Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque

I had high hopes for this one. Very high hopes. Smoke, tobacco, leather, vanilla, and spice. The famous, beloved Chergui supposedly ratcheted up a notch. Turkish rose, smoke, and honeyed pipe tobacco in a sensuous, opulent, oriental fragrance done by Uncle Serge and that mad wizard, Christopher Sheldrake. Well, not on my skin…. 

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that was created by Serge Lutens‘ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2003. Though it is primarily an expensive Paris Bell Jar perfume that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, Fumerie Turque came out at some point in a regular, cheaper, import-version, 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is still sometimes available online. And, somewhere along the line, the fragrance was reformulated — quite drastically, according to some — to become a softer, less tobacco-centered, more vanillic, sweet fragrance. My sample is of the current version, and it leads me to wonder what on earth it must have been like before.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens describes Fumerie Turque on his website as follows:

Smoking can kill you.

That’s one reason why I like using leafy blond tobacco as a raw material together with honey, underpinned with a few, slightly obscured hints of rose petal.

For some reason, Fragrantica has two entries for Fumerie Turque. There is no indication of which is the entry for the current version, and each lists slightly different notes. I haven’t seen that before, even for reformulated fragrances. Whatever the explanation, if one compiles both versions, the notes in Fumerie Turque would seem to include:

white honey, candied Turkish rose, juniper berries, chamomile, Egyptian jasmine, smoked leather, beeswax, Balkan tobacco, red currants, Peru balsam, patchouli, tonka, styrax, suede, and vanilla.

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com

Styrax resin via themysticcorner.com. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Fumerie Turque opens on my skin with smoke, vanilla, leather and spices. The fragrance is dominated by styrax, a resin which has a very dry, smoky, spicy, leathery nuance. It infuses everything it touches, including the rose note which starts out being sweet, but which quickly turns dry and smoky. Alongside are tobacco curls, nestled amidst sweet vanilla and a light touch of vanillic powder. In the background is the faintest chilly touch of a woody, pine note that feels syrupy and resinous, almost as if it were juniper resin instead of juniper berries. Wafts of a floral, slightly tea-like note flit about, as if the chamomile has been infused with the same, spicy, chewy, dense styrax as everything else.

There is something a little bitter and sour about the blend, despite the sweet, smoky, somewhat leathery notes underneath. It must be the honey with its slightly sulphurous undertones. Honey is an extremely tricky note for some people, as their skin chemistry can turn it sour, urinous, skanky, animalic, raunchy, or some combination thereof. I happen to be generally lucky with the element, which I adore, even on those rare occasions when it can feel almost sulphurous as it does here. But, I must say, I am not at all keen about its sour nuances in Fumerie Turque. I’m even less enthused as it gets worse, quickly turning into a smell that is simultaneously stale, sour, bitter, sharp, acrid, and, eventually, almost rancid in feel. The beautiful, sweet, freshness of the rose has receded along with the vanilla, its powder, the juniper berries, and the dark, tea-like chamomile, leaving the harsher, animalic notes utterly untamed. Rank bitterness is what comes to mind, and I imagine that people who traditionally have always had problems with honey might fare even worse.

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via http://www.burrard-lucas.com/photo/morocco/leather_tanning.html

Ten minutes into Fumerie Turque’s development, those harsher notes become extremely prominent. The leather feels almost raw, like tannery hides left to cure in the sun. There is a tarry, animalic, phenolic, musky sharpness to the smell. And the rank sourness of the honey now feels quite rancid. Making matters worse is the tobacco, a note I normally love. Here, it feels neither like dried tobacco leaves, nor like sweet, fruited, honeyed pipe tobacco. Instead, it smells like a stale, dirty ashtray with the remnants of a few, old cigars.

Source: skylighter.com

Source: skylighter.com

To be honest, I’m somewhat appalled by the overall combination: urinous, sulphurous, rancid honey with raw leather and stale ashtray smoke is really not my cup of tea. Not even the occasional flickers of rose and vanilla which pop up and down, going back and forth from the background to the foreground, can fix the stale, sour, bitter, animalic pungency emanating from my arm. And, have I mentioned the word “rancid” yet? I once had the misfortune of cleaning a friend’s fridge which had been left untouched for over a year; the smell of the rotten eggs had a similar sulphurous, smoky rancidness. Only here, they’re mixed in with a disconcerting stale sweetness. I know the horrible bouquet is due purely and solely to my skin’s chemistry — just as I know that others may (and do) have a wholly different, extremely positive scent sensation with this much admired fragrance — but I can only recount my own experiences and, thus far, it’s revolting. I’ve never, ever had honey go south on me… until now!

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Fumerie Turque continues in that painful vein for a while. The vanilla makes every valiant attempt to come to the foreground to soften things, and once in a while, it actually succeeds. It’s short-lived, however, as the rancid sourness marches on like a Turkish army hell-bent on whipping me into submission. Thirty minutes into Fumerie Turque’s progression, beeswax joins the Devil’s Brigade, mocking me with yet another, additional layer of sourness. The animalic, almost dirty, raw leather, and the stale tobacco ashtray aromas join in, cackling gleefully at the faint whimpers that are starting to emanate from my miserable little self. I look at the Fumerie Turque’s longevity rankings on Fragrantica (“very long lasting” say the majority), mutter some expletives, and contemplate sending dear Uncle Serge a “Dear John” letter. I also wonder if it’s too early to start drinking.

Red Currants via onlyfoods.netClose to the end of the second hour, Fumerie Turque decides to take some pity on me. It starts to soften, becoming milder, less feral and brutal. The leather, ashtray and honey elements take on a rounder, less intentionally hostile and aggressive edge, though their undertones retain that rancid stench that is still too bloody sharp and acrid for my tastes. Thankfully, the sillage has dropped from its previously potent levels, making me hope that Fumerie Turque has decided to engage in an olfactory cessation of hostilities. Er… not quite. We are now launching into a whole new sort of merciless madness. At the 2.5 hour mark, Fumerie Turque turns into a strange mélange of vaguely sour, vanillic baby powder infused with the odd tartness of red currants berries, atop a base of light, sweet smoke and somewhat treacly rose. I sighed so deeply, you have no idea, and wonder what Uncle Serge would think of a blotchy, tear-splattered letter.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Vanilla powder and essence. Source: food.ninemsn.com.au

Fumerie Turque continues its descent into powdery, smoke-tinged sweetness. It’s quite a relief, given what came before. Close to the end of the fourth hour, there is more vanillic baby powder, tart fruit notes, whispers of smoke, and a definite subtext of honeyed sourness. The new addition, however, is beeswax — and it’s the only part of the somewhat muted, faded combination that I find pleasant. Around the middle of the fifth hour, Fumerie Turque fades into abstract, powdery vanilla with honey and a whisper of beeswax, and remains that way until the end. All in all, Fumerie Turque lasted just short of 6.75 hours, which is much less than the enormous longevity that I had braced myself for. On average, the sillage was moderate: very forceful in terms of projection for a brief period at the start, but then, significantly softer while still being noticeable within the tiny bubble that wafted an inch above my skin.

Normally, with fragrances that take such a terrible turn on my skin, I would give the perfume two tests. Sometimes, maybe even three. I couldn’t do it with Fumerie Turque. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t only that extremely difficult opening but, rather, how exhausting the progression was in its forcefulness and in the unalleviated monotony. Fumerie Turque isn’t linear from start to finish but, within its two distinct stages, it certainly feels a little singular. I always say that there is nothing wrong with linear fragrances if you love the notes in question but, obviously, that was not the case here. 

Chergui.

Chergui.

There are a few reasons why I’m so incredibly disappointed with the manner in which Fumerie Turque manifested itself on my skin, beyond the really obvious ones, that is. First, many people consider the fragrance to be the more advanced, complex, sophisticated brother to Serge Lutens’ Chergui. Fumerie Turque is supposed to be richer, smokier, less vanillic or powdery (in both its original and reformulated version, presumably) than the fragrance that I own and love. It seemed indubitable that Fumerie Turque would be even more up my alley.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. The non "Classic" but vintage bottle.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. Not the current “Classic” bottle, but the vintage one.

Second, Fumerie Turque seemed very familiar upon first sniff of the fragrance in the vial. It instantly and immediately brought to mind one of my favorite comfort scents, the superb Karl Lagerfeld Cologne in vintage formulation. Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s beauty is actually the sole reason I started this blog. I needed a place to properly express my love for this fragrance when I reacquired a bottle on eBay, and I couldn’t do it in a Facebook status post, though I certainly spent a good few paragraphs trying. My very first perfume review was, in fact, a rushed, hurried, rather short affair on the joys of Karl Lagerfeld’s interpretation of and homage to Shalimar. A few parts of that review:

Imagine your boyfriend’s leather jacket, covered with honey, and in an old Russian or Greek Orthodox church filled with smoky incense and the whiff of a passerby in rose and jasmine…. this is better. If there were a honey seller in a stall sandwiched between a musky spice vendor of nutmeg, tarragon and anise, and one who sold sweetly fragrant tobacco that your uncle put in his pipe — all in a giant leather store filled with the finest British leather saddles, which was in a Turkish bazaar… this is better.

[…] Some say that it’s like a male-version of Shalimar and I suppose it’s the faint touch of powder in it. But if Meryl Streep wears Shalimar (and she does), then Tina Turner would wear this. If Shalimar is a Rolls Royce, this is James Bond’s Aston Martin or perhaps a BEAST of a muscle car driven by a Russian Orthodox monk in a leather jacket. That’s it! This is the smell for Rasputin, though one commentator elsewhere said that they thought Robert Redford in the Great Gatsby would wear this. I disagree. This is pure leather smoke covered with honey.

And….. it’s sex on a stick. […] Just be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart and that, depending on your body chemistry, powder may predominate over leather, tobacco or honey. Also, if you’re not into powerful scents, do not put on more than one spray.

Not a week goes by that I don’t regret the brevity of that article (relative to my usual verboseness). Not a week passes that I don’t vow to do the perfume proper justice with a revisit. Karl Lagerfeld Cologne has been a favorite fragrance of mine for over two decades — and Kafkaesque exists purely and solely because of it.

That fragrance is what I immediately came to mind when I took a gandering sniff of Fumerie Turque in the vial: a richer, smokier, drier, less powdery, less sweet Karl Lagerfeld. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped, and I couldn’t wait to try it on the skin. Later, much later, after the bloody, leathery, stale, rancid chum in Fumerie Turque’s shark-infested waters had faded away, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only one who thought there were similarities between the two fragrances. A passing, brief comment on a Basenotes thread devoted to Fumerie Turque said: “When I read these threads, I wonder how many who enjoy FT have tried the original Lagerfeld Cologne (before it became “Classic”).” I have no idea who the poster, “Bigsly,” is, but I want to give him a hearty Bravo for unknowingly reassuring me that I’m not insane (and, also, for his excellent taste). Because, yes, when I read positive descriptions of Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica, they sounds a bit like what I experience with Karl Lagerfeld.

Source: turkishculture.blogspot.com

Source: turkishculture.blogspot.com

There are significant differences, however. The Karl Lagerfeld is much sweeter, more vanillic, and more powdery than the largely acrid Fumerie Turque. It has a bergamot, citric, and subtle, vaguely herbal element to its beginning. More importantly, the leather is very different in Karl Lagerfeld; it lacks the raw, animalic outbursts in Fumerie Turque, while being significantly stronger and richer than it is in Chergui. Also, the tobacco smoke is sweeter than the more acrid, stale, dirty version in Fumerie Turque, more akin to pipe tobacco, and is additionally supplemented by incense. If the Lagerfeld didn’t precede both Lutens fragrances by almost 20 years, I would call it a lovechild of Chergui and Fumerie Turque, combining the best parts of both in a much stronger, more potent, intense, powerful blast. But Karl did it first. There is also another big difference: the Lagerfeld is available in vintage form for a mere pittance on eBay. You can buy a 2 oz bottle for between $20-$30, depending on times, vendors and competing bidders. Sometimes, they can go up to $45, but I bought my bottle for about $18! The key — and this is really important — is to AVOID anything that has the word “Classic” on the bottle because that is the reformulated rubbish version! (I beg of you, don’t do it. It’s not the same at all.)

I realise that my review of Fumerie Turque has descended into an ode to Karl Lagerfeld Cologne, so let’s return to that Basenotes thread. It’s interesting because the chap had an equally brutal start to Fumerie Turque, which he bought blindly based on the positive praise for the fragrance. Though he subsequently fell in love with Fumerie Turque, I think his experience is illuminating, in part because it also references some other well-known fragrances:

I sprayed some on my bicep. OH NO!!! I REALLY SCREWED UP BUYING THIS STUFF!!! Immediately, I got this sickly powdery feminine stale urine porta-potty smell that some of the negative reviews had mentioned. Totally, totally unwearable. […]  five minutes later I noticed that tobacco note– and it was actually a very nice specimen of tobacco. If only that other “pissy, honey, rose” stuff wasn’t going on…

Yet, he gave it a second shot, mostly due to the many, many raves for Fumerie Turque from people he respected. And, this time, he noticed some differences. First, there was a strong similarity between Fumerie Turque’s “beeswax and the emerging red currants/fruit” and the smell of Chanel‘s Antaeus, a fragrance that he had initially hated but then grown to love. Second, with a little time, Fumerie Turque developed into something lovely on his skin:

… the pipe tobacco was starting to come out very noticeably. I’ve truly NEVER experienced a fragrance that did such a 180 in the wearing and bloomed into something so cool. It still had a bit of that Habanita powdery quality and that dense honeybun beeswax in the base, but the tobacco was starting to steal the show in a big way. Some people call this scent “smokey” but thankfully, it’s not smokey to my nose– at least not in a negative manner. The first time I smelled it, it did conjure the back room of a bar where there had probably been a lot of second hand smoke, but once it started to blossom, it was smooth and ethereal. Again the beeswax is right there in the beginning and it almost makes you nauseous, but it only takes about two minutes for the composition begin unfolding into what it will become. As time goes on, the scent becomes more “blonde” as in blonde tobacco, and begins to feel lighter, but not lesser.

To compare this to a tobacco scent like Pure Havane almost makes me laugh now. I like Pure Havane a hell of a lot, don’t get me wrong– but this stuff is on a whole different level. This is adult, it’s grown up seduction in a bottle. Pure Havane is the most playful, fun tobacco scent I’ve tried, but Fumerie Turque is not for children. […]

What Fumerie Turque is, is an ACTUAL PERFUME.  […] Christopher Sheldrake has created a real masterpiece here. Top to bottom. Something that relies on a little necessary chaos out of the bottle to get on its feet, but once it does, and starts walking upright, god it’s beautiful. [Emphasis in bold added by me to the perfume names.]

There are numerous gushing, quite poetic raves about Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica (where it is enormously loved in both of the perfume’s listings), but I chose that particular Basenotes review for a reason. It highlights how some people can have a very positive experience with Fumerie Turque at the end, despite the sour, “pissy” start.

It also shows that, as many Basenotes commentators agree, Fumerie Turque is a perfume that can sometimes take a few tries. A number of Lutens fragrances require patience but, given the trickiness of honey as a note, Fumerie Turque may require more patience than most. In all candour, if I didn’t already have my beloved Karl Lagerfeld and Chergui, I probably would have given Fumerie Turque the necessary second chance that so many people say it requires, especially as I found some of the vintage bottles (which are supposed to be far better than the current version) available online for a significantly cheaper price than the current Bell Jar formulation. But I do have Lagerfeld and Chergui, so I’m not hugely motivated. Plus, there is also the simple reality that some honey fragrances never work out on a person’s skin, no matter how many chances you give them.

Would I recommend that you give Fumerie Turque a shot? Well, never as a blind buy, no. However, if you love Chergui, then yes, by all means, give Fumerie Turque an exploratory sniff. Get a sample, see if it works for you, and, if you love it, then you can get the more affordable vintage version that I’ve found on some of the online retailers below. (Actually, I would highly recommend the Karl Lagerfeld above all else, especially if powder notes don’t go south on your skin.) On the other hand, if you don’t love Chergui, or if you already know for a fact that honey is always one of your fatal notes, then I would advise that you stay clear of Fumerie Turque entirely. If it didn’t work on my honey-loving skin, I can’t imagine how badly it might turn out for those who never have any luck with the note. I suspect you’d end up in a foetal position, crying for a Silkwood shower….

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that Serge Lutens now offers only in the large 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version that costs $290, or €135. However, you can still find the smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle (that is now considered “vintage” or discontinued) on some U.S. and European perfume websites. About seven of the usual, big, online perfume sites (Amazon, FragranceNet, etc.) have Fumerie Turque listed, but the fine print shows it as “Sold Out.” However, I found the perfume at several smaller vendors. Buy Beauty Deals sells the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Fumerie Turque for $108.50, A Matter of Fax for $117.11, Perfume Mart for $121.50, Fragrance Zoo for $127.49, Planet Aroma sells Fumerie Turque for $130.63, Islander Mall for $132.92, and SurfAvenueMall for $140. I have no idea how reputable any of these vendors may be.
Serge Lutens: You can find Fumerie Turque in the bell jar option on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). It’s priced at $300 or €135.
U.S. sellers: Fumerie Turque is exclusively available at Barney’s in the bell jar format for $290. The site has a notice which states: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.” I did not find Fumerie Turque listed at Luckyscent or any of the big, niche perfume vendors.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I think you can find “Fumerie Turque – Retired” at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US$120, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch, but I’m not sure what they mean by “retired” and if the perfume is actually in stock. For Europe, I couldn’t find the 50 ml bottle sold at a single online vendor. It’s the expensive bell-jar, or nothing. In Australia, you can get Fumerie Turque on sale in the discontinued 50 ml bottle from Brand Shopping for AUD$199.65 with free shipping. In the Middle East, I saw the “vintage” Fumerie Turque listed on the Universal Perfume‘s site. However, there is something weird going on where there is no pricing, and it won’t let you put it in your cart until you give one. Elsewhere on the site, the perfume is priced as $189.99.
Samples: You can test out Fumerie Turque by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Serge Lutens Sample Set of 3 Paris Exclusives (Fumerie Turque, along with Borneo 1834 and Chergui), which starts at $11.50 for a 1/2 ml vial of each. Fumerie Turque is also included as an option in a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Bois de Violette

VioletsIn the heart of the cedar forest, one tree towered above all the rest. Its dark, dry bark was peppered, and sometimes spiced with cinnamon, with cardamom that was so rich, it almost verged on chocolate, and with sappy sweetness. The gnarled tangle of its ancient roots protectively surrounded the forest’s greatest treasure: a large bunch of African violets that cast a purple glow that shone like a beacon. Its fragrant smell took over the darkness, lending the forest its name amongst the villagers: “Bois de Violette,” the forest of violets.

The smell was powerful but dainty, delicately airy but dense, and filled with layers that danced in a play of light and dark. The purple petals were bedazzled by fat prisms of dew, creating a watery, purple sweetness. The leaves were dark green, and spicy with the crackling pepper that matched the aroma of the trees around it. And its heart was so sweet, it was fruited, honeyed, and syrupy. From the freshness of succulent, fleshy, ripe peaches hanging on the vine to the sweetness of dark, stewed, glazed fruit, the violet syrup ran like purple blood through the veins of both the flower and the trees. A delicate mist of powder fluttered around the edges, like a darting Tinkerbell who popped up here and there, but who ultimately decided her presence wasn’t needed in the festive play of dainty floral violets, violet syrup, dewy, green, watery, violet freshness, and dark, peppered woods.

Source: modavesen.com

Source: modavesen.com

That is Bois de Violette, an eau de parfum that was created by Serge Lutens‘ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 1992. Though it is primarily an expensive Paris Bell Jar perfume that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, Bois de Violette came out at some point in a regular, import-version, 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is easily available and sometimes discounted online.

Serge Lutens Bois de VioletteSerge Lutens describes Bois de Violette on his website as follows:

Full of vim and vigor.

Once again – and I’m repeating myself – femininity worked its way into this composition, by way of its leaves and a few flowers, whose color – a charming discovery made in a secluded thicket – won me over. A vigorous fragrance, it never gives up!

There is a reason why Uncle Serge says he’s repeating himself, and it’s something that is an important context for the fragrance. Bois de Violette is one of a quartet of “Bois” or wood fragrances to follow from Lutens’ ground-breaking, debut perfume, Féminité du Bois for Shiseido. It is a highly admired, much-loved fragrance which essentially served as the mothership for all the Bois siblings which followed.

Luca Turin, the famous perfume critic, has a very useful explanation of the history of the Bois line, their perfume structure, and how Bois de Violette differs from the rest. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he talks of how the “woody-fruity structure of Féminité du Bois was first devised by the perfumer Pierre Bourdon, … and then passed on to perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, who developed it with Lutens… to keep it as dark and transparent as possible.” When Lutens decided to open his own perfume house, he needed more perfumes for his line, and decided to do variations on his uber-successful Féminité.

Enter the technique known as overdosage, widely propagated by Bourdon, in which a backstage component in one perfume is moved to the forefront in a new composition, a sort of rotation in perfume space. From Féminité du Bois came four variations, three of which create new effects by bold-typing one of the components of the original: musk (Bois et Musc), fruit (Bois et Fruits), amber (Bois Oriental).

[¶] The fourth, Bois de Violette, differs because the woody-fruity violet smell of methyl ionone recapitulates and intensifies the rest of the fragrance. Its rotation takes place around the center; the stained-glass mandala is perfected by a violet gem around which everything dances. [New paragraph spacing added.]

In the remainder of that Five-Star review, Luca Turin talks of the day he bought his bottle of Bois de Violette and how he felt as though he were “carrying the most precious object in the world.” He also adds how Bourdon’s fifth perfume sketch or proposal for the Féminité/Bois series accidentally wound up becoming Dior‘s Dolce Vita. But perhaps the truly intriguing part of the review is the sense one has of the usually acerbic, disdainful, haughty, and wholly unimpressionable Luca Turin — “His Majesty” as he is sometimes known — being completely humbled by Bois de Violette. It’s not something one sees very often in his summations, and it says quite a bit about the perfume.

Source: underthemagnifier.wordpress.com

Source: underthemagnifier.wordpress.com

Fragrantica classifies Bois de Violette as a Woody Floral Musk, and says that its notes consist of “violet, violet leaf and cedar.” I see that simple trio mentioned almost across the board in the note listings for Bois de Violette, but I also came across a few references to orange blossom. It intrigued me, especially as one never knows the full, official listing of ingredients in Serge Lutens’ fragrances. So, being a little OCD, I did some digging, and found a surprisingly lengthy list on a few sites. According to The Perfume House (which sells one of those rare, small 1.7 oz bottles of Bois de Violette), the perfume actually includes:

Cedarwood, violet leaf, candied plum, peach, orange blossom, rose, violet, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, musk, vanilla, honey.

It’s a very different matter, wouldn’t you say? In the vial, Bois de Violette smells of violets, its green leaves, and something dewy. On the skin, however, the perfume opens as a rich, complex bouquet of dried fruit, violets, violet powder, wet violet petals, the green of the leaves, the wet, damp earth surrounding it, and violet syrup. In the background, there are subtle flickers of orange blossom, peach, sweet tea rose, musk, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey. The perfume feels simultaneously light, dark, airy, sheer, and thick– all at once. Yet, its projection is so subtle, delicate and light that I actually had to double my usual dose (to about 4.5 large, dabbed smears) to get all the nuances.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: en.wikipedia.org

The delicacy of the violets is stunning. Fragile, dainty, watery, airy, and, yet, that dark, dense, syrupy shadow lurks behind them. In a strange way, it feels almost ominous, this pretense of delicate fragility with a big, hulking, dark shadow looming broodingly from behind the thicket of equally dark trees. The forest that initially felt a little in the distance starts to inch closer as the opening minutes pass by. It’s cedar, but it’s more than just simply dry, peppered woods. The tree is dark from spices like cardamom, and the merest hint of fiery cloves. The two work in conjunction with the sweetness of the dark fruits, the syrupy violet, and the drizzled honey to create an unexpected impression of something like cardamom-patchouli-chocolate. It’s subtle, muted and short-lived, but cardamom chocolate definitely comes to mind in those opening moments.

Also lurking in the shadows, in a slightly bewildering juxtaposition to the rest of those notes, is a hint of delicately feminine violet powder. It’s as if Snow White’s compact and violet-orris lipstick had suddenly fallen on the wet, damp floor of a dark, peppered, cedar-cardamom forest, lying nestled amongst dark, haunting violets in an interplay of feminine and masculine, light and shadows. I’m not a huge fan of powdery notes, no matter how light and sheer, so my favorite part of Bois de Violette in the opening minutes may be the more delicate aspect of the flowers themselves. Both the violets and its leaves have a wet, earthy greenness that feels wonderfully fresh and natural. It’s as if they’ve been spackled by dew and by hints of sweetly dark, fresh, early morning soil.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Yet, there are flickers of fruit that start to stir in the background, and which soon add a different nuance to the notes. At first, it’s merely the usual Sheldrake/Lutens base of candied prunes and plums, but soon, less than fifteen minutes into the perfume’s development, there is the peach. It feels bright, sweet, succulent but, also, as fresh as if it were still hanging on the tree. It’s lovely, and reminds me of a note in a vintage classic, but I’m hard pressed to figure out which one. It’s not the peachy intensity or potent sweetness of YSL‘s Champagne/Yvresse, nor of Hèrmes24 Faubourg, and certainly not Guerlain‘s Mitsouko, but there is something frustratingly familiar about it. Whatever the similarity, the peach note is a perfect accompaniment to the violets, adding to their delicate sweetness in a way that sometimes fits better than the darker, candied, syrupy plums or prunes.

Cedar forest via British Columbia's Ministry of Forestry, for.gov.bc.ca.

Cedar forest via British Columbia’s Ministry of Forestry, for.gov.bc.ca.

Around this time, the honey begins its slow rise from Bois de Violette’s depths. It’s not heavy or dark, but, rather, sweet, fragrant, and almost floral in nature. Bois de Violette has suddenly turned incredibly fruited and sweet. In fact, the violets feel quite overshadowed in a distinct, individual way. No longer front and center, they lurk behind the honeyed fruits, both fresh and stewed, and the dark cedar trees infused with spices. The cedar is, to my slight regret, supplemented by ISO E Super and it’s initially strong enough to make my head throb a little. That said, it’s not too much as a whole, just enough to underscore the woodiness of the base and to amplify the note of pepper which begins to emerge. That subtle nuance of pepper is almost everywhere, from the delicate, green spiciness of the leaves to the cedar base, and it adds an interesting contrast to Bois de Violette’s floral, fruited, honeyed, wet, earthy and powdered tones.

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

Source: hdwallpapers4desktop.com

The perfume’s aquatic undertone is really pretty. It’s as though Bois de Violette’s violet syrup can’t dispel the early morning dew on the flower’s petals. The watery, pastel effect is almost a little discordant amidst the peaches, stewed fruits, honey, and peppered woods. As that combination grows stronger, the aquatic element starts to grow weaker, along with the violet powder. Both recede to the background where they will pop up from time to time like a Jack in the Box, but generally they are just subtle, indirect effects on the perfume’s main composition.

The same thing happens with the green leaves which give a really good fight to the stronger, sweeter notes. They refuse to vanish completely, appearing every now and then in a lovely touch of slightly pungent, very peppered freshness. It feels as if you’ve taken a violet’s actual leaves, and crushed them between your fingers to release their subtle oil. That aroma remains throughout much of Bois de Violette’s development, but it’s rarely front and center as it is in the opening 30 minutes. Instead, it lurks in the background, a mere supporting player to the flower and cedared woods.

As time progresses, the notes wax and wane, hitting certain peaks before ebbing away like the tide. First it is the spices which melt into the background forty minutes into Bois de Violette’s development, no longer noticeable in an individual, distinct manner. Instead, they simply add an indirect effect to the richness and complexity of the sweet base. Then, it’s the turn of the musk. Exactly one hour in, the musk appears, feeling neither white nor dark and animalic. Instead, it’s sweet, and strangely indolic in a way. It grows and grows in strength for the next two hours, imbuing everything it touches with a fine mist, until it, too, fades into an amorphous, nebulous, background effect.

Source: shamshyan.com

Source: shamshyan.com

At the 90-minute mark, Bois de Violet starts to change quite dramatically in feel. The perfume feels more subdued, not to mention muted. All the edges have blurred, making the fragrance feel like an out-of-focus swirl of violet sweetness, musk, and dry, spicy, sweetened, peppered woods. It’s hard to know where one note begins and another ends, as they overlap into each other. There are no longer any distinct fruity, peachy, aquatic, leafy, green, spicy, or powdery touches that can be pulled out. Not all those notes are dead, however. Exactly two hours into Bois de Violette’s development, the powder re-emerges. It’s as if it had to wait for the forceful top layer — the dark woods, the fruit, the violet syrup, and the spices — to retreat in prominence before it had a chance to unfurl. The overall result is a soft, slightly powdery, violet fragrance with a hint of fresh, green violet leaves and a lightly sprinkling of pepper (and ISO E Super), all atop a base of violet syrup and woody, peppered cedar.

The perfume turns gauzier and more abstract with every hour. Around the 3.75 hour mark, Bois de Violette is a nebulous, amorphous blend of violets, lightly dusted with a hint of powder and musk, and infused with a vague sense of something green. It’s a soft, muted, sheer, airy combination that floats like transparent purple gauze above the skin. A short time later, at the five-hour mark, Bois de Violette is nothing more than an abstract, sweet, floral musk.

The perfume remains that way until its very end, exactly 7 hours from its start. The sillage was initially moderate before fading to something very soft, discreet, and unobtrusive. And, remember, I had to apply double my usual amount with Bois de Violette (to almost 5 very large dabs in all) to get those numbers. On Fragrantica, there is a mixed assessment of both the projection and duration, with the most votes (10) ascribed to “moderate” longevity and soft sillage (10), followed by moderate (9). One commentator notes that Bois de Violette lasted a mere 2 hours on his skin, but 8 hours on his clothes, with sillage that dropped after 10 minutes to become extremely close to the skin. I suspect that Bois de Violette is a fragrance which will require a lot of sprays to really last, but which will always be extremely discreet and unobtrusive in projection.

Monin Sirop de Violette. Source: us.monin.com

Monin Sirop de Violette. Source: us.monin.com

I like Bois de Violette, but something holds me back from being really impressed. I can’t pinpoint what the problem is. Perhaps it’s the way Bois de Violette went from being so incredibly sweet at first, to becoming a little too blurry, nebulous, and simple. Perhaps it’s because I felt as though the delicate, fresh, natural beauty of the violet flower was initially overshadowed and, then, later, felt so vague that it was like grasping at the wind. And, yet, none of those characterisations are the full story or, maybe, even fair. Bois de Violette is extremely pretty at times, deliciously mouth-watering at other times, and almost delicately…. something. Perhaps if the floral and green aspects to the violet were stronger, I could use the word “haunting,” but Bois de Violette never arises to that level for me. Maybe if it were less syrupy sweet for a good chunk of its development, it could feel like the stained glass window that Luca Turin references with such admiration. Perhaps it’s because the perfume seems like all things violet at once, and, yet, it’s not one single thing at all. It tries to be the full violet from petals to leaf to the earthy damp soil and the trees around it; but it’s also fruited and syrupy, peppered and woody. Maybe it should stick to one thing or the other? Or, maybe, I would have been happier with a more delicate, haunting, pure floral, a violet version of the flowers in the lyrical, stunning, moving and utterly poetic Lutens’ beauty, De Profundis. I don’t know what it is about Bois de Violette, because I certainly like it and would wear it, but I’m not swept off my feet.

I get the sense that many in the perfume community see Bois de Violette as the most perfectly balanced, beautiful violet fragrance around. Whether it’s the handful of bloggers who have reviewed the scent, or those on MakeupAlley who, by and large, adore the fragrance, Bois de Violette is much-loved. On MakeupAlley, for example, 72 people give the perfume an overall rating  of 4.2 out of 5, which is pretty high for such a large number of reviews. The general feeling is that the flowers are dark, sexy, sweet, and perfectly countered by the cedar woods. For example:

  • Sexy, dark violets, perfectly balanced – never cloying or candied and never so intense as to hit people over the head.
  • There’s a period of time in the beginning when the violets are just too much, but once that settles down, this is a beautiful violet-wood fragrance, perfectly balanced and blended.
  • My favorite Serge Lutens. Sweetened (but not overly sweet) violets and woods, mainly cedar. So smooth! It’s warm and snuggy, perfect for winter. Strong yet close to skin, just the type of scent I adore.
  • Candied violets and cedar. Starts out playful and nostalgic, babyish in a vintage way.The violets are effervescent and floating, just loosely tethered to the very grounded cedar. On me, the violets don’t settle down for hours, but when they finally nestle into the wood, it is revelatory, surprising, with perfectly balanced almost austere taste. The scent is romantic and old-fashioned, but not quite a grandmother scent. Instead, it’s like digging in the attic and finding an old wooden chest, filled with mementos of your grandmother’s secret wild life.
  • What a beauty this is! An exquisitely balanced composition of cedar and violet – neither too sweet nor too dry – Bois de Violette has a a wonderful mellow tone to it. The scent is clean, focussed and rounded; it is not a candy-sweet violet or over-green on me, and there is no powder – this violet is deep and true to life. The cedar, too, is warm and pure. Bois de Violette is a wonderfully elegant, tranquil scent[.]
  • A singlular and unique composition of cedar, violet leaves and violet flowers. Ethereal, vivacious and sparkling.
    I was stunned at the super intense cedar note that came through at first. It sure is a woody blast and in those first few seconds lacks any violet. The cedar note is at first so intense that it is almost body odorish but in a good way. Then the violet sweetness emerges and remains playful throughout the rest of the development. The fragrance becomes super sexy[….]

    Source: allthepages.org

    Source: allthepages.org

  • I don’t get a pronounced cedar note like others here. I smell REAL, fresh violet in all it’s glory. [¶] Not typically a lover of florals, I would have to say that this is the best violet scent that I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample. [¶] Full bottle worthy!

Over at Basenotes, Bois de Violette receives equally high numbers and, yet, I get  the sense that people are not quite as enamoured. Moreover, “well-balanced” does not seem to the majority consensus, by any means! Out of 24 reviews, 75% give it five stars, while 25% give it three stars. The fragrance is repeatedly compared to its mother, Féminité du Bois (which many find to be extremely similar), but also to some other violet perfumes. Yet, despite those five-star ratings, quite a few commentators seem to prefer the mothership perfume. As for the “candied” sweetness of the violets, a number of people find it to be “cloying” or excessive. (“Killer sweetness” was one description of it, and it was not said as a positive.) On occasion, there will be a handful who find the note to be fresh and natural, but they aren’t many. Obviously, how Bois de Violette manifests itself will all depend on your skin chemistry, and the extent to which it amplifies or mutes the sweet basenotes. Mine always opts for amplification, and, clearly, Bois de Violette with its syrup is no exception.

Though I wish the perfume were a little fresher, I do recommend Bois de Violette, especially for those who like somewhat sweet fragrances but not full-blown gourmand ones. The cedar, green, peppery, and watery elements provide some balance, depth, and complexity, ensuring that Bois de Violette is more than just candied, syrupy violets. And, it differs from many violet fragrances out there which are primarily powdery and, therefore, somewhat old-fashioned in feel. Bois de Violette can be worn by men and women alike, it’s versatile for day or night, and its low sillage makes it extremely office-appropriate. I’m somewhat dubious about the fragrance’s longevity, though the fact that you can buy it relatively cheaply in a regular bottle (as opposed to the exclusive, uber-expensive Bell Jars) means that you can spray on enough of the perfume to give it greater duration.

All in all, it’s definitely a fragrance worth looking into. If you’ve never tried Serge Lutens before, Bois de Violette is a surprisingly wearable fragrance that could be a good entry point into the line. And, for those who are experienced perfumistas, the range of the violet’s nuances — from petal to leaf, and all the things around it — may win your heart.

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Bois de Violette is an eau de parfum that Serge Lutens now offers only in the large 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version that costs $300, or €135. However, you can still find the smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle (that is either a special edition bottle or something now discontinued) on some U.S. and European perfume websites. It retails at $200, but you can also find it on sale at a much lower price. Bois de Violette is currently on sale at Amazon which sells it directly, and not through third-party vendors, for $94.79. It is also on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $97.19 with free domestic shipping and free international shipping for order over $100. The price is also reduced at Sears which sells Bois de Violette for $95.95 through a third-party vendor with $6.95 shipping. FragranceX sells the 1.7 oz bottle for $96.92. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: You can find Bois de Violette in the bell jar option on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). It’s priced at $300 or €135.
U.S. sellers: Bois de Violette is available at Barney’s in the bell jar format which costs $300. The site has a notice which states: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.” However, you can find the special 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle for $200 at LuckyscentAedesBeautyhabit, the Perfume House, and Shop Rescue Spa.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Bois de Violette at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US$200, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. For Europe, it gets harder. I get the sense that the perfume is seen as “Limited Edition” for many European vendors, in the sense that Bois de Violette is now a Paris Bell Jar Exclusive and, thus, limited for sale elsewhere in Europe. However, I did find a few vendors which carry the old or special edition 1.5 oz/50 ml size. In the UK, Bois de Violette isn’t listed at Harrods, but the 50 ml bottle is available at Liberty and UK 5th Village, both of which sell Bois de Violette for £105. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €106, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. In Belgium, Bois de Violette is exclusive to Senteurs d’Ailleurs which sells the 50 ml bottle for €110. In Australia, you can get Bois de Violette on sale from FragranceNet for AUD$105.99 with free shipping.
Samples: You can test out Bois de Violette by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. It is also included as an option in a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Cèdre

One of my favorite aspects to Serge Lutens‘ line of perfumes is the dramatic, complex flair shown by many of them. Love them or hate them, his perfumes almost always have character. Once in a blue moon, however, you stumble across one that is, quite simply, dull. It’s hard for me because I can easily write reviews for perfumes I hate and for perfumes I love. Those that leave me utterly apathetic and unmoved are a whole other story, however. It’s even harder when you can see that it’s a well-made fragrance, but it just sits there for you. Serge Lutens’ Rousse was one of them: a somewhat strange perfume which actually had some nice parts but which, ultimately, felt banal. Cèdre is another, but it lacks even the benefit of strangeness to keep me somewhat on my toes. I’m so utterly apathetic, I can barely summon up the energy to describe it. So, here goes nothing….

Cedre via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Cedre via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Cèdre is an Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2005. On his website, Lutens compares the fragrance to a sort of woody pastry

Like a pastry made of wood.

Another take on Féminité  for an alternate reality. True to its name, it contains cedar, to which honey is the key. But I have added tuberose, barely perceptible but of paramount importance.

Strangely, Serge Lutens’ press release for the perfume (as quoted by the Belgian store, Senteurs d’Ailleurs) is a whole other, disparate tale, describing the felinity of a wildcat with steps of steel and the tenseness of a criminal proceeding:

The wildcat glides along, cautious and rhythmic with supple, velvety steps of steel. The forest watches…
A heavy, restless silence, a tense moment, similar to those preceding the jury’s verdict to condemn the accused, guilty or even the innocent…
A rich, woody, animalistic, soft fragrance… harmonises in full splendour with arrogant tuberose.
A strong musk blended with amber, clove and cinnamon adds the final touch to the regalia.
An irrevocable verdict for this essential, profoundly original fragrance….

The perfume notes — as compiled from LuckyscentFragrantica and the two Lutens statements — thereby seem to be:

Cedar, Tuberose, Clove, Cinnamon, Honey, Musk, and Amber.

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Cèdre opens on my skin as a boozy, rummy, ambered fragrance. It is a potent blast of cinnamon apple pie, raisins, and dried, purple, stewed fruits with subtle flickers of dark smokiness and a dash of cloves, atop a base of sugary brown syrup. The cedar note dances hazily in the background, muted and really minor in the overall scheme of things. It’s more like an amorphous woody element that never feels like peppery cedar but, rather, like something simply dry, spicy and lightly smoked. Moments later, a delicately floral tone creeps in, but it’s not immediately distinguishable. Like the cedar, it’s muted, hidden, indistinct, and strongly imbued by a heavy, dense sweetness that feels like honeyed molasses mixed with a slightly buttery, caramelized, brown sugar.

Source: Talk of Tomatoes (click on photo to go to website with its recipe for rum, plum, cardamom jam.)

Source: Talk of Tomatoes. (Click on photo to go to website with its recipe for rum, plum, cardamom jam.)

To me, Cèdre immediately calls to mind Jean-Claude Ellena‘s Ambre Narguilé with its strong rum raisin, stewed fruits, and smoky accord. The similarities are inescapable, though Cèdre is stronger, richer and denser in both feel and potency. It is so highly concentrated in its opening moments, in fact, that I initially wondered if I had applied too much as something about it made me head throb. It almost felt as though there were small touches of ISO E Super in the base, lurking around and adding to the velvety, creamy undertones of the fragrance.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

The floral note in Cèdre really bewildered me at first. Nothing about it smells like tuberose to my nose. Actually, it smells a hell of a lot like immortelle! I tried Cèdre twice, and both times, I had the same impression. The note has the same dry, slightly woody, vaguely herbal feel of immortelle’s flower, along with that subtle maple syrup nuance that can characterize the flower. The aroma wafting off my skin is absolutely nothing like tuberose with its very indolic, ripe, voluptuously fleshy whiteness. It’s not even like a Lutens/Sheldrake take on tuberose with its sometimes chilly, metholated nuance. Nope, at no time do I smell tuberose in Cèdre. It’s my favorite flower and, if you put a gun to my head and demanded that I find tuberose in Cèdre, I still wouldn’t or couldn’t do it.  As you will soon see, others have a totally different experience.

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Ten minutes into Cèdre’s development, it is a boozy, rummy, plummy, raisin fragrance with spices, flickers of incense smoke, sugary sap, muted woods, and hints of some dry, masculine floral. There is a growing sense of something creamy in the base, as well as something a little bit animalic. It’s not dirty, skanky, or raunchy, but there is a leathery, musky undertone that slinks around the background. Twenty minutes in, the perfume’s edges turn soft and blurry, becoming a well-blended mix of notes without any sharp delineation. The most individually distinct element that I can pull out of the mix is boozy rum raisin, but the rest seem to overlap and melt into each other.

As time passes, the creaminess and smoothness of the bouquet grows, as does its hazy feel. At the forty minute mark, the rum raisin accord in the foreground is replaced by an abstract, plummy, spiced sweetness. The perfume’s background notes are tinged with amber and with a subtle smokiness that feels nutty, sweet, warm and resinous. Wafting all around, like a subtle shadow, is that vague floral note with its herbal, woody, dry, syrupy feel. Ergo, immortelle.

Source: wallpapers.free-review.net

Source: wallpapers.free-review.net

Cèdre gets blurrier by the minute. At the end of two hours, it’s an abstract swirl of sweet, lightly spiced woodiness with amber, smoke, and some nebulous floral hints. There is a subtle feel of something honeyed, musky and faintly leathery in the base that makes me think that the “amber” must include some labdanum. The whole thing just barely hovers above the skin. Around 3.5 hours in, Cèdre is an abstract amber that feels veiled with honey and a touch of cinnamon. The muskiness grows more pronounced, such that, midway during the fifth hour, the perfume is merely sweet, ambered, labdanum musk with a leathery undertone and a hint of spices. Cèdre remains that way until its final moments, 7.25 hours from its start, when it is nothing more than a trace of musky amber.

Months from now, whenever I think of Cèdre, I have no doubt that the only description I shall be able to conjure up is “blurry Ambre Narguilé.” In fact, I shall be hard-pressed to recall its details in a few days from now, let alone in the weeks and months to come. That says something about a fragrance — and it’s not good. I suspect I shall recall far more how a vast number of people find Cèdre to be a tuberose fragrance. Because they really do. Tons of them, in fact!

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

Source: hdwallpaperspics.com

My favorite review of Cèdre comes from One Thousand Scents whose opening paragraph made me laugh for a good ten minutes the other day. I think it’s the tone of indignant outrage that does it, along with the characterization of Serge Lutens himself:

If you are a normal person and you are going to make a perfume called Cèdre, which is the French word for cedar, then by god you are going to make a cedary scent, something that puts the spotlight on the wood. If, on the other hand, you are Serge Lutens, which is to say by definition you are not a normal person, then you are going to make a big, wild-eyed tuberose scent and confuse the hell out of everyone.

I’m laughing all over again. As for the perfume itself, he admires Cèdre on an intellectual basis, but he seems to truly hate the smell itself:

The opening is an explosive tuberose, kind of dirty, with a weird toothpasty quality–toothpaste without the mint in it. There is a faint burning spice in there, although really nothing could survive the onslaught of tuberose sweetness. The sweetness is key, because this doesn’t have that harsh, screechy edge that tuberose so often has for me, and that’s the only reason I could sample this and not desperately want to scrub it off. Even so, it’s kind of cloying; it keeps coming at you, demanding to be noticed.

Eventually the floralcy, though not the sugar, begins to die down a little, and the cedar finally sidles into view, with the faint ribbon of wood smoke that cedar so often carries. This is very nice, and it lasts a very long time. 

Cèdre for me works less as a scent than as an intellectual experiment, an essay in cognitive dissonance: what you read doesn’t match what you smell, and what you smell is two extremely disjunct things forced into harmony. I could never wear it, that’s for sure.

On Fragrantica, people’s impressions of Cèdre largely seem to fall into four categories: those who think it’s mostly just a cedar fragrance; those who think it’s almost all tuberose; those who think that the two notes are in a perpetual tug of war for hegemony; and those who think it’s actually an amber fragrance. The main note in the perfume, according to 92 people, is tuberose. Amber comes in next with 65 votes, while cedar is in third place with 58. One commentator said Cèdre began with “[a] very aggressive tuberose opening on me. It smelled very heavy, greasy, sexy, almost obscene!” The note left after 10 minutes on her skin, never to return, but, for another, Cèdre was almost all tuberose:

The name Cedre can be a little misleading. Surprisingly this is a soapy and elegant tuberose fragrance, with a spicy and woodsy drydown. The cedar note is barely evident in this fragrance’s composition, so don’t go expecting any masculine woodsiness while testing Cedre.

For many commentators, however, things are not so black and white, and Cèdre is a mix of things, sometimes dominated by amber. Two examples:

  • This was not what I had expected from a perfume named ‘Cedre’. The opening notes were a clash of cloves and cedar and for a few minutes it seemed these two were playing out some sort of war of attrition. I wasn’t sure who would win. This was a fleeting phase and shortly they both settled to allow the amber, cinnamon and tuberose rise from the battlefield. Oh wow. This is good stuff. It has the classic Lutens DNA but the tuberose gives this an ethereal quality that seems to give these rich notes a lighter touch. As I write this, the tuberose is developing a wonderful animalic note.
  • Cedre is a rich amber fragrance opening with cinnamon and labdanum. It contains that signature Lutens rich amber “hum”, though the intensely resinous cedar like the living tree, or freshly chopped firewood in the composition gives it clarity, preventing it from turning into a syrupy mess. It’s more like a wood-burning stove baking up fresh cinamon buns. [¶] Cedre has an effervescent quality like an artisan-crafted all-natural birch beer, and the labdanum makes the sweetness smooth, warm, and wearable. It is a basket of sweet and spicy offerings from the forest floor to the canopy. It is the sweetness found naturally in forest air, distilled. [¶][…] This may be my favorite gourmand to date.

Many bloggers seem to be divided into the camps listed above. For Robin at Now Smell This, Cèdre was an amber fragrance with an opening blast of tuberose that was initially mentholated (as in Tubereuse Criminelle), but whose floral nature was eventually muted by woodsy, honeyed amber notes that had a subtle animalic, leathery flicker in the base. She found the cedar itself to be “surprisingly subdued; it is a very woody fragrance but it has none of the sharp edges I commonly associate with cedar.” Yet, she could also see how a friend of hers would think Cèdre was all about spiced apple, which is what I got, too. As a whole, Robin was ambivalent about the fragrance since, the first few times she tried it, “it was too much sweet amber and too little cedar and tuberose,” but she could see it growing on her.

Tuberose, and Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle, were also on the mind of the PeredePierre whose review begins by saying that the release of Cèdre was a surprise because “[w]hat no one was expecting [was]… a tuberose-laden scent with only the slightest hint of anything woody.” Calling Cèdre “a challenging composition,” he writes:

Cedre starts off with a powerful, mentholated camphor note. Not nearly as shocking as Tubereuse Criminelle, but still quite the sucker-punch. Immediately evident are the spices – clove, cinnamon, and the usual suspects for a Lutens fragrance. Tuberose is clearly the main player in the scent from the beginning, although it softens somewhat as things progress. Cedar does makes its way in eventually, although not nearly enough to warrant a star-spot in the perfume’s title. Cedar’s typical raspy character is felt more than any obvious woody presence.

The drydown reveals something much more interesting though – a dirty musk! Up until that point, things are a bit cloying, a bit on the sweet side, and very much full of clove (not my favourite thing in the world), but the musk note is an intriguing touch. 

Over at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Marina prefers Lutens’ Bois Oriental, finding Cèdre to fall short in comparison. She find it to be “pleasant,” in a review that essentially damns Cèdre with faint praise:

Sweet-ish woods, lovely almost imperceptible tuberose, a tiny dash of cinnamon. Every note is understated, muted, almost demure. Rich and animalistic? Absolutely not. Soft? Definitely. Also, I must say, rather unremarkable. Cèdre is one of those neutral, elegant, “politically correct” scents that are appropriate anywhere, anytime.

The Non-Blonde adores Cèdre, but she notes how many people find it to be far from the cedar fragrance that they had expected:

When Cedre came out in late 2005, many people were somewhat bewildered. They expected Uncle Serge to treat the cedar note in a similar way he stripped oak a year before when he created Chene. Instead of a glorious dry tree, they found themselves sampling a boozy, sweet, ambery oriental perfume with a creamy tuberose in the middle.

Which, of course, is exactly why I adore Cedre.

It radiates. From the sweet opening to the sweeter drydown, this is one weird scent. It takes you on a trip to places where otherworldly things grow. There’s apple-free cider, radioactive cinnamon, clove that doesn’t bite and wouldn’t remind you of the dentist, wood that glows in the dark, white flowers that disappear and pop out again and black honey. It’s a carnival and can get quite big and noisy, but on my skin it’s heaven.

All the bloggers seem to have experienced a fragrance that was profoundly more interesting than the muted, slightly abstract, boozy, rum raisin, spiced amber that manifested itself on my skin. I love those notes, but something about Cèdre’s composition was neither original nor dramatically edgy. I think it was the muffled, murky, blurry aspect to the notes. Had they been more sharply pronounced and distinct, I might have felt much less bored by the amorphous swirl of ambered stewed fruit. Or, perhaps not. It’s not as if there aren’t half a dozen rummy, boozy ambers already out there…..

I don’t know what to say to you in terms of recommendations. Those who hate tuberose — and Tubéreuse Criminelle, in specific — should probably stay away from Cèdre, but then, what happens if it’s all dense, rich, spicy amber without even a hint of tuberose? Or a pure cedar fragrance that evokes a “wood-burning stove baking up fresh cinamon buns” and whose base feels infused by a subtle gourmand sweetness? Perhaps you’d love it. The problem is, I have no idea what may show up on your skin.

If it’s any use or guidance, a number of people on Fragrantica compare Cèdre to Amouage‘s Memoir Woman, while on Basenotes, I’ve read a lot of comparisons to how Cèdre has the same vibe as Histoires de Parfums Tubéreuse 3 – Animale. I haven’t tried Memoir Woman yet, but my recollection of briefly testing Tubéreuse 3 is that it was a significantly more leathery, difficult, dry, immortelle-based fragrance at its start. Though it’s supposed to be a similar take on a masculine tuberose, I didn’t leave Tubereuse 3 on my skin long enough to get to that part. What I did smell was mostly an immortelle fragrance with leather, tobacco and pungent, dry hay. In short, something very different to the Ambre Narguilé vibe I get from Cèdre. (That said, it’s odd how the only floral that showed up for me in Cèdre is something that feels like a muted immortelle, but absolutely nothing that smells like tuberose.)

If my personal tastes or thoughts are of any help, I wouldn’t bother with Cèdre. It leaves me completely cold — and this comes from someone who loves both Lutens, and boozy, spicy amber fragrances in general. In fact, Cèdre triggers so much apathy and disdain that writing a long review about it has resulted in feelings that almost verge on the hostile for the poor fragrance. So, I shall end this review here and now.

 

DETAILS:
General Cost & Sales Prices: Cèdre is a concentrated eau de parfum that comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, and whose retail price is $140, €99 or £83.00. However, Cèdre is currently discounted at Pricefalls where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $82.03. LilyDirect sells Cèdre for $82.28. Canadian readers may want to check if the company has started shipping to Canada as planned some months back. FragranceNet sells Cèdre starting at $84.31 with a coupon, or for $99.19, with an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5 (which probably comes to the same amount of $84.31). There is free domestic shipping. Rakuten (formerly Buy.com) sells it for $90. 
Serge Lutens: you can find Cèdre on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with other language options also available. 
U.S. sellers: Cèdre is available for $140 at Luckyscent, Barney’s, Aedes (though it is currently out of stock), and other high-end perfume retailers.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Cèdre at The Perfume Shoppe for what may be US$135, but I’m never sure about their currency since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver store. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, you can find Cèdre at Harrods or Liberty where it costs £83.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €92 instead of €99, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. In Belgium, it’s carried at Senteurs d’Ailleurs. In Italy, you can find Cèdre at Essenza Nobile for €98 and, in Germany, you can go through their German section which sells the perfume for the same price. In Australia, it is sold out on the Grays website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for AUD $127.50, but you can find it massively discounted at Australia’s Fragrance Net for prices starting as low as AUD$91.05 with a coupon. Cèdre is also sold at Perfumery for AUD$115 instead of AUD$200, at Australia’s StrawberryNet for AUD$143.50, and at CosmeticsNow for AUD$147.95. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Samples: You can test out Cèdre by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Four Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are larger at 1 ml each, and you get your choice of 4 Lutens Export fragrances (ie, not those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger

Fleurs d'Oranger. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Fleurs d’Oranger. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Ethereal, glittering, radiant, voluptuous clouds of white with a tiny sliver of a dark lining of funk. That’s Serge LutensFleurs d’Oranger, a powerful bouquet of white flowers headlined by orange blossoms and tuberose. It is an eau de parfum created by Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2003.

Serge Lutens describes Fleurs d’Oranger in terms of emotional responses, which seems quite appropriate for such a sensuous fragrance: 

It’s within us.

A single whiff of this fragrance, drawn from the highly scented blossom of the bitter orange tree, augmented by a hint of civet, resonates within us.

The notes — as compiled from LuckyscentFragrantica and that statement — include:

Orange blossom, white jasmine, Indian tuberose, white rose, citrus peel, hibiscus seeds, cumin, nutmeg and civet.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Fleurs d’Oranger opens on my skin with the most beautiful, concentrated, powerful, and completely narcotic burst of orange blossoms. They are quickly followed by tuberose with a slightly metholated, minty, just barely camphoraceous undertone, and by a powerful heaping of cumin. The latter is a discordant feature in the white mix, radiating a definite aroma of stale sweat body aroma that is quite strong at first. Thankfully, however, it softens, weakens and recedes in less than twenty seconds, retreating just to the periphery, and never returning to the same levels again.

tuberoseThe tuberose is quite the diva in Fleurs d’Oranger. It repeatedly tries to muscle aside the orange blossoms, and to take over the whole show. It’s brawny, potent, heady, narcotic, indolent, addictively sniffable for those who love tuberose, and the living nightmare of those who don’t. I happen to adore tuberose, and it’s one of my favorite flowers (if not my favorite), so I’m rather in heaven. It’s especially lovely here in Fleurs d’Oranger, as it is simultaneously a little bit green and airy, but, also, full-blown, lusciously languid, creamy, rich and completely voluptuous. It brings to mind what the legendary nose, Roja Dove, once said about tuberose (in the context of the famous, white floral powerhouse, Fracas):

tuberose is the most carnal of the floral notes. It smells like very, very hot flesh after you’ve had sex — that’s the bottom line. [via The Independent, 12/14/2002.] [Emphasis added.] 

That carnality is in full sway in Fleurs d’Oranger, where tuberose is joined by its similarly voluptuous siblings, orange blossom and jasmine. It’s all because of the indoles, which are present in the three flowers and which are the main reason for Fleurs d’Oranger’s headiness.

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/faixal_javaid/3360386339/

Bee on a tuberose. Photo: faixal_javaid via Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/faixal_javaid/3360386339/

The scientific story about indoles, in simple terms, is that bees can’t see white flowers like tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, gardenia, or the like. So the flowers have an extra-large amount of a natural organic substance called indoles that they put out to signal the bees to their presence. In their undiluted, purest, and most concentrated form in perfumery, indoles can smell like musty mothballs. However, when diluted to just a few drops, they create a radiant richness in floral perfumes that is sometimes described as narcotic, heady, meaty, dense, voluptuous or sensuous. For some, very indolic flowers can have an over-blown, ripe quality that smells sour, plastic-y, fecal, urinous, or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. Its richness in classic, very opulent fragrances is probably why some people find indolic fragrances to smell “old lady-ish” (a term I hate, by the way, even apart from its ageist aspects). Those who prefer clean, fresh scents are likely to struggle with indolic fragrances as well, and not only because of their heavy feel.

Fleurs d’Oranger contains three of the most indolic flowers around — tuberose, jasmine, and orange blossoms. Here, however, the thickness of the notes is largely undercut by a very subtle, very quiet, green, chilly note underlying the tuberose. It’s all due to methyl salicylate, the revolutionary, transformative key to Lutens’ famously difficult, Tubéreuse Criminelle, and something which is present to a significantly lesser extent in Fleurs d’Oranger. Methyl salicylate is a natural organic compound found in tuberose (and in jasmine) which has a crisp, medicinal, almost mentholated, sometimes eucalyptus-like smell that evokes “Vicks Vapor Rub” for a few, but minty, spearmint mouth wash for others. It can also create varying impressions of gasoline/petrol, rubber, or leather.

Tuberose: Source: mostbeautifulflower.com

Tuberose: Source: mostbeautifulflower.com

The aroma is not a usual part of most tuberose perfumes, but Christopher Sheldrake like to deconstruct the flower to its scientific essence and core molecules in order to emphasize that metholated side. One reason, perhaps, is because it undercuts some of the richness of the flowers’ indoles, thereby assuring a greener, lighter, airier scent that isn’t so overwhelmingly buttery. That’s what happens in Fleurs d’Oranger where Sheldrake cleverly uses the smallest hints of chilly, cool freshness to cut through the heady fumes of the flowers, thereby reducing any potential cloying over-ripeness.

On my skin, Fleurs d’Oranger is primarily an orange blossom scent, always trailed very closely by the tuberose. In the opening moments, sitting in the background as quiet as a wallflower, are the supporting players. There are subtle flickers of zesty citrus peel, feeling more like the slightly bitter oil you get from grating the rind. There is also a barely animalic muskiness, though I never detect civet in its true form, let alone in any substantial degree. The cumin skulks around the corners, too, sometimes adding a quiet funk to the delicate, florals, sometimes feeling like an amorphous, dry, spicy note. Finally, there is a touch of sweet, dainty rose that does, indeed, feel very white and heady.

Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Jasmine. Source: Hdwallpaperes.com

Nothing, however, has the remotest chance of competing against the tuberose. Sometimes, not even the titular, purported star of the show itself because there are brief moments when the tuberose completely pushes the orange blossoms aside. The jasmine doesn’t fare any better; it is habitually overshadowed in any concentrated, distinctive way. Instead, she is almost intertwined with the tuberose, having an indirect effect in adding to that drug-like, opulent headiness.

Despite the power of the three white sisters, I’m surprised by the lightweight feel of Fleurs d’Oranger. Don’t mistake my meaning — this is a strong scent, especially up close and in the opening hour. However, it lacks a dense, thick, opaque feel. I’ve read that Fleurs d’Oranger was reformulated, perhaps around 2008, in accordance with the start of the IFRA/EU fascistic regulation of perfume ingredients. One of the targeted notes on their hit list is orange blossom oil, which may explain why tuberose sometimes seems as much a focal point of Fleurs d’Oranger as the orange blossoms. According to one Basenotes thread, the perfume used to be almost syrupy in feel. I’ve never tried the original, vintage formulation, but that description fits with everything that I’ve heard: Fleurs d’Oranger was stronger, deeper, richer, heavier and, according to some, had more orange blossoms in it.

Nonetheless, ten minutes into its development, Fleurs d’Oranger is led by the orange blossoms, then followed by lightly mentholated tuberose atop a base of jasmine with a small touch of very heady rose that seems almost like a tea-rose in its sweetness. There is a strong hint of something else lurking about that I can’t quite place and that feels a little woody and dry. Perhaps the hibiscus seeds? And, taking its place in the rear of the line is the cumin with its nuance of earthy funk. Fleurs d’Oranger doesn’t change much from that primary bouquet, though the tuberose will occasionally take the lead for a few minutes until it falls back to trail behind the orange blossoms. Also fluctuating in strength is a subtle muskiness that infuses all the flowers, covering them with a fine veil of sensuousness. The combination would feel almost erotic in its voluptuous carnality, were it not for the subtle freshness and airiness created by the perfume’s green, chilly, menthol undertones.

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Orange Blossom. Photo: GardenPictures via Zuoda.net

Fleurs d’Oranger remains that way until its final drydown, when it smells solely of orange blossoms. There is the faintest flicker of some dry spice lurking underneath, though it’s not really distinguishable as cumin. All in all, Fleurs d’Oranger lasted a brief 3.5 hours in total, and I tested it twice. I never have any luck with the duration of Serge Lutens’ pure florals, and sadly, Fleurs d’Oranger is no exception. The perfume’s sillage starts to drop as quickly as the thirty-minute mark, though it is still so powerful up close that I suspect it will give a headache to those who suffer from the richness of indoles. It becomes a skin scent at the end of the second hour, and feels quite blurry around the edges. I have to admit, I’m hugely disappointed because I’ve always loved Fleurs d’Oranger. I first tested it last year, and quite fell in love with its sensuous, bright radiance. If its powerful projection at the start were matched by at least a moderate longevity on my skin, I’d want a full bottle.

Luckily for everyone else, the votes on Fragrantica indicate many people have considerably better times than I did. There, in the duration rankings, 17 people voted for “long lasting,” 11 for “moderate,” and 8 for “very long lasting.”  For the sillage, 20 found it to be “heavy,” 17 voted for “moderate” and 7 for “soft.” I think the potency of the opening hour may explain some of the projection numbers because Fleurs d’Oranger truly did not feel nuclear-tipped like some of the 80s powerhouse fragrances, especially after the first 60-90 minutes. My standards must be skewed, however, because Fragrantica commentators frequently bring up the word “powerhouse,” and talk about just how big it is.

In terms of the scent itself, the reactions on Fragrantica are interesting. A handful of people wonder where the orange blossoms are lurking, as they find Fleurs d’Oranger to be primarily a tuberose fragrance on their skin. On the other hand, one or two posters think Fleurs d’Oranger is the best jasmine fragrance around. For the vast majority, however, Fleurs d’Oranger almost amounts to an orange blossom soliflore with spicy, rich, luxurious depths that “sing of summer.” Clearly, it all depends on skin chemistry as to which flower may dominate. The same holds true for the issue of the cumin, and its strength. It is another reason why Fleurs d’Oranger can be far too much for some people. A lot of people can’t handle tuberose; and a number of people are cumin-phobes. Bring the two notes together, and you have a fragrance that is most definitely not for everyone. Yet, despite that, most people on Fragrantica adore Fleurs d’Oranger, using words like “masterpiece” or “the best orange blossom fragrance around.”

The same is true of the commentators on Luckyscent which, by the way, has perhaps my favorite description for the fragrance:

In a word: masterpiece. There is no other way to sum up Fleurs d’Oranger. This is truly a legend in the Lutens line, the fresh yet decadent scent of an orange grove in full bloom, blossoms falling like rain as a warm breeze swirls the petals in the air. The heady and sweet scents of orange blossom, white jasmine and tuberose are highlighted with a hint of citrus and enhanced with just the tiniest wisps of warm spice to create a perfume that is ever-changing and, once you live with it awhile, you begin to sense its ultra complex nature. Fleurs d’Oranger is a floral fantasy that is even more beautiful than any amount of flowery prose can hope to relay…it’s a rare fragrance that could be worn every day and you’d never tire of it. Gloriously feminine, Fleurs is not “cute” nor is it cloying or overpowering…it’s pure French elegance meets a wild romp in an orange grove, a dream of a perfume that will make you close your eyes, breathe deeply and just…smile.

I think that accurately sums up Fleurs d’Oranger. So, too, does this Luckyscent description from a commentator:

Delicately glittering, this bright scent is reminiscent of the orange grove at Versaille. There is something regal and elegant inherent in its light floral composition that is never overwhelming. I wish that it had more staying power though.

As a side note, two people bring up the L’Artisan Parfumeur orange blossom scent as a point of comparison, though I think they’re referring to the 2007 Limited Edition Fleur d’Oranger and not to Seville à L’Aube. Both posters prefer the Lutens version, adding that it is much longer-lasting as well. Speaking of Seville à L’Aube, I hated it. Passionately. I found nothing remotely appealing, seductive, or sensuous about it. It was revoltingly unpleasant and bracingly pungent at the start, before turning into something unbearably cloying and sickeningly sweet later on. Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger is a whole other story. It truly is a beauty, to the point whereby I wonder if I should just suck up the dismal longevity and get a bottle anyway.

Nonetheless, I wouldn’t recommend the scent to everyone. If you despise tuberose or jasmine in even the smallest, most microscopic quantities, then stay away. If your skin chemistry consistently turns either flower into something sour or urinous, the same advice applies. And, if very heady, indolic, floral fragrances are not your cup of tea, then run away. But if you have some tolerance for either tuberose or jasmine, and if you love orange blossoms, then I would really give Fleurs d’Oranger a test shot. I think it’s incredibly wearable and versatile, suitable as much for everyday use as it would be for a romantic date night. However, I urge extreme caution in application if you work in a conservative office environment. Do not spray with reckless abandon, or you may have some sensitive coworkers up in arms. Finally, the fragrance is easily accessible and often massively discounted at a number of online retail sites, one of which offers it for the incredibly low price of $69 instead of the usual $120.

The one potential problem that I see with Fleurs d’Oranger is that the average man may find it to be too feminine in nature. I personally don’t believe in gender differentials, and I know a lot of men who wear both orange blossom and tuberose fragrances. In fact, one of my best friends rocks “Carnal Flora” (as he calls the Frederic Malle tuberose fragrance), and his husband finds it utterly irresistible on him. I’m going to strongly insist that he add Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger to his collection; it’s a whole other sort of carnality that should be completely up his alley. So, if you’re a guy who is tempted by Fleurs d’Oranger or who likes heady floral scents, don’t get put off by the potential “feminine” categorization and try it. If you can wear Tom Ford‘s Neroli Portofino, Seville à L’Aube, or Vero Profumo‘s Rubj, you can certainly wear Fleurs d’Oranger!

In short, for those who fall in the narrow categories listed above, I definitely recommend this glitteringly bright, voluptuously sensuous, narcotic, white floral cocktail.

 

DETAILS:
General Cost & Sales Prices: Fleurs d’Oranger is an eau de parfum that usually comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, though a larger 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version is also available from Serge Lutens. The retail price for the usual, common 1.7 oz size is $120, €82 or £69.00, with the bell jar going for $280 or €125. However, Fleurs d’Oranger is currently on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $82.19, with an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5 and free domestic shipping. There is also an even lower price of $69.86 if purchased with a separate one-time coupon (though it may be the same code and come to the same price. I’m not completely sure). FragranceNet ships internationally, and also has free Australia shipping after you spend a certain amount. Fleurs d’Oranger is on sale at LilyDirect which sells it for $71.91. Canadian readers may want to check if the company have started shipping to Canada as planned some months back. Fleurs d’Oranger is also discounted on Overstock.Com where it is priced at $82.99, and at StrawberryNet for $111. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: you can find Fleurs d’Oranger in both sizes on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with other language options also available. 
U.S. sellers: Fleurs d’Oranger is available in the 50 ml size for $120 at Luckyscent, Barney’s (which also sells the expensive bell jar version), Aedes, and other high-end perfume retailers.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at The Perfume Shoppe for what seems to be US$120, but I’m never sure about their currency since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver store. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at Liberty where it costs £69.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. You can also find it at Les Senteurs where that same bottle costs more at £79.00. The site sells samples of Fleurs d’Oranger for £3.50. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €79 instead of €82, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. You can also try French Sephora which sells it for more at €84. In Italy, you can find Fleurs d’Oranger at Essenza Nobile for €78 and, in Germany, you can go through their German section which sells the perfume for the same price. In Australia, it is sold out on the Grays website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for AUD $109.50, but you can find it massively discounted at Australia’s Fragrance Net for prices starting as low as AUD$75.44 with a coupon. It’s also sold at Australia’s StrawberryNet for AUD$123. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Samples: You can test out Fleurs d’Oranger by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Four Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are larger at 1 ml each, and you get your choice of 4 Lutens Export fragrances (ie, not those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Rousse

Rousse in the 75 ml bell jar.

Rousse in the 75 ml bell jar.

It can be a foolish thing to enter into a perfume with set expectations when it is a Serge Lutens. Not only do you never know where he’s going to take you, but you also never know the damn notes in the perfume. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised to have an unexpected ride with Rousse, but, nevertheless, I am. I went into the test knowing Rousse was a cinnamon perfume that is consistently compared to the aroma of Red Hots, the spicy, fiery cinnamon candy. Somehow, I expected to think of famous, strong redheads who would probably have epitomized Rousse, whether Elizabeth I or Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame. Nope. None of it. Instead, I had what seems to be a slightly atypical experience, which probably explains why I can’t decide if I think Rousse is a strange fragrance, or a pleasant, but underwhelming, one. In the end, I think I’ll lump the two things together: Rousse is a slightly strange fragrance with some really pretty parts — but I wouldn’t be disappointed if I never smelled it again.    

The old, discontinued 50 ml bottle of Rousse. Ad source: Lutens Facebook page.

The old, discontinued 50 ml bottle of Rousse. Ad source: Lutens Facebook page.

Rousse was created by Christopher Sheldrake for Serge Lutens and released in 2007 as one of the regular Import line that is available worldwide. Later, perhaps because of the public’s seemingly lackluster response to the fragrance, Rousse was pulled from regular distribution, discontinued in its small 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle size, and limited to the Paris Exclusives bell jar line. (That said, some of the old, cheaper bottles are still available for purchase at discounted rates online.) I’ve noticed the Bell Jar fragrances are often the more complicated, thorny, or unusual fragrances that aren’t quite as approachable or popular as the regular line with its Chergui, Ambre SultanUn Bois Vanillé, citrus florals, and the like. Rousse isn’t complicated or difficult, by any means, but it seems to have suffered from the critical response. And, as you will see, Rousse doesn’t always turn out as expected on people’s skin.

Rousse‘s description on the Lutens website is neither lyrically evocative or particularly helpful. It merely talks about auburn hair that is “like copper igniting in the heart of a wood. This scent is like a hint of cinnamon on the skin changes colours.” A more detailed description of Rousse comes from Ozmoz which not only quotes part of the original 2007 press release, but which also provides the important detail that Rousse is as much about cinnamon tree wood, as it is about the spice:

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Cinnamon tree bark. Source: indiamart.com

Rousse is an elegant, sparkling, sweet and sensual skin scent. Serge Lutens’ inspiration for Rousse came from childhood memories of grandma baking and making jam. Rousse highlights cinnamon, ‘spicy, almost prickly, as though it were composed of miniscule starbursts’. A spice that’s also a tree bark that ‘remains singular, though it shades from beige to reddish-brown’: ‘an imaginary cinnamon (…) that wants to hold onto an image of the color of her hair, weaving it into a spice that is so often overlooked’.

The mystery notes, as compiled from Fragrantica, Now Smell This, and elsewhere, seem to include:

mandarin, cinnamon, cinnamon wood, cloves, spices, floral & aromatic notes, fruit, precious woods, amber, musk and vanilla.

One of those generalized, undefined categories on the list ends up being quite important because, on my skin, Rousse is not a fragrance that is simply about fiery Red Hot cinnamon sweets or cinnamon spice. Far from it.

Red Hots cinnamon candy.

Red Hots cinnamon candy.

Rousse opens first and foremost with white floral notes that have a very peculiar, grey, soapy tinge, and which are mixed with a bitter, pungent, slightly medicinal note of cloves. Quickly, they are joined by orange tones, dry spices, and dry woods. Both the combination of notes, and the way that their slightly acrid, sharp overtones burn my nose momentarily makes me think of Lubin‘s Idole in eau de toilette form. It takes about a minute for the cinnamon in Rousse to appear but, when it does, it bursts forth with such intensity that Rousse is briefly transformed into the expected Red Hots candies, and very little else. The fiery sweets sit atop a somewhat thin, lightly boozy element mixed with that strange, dry, grey-white note that appeared earlier. I’ll simply call it a “greige” note, because that’s what it feels like, especially as there is the quiet whisper of something soapy underneath.

Linden blossom. Source: www.selfsufficientish.com

Linden blossom. Source: http://www.selfsufficientish.com

The Red Hots blast remains for all of about three minutes, and then, Rousse returns to smelling primarily of that surprising floral bouquet. I struggled with it at first. Magnolia? Linden? Magnolia and linden? Less than 15 minutes into Rousse’s development, it definitely felt like linden. The note is white, honeyed, and similar to honeysuckle, but with a sprinkling of lemon blossoms and a soapy, clean undertone. Linden is Rousse’s primary note on my skin for a good portion of its beginning, and I find that to be incredibly surprising.

Ten minutes in, Rousse is a swirl of lightly spiced florals. There is honeyed linden with its soapy edge, flickers of mandarin orange in the far distance, and a quiet touch of cinnamon red hots, all over a base of somewhat abstract, dry woods. The cinnamon has receded from its initial power at the opening to something much more balanced. It melts into the linden, feeling quite indistinct in any concrete, substantial form, and merely adding a lightly spicy kick to the honeyed flower. The mandarin orange note in the back is quite disappointing. It’s muted, mild, almost evanescent except as an occasional pop-up. It never feels very juicy or even candied but, rather, something dry. It’s hard to tell because it’s wholly lacking in both character and weight. Much more noticeable, however, is the slow stirrings of a light musk that starts to swirl around the linden.

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Magnolia. Source: Kathy Clark via FineArtAmerica.com

Rousse doesn’t twist and turn very much, especially as compared to most Lutens fragrances. At the end of the first hour, it is still primarily a floral scent on my skin. However, there is a sudden creaminess that adds richness and a velvety undertone to the flowers, and, once again, I think of magnolia as a counterpart to the linden. That impression continues as Rousse develops, and I really wonder if magnolia is one of the hidden notes. Others have detected a similar buttery floral note, but think it’s orris butter. On my skin, the note lacks the powdery nuances of orris, but who knows. Whatever it is, the creamy flower is strongly intertwined with the linden, thereby impacting the latter and changing it as a result. The linden still feels very honeyed and tinged by lemon blossom, but its rather soapy undertone weakens substantially.

Yet, Rousse never feels like a purely floral fragrance, thanks to the dried, somewhat smoky, wood notes in the base. Oddly enough, however, the cinnamon seems to have retreated to just a bare shadow of its former self, and now skulks around in the background. On top of it all, the whole fragrance has dropped in sillage to hover just a scant inch above the skin. Rousse never had powerful projection to begin with, and Ozmoz describes it as a “skin scent,” so it’s clearly meant to be quiet and discreet in nature.

Around the 90 minute mark, Rousse is a magnolia-linden concoction on my skin with a subtle fruity nuance, flickers of dried orange, abstract spices, and amorphous dry woods. The latter smells a bit smoky, a little bit bitter, and just barely tinged by cinnamon and cedar. To be honest, the wood element is both odd and unusual, and for some reason, calls to mind, again, Idole with its ebony wood and what Luca Turin described as grey flotsam driftwood. Something in Rousse’s woodsy combination feels quite similar, though the accord is too muted, too hidden, and too overshadowed by the increasingly powerful fruity magnolia for me to figure out why. It’s definitely far more than mere cedar, to my nose.

Source: dreamstime.com

Source: dreamstime.com

What’s even odder is that, around the 90-minute mark, there is a definite impression of yeasty dough circling around the edges of the perfume. Rousse smells a lot like highly perfumed, sweet dough with a floral-fruity, magnolia-linden twist, and just the faintest pinch of cinnamon, all atop a bitter, dry woods base. It’s actually pleasant — in fact, quite enjoyable in a strange way — but I can’t get past my confusion. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for the initial blast of Red Hot cinnamon candy in Rousse’s opening minutes, I would think I had a mislabeled perfume sample. Surrender to Chance doesn’t normally make those sorts of mistakes, but what I’m smelling on my arm really is nothing like what I had expected or read about. Where is the cinnamon? Why is this so damn floral? So many people say that Rousse is all about the cinnamon, but not on me. The only thing that really fits other people’s descriptions of the fragrance is Rousse’s dry, dusty murkiness in the background, which is something touched upon in Now Smell Thisreview of the scent.

Catherine Jeltes Painting, "Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape." Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

Catherine Jeltes Painting, “Modern Brown Abstract Painting WinterScape.” Etsy Store, GalleryZooArt, linked within. (Click on photo.)

As time passes, Rousse gets creamier, softer, and sweeter. At the end of the second hour, it’s a beige swirl of velvety, fruity magnolia, with dribbles of honey and a pinch of dry spices atop some dry, “greige” woods. But, a bare thirty-minutes later, Rousse suddenly becomes a wholly abstract creamy fragrance that is infused with vanilla, amorphous white notes that only hint at something floral, and a nebulous sense of dry, cinnamon woods. Not long after, about 4.25 hours into the perfume’s development, Rousse is reduced primarily to a creamy, delicious, vanilla custard. There is still that woody, dry element barely flecked by dusty cinnamon, but it’s so muted as to feel quite intangible at times.

And Rousse remains that way until its final moments, when it’s nothing more than an abstract, almost gourmand-like sweetness with a slightly vanillic undertone and the quietest whisper of dryness. All in all, Rousse lasted just under 6 hours on my skin, with a good portion of that time spent as a skin scent. On Fragrantica, a few people put Rousse’s longevity at around 5 hours, with one noting only 4 hours. The majority listed the sillage as “moderate,” with the next greatest number voting for “soft.” Clearly, it’s not a monster of either longevity or projection.

I liked Rousse — once I put aside what I expected and just sat back for the creamy, floral ride. I’m not judging it for failing to live up to expectations, because skin chemistry is a wonky thing and I realise my experience was quite atypical. However, what I did smell didn’t knock my socks off, and I certainly don’t think it’s a very special fragrance, though it’s a perfectly pleasant scent that actually has some lovely moments. Still, for a fragrance that is so expensive and hard to access as a Paris Bell Jar exclusive, Rousse doesn’t seem worth either the time or money to obtain it.

I get the sense that reviewers who did have the proper, full, cinnamon Rousse experience weren’t very blown away. It’s as clear as day that Bois de Jasmin wasn’t, finding Rousse “nice and pretty,” but bluntly calling it both “a disappointment” and a “let-down.” On Victoria, Rousse was initially “[l]ipstick and candied lady apples” with a powdery violet note; later, a woody note based on cedar whose “dense sweetness melts away in the heart of the composition, although the dry and somewhat cloying effect reminiscent of powdered sugar remains vivid.” In the drydown, Rousse was “delicate powdery notes tinged with cinnamon, violet and vetiver.” On second thought, she didn’t seem to have the typical Rousse cinnamon experience, either….

Luca Turin did, however, and he might as well have snorted his disdain. His two-star review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide dismisses Rousse in a single sentence, essentially calling it a hot mess:

Another Lutens from the période bizarre: a mulled-wine accord made with clove and cinnamon mixed with an intense rooty-anisic (carrot-seed?) note, adding up to one fine mess.

In contrast, Robin at Now Smell This, thought Rousse was the best of the new Serge Lutens releases of that time (back in 2007). Though she notes that “[m]any reviewers so far seem to find it dull,” she enjoyed its sparse nature, writing:

cinnamon is the star of the show here. The opening is lively and sweet, and reminiscent of cinnamon Red Hots (and if you like Red Hots, see also Comme des Garçons Harissa). The dry down is much drier and milder, and the cinnamon takes on first a dusty, later a creamy-powdery quality as it blends with dark woods, iris and whatever else is in there (the fruits and flowers are indistinct). There is a touch of amber and vanilla to keep it from being quite bone dry, and like yesterday’s Mandarine Mandarin, it has a kind of murky-dusky, not-quite-dark-not-quite-bright quality.

I wouldn’t call it a transparent scent, but it is considerably less embellished than the “standard” Serge Lutens style, if such a thing exists. I would call it spare, even restrained, and it will not, like some in the line, continue to morph on your skin over a period of hours. Many reviewers so far seem to find it dull, but I have liked it more and more on each wearing — I like spare and restrained — and it is easily my favorite of the recent Serge Lutens releases.

Equally positive was the review at the Perfume Posse, though it’s all about apple pie there, right down to its “pastry crust (soft, buttery, dusty)” along with “the cinnamon, a couple of cloves – and of course none too sweet apples.” The pie sits atop a woody base that the reviewer, Leopoldo, found to be sharply reminiscent of Lubin‘s Idole. I’m relieved to see it’s not just me, especially when Perfume-Smellin’ Things reached the same conclusion:

The smell of the spicy, powdery bark, of the resinous wood is all around you, like a warm cocoon. The top accord features a sweet, vaguely fruity and candied note (what I take to be mandarins), cinnamon and woods. As the scent progresses, it loses practically all of its initial sweetness and acquires a slightly powdery, slightly “buttery” violet note, as well as a brighter, spicier floral smell of carnation, which complements the cinnamon very nicely. The drydown is dark and balsamic, with plenty of amber and some vanilla to soften and round the composition. This is a melancholy, contemplative scent, an adult’s day-dream of an enchanted world.

Like Leopoldo, I can’t help but notice the resemblance between the new Lutens fragrance and Idole de Lubin. In fact, for me, the two are rather too similar. I smell Idole in the spicy candiedness of the top notes of Rousse and in the resinous drydown. Rousse is woodier, drier, much less “boozy” and has a slight powdery undertone (the powder of the grated bark), but the two are still very alike, on my skin. Because of that, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been there, done that, got a bottle. 

On me, the Idole resemblance was brief and limited to the opening stage, while the rest of my experience was obviously completely different from all the reviews noted up above.

Clearly, this is a fragrance that varies in how it manifests itself. It usually does not need to said that all perfume journeys depend on individual skin chemistry, but Rousse seems to trigger a wider disparity than most. Look at what people have detected: from my magnolia-linden, yeasty dough, and vanilla custard experience; to Bois de Jasmin’s powdery violets, cedar and vetiver; Luca Turin’s anise carrot-seed; NST’s Red Hot cinnamon candies; Perfume-Smellin’ Things carnations, violets, and Lubin’s Idole; and Perfume Posse’s apple pie, doughy crust, and more Idole!

At least there is some consistency over at Fragrantica. There, an overwhelming majority of the reviews talk about the cinnamon, and almost nothing but. However, even on Fragrantica, there are some sharply divergent experiences. One commentator talked about how Rousse was primarily a “soap cloud” on her skin, another said “it’s more cloves and amber than cinnamon resting on a sweet floral citrus bed,” and a third talked about how she experienced loads of orris butter and carnation. A handful mentioned a yeasty, doughy quality underlying the fragrance. A tiny portion talked about how the cloves were too overpowering and bitter for them, creating a medicinal start that turned them off the fragrance entirely.

Source: 123rf.com

Source: 123rf.com

Nonetheless, for almost everyone else, Rousse is almost entirely cinnamon with just a hint of cloves and some dried woods from start to finish. Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what to make of that narrow focus. Commentators seem split down the middle with half finding Rousse to be wonderfully delicious, sexy, mysterious, or cozy, while the other half thinks it’s too much damn cinnamon, in addition to being dull, and/or linear. One positive review consistently makes me laugh out loud; the commentator said Rousse was the only fragrance she liked to wear to bed because “its dullness just turns me off and instantly transports into the land of dreams!” (Emphasis added.) 

I don’t know whether to recommend Rousse to you, simply because I don’t know what notes will show up. As a whole, Rousse seems to be a dry, woody, cinnamon fragrance, but, clearly, there are some enormous exceptions to that rule. Still, if you adore cinnamon with a passion, it may be worth your while to get a sample and see what happens. 

DETAILS:
Sizes, Cost, & Availability: Rousse is an eau de parfum that is part of the Serge Lutens “European Exclusives” line, which means it is available only in the larger 2.5 oz/75 ml Bell Jar size, though you can occasionally find the discontinued 50 ml bottle on rare occasions. Rousse retails for $300 or €140 for a 75 ml/2.5 oz bottle. You can buy Rousse directly from the U.S. Serge Lutens website or from the International one
Discount Sales: I was initially overjoyed to find the cheaper, discontinued 1.7 oz/50 ml size bottle of Rousse available at Aedes for $120, but then I saw that it was out of stock and I doubt they’ll ever get more of it. However, I’m a little dogged and OCD in my hunts, so I found two vendors who sell Rousse in the cheaper, small, discontinued bottle. One is in Kuwait and seems to be a big perfume vendor called Universal Perfumes. It’s selling Rousse in the 1.7 oz bottle for $109.99 with $6.95 global shipping. Another is a U.S. site called Bay Perfumes who sells the 50 ml bottle for $98.40 with free domestic shipping on all orders over $85. So much better than $300, even if it is in a smaller size, no? Update: a reader of the blog, Alicia, sent me a link to a Spanish online perfume site called Parfumeria Sabina that is selling the 50 ml bottle of Rousse for €62.76, which is a fantastic price, and there seems to be free shipping, though I assume it’s only within the EU.
In the U.S.: Rousse is available in the more expensive $300 bell jar format sold exclusively at Barney’s New York store. The website has a notice stating: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.”
Personal Shopper Options: If you really want the Bell Jar but at a cheaper price, Undina of Undina’s Looking Glass reminded me of Shop France Inc run by Suzan, a very reputable, extremely professional, personal shopper who has been used by a number of perfumistas. She will go to France, and buy you perfumes (and other luxury items like Hermès scarves, etc.) that are otherwise hard to find at a reasonable price. Shop France Inc. normally charges a 10% commission on top of the item’s price with 50% being required as a down payment. However, and this is significant, in the case of Lutens Bell Jars, the price is $225 instead. The amount reflects customs taxes that she pays each time, as well as a tiny, extra markup. It’s still cheaper than the $290 (not including tax) for the bell jar via Barney’s or the US Serge Lutens website.  Another caveat, however, is that Suzan is limited to only 10 bell jars per trip, via an arrangement with the Lutens house. There is a wait-list for the bell jars, but she goes every 6-8 weeks, so it’s not a ridiculously huge wait, I don’t think. If you have specific questions about the purchase of Lutens bell jars, or anything else, you can contact her at shopfranceinc@yahoo.com. As a side note, I have no affiliation with her, and receive nothing as a result of mentioning her.
Outside the US: In Europe, the price of Rousse is considerably cheaper at €140 from the French Lutens website or from their Paris boutique. Other language options are available, though the Euro price for the item won’t change. To the best of my knowledge, the Paris Exclusives are not carried by any department store anywhere, and the only place to get them outside of Barney’s New York boutique is the Paris Serge Lutens store at Les Palais Royal. 
Samples: You can order samples of Rousse from Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. I actually ordered mine as part of a Four Piece Export Sampler Set (even though Rousse is actually a non-export fragrance), where you can choose 4 Lutens Regular Line fragrances for a starting price of $18.99 for a 1 ml vial (as opposed to the usual 1/2 ml starting size). 

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khan: Animal Magnetism

Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great in "The Scarlet Empress."

Marlene Dietrich as Catherine the Great in “The Scarlet Empress.”

Catherine the Great on horseback, riding to meet a young Cossack officer at a secret rendezvous where the lovers will tangle under Siberian furs before a roaring fireplace. Henry VIII seducing Anne Boleyn on more piles of fur on a winter’s night at a hunting lodge. The Sun King, Louis XIV, and one of his mistresses at Versailles, a palace redolent with the smell of the human body covered by powdered roses. The memory of riding my horse on a warm day, and the subtle aroma of his lightly musked, heated, muscular neck, mixed with the smell of the leather harness and saddle.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Special, limited-edition, rare bell jar bottle of Muscs Koublai Khan. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Those tangled thoughts and images are what cross my mind when I wear Muscs Koublaï Khan from Serge Lutens. Muscs Koublaï Khan (or “MKK” as it is often referred to for short) is a fragrance that always conjures up royalty in days long gone, along with fur and the memory of horses. It is an eau de parfum that I’d always wanted to try for very personal reasons. The tale in my family is that one side is a direct, linear descendant from the legendary Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol hordes and the terror of both the Asiatic and the European plains. I’ve never bothered with genealogy and know nothing of its rules, so who knows how true it is, but I’ve always loved the story. So, a fragrance inspired by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan (or, as Serge Lutens writes it, Koublai Khan)? Clearly, it was something to try.

Regular bell jar of MKK, available for purchase today.

Regular bell jar of MKK, available for purchase today.

Then, I started reading about the famous Lutens creation — and I stopped in my tracks. Perhaps few fragrances come with such baggage. Horrified reactions abound on the internet, reaching such a crescendo of revulsion that any sane person would hesitate. From tales of crotch sweat, testicular sweat, camel feces, unwashed taxi drivers, and anal odor, to shuddering comments about how it would be socially unacceptable to go out in public reeking of Muscs Koublai Khan, the perfume has one of the most horrifying reputations around. I got a sample months ago but, every time I went to pick it up, I would think about “camel balls,” and I promptly put it back down again.

Imagine my disbelief, then, when I actually tried Muscs Koublai Khan and thought: “this is IT??? What’s all the fuss about?!” More to the point, I loved it. While I would never — ever — recommend MKK to someone just starting their perfume foray into niche brands or to anyone who isn’t a fan of animalic scents, I definitely think people who love musky Orientals and have some perfume experience should ignore the perfume’s reputation and give Muscs Koublai Khan a try.

The 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle of MKK available.

The 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle of MKK available.

Muscs Koublai Khan is an eau de parfum that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 1998. Though it was originally a Paris Bell Jar exclusive, American perfume buyers can easily find it in a regular 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is easily available and sometimes discounted online. In Europe, however, Muscs Koublai Khan is still limited to the Bell Jar format that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, though I did find the smaller bottle available at one French online retailer.

Le Grand Serge” describes Muscs Koublai Khan on his website as follows: 

Valuable furs were spread for the Emperor of China to tread on, muddy boots and all.

Ultra-animalic musks and all kinds of tanned hides make a sensational debut in this fragrance. Pay no attention to their aggressiveness: once on the skin, they retract their claws in favor of padded paws.

Fragrantica classifies Muscs Koublai Khan as a “chypre,” which I think is odd, and says that the notes consist of:

civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris, Morrocan rose, cumin, ambrette seed (musk mallow), costus root and patchouli.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Source: imgfave.com. Artist or creator unknown.

Muscs Koublaï Khan opens as sweet amber, mixed with a slightly urinous, very musky edge. It feels just like warm, heated skin that is faintly dappled by a light sweat. The whole thing is sweet, sour, musky, just a little bit fetid, and a tiny bit dirty, all at the same time. But it truly doesn’t smell like stale body odor. A citric rose note, laden with rich, almost syrupy honey, peeps up from the musky amber base. There is just the faintest hint of a floral, rosy, vanillic powder sprinkled on top. Lovely flickers of sweetness come from the patchouli, and it mixes with the mildest, most minute touch of cumin. The whole bouquet sits atop the gorgeously plush, velvety warmth of the castoreum and the sweet nuttiness of the labdanum amber. It’s all sexy as hell, and significantly tamer than I had expected.

Source: narutoforums.com

Source: narutoforums.com

The ambered base is beautiful. It’s gloriously rich from the ambergris which, like the labdanum, is enriched by the warm plushness of the velvety castoreum, as well as by the naturally sweet muskiness of the ambrette seeds. That said, the ambergris doesn’t smell very concentrated or profound. It lacks the salty, wet, sweet, slightly sweaty muskiness of anything more than just a few drops of ambergris. At times, I wonder if it’s the real thing at all.

Perhaps the best — and, certainly, the most fascinating — part is the slightly urinous note from the civet. I realise that sounds odd and strange, and maybe you just have to be a really obsessed perfumista, but there is some appeal to that sour aroma. Just as really rich, really buttery food needs a dash of acidity to create a balance, so too does really rich perfumery. Here, the civet adds a really well-modulated edge that initially isn’t really like urine, but more like a sweet, little sour, almost vinegary, feline muskiness. To my surprise, it’s not rendered skanky or raunchy by the costus root which can sometimes take on a sharply feral aspect. (I likened its effects in Amouage’s Opus VII to “panther pee.”)  Here, there is just the slightest musky dirtiness, perhaps akin to the smell of “dirty hair” that costus sometimes evokes, but it’s far from strong and certainly not over-powering. Still, I imagine that those who hate animalic notes in even the smallest dose will probably keel over from Muscs Koublai Khan’s combination of civet and costus.

"Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract" by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

“Red Orange Rose Yellow Abstract” by LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Link to website embedded within, click on photo.)

Ten minutes into its development, Muscs Koublai Khan radiates an unusual bouquet of richly sweet, lightly vanillic, almost citrusy, powdered rose mixed with the scent of a warm, musky body. The combination of the civet with the powdered rose and the amber keeps triggering thoughts of Bal à Versailles, the legendary scent whose vintage form sought to replicate the scent of aristocrats at Versailles who used strong floral powders to mask their lack of hygiene. It’s often said that courtiers at Louis XIV’s Versailles palace would relieve themselves in corners without the slightest hesitation, and that is another aroma that Bal à Versailles sought to recreate in its nuances. I wish I had a vintage sample to compare to Muscs Koublai Khan, but my memory tells me that Bal à Versailles was a much more extreme, raunchy, dirty, skanky proposition. Muscs Koublai Khan is much better balanced, and far, far less dirty. Furthermore, the urinous note from the civet and costus root is too mild and too sweetened to evoke the same aroma. And, just to be clear, nothing in Muscs Koublai Khan reminded me of a urinal.

Source: Zavvi.com

Source: Zavvi.com

Twenty minutes in, Muscs Koublai Khan becomes muskier in a more rounded way, taking on a velvety, smooth, deep quality that is as luxurious as it is sensuous. It really feels like the scent of warmed bodies under a cozy, thick, fur blanket. For all the talk about sweat or urinous edges, the thing that Muscs Koublai Khan truly evokes is the scent of skin itself. Not stale, sweaty skin, but skin that is heated and just barely sweaty from perhaps a romp under the sheets. Yes, the perfume has some animalistic tendencies, but nothing about it evokes testicular “ball sweat,” anal secretions, or fecal notes. Just heated bodies intertwined in intimacy.

By the same token, nothing about the cumin note makes me think of unwashed, stale body odor. In fact, the cumin is almost imperceptible on my skin which normally amplifies the note. It’s not even a millimeter like the rancid, wholly intimate, extremely dirty note of unwashed genitalia that it triggered in Vero Profumo‘s Rubj eau de parfum. Nor is it like the stale armpit sweat of Frederic Malle‘s Bigarade Concentrée. Granted, the cumin here is not the pure, dusty spice of something like Parfum d’Empire‘s Ambre Russe, but its muted, emasculated nature and the way it flickers just once in a blue moon in the background is hardly what I was expecting.

Photo: Lydia Roberts, 2011. Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/lydia-roberts

Photo: Lydia Roberts, 2011. Source: Tumblr http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/lydia-roberts

Muscs Koublai Khan remains relatively unchanged in its core essence for a large portion of its development. It is a beautifully sweetened rose scent flecked by vanilla powder and a citric, slightly urinous civet note, all atop a gorgeously plush, velvety, rich amber base that radiates the warmth of heated, musky skin. The notes fluctuate in prominence, intensity and strength, but Muscs Koublai Khan on my skin is primarily a musky amber fragrance with rose and vanilla. The civet note waxes and wanes, reaching its highest peak around the middle of the second hour where it definitely feels a little sharper than it did originally. Then, it becomes tamer, softer, and richer, perhaps thanks to the castoreum which casts out its warm tendrils to enrich everything it touches. There is also a subtle leathery undertone to Muscs Koublai Khan which becomes more noticeable at the end of the first hour and which feels a little raw at times. It, too, becomes gentler, sweeter, and warmer after a while, thanks to the amber’s plush embrace.

"Theequus" - photo by David Sinclair, via Crossed Wires Tumblr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

“Theequus” – photo by David Sinclair, via Crossed Wires Tumblr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

For all that the sophisticated elegance of Muscs Koublai Khan evokes historical figures covered by rich furs, it also calls to mind a more personal memory for me. Something about the overall combination of notes reminds me of riding. If you’ve ever been a horseman, you’ll know the aroma, especially after a gallop in the warm sun. The musky smell of a horse’s warm body, just lightly veiled by sweat, that is sweet but, yet, just a little sour as well. The soft heat of his muscular neck, combined with the faintest whiff of leather from the saddle and harness, all bundled up with a golden muskiness. That aroma is a subtle undertone of Muscs Koublai Khan for a brief time around the 90-minute mark and in an extremely mild form, even though the fragrance bouquet is primarily radiating the sweetest rose, its light touch of vanillic powder, and a plush, ambered base.

The overall combination is far too civilized and sophisticated to evoke the pillaging, raping, filthy brutality of the Mongol hordes. For me, one needs to go down a little later in history to a later Slavic legend, Catherine the Great, whose sensual appetites were almost matched by her passion for the hunt and for refined luxury. Muscs Koublai Khan would have very much suited the Great Catherine from its floral, vanillic rose that is powdered like her face, to the languid, feline heat of warmed bodies intertwined under blankets of the richest Russian furs.

Model, Bregje Heinen, photographed by Jean-François Campos for Flair November 2010.

Model, Bregje Heinen, photographed by Jean-François Campos for Flair November 2010.

Perhaps the most surprising change with Muscs Koublai Khan is how the volume quickly decreases to a purring hum. Less than forty minutes into its development, Muscs Koublai Khan seems to get a little blurry around the edges and the sillage drops quite a lot, though its smell is still extremely potent up close, thanks to the civet. At the end of the second hour, the perfume is so airy and lightweight that it feels far weaker than a hardcore oriental eau de parfum. In fact, Muscs Koublai Khan is far sheerer than I had expected. It lacks the opaque, baroque heaviness of Maison Francis Kurkdjian‘s ravishing Absolue Pour Le Soir, another animalic, musky, amber oriental fragrance but one which is, ultimately, night and day apart from Muscs Koublai Khan. Absolue Pour Le Soir is actually much dirtier than Muscs Koublai Khan, not to mention heavily spiced, more floral, and infused with almost as much beautiful sandalwood as it is with musk and amber. Muscs Koublai Khan is tamer, more linear, more muted, and much less complex, though it is beautiful in a very different way and perhaps more refined than the Absolue with its more hardcore, slightly beastly edge.

Muscs Koublai Khan soon starts to take on quite an abstract aura. At the start of the third hour, the fragrance is a soft, nebulous blur of amber, vanilla and quietly animalic musk. The flecks of a citric, civet-infused, and lightly powdered rose start to recede, slowly become less and less noticeable. By the start of the third hour, the rose is largely gone, leaving behind only an ambered, powdered, vanilla musk with a hint of civet. And there Muscs Koublai Khan remains for hours and hours, turning more and more abstract and amorphous. It soon loses the civet, becoming just an musky, powdery, sweet amber fragrance. Though Muscs Koublai Khan’s sillage hovered just above the skin for the second and third hours, its projection drops even more. (That said, I dabbed it on, and, apparently, it’s a very different issue if you spray Muscs Koublai Khan.) Around the sixth hour, the ambery perfume becomes a complete skin scent. By its very end, almost exactly 12.5 hours from its opening, Muscs Koublai Khan is just a hint of a sweetened, musky powder, and nothing more.

I think Muscs Koublai Khan — and the extreme reactions to it — need to be placed in context. For one thing, the average perfume user nowadays is used to a very different sort of musk in perfumery. Clean, white musks abound, and the extent of something ostensibly “dirty” is probably Narcisco Rodriguez‘s musk For Her. Muscs Koublai Khan is a whole different kettle of fish. Perfumes with civet (and even castoreum) are no longer common in perfumery, so people aren’t so exposed to what musk used to be all about when perfumes like Bal à Versailles and its cohorts celebrated the skank provided by civet, castoreum and real Tonkin deer musk. For animal cruelty and ethical reasons, many of those ingredients are no longer used and their scent has to be replicated through vegetal musks like ambrette seeds. I’m glad for that, but it does mean that exposure to a dirty sort of musk — even through vegetal recreation — can trigger a repulsed response in those who expect musk to have the modern, common characteristics of white, laundry-clean freshness.

Muscs Koublai Khan is not a perfume that I would recommend to everyone. Those who are brand new to perfumery may find the civet and musk accords repulsive. Those who are experienced perfumistas, but who feel that even the smallest drop of something animalic in their perfumes renders it unbearably “dirty,” will undoubtedly feel the same way. But those who adore true Orientals and who can appreciate some animalic nuances should absolutely try it. Don’t let Muscs Koublai Khan’s dangerous reputation keep you away. I think you will be like a lot of bloggers who have tried Muscs Koublai Khan and wondered: what is all the Sturm und Drang about?

Take, for example, the review at Pere de Pierre where the blogger clearly was prepared to be blown away by Muscs Koublai Khan’s terrible reputation:

Of all the “bad boy” fragrances, the outlaws, the ones whose whispered descriptions contain the words “unwashed” and “crotch”, often in succession, and sometimes with “of a Mongolian horseman after three days of burning, raping and pillaging” appended, it may be that none has a more salacious reputation than Muscs Koublaï Khän.

Thus, it was with great anticipation that I first pulled the stopper on a sample. Civet and castoreum? Bring it!

The first sniff of the vial seemed promising; yes, there was civet in there.

On application, though, it seemed much like Kiehl’s Musk Oil, a similarity that has been noted by many a reviewer before. A simple floral musk, nothing terrible or even animalic about it.

Fortunately, it did not take long before MKK began to develop, something that Kiehl’s does not ever seem to do, on me anyway.

MKK shuffled its accords and painted scenes with them. However, they were not dramatic, sharply pitched scenes of lust and conquest; they were more like dreamy landscapes with dark clouds scudding through a sky above shifting fields of roses and poppies. Sensual, yes, but more of a lazy Sunday afternoon lovers’ feast than a frenzied, climactic battle. […][¶]

In subsequent wearings, only once did the civet ever really raise its head, and it was glorious; I wouldn’t mind if it did it more often. But mostly, this is a sultry, sometimes even sweet, and floral musk.

Kiehl’s Musk is not the only fragrance to which Musc Koublai Khan has been compared. The other one is Frederic Malle‘s Musc Ravageur. I haven’t tried it yet, but the general consensus seems to be that there are differences. The blogger, The Candy Perfume Boy, did a comparison of the two fragrances, and his section on the Serge Lutens begins with: “I just can’t see what all of the fuss is about.” He found Musc Koublai Khan to be disappointing in its tameness, and not particularly filthy. As a gourmand lover, he far preferred Malle’s Musc Ravageur with its “edible” characteristics. On Fragrantica, one reviewer writes about the Lutens: “it’s similar to Musc Ravageur, but Koublai Khan is rounder and deeper (and more discreet) while MR is more playful and contemporary.”

Speaking of Fragrantica, one commentator clearly shares my experience with horses, writing in a review that I’ve reformatted only for the sake of trying to keep things shorter:

I fell in love with it. [¶] Maybe it will be easier for those of you who are familiar with horses to comprehend what I will try to describe.

First wave, it smelled like a horse with saddle and all that has been running a mile on a sunny summer day. Since I love horses and their smell, well, it didn’t bother me at all. Au contraire. [¶] It was musc and a bit sweet and also a bit “sweaty”. [¶] Then the dry down became very soft and almost powdery, almost buttery. In the middle of the composition I also smelled like hay and kind of what it would smell like when you walk in a wild field in summer.

So for me, that perfum is very comforting. [¶] The funny part is that my husband thinks the same as me when it come to the smell of this perfume. He says that it also smell “very clean”!? [¶] My best friend (women) love the first “snif” then she looked at me with a strange look on her face and she says that she also smell like “pee”?????!!!. And at last my best friend (man) told me it smells like baby powder!!

I think Musc Koublai Khan is all those things: sweetly horse-y (but in a really subtle, muted way), summery, almost clean in the sense that it evokes a person’s skin scent more than body odour, but with slightly urinous nuances, and sufficient powder that a handful of people may think it resembles baby powder towards the end.

The Non-Blonde, however, didn’t smell anything horsey about the fragrance at all. Her review talks about how clean it actually smells, but also cautions about over-application:

If you google Muscs Kublai Khan and dig enough, you would find colorful reviews, mentions of horses, genitalia and horses’ genitalia. Which is where I make the “whatcha talking ’bout?” face.

I cannot argue with the fact MKK smells “raw”, which probably translates to “animalic” for some. I’ve heard rumors of cumin, but I don’t get any at all. Quite the opposite, actually, if we agree that a cumin note in perfume represents the dirty and the sweaty. What I’m getting is actually clean, sweet and warm. The dirty part is not the scent itself, but the warm skin feel it evokes and all the things one might associate with a skin in this state. In his review for Perfume Smellin’ Things, my scent twin Tom called it “clean bodies in compromising positions”, and that’s exactly right.

[…] On my skin it’s a thing of beauty and has nothing to do with the great unwashed. It’s also incredibly strong and persistent, even after the big show of the ultra sweet top notes fades away.

It’s so strong, actually, that anything more than a couple of dabs can get extremely distracting. Over apply and you will keep smelling MKK, thinking about MKK, feeling MKK. It will occupy your thoughts in a NSFW way, so be careful. Another word of warning: Muscs Kublai Khan is meant to be dabbed and not sprayed. I’m saying this as someone who prefers to spray just about anything and regularly decants parfum extracts into mini atomizers. I did the same with MKK and it’s just wrong. You don’t want to cover a lot of skin with this, and spraying releases way too much. 

You may think all this gushing and raving is bias from bloggers who are Lutens groupies, but that would not be true. Take the blogger, Pour Monsieur, who says he flat-out hates Lutens fragrances, and finds “them overly complex, pretentious and unwearable.” Yet, he writes that “Muscs Koublai Khan is the one huge exception, and is truly a special scent.  It is the best musk fragrance in the world, hands down.” [Emphasis added.] In his review, he explains why:

This is more “body smell” rather than “body odor”.  It reminds me of the smell of sweat on clean, warm, tanned skin.

It’s a complex scent, but not the ego trip of the other Lutens fragrances I’ve tried.  The sense of perfect balance and complexity in Muscs Koublai Khan is amazing, and makes it so comforting to wear.  It smells like there are several different types of musk used in MKK – light, heavy, white, dark, etc..  They’re all unified by soft floral and herbal notes, which add depth to the scent and prevent it from smelling like someone’s asshole. […][¶]

Muscs Koublai Khan is not only the most wearable Serge Lutens perfume I’ve ever smelled.  It’s perhaps the most wearable scent I’ve ever worn, period.  This is a fragrance, more than any other I’ve tried, that absolutely must be worn on skin, and that’s because it smells like skin.  When you wear this, it becomes a part of you, smelling like it’s part of your body.  It’s both extremely masculine and extremely feminine, depending on who’s wearing it, and it melds itself to its wearer.  I can’t imagine Muscs Koublai Khan smelling unsuitable on anybody.  So it’s both daring and suitable for anyone.  Think about what an incredible acheivement that is for a perfumer.

I don’t agree that Muscs Koublai Khan is the most wearable Lutens, but I think many of his other points are true.

I’ve spent all this time covering other people’s assessments of Muscs Koublai Khan’s tameness for a reason. The horror stories don’t always apply, and it’s not just me with my heavy bias towards Orientals and my love for Serge Lutens. Even those who can’t stand Lutens fragrances think this one is special. And I’m definitely not alone in finding all the Sturm und Drang about MKK’s supposed terrors to be very different from the reality on one’s skin. But I cannot repeat enough, this is not a perfume to try if you’re looking for something totally clean and without the slightest bit of animalic edge. Laundry-fresh it is not! And if you’ve never encountered civet or are new to niche perfumery, then you may be in for a shock. In fact, I suspect you’ll think it smells of poo.

However, for those who adore Orientals and have some perfume experience, I beg you not to believe all the stories about Muscs Koublai Khan, and to give it a test sniff. Uncle Serge is completely right when he says: “Pay no attention to [the musks’] aggressiveness: once on the skin, they retract their claws in favor of padded paws.” It’s very true, and that’s why I’d wear Muscs Koublai Khan in a heartbeat if I had a bottle. The perfume has enormous sexiness (the Non-Blonde is right in saying it triggers NSFW thoughts or images), and a sort of fascinating, raw animal magnetism that is simultaneously very refined as well. Muscs Koublai Khan is also totally unisex, and has great longevity. Lastly, for U.S. buyers, it is easily available — and often at a discount, in fact — so there are no accessibility barriers.

So, try it and, when you do, I doubt that you’ll think of the ravaging, filthy Mongol hordes. But your thoughts may not be totally clean, either….

 

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Muscs Koublaï Khan is an eau de parfum that comes in two sizes: a 1.7 oz/50 ml size and a larger 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version. The retail price for the 1.7 oz size is $140, or €99, with the 75 ml bell jar going for $300 or €140. However, Muscs Koublaï Khan is currently on sale at FragranceX where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $113.99. The price is also reduced at Parfum1 which sells the 1.7 oz bottle for $126 with a 10%-off coupon for new customers. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: you can find Muscs Koublaï Khan in both sizes on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). 
U.S. sellers: Muscs Koublaï Khan is available in the 50 ml size for $140 at Luckyscent, Barney’s (which also sells the expensive bell jar version), and Aedes.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Muscs Koublaï Khan at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US $140, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. For Europe and Australia, it gets harder. The perfume seems to be deemed “Limited Edition” for many European vendors, in the sense that MKK was originally a Paris exclusive and limited for sale elsewhere in Europe. So, it has not been easy for me to find online vendors. In the UK, I can’t find Muscs Koublaï Khan listed at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Liberty or Les Senteurs — shops which normally carry most Lutens fragrances. However, in France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €96 and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. 
Samples: You can test out Muscs Koublaï Khan by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fille En Aiguilles

Pine Forest by Brandt Wemmer. Source: Fineartamerica.com

Pine Forest by Brandt Wemmer. Source: Fineartamerica.com

Imagine Santa Claus in a snowy pine forest. With the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy playing loudly in the background, he decides to cook a gigantic pot of perfumed deliciousness. The elves line up with their ingredients that he, like a mad chef, throws into the pot with a heart laugh: 4 cups of the darkest of pine cone essence, reduced down to a syrup; 4 cups of the darkest brown sugar; 3 cups of dark candied sugar plums and dried fruits that he tosses in, in tune with the addictive rhythms of Tchaikovsky and with a nod to the Nutcracker; 3 cups of smoky frankincense; 1 cup of assorted spices from ginger to cloves and nutmeg; 2 tablespoons of earthy, rooty, dark, foresty vetiver; a dash of ISO E Super; and a hint of almost abstract apple cider. He sets the gigantic pot over a smoker filled with dried pine cones, incense, and perhaps a few cedar chips, then dances around the forest as he awaits for his perfumed distillation of the essence of Christmas.

Photo: Ross. Used with permission.

Photo: Ross. Used with permission.

That is Fille en Aiguilles, perhaps the best pine forest fragrance that I’ve ever smelled — and I’m not one who normally enjoys that note. But what an utterly joyful scent! The best of winter forests combined with the mysterious sweetness of Christmas treats, happy festivities, and excited anticipation. Pine is an extremely difficult scent to pull off in perfumery, as it can easily and quickly lend itself to the aroma of Pine-Sol household disinfectant, cheap car air-fresheners, or unpleasant medicine. I’ve dismissed more than a few extremely expensive, pine-centered fragrances for being over-priced air fresheners, or for evoking Glade plug-ins that I don’t want anywhere near my person. But Fille en Aiguilles is different, and it’s all thanks to the mad wizardry that is the inspired combination of Serge Lutens and the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens' Facebook page.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens’ Facebook page.

Filles en Aiguilles is an Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration that was released in 2009. I’m not quite sure what Serge Lutens meant as the inspiration for this fragrance as his website description talks about pine forests and, oddly enough, the beach. (The beach?!) But it’s clearly intended to be a playful, joyful scent, either way, with a winking pun in the name. As Ozmoz explains:

The name of this perfume, for instance, is an inspired pun: ‘Fille en Aiguilles’ means both “Girl in High Heels” and “Girl in Needles” (as in pine needles, one of the ingredients), and it sounds a lot like “Needle & Thread” too. Despite the name, this woody-resinous oriental shaded with frankincense and fruity accents is not just for women: Fille en Aiguilles can easily be worn by men, too, an idea that tickles Serge Lutens’ fancy.

According to Fragrantica, Luckyscent, and Surrender to Chance, the notes in this very unisex perfume consist of:

Pine needles, vetiver, sugary sap, laurel bay leaf, fir balsam [resin], frankincense, candied fruit and spice.

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr (website link embedded within photo.)

Photo: David Gunter Source: Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Fille en Aiguilles opens on my skin exactly as described up in the introduction. It’s not a very complicated, morphing, changing scent — which makes it pretty unusual for “Le Grand Serge.” But, oh, does it bring a smile to one’s face. It’s beautifully dark, smoky, sweet, wintery, and so incredibly well-balanced that not a single note ever seems excessive. Even the normally hated ISO E Super seems to fit in, feel wholly appropriate, and actually helps the fragrance. (Yes, I can’t believe I’m saying that, either!)

Sugarplums. Photo: Phil Gyford, Flickr. (Link embedded within photo.)

Sugarplums. Photo: Phil Gyford, Flickr. (Link embedded within photo.)

Fille en Aiguilles is utterly joyous in an inexplicable way, not only because it sums up Christmas, but because it has some tantalizing mystery in that beautiful combination of notes. It radiates like a prism, throwing off different elements at different times. Sometimes, the deep forest rises up to greet you; sometimes, it’s the forest floor with the earthy vetiver mixed with pine cones; often, it’s that deliciously sweet, sticky, brown sugar syrup; and occasionally, it’s the ginger and dark, sweet fruits. At all times, however, the notes are wrapped up in the most gorgeous, dark tendrils of frankincense smoke, like a ribbon around a perfect, glowing, jewel of a Christmas box waiting to be unwrapped. 

Photo: StormchaserMike Photograph via Flickr (link to website embedded within.)

Photo: StormchaserMike Photograph via Flickr. (Link to website embedded within.)

Fille en Aiguilles never changes profoundly and remains in a consistent, linear line until the end. The only difference is in its strength, as the perfume softens less than an hour into its development and hovers just above the skin. Midway during the third hour, Fille en Aiguilles’ edges blur; it starts to turn almost abstract and amorphous as a sugared, beautifully smoked, spiced, woody scent. You can still detect the pine or fir note if you take a forceful, really big whiff of your arm, but it’s lurking below a general, resinous, sweet, woodiness infused by a spicy, lightly musked warmth. At the start of the sixth hour, Fille en Aiguilles is soft, muted, almost honeyed woodiness, lightly blended with rich, winter spices and imbued with a strong hint of frankincense. In its very end moments, Fille en Aiguilles is just the quietest trace of spiced sweetness. All in all, the fragrance lasted 8.25 on my perfume-consuming skin, with initially moderate sillage that quickly turned quite soft and unobtrusive.

There are a lot of raving, adoring reviews for Fille en Aiguilles out there, but perhaps my favorite comes from EauMG who writes as much about the feel of the fragrance as its lovely scent:

Fille en Aiguilles is the best pine fragrance ever made.

Fille en Aiguilles opens with spiced apple cider, snow on pine trees and a flickering fire. This is an atmosphere; Fille en Aiguilles is a place. It’s a picturesque chalet in the mountains and you’re by the fire looking out the window, watching water droplets roll down fir branches and icicles morph into longer, glistening shapes. You feel the steam of warm apple cider hit your cheeks before you take a sip. The feel of spices and warm liquid roll down the back of your tongue. Comfort in the cold. This is Fille en Aiguilles — spiced gingery cider, pine needles, balsamic sap and warm resins. A crackle from the fire with a little bit of smoke… and a base of warm, cozy musk.

EauMG notes that, on her, Fille en Aiguilles had above-average projection and longevity. And she ends her review by calling the fragrance “a masterpiece.”

Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

Source: high-definition-wallpapers.info

Fragrantica has similar sort of comments, from women and men alike. A vast majority talk about: walks in winter forests, “Christmas in a bottle,” childhood memories, gorgeous dried and sweet fruits, smoky church incense, how it’s one of the best Serge Lutens creations, and/or how it was love at first sniff. A few share my issues with projection, finding Fille en Aiguilles to be so discreet that they eventually had to press their nose right onto their skin and, even then, the scent was extremely soft. A handful of others had problems with duration instead. A couple thought it was too intense, or that it had far too much incense. And about 15 people voted that Fille en Aiguilles bore a strong resemblance to Parfum d’Empire‘s Wazamba. I haven’t tried the latter yet, so I can’t comment, but I should note there are some who say Fille en Aiguilles is nothing like Wazamba.

In the middle of the love-fest, there are some who had a very different experience. Two people found Fille en Aiguilles to be quite harsh and unpleasant; one thought it was very masculine and cold, while the other thought it was astringent and just like Pine-Sol. In contrast, on Luckyscent, a few people explicitly say that Fille en Aiguilles is nothing like Pine-Sol, so clearly, it all depends on one’s skin chemistry, perceptions, and taste.

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

Photo: Federico Bebber. Source: MyModernMet.com

I think that anyone who loves woody, Christmas-y, wintery scents should try Fille en Aiguilles. So should those who love incense fragrances because, for me, the perfume is as much about the sweet, balsam-infused smoke as it is about the pine or fir trees. Fille en Aiguilles is also wholly unisex with an equal number of men as women loving it. It is very wearable, even to the office if one doesn’t spray on a lot. Even better, Fille en Aiguilles is often quite discounted at some online perfume retailers, making it relatively affordable for such a beautiful, high-quality, niche fragrance. It it an all-year round fragrance? Well, I would wear it in summer, but then I’m someone who goes purely by mood or feel in my perfume selection, and never by seasonality. For most, however, I imagine that Fille en Aiguilles would be limited solely to the winter. But, truly, what an incredibly lovely holiday fragrance it would be. Fille en Aiguilles is more than just cozy, though it is that as well. I think it’s actually quite mysteriously sexy with those dark smoky touches, and the sweet resins mixed with dark, sugared fruits. Try it, and you’ll see. I think the vast majority of you won’t be able to stop sniffing your arm!

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Fille en Aiguilles is a concentrated eau de parfum that comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size and which retails for $140, €99 or £83.00. However, Fille en Aiguilles is currently on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $80.91, or $95.19, with an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5 and free domestic shipping. Sears sells the perfume by way of a third-party vendor for $91.14 with $6.95 shipping. Fille en Aiguilles is also on sale at Beauty Encounter for $100, and you can Google to find discount codes, eBates codes, or first-time customer discounts for the site as well. Lastly, Parfum1 is selling it for $126 with a 10% discount coupon for first-time customers. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: you can find Fille en Aiguilles on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with non-English language options also available for the latter. 
U.S. sellers: Fille en Aiguilles is available for $140 at Luckyscent, Barney’s, and Aedes.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Fille en Aiguilles at The Perfume Shoppe for what may be CAD$140, but I’m never sure about their currency since it is primarily an American business. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, you can find Fille en Aiguilles at Harrods or Liberty where it costs £83.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. You can also find it at Les Senteurs where that same bottle costs more at £95.00. The site sells samples of Fille en Aiguilles for £3.50. In France, French Sephora sells Fille en Aiguilles for €101.50, while Premiere Avenue sells it for €95, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. In Brussels, you can find Fille en Aiguilles at Senteurs D’Ailleurs. In Australia, it is on sale at the FragranceNet site (I think the Australian version?) for AUD $104.72, instead of what it says is the Australian retail price of AUD $154.02. It is also on sale on the Hot Cosmetics site for AUD $161, instead of supposedly AUD $218. It sold out on the Grays website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for AUD $145, but you can find it at Mecca Cosmetics for AUD $200. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Samples: You can test out Fille en Aiguilles by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Four Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are larger at 1 ml each, and you get your choice of 4 Lutens Export fragrances (ie, not those that are Paris exclusives).