Serge Lutens Bois et Fruits: Autumnal Sweetness

Some of the Lutens Bell Jars. Source: Barneys.

Some of the Lutens Bell Jars. Source: Barneys.

A funny thing happens when a Serge Lutens addict visits the mothership in Paris. A profusion of scents, sensations, sights, and lust floods over you, leaving you rather at a loss to make objective decisions on the spot. Or perhaps that was merely my experience in visiting Les Palais Royal. In any event, it took me two visits to make up my mind about what to buy, and one of the main bell jar candidates was Bois et Fruits.

The rare, 50 ml spray bottle of Bois et Fruits. Source: Luckyscent.

The rare, 50 ml spray bottle of Bois et Fruits. Source: Luckyscent.

In the end, I walked out with Fourreau Noir and De Profundis, but I kept thinking about Bois et Fruits. I know it is a favorite of Serge Lutens’ personal assistant, the Paris boutique manager, Suleiman, with its blend of wooded, spiced, and candied fruits. Upon my return, I took the wild chance of looking up the fragrance to see if this expensive $310 bell-jar might possibly have been released in another form at some point. After all, Rousse and some other Paris Bell Jar exclusives seemed to have come out in a cheaper, limited-edition 50 ml spray bottle from time to time, so perhaps Bois et Fruits as well? To my joy, it had. And not only that, but the $200 retail price in the U.S. was significant undercut by discount retailers who offered it for around $82. Score! I’ve never hit the “Buy” button quite so quickly. Bois et Fruits is not the perfect scent, and it has some flaws which make it hard for me to swallow at $310, but it’s certainly fantastic and perfect enough for $82.

The official bottle for the perfume, the Bell Jar version. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

The official bottle for the perfume, the Bell Jar version. Source: Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Having started at the end of the tale, let’s go back to the beginning. Bois et Fruits is an eau de parfum that was created by Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 1992. It is one of a quartet of “Bois” (or wood) fragrances to follow from Lutens’ ground-breaking, debut perfume, Féminité du Bois for Shiseido. The latter 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 et Fruits differs from both its mother and its siblings. 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).

Source: laundryetc.co.uk

Source: laundryetc.co.uk

Serge Lutens explicitly states that Bois et Fruits is the fruit-dominated child of Feminité du Bois:

Like candied fruit.

This is another descendant of Féminité du bois, whose base notes contained a complex blend of several types of plums. Here, unadulterated, it’s like candied fruit.

It’s an accurate assessment, but it is only part of the story. It leaves out the important counter-balance to those sweetened fruits: the spices and wood. Luckyscent puts the woods front and center at the start of its description of Bois et Fruits:

A cornucopia of luscious woods and succulent fruits, Bois et Fruits is what we think Paradise would smell like…We are addicted to the candied cedar note in the heart of the fragrance. Surrounded by ripe, honeyed plums, figs, apricots and peaches, the woody note of Bois et Fruits is absolutely delectable. We would not call this darkly-sensual concoction gourmand in an obvious manner, but there is a sweet, lush quality in Bois et Fruits that is nothing short of mouthwatering. A blissful, endlessly enjoyable bled that is as sensuous as it is comforting, Bois et fruits is divine!

As always, Serge Lutens keeps the notes in his fragrance secret, so it’s a guessing game to know what is involved. Fragrantica, Luckyscent, and Surrender to Chance estimate that Bois et Fruits contains:

cedar, plum, fig, peach and apricot.

Barney’s tosses in cinnamon and Turkish rose, but doesn’t think there is apricot. I would include a lot more than that. To my nose, the notes in Bois et Fruits would be, in order of importance:

Plum, Peach, Cedar, Cumin, Apricot, Cloves, and Figs. Possibly, vanilla, almonds, and either licorice or anise.

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Source: RebootwithJoe.com

Bois et Fruits opens on my skin with the dripping juices of sun-sweetened peaches, followed by plums and the tiniest hint of apricots. The fruits are infused with a distinct, definite note of cumin, and something strongly resembling chewy, black licorice. The entire bouquet is cocooned by dry, dusty cedar, then softened with what I’d swear is a touch of almond-y vanilla. In the distance, the fig flits about, simultaneously a bit leathered and quite milky. The whole thing is a very soft, airy cloud that radiates out by a foot in the opening minutes, but soon softens to something tamer.

A young cedar tree trunk.

A young cedar tree trunk.

I enjoy the sweetness of the fruits so much that I sprayed Bois et Fruits onto my other arm during my test for this review, and I was completely taken aback to see that the fragrance had quite a different opening. I generally stick to one arm for all my tests, out of some odd thought about scientific conformity, but maybe that idea isn’t so weird after all, as the notes in Bois et Fruits were all jumbled up in a different order and with different strengths.

While the two scents soon ended up in the same place, on my other arm, Bois et Fruits opened with a very cognac-y, boozy note, followed by peaches, dusty cedary, and sweet, light, almost osmanthus-like apricots. The cedar was strong and pronounced, but there wasn’t a lot of plum at first. And there was absolutely no cumin at all — to the point that I thought I’d gotten it all wrong, until it suddenly popped up after about eight minutes. There was also no any licorice, almond, or fig tonalities, and very little vanilla. On the other hand, there was a milky anise element that flitted in and out, and anise is related to licorice. In any event, the two versions end up in the same place after about 20 minutes, so the minor differences aren’t significant in the long run, and I’ll just stick to writing about the version on the arm that I usually use for testing.

Photo: David Hare. Source: open.az

Photo: David Hare. Source: open.az

After 10 minutes, the notes seamless blend into each other. The fruits are on top, and the woods are diffused throughout, but in the base, the cumin adds a soft, muffled growl. It’s not a sweaty note like body odor, the way cumin can sometimes be, but it’s definitely a subtle touch of animalism and light “skank.” It works subtly from afar to add complexity to what would otherwise be primarily a two-pronged scent. I’ve seen one person describe the cedar as a “sweaty” note, but I would bet my bottle of Bois et Fruits that there is the cumin in the fragrance. For the most part, it’s a dusty note, like the powdered kind you’d find in a spice market, but with a distinct earthiness underneath. I have to admit, it’s my favorite part of the fragrance, even though I’m not usually enamoured by cumin. Something about the spicy dryness and earthy muskiness adds a brilliant counter-balance to the sweetened juices of the fruits, while simultaneously accentuating the dryness of the cedar.,

Soon, a subtle creaminess starts to stir and rises to join the top notes. It’s not vanilla or almonds, but neither is it purely milky fig, either. It’s like a teaspoon of ice-cream flecked with sweetness, as if the lactonic qualities of the fig had melded with the dryish vanilla to create the impression of textural creaminess. I still wonder about the black licorice note that I initially detected because, at the same time as the creaminess, there seems to be some sort of milky white anise lurking about.

Cloves, close up. Source: www.toothachesremedies.net

Cloves, close up. Source: http://www.toothachesremedies.net

About 30 minutes in, there is an accord which strongly resembles parts of Serge LutensSerge Noir, a fragrance dominated, in part, by cloves and cumin. Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens reportedly worked on Serge Noire for more than 10 years, and it was released in 2008. It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the cumin-clove-cedar trio in the 1992 Bois et Fruits was later “overdosed” in the way that Luca Turin describes above to become the foundation for Serge Noire. The difference is that the trio are much more subtle and balanced in Bois et Fruits, while they’re tripled in strength in Serge Noire. In any event, both my arms are most definitely radiating cloves, but it’s so well-blended that, from afar, the whole thing merely translates to dry, brown spices.

The unusual thing about Bois et Fruits’ overall development is how the notes never seem to stay in the same place from one minute to the next. It’s like a horse race where several contenders are all racing neck-and-neck near the finish line. Sometimes the Peach-Plum horse takes the lead and dominates, but the next minute, it’s the Clove-Cumin chestnut horse, and three minutes after that, it’s the Cedar stallion. Trailing far, far behind is the vanilla, looking like just a speck in the distance.

Source: narutoforums.com

Source: narutoforums.com

About 2.5 hours in, the horse race looks a little different. The clove has faded away, and the cumin softens to a dryly spiced woodiness with a very earthy feel. The cedar adds a similarly dry touch to counter the fruits which are primarily just plum now, with much weaker amounts of peach. The apricot never really showed up on my skin, beyond the opening minutes, and the almond note didn’t last much longer. What is more noticeable throughout is the muskiness lingering at the edges. It melts into the cumin’s earthiness, evoking the image of heated skin. To be precise, a guy’s skin under layers of thick, winter clothing after he’s exerted himself. Let me be clear: it does not smell fetid, and there is absolutely no impression of ripe body odor or smelly armpits, but there is a subtle sweatiness that evokes warmed, musky skin.

An hour later, around the 3.5 hour mark, Bois et Fruits is a discrete, very soft sheath of dark brown silk. Yet, the scent is still strong up close, and tendrils of spiced plum occasionally float in the air around you. It’s an airy, gauzy, balanced blend of plum, cedar, cumin, with just a touch of peach. Slowly, Bois et Fruits grows more abstract, the cumin and peach fade away, and the remaining notes lose their shape or distinctness. In its final moments, Bois et Fruits is merely plummy sweetness with a hint of dry woodiness. All in all, it lasted just a hair above 8.75 hours on my skin with 3 sprays from an actual bottle (as opposed to an atomizer). Through out it all, Bois et Fruit evoked images of an autumnal forest filled with trees bearing heavy, ripe fruits in a colour palette of red, orange, and dark brown softness.

Source: wallpapervortex.com

Source: wallpapervortex.com

On Fragrantica, the perfume has received mixed reviews. Judging by the longevity votes, a number of people think Bois et Fruits doesn’t last long, and it also has moderate to weak sillage. Quite a few posters talk about Feminité du Bois, the mother perfume, with most commentators agreeing that Bois et Fruits is much more fruited in nature. One woman, “woodlandwalk,” had an interesting comparison of the two fragrances, and her experience with Bois et Fruits mirrors my own to some extent:

Very Autumnal! I find Bois et Fruits easier to wear than Feminite du Bois. I love Feminite du Bois because I love the smell of cedar wood, but often FdB can feel a bit one dimensional – so if you find FdB a little too ‘wood workshop’, Bois et Fruits might suit you.

The sweaty cedar and boozy plum of FdB are softened considerably here with fig and apricot, so Bois et Fruits is a little more pillow-like – you can relax into it. The fig adds a lactonic (milky) note so it just feels more smooth. There’s a ‘nutty’ quality to it – a sort of bitter-sweet almond that again gives a softer edge

The apricot is slightly syrupy in feel, so this with the fig and less spicy notes makes for a sweeter, cosier, easier to wear perfume, still boozy though, and very warm. Friendly.

On me the silage is fairly close to skin, longevity soft to moderate. This perfume is growing on me and I might upgrade from decant to full bottle.

I obviously detected a lot more spices than she did, but little apricot. On the other hand, I’m glad I’m not crazy, and that she noted the almonds too! I also agree that Bois et Fruits feels quite pillowy soft.

Others describe the scent in the same vein, talking about autumn and sweetness:

  • Bois et Fruits is a fragrance that would be perfect for fall and winter- and in a way makes me think of Christmas and those very rich cakes with dried fruit and spices. The fragrance is heavy, oozing with sweet, juicy and smoky plum and apricot. If I could give it a texture, it would be that of a liquid honey that has been warmed up. I would classify it as oriental-gourmand, although it does not feature vanilla nor honey, it is very sweet, almost edible. The scent is so intense and long lasting, 5 hours later smells as if it was just sprayed.
  • I love the dried,succulent fruits(mainly apricot on my skin), against the warm, spicy cedar. It`s like an imagenary tree covered in red,brown and yellow leaves with peaches, plums and apricots(.All growing at the same tree.) Under the heavy loaded branches, a dragon is sleeping peacefully, only opening one eye now and then just in case.. Perfect for autumn!

Some people were not as enthused. Some prefer Feminité du Bois, while a few thought Bois et Fruits smelled “pungent,” no doubt due to the cedar. One thought the fragrance was too cedary, while another thought it was too fruity instead. There is also the same sort of split amongst the Fragrantica critics about whether the fragrance is too dry or too sweet.

In short, for Bois et Fruits more than for most scents, it’s really going to come down to your skin chemistry. Mine happens to amplify base notes and sweetness, and, yes, I happen to find the fragrance very sweet. It would be too much so for me normally, but it works in this rare instance because of the dryness and spices that lurk underneath. Plus, I find the cumin to make all the difference. It is the perfect, well-calibrated amount to add character, while simultaneously helping to cut through the fruits. Still, if your skin chemistry is like mine, then you should try Bois et Fruits only if you enjoy the possibility of a very sweetened, fruity fragrance with a lesser dose of dry woodiness.

All the blog reviews that I’ve found for Bois et Fruits are positive, though none of them rave about the scent as a complex masterpiece. It’s not, as it is too simple for that. But it is still very appealing, as Perfume-Smellin’ Things reports. In fact, it is seems to be her favorite Lutens out of them all, and she imagines it to be “the scent of Paradise”:

Les Eaux Boisées are my favorite part of Les Salons du Palais Royal collection, and of them, Bois et Fruits is the most beloved.

Bois et Fruits combines cedar with notes of peach, apricot, figs, and plums, and thus emphasizes the fruity side of its “Great Mother”, Féminité du Bois. Having said that, Bois et Fruits is actually much drier and less sweet than Féminité. It starts with a dry cedar note, within seconds the ripe fruitiness of figs and plums becomes apparent, the fruits balance the dryness of the woods and cedar keeps the potentially excessive sweetness of fruits in check. The overall effect to my nose is that of dried fruits mixed with a slightly incensy, sometimes even almost leathery accord. Bois et Fruits is a subtler scent, it is much less forceful than Féminité du Bois, and even though it has fruits in its title, it actually translates much less fruity on my skin that its predecessor. I always imagine that Bois et Fruits is the scent of Paradise, or at least of the woodier, wilder part of the Garden of Eden.

Victoria of Bois de Jasmin also didn’t think Bois et Fruits was all that sweet, and she liked it. In her four-star review, she wrote:

Chris Sheldrake and Serge Lutens’s Bois et Fruits (1992) captures a moment of autumn before one becomes aware of its farewell connotations. Warm cedarwood is folded over lusciously ripe fall fruits—figs, peaches, and plums, which speak more of a voluptuous aspect of autumn than of its nostalgic side. This fragrance is one of few instances when fruit is not rendered as treacly and artificial. Instead, sweet resinous cedar married to fruit results in a very elegant scent with the brightness of sweet-sour plum courting the soft powderiness of fig.

I think her four-star rating (which is what Luca Turin also gives it in his Perfumes Guide) is perfect, because the fragrance does have some flaws. I agree with those on Fragrantica that its sillage and longevity tend to be on the lighter side of things, but there is also something else. For me, Bois et Fruits doesn’t stand out enough to warrant inclusion in the Bell Jar line. Those are the most complex, nuanced, morphing, and twisting Lutens scents, so their high price is understandable and usually worth it. They are the masterpieces that, whether or not you can wear them, are brilliant works of olfactory art for the most part.

Bois et Fruits doesn’t measure up to that standard. For me, it would be a perfect addition to the regular export line, and it’s well-worth it at $82. It’s great for autumn, and it also works wonderfully as a layering scent to go with much drier or smokier fragrances. But I’m very dubious about the U.S. retail cost of $200, and I honestly could not imagine spending the much-inflated U.S. Bell Jar price of $310 on Bois et Fruits. Not in a million years.

The bell jar is cheaper in Euros at €145, without the annoying, extra-high U.S. mark-up, and I think it may have been €135 back when I was in Paris. Yet, if you notice, I didn’t buy it even at that price, and the main reason is that it didn’t stand out as much as its siblings in the bell jar line. It simply didn’t feel special, complex, or strong enough — lovely and succulent as it may be. Fourreau Noir, De Profundis, Boxeuses, Un Voix Noire, and some of the other Bell Jar fragrances are in a different class, in my opinion. However, I found one European online retailer to carry the rare, discounted 50 ml spray bottle of Bois et Fruits, which is priced €105, and that may be much more reasonable for what it is.

I wouldn’t recommend Bois et Fruits for everyone. You must like sweet perfumes, and a lot of fruit. You also have to appreciate cedar, and a touch of cumin. If you do, and if you can buy Bois et Fruits at a discount, I think you’ll enjoy it very much. It’s not very intense or edgy, it’s definitely not very complicated, but it is quite an Autumnal treat.

DETAILS:
General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Bois et Fruits is an eau de parfum that comes in a 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar that costs $310 or €145. However, you also can find it in a 1.7 oz/50 ml spray bottle which retails for $200, but which is massively discounted on some sites for much less. Bois et Fruits is currently on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $84.31, when you include their an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5. (I think I bought mine for $82, so it may have gone up a wee bit since then.) The site offers free domestic shipping, but they also ship world-wide. Bois et Fruits is also discounted on Amazon, where the seller is listed as Serge Lutens, and the perfume is priced at $96.87. Beauty Encounter sells the perfume for $99 if you use their 20% off code.
You should also check eBay as the fragrance is sometimes deeply discounted there. At the very least, it is commonly in the $95-range. 
Serge Lutens: you can find Bois et Fruit in the expensive bell jars on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with non-English language options also available for the latter.
U.S. sellers: Bois et Fruits in the 50 ml atomizer bottle is available for $200 at Luckyscent, Barney’s, and AedesBarney’s also sells the very expensive bell jar form.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Bois et Fruits at The Perfume Shoppe for what may be CAD$200 or US$200. I’m never sure about their currency choice, since it is primarily an American business. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, I couldn’t find any vendors as this is primarily a Paris exclusive bell jar. However, in France, I found it sold at Laurent Mazzone’s Premiere Avenue in the 50 ml atomizer bottle for €106, and the site ships worldwide. French Sephora carries a lot of the Lutens perfumes, but again, Bois et Fruits is a Palais Royal Paris exclusive. In Australia, the perfume is on sale at the FragranceNet site for AUD $94.41, with the discount code, instead of what it says is the Australian retail price of AUD $223.96. 
Samples: You can test out Bois et Fruits by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $6.99 for a 1 ml vial. There is also a Five Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where you get your choice of five non-export, Paris exclusives, each of which comes in a 1/2 ml vial. 

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).