Sunset Boulevard (1950): Caron Narcisse Noir Mystery

sunsetboulevard_tuberoses_bornunicorn caron_narcissenoir_bornunicorn

There’s a urban legend according to which Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) mentioned Caron Narcisse Noir in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, thus scoring the first major product placement in cinema. You find this piece of news everywhere on Internet, basically in every single review of the perfume. Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you but this is what I said, nothing more than a urban legend.

Yesterday evening I took the time to watch the film for the nth time and there is no mention [1] to the Caron perfume. The only moment in which Joe Gillis (William Holden) comments on Norma’s perfume is from the movie-watching scene. “She’d sit very close to me, and she’s smell of tuberoses, which is not my favourite perfume, not by a long shot.” According to Fragrantica, tuberose can’t even be found in the olfactory pyramid of Narcisse Noir! Maybe the legend started from the fact that Swanson was said to have used this perfume on set, but there’s a big difference between saying she used it on set and saying it was mentioned in the film. I can’t rule out the possibility that a bottle of it was on the busy dressing table of the diva, but I couldn’t find it. Show me a screencap and we’ll discuss about it.

[1] If you check the movie script, you will obviously find no mention to Narcisse Noir.

10 thoughts on “Sunset Boulevard (1950): Caron Narcisse Noir Mystery

  1. I am loving your blog! And now I will have to watch SB again. Funny-my brother thought the same thing-that Norma Desmond says her fragrance is Narcisse Noir, Black Narcissus. And I totally remember the tuberose quote (I LOVE tuberose fragrances). In real life, Gloria Swanson spent inordinate amounts of money on fragrance-it was very important to her.

    Now back to your archives 🙂

    1. Hi Carole!
      Thanks for the appreciation.
      I’ve watched “Sunset Boulevard” many times because it’s one of my favourite movies, but last year I watched it again only to see if the Narcisse Noir quote was real or not. I don’t know if I was more disappointed (there was no mention to the Caron perfume) or pissed off (where did bloggers get this information, since there’s nothing in the film?).

  2. I agree it’s not Narcisse Noir. Surely the most likely source of a reference to a tuberose perfume in a 1950 film would have been Germaine Cellier’s Fracas, introduced by Piguet in 1948? That “loud” scent of “buttered tuberose” would have been everywhere in Beverly Hills and Brentwood — Wilder and Bracket must have caught it at every party for months as they wrote the script.

    1. A mention to Fracas would have made lots of sense! It’s a good observation: the queen of tuberose perfumes must have made an impression on Billy Wilder. Thanks for your comment 😃

      1. Narcisse Noir was certainly on the minds of audiences in the late-40s, but that was because of the eponymously titled Black Narcissus (The Archers, 1947). Sabu, who plays “the young general,” names the perfume he “orders from Army & Navy Stores, London;” in the classroom it not only startles his classmates into giggles, but galvanizes — one might even say, “ravishes” — Sister Ruth (‘m hoping I remember correctly, and it was she in the classroom scene with the young general). That frankly sensuous film is sure to delight all parfumiers/parfumieres!

      2. Yes, it’s correct: it’s Sister Ruth who falls for the luxury and the sensousness of Sabu’s world. I recently watched the Powell & Pressburger film for the first time: very striking from a visual point of view.

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