Originally launched as a trio, the L'Art & la Matière collection has grown to recently receive its tenth member: Néroli Outrenoir. The new fragrance is advertised as an olfactive paradox, "beyond black and still luminous", marrying 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 lately 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."

With a pun on the French expression "l'art et la manière", the art and manner, the L’Art & la Matière line is devoted to creative reflections on raw materials. With only two discontinuations in ten years, the line is obviously commercially successful. Personally, I'm not excited by 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. I can't think of any moment when I 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 me Habit Rouge and I'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 doesn’t suffer from the same problem of being too transparent, fleeting, and frankly dull. Guerlain seems to have understood that for nearly 200 € per 75 ml, customers want powerful stuff, with great density and nuclear longevity.

Although Thierry Wasser has recently 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 I were to apply the same principle to Néroli Outrenoir, the closest equivalent I could propose is to suggest that it’s like smelling Guerlain’s other "black" fragrance, Angélique Noire, on someone next to you while waving a tester strip of Aqua Allegoria Teazzurra (formerly Tokyo) in front of your nose.

Of course, upon further examination, this is not an adequate description. Néroli Outrenoir is quite unique in at least two ways: 1) it proves 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, keeps intermittently surfacing throughout the entire development. In that sense, Néroli Outrenoir certainly is a "paradox", a bit like the myth of the bumblebee which mathematically should be unable to fly.

But Néroli Outrenoir does 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 coalesces with a crisp, bracing mix of bergamot and orange, as well as the honeyed-spicy, metallic feel of neroli. The dryness of citrus is balanced by a fruity pear note, which has a delectably juicy effect on the top note. The result is as refined as sipping a cup of Earl Grey while lifting your pinky.

The tea and orange blossom remain the key players in the composition, but it gradually turns 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 accounts for Guerlain referring to "smoked tea" in the scent description, however this smokiness is far milder and more abstract than in, say, Shalimar. Neither the rose nor the orange blossom makes for an overtly sweet or floral fragrance. Néroli Outrenoir stands as truly unisex, with its amazingly long-lasting, woody orange feel.

The drydown doesn’t change much in the overall picture, fading into a soft skin scent of white musk, but accompanied by a nice little surprise that will please many Guerlain lovers: vanilla! It’s 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 launch of Néroli Outrenoir marks the introduction of a new dark amethyst packaging design for the L’Art & la Matière line, featuring a faux leather box as well as a non-removable bulb atomizer, more elegant than the previous one and with a clever on/off switch that prevents evaporation and leakage. The only drawback is that you’re now forced to use two hands to apply the fragrance, making it difficult to spray it onto your wrist or decant it into travel atomizers. Lastly, the bottle's metal strip has been redesigned to feature the Sun King logo together with Guerlain's revived 1930s Futura font.
(August 2016)

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