Review En Bref: Serge Lutens Laine de Verre

My Reviews en Bref are always for scents that, for whatever reason, may not warrant one of my more exhaustive, detailed assessments. This time, it’s for the brand new Serge Lutens‘ fragrance, Laine de Verre, which was released in February 2014.

Fiberglass. Source:

Fiberglass. Source:

Laine de Verre is an eau de parfum created by Christopher Sheldrake, and the third in Serge Lutens’ Eaux series. A number of people have described the L’Eau (or Water) series as anti-perfumes, and I think that’s quite accurate. It is always one of the many reasons why I struggle with Laine de Verre, a perfume inspired by fiber-glass. Yes, fiber-glass or glass wool insulation, and no, I’m not joking.

The Serge Lutens website describes Laine de Verre in the usual abstract terms:

It is only after he had been penetrated by the winter that, laying down his arms, the Lord of Glass came to place
at the feet of the Lady of Wool flowers and ferns which had frosted on him.



Luckyscent has a much more detailed olfactory assessment, along with their guess at Laine de Verre’s notes:

A fragrance named after an insulating material? That’s what “laine de verre” means: glass wool. […] His third offering in the Eaux series expresses “a domestic quarrel between my feminine and my masculine” sides, the maestro explains: the Lord of Glass, offering the ferns and flowers etched on his body by frost to the Lady of Wool.

The result is as playfully weird and avant-garde as you’d expect, with a huge aldehydic burst in the top notes – the odorant equivalent of orange soda pop bubbles fizzing in your nose. A whiff of ozone, the slightest hint of metal-tinge rose… There are shards of glass in that ball of mohair wool!

But just when you’re shivering, the “wool” half of the equation kicks in, or rather, rises in a fuzzy haze of musk and cashmeran – one of the most attractive and complex synthetic notes, musky, woody, ambery with comforting a hint of dustiness…

[Notes]: Citrus notes, aldehydes, musks, cashmeran.

I don’t agree with their characterization of the perfume as a whole, but I think their description of cashmeran is quite accurate given how the synthetic manifests itself here. As for the note list, I don’t think it is complete, especially as they themselves mention roses. They’re right, there is a very clear floral presence that lurks about Laine de Verre’s edges. It is a pale, watery, pink rose, and it is joined by other notes which that list omits as well. Very synthetic notes….



I’m going to say this as candidly and bluntly as possible, upfront: I’m the wrong target audience for a “fragrance” like this. Laine de Verre is about as much “me” as I am Marilyn Monroe or Vladimir Putin. There was always zero chance that I would like it, and I knew that from the start. I don’t like aldehydes, I can’t abide white musk, I have very limited tolerance for synthetics, and absolutely none for synthetics in massive, walloping, high doses. I don’t enjoy scratchy fiberglass, or metallic textures. I also can’t fathom the whole concept of spending a lot of money on a perfume that doesn’t smell at all of perfume, of a fragrance that is intentionally made to be an “anti-perfume.” With a niche price tag to boot. I simply cannot bear any of those elements, individually, let alone all combined into one. Which is perhaps why Laine de Verre was essentially a scrubber on me from the very first moment, though I actually stuck through with it to the bitter end.



Laine de Verre opens on my skin with a Wagnerian level of aggressive, soapy aldehydes. They are cold, icy, and definitely manage to convey the sensation of scratchy, glass and metallic wool shards that pierce you through the nose. One reason why is the almost equally aggressive dose of synthetic, clean, white musk. In the trail of the dominant two notes comes a bright, fresh, lemony aroma, along with a nebulous, elusive hint of floracy that feels very dewy and watery. Dust lurks in the corners, next to a sense of dry woodiness, though both are extremely subtle at this point. The whole thing feels very gauzy and translucent in colour, but extremely sharp and strong in terms of the actual notes. In fact, every single time I smell the icy cocktail, I experience a searing pain through my head, and it takes only 5 minutes for a powerful headache to be my constant companion. That clean, white musk is just a killer.

Woolite Delicates via

Woolite Delicates via

The aldehydes are interesting, at least on an intellectual level and at first. They initially create a very classique, slightly elegant, old-time, vintage feel to the scent, especially in conjunction with the sharp, crisp, lemony notes and the hint of something rosy. The aldehydes truly smell a lot more like actual fizzy molecules in the opening minute than anything else, but it takes less than 2 minutes for the soapy undertone to rise to the top. Before a full 3 minutes have passed, Laine de Verre takes on a definite “Woolite Delicates” aroma. I know because I went to check the bottle in my laundry room. The nebulous floral aroma is different, and Woolite doesn’t have the zesty citric element, but there is no doubt in my mind: my arm was reeking massive amounts of something not too far off from Woolite.



At first, Laine de Verre’s soapy, clean detergent smell bore the same sort of delicacy that Woolite has, but that doesn’t last for long. Exactly 15 minutes into the perfume’s development, the Woolite turned into concentrated Tide laundry cleaner. Specifically, the HE concentrated version with Febreeze. I know, because I own that too, and I compared the Lutens fragrance torturing me on my arm with the bottle in my laundry room. Tide has a much more aggressive, thickly soapy aroma than the more gentle Woolite Delicates, and Laine de Verre was painfully close. Its olfactory bouquet also wasn’t particularly helped by the slightly dusty quality that lurks in the perfume’s background, along with an abstract, dry woodiness.

Both of them are a bit of a contradiction to the very liquidy, wet feel to Laine de Verre. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the perfume also contained Calone, because there is a very aquatic nuance to Laine de Verre. It helps underscore the very designer feel to the scent, as if it were some sort of distant Acqua di Gio relative, or a more expensive version of the Clean brand of fragrances with their focus on white, laundry-based anti-perfumes. None of this is a compliment in my eyes, by the way….



Laine de Verre is quite potent at first, but the perfume also feels very gauzy in weight. The sillage only wafts about 2-3 inches at first, then drops at the end of the first hour to sit about an inch above the skin. It turns into a skin scent near the end of the 2nd hour, which fully in line with the goal of creating an intimate anti-perfume that is an “Eau” in nature.

Laine de Verre does improve, thankfully, though not drastically. Something happens around the start of the second hour where the aggressive quality of Tide laundry detergent softens, and the perfume takes on a more balanced, elegant feel. It feels like a super-light crystal, if that makes sense. It is still painfully soapy on my skin with a sharp, clean, white musk, but I can see how some people might now see this as a very elegant scent. An olfactory version of minimalistic, cubist art, perhaps.

I know the woman who would wear this, and it would probably be one of my best friends who is incredibly fashionable but who hates wearing perfume. She never does — ever — though the last time I saw her she casually asked what I would recommend were she ever to change her mind. Something minimalistic, sleek and elegant that wasn’t really perfume. I had no suggestions for her then, because everything I considered seemed too much like actual fragrance, no matter how light or fresh. Now, though, I finally have a name. Laine de Verre is perfect for someone who doesn’t want to smell of anything at all, while simultaneously giving off some sort of indescribable, elusively intangible, elegant vibe to match her sleek, streamlined, elegant clothes.

Bounce dryer sheets.

Bounce dryer sheets.

Laine de Verre continues its up and down trajectory. By the end of the 2nd hour, that brief moment of elegance vanishes, and the perfume turns into a skin scent which has progressed from Woolite to Tide to, now, Bounce dryer sheets. It’s all the fault of that damn white musk, which seems to take over. As a whole, Laine de Verre is a soapy, vaguely floral, dry scent with strongly synthetic “clean” notes.



Then, it gets better again, relatively speaking. The impression of Bounce dryer sheets dissipates by the start of the 5th hour, probably because abstract elements of sweetness arrive to dull the white musk. Laine de Verre is a now a nice, delicate, feminine, aldehydic floral musk. I can’t easily pinpoint the flowers. There was always a subtle touch of a dewy, pale pink rose from the start, but is it now joined by jasmine perhaps? There is something sweeter and deeper that goes beyond the rose, aldehydes and cashmeran wood accords, but it’s so muffled and muted that it’s hard to distinguish. In fact, even the rose and wood elements are hard to detect from afar, as everything is blended quite seamlessly together. None of it is my cup of tea, but at least it smells relatively elegant from afar.



The one thing I can genuinely say is quite nice about Laine de Verre is the drydown. In its final 90 minutes, the perfume radiates a softly creamy wood note that is very pretty. There is still plenty of that revolting white musk, but Laine de Verre now has a wonderfully soft texture that feels fuzzy, like the thinnest cream chenille blanket. It’s far too soft to feel even like wool. Actually, it calls to mind fresh cotton wisps that you see in those films about cotton plantations. In its final hour, Laine de Verre is as much about a textural sensation as an actual smell. It is a soft, creamy, wispy, woody scent with clean freshness. All in all, Laine de Verre lasted just short of 8 hours on my skin, thanks mostly to the white musk and synthetics which my skin clings onto like mad.

Generally, in my full reviews, I like to provide other people’s perspectives on a scent, but I rarely do that in the Reviews en Bref and I’m not going to do so here. You can look up the comments on Fragrantica, if you’d like. I’m simply not that enthused about Laine de Verre to spend a substantial amount of my time talking about it, though I find it less horrifying and traumatic than the equally soapy, sharp, synthetic, white musk La Vierge de Fer that was released last Fall. At least this one isn’t priced at $310. Both fragrances, however, are what I personally consider to be “scrubbers.” Serge Lutens is one of my favorite houses, and there is no-one whom I worship more on a personal level than Monsieur Lutens himself, so disliking one of his perfumes is always painful. But I’m afraid I do.

As a whole, I suspect Laine de Verre won’t impress the hardcore Lutens fan who originally fell in love with the house because of its complex, rich signature. The L’Eau series hasn’t been a hit with any Lutens lovers that I personally know, perhaps because “anti-perfume perfumes” seems to contradict the very point of buying a Serge Lutens to begin with. I don’t think Laine de Verre will make the vast majority of them change their minds. However, if you actually hate perfume, you may want to give it a try.

Cost & Availability: Laine de Verre is a eau de parfum that comes two sizes: in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size that costs $110, €75, or £67; and a 100 ml/3.4 oz size which costs $160, €105 or £94. U.S. sellers: Laine de Verre is available in both sizes at Luckyscent. The Lutens line is also always available at Barneys and Aedes, but I don’t see Laine de Verre listed at the time of this review. The perfume is also not yet shown on the U.S. Serge Lutens website. Outside the U.S.: the International Serge Lutens website has Laine de Verre in the small and large sizes. In Canada, The Perfume Shoppe always carries the Lutens line, but Laine de Verre is too new to be listed. In the UK, Harvey Nichols implies it is the exclusive carrier of Laine de Verre which it offers in both sizes. In France, you can find the regular Lutens line at Sephora, but there is also the online retailer, Premiere Avenue, which has the large size for €105. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website. Samples: Samples are available at Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for a 1 ml vial, as well as at Luckyscent.

Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane: Bipolar Extremes

Olfactory bipolarity, a perfume holding you hostage with assault weapons, Michelle Pfeiffer in “Married to the Mob,” 80s big hair, prepubescent girls, Pantene, and generic facelessness that “is not worthy of the Lutens name” — you better hold on, because this is going to be a bumpy ride. All those disparate things (and more) are reactions to Serge Lutens’ Nuit de Cellophane, and not just from me, either. This is a perfume that gave me olfactory whiplash, and whose opening almost verged on the oppressive. It takes a lot to make me cower, but I would have whimpered like a child, were it not for an extreme shift due to the aforementioned bipolarity.

Source: Fragrantica.

Source: Fragrantica.

Nuit de Cellophane is an eau de parfum that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2009. On his website, Lutens describes the perfume as follows

When, beneath its cellophane, Haute Couture was but yet an idea.

Are you familiar with the scent of osmanthus? The flower is white or tinged with orange.
From the tight clusters of its petals bursts the scent of jasmine laced with mandarin orange.
On hot summer days, it provides a breath of fresh air.

According to Luckyscent, the notes seem to consist of, at a minimum:

Green note, fruity note, jasmine, osmanthus, carnation, lily, muscs, almond, wood, honey.

I first smelled Nuit de Cellophane on a paper strip in Paris at a Sephora boutique, and I really liked its plummy sweetness. It seemed heady, and like a very opulent fruity-floral. On skin, though…. Oh God. Oh God. Nuit de Cellophane opens with the aforementioned plums, followed by something akin to mandarins, and apricots. Seconds later, a metallic, dewy blast of white lilies arrives on the scene, accompanied by the fiery bite of red carnations and something that smells distinctly like a big, fat, white peony rose. 

White Peony. Photo: Will Borden on Fineartamerica.  (Website link embedded within photo.)

White Peony. Photo: Will Borden on Fine Art America. (Website link embedded within photo.)

It’s a visual of heavily petaled, loud whiteness tinged with vermillion, as if blood were dripping from a long, taloned nail onto snowy flowers. There is a subtle greenness to the scent, along with a concentrated bitter-sweet almond, but neither element is strong enough to cut through the intense florals. The whole thing is encased in fleshy orange, from pulpy, sticky mandarin oranges to a vaguely nutty apricot-peach. All of it feels extremely loud, and a thousand times more vulgar than anything that I’ve tried thus far from Serge Lutens. Part of me likes its unbelievably concentrated forcefulness, while the rest of me feels a little stunned at the assault. 



Five minutes in, a very metallic, synthetic element arises, making me wonder if Nuit de Cellophane was, in fact, the first in Serge Lutens’ recent line of quasi-metallic florals. Here, the note smells simultaneously soapy, clean, like hairspray, and like shampoo, all in one. It lingers around the lily aroma that is increasingly overtaking Nuit de Cellophane and becoming the main note. I love white lilies, but the version here is really quite something else. It is over-the-top in its sweetness on my skin, more dense and syrupy than even LutensUn Lys. At the same time, though, it also has a cool, synthetic steeliness and hairspray quality underlying it, something that wasn’t apparent in its lily sibling.

Michelle Pfeiffer in "Married to the Mob." Movie still from

Michelle Pfeiffer in “Married to the Mob.” Movie still from

Something about the overall combination continually makes me imagine a very big-haired, vulgar woman, like Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in the film, “Married to the Mob.” (It’s a hilarious film, by the way.) The connection in my mind stems from Nuit de Cellophane’s hyper-femininity, blowsiness, excess, loudness, and sweetness, with a very tough-as-nails swagger. And did I mention “big hair”? That too, especially as the floral hairspray element in Nuit de Cellophane keeps growing in volume. I do like Nuit de Cellophane a bit more than that description may sound, but not by much. And certainly not for long.

The perfume just keeps becoming sweeter and more shampoo-like on my skin with every passing minute. I realize my skin amplifies both sweetness and synthetics, but this experience leaves me feel utterly overwhelmed. That’s pretty unusual for someone who likes such forceful, powerful scents as Amouage‘s Ubar, Fracas, and Opium. Nuit de Cellophane’s florals, however, will either stomp on you with 9-inch high, plexiglass stripper heels, or drown you in a vat of sweetness, holding your head down in syrup with the longest, crimson dragon nails. You’d think that the spicy, clove-like note from the carnation or he almonds would counter the sweetness, but they don’t. Somehow, on my skin, they merely add to the wild disparity, especially when the almonds take on a cherry-like subtext.

Osmanthus. Source:

Osmanthus. Source:

I truly don’t smell osmanthus in the way that I’m used to, and it actually made me start doubting my own understanding of the note. I’ve always encountered the flower as a sweet, delicate, white thing with nuances of apricots or tea. Occasionally, it even seems to have a dark, leathered subset. Here, however, my skin is really radiating a quasi-rose peony note with some sort of peach-plum combination. I was bewildered because, even if no-one knows the actual notes in a Serge Lutens fragrance, I’d never seen a list that included “rose” or “peony.”

So, I looked up Nuit de Cellophane in Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez‘ book, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Well, it seems that Tania Sanchez and I may have the same skin. She categorizes Nuit de Cellophane as a “plum peony” fragrance, and writes, in part:

Nuit de Cellophane is another dramatic lapse in judgment: a fruity floral derived from J’Adore, boiled down to a syrup, and in desperate need of dilution. Clearly, some osmanthus was harmed in the production, and in general the florals are much better than you usually get in this genre. But it never manages to overcome a depressing banality and feels a step down fom the creativity of Sarrasins and El Attarine. [Emphasis to names with bolding added by me.]

20 minutes in, I still didn’t smell the osmanthus, but the shampoo and scented hairspray tones were beating a steady drumroll. Nuit de Cellophane remained as a really intense blast of white lilies, white musk synthetics, and peony rose, infused with heavily fruited sweetness. It wafted about 3 inches until the end of the first hour, when the perfume finally began to soften and the projection shrank.

It takes 90 minutes, all in all, for Nuit de Cellophane to calm down enough for the osmanthus to come out from the shadows. Finally, I smell the note that this perfume is meant to celebrate, but it feels as though there were a hostage situation where the lily held the osmanthus for ransom for a while. As the lily retreats to the sidelines, the thick wave of fruited sweetness sharply drops and is cut in half. The shampoo and floral hairspray impression lingers, but it too is much less aggressive. The whole thing is now a blur dominated primarily by osmanthus, then that peony-like note and an increasingly abstract fruitedness. There is a very hazy, blurry feel to the notes, but I think I can still detect small traces of the clove-y carnation and some peach. However, the overall effect from afar is of a very soft, fruity-floral with few distinguishing characteristics other than sweetness and cleanness.

As time passes, Nuit de Cellophane devolves further. The osmanthus, the peony-rose, and the fruited elements become even more nebulous, and the perfume feels like a generic, department store floral. The problem really seems to be two-fold: shapeless and cleanness. The florals elements don’t stand out in any way except as a blur of some generalized “white flowers,” while the clean musk creates an artificial sterility.



At the end of the 4th hour, my greatest impression of Nuit de Cellophane was of towels which retain the vaguely floral scent of fabric softener and dryer sheets. The softness has a certain fluffiness, which one might argue is a positive, but the scent as a whole has a complete facelessness which is most definitely a negative. When I smelled Nuit de Cellophane really hard up close, I could pick out a vaguely rose-like, white floral scent with some vestige of fruitiness, but it took serious effort. And it may have been wishful thinking.

From the start of the 6th hour until its very end, Nuit de Cellophane was nothing more than a generic blur of floral cleanness. If you put it in a lineup next to any department store fragrance, even earlier on in its development, I honestly doubt I could pick out the Lutens. Regular readers know how I love the house and how much I admire Serge Lutens in particular, so none of this was easy to write, but I really disliked the fragrance that much. All in all, Nuit de Cellophane lasted just shy of 11.75 hours on my skin, and I was unhappy for all of it.



The one thing I kept thinking of when assessing the perfume is how Nuit de Cellophane compares to some of the Lutens florals of the past few years. As many people have noted, 2009 seems to mark a time when Serge Lutens embarked on a course of exploring scents with a light, watery, silvery and/or metallic floral twist. There was his L’Eau Serge Lutens in 2009, Vitriol d’Oeillet in 2011, L’Eau Froide in 2011, La Fille de Berlin in 2013, La Vierge de Fer in 2013, and the upcoming Laine de Verre (i.e., Fiber Glass) next month in February 2014. It feels to me as if Serge Lutens began with L’Eau Serge Lutens, took a detour into a hyper-sweetened (but partially metallic, piercing) Nuit de Cellophane, then decided to keep stripping away at the baseline until he arrived at the recent, metallic, icy, shrieking hairspray lily of La Vierge de Fer.

On my skin, Nuit de Cellophane begins like the earlier 2007 Un Lys, only much sweeter (if you can believe it) and without the narrow lily soliflore focus. It actually fits closer on the scale to La Vierge de Fer given the piercing white musk, yet it has the Serge Lutens’ signature of plummy fruits. La Vierge de Fer feels like the apotheosis of Lutens’ metallic or icy floral trend that Vitriol d’Oeillet and La Fille de Berlin also reflect to some extent, and so, it fits into a definite pattern.

Nuit de Cellophane doesn’t. It has some of the traditional Lutens signature with the plummy fruits, and also, some of the loud schizophrenia of the 2001 Datura Noir. Yet, it lacks the latter’s lushness, more balanced, interesting aspects, as well as the steelier, iciness of recent Lutens florals. Nuit de Cellophane is a bit of everything and nothing for me, as it lurches from one extreme to another. One minute, it holds you hostage with such strongly delineated, syrupy, piercing florals that they feel like assault rifles; the next, it is a faceless girl simpering in a department store in the cheap hairspray and shampoo aisle. Between the discordant notes and the extremes, the whole thing feels quite bipolar to me. As should be quite clear by now, I don’t understand the perfume. I’ve tried but I don’t, no matter how much I search for a pattern. I just don’t get it.

Lest you think this is all just me and hyperbole, let me reassure you that I’m hardly alone in my reaction to Nuit de Cellophane. Take Bois de Jasmin who gave it a rare Two-Star review, and whose bottom-line conclusion was…. shampoo. In fact, try as she might, neither time nor a year’s worth of additional testing could change Victoria’s feelings about the perfume:

… I have held hope that one day I would smell this bland fruity-floral and … figure out what Serge Lutens was trying to achieve with it. It has been a year since I have first smelled Nuit de Cellophane and no such revelation has occurred—it still smells like shampoo to me and I still do not care for it. […]

The opening stage of Nuit de Cellophane is the aspect I dislike the most. The sharp, fruity note that comes through evokes not the velvety softness of apricot skin but rather some drugstore peach shampoo. It is neither pleasant nor interesting, and while eventually it softens enough to reveal the osmanthus heart, the banality of the first impression stays with me.

As the composition develops, the apricot-leather accord becomes stronger, with jasmine and rose highlighting its appealing sweetness. The animalic accents are subtle, never rising above the osmanthus, even in the late drydown. It is a pleasant fragrance at this stage, light and easy to wear. Considering that such compositions are easy enough to find (and often at a much lower price point, I should add) I cannot find any other quality that makes Nuit de Cellophane appealing to me.

However unpleasant her experience, I still think mine was worse. In fact, parts of Nuit de Cellophane on her skin sound almost interesting. Animalic accents? Would that I have been so lucky! At least I’m not crazy in smelling roses in the Nuit de Cellophane.

For I Smell Therefore I Am, Nuit de Cellophane is a pretty white floral (with lilies) that “is not worthy of the Lutens name.” The review states:

Nuit de Cellophane does not smell particularly like osmanthus. Instead it is a bright, joyous and billowy white floral, heavy on jasmine, lily, champaca and some fruity citrus. Nuit de Cellophane is a beautiful white floral but it is not worthy of the Lutens name. There is absolutely nothing unusual, unique, jarring or unexpected about Nuit de Cellophane. It is very pretty, very well done and very mainstream. [¶][…]

I must admit that my first thought after wearing Nuit de Cellophane was, “the SL brand must need a mainstream success very badly; they must need some easy sales in a tough economy.”

On Fragrantica, the very first review you see at the top of the page also happens to be the most amusing, in my opinion. “Arabian Knight” sums it up, quite simply, as:

If you want a cheaper alternative to this overpriced scent, shampoo your hair with Pantene, blow dry it and then shake it back and forth. It smells exactly like freshly shampooed hair….

Baffling :/

On Luckyscent, the comments are split between the haters and those who love what they describe as soft, clean sweetness. On balance, though, the haters seem to win out:

  • On me, this smells like Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific, the shampoo all the cool girls used back when I was in seventh grade. Two stars for nostalgia, but I wouldn’t wear it.
  • Very boring. It smells like a generic department store scent, nice and wearable, but just not something from dramatic and tasteful Lutens.
  • This is a very soapy jasmine reminiscent of dryer sheets. Piercing and relentlessly dull, it is a huge disappointment coming from Serge Lutens.
  • A full, brash, sharp floral fragrance. This is almost identical to Michael Kors’ Very Hollywood. There are cheaper perfumes that smell similar to this.
  • I’m really confused by this one… I definitely agree that is smells like “Very Hollywood,” but would venture to say that there is absolutely nothing noteworthy or exceptional about this flat, high-school smelling fragrance. If you like to smell like Victoria’s Secret or the generic department-store fragrance, look no further.

I haven’t sniffed Michael Kors’ Very Hollywood in ages, so I can’t speak to the details. All I can remember is that it was a very sweet floral with little character.But I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty, though: the retail price is not $130 for a 50 ml bottle. (In fact, you can find it on a discount perfume site in a bottle twice that size for $28, while the Lutens’ discounted rate is still significantly more.)

In fairness, and to demonstrate the other side of the picture, there are people who truly love Nuit de Cellophane. Some of the positive reviews on Fragrantica:

  • This is truly an exercise in subtlety. Yet it does not smell like anything else. It is peppery carnation, fresh green, osmanthus, a breath of jasmine, a drop of sweet honey, with a bit of lily dust and soft musk to hold together. [¶] It is a quiet, delicate work of art, for the person who wants to keep her (or his) little secret, that they are wearing something special. Not for the person who wants to announce their presence before they have stepped into a room. I think that winter is not the best season; I think this is an ideal early March through end of April scent.
  • I love this fragrance. It’s juicy fruits supported by heady white florals makes it truly swoon-worthy. The opening is brief and to die for, albeit a bit too short lived in my opinion. It dries down to a soft and clean soapy smell. Even though it doesn’t project as much as I would like, I still adore it.
  • OMG, how could I live without this fantastically well done Osmantus scent??? I`m an Osmantus lover, but never I heard this note so pronounced, so clean, tender, innocent but not simple, simple but far from being primitive… it`s hard to describe, it`s a little sweet, a little acid, you keep sniffing it, trying desperately to disclosure the secret: what is this evasive beauty… It smells like a prepubertal girl must smell… Innocent and vicious in the same time. [¶] I love it.

Honestly, I don’t think smelling like a prepubescent girl is a compliment, but it takes all kinds. All the more power to her. Still, it noteworthy that a few commentators — on both sides of the fence — have brought up youthfulness, whether mentioning preteens or seventh grader girls. I do think the fragrance has an innocuous, safely generic, floral freshness that somehow translates to some noses as innocence. Intellectually, there is logic to the perception, even if I don’t understand it personally or emotionally. (The thought of actually wanting to smell like a prepubescent child brings my mind to a skidding, screeching halt. I’m completely flummoxed.)

I suppose if you’re looking for a fresh, clean, sweet Lutens (or for a department store floral with the innocuousness of a shampoo-drenched gnat), then you may want to try Nuit de Cellophane. There are cheaper alternatives, though, even if you buy the Lutens fragrance at the massive discount offered by some US retailers. Frankly, I found the perfume’s bipolar nature to verge on the alarming, and its extreme shift from one end of the spectrum to the other initially gave me whiplash, before leaving me feeling quite exhausted. It was not an experience that I enjoyed. 

General Cost & Sale Prices: Nuit de Cellophane is an eau de parfum that comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, and costs $130, €85, or £69. However, you can find it highly discounted at a number of U.S. retailers. On Amazon, Nuit de Cellophane costs $64.99; at FragranceNet (which ships worldwide), it is $68.16 with a coupon; and at Beauty Encounter, it costs $69.95 with the coupon code they provide as well. Serge Lutens: you can find Nuit de Cellophane at regular, full price on the U.S. and the International Lutens website, with other language options also available. U.S. sellers: Nuit de Cellophane is available for $130 at Luckyscent, Barney’s Aedes, and a number of other stores. Outside the U.S.: In the UK, you can find Nuit de Cellophane on Amazon UK for £59.35. At the regular £69 price, you can find it at Harrod’s, Liberty London, and SpaceNK ApothecaryIn France, you can buy Nuit de Cellophane from Sephora for €84, though it’s cheaper at Premiere Avenue which sells it for €79. In Germany, you can find Nuit de Cellophane at Essenza Nobile. In Australia, you can find it at FragranceNet Australia for AUD$78.34 with the coupon. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website. Samples: You can test out Nuit de Cellophane 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).

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).



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.



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:

Photo: David Hare. Source:

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:

Cloves, close up. Source:

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.



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.



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.

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. 

2013 in Review: Best of & Favorites Lists



The end of the year is almost upon us, so it seems like a good time for a “Year in Review” post with a list of favorites. I can’t say it has been easy for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I always struggle with lists, both in terms of placement and selecting the thing which will take that last spot. For another, I think I may be a little fickle in terms of my favorites, as perfumery can be as much about mood as other subjective factors.

In the case of fragrances that debuted in 2013, it’s been even harder. Honestly, I wasn’t impressed by the vast majority of the new releases that I tested, and the ones I did enjoy wouldn’t amount to a full ten in number. I’m not going to put something on a list simply and solely to round out the numbers, especially if I was underwhelmed with the scent in question or thought it had some serious problems. Take, for example, Tom Ford‘s Shanghai Lily from the Atelier d’Orient line. It is a scent that I liked the most out of Tom Ford’s various new collections this year, but that is a relative thing, not an absolute thing. Just because I liked it more than the rest of the 2013 Tom Fords doesn’t mean I would classify the scent as one of the best of the year. I certainly wouldn’t include Plum Japonais which I found to be a badly done, distorted copy of my beloved Fille en Aiguilles from Serge Lutens.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Mohur pure parfum extrait. Source: Fragrantica.

Another problem is that I’m not sure I should include one scent that was supposed to be released this year, and which I adored when I got to test it, but whose release was subsequently pushed back until Spring 2014. It is Neela Vermeire‘s Mohur Extrait, the formerly named Mohur Esprit. It would definitely be in my list of top 2013 favorites, and I considered saving it for the Best of 2014. In the end, I’ve cheated by including it here for 2013 with an asterisk next to its name.

In reality, my absolute favorite fragrances came from a wide range of years, but since this is the first year of the blog, everything was technically “new” for the purposes of my reviews. So, I’m going to do two lists or, to be more technically accurate, 2.5 lists: my top fragrances released in 2013, even if the number falls short of ten; then my personal top 10 of the perfumes I covered in 2013, followed by the next 15 for an overall top 25 favorites.


  1. Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Oleksiy Maksymenko. Source: FineArtAmerica. (Website link embedded within photo.)

    LM Parfums Hard Leather. Lust in the woods. A scent that, despite the “leather” in its name, is really more about dark woods, oud, incense, and sandalwood, than it is about leather. That said, the stunning, lusty leather and animalic musk give Hard Leather the best opening of a fragrance that I’ve tried in years. Pure, utter sex appeal, and lust. Sex in a bottle. An opening that sweeps me off my feet each time I smell it, and a gorgeous drydown as well. The middle stage isn’t particularly my cup of tea, but if one takes the scent as a whole and judges things on the basis of how intensely one wants a full bottle, then Hard Leather has to come in at first place. That said, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. For one thing, I think Hard Leather skews very masculine in nature, and even some men may find it excessively dry, dark, or animalic, but I loved it and it is my favorite new fragrance of 2013.

  2. Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture Spring-Summer 2013. Source: FlipZone and

    Dress: Rami Kadi Haute Couture 2013. Source: FlipZone.

    Neela Vermeire Mohur Extrait**  I like the regular Mohur eau de parfum, but Mohur Extrait is profoundly stronger, deeper, and richer. It has a va-va-voom oomph that transforms the pale, quiet, restrained, sometimes excessively delicate rose Mohur into Cinderella at the ball. A Cinderella with a diva’s charisma, and wearing the most opulent ball gown and jewels around. Mohur Extrait is a deep, rich, potent blend of roses, with real Mysore sandalwood, iris, and violets. There is a touch of leather, smoky elemi, and pepper to prevent it from being too dainty or femme, and the whole thing sits on an ambered base that is faintly milky but always infused with that beautiful, rich, creamy Mysore sandalwood. Mohur Extrait is simply beautiful, and a head-turner.  **I’m cheating, as Mohur Extrait’s release has been pushed back until 2014, but dammit, it debuted at the Milan Esxence show, so I’m going to include it in my list of 2013 releases.

  3. Source: Philolog at Traumwerk.Stanford.eduViktoria Minya Hedonist. A stunningly golden, happy, but refined, sophisticated, lush, floral oriental, Hedonist sparkles and soothes at the same time. It opens with Bourbon-like, boozy, dark honeycombs that are infused with lush peach, heady jasmine, citrus notes and some orange blossom, all perfectly blended in a soft, golden cloud. It eventually turns into a honey, beeswax and vanilla scent that soothes you in its soft sweetness. Whenever I wear it, I feel calmer, more relaxed, like a cat stretching out in the warmth of the sun. Hedonist has a truly classique feel of haute perfumery, but it never feels dated or old-fashioned, in my opinion. It is elegant and opulent without being excessive, heady but perfectly balanced, and sparkles in a way that reminds me both of champagne and the sunniest of skies in the South of France. Truly beautiful, and a stunning debut from Viktoria Minya.
  4. Source:


    Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. Elfish green and the floor of a fairy forest filled with the essence of nature in a delicate but strong bouquet of oakmoss, wet leaves, mushrooms, herbs, a strip of dark leather taken over by nature’s minted greens, and a touch of balsamic resins. It’s really hard to describe in many ways, as this is not a traditional chypre, and may be the most unusual, otherworldly scent I’ve encountered. Chypre Mousse stopped me in my tracks, made me turn around on my way to the mecca of Serge Lutens to buy my bell jar, and became something I had to have after a mere 15 minutes, further tests or development be damned. Chypre Mousse won’t be for everyone, but those who love it will experience an incredibly potent, extremely green fragrance that lasts an enormous amount of time for such a seemingly delicate, ethereal scent.

  5. Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:

    Marion Cotillard photographed by Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott for French Vogue, September 2010. Source:

    Amouage Fate Woman. Fate Woman is a beautiful chypre-oriental hybrid that starts off as a very restrained, cool, aloof scent that smells of citruses, oakmoss, and cool daffodils. Like shedding a sculptured black dress to reveal the sensuous lingerie underneath, Fate Woman turns warmer, more opulent, and sensuous with roses, jasmine, animalic notes, and creamy vanilla that is almost gourmand-like at times. The sensual, sophisticated heart turns warmer and more golden as the fragrance ends on labdanum amber, vanilla, and soft musk in a creamy blend that feels like cuddles after a heated night. I’m not a fan of the soapiness that appears at one point, but Fate Woman is a beautiful scent that starts off as controlled restraint before ending in warm abandon.

  6. Mary Cassat. "Mother Playing With Child."

    Mary Cassat. “Mother Playing With Child.”

    Neela Vermeire Ashoka. Ashoka is a creamy, milky fig and sandalwood fragrance with incense, peppered woods, iris, and other subtle tonalities. It has an enormously comforting vibe that feels like a mother’s warm embrace. It is not my favorite NVC creation, as it is far from my personal style which is much better suited to Neela Vermeire’s bolder, spicier creations. However, it is very well done, and an elegant fragrance that is definitely one of the top releases of the year as a whole. If any of the other NVC perfumes have felt too intense, too oriental, complicated, or fiery, then Ashoka will be for you.

  7. Source:


    Lys Epona Lys Epona. Lys Epona is from a new French perfume house by the same name and sponsored by Jovoy Paris. It is a beautiful scent that caught my attention from the moment I sniffed it at Jovoy and, despite its sillage flaws and longevity problems, it is very well-done, extremely evocative, and has a very vintage vibe. It is also original, taking delicate white lilies, and infusing them with dark, animalic leather, and grassy, outdoorsy elements ranging from hay to daffodils, grass, and amber. The scent is supposed to replicate the dance between a courtesan and a Hussar cavalry officer in France’s elite Republican Guard. For me, however, it conjured up a Celtic princess astride a large white stallion, garbed in a softly burnished, slightly musky, brown leather cuirass, and draped with white lilies. Her skirt is made of hay, wheat and grass; her skin is coated in ambered oil; and her long hair braided with daffodils that matched the flowers in her horse’s mane. Truly, very well done, and the vintage, antique bottles from the 1930s are a perfect accompaniment to the scent.

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

    Photo: LTPhotographs, Etsy Store. (Website link embedded within.)

    Tauer Perfumes PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. Andy Tauer’s PHI is a deep, spicy apricot-rose confection with rich vanilla mousse, dark green elements that almost feel mossy, and oriental flourishes ranging from tobacco to cinnamon and ambergris. It’s far from your usual rose scent, and I’d argue that the deep, dark flower isn’t even the main star of the show at times. PHI is a vibrant, sophisticated Oriental-hybrid with the faintest gourmand touches in a rich blend that that even those who don’t particularly like rose fragrances might enjoy.

  9. Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Ewan McGregor via The Daily Mail.

    Parfums Retro Grand Cuir. Contradictions and paradoxes lie at the heart of Grand Cuir, which explores leather from one end of the spectrum to the other under the most civilized and sophisticated of veneers. It starts as raw leather coated with birch tar and pungent herbs before turning into the expensive, new black leather of a biker’s jacket, then burnished, softly aged leather with amber, before ending up as the most refined of creamy Italian suedes infused with amber, lavender, and skin-like musk. It’s a journey that is at once animalic and aldehydic, soapy clean, beginning as a masculine scent that is an aromatic, herbal fougère with leather, before it transforms into something very different. And the whole thing is done sotto voce, with the quiet firmness of a confident man who doesn’t believe he has to be flashy and loud to draw attention to himself. Very well done, and very refined.


Perfume reviewing is subjective by nature, but whittling down those personal choices into a favorites list is even more so. No-one ever agrees fully on a Top Ten list, whether it’s for movies, television shows, food, or some other category, and perfume is no different. So, I don’t expect any of you to agree with everything or even some of the things on this list, but these are my absolute favorites out of the modern, non-vintage scents available on the market and that I’ve tried this year.

I’ve struggled for hours over the placement and order, because I can be fickle and prefer some scents over others depending on mood. After re-testing a number of these, I think I have the order set, more or less, with the caveat that there may be a standard deviation of +1 or -1 for the fragrances listed. In other words, on one day, a fragrance coming in at #4 may be at #3 or #5 from one day to the next, but not really more than that. Then again, I can be a little fickle, ranking things is an utter nightmare, and who knows if this would be the precise order in two months from now? I did my best for now, however, so this is the list thus far.

  1. LM Parfums Hard Leather. As noted in my description above, I think this is sexy as hell. I’ll spare you additional heated descriptions, as I quite lose my cool whenever it comes to this fragrance.
  2. Source:


    Serge Lutens Fille en Aiguilles. At first sniff, Fille en Aiguilles is Christmas in a bottle, from the pine tree before the fire to sugar-plum treats. Look closer, though, and you’ll find Fille en Aiguilles is really all about the frankincense. Spiralling swirls of dark smoke weave its way around the pine, the crushed needles on the forest floor, and the plummy fruits infused with ginger and spices. There is warmth and sweetness, despite the chill in the snowy forest outside. From start to finish, Fille en Aiguilles is my favorite scent from my favorite house. To my amusement, each and every time that I’ve taken perfume samples to share with friends, Fille en Aiguilles is consistently the one that men fall for. The last time I sprayed Fille en Aiguilles on someone, there were precisely 6 women sniffing his neck, his arms, and his chest. I practically had to fight him from grabbing my travel decant there and then for himself. Yet, Fille en Aiguilles is wholly unisex in nature; out of all the people I know who wear it, the vast majority are women.  

  3. Source: Warren Photographic at

    Source: Warren Photographic at

    Puredistance M. A masterpiece from Roja Dove, M has a citric chypre opening reminiscent of Hermès’ vintage Bel Ami that turns to a rich, smooth leather that briefly smells like the most expensive car seats. Soon, the leather is burnished by cognac, becoming soft, rich, and oiled with honeyed roses, jasmine, spices, and beeswax. At times, it feels a little like Serge LutensCuir Mauresque (see below at #11), but the leather phase doesn’t dominate the scent. In my opinion, the true essence of M is a molten, oriental labdanum amber. Simply stunning, from start to finish, and one of my favorite fragrances. I believe that M is unisex in nature, thanks to the florals and the honeyed amber drydown with cinnamon-dusted vanilla, but it will depend on one’s yardstick. Those who love pure florals, powdery scents, or gourmands will probably consider M to skew masculine. 

  4. Source: Huffington Post.

    Source: Huffington Post.

    Neela Vermeire Trayee. Someone once called Trayee a “force of nature,” in a slightly overwhelmed, stunned tone, and I think that’s quite true. The Bertrand Duchaufour creation is fiery, spicy, smoky, dusty, and woody, dominated by genuine, almost rare Mysore sandalwood in copious amounts that runs through the fragrance from top to bottom like a luscious red-gold vein. There are also two different kinds of Jasmine absolute, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, ginger, frankincense, oud, amber, and a plethora of other notes, all superbly blended into a bouquet that is dry, dusty, spicy, sweet, and smoky. Trayee is intense, no doubt about it, but in its later development, it loses its dry, dusty, spiced smokiness, softens and turns warm with smooth, creamy sandalwood, and deep, slightly smoky amber. Trayee is a tempestuous, stormy, fiery, rich mix that I find utterly mesmerizing. If the perfume were a woman, she’d probably be the famous, legendary diva, Maria Callas, with a touch of the young Sophia Loren in all her hot-heated, Italian ways and a dash of the fierce Mistral wind. It is definitely a force of nature that evokes India in all its multi-faceted, complicated splendour.

  5. Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Photo: Jon Gonzo on Flickr. (Site link embedded within photo.)

    Amouage Tribute attar. Perhaps the smokiest of the smoky greats, Tribute reminds me of Darth Vader’s perfect rose, a rose thoroughly infused with darkness and smoke. It’s utterly spectacular, though the variations in batch numbers is troublesome, leading some versions to be out-of-balance and with such disproportionate smokiness that a handful of people have reported experiencing an almost ashtray-like note. Still, the version I tested was magnificent, and makes Tribute my favorite Amouage scent thus far.

  6. Source: photos.

    Source: photos.

    Chanel Coromandel (Les Exclusifs). My favorite, modern Chanel scent is Coromandel, hands down and by a landslide. It’s probably no surprise, as it is made by my favorite perfumer, the brilliant Christopher Sheldrake who normally works with Serge Lutens. Coromandel begins on an intense frankincense note before turning into a milky Chai tea dusted with white chocolate powder and infused with deep, mellow patchouli. It is my favorite sort of patchouli with its nutty, smoky, woody, spicy, ambered warmth, instead of that vile purple, fruited, syrupy, fruit-chouli. The whole mix is perhaps the most refined, addictive, creamy patchouli-incense fragrance I have encountered. If I could take a bath in Coromandel nightly, I would, because I find something endlessly soothing and indulgent about its ambered, golden warmth.

  7. Source:


    Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir. Nothing in Fourreau Noir should make it a fragrance that I would like, as I normally despise lavender with a fiery passion. I’m actually quite phobic about the note, and the mere mention of the word makes me shudder. But there is magic in Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake’s touch, and the two wizards created the most beautiful scent imaginable. It helps that Fourreau Noir is ultimately not about the lavender at all, in my opinion, but about the incense. From the very first moment, until the fragrance’s end in a cloud of spiced, mellow, patchouli infused with amber and vanilla, the dark tendrils of black smoke weave their way around you. It also helps that the dried lavender transforms into creamy lavender ice-cream with almonds. The real gem in Fourreau Noir, however, is that incense and ambered-patchouli cocoon at the heart of the scent. It says something when a lavender-phobe can love a fragrance with a note they despise; it says more when they go out of their way to purchase an expensive bell jar of it. Which I did….  

  8. Source:


    Téo Cabanel Alahine. A Moroccan souk filled with spices under a turquoise sky. Sumptuous, dark, red roses concentrated to their headiest essence. Golden amber as far as the eye can see with rich, dark, toffee’d caramel, labdanum amber. A powerfully start of incredibly booziness, but a finish that is pure, vintage Bal à Versailles without the skank or dirtiness. Alahine is a fiery, spicy, incredibly complex, oriental monster that may require a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to love. Spray on too much, she’ll blow out your nose, or traumatize you. Don’t give her enough time or tests, and you’ll be misled into thinking she is all booziness, Moroccan spices, and smoke. It seems to require four tests to understand Alahine, and not be overpowered by her intense, smoldering start. It can take time to see that her real nature is the most sophisticated of slinky black dresses, cut low and deep, with a va-va-voom glamour that is opulent, French classicism at its best. Yet, Alahine ends as a really plush, soft, golden, slightly powdered warmth that is as rich as a cashmere, camel overcoat. Don’t let the roses fool you; Alahine is unisex, and I know a number of very masculine men who love its boozy, spiced fieriness deeply.

  9. Source:


    Dior Mitzah (La Collection Privée). A start of dark incense that belongs in a Chinese temple, followed by an ode to labdanum amber in all its richness. Labdanum is the true form of amber, and Mitzah highlights all of its facets from honeyed, toffee’d, slightly dirty, occasionally leathery, and deeply warm in an incredibly refined blend that is also infused with smoke, roses, and patchouli. It’s a wave of richness that made Mitzah much loved, and I find it utterly baffling that Dior decided to discontinue one of its most popular scents. However, you can still find Mitzah online and at Dior boutiques while supplies last, so if you haven’t tried the scent and you love amber, I urge you to get a sample as soon as you can.

  10. Oriza L. Legrand Chypre Mousse. (See above. Or, better yet, read the review, as this is one scent that is very hard to describe.) 


  1. Source:


    Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque. Cuir Mauresque is a shamefully under-appreciated fragrance, in my opinion. It’s one of my favorite leather scents, and, apparently, Serge Lutens’ own choice of perfume to wear. He and Christopher Sheldrake focus on taming animalic leather by infusing it first with clove-studded oranges and spices, then hefty amounts of heady jasmine absolute and orange blossoms. He uses powder to cut through the animalic skank and civet, keeping it perfectly balanced, while also weaving in dark incense, styrax, cedar and ambered resins. The resulting combination resembles Bal à Versailles at times, and oozes pure sex appeal, in my opinion. Cuir Mauresque is wholly unisex in nature. Some men find the leather too powdery, while some women find the skank to be a little too much. It will depend on your tastes. I’ve started using my parents — aka The Ultimate Perfume Snobs who taught me about perfumery to begin with– as my yardstick for other people’s perception of “skank” and leather. My father who finds Hard Leather to be too animalic and “dirty” has Cuir Mauresque as his second favorite leather scent after Puredistance M. In contrast, my mother (who adores Hard Leather and doesn’t find it to be “dirty” at all) thinks Cuir Mauresque is feminine sex appeal and utterly addictive. Your yardstick may vary, but if you love leather fragrances and some skank, then you really should try Cuir Mauresque.

  2. Viktoria Minya Hedonist. (See above.)
  3. "Abstract streams of gold." Photo: Jason Tockey. Site:

    “Abstract streams of gold.” Photo: Jason Tockey. Site:

    Profumum Roma Ambra Aurea. Profumum’s ode to goldenness focuses not on amber, but on ambergris in all its deep, rich, salty, musky glory. It’s a very different matter and aroma, as my review tries to make clear. Ambra Aurea is the thickest, most golden, opaque, intense, salty-caramel amber fragrance around, a veritable deluge of one note heightened to its most concentrated essence with 43%-46% perfume oils. It’s a linear, non-stop soliflore that coats your skin for hours on end, emitting a slight smokiness from incense. There are strong undertones of labdanum amber that are, alternatively, nutty, toffee’d, honeyed, faintly dirty, and almost chocolate-y at times. In its final stage, Ambra Aurea smells of amber and incense with beeswax, saltiness, and sweetness. Lovely on its own, and lovely when used as a layering base, Ambra Aurea is the single richest amber on the market. It blows all the others out of the water, in my opinion, especially Serge LutensAmbre Sultan which also has a labdanum focus but which is like water in comparison.  

  4. Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    Gisele Bundchen for Vogue Turkey March 2011. Photo: the always incredible Mert & Marcus.

    LM Parfums Sensual Orchid. A seductive floral oriental, Sensual Orchid is centered on the eponymous flower. On my skin, the orchid is a delicate, pastel, floral note that feels as crystal clear, clean, bright and sparkling as a bell rung at the top of the Swiss alps. It smells of lilies, peonies, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, vanilla — all wrapped into one in a cool, clean, crystal liquidity. It is followed by the richest ylang-ylang; custardy vanilla; a hint of smoky woods; bitter, green-white almonds; and boozy cognac fruitedness. The final result is incredibly narcotic, dramatic, opulent, and heady. For me, Sensual Orchid is all about dressing to undress, and to seduce. It is a scent that definitely skews feminine in nature, though I know a number of men to love it as well.

  5. George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    George drawing via Vogue Italia.

    Jardins d’Ecrivains George. Feminine orange blossoms turned masculine in an ode to George Sand. The potent flowers are transformed into something leathered, dark, and faintly dirty with tobacco, resins, and more. From a mentholated beginning with neroli, George slowly takes on paper, coffee, and tobacco notes, followed by heliotrope, myrrh and Peru Balsam in a play of hardness and softness, lightness and dark, masculine and feminine. Leathered orange blossoms is quite an original take on the usually indolic flowers, and I was taken enough by George to buy a full bottle. Some find the scent far too masculine for a woman, which rather defeats the whole point of a fragrance meant to reflect the particular character of George Sand. I think it’s unisex, though you have to like your neroli and orange blossoms with a dark, dirty edge.

  6. Source:


    Arabian Oud Kalemat. Kalemat is a fantastically affordable, easy, rich oriental centered on a honeyed amber with tobacco, incense, and dry cedar tonalities. It opens with dark berries that smell like blueberry purée, infused with honey and incense, then a rich, deep Damascena rose joins the party. Eventually, Kalemat turns into a non-powdery, more concentrated version of Serge Lutens’ tobacco-y Chergui with touches of Hermes’ Ambre Narguilé, Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille, and, for some, Amouage’s Interlude Man. There is a subtle whiff of oud underlying the mix, along with dried cedar. Heady and potent at first, Kalemat becomes a sheer cloud that envelopes you in a golden haze of sweetness, dryness, woodiness and incense. It lasts for hours and hours, smells incredibly expensive, and is highly affordable. If you love ambers, tobacco-incense fragrances, or sweet scent like any of those mentioned above (including Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille), then you really should give Kalemat a sniff.

  7. Arabian Horse tumblr_m7dtkdCrFl1rwt5gqo1_500Amouage Jubilation XXV (Men). I love Jubilation XXV, and always regret that it has very little longevity on my wonky skin. What a beautiful opening! Dark oranges infused with incense, balsamic resins, cedar, patchouli, ambergris and a faint touch of oud in a deep, rich blend that often makes me think of HermèsElixir de Merveilles, but better. A few hours later, Jubilation XXV takes you to the wintery outdoors, with a large stone campfire amidst a dark, dry Guaiac forest, a brisk, chill in the air and the smell of burning leaves. There is a slightly medicinal, synthetic, pink band-aids undertone to the oud, but the fragrance is really well done as a whole. If Jubilation XXV lasted on my skin beyond a mere 5.5 hours, it would be ranked much higher.   
  8. Painting by Holly Anderson. "Spherical Romance Art Set" via (Website link embedded within.)

    Painting by Holly Anderson. “Spherical Romance Art Set” via (Website link embedded within.)

    Nasomatto Black Afgano. In essence, Black Afgano is a super-concentrated, richer, deeper version of YSL‘s fabled M7 in its original, vintage form. It’s a smoky plethora of darkness from the dark, quasi/fake “hashish” elements and cherry-cola labdanum amber with all its nutty, toffee’d undertones, to the incense, the oud (supplemented by Norlimbanol), leather tonalities, and resinous sweetness. I didn’t enjoy the synthetic nuances to the oud or the Norlimbanol, but I liked the fragrance as a whole. It seems Black Afgano may have been reformulated to dilute some of its super smokiness and render the fragrance more sweet, as it wasn’t the dark monster of brutish repute that I had expected. If it has changed, then perhaps the reformulation merely makes it more unisex. Those looking for a version of vintage M7 with deeper potency, sillage, and longevity, should definitely check out Black Afgano.   

  9. Source:


    Serge Lutens De Profundis. A hauntingly delicate, evocative floral that captures the essence of flowers in purple twilight and feels like a call to Spring. It opens with its core note, chrysanthemums. that have been blended with violets, green notes, white lilies, and sweet, wet earth. Lurking at the edges are peonies, chamomile flowers, incense, a dash of light roses, a whisper of purple lilacs, and some ISO E Super. The flowers feel incredibly dewy and light, almost tender and soft. It is as though they are just waking up, releasing the airiest of delicate floral scents. De Profundis is, at the start, a cool fragrance that is almost chilly in its delicacy. As time passes, however, the floral aroma becomes stronger, more robust, almost as if the flowers have fully bloomed in the sunlight. The dew has evaporated, the petals unfurled, and the meadow floor comes to life with earthy softness, light smoke, and every bit of green around. De Profundis is a bit too watery for my personal tastes, and I’m generally not one for pure florals, but it’s hard not to be swayed by its pale, ethereal delicacy. It is really a hauntingly elegant scent.    

  10. Source:


    Dior Ambre Nuit (La Collection Privée). If Mitzah was Dior’s ode to labdanum amber, then Ambre Nuit must be its homage to ambergris. On my skin, Ambre Nuit is smoky, liqueured, salty-sweet amber, with dry woods and a quiet touch of delicate roses that have been rendered a little fiery from pepper and a little sweet from patchouli. It is laced with black incense, creating a mix that evokes parts of Chanel’s Coromandel. There is something extremely sensuous about Ambre Nuit which often makes me think of the Argentinian tango. The ambergris’ special, unique features evoke the warmth of heated, slightly musky skin that has been rendered just the faintest bit salty from sweat. The incense conjures up the smoky, dark feel of those dance rooms, while the gaiac and cedar replicate the incredibly smooth, wooden floors that the dancers glide across. The rose never features much on my skin, though it does on others. On me, the patchouli is more prominent with its spicy, sweet, often chocolate-y mellowness. It’s a beautiful combination, and my second favorite scent from Dior’s refined Privée line.

  11. Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): "In the Harem."

    Painting by Gyula Tornai (1861-1928): “In the Harem.”

    Maison Francis Kurkdjian Absolue Pour Le Soir. Described by some as beastly, by others as “dirty,” Absolue Pour Le Soir is my favorite from MFK, but how you respond to it will depend very much on your personal yardstick for honey, cumin, and animalic notes. For me, Absolue conjures up the heart of a Turkish harem besieged by musky, leather-armoured warriors. They bang on the sandalwood doors which open to release spirals of incense, as honey-swathed concubines approach to tempt with deep roses and indolic ylang-ylang. Absolue Pour Le Soir begins as an instant war between warm human flesh, the mysteries of floral-draped women, sweet honeyed intimacy, animalic leather, and feral, musky masculinity. As if tamed, the fragrance later softens to a creamy, spiced sandalwood infused with honey, dark resins, frankincense, and a dollop of roses. It’s lovely, though I’ve found myself holding it at more of a distance these days, perhaps because of the sharpness of the honey which is a core element of the scent. Still, if you want a truly skanky Oriental with the most golden of ambered hues and endless layers of complexity, you should rush to try Absolue Pour Le Soir.

  12. Amouage Fate Woman. (See description above.)
  13. Source:


    Tauer Perfumes’ Une Rose Chyprée. I’m generally not one for rose scents, but Andy Tauer’s Une Rose Chyprée is an exception. It’s a spectacular chypre-oriental hybrid that features an autumnal, ambered rose nestled in the mossiest of green cocoons. The fragrance swirls all around you in a veiled shimmer of greens, garnet red, earthiness, and mossy trees — all rolled into one. This is a green rose whose petals were crushed into the damp, wet soil of the forest floor; a rose that lies nestled amidst fresh, just slightly mineralized, faintly bittersweet mosses; a rose infused with the concentrated essence of a thousand dark green, slightly spicy, peppered leaves, then sprinkled with hints of alternatively tart and zesty citruses. It is a rose that is fruited, but spiced with cinnamon, and wrapped with the tendrils of black incense. Some chypres can be haughty, cold, aloof numbers that keep you at a distance. Une Rose Chyprée is almost a coquettish chypre that beckons you with a sweet smile, despite the emeralds and rubies glowing around her elegant, rosy throat. If it didn’t have an enormous amount of ISO E Super and didn’t give me a ferocious, piercing headache, I would definitely be tempted to buy a full bottle. Nonetheless, it’s an absolutely beautiful scent, and my favorite from Andy Tauer.  

  14. Tauer Perfumes’ PHI – Une Rose de Kandahar. (See description above.)
  15. Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Edward Steichen photo, 1931. Molyneux dress. The Condé Nast collection.

    Puredistance Opardu. I’m not the sort to be deeply moved by pure florals, but Opardu has one of the most beautiful openings in the genre that I’ve encountered in years. It almost gave me whiplash as I smelled the bouquet of lilacs — vast fields of purple with a scent that was concentrated, pure, and incredibly delicate. It was followed by violets, tuberose, jasmine, lush gardenia and heliotrope in a stunning mix. It is pure, unadulterated, classique, haute elegance that calls back to the golden age of perfumery. On my skin, unfortunately, that spectacular start lasts only a brief hour before it fades, and then sheer, vaguely floral powderiness takes over. If there were a way to capture and retain that beginning, Opardu would undoubtedly be in my Top 10. As it is, I think it’s a beautifully feminine fragrance with Puredistance’s signature touch of great refinement, elegance, and luxuriousness.

So, that’s my Year in Review. I may end up having a separate post next week that divides fragrances into categories, from Ambers and Leathers, to Floral Orientals, Pure Florals, Gourmands, and the like. I’m still undecided, as I know it will take forever to compile, and some genres may only have one or two entries in it. Others may have far too many to choose from. In case you hadn’t noticed, I tend to focus on Orientals, and I rarely stick my toe into such fields as foodie gourmands, crisp colognes, or aldehydic fragrances. Plus, many Orientals are either hybrids or have two or more dominant elements that can make the scent fall into different categories. As a result, I’m not sure how useful or precise such a list will be, but we shall see.

As the year draws to a close, I want to wish you all Happy Holidays. I hope that the upcoming year brings you endless joy, peace, prosperity, good health, success, love and laughter. Thank you for staying on this journey with me, and here’s to a great 2014!

Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer

Joan of Arc. Source:

Joan of Arc. Source:

It’s hard to live up to a powerful name. Even harder when that name is something that seems to reference both Joan of Arc, and perhaps the most notorious of all medieval torture devices, the Iron Maiden. So, I put all titular and symbolic considerations aside when I tested the latest fragrance from Serge Lutens, La Vierge de Fer, and looked at it in a vacuum. With deep regret and sadness, I have to say that I think it is the worst perfume that I’ve ever tried from Serge Lutens, and more suited to a cheap department store. 

La Vierge de Fer is a floral eau de parfum whose name translates to “The Iron Maiden” (or virgin). It was created by Christopher Sheldrake, and released in September of this year as one of the famous, pricey, bell jar “Paris Exclusives.” The perfume is not sold world-wide, but is limited to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, the Lutens websites, or to the Lutens section of Barney’s New York. 

The inspiration for the fragrance seems to vary depending on which source you read. Some say that La Vierge de Fer was inspired by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, others talk about Joan of Arc, or the medieval torture device called the Iron Maiden. A few mention Serge Lutens’ mother and how the fragrance is partially an homage to her. (You can read about Serge Lutens’ childhood, and how his mother was forced to abandon him as a baby in the first part of my profile on Monsieur Lutens.)

An Iron Maiden. Source:

An Iron Maiden. Source:

In an interview with Ozmoz, Monsieur Lutens seemed to give a nod to a few of these things:

The name you picked, La vierge de fer (The Iron Maiden), is pretty intense. There’s a reference to torture. Is there perhaps a connection to Joan of Arc, too?

SL: All maidens have a connection between them. Joan of Arc kicking the English out of France is one of the loves of my life. Whether she’s wearing armor or crowning the King of France, she’s a reference, absolutely, but not here. The Iron Maiden is more of an attitude. My own attitude towards what creates beauty. You can’t conceive of anything without a certain fragility, a scar at the bottom of it all. Opening that scar to make it universal is the basic principle of Art. An iron maiden used to be an instrument of torture. And if the term ‘to create’ means anything, it means that whoever does it is tortured and sacrificed on the alter of something.

La Vierge de Fer bell jar.

La Vierge de Fer bell jar.

On his website, Serge Lutens doesn’t add any clarification, writing and describing the perfume rather cryptically:

The religion of iron needed a Virgin, and the Virgin, a lily.

“Have you smelt it?”
“Yes, I have.”
“And how is it?”
“As striking as the fleur-de-lis seal on the arm of a criminal.”
“And deep down, as itchy as a hair shirt on the skin. In fact, a sublime torture!”.

As always, Serge Lutens keeps the perfume’s notes secret. Surrender to Chance says they are:

Lily, jasmine, amber, vanilla and sandalwood.

The notes I detect are slightly different:

Lily, aldehydes, muguet (or lily of the valley), jasmine, generic amber, white musk, vanilla.


Calla lilies. Source:

La Vierge de Fer opens on my skin with notes that are, indeed, as itchy as a hair shirt, though the torture is far from “sublime,” in my opinion. There is a heavy layer of soapy aldehydes that have a lemony undertone. They are followed by lilies that don’t smell like indolic Stargarzers so much as the fresher Calla lily shown in the photo. I also detect a subtle, green whiff of dainty, dewy lily-of-the-valley which I’ll just call by its French name, muguet, in order to avoid any confusion. The whole thing smells as fresh as Dior’s legendary Diorissimo, which would be fine and dandy were it not for the white synthetics.

Bounce dryer sheets.

Bounce dryer sheets.

The green-white floral bouquet is infused with a sharp white musk that sends a piercing pain through my eye every time I smell La Vierge de Fer up close. It starts off resembling expensive hair spray, which is bad enough without its fast transition into the most potent of laundryesque dryer sheets. It is astoundingly bad, astoundingly cheap, and just plain astounding — period — from a house like Serge Lutens. One reason why I like his perfumes is because they generally (with some exceptions) eschew very heavy amounts of synthetics, and, even then, it’s rarely the cheapest form around: common white musk. I don’t go to Serge Lutens for a fragrance that smells like any white florals found in Sephora or Macy’s. I don’t pay his prices for what a celebrity might put out for $30, and I most certainly do not expect such a scent in one of the uber-expensive bell jars whose price has just gone up in the U.S. to $310. The depths of my disappointment and disbelief knows no bounds.    



As I struggle to stop wincing at the shooting pains in my head from the Bounce fabric softener sheets, I notice the odd contrasts emerging in La Vierge de Fer. The fragrance runs hot and cold, metallic and gourmand, in a mix that is both discordant and perplexing. The top notes are soapy aldehydes, piercing white musk, and fresh, green-white lilies, but there is a metallic clang surrounding them that goes beyond mere coldness. It’s as though there were a vein of chilled silver running through the notes, no doubt due to the bloody white musk and the aldehydes. The latter quickly lose their lemony overtones, and turn into pure soap with a tinge of waxiness. 

Vanilla powder. Source:

Vanilla powder. Source:

Appearing underneath the cool, white bouquet are sudden flashes of something warm, dusty, and sweet. At times, it feels like richly custardy, sweet vanilla. Other times, it’s like dusty, dark, vanilla extrait in unrefined, unprocessed powder. The rich sweetness in the base acts like a wave hitting the green-white floral shores before pulling back, then returning once more. It’s almost like a sort of relay race between the sweet gourmand notes and the alternating cool, metallic, clangy element, the soapy aldehydes, and that piercingly sharp, laundryesque, white musk. It’s rather brilliant on an intellectual, theoretical level, but somewhat disorienting and perplexing on a purely olfactory one.

I’m not happy. I have not been happy on any of the occasions when I’ve tested La Vierge de Fer. Lily is perhaps my favorite floral note, and white floral bombs are the one kind of floral scent that I gravitate towards, but I can’t decide which part of La Vierge de Fer I find more off-putting. So, it’s probably a small mercy then that the perfume has such incredibly weak projection. Within minutes, it feels as though it were evaporating off my skin. Well, everything except that revolting white musk. In less than 10 minutes, in fact, La Vierge de Fer is a complete skin scent on me, which is pretty astonishing. I have problems with longevity, not sillage, but 10 minutes? For an eau de parfum?!

Lily of the Valley, or Muguet.

Lily of the Valley, or Muguet.

La Vierge de Fer also suffers from the cardinal sin of being utterly boring. I have nothing against soliflores — perfumes celebrating and revolving around one main note — if they are interesting or well-done. For me, however, La Vierge de Fer is tedious and banal. Exactly 20 minutes into its development, the perfume loses that odd metallic clang and coldness, and the relay race with the vanilla ends. I wasn’t keen on it, but at least it was interesting, and I could see how the metal might be a symbolic representation of either Joan of Arc’s armour, or the steel spokes of the Iron Maiden as it pierced flesh warm from vanilla and white from lilies. Once that extremely clever bit of elegiac sophistication vanishes, you are left with nothing more than lilies infused with soapy aldehydes and horrific commercial musk. Even the more green muguet note vanishes, if it was even there at all. It’s hard to tell under all the synthetics, especially given how wispy the fragrance is on my skin.



It takes about 75-minutes for La Vierge de Fer to change, though it’s minor at best. At first, there is a subtle, nebulous change in the perfume’s temperature and feel, as though there were a growing warmth in the base. It’s not vanilla, and it’s most definitely nothing that is actually ambered, but La Vierge de Fer seems less crisp and fresh. The jasmine starts to come out, slowly vying with the lily for dominance, and turning the fragrance sweeter. Eventually, by the end of the 2nd hour, La Vierge de Fer begins to shed some of its laundryesque sharpness like an unpleasant snake’s skin, though the jasmine can’t erase all of it. The perfume is now jasmine and lily on an abstract, sweet, warm base that is infused with Bounce dryer sheets. By the end of the 3rd hour, La Vierge de Fer is nothing more than a blur of whiteness (and synthetics) that feels as though it’s about to die entirely.

To my surprise, La Vierge de Fer hangs on tenaciously, chugging away in the most translucent smear on my skin. It still gives me an immediate pain in my head every time I smell it up close, but the perfume is definitely there if you put your nose right on your arm and inhale forcefully. What is surprising is an odd, unexpected fruitiness that suddenly pops up alongside the clean, white musk in the base. To the extent that I can make out anything from La Vierge de Fer’s thinness, it almost smells like dark grapes. It has to be the indoles so prevalent in white flowers like jasmine; indoles can be broken down to something called methyl anthranilate, a natural compound which has a fruity aroma, often like that of Concord grapes (among other things). Whatever the reason for the sudden fruitiness, it is a fleeting thing that shows up on in the tiniest of ways and towards the end on my skin around the middle of the 5th hour.



The perfume dies shortly thereafter, giving its last gasp just a little over 7 hours from the time I first applied it. In its final moments, it was nothing more than cheap, synthetic white “cleanness.” The 7 hours comes from an average quantity of about 3 smears, or about 2 sprays. At a smaller dosage amounting to one good-sized spray, La Vierge de Fer lasted only 5.75 hours on my skin. Were it not for piercing musk, which my skin clings onto like glue, I suspect the whole thing would have died after three hours, no matter how much I applied.   

If I were to be diplomatic about the reactions to La Vierge de Fer that I’ve observed in groups or on various sites, I would say that they are mixed. Some eventually grow to appreciate the perfume as was the case for Bois de Jasmin, who wrote, in part:

La Vierge de Fer is neither punk nor bizarre. It’s not particularly dark either. I would put it as one of the more approachable and easy to like florals from Lutens’s impressive collection. It’s quite demure and delicate next to the bombshells like Tubéreuse Criminelle or Fleurs d’Oranger. The tender sweetness of jasmine is contrasted with the champagne of aldehydes in the top notes, and this beautiful contrast between softness and sparkle is carried on into the drydown. […][¶]

Jasmine and lily fireworks notwithstanding, La Vierge de Fer was not love at first inhale for me. I found it too simple and not challenging enough. But as I continued to dip into my sample, I found it more and more compelling. It’s simultaneously comforting and sophisticated, which makes it versatile enough to wear for just about any occasion. You simply have to love being showered with white flowers.

Well, I do happen to “love being showered with white flowers,” but I personally wouldn’t wear La Vierge de Fer if it were given to me for free. And no amount of time or testing is going to change my feelings.

In my opinion, La Vierge de Fer could go right next to the sort of clean, fresh, white, Spring-like floral scents found in Dillard’s, TJ Maxx, or Sephora. There’s nothing wrong with that if that is your taste, but I doubt anyone would want to pay $310 for it. One spends that sort of money on a Serge Lutens bell jar to get a wholly unusual, creative, innovative scent with a twist — a scent that has a complex, morphing character that is different from everything else out there, and that doesn’t come with a massive wallop of cheap synthetics. I realise that Serge Lutens has veered as of late towards lighter, thinner, simpler fragrances, and away from the complex (often Oriental) perfumes with which he began his line in the early 1990s, but I think La Vierge de Fer suffers from more than mere simplicity. I find it tedious and absolutely terrible. In almost every case with Serge Lutens — even when a particular fragrance doesn’t suit my personal tastes — I can admire the artistry, think it is well-done, and respect it. That is not the case here. I don’t think La Vierge de Fer even deserves to carry the Serge Lutens name. 

Cost & Availability: La Vierge de Fer is an eau de parfum that is part of the Serge Lutens “Paris Exclusives” line, which means it is available only in the larger 2.5 oz/75 ml Bell Jar size. It retails for $310 or €140 for a 75 ml/2.5 oz bottle. You can buy it directly from the U.S. Serge Lutens website or from the International one
In the U.S.: La Vierge de Fer should be available exclusively at Barney’s New York store, but for some reason, the fragrance is not on the website at the time of this review. Normally, you can call the store to purchase their Lutens bell jars. The number is (212) 833-2425.
Samples: You can order samples of La Vierge de Fer from Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The fragrance is also available as part of a Five Piece Non-Export Sampler Set, where you can choose 5 Lutens Paris Exclusives for a starting price of $18.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. 

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir: Dark, Delectable Magic

Only he could do it. Only Serge Lutens could make a fragrance that a lavender-phobe would not only love, but buy. And not just buy a regular bottle of it, but buy a bloody expensive, exclusive bell jar! Only a true master could make a fragrance that is essentially everything that I dislike in a fragrance, and bring me to my knees.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

It’s as though Uncle Serge decided to make me eat my hat by checking off every box that would normally make me wince — lavender, gourmand, sweet, sheer, discreet, and even sometimes vanishing, no less — intentionally combine them all into a single scent, and make the final result be something utterly beyond my ability to resist. It’s actually amusing at this point — and I say that as one who needs to take frequent breaks in typing to sniff the air around me with the glazed eyes of an addict. Only Le Grand Serge and Christopher Sheldrake could manage that. 

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Fourreau Noir is an Oriental eau de parfum that was created by Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2009. As noted above, it is one of the famous bell jar “Paris Exclusives,” which means that it not sold world-wide, but is generally exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters. That said, it can actually be purchased outside of France, either from Barney’s New York or directly from Serge Lutens’ international and U.S. websites, though it’s always at a big mark-up if you are buying outside of France. 

Uncle Serge describes the scent and the meaning of its name as follows:

A fourreau in French means a sheath for a dagger as well as a form-fitting dress… ready to embrace the voluptuous contours of a widow’s body.

Maybe you’ve heard of the brown bean used to extract vanillin? Its name is the tonka bean. It grows in abundance on a tree in the Amazonian rain forest. Sweet and fluid, its fragrance lingers, living its mark.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

As always, Serge Lutens keeps the perfume’s notes secret. Fragrantica says they are:

Lavender, tonka, musk, almonds, smokey accords

Based on what I smell, however, I think the list would be longer. My guess is:

Lavender, Incense, Patchouli, Almonds, Tonka Bean, Vanilla, Cedarwood, and Musk. There may be some ambery element as well.

Photo: my own.

Photo: my own.

Fourreau Noir opens on my skin with lavender. Have I mentioned lately just how much I loathe lavender? It is a note that I struggle with deeply, due to childhood experiences living in Cannes, in the South of France, where dried herbal sachets of the blasted stuff were ubiquitous. Their sharp, pungent, aggressively herbal aroma was everywhere, and it didn’t help matters that the driveway to our house had lavender growing as if it were on steroids. I had a sensitive nose even back then, and the aromatic deluge left a mark, making me avoid lavender as an adult whenever and wherever possible. As you might have gathered by now, this is the first of what will be several examples of Serge Lutens making me eat my hat because, yes, Fourreau Noir opens with lavender. And lots of it. En plus, it’s pungent, herbal, and dried — everything that would normally send a bone-deep shiver through my body.



Those magicians, Messieurs Lutens and Sheldrake, quickly coat and cloak the lavender with the black sheath talked about in Fourreau Noir’s description. Like loving tentacles, incense wraps itself around those blasted purple stalks, lovingly turning them dark and smoky. Within moments, my hated, floral, herbal nemesis is also infused with sweetness from a lightly spiced, chewy, slightly earthy patchouli. It, too, is a bit smoked, and the dark sheath is even further supplemented by what smells to me like dry, also smoky cedar wood.



There is something a little synthetic about all the sharpness, something biting that almost burns my nose, but it is soon countered by a wave of warm sweetness. Like a pale, white counterpart to the the black incense tendrils, creamy vanilla and tonka bean seep through. They curl their way around the sharp notes, fractionally dulling their razor’s edge. The sweetness is gauzy but strong, light but potent, and always feels like the very frothiest mousse. Subtle hints of a bitter fresh almond soon follow, along with an intangible woodiness that differs a little from the smoky, dry cedar. 

Five minutes in, the patchouli starts to slowly become more prominent, feeling wonderfully red-brown with its spicy, sweet, earthy facets. It’s potent, but never dense, chewy, or opaque in feel. It is true patchouli, even down to the very fleeting, momentary and faint hint of something medicinal in its character. It is a touch which underscores the more herbal aspects of the lavender. Yet, despite that, the flower is never completely like the aggressively pungent, aggressively herbal, dried, acrid note that is the stuff of my nightmares. Thanks to the impact of the other notes, especially the patchouli and incense, the lavender has been transformed into something different. It is now simultaneously incense-y, a little floral, and a little darkly leathered, herbal, and sweet.  



Fourreau Noir encompasses you like a cloud that is at once almost translucent and as tough as steel. I’ve worn differing amounts, but most recently tried 3 decent-sized sprays, and Fourreau Noir’s opening spread its tentacles about 4-5 inches around me. It is potent and intense, yet oddly feels as insubstantial and thin as the smoke it contains. It’s like being covered in a swirl of incense and lavender, tendrils that weave about you as thin as an invisible thread, but with enormous tenacity. I’m amazed by how sheer it is, and by the mental images of translucency. Take that as Exhibit No. Two of Serge Lutens making me eat my hat, as perfumes with a gauzy, almost invisible sheerness are far from my personal cup of tea.



What’s even more baffling about the odd case of Fourreau Noir is that it actually feels as though it disappears from my skin from time to time. On past occasions, there were times when fragrance felt as though it had evaporated after about 90 minutes, and it wasn’t always easy to detect. Yet, it still lingered all around me, an undeniable cloud of incense, patchouli, and lavender. It would follow me like a lap-dog, leaving a small trail in the air. At other times, however, I couldn’t detect any projection at all, but Fourreau Noir was clearly pulsating and evident on my skin. Occasionally, it seemed to slip away like a ghost, only to reappear, almost stronger than it had been before, just as I was about to apply more. Fourreau Noir is a perplexing creature with a mind of its own, flitting about, encapsulating you, weaving some mysterious spell around you that makes you ignore all your usual issues or concerns as you smell that entrancing mixture of sharp contrasts. Dry, smoky, sweet, earthy, herbal, and woody — it’s all there, all around you, potent and dark, and yet, as insubstantial as a ghost. How can I love it so?!  

Exhibit Three of Le Grand Serge making me tolerate what I normally dislike is the synthetic feel underlying Fourreau Noir’s opening hour. It is most definitely there, and I can’t stand fragrances whose unnatural sharpness almost burns my nose if I smell my arm up close. It’s not only that a few of the notes like the lavender or the incense feel like a razor at times, but something genuinely synthetic in the base. I can’t pinpoint what it may be, though I suspect it’s the musk, combined with notes that are inherently a bit sharp in nature. And, yet, I don’t mind it. Even though it lingers high in my nose and burns a little, Fourreau Noir is simply too beautiful a combination for me to really care. Yes, Uncle Serge, I will have another piece of that humble pie.



The fragrance continues to subtly shift. Twenty minute in, the patchouli becomes increasingly prominent, while the almond and vanilla foam in the base start their slow rise to the surface. As the supporting actors begin to arrive on stage, they counterbalance the lavender’s herbal, almost leathery undertone, the fierceness of the incense, and the dryness of the cedar. The vanilla tames the beastly lavender and smoke, while the almond’s bitter facets add a fascinating contrast to the earthiness of the lightly spiced patchouli.

Source: A Spicy Perspective. (For recipe for lavender chocolate ice cream, click on photo. Website link embedded within.)

Source: A Spicy Perspective. (For recipe for lavender chocolate ice cream, click on photo. Website link embedded within.)

At the end of the first hour, Fourreau Noir turns much sweeter, and borders almost on the gourmand. The lavender is now creamy, rich, and feels like lavender ice cream infused with almond extract. Yet, the perfume isn’t really a true dessert-y fragrance, thanks to the constant presence of the dry notes that swirl all around like a dark cloud. From the temple-like, black incense trails, to the dry smoky cedar, and even the earthy spiciness of the patchouli, there are too many checks and balances to the creamy lavender-vanilla-almond sherbert. What the sweeter notes really do is to soften that early razor sharpness, though the synthetic undertone to Fourreau Noir still remains at the base.

The perfume continues to soften. About 2.5 hours in, it lingers extremely close to the skin, and the patchouli has become as prominent as the incense, while the lavender has started to recede. There is something almost ambered to Fourreau Noir’s base, though the golden sweetness and warmth may simply be the indirect impact of the tonka bean on the patchouli. Whatever the cause, Fourreau Noir is now primarily a bouquet of patchouli amber with smoky incense, atop a vanilla base that is infused with almond and lavender, and lightly flecked with musk and abstract, dry woodiness.



There is also the merest, subtlest suggestion of something that smells like gingerbread, and it becomes increasingly strong. By the end of the 4th hour, it’s quite noticeable and I suspect that the creamy woods, the vanilla, and patchouli’s spicy, earth sweetness have all melded together to create a sweet-spiced gingerbread accord. It’s too dry, however, to be like actual dessert or cloying; the sweetness is perfectly balanced. In fact, the unexpected gingerbread element eventually turns drier and woody, taking on an almost sandalwood-like aroma. The overall effect strongly calls to mind Chanel‘s gorgeous Bois des Iles with its very close replication of Mysore sandalwood in its base and drydown.

Fourreau Noir turns increasingly abstract, and its final drydown is a simple, utterly lovely mix of sweetness, woodiness, and creamy smoothness. It’s a patchouli amber gingerbread with the lightest hint of spices, incense, and creamy, wispy, gauzy vanillic sweetness. All in all, Fourreau Noir’s duration averages out to about 10.5 hours on my perfume-consuming skin with three sprays being the median quantity applied. A smaller amount yields about 9.5 hours, while 4 big sprays results in about 11.75 hours. At all times, however, the fragrance feels sheer, almost translucent, and gauzy in weight. The sillage generally drops after about 75-minutes with a small amount, 90-minutes with a medium amount, and 2.5 hours with more. Fourreau Noir only becomes a true skin scent on me around the end of the fourth hour, though there are the issues mentioned earlier about the fragrance sometimes acting like a ghost in terms of projection, as well as strength on the skin.

I was surprised to read some of the reactions to Fourreau Noir as it has alternatively been described as a very clean scent, a masculine one, a deliciously gourmand one, a perfume similar to Chergui, and even, on one rare occasion, an animalic, almost dirty fragrance. All those opinions are noticeable on Fragrantica and in blog reviews. The Non Blonde referred to the latter in her very positive assessment of Fourreau Noir where she compared it to a cozy, cuddly, fuzzy, long sweater with a slightly clean vibe: 

Sometimes my taste in perfume makes me question my sanity. Many reviews and impressions of Fourreau Noir, a 2009 non-export Serge Lutens release, mention/lament/ celebrate two accords- black smoke and a dirty animalic heart. For some of the people who tried Fourreau Noir (the loaded name translates as black sheath) these aspects made it difficult to wear. Me? My skin diffuses smoke and domesticates large beasts. I find Fourreau Noir not just soft and cuddly but also as comfortable and embracing as an old hoodie fresh from the laundry.

I mentioned laundry for a reason. The lavender note is strong in the opening and quite persistent after. […] Fourreau Noir is fuzzy and warm as though it just left the dryer. The lavender over a sweet gourmand base supports this idea, though it’s not exactly Downy Lavender-Vanilla fabric softener. Don’t worry.

Fourreau Noir is musky, but to me it’s a fairly clean musk with a hint of fruitiness. The tactile equivalent is of a soft silk-merino knit, kind of like the long wrap sweater with caressing kimono sleeves I’m wearing now as I’m typing this review. This coziness is helped greatly by the sweet gourmand dry-down. Tonka bean, almond cookies covered in very light powdered sugar and lots and lots of immortelle. I love immortelle on its mapley goodness, and in this case the maple smells like it was aged and smoked in old wood barrels. This is the kind of stuff I expect and enjoy from our favorite uncle.

Obviously, my experience is a bit different from hers, and I don’t find that musk to be either clean or dirty, but I definitely agree that our mutually adored, favorite uncle created a beautiful scent whose drydown is of sweet, smoked, woody goodness.

At the end of the day, I find Fourreau Noir to be a delectably dark fragrance that is quite addictive in its coziness. It really shouldn’t have wrapped its tendrils around me in quite the way that it did. It is a fragrance centered, in large part, on a note that I despise, but it was genius to mix lavender with such unexpected elements as dark smoke, almonds and patchouli. It obviously helps that I’m a sucker for patchouli, but still, everyone who knows me is shocked that Fourreau Noir is the fragrance that I chose as my first bell jar. I am too, actually.



I had initially gone to the Palais Royal with plans to get a very different scent, perhaps the beautiful De Profundis with its delicate floral heart and gorgeous purple liquid. (I actually ended up with De Profundis as my second bell jar perfume!) While there, testing all the different perfumes, the gardenia-tobacco ode to Billie Holiday, Une Voix Noire, beckoned to me even more insistently than when I had tried it. My beloved Cuir Mauresque (the perfume that Serge Lutens himself wears) trumped both of them, but it’s ridiculous to buy it in a rare, expensive bell jar form when the perfume is also available for much cheaper overseas in a regular 1.7 oz spray bottle.

I was actually testing the Bois series of fragrances, and marveling over Bois et Fruits, when I happened to put Fourreau Noir on my wrist. It caught my attention almost immediately, but there was far too much going on, and I needed to assess each fragrance’s longevity. There were no samples to be had, so I clutched little scented strips wrapped tightly in plastic and went home to ponder the issue. Two days later, when I returned, I was still undecided. It was down between Bois et Fruits and Fourreau Noir, with Une Voix Noir perhaps in third place.

In the end, something about Fourreau Noir seemed more special to me, more unique, mysterious, and entrancing. I loved the mix of sweetness with the sharp, dry incense, and the way that dark smoke weaved its gauzy, tenacious tendrils around me like a witch’s spell. Fourreau Noir has never really seemed like a pure lavender fragrance to me; if it had, I would have run a mile in the opposite direction shrieking for help. It also seemed to be beyond easy categorization; neither “gourmand” nor “dark incense” really describe its core essence. In some ways, it’s everything and nothing, just like its peculiar, occasionally ghostly sillage that can also be a tenacious, sheer, potent cloud. It is a fragrance that seems at once very simple, but also very nuanced and layered.

Perhaps the best explanation for Fourreau Noir’s hold over me is the dark elusiveness at its heart, an elusiveness that is so very Serge Lutens. How else can one explain a lavender phobe falling for such a fragrance? I tried the much-vaunted, endlessly worshiped, lavender gourmand fragrance, Kiki, from Vero Profumo, and was bored to tears. I found it simple, uninteresting, lacking in nuance, and banal. Perhaps I simply needed dark magic? Or perhaps only a master like Serge Lutens can create a perfume that encompasses everything one dislikes, but make it so delectable that you can’t help but fall into its addictive embrace. Yes, the answer has to be Serge Lutens. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put on some lavender, and eat some humble pie.

Cost & Availability: Fourreau Noir is an eau de parfum that is part of the Serge Lutens “Paris Exclusives” line, which means it is available only in the larger 2.5 oz/75 ml Bell Jar size. It retails for $300 or €140 (I think) for a 75 ml/2.5 oz bottle. You can buy Fourreau Noir directly from the U.S. Serge Lutens website or from the International one. For some reason, the International Site seems to be temporarily out of the fragrance at the time of this review (which is why I can’t get the definitive Euro price), but you can recheck the listing later. There is also the rare option of purchasing Fourreau Noir in 2 refillable black sprays, each of which is 30 ml, for a total of 60 ml. The price is $190 on the U.S. Lutens website, and €120 on the International one.
In the U.S.: you can also find Fourreau Noir 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: One way of getting Fourreau Noir at a cheaper price is 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 $300 (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 As a side note, I have no affiliation with her, and receive nothing as a result of mentioning her.
Samples: You can order samples of Fourreau Noir from Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. The fragrance is also available as part of a Five Piece Non-Export Sampler Set, where you can choose 5 Lutens Paris Exclusives for a starting price of $18.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. 

Exclusive: An Interview with Serge Lutens

I was recently granted the enormous honour and privilege of interviewing Serge Lutens. He was not in Paris during what had originally been intended to be a short stay on my part, so he kindly offered me a written interview. I cannot express my gratitude enough; even for someone as verbose as myself, there are truly no words to adequately express my appreciation, and how excited I was to receive the news.

Serge Lutens at his Marrakesh villa. Photo, courtesy of Shiseido and Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens at his Marrakesh villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

My admiration for “Serge Lutens” has always been primarily for the man himself, even more than for his fragrances, despite their beauty, creativity, and originality. I’m utterly fascinated by the way he thinks, by his intellectuality, and by his elusive, enigmatic, Sphinx-like nature. The more I probe, quite often the less I understand, and the more intrigued I become. At this point, I think it’s quite safe to say that I have a full-blown obsession with trying to figure out Serge Lutens, and a complete acceptance of the fact that I never will. Genius is simply not subject to normal analysis or understanding. And, for me, Serge Lutens is the last of the 20th-century artistic greats, a combination of Picasso, Camus, Yves St. Laurent, Herb Ritts, and Richard Avedon — all in one very sylph-like, elegantly stylish, black and white, enigmatic package.

As a result, I intentionally asked questions that were designed to be more personal or theoretical in nature, and to focus on the mysterious man behind the legend. I also did not want to bore Monsieur Lutens by repeating the same sorts of queries that he gets so often, like what perfume he wears. Besides, I have already covered extensively both his background and childhood, his rise to success, his time at Vogue and Dior, and his perfumes in a very detailed, two-part profile. (Serge Lutens Part I, and Part II). In short, I was selfish and asked what I personally wanted to know, regardless of whether it pertained to perfume. In most cases, it did not.

The responses I received were detailed, long, philosophical, and thoughtful. Monsieur Lutens had taken the time to respond to each one (and there were twelve in all!) in depth and with enormous seriousness. I was thrilled, and a little awed. However, the responses were all in French, and, to be honest, I sometimes find my dear “Oncle Serge” to be a little oblique and abstract. (Even in English!) So, while I certainly understood his meaning and most of his nuances (I think), I did not trust my own French enough after all these years to provide you all with a truly accurate translation. (For example, I had to go look up what the word ‘ankylose’ meant, as I’ve certainly never encountered it before in either French or English!)

Consequently, I enlisted the help of two friends to provide a translation that faithfully captured the underlying tonalities, right down to the smallest metaphor and nuance. In a few, rare instances, I lightly reworded their interpretations or combined their two separate versions into one. Below, you will find my questions, Serge Lutens’ original French response (in italics), and then, the translated version (in red). Linguistic or contextual notes are in green. I hope you find his answers as interesting as I did.

Photo: Marco Guerra, Alaoui Marrakesh, the Palmeraie Villa.

Photo: Marco Guerra, Serge Lutens at the Palmeraie Villa, Marrakesh.

1.      Out of all the great painters, are there any whom you might consider your artistic twin in terms of their aesthetics, poetic self-expression, or overall sensibilities? If so, why?

What may be one of the two portraits in London's National Gallery to which Serge Lutens is referring. This is Rembrandt's "Portrait of an old woman ages 83." Source:

What may be one of the two portraits in London’s National Gallery to which Serge Lutens is referring. This is Rembrandt’s “Portrait of an old woman aged 83.” Source:

Si vous voyez quelqu’un traverser un musée à toute vitesse, ayant l’air de chercher un ami dans un hall de gare, ou de chercher la sortie, cela doit être moi ! Mon œil est à ce moment-là aux aguets et aguerri. Il se ressent en danger et par lui, s’en trouve aiguisé (L’Art lui-même est un danger sinon, pourquoi ?). Parmi la foule agglutinée au milieu des chefs d’œuvre, je jette un œil, comme on le dit, mais parfois, je freine ma cadence et me dirige vers un tableau comme aimanté. A lui seul, il a l’air de justifier ma venue en ce lieu. Je ne sais pas pourquoi ; cela peut être n’importe quoi. C’est inexplicable mais cette toile me touche. Elle peut être signée ou pas (dans ce cas, c’est encore plus magique car plus mystérieux). A partir de ce moment-là, le tableau est en tête. Je garde éventuellement en mémoire la période et la signature (s’il y en a  une) et je sais qu’un jour ou l’autre, par un texte, une photographie, un parfum…ce tableau se fera connaître. Les grands peintres ne me sont pas moins indifférents que des inconnus. Aimer quelqu’un de connu peut vouloir dire qu’on essaie de se situer par rapport à un goût. Cela me gêne. Cependant, à la National Gallery de Londres, il y a deux femmes très vieilles. Traits et yeux semblent pris dans les rides, comme une mouche dans une toile d’araignée. La position de leurs visages est fixe et prise dans l’immense collerette de coton blanc amidonné. De cela, on retient la robe noire, la couleur blanche de ces godets multipliés autour des épaules et qui, comme un plateau pour une tête coupée, mettraient le doigt sur l’âge et sa beauté juste avant qu’ils ne meurent. Ce sont des Rembrandt !

What made be the other portrait to which he is referring: Rembrandt, "Portrait of Margaretha de Geer."

What made be the other portrait to which he is referring: Rembrandt, “Portrait of Margaretha de Geer.”

If you should ever see someone hurriedly crossing a museum, looking as if he is searching for a friend in a train station, or looking for the exit, that someone must be me! At that instant, my eye is wise and watchful, it feels the danger and is thus sharper (Art itself is dangerous, otherwise what is the point?). In the middle of the crowd huddled amongst the masterpieces, I cast a glance, as one says. But sometimes I slow my step and am drawn to a painting as if it were magnetised. This work alone seems to justify my being here. I do not know why, it could be anything, but the work touches me. It can be signed or not (in the latter case, it is even more magical because the experience retains its mystery). From that moment, the painting will remain with me. I may keep the period and the signature (if there is one) in mind and I know that at some point, through a text, a photograph, a smell that the piece will manifest itself. Great painters are no less important than the lesser ones. Liking someone famous may mean that one tries to position oneself in relation to a given taste. This bothers me. However, there are two very old women at the National Gallery in London. Their features and their eyes seem trapped by their wrinkles, as a fly in a spider’s web. The position of their faces is fixed and caught in the immense ruff of rigid white cotton. From this image, one retains the black dress, the whiteness of the multitude of ruffles ringing the shoulders which, like a platter holding a severed head, would accentuate age and its beauty just before they both succumb. They are Rembrandts!

2.      What pieces of music or particular songs move you emotionally and intellectually, or have such an impact on you that you turn to them in moments of great joy or sorrow?

La musique a ceci d’étonnant : elle vous enveloppe et si elle vous touche, elle vous comprend, elle vous gagne comme le ferait une ankylose des pieds jusque la tête. En un mot, elle vous saisit. Parfois, afin de découvrir en elle ce qui m’intrigue, je l’écoute et la réécoute. Il se peut, si je suis heureux, qu’elle me fasse danser seul, ou plus tard dans la journée, qu’elle me rejoigne et que sans elle, malgré tout, je la chante. Les joies et les solitudes qu’elle peut engendrer sont autant souhaitées l’une et l’autre mais, à dire vrai, la musique était surtout le lien indispensable qui, dans le temps de mes images, constituait l’atmosphère amniotique entre le modèle et moi-même. Elle était moi et je me voyais en elle. Se voir dans un autre sexe que le sien n’est pas évident mais, pour moi, cela a toujours était naturel.

[R.A’s Translation Note : “Musique” is a feminine noun in French (“la musique”) and its gender is paramount to the sense of Mr Lutens’ answer. It is thus also referred to as “she” in translation.]

Music is astonishing: she envelops you and, if she touches you, she understands you and  she conquers your being, like pins and needles running the entire length of your body. In a word, music grasps you. Sometimes, in order to find out why she intrigues me, I will listen to her again and again. On occasion, if I am happy, I may start to dance alone; or, later in the day, she might find me again and, though she is not with me, I may begin to sing. While the joy and the solitude she brings are equally pleasing, in the period of my photography, music was the amniotic atmosphere that connected me to my model. Music became me, and I saw myself in her. To see oneself in another gender than one’s own is not easy, but for me it was always natural.

[Kafkaesque’s note: I read those last two lines in a different way, and thought Monsieur Lutens was saying that music also helped him see himself in the model. That it was an indispensable link and atmospheric amniotic fluid which made the model become “me, and I saw myself in her. To see oneself in another of a sex other than one’s own is not easy, but for me it was always natural.” Given the issue of gender pronouns, I think his meaning can probably go both ways.] 

3.      What was one of the most meaningful things that someone has done for you? I’m not talking about gifts of great value, but an action that touched you deeply, even if it may have been a small thing?

Elle n’est pas une petite chose vu qu’elle est ma naissance et, par ce fait, ma mort. Je ne développerai pas ici ce thème. Cela est trop personnel mais, je suis né en 1942 à Lille, dans le Nord de la France. Je suis un enfant naturel, reconnu par une seule personne. Celle qui m’a mis au jour.

It is not a small thing as I am speaking of my own birth and, consequently, of my death. I will not elaborate on this, it is much too personal. However, I was born in 1942, in Lille, in Northern France. I am a natural child, recognized by only one person. She, who brought me into the world.

"Solitude has hard teeth." - Serge Lutens. Photo taken in Morocco by Ling Fei. Source: Le Monde Magazine.

“Solitude has hard teeth.” – Serge Lutens. Photo taken in Morocco by Ling Fei. Source: Le Monde Magazine.

4.      Were there any classic fragrances that you loved or wore before you started creating perfumes of your own?

Avant de les générer moi-même, je ne m’intéressais pas du tout au monde du parfum. Cela ne me touchait pas, aux deux sens du mot. Les senteurs sont depuis  un moyen de dire ce qui m’est cher. Que je sois en colère, en retrait du monde ou autre, l’instant où je les réalise est notre moment. Cet instant dépassé, cela cesse de m’intéresser. Certains s’y reconnaissent, d’autres pas ; cela n’a aucune importance. Le parfum se doit d’accuser ce tout que vous êtes, composé du mal et du bien que vous seul connaissez.

Before creating them myself, I had absolutely no interest in the world of perfume. Perfume did not touch me, in both senses of the word. Since then, scents have become a way for me express what is dear to me. Whether I am angry, isolated from the world or what not, the moment I create a scent is our moment. When that instant has passed, I am no longer interested. Some may recognize themselves [in a scent] and others not, it is of no relevance. Perfume must bear witness to all that you are, the good as well as the bad that only you know.

5.      What historical eras and places interest you so much that you wish you could go back in time to explore them for yourself, and why?

Ce que l’Histoire de France a eu comme effet sur moi, c’est le rêve, mais retourner dans le temps n’aurait pas de réalité. Ce qu’on garde d’une époque est souvent capté par le regard d’un peintre, d’un écrivain… et de ce fait, contient une part plus ou moins grande de suggestivité. L’Histoire sert une idée, une cause, une patrie. Ses visions nationalistes me sont étrangères. Pour répondre à votre question, je n’ai pas cette curiosité. Je ne serai pas mieux dans une autre époque que celle où je vis actuellement, même s’il est certain que la création née toujours chez moi, d’une situation qui me déstabilise.

The impact of the History of France on me was to make me dream, but to return to the past is not realistic. What one keeps of an era is often captured by a painter, a writer… and can thus be more or less suggestive. History serves an idea, a cause, a country. Its nationalist visions are foreign to me. To answer your question, I do not have that curiosity. I would not feel better in another era than my own, even though it is undeniable that creation only comes to me when I am feeling destabilized.



6.      You seem to draw inspiration from literature as much as from history. Who are some of your favorite writers? Is there a particular book or poem that you could read again and again without getting tired of it?

Si la poésie s’écoute parler, je ne l’aime pas. Si un auteur s’enfonce dans l’anecdote, il m’ennuie. C’est ce qui le met à vif, qui est insupportable aux autres et qui lui, le fait vivre, qui m’attache. Je retrouve ceci chez Baudelaire comme chez Jean Genet. Ces deux personnalités veulent à la fois être aimées et pour ce faire, nous montre à quel point, elles peuvent être détestés. Le condamné à mort est une œuvre magnifique, même si Baudelaire est le plus grand orfèvre des mots qu’il cisèle comme des bijoux fins mais avec toute la violence du forgeron. La littérature n’est pas un choix. En général, tous ceux qui ne l’ont pas lu, retiennent d’un auteur ce qui est dit partout. De Proust, on ne garde de sa Recherche du temps perdu, que l’histoire de cette madeleine mais c’est ignorer que Marcel Proust est la plus grosse madeleine du monde !

When poetry likes the sound of its own voice, I find it unattractive. If an author sinks into anecdote, he bores me. What connects me to a writer is what makes him bleed, what is unbearable to others but allows him to live. I can find this rawness in Baudelaire and Jean Genet. These two individuals show us how profoundly they long to be loved and in order to achieve this, show us how much they can be hated. Genet’s “Le Condamné à Mort” is a magnificent piece, while Baudelaire may be the greatest goldsmith in the way he chisels his words like a fine jeweller, yet with all the violence of a blacksmith. Literature is not a choice. Generally, those who have not read a given author simply retain what has been said about him. Of Proust’s “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” [In Search of Lost Time] many only remember the story of his “madeleine”, but that is ignoring that Marcel Proust is the biggest “madeleine” in the world!

[My Note: The episode of the madeleine in Proust’s work (specifically in Swann in Love) is famous for being the first instance of the theory of involuntary memory, and that theme is repeated throughout Proust’s work (and In Search of Lost Time). You can read more of the Involuntary Memory Theory, as well as the specifics of the madeleine incident and recent, modern analysis of Proust’s concept regarding memory triggers at the Huffington Post. You can also find an explanation of the Madeleine incident and the nature of cognitive memory recall at Wikipedia. It’s briefer, but, in my opinion, not as clear as perhaps the initial paragraph at the Huffington Post explaining the Madeleine metaphor. In essence, though, Monsieur Lutens is saying that Proust and his works are themselves an involuntary trigger of memories. He is also saying that the “madeleine” reference is itself a memory trigger for those who have not actually bothered to read the book, but are merely relying on what they have heard.]

7.      Is there a person in history or character in literature with whom you particularly identify? If so, why?

S’il m’est arrivé parfois de m’identifier à des personnages, c’est plus pour certaines parties. Un peu comme un homme miroir qui rechercherait des similitudes. J’ai ce talent qui est aussi un défaut mais il est certain que l’autre se voit également en moi. Remplacer et trahir c’est ce que, profondément, je fais et je suis. C’est le double en un seul.

If I have sometimes likened myself to characters in books, it has only been in morsels. A little like a mirror man searching for similarities. I have this talent, which is also a flaw, but yet it is undeniable that the other also sees himself in me. To replace and to betray is, fundamentally, what I do and it is what I am. It is the duality within the one.

8.      How has the perfume industry changed from the time when you first started in the 1980s? I’m not talking about IFRA or the EU, but in terms of your experiences as a perfumer and any pressures created by the business in terms of yearly output, the type of perfume genres, or the nature of the industry as a whole?

Serge Lutens in his perfume studio at his Moroccan villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Serge Lutens in his perfume studio at his Moroccan villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

S’il n’y avait que la finalité produit d’un parfum, cela ne m’intéresserait pas. Quand il n’est pas un véhicule de ce qui me tient à cœur, à corps et à cris, le parfum n’a pas plus d’intérêt que l’assaisonnement d’une salade (surtout que je ne mange pas !). L’industrie opportuniste de la parfumerie a fait du parfum un produit d’identification dont l’objectif est que chacun puisse se retrouver via des scénarios stéréotypés : l’idylle amoureuse (très vendeuse), la réussite professionnelle et ce qui en découle, l’argent, le luxe…Tout cela n’a rien à voir avec l’identité et ce qui devrait toucher nos fibres les plus sensibles. Niche ou pas niche ! Ce que je fais depuis maintenant plus de 20 ans tient d’une démarche autant littéraire qu’olfactive, mettant en scène des zones et des terrains vagues en moi-même ignorés. Pour le reste, je ne sais pas si le monde de la parfumerie a changé. Il faut vendre plus, en faisant passer la banalité pour de la rareté et de l’ordinaire pour du luxe. Un immense trucage qui n’a rien à voir avec nous. En tous cas, pas avec moi !

If the perfume as product were the end goal, it would be of no interest to me. When perfume is not a vehicle for the things that I hold dear to my heart, to my heart and soul, then it might as well be a salad dressing (especially since I do not even eat any!). The opportunistic fragrance industry has turned perfume into a lifestyle product where the objective is for everyone to identify with stereotyped scenarios: the romantic idyll (a great seller), professional success and everything that stems from it, money, luxury…none of this has anything to do with identity per se, nor with what should strike our most sensitive chords. Niche market or not! What I have been doing for over 20 years stems from an approach that is both literary and olfactory, depicting areas and wastelands ignored within me. Otherwise, I do not know whether or not the world of perfume has changed. One has to sell more and thus banality is passed off as rarity and the ordinary as luxury. All the smoke and mirrors have nothing to do with us. At least not with me!

9.      What are some of your favorite dishes or things to eat? Do you have any gourmand or gastronomic weaknesses?

Serge Lutens in the Palmeraie Gardens, Morocco. Photo: Patrice Nagel, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Serge Lutens in the Palmeraie Gardens, Morocco. Photo: Patrice Nagel, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Peut-être est-il logique ou destiné que tout artiste se dirige, dans le temps, vers une forme d’ascétisme, rigueur oblige ! La faim crée une tension qui me semble providentielle à celle que la création requiert. Cependant, il n’est pas exclu que cette tension puisse, d’un jour à l’autre, se transformer en un comportement gargantuesque et cette autre extrémité de la rigueur prendrait alors des proportions énormes, dont je serai l’image vivante. Toute restriction implique une autre extrémité et ceci vaut dans les deux sens.

Perhaps it is logical or destined that all artists, at some point, drive themselves towards an ascetic approach, as rigorous standards may require. Hunger creates a strain I believe to be providential to the tension required by creativity. Which does not mean that that this tension cannot, from one day to the next, be transformed into gargantuan behaviour. This other extreme of rigour would then take on enormous proportions of which I would be the living image. All restriction implies an opposite extreme, and this goes both ways.

10.   You are clearly a perfectionist, and that can come with a high price. Are there any aspects of perfectionism that plague you in particular, or that you wish you could change?

Je me permets de vous contredire : je ne suis pas un perfectionniste même s’il est certain que tant que la justesse ne m’aura pas rejoint, je ne la lâcherai pas. La justesse se présente à tout moment, dans notre comportement, notre choix vestimentaire, nos attitudes, nos goûts…C’est en quelque sorte le point sur le I. Cela parait dérisoire mais sans ce point, le I n’existerait pas. Il ne serait qu’un droit-fil. La perfection pour la perfection ne pourrait pas me toucher alors qu’une erreur, une maladresse peut le faire mille fois plus, qu’une chose dite « bien faite ».

[R.A’s translation note: the concept of “justesse”, which is at the heart of this answer cannot be translated in a single English word. Not only does it encompass concepts such as authenticity, truth, perfection, or exactness in all their philosophical, literary, artistic and scientific senses, it is deeply embedded in a part of French culture that presupposes that there is one “right way” to everything. For that purpose it has been left in French in the text below.]

Please allow me contradict you: I am not a perfectionist, even though it is undeniable that I will not let go until “justesse” has caught up with me. “Justesse” can present itself at any given time, in our behaviour, our choice of clothing, our attitudes, our tastes…It is the dot on the “i” so to speak. It may seem trifling, but without this dot the “i” would not exist. It would only be an unbroken line. Perfection for perfection’s sake does not move me, but a mistake, a blunder can touch me a thousand times more than something that is “done right”.



11.    “Veni, Vidi, Vici” would seem to apply to many areas of your life, but it can’t have been easy. Which of the many worlds that you’ve conquered was the hardest? Are there any worlds or areas that you wish you had explored on a professional basis?

Ce n’est pas une question de difficulté puisque c’est un non choix. Rien n’a jamais été facile ou pas. Cela a toujours été tenu par une exigence, une rigueur, un besoin d’éclaircissement pour un texte, une mise en trouble pour un parfum, une entrée dans le royaume des ombres pour le fard. C’est là au fond que je me sentais chez moi ! L’idée de facilité me ferait reculer. Je sentirais que je suis mon propre imposteur.

It is not a difficult question since it does not involve a choice. Nothing has ever been easy or not. It always had to do with an exactingness, a rigor, a need for clarity in a text, a feeling of uncertainty for a perfume, an entrance into the kingdom of shadows for make-up. This is where I felt at home! The idea of ease would make me recoil. I would feel as if I were my very own impostor.

12.   What do you do to relax, to de-stress, or, perhaps more importantly, to get your mind to stop thinking so much?

L’esprit est occupé. S’il ne l’était pas, ce serait un temps vacant. Le temps est la seule valeur à laquelle j’accorde de l’importance. Rien d’autre que lui ne pourrait me donner ce sentiment d’urgence que j’ai toujours eu. Il met l’alarme au rouge ou, si vous préférez, la conscience de la mort depuis le début de ma vie est peut-être ce qui fait ce que j’ai fait.

The mind is busy. If it were not, it would be empty time. Time is the only value I give importance to. Only time can give me the sense of urgency I have always felt. It activates the alarm bells or, if you prefer, the awareness of death that I have felt since the beginning of my life [and which] may account for the fact that I have achieved all that I have.

Serge Lutens by Cristian Barnett. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Serge Lutens by Cristian Barnett.

Again, I extend my deepest thanks to Serge Lutens for taking the time out of his busy schedule to so patiently and thoroughly answer my questions. I’m so grateful for this enormous privilege, his graciousness, and his kindness. I’d also like to thank my two friends (Liesl E. & Richard A.) for helping me out with their translation skills for all the finer nuances. (I know it wasn’t easy, but I don’t know what I would have done without you two!)