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Nirvana Black – Warm, uncomplicated, and surprising

Elizabeth and James "Nirvana Black" - refinery29.com 

I’ve been immersed in “celebrity” perfumes.

I can count the number of bona-fide true “celebrity” scents we list on one finger, no - two fingers. Oops, three fingers.

The first is Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, a rich radiant chypre in the classic style, launched in 1991 and the scent that truly started the celebrity category, as well as the scent which marks the beginning of Taylor’s line of “gem” fragrances that are still in demand today.

The second is actress Isabella Rossellini’s Manifesto, an airy green floral with serene herbal and musk notes that perfectly captures Isabella’s beautiful and calm persona. It was part of her Manifesto line of cosmetics and beauty products that she had for several years more than decade ago.

The third is Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker, a silky white amber fragrance from 2005, whimsical and joyful, that was inspired by SJP and incorporated her detailed input through every step of its development. Lovely is, in fact, lovely. Chandler Burr even wrote a book about the making of Lovely: The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry. It was the first of several SJP fragrances, the newest in late 2015 was Stash, which has had excellent reviews.

These three scents are examples of fragrances famous women created for themselves and branded with their own names. With a clear sense of their own identity, and a deep understanding of the relationship between style, luxury, and quality, they made darn sure that the bottles with their name on them and the precious juice inside, embellished their image in the best possible way.

Which leads me to the “celebuscents”, designed to cash in on pop-culture fame. You know the kind of fragrances I’m talking about – the adolescent suffocatingly sweet or aggressive “see me, smell me, adore me” fruity woody super-marketed money-makers built for Britney Spears, JLo, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Kim Kardashian, Adam Levine, Drake, Kanye West, etcetera ad nauseum that come and go as quickly as their newest tunes. The celebuscent train seems to have slowed down recently thank god. I make it a point to sniff all these frags, but I don’t buy them for our Decant Store because there is no compelling reason. I’m not fourteen years old.

Then there are the niche-brand scents created specifically for famous designers, such as Frederic Malle’s perfume portrait of clothing designer Dries van Noten, or which are curated by famous designers such as French interior designer Andree Putnam’s L’Original, or fashion designer Azzedine Alaia’s Alaia Paris , all exceptional fragrances that transcend gender and hit the olfactory “sweet spot” for perfume aficionados.

But there’s another celebrity category I just discovered. It’s a very small category, and somewhat complicated, This category is for fragrances created by designers who used to be huge Celebrities but are now hugely successful Designers. The fragrance I’m thinking about in particular is Nirvana Black by Elizabeth and James, a fashion brand created and owned by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, the Olsen Twins.

Yes, the little Olsen twins from the 1990’s era sitcom, Full House, the child-stars who grew up on TV and retired as multi-millionaires with their own company at age 18. They have re-incarnated themselves as designers of sophisticated clothing and accessories, and are now award-winning fashion insiders famous for their “just rolled-out-of-bed” bo-ho look. They own several successful brands:

-       The Row, upscale and city-chic, is sold in retailers such as Barney’s and Net-a-Porter online

-       OlsenBoye is mass-market, available at JC Penney

-       Elizabeth and James, named after their sister and brother, vintage-inspired and androgynous so that pieces mix and are interchangeable is sold through its own website, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Bloomingdales and others.

Read the Olsen Twin’s amazing story here in Wikipedia.

So what about Nirvana Black? Introduced in 2015 exclusively through Sephora stores, it has a partner, Nirvana White - the two scents reflect the brand’s duality of male and female. Reflecting the Olsens’ minimalist design aesthetic, both Nirvana fragrances are built around only three key notes – the notes form a printed border around the logo on the face of each package – so this simplicity is obviously an important design element. White is the alluring floral musk with notes of peony, lily-of-the-valley, and vanilla. Black is the sensual, woody scent with notes of violet, sandalwood, and vanilla.

Focusing on three notes without having them fight for dominance or cancel each other out is a challenge for any perfumer, but Pierre Negrin who created luxury fragrances such as Amouage Opus VII, Amouage Interlude Man , and Ralph Lauren Blue,  delivered the goods for the twins with Nirvana Black.

Nirvana Black is violet, sandalwood, and vanilla, which happen to be three of my favourite notes, so I guess I was predisposed to love this this fragrance, but wearing it is a much more nuanced experience than three simple notes as it dries down. Described on the website as “an intimate moment captured…” it opens with tender violet, faintly sweet, green and sappy with the promise of spring. I love these opening moments, but the green fades fairly quickly as sandalwood warms up and sweetens the airy violet note so that it becomes sugary. Not sweet, just sugary, the sensation of a crisp coating of sugar rather than baked-in sweetness.

The distinctively creamy and aromatic woodiness of sandalwood creates a soft accord with sweet violet in the heart, which lasts quite a while, but then the third note, vanilla, enters the scene. Instead of taking the spotlight, vanilla joins the accord and takes it into a new dimension, powdery on the top, dark and lightly spicy underneath, green violet and sandalwood swirling slowly in the middle. Nirvana Black is unusually beautiful, and as the scent dries down, it becomes darker and warmer, musky, with a deeply sensual and intimate quality that goes beyond gender.

Much more than a skin scent, but with a controlled sillage, this scent has a maturity and sophistication that is surprising. Nirvana Black feels like the warmth of uncomplicated love, like feeling the sun from both sides.

The more I wear it, the more I love it. It stays with me all day, quietly sending a message of intimate connection. I think that Elizabeth and James Nirvana Black is remarkable and one of the best fragrances from a celebrity/designer(s) in the past few years. And not only does it smell beautiful, it also comes in an uniquely beautiful spray bottle, inspired by a container from the twins collection of vintage accessories. The design reflects the fragrance, simple yet sophisticated.

I want to explore Nirvana White, the other half of the duality. And the newest Nirvana, Nirvana Bourbon.Stay tuned.

Nirvana Black is listed in our decant store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.