"Black is the new black" By Luca Turin
When I find myself a captive audience to a busking musician, say in a metro corridor, I apply a simple test to the question of whether to part with money. Get goosebumps ? Give generously. Hairs unmoved ? Walk on blameless. For some reason this shiver test only works with music, but an analogous one exists for fragrance: does a perfume make you smile the first time you smell it ? I was trying to remember when that last happened. There was, of course, the belly laugh of Angel (Mugler), but that was long ago (1992). Then the beatific smile of Beyond Paradise last year. But in between ? Only one, I’m afraid, and that was Bulgari’s Black in 1998. I’ve mentioned this masterpiece before, but a bit more explaining is required.
Years ago I met a Ferrari collector who owned a beautifully cut raincoat made of black inner-tube rubber with flat taped seams like those on an inflatable dinghy. It looked sensational, and smelled even better, of virgin tires and baby powder. I trespassed and asked him where he had bought it: "a London tailor" he said haughtily, but he was tight-lipped about details. Years later, I understood why: this thing came not from Savile Row, but from a more specialized sort of shop found in Soho. For years I would occasionally nip into the largest one, on Old Compton Street, to smell the rubber underwear hanging on the racks, under the indifferent eye of the staff for whom this ranked as a minor affliction.
Since Black you can take that smell home with you without having to hide it from your mom under a pile of cardigans. I have no idea how the idea came about, but at about the same time Bulgari had started selling watches with black rubber straps, and the bottle is circled in black rubber, so Black may have started out as a naughty joke in the marketing department. It could have stayed that way had it not fallen upon the ears of one of the greatest perfumers at work today, Annick Ménardeau of Firmenich. She took the rubbery idea, added a cloud of talcum powder and blended the two with a luscious fur-coat structure from the fifties, something like the original Je Reviens. The result is more akin to the black mink mitt James Bond uses to induce beautiful spies to talk in From Russia With Love: a torture instrument, only nobody gets hurt.