Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Datura Noir: Hells Bells

The Devil’s Weed. Hell’s Bells. It sounds like something from a gothic novel, a Regency romance, or a horror movie. Perhaps, even the street name for a drug. The latter might actually be quite an appropriate context for the “Devil’s Weed,” a toxic, poisonous, hallucinogenic plant which (Wikipedia says) once drove the soldiers of Jamestown mad, back in 1676.

Datura Seed Pod. Source: Flick, KurtQ/KurtQvist.http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurtq/3971036475/

Datura Seed Pod. Source: Flick, KurtQ/KurtQvist. http://www.flickr.com/photos/kurtq/3971036475/

The Devil’s Weed (aka, Hell’s Bells, Devil’s Trumpet, Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia, and many other names) is scientifically known as the Datura Stramonium plant and is a type of deadly nightshade with truly revolting looking pod seeds that resemble something out of a Tim Burton movie. Yet, its delicate, summer-blooming flowers are often used in perfumery because they are said to smell of sweet apricots or plums. In perfume, the Devil’s Weed goes by the much more innocuous sounding name of the Datura flower.

That flower is the ostensible inspiration behind Datura Noir, a perfume created by Christopher Sheldrake for Serge Lutens. It was released in 2001 and it seems that it may soon be discontinued. Though there has been no official announcement (there rarely is), I’ve read numerous comments claiming that the perfume will be discontinued in as soon as a few months. It is currently on the Serge Lutens website which describes the perfume as follows:

Like a diabolic trail of smoke left by Satan in Paradise.

Some say this fragrance will enthrall you; others that it will make you crazy. Others still that excessive exposure will kill you dead.
To be precise, one night I took brugmansia, also known as Angel’s Trumpet, and distilled the notes of its lingering memory.

What a description! My word! If only the perfume lived up to it….

Datura Noir BottleLet me be as blunt as possible: Datura Noir is about as satanic, dark, “Noir” and diabolical as raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. It is a perplexing perfume that has left me completely unable to make up my mind about anything but the fact that it is most definitely NOT diabolically dark. You see, Datura Noir is all creamy white coconut, creamy white tuberose, and bitter white almonds. I like two of the three things very much. Unfortunately, creamy coconut… not so much. And, on my skin, this is a very coconut-y perfume.

Fragrantica classified Datura Noir as an Oriental Vanilla (I’d call it a Floral Vanilla, myself), and provides the following notes:

coconut, tuberose, tonka bean, almond, lemon blossom, mandarin orange, musk, chinese osmanthus, heliotrope, myrrh, vanilla and apricot.

The first time I tried Datura Noir, it opened on my skin with an explosion of buttery vanilla and almond, followed a few minutes later by fruity floral notes that were hard to isolate. For a second, I also thought I smelled green plums and, possibly, apricots — but it soon disappeared. Underlying them all was coconut which resembled just slightly Hawaiian tropical oils. I’m not usually crazy about the note and, yet, it worked in some odd way — perhaps because it was extremely mild and fleeting, and because it was alleviated by the almond note.

Croissant au amandesThe almond was absolutely heavenly. At times, it was bitter; at others, sweet and warmed by the vanilla. I detected the heliotrope which not only resembles almonds but which also has a slightly sweet powdery element with a touch of light violets. While heliotrope can sometimes lead to a “Play-Doh” impression, it doesn’t here. This is all almonds and vanilla, and it strongly brings to mind the almond paste with vanilla (pate d’amande) that French patisseries love to use in some croissants. I’m rather in love with it, especially as it isn’t cloying or insanely sweet. The reason is that the sweetness has a definite bitter edge, like the kernels of fruit were freshly crushed. In addition, the vanilla isn’t like highly sugared cupcake frosting. At times, it was rather like French patisserie dusting powder; strong but simultaneously light. At other times, it was rich vanilla, as if from pure Madagascar beans, and had a definitely custardy, creamy aspect to it.

That lovely, slightly gourmand opening happened the first time I tried Datura Noir. The second time, however, it was almost entirely thick coconut and tuberose. It was an astonishing — and extremely stark — difference. I actually couldn’t quite believe it. Yes, there was some bitter almond vanilla, but it skulked in the background as if it were a red-headed stepchild about to be beaten by its abusive parents. This opening was overwhelmingly hotly buttered, heavy, gooey coconut with indolic tuberose trailing just a step behind. The almond-vanilla notes came later — as if the order had been reversed — but even then, it was still mild and submissive.

Datura's flower. Source: Indee on Flick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indee/3741757903/

Datura’s flower. Source: Indee on Flick: http://www.flickr.com/photos/indee/3741757903/

The sharp contrast certainly substantiates the review at Now Smell This which noted how the perfume can change on your skin from day-to-day:

At times it seems to perfectly conjure up the mystical connotations of the Datura flower, and so I tend to think of it as a sexy, secret rendezvous kind of perfume, not something to be worn by the light of day. Other times, the almond in particular seems to strike a jarring note, as though you had shown up for an assignation with a tall, dark stranger and found only a dainty plate of Amaretti cookies. Then there is nothing to do but scrub it off and try again another day.

I’m not sure that Datura Noir ever became “a sexy, secret rendezvous kind of perfume” on my skin. Irrespective of the opening, the perfume consistently developed in its middle and final stages into a buttery coconut and creamy tuberose scent. There were always traces of almond and vanilla, but they never trumped the other two, more dominant notes. There were also varying degrees of soft apricot from both the osmanthus and the datura, but the aroma was more like the almond-y kernel than that of the sweet fruit. Lastly, there was an extremely light musk note that consistently developed on both occasions during the final hour but it was extremely subtle; powdered vanilla was a much greater undertone. None of this screams sexy, clandestine rendezvous to me. And I’m afraid the perfume never morphed beyond what I described. Unlike a few reviewers, I never once smelled myrrh (which I think might have helped) or mandarin orange peel.

In short, I never found anything remotely evoking seductive danger. Had I not read up on the history and nature of the Devil’s Weed, I would have been utterly baffled by the references in reviews such as the enormously positive one at Perfume-Smellin’ Things. There, she found Datura Noir to be the scent of a sweet woman driven to dark things:

In my imagination, the delicate, passive Farnesiana [by Caron] has an alter ego…because there is only so much a sweet-natured girl can take… push her to the limit and we’ll be looking at your necrologue in The NY Times. If you make her really, really angry, Farnesiana turns into Datura Noir, which is anything but delicate or passive. What unites the two for me is the bitter almond quality presented on a creamy floral background. And it is that quality that also makes them oh so different.

In Farnesiana, the almond-heliotrope accord is a soft, if melancholy embrace. In Datura Noir, it is a soupçon of cyanide in your champagne. […] The tuberose, the presence of which lends the composition a languid, tropical feel, is wonderfully creamy, and makes a perfect seductive accomplice to the evil almond. “Very few of us are what we seem,” warns Agatha Christie. That certainly describes Datura Noir. Delicious but poisonous, beautiful but lethal, creamy-white but with the heart of darkness, it will kill you, but softly…if that’s any consolation.

My position is much closer to that The Perfume Shrine which found Datura Noir to be “schizophrenic,” changing perceptibly each time, and not necessarily for the better:

It has the almond nuance of cyanide we read about in novels, yet dressed in edible apricot and tropical fruit and floral notes (candied tuberose clearly present) as if trying to belie its purpose, while at the same time it gives the impression of coconut-laced suntan lotion smelled from afar; as if set at a posh resort in a 1950s film noir where women are promiscuous and men armed to the teeth beneath their grey suits and there’s a swamp nearby for dumbing [sic] bodies in the night…

Initially, I didn’t agree one whit with the scene described but, on my second test of Datura Noir, I could definitely understand why it came to mind. The second version of Datura Noir actually does have a very 1950s Miami gangster/moll vibe to that tropical tuberose accord; one can definitely imagine an overly sexual, over-blown blonde bombshell in a bathing suit, hanging by the side of a Mafia henchman. And, in fact, the Starz premium-cable network has a series called Magic City set in the 1950s that is about the exact scenario invoked by the Perfume Shrine. (Really. A Miami hotel, the Mafia, beautiful women, and dead bodies dumped repeatedly in an ocean grave.)

A scene from "Magic City."

A scene from “Magic City.”

A similar — but significantly harsher — impression came from “Feysparrow” on Makeupalley who wrote:

Usually a perfume that says ‘bad girl’ this shamelessly is found in drugstores…[b]ut Datura Noir, expensive it might be, was designed to smell this cheap. It’s quite clever in a way, right up there with selling ‘antiqued’ furniture and ripped jeans.

It’s tropical and cloying. It’s brazen. It tells passersby, ‘I have done things with many people and I will do those things with you, if you like’. I’m not extrovert enough to even begin to imagine I could carry this off, the thought alone makes me feel headachy and dissolute. I like the scent of datura flowers in real life but here their scent is duplicated with an accord of white flowers, one of which is tuberose which smothers the others to death before I can tell what they were. The tuberose is in turn slaughtered by the coconut, my least favorite note of all time – but of course it has to have coconut, it just wouldn’t be cheap-smelling enough without a heavy hit of coconut. Finally, a flood of almond, apricot, and sweet vanilla adds a gourmand quality to the indigestible heap and in a last gesture of vulgarity, the bad girl says, “Eat me.”

Ouch! I don’t think Datura Noir smells cheap (in the sense of low-cost, poor quality ingredients), but I can understand the comparison to a cheap, brazen woman. It’s all due to that bloody coconut which is simply too over the top here. Too unctuous, too heavy, too dominant, too much of a bad partner for something as rich as tuberose.

As you can tell, I much preferred my first version of Datura Noir, though the coconut element was still a bit too much for me even then. But, as should be equally clear from some of these comments, one doesn’t seem to have a guarantee as to which version of the perfume will show up. To be fair, there are a few really positive reviews for it on Makeupalley and even more on Fragrantica (where it is occasionally compared to Dior’s Hypnotic Poison). However, as a whole, this is a scent which seems to trigger a strong “love/hate” reaction — sometimes within the same person. I felt a bit like the MakeupAlley poster, “myolderbrother,” who wrote: “Unfortunately, the awesomeness isn’t consistent. I’m quite confused with this scent and seem to have a love/dislike affair with it.”

Equally inconsistent are the reports on the perfume’s sillage and longevity. On me, the perfume had good-to-great projection for the first hour on my first try when I put on a fair bit; it had good-to-low projection on my second test when I put on less. In both cases, however, the perfume became much less powerful in the second hour and almost close to the skin. It became fully close to the skin in the third hour. On Fragrantica, the majority of people found the sillage to be merely “moderate.” In terms of longevity, on my first test, there were lingering traces of the scent in the seventh hour; on the second attempt, it didn’t last past five hours. Elsewhere, the reports range from “it barely lasted” to comments about great longevity.

One thing should be noted about Datura Noir. Its name seems to come up often in discussions of Guerlain‘s Mayotte or, as it is more frequently called, Mahora (the perfume’s original name). I’ve reviewed the notorious Mahora and I have to say, the two perfumes are nothing alike. For one thing, there is no edible, gourmand component to Mahora. For another, Mahora had some seriously green aspects to it at first, before turning into a predominantly tuberose perfume with some coconut in it. Datura Noir, in contrast, is a primarily coconut-tuberose (and almond) perfume and the difference in degree is quite large. While both are very, very buttery, Datura Noir seemed much lighter and airer (relatively speaking) the first time around, but significantly heavier the second. I think I prefer Mahora — not only because of the way that the tuberose manifested itself, but also because it wasn’t such a bi-polar, bewildering perfume.

If all of this leaves you confused, well, join the club. I simply don’t know what to think of Datura Noir. Normally, I have an opinion one way or another — but Datura Noir is a bit too much of a drastic chameleon for me to know its true nature. The Perfume Shrine called it a schizophrenic kaleidoscope, and said so with a shiver. But those who love it, seem to do so passionately. If the rumours about it being discontinued soon are true (and I’m hearing them repeatedly), then you may want to give it a sniff soon to decide for yourself. It will either be your “Angel’s Trumpet,” or you’ll find yourself swearing, “Hells Bells, this is the Devil’s Weed!”

 

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: Datura Noir is an eau de parfum which comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is usually priced at $120. It is currently being discounted on a number of different sites. Right now, it is on sale as the “Deal of the Week” at Beauty Encounter for $96.95 with free shipping. I don’t know how long that special will last. It is also available on: Fragrancenet for $98.19, Amazon for $98.87, Parfum1 for $108 and StrawberryNET for $111. The extent and number of these discounted offerings tend to add to the perception that it may be discontinued soon. At the moment, it is still listed on the Serge Lutens website where it costs $120. Datura Noir is also available at Barney’s. In the UK, you can find Datura Noir at Harrods where it costs £69.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website. Sample vials to test it out can be bought at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99. 
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30 thoughts on “Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Datura Noir: Hells Bells

  1. Loved this review. Coincidentally I got this to sample in the mail last night. I love almond and coconut so I’m going to give it a shot but it sounds like it’s going to end up smelling like all the other coconut fragrances I’ve tried lately on me- Yankee candle. :/.

    • Heh, was it the Hells Bells or the Tim Burton-esque photo which got to you, Nancy? The Miami mob and its blowsy women? *grin* When you say “Yankee Candle,” do you mean that things turn plastic-y on your skin or chemical-smelling? There are so many diff. negatives to “Yankee Candle”….

      • It was the Miami mob and its blowsy women- reminds me of some loved ones. 😉 By Yankee candle I mean specifically very sweet and waxy to the point of being nauseating.

        • LOL at the Miami mob reminding you of some people. Ha! Have you ever seen Magic City? 😉

          You’ll have to let me know what you think of Datura Noir on you. Now, I’m even more curious than I was this morning at your initial comment. I’d bet anything it turns “Yankee Candle” in the way that you describe…..

          • Coming back to say you were right, it went sweet, waxy and nauseating. Of course that meant it was exceptionally long lasting. Not for me at all.

  2. Loved the review, Kafka! I have love/hate relationship with tuberose. My loves are Tubereuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower whereas Fracas and Madonna’s Truth or Dare I can’t stand! Also I love coconut but not so much in the perfumery. I heard that Datura Noir is being discontinued together with Five O’ckock Au Gingembre. Do you have any information about the latter?

    • This seems to have been a popular review for reasons that I truly can’t fathom! LOL! 😀 If you hate Fracas, Ross, I’m not surprised that you can’t stand Madonna’s Truth or Dare. It’s a tribute and homage to Madonna’s beloved Fracas! *grin* I think I once read that she loved it so much, she used to order it en masse! I think I’m the exact opposite of you when it comes to tuberose as I adore Fracas but am very underwhelmed by Tubereuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower. I often wonder if it’s a gender thing in part for why few men can handle Fracas on themselves but, yet, Tubereuse Criminelle seems much more approachable and less overwhelmingly feminine and over the top? Me, I greatly admire Tubereuse Criminelle on an intellectual level and I think it’s pure genius. No question about it. But I just wouldn’t reach for it to wear very often. I don’t think it’s a very versatile fragrance.

      As for Five O’ Clock au Gingembre, yes, it is being discontinued but only partially and only in the US (from what I’ve read). It is still available on Lutens’ website though, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it at a few online retailers, too. In short, it won’t be impossible to track down if you love it. 😀

      • I guess you are right about Carnal Flower and Tubereuse Criminalle being a gender thing. I love the uniqueness of Tubereuse Criminelle and greeness of Carnal Flower despite the fact that they are heavy tuberose fragrances.
        I have to get Five O`clock as soon as I can before its totaly gone from the US market. I would love to read your take on it 🙂

        • Ross, I just put in an order for Five O’ Clock Gingembre (and some other stuff from other brands) with Surrender to Chance. 🙂 Depending on when I receive it (probably next Monday at the earliest), and the other stuff that I’d planned to review next week, I’ll have a review for you as soon as I am able. 🙂 xoxo

    • I’ve heard Five O’Clock Au Gigembre would be discontinued as well. I picked up a bottle a week or two ago and like it very much. It’s available pretty readily for a good price (I got mine for about $80 USD shipped) and I think it is well worth it if you like spicy scents.

  3. I love the smell of coconut, and I love coconut-based food (except curries, oddly but that’s a topic for a different discussion), and I don’t even hate it in scents. But it does always smell cheap to me, probably because it smells like tanning oil. I like that smell (I know, my taste barometer is low!), but I don’t want to smell like it, you know?

  4. Only after I started reading your review I realized that I’ve tried Datura Noir. Tried and didn’t like. It doesn’t happen to me too often nowadays, usually my tests’ results stay withing “nice but nothing special” but this one I actually didn’t like and couldn’t explain to myself (if to judge from my notes) what exactly was wrong.

    • I would bet that it was 1) the coconut and 2) the “discordance” (to use Vanessa’s perfect term for it). I really can’t see you as a tropical coconut girl. At least, not when it’s so thick. It sounds to me like you blocked out the whole experience; how funny that you didn’t realise you’d tried it until you had started to read the review. LOL.

  5. I never knew that about Devil’s Weed? Well, well. As for the perfume, I have tried it (some years ago now) and didn’t like it, but can’t rightly recall now why that was. I imagine I might also have detected a “jarring almond note” like Robin (almond and heliotrope can make me feel headachey and queasy, if overdone), or maybe it was the exotic white florals that overwhelmed me, as tuberose is wont to do. My overriding impression was definitely of an oddball fragrance that didn’t quite mesh together, that had some kind of discordance about it. I am relieved to learn that you too found this scent perplexing, and I don’t suppose I shall rush to retry it.

  6. Datura Noir is a fascinating fragrance for me, in part because I usually detest coconut notes in fragrance. It also seems to verge on the gourmand, which is an olfactive family I’m not particularly enamored of. Nonetheless, the very particular combination that occurs in Datura Noir on my skin is a kind of magic, and one that takes me out of my usual heavily Oriental tendencies.

    I also happen to live in the land of gigantic everpresent Datura plants here in southern New Mexico, and am very familiar with their scent. I don’t find DN to be a hyperrealistic representation by any means, but I do feel that at least on my skin it manages to evoke that honeyed nocturnal scent with a peculiar “off” tinge to it. I’m very entertained by this Fragrantica comment:

    “I find this fragrance incredibly disturbing in a Fitzcarraldo movie/decaying jungle kind of way. I almost like the scent because it’s just so strange, but I don’t think I’d want to wear it. I don’t find it to be tropical at all, and I don’t get any coconut or tanning lotion smells from it. When I sampled it, I got the olfactory impression of poisonous milk turned to wax dripping over rotting foliage. It’s pretty close to how I’d imagine real datura trees smelling–like some kind of gorgeous, drooping alien flower that is both alive and dead at the same time.”

    I’m happy to say I don’t get the tropical thing either, nor does it ever get powdery on me, but it does indeed sometimes have a poisoned (with cyanide perhaps, thus the almonds) milk effect deep in the drydown at times. I also get something benzoin like in the dry down that I don’t see listed in the notes, but isn’t just the tonka or vanilla.

    It does seem to make a significant percentage of wearers woozy or nauseous, which is quite like the flower. On my skin, it stays very consistent from wear to wear, and I very often get compliments on it…. it tends to draw people in to try to sniff me. Which has both positives and negatives of course 😉

    I really ~would~ like to see a Datura perfume that manages to get the darker side of the plant as a whole, rather than just attempting to evoke the flowers… It’s a Solanaceae, and very closely related to Tobacco. I actually think a perfume that employed a bit of darker smelling tobacco, and maybe just the slightest bit of oud and oakmoss in addition to the white flowers would be more accurate to Datura, and probably better received by many people interested in a “noir” type scent.

    In the meantime, I continue to love my bottle of Datura Noir, although I admit it doesn’t get the same kind of wear time as Alahine or Ambre Russe (why yes, I DO like a shot of booze with my perfumes) 🙂

    • I adore that Fragrantica comment. So utterly beautiful and evocative!! I’m also fascinated by your insights into the real, actual Datura flower. So incredibly helpful and interesting, and it makes your comments about possible twists on the note seem very compelling. Now that you mention it, oakmoss would be fantastic with it!!! It’s almost like a lightbulb moment where you wonder why no-one has previously thought of that combination before, you know? And oud with it, too? Equally great. If anyone could manage a brilliantly rare, unusual combination like that, it would be Christopher Sheldrake! I almost wish you could email him your ideas because, seriously, oakmoss with datura….. genius!

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  10. This is the Serge Lutens fragrance I would consider buying, second on my list after my adored La Myrrhe. It plays nicely on me – I confess, I dabbed – and I don’t mind coconut. My husband trailed me around the house. “Come back here… you smell good. Flowers. Cake. Yum. Seriously, COME BACK HERE.”

    • Look, if your husband is telling you that, especially the last bit in bold, then you need to step up and buy the perfume. You need to do it for him. 😀 You can find Datura Noir massively discounted for about $75 or $80, sometimes even less if you go to eBay, and I think it would be worth it to get that reaction on a continued repeated basis. Go, Mals, GO! Rock that scent, and drive him wild! 😉

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