Vol de Nuit by Guerlain (vintage EDT)

Notes: orange, orange blossom, galbanum, Mandarin orange, bergamot, narcissus, lemon, aldehydes, iris, vanilla, violet, Indonesian carnation, jasmine, rose, spices, sandalwood, musk, orris root, and oakmoss.

Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit famously takes its name from the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novel of the same name. In English, it’s Night Flight. The novel tells the story of pilots making the night flight from Buenos Aires to various destinations around the world to deliver mail. The Guerlain extrait bottle features an art deco airplane propeller motif and it’s my personal favorite design of the Guerlain extrait bottles. Vol de Nuit was released in 1933, and we have to keep in mind that flying was not common then. People and luggage weren’t packed onto industrial-sized aircrafts the way we are now. Back then, it was usually a solitary and dangerous voyage, a fact which Saint-Exupéry emphasizes in his novel.

I have a small decant of vintage Vol de Nuit EDT from The Perfumed Court. I don’t know what batch it’s from as I don’t have the full bottle or the batch code. The opening of my decant is green and bitter. It’s definitely galbanum and a hint of bergamot. I don’t get much of the orange citrus notes or the aldehydes. I’m guessing those top notes have faded a bit over the years. The bitter green opening quickly settles down and the composition forms a floral cloud on my skin. There’s still a bitter edge, but it’s significantly softened by jasmine and iris in particular.

For some reason, I get more lemon in the heart notes. About an hour into wear time, I get a lovely lemon mingled with jasmine. It gives me a bit of a Chanel vibe. The iris and that Guerlain violet make an appearance. The soft texture of the florals combined with the violet note makes me think of Guerlain’s iconic météorites powder. But this isn’t really a makeup/cosmetic scent. There’s so much going on, and there’s always that undercurrent of galbanum.

Though not listed in the note pyramid, I smell cocoa powder in the heart and moving into the base. The powdery iris is still there, bolstered by a creamy orris. But there is definitely a dry, cocoa powder note to me. There’s a spiced musk and a weighty, damp oak moss. This will sound strange, but the texture of the dry down, and the oak moss in particular, reminds me of damp cotton balls. You will be familiar with this if you’ve ever soaked a cotton ball to remove eye makeup or nail polish. It’s a weird texture. It’s dense and weighty but still soft.

It’s this texture that is missing from the current EDT formulation. I don’t currently own a bottle of Vol de Nuit but I always test it when I’m near a counter at Saks or Bergdorfs. I still love the scent, but the composition is more sheer. It’s a shame, and I just hope that LVMH doesn’t get the idea to tell Guerlain to completely phase out Vol de Nuit. I think it’s an important piece in Guerlain’s heritage. Vol de Nuit is actually one of my favorite classic Guerlains along with Jicky and Mitsouko. It is my perfume dream to own the Vol de Nuit parfum extrait in the art deco bottle one day.

I’ve seen many comments (on fragrantica and elsewhere) labeling Vol de Nuit as “cold” or “aloof.” I’ve seen similar things written about No. 19 so it may be the galbanum note that people react to. I find this strange because Vol de Nuit is very emotional to me. It’s nostalgic with an undercurrent of sadness. Think of Saint-Exupéry’s novel, which was Jacques Guerlain’s original inspiration for this composition. Of course this fragrance is a challenge, just as the night flight mail delivery was a challenge. Vol de Nuit is not an easy scent to wear or appreciate. It gives off an air of seriousness and of sadness. It is not seductive in a typical way. But, for me, it’s one of the most rewarding scents. You simply need to let Vol de Nuit settle into the skin and pay attention as it tells its own story.

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I ordered my sample/decant from The Perfumed Court.

The info on notes is from Fragrantica.

The photo is my (almost empty!) sample pictured with a painting called: “The Old City Market, Warsaw, at Night” by Jozef Pankiewicz from 1892. I found this painting while leafing through my Taschen book on Impressionism. The nighttime atmosphere reminded me of the nostalgia of Vol de Nuit.