Guerlain Vol de Nuit fragrance review

Guerlain Vol de Nuit perfume

Whenever I have a bout of insomnia on terra firma, I do not count sheep or backwards from 1000, nor do I imagine myself on a deserted beach in a comfy hammock; I imagine myself on an airplane, high in the sky, at night. Put me in a window seat with my neck-rest, pillow, eye mask, blanket and earplugs and you will behold a man who can sleep from Seattle to Bangkok. I do love “flying,” especially at night; on an airplane, the engine’s hum and vibration, the isolation, and the suspension of physical activity all induce drowsiness and serenity.

Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) was (supposedly) inspired by the 1931 novel of the same name by aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I read Vol de Nuit and assume Guerlain loved its title and figured out a way to incorporate the story into Vol de Nuit’s advertising. Vol de Nuit, le parfum, in no way conjures up the sense of danger and high altitude excitement the novel depicts.

Vol de Nuit’s plot is simple, its resolution speedy. On an evening in Buenos Aires, the manager of southern South American airmail routes, Rivière, anxiously waits for the arrival of the airmail plane from Patagonia, but the airplane encounters a fierce storm, is thrown off course, runs out of fuel, and its pilot, Fabien, and a wireless operator onboard, die. Fabien’s wife, Simone, makes brief appearances in the novel — her fate is always to wait for her husband and hope he is safe.

Using the elements of the novel and the characters I’ve mentioned, what should a perfume called Vol de Nuit smell like? It should be redolent of ozone, rain, over-heated metal, fuel, sweat, coffee, leather, flowers, ink and paper, and the ocean. (COMME des GARÇONS — get to work!)

I became interested in Vol de Nuit when I began researching old Guerlain scents, trying to find vintage perfumes that a man could wear today; I whittled down my Guerlain choices to three classics: Mitsouko, L’Heure Bleue and Vol de Nuit.

Created by Jacques Guerlain and released in 1933, Vol de Nuit contains bergamot, galbanum, petitgrain, jasmine, daffodil, spices, woods, iris, vanilla, amber and forest notes. Vol de Nuit in Parfum strength is a dense scent. I smell galbanum and jasmine upon application but these notes fade quickly. Vol de Nuit’s mid-notes are well blended and I detect only hints of (bitter) iris and daffodil. The amber and vanilla in Vol de Nuit’s dry down are longer lasting than all other notes and they dominate the perfume. Vol de Nuit has a cream-powder, silken character and though it does not smell “modern” by any means, its aldehyde content, on my skin, does not make it veer into matronly territory either. I could not imagine wearing Vol de Nuit in spring or summer because I felt trapped/encased by its too-sweet, tenacious scent. (Some people feel trapped inside airplanes — this is a Vol de Nuit “connection” some may understand.)

Vol de Nuit perfume bottle

Vol de Nuit’s bottle is one of my all-time favorites: the design in relief on the perfume bottle’s face shows a whirring airplane propeller and the words VOL DE NUIT appear on a metal circle that resembles a propeller belt.

I have finished my preliminary Guerlain education. Of the three vintage Guerlain fragrances I thought would suit men (me), Mitsouko was the winner. Mitsouko is addictive — vibrant, original and delicious. L’Heure Bleue has a striking personality but its chilly, musty, medicated scent is an acquired taste. Vol de Nuit, compared to Mitsouko and L’Heure Bleue, is bland — it bores me. I now own a bottle of Mitsouko. I will (perhaps) touch base with L’Heure Bleue a few times a year. Vol de Nuit? Adieu!

(Let the reprimands begin — there are no fans like Guerlain fans and I know Vol de Nuit has staunch admirers, female and male.)

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34 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    What?! Vol de Nuit merely so-so? Don't give up on it yet! Try it when it's warm, when you're hungry, when you're tired, whenever, and I bet someday it's “meh”-ness turns into a revelation of beauty. (Of course, it could just be that our skin and/or tastes are different!)
    I adore Vol de Nuit parfum. To me, it is the Ingrid Bergman of scents, strong but womanly, confident but not flashy, slightly elusive yet familiar. I love its stemmy opening, woody heart, and then that gently powdery, vanillic, and strangely (at this point) floral drydown. I love it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Angela: on me, Vol de Nuit is the Lillian Gish of scents: sweet, mincing, nice. I gave it a month of tries! But as we know attitudes change over time, K

  3. Anonymous says:

    Lillian Gish! Yikes! I wouldn't wear it either if it came off like that on me. (The word “mincing” especially clinches the deal.) Mitsouko is pretty fabulous, though, and there's nothing mincing about that one!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm afraid I don't like Vol de Nuit or Mitsouko (sorry)! I find pretty much all the old Guerlain scents too hard to understand. Maybe it's because they are from another era, but I love Chanel No 5 (I would assume it's been altered over the years though)? If there were one perfume on the planet I would love to wear it would be Mitsouko, I just love the history of it. Will I ever love to wear it?!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Well, first off, nicely written review, as always. I'm certainly not reprimanding you – to each his own- but I have to say, I can understand disliking Vol de Nuit on *any* other grounds than its being bland! Too much, too intense,outdated, overpowering – maybe…but just “so-so”?! To me, the one thing this fragrance has is personality, and plenty of it. You are right about us Guerlain fans, though – we are loyal to the point of fanaticism :-) (For me, it's L'Heure Bleue always and forever.)

  6. Anonymous says:

    Baby Jane: It happens all the time…hate turns to love. Just recently I was disparaging the re-done Monsieur Balmain…six WEEKS later I bought a bottle!!!!!! I've been enjoying it in warm weather. K

  7. Anonymous says:

    Kiki: I will admit Vol de Nuit could be described as Intense/overpowering…in a banal way. Is that better? (Don't slap me!) K

  8. Anonymous says:

    A: let us join hands then, and sing hymns to Mitsouko…we are in total agreement on it! K

  9. Anonymous says:

    Fair enough. Smart ass ;-)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Have been wearing Guerlain exclusively this week – HR, Heritage, L'Instant PH, Shalimar (love it!). Guerlain fanatic, moi? Nah! But fear not, my friend, for I've yet to try Vol de Nuit. Hopefully I'll get Bergman instead of Gish :-)

    Tomorrow I'll probably go with one of underrated but truly gorgeous Guerlains – Parure. Speaking of which, have you got round to it?

    I did finally try Light Blah PH and suprisingly I got lots of incense. And that's it, really. :)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Dusan: I have yet to find Parure anywhere that I could sample it. Maybe it's more available/popular in Europe? I usually have to order samples of Guerlains that are not Shalimar, Vetiver, and newer ones. But even finding a sample of Parure is impossible.

    'Light BLAH'…like it! I wish I had gotten some of that incense as I wore it. K

  12. Anonymous says:

    I don't really like it either. (We can run away from the hordes of irate Vol de Nuit fans together.)

    Re. the name: I don't think there's any doubt the scent was named after the book. Guerlain have a history of doing that kind of thing: Eau Impériale for Empress Eugénie; Eau du Coq for the actor Constant Coquelin, nicknamed 'Le Coq', creator of the part of Cyrano de Bergerac; Chamade as a homage to Sagan's novel La Chamade… Saint-Exupéry was so famous at the time. I studied him at school: I'm afraid I've always found him incredibly boring.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Well I won't abandon all hope then!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Bela: I've got your back…we will protect each other! As for VdN, the name, WHY didn't Guerlain make this a MALE scent I'll never know. The book is really all about men and maybe a male fragrance would have been more “exciting.” Ah, what might have been….K

  15. Anonymous says:

    LOL!

    Saint-Ex was such a great hero with women too. Maybe that's why…

    I can't imagine how the French educational authorities thought that his books – so 'male' as you point out – could be of interest to young girls (I went to an all-girl lycée). We were *all* bored to tears. Mind you, I also hated Le Petit Prince as a child. So twee!

  16. Anonymous says:

    Flying is one of my five favorite things in the universe. I still regret the fact that I didn't complete flying lessons and get my pilot's license, although to be honest, I'm just about as happy being a passenger – unless I'm sitting next to someone who's compulsively chatty. Anyway, this intense love of all things related to flying led me to be extremely predisposed to loving Vol de Nuit. If I hadn't liked it, I think I might have bought an empty bottle, filled it w/ a favorite perfume (preferably one w/ a boring name) and then just let myself believe that it was actually VdN. Fortunately, I actually do get a nice leather kick and enough spices to keep this one interesting on my skin. However, like all Guerlains, I can only wear this in the parfum form. Their edts are nightmarish on my skin (except for the Parure, which Dusan mentioned).

  17. Anonymous says:

    Elle: I DO want the Vol de Nuit bottle…too bad it's filled with a scent I'd never wear. I'm headed to Vancouver BC this weekend for an exhibit at the museum, so will look and see if there's a Parure tester in the big dept store I can try. I'm so curious about the PLUM that Dusan mentioned but wary of the aldehyde content…which I've heard is high. K

  18. Anonymous says:

    I'll send you a decant of Parure in a month or so, if you like (I'm away from home at the moment). I have a bottle and I don't like it. But I adore Vol de Nuit, so maybe it's a skin thing.

  19. Anonymous says:

    How nice…I'd love to try it, K

  20. Anonymous says:

    Just a big congrats on finding some VdN to try on. It's just so hard to get. I might try get a bottle of EdT and hang on to it until I find a bottle of parfum. Lucky you I am green with envy!

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hi Jane, I might be imagining it but I tried the EdP of Chanel 5 at a store the other day and I think it's has a bit of Mitsouko and a bit of LHB. I think I spot in Chanel 5 a hint of peach and the musky/incense… or may be I simply have been using these two scents a bit too much, my nose has gone mad and so I smell them everywhere… :P :)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for a great and daringly dare-us-to-retort review. I'm not enough of a seasoned vet to venture a self-confident opinion, but, having just tried Vol de Nuit for the first time, and having grown up on Shalimar and L'Heure Bleue, I think I've got enough personal history to tentatively say that my first impression was a good one. To my nose, VdN has that very quiet, old-fashioned Arpege thing going on, and, as someone who has yet to really appreciate classic chypres such as Miss Dior, I'm surprised at how wearable and appealing it is. Of all the older scents out there, I think I could actually *handle* smelling of VdN. I'd called it subtle as opposed to boring. But that's just me, at this point on the learning curve.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Oops. I see that I have inadvertently suggested that Vol de Nuit is a chypre. It isn't — at least, I don't think it is. I meant that, while I find older chypres can be challenging (just my own quirk), it is in large part because Vol de Nuit does NOT have that sharp chypre oakmoss thing going on that it's easier for me to appreciate and to find wearable. I also, at this point in my olfactory evolution, don't like a ton of spice, and Vol de Nuit is 'quiet' that way. If I'm all wet on this theory, please correct me!! Thanks.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Robin, in your honor I just put on some Vol de Nuit to refresh my memory. I think you are right to regard this as a 'quiet' scent and I think that was my problem with it…I keep wanting to say to Vol de Nuit: “What did you say? SPEAK UP!” HA! Most reference books classify Vol de Nuit as a floral-amber or spicy-floral-amber scent and right now it does smell very ambery on me. Kevin

  25. Anonymous says:

    How nice of you to do that. I love this site SO much because you guys are so damn talented, sensitive, helpful and kind. Patient, too. Did I mention great writers? Kevin, it's probably like Seattle today here in Vancouver. A very Vol de Nuit day. Tried it again yesterday though, and wasn't too keen. On the other wrist, wandering through the fragrance dept., I sprayed a little of Lancome Homme for the first time. Damn it, but I thought it was as sexy as Clive O himself. Is it too “commerical” for you, or do you liike it, too?? I'm just getting into men's fragrances: what a revelation!!! I love some of them as much or more as my own gender's!!! They have a sultriness missing in so many girly scents. . .

  26. Anonymous says:

    P.S. I met Frederic Malle briefly today in Vancouver. Also met Linda Primeau from Guerlain, who knows you and enjoys this site very much. We must have lunch when you are up this way!

  27. Anonymous says:

    R: Lunch would be great and I'll be up in Vancouver before Christmas for sure. I've not tried the Lancome but since you're in Vancouver and prone to wandering the perfume aisles: DO SAMPLE HE WOOD/DSquared FOR ME ASAP…and report back. I think it's only available at Hold Renfrew! K

  28. Anonymous says:

    Ooooh! I'll do my best, Kevin. I'm afraid I don't have your experience when it comes to mens fragrances, but iI'll give it my best shot/

    I'm at rrazzell@telus.net when you come to town. Looking forward to it!! Robin

  29. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, He Wood/D Squared is well worth checking out. Dry-ish, nicely woody, well-balanced and v. attractive.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Robin: THANKS…look forward to smelling it. I was thinking of coming to Vancouver this weekend but SNOW was forecast for today and tonight…so must postpone!

  31. AnonymousBlonde says:

    Vol de Nuit is one of the most beautiful fragrances I have yet encountered. It is the only Guerlain that has a slight Chanel touch for me. Could I be the only person on earth who does not like Mitsouko?

    It is nice to know people can disagree in such a lovely, kind, civilized manner. Taking the plunge was easier than on many boards.

    • Kevin says:

      AnonBlonde: welcome! people here ARE crazy about perfumes, but don’t get “crazy” in the comments…you are safe to voice your opinion. HA!

  32. sugarplum says:

    I’m working (?) my way through decant EDP of Guerlain classics. Vol de Nuit smells almost exactly like Weil de Weil at the outset – green green green galbanum. Swiftly they part ways. W de W stays green though leather at last seeps through, whereas V de N ends up, like so much Guerlain, on that cushy vanilla and coumarin velvet pillow – the Guerlinade. Mostly, though, they are sufficiently similar so that I may enjoy my plentiful supply of Weil de Weil without the pining “what if” that dogged me in my pursuit of Vol de Nuit. Is it heresy to say a perfume is “good enough?”

  33. dolcesarah says:

    The other day when you got into your jammies and mentioned Samars and Daphne I blind bought it and I love it. I knew I would. It’s been difficult to find a CdGarcons that I love. However, when mentioned with the Guerlain’s I knew it was fate. Thanks for the recommendation.

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