I'm not sure why I would characterize Crystal Noir as a guilty pleasure. I don't group many of Antoine Lie's other fragrances under that category. Crystal Noir is as satisfying a scent as most of the perfumer's Etat Libre D'Orange compositions, and certainly isn't as low rent as his Pi Neo for Givenchy or Everlast Original 1910. I suppose I start apologizing for any Versace fragrance I happen to like before I even get down to the notes because I'm slightly embarrassed. Something to do with Donatella, maybe. Making it known that she curated Crystal Noir doesn't, of course, do the perfume any favors. The Versace aesthetic is about broad strokes, brassy pastiche, and a blatant disregard for craftsmanship. Far from eschewing parody, Versace embraces the baldly synthetic. Witness Donatella's various plastic surgeries. While nowhere near famous Cat Lady Jocelyn Wildenstein's excesses, Versace and her surgeons aren't exactly going for photo-realism, either.
I waited a long time to write about Crystal Noir. I kept thinking I'd come to my senses. How would anyone ever take me seriously again? I stuck it in a drawer, trying to forget about it. I pulled it out of the drawer a lot. I came out to Abigail about it, inspiring her to buy a bottle, but she was unimpressed. It didn't last very long, she said, so I reconsidered. But it does last on me--and in eau de toilette. Today I pulled it out again and decided it's ridiculous to go on pretending I'm better than Crystal Noir, with its Cadillac-sized cut diamond cap and its deepest purple glass. Maybe I'm just easy. So be it.
Listen, I'm not alone. There are 112 reviews on Makeupalley.com, awarding it an average of 3.9 out of 5 lippies. A whopping 68% say they'd purchase again. Now I know, popularity doesn't always indicate greatness. Often, quite the opposite. But there are many more popular, even more ubiquitous brands than Versace, and Crystal Noir isn't sold in most department stores, unlike some of the company's other fragrances. People seek this stuff out. And I should just add that the makeupalley reviewing public doesn't strike me as a demographic that hands out faint praise or minces words.
Crystal Noir is supposed to be a gardenia-centric fragrance, right? I don't get that. I get tropical, for sure, and nocturnal. But the tropics are darkened fruits, like succulent fig and plum and, say, grenadine-drenched coconut. For all that, there's a saltiness to the aroma. While it might be slightly candied, it has some weird, inexplicable savory undercurrent, creating an interesting tension throughout. It would smell good on a sweaty dance floor, wafting up from moist décolletage. It would smell just as good to me on a guy. I suppose there is that dread thing, the synthetic amber, here. I guess there would have to be. But isn't that the point? It corresponds with the sensibility. You don't get anything remotely like development. That's like asking Donatella to age in reverse. After a strong opening it is remarkably mellow. But if you've spent any time with the brand, you know better. You don't ask for much in your Versace fragrance; just that it might not be as bad as Versense. Crystal Noir isn't.