

Devoted to creative reflections on raw materials, Guerlain's L’Art & la Matière line is a response to the "back-to-basics, one-ingredient" trend of niche perfumery, which has all the snob appeal of Michelin menus, when in fact what you really hunger for is to sit in a noisy restaurant with a bœuf bourguignon, a crème brûlée, and a bottle of red wine. It's difficult to find any moment when we wholeheartedly feel like reaching for a L'Art & la Matière instead of one of Guerlain's classic or mainstream fragrances. If you insist on calling something "black neroli", just give us Habit Rouge and we'll feel infinitely more entertained and dressed up than in any "Exclusive" fragrance.

However, unlike Myrrhe & Délires, which was discontinued after just three years, Néroli Outrenoir didn't suffer from the same problem of being too transparent, fleeting, and frankly dull. Maybe Guerlain had understood that for nearly 200 € per 75 ml, customers want powerful stuff, with great density and nuclear longevity.

Although Thierry Wasser has dispelled the notion that something called the Guerlinade actually exists, "a thing, plop, plop, that we more or less put into every bottle," Guerlain aficionados like to think that there’s some kind of ethereal, common accord that links every new Guerlain fragrance with all the Guerlains before it. Therefore, most Guerlain fragrance reviews include references to a number of the brand’s other creations. If we were to apply the same principle to Néroli Outrenoir, we would describe it as a mix of Guerlain’s other "black" fragrance, Angélique Noire, and Aqua Allegoria Teazzurra (formerly Tokyo).

Of course, upon further examination, this wouldn't be an adequate description. Néroli Outrenoir was quite unique in at least two ways: 1) it proved that a citrus scent convincingly can slide into the "evening mood" of the L’Art & la Matière line, and 2) the citrus, normally only a top note, intermittently kept surfacing throughout the entire development. In that sense, Néroli Outrenoir certainly was a "paradox", a bit like the myth of the bumblebee which mathematically should be unable to fly.

But Néroli Outrenoir did fly, taking off with a strong, natural scent of tea. In perfumery, the tea note is used much like aromatics, but compared to traditional herbs, it has a tannic, dusty vibe of orris and dry grass that renders it immediately recognizable, and very pleasant. The tea in Néroli Outrenoir coalesced with a crisp, bracing mix of bergamot and orange, as well as the honeyed-spicy, metallic feel of neroli. The dryness of citrus was balanced by a fruity pear note, which had a delectably juicy effect on the top note. The result was as refined as sipping a cup of Earl Grey while lifting your pinky.

The tea and orange blossom remained the key players in the composition, but it gradually turned mossier and warmer, with a peppery, carrot-like note, and an almost Middle Eastern blend of rose, balsam, and wood, mainly cedar but also the smoky guaiac wood. Probably the latter accounted for Guerlain referring to "smoked tea" in the scent description, however this smokiness was far milder and more abstract than in, say, Shalimar. Neither the rose nor the orange blossom made for an overtly sweet or floral fragrance. Néroli Outrenoir stood as truly unisex, with its amazingly long-lasting, woody orange feel.

The drydown didn’t change much in the overall picture, fading into a skin scent of wood and white musk, but accompanied by a nice little surprise that would please many Guerlain lovers: vanilla! It was merely a touch of empty chocolate box, way below Guerlain’s typical gourmand level, but enough to make us think that maybe, despite Wasser’s claim to the contrary, there is something called the Guerlinade.

The bottle for the L'Art & la Matière line is an oblong slender block of glass, decorated on one end with a golden metal strip with the perfume's name imprinted on it, as if it were the spine of an old leather-bound book. With the release of Néroli Outrenoir, the bottle's removable atomizer design was replaced with a non-removable bulb atomizer that included an elegant on-off mechanism. However, many customers found the bulb design very impractical, and as a consequence, Guerlain soon decided to change it into a standard spray, featuring a wooden cap to match the Parisien line.

  We love: that fresh citrus can be turned into an evening fragrance

  Floral chypre

  Chic woody

Some images courtesy of

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