Hermes – Jour d’Hermes

Hermes – Jour d’Hermes


Park in Brussels – Photography by Quintessence

One of the things I love most about Europe is the prevalence of fresh flowers. While the climate where I live is warm nearly year-round, I am always surprised and cheered by the commitment to the floral arts on a continent where the weather is less conducive to plant growth. And yet flowers can be found everywhere, from gorgeous public gardens where one can sit for hours admiring the well-manicured arrangements to open air markets where one can stroll at leisure and select an armful of blooms to grace a hallway table. The emphasis on this simple and portable form of beauty appears to be everywhere. I find nothing more satisfying than setting out on foot to explore a city and coming across an intimate little flower shop, where one can admire the shopkeeper’s beautiful arrangements and take in the aroma of dozens of blooms in close quarters.


Flower Market in Bruges – Photography by Quintessence

It is this joyful, celebratory sensation that Jean-Claude Ellena has captured in Jour d’Hermes, where we are treated to not one, but a flowershop full of scents. Ellena is truly the master of understated complexity, and his latest release does not disappoint. Jour d’Hermes is at once crisp and velvety, dry as silk and wet as moss. Upon first application, I expected Jour d’Hermes to be a fleeting floral, and yet this diaphanous beauty has an impressive longevity. It wears close to the skin which feels appropriate, for the fragrance conveys a certain sense of intimacy.

According to Denyse at Grain de Musc, Hermes and Ellena purposely withheld a list of notes to allow each wearer their own experience and interpretation of the fragrance. Jour d’Hermes is at once no flower and all flowers, an imaginary bouquet of luminosity. From my testing, the fragrance offers the zest of lemon, the green bite of lily of the valley, the powder of rose, the depth of jasmine, the darkness of ivy and the sweet, soapiness of orange blossoms. And just when I have become entranced with the lightness and innocence of this arrangement, Ellena pulls off a masterful deception and reveals a deeply sensual base.  Though it’s been a while since I fell for a bottle, the weightiness of this flacon feels simply decadent, elegance as only Hermes can deliver.


Jour d'Hermes

Notes: Be inspired. Let your imagination run wild!

Chanel – Cristalle

Chanel – Cristalle


I largely put myself through college via a combination of scholarships, student loans, and numerous jobs to supplement whatever assistance my parents could provide. While this would teach me the importance of careful planning and budgeting, it left little room for personal items, especially those which were not absolutely vital. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that I was attending college in Manhattan, a city not necessarily known for its reasonable cost of living.

Dedication to my studies was not as difficult for me as it was to some of my classmates. I was enrolled in a very challenging school, in one of the toughest cities of the world. I knew that I wanted to be bright and sharp and to do that in such a competitive environment would really require all of my effort to shine. While this did not reconcile well with my love for fragrance and for Chanel in particular, it was a great motivator for success.

During my first year of school, while attending a chemistry seminar, I met a young woman who ultimately became my best friend. She had a similar upbringing and we shared many of the same goals, both scholastically and personally. This included, not surprisingly, a love for Chanel. Given that we were both struggling to meet our immediate needs, together we devised creative ways of sampling and purchasing a few special items. This largely involved two activities which most of us master in childhood: dress-up and pretend.

My friend and I would save up for bus fare to Bloomingdale’s (which cost a dollar in those days) but made it a point always to walk back home. After all, we only needed to look presentable upon arrival. No one needed to know the many blocks we would walk back to return to campus uptown. To prepare for our excursion, we would put on our best outfits and make ourselves up to be sure we looked the part. We also did our research, which in those days involved pouring through magazines at the library. We needed to ensure that we seemed extremely knowledgeable when we arrived at the fragrance counter.

As we sampled the latest releases (which was not the terrifying task it is today), we came up with creative escape clauses for those we did not like, so as not to put off the eager sales associates who were so generous with the vials of liquid gold we so craved. “Oh, my mother just purchased that for me for my birthday” or “My sister wears that one and I could not bear sharing the same fragrance”. With these intentioned hints, we were often able to come away with considerable samples of the fragrances we did want, having given the impression that we were certainly able to afford any of these fragrances at a moment’s notice.


It was during one of these excursions that I happened upon Cristalle. It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before, though I have since seen it reincarnated to some extent in the magical Calyx by Sophia Grojsman. Henri Robert’s 1974 masterpiece was perfectly named, for it is the scent of something sharp and bright – precisely everything I longed to emulate. Cristalle cuts a sharp plane of light with its bergamot opening but it is the complexity and range of the green notes which is most alluring. These range from savory to sweet and grass-like thanks to a vetiver note. While the EDP version later introduced by Jacques Polge in 1993 pushes the floral accords into a sweeter, headier territory, the original 1974 release achieves in my opinion a greater balance by not allowing the floral notes to drown out the composition.

While Cristalle is often cited on top ten lists for summer and spring fragrances, it is a wonderful winter scent and shall forever remind me of cold Manhattan days and of the power of imagination to forge our destiny.


Notes: lemon, bergamot, basil, petitgrain, galbanum, jonquil, jasmine, hyacinth, oakmoss, rosewood, and vetiver

Chloe by Chloe

Chloe Eau de Parfum by Chloe

clemence poesy

Sometimes, having a passion for perfume can present its challenges. While I abided by the “signature scent” credo as a young woman, these days I find myself struggling just to maintain a “signature house”. Perhaps what gets me into trouble is my enthusiasm. Whenever I am exploring a new scent, I approach it with the same mindset as I would when meeting a new person. I keep an open, positive frame of mind and look for the good, for one never knows if a simple encounter could result in a lifelong friendship.

Every once in a while, however, a fragrance leaves me stumped. Which brings us to Chloe.  This 2008 release was extremely successful and had achieved significant popularity. While this combination has not necessarily spelled perfume love for me in the past, I certainly had reason to hope. The notes certainly sounded promising: peony, lychee, freesia, rose, magnolia, muguet, amber and cedar. I was expecting a dense, intoxicating scent, with a burst of green, mellowing to warm sensual woods. Quite frankly, I thought it would smell as stunning as Clemence Poesy looked in the ads.

Chloe revealed itself to be a nondescript floral. Not bad per se, but then again, I set my fragrance bar a bit higher than that. Chloe wasn’t terrible, and I would rather wear this than La Vie Est Belle, but I would certainly not invest in it, aside from a trip to Nordstrom to retrieve samples.

There was a sense of familiarity which I initially could not place, but then it came to me. Chloe smelled a bit like bubble bath or perhaps shampoo, where the beauty and complexity of the scent is typically second to its efficacy as a product. About two hours later, just as I was having second thoughts about smelling like a bath product all day, I realized that I need not have worried, for Chloe had vanished. Given that Chloe was intended to be romantic, edgy, sexy and sensual, I can only imagine the brief that perfumers Michel Almairac and Amandine Marie were presented with. Perhaps someone gave them a shampoo brief by accident.


Notes: Peony, lychee, freesia rose, magnolia, muguet, amber and cedar.


Christian Dior – Diorissimo

Christian Dior – Diorissimo


There are times when life’s trials become a bit much, and we crave some comfort or small happiness. While for many, the first thing that comes to mind may be food or drink, I find that fragrance often has the power to be an uplifting presence and bring a smile to my face. In these times, I will often reach for a scent that is beautiful in its unadorned simplicity, rather than provocative or challenging. One fragrance which can always bring a smile to my face is Christian Dior’s Diorissimo. Diorissimo perfectly captures the scent of the lovely Lily of the Valley, so much so that it seems one is wearing a living flower, and yet the fragrance is a ruse: for it is not possible to extract the scent of this beautiful white flower.

Diorissimo was the magical creation of Edmond Roudnitska, the nose behind the beautiful Femme, as well numerous perfumes for Christian Dior. Given the impossibility of utilizing actual Lily of the Valley extract, Roudnitska’s work is nothing short of an optical illusion. More than any other fragrance, Diorissimo truly captures the scent of Lily of the Valley, to an astonishing degree. The creation relied heavily on Hydroxycitronellal, an aroma chemical with a sweet, green, soapy scent which very closely resembles that of the flower. As with many other vintage beauties, Diorissimo has suffered greatly at the hands of the IFRA regulations regarding potential allergens, as the use of Hydroxycitronellal in fragrances is restricted, because of potential sensitization.


I have both the Eau de Toilette and Parfum versions of vintage Diorissimo and each has its own distinct beauty. While the Eau de Toilette has a sharper, greener opening, as it unfolds, it becomes a gauzy Lily of the Valley, supported by a touch of jasmine with a slightly powdery feel. The fragrance is extremely light and inspiring, the scent of innocence and youth. I love this version just after a shower or right before bed.

The Parfum version is much deeper and somewhat hypnotic. I always have the impression of having crushed the flower on my wrist. The Parfum has a richness and animalic earthiness that is absent in the Eau de Toilette. It is richer, deeper and slightly indolic and an absolute beauty. diorissimo1


Notes: Green notes, bergamot, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, rosewood, amaryllis, boronia, jasmine, sandalwood, and civet.



Rochas – Femme

Rochas – Femme

rochas-femmeIt is said that Grasse in Southern France is the farthest point north at which jasmine can grow. As a result, the jasmine from the region is reportedly shorter in stature than most varieties, but the quality of its fragrance is more potent. While none of us inherently enjoy hardship or strife, it is sometimes under the pressure of external forces that humans manifest their most inspired creations.

The 1940s were an era characterized by conflict the likes of which the world hopes to never see again. While the decade was largely dominated by WWII and its aftermath, the latter half of the decade also saw several civil wars, struggles for independence and the Arab-Israeli war.

While the citizens of the world lost much of their former innocence during this time, they rebounded with sweeping advances, evidence of the strength of the human spirit. The United Nations was born from the ashes of the ineffectual League of Nations and huge advances in science were achieved. The 1940s saw the advent of computers, nuclear power and jet propulsion. On a more mundane level, new inventions such as Velcro, television, Tupperware and the microwave oven all appeared on the horizon, changing the way we would manage our lives forever. Abstract Expressionism was born, as we struggled for a way to re-conceptualize our world. The ravages of war were too sharp not to be felt, and life needed to be viewed through a new lens if any sense was to be made at all.

There were, also during this time, acts of sheer beauty. Edmond Roudnitska created Femme in 1943, in the midst of the ruins of war-torn Paris, then besieged by German occupation. It is supremely fitting that Femme was created in what is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world, at a time of extreme and powerful emotion. It is as though the fragrance embodies all of the intensity of its time.


Femme speaks of the beauty of a woman in all her facets, the sublime, the sexual, the beautiful, the bold and the vulnerable: because every woman is each of these things. Femme is at once elegant and provocative, but above all expresses a respect and reverence for woman. It is a beautiful and emotional fragrance which conveys a certain vulnerability as well. It is as though Roudnitska was able to read the soul of a woman in all its complexity and distill it into a plush, velvety essence. I am deeply moved every time I smell it and am inspired by the spirit of the man who sought and created such beauty when the world seemed intent on revealing its basest qualities.

Femme has a warm enveloping presence, often likened to the smell of warm skin. Despite a spicy floral opening, the most prevalent note throughout is plum, which is harmonized and softened by wood and musk notes. While Femme conveys the richness of lush, ripe fruit, it does so in a manner strikingly different to the overly-sweet interpretations common in modern compositions. This is the spicy fruit of winter, not the syrupy, sugary fruit of summer. The scent is that of a woman, not of a girl. The depth of the composition is what I find most striking. While the sillage is potent, it is comfortable and yet I always have a three-dimensional experience of Femme. I can almost see it wafting, rising from my arm as one sees smoke rising from a high tower.

Note: Femme was re-formulated in 1989 by Olivier Cresp, the nose behind Thierry Mugler’s Angel. Part of this reformulation included the introduction of a cumin note in the opening over which there has been much debate. While I prefer the original Femme and guard my tiny vintage bottle like a treasure, I do also enjoy the peppery spark that cumin lends it. There has been much speculation over why the formula was changed in this manner. Some surmise it was a desire on Cresp’s part to bring Femme into the present and make it once again memorable and provocative. I can only offer my own impression and interpretation. The first time I smelled Shiseido’s Feminite du Bois, I was delighted to find the outline of Femme, now transformed into a woman of the eighties. A bit leaner, a bit drier for the years, but still magical. Feminite du Bois is silk where Femme is velvet. The first time I tested the reformulated Femme I was reminded not so much of the original Femme in the opening (though I find more similarity in the dry down) but more so of Feminite du Bois, as the cumin renders the overall composition drier and thinner than the original. And so the reference comes full circle.


Notes: bergamot, peach, prune, rose, immortelle, jasmine, ylang-ylang, ambergris, musk, oakmoss, sandalwood. Femme may be purchased from many online discount retailers, as well as certain stores. I acquired my vintage version on Ebay.

Transcendence – Edmond Roudnitska

Transcendence – Edmond Roudnitska


We are all of us a mixture of the mundane and the divine. There are those of us however who seem to possess more of the celestial spark, and who through some extraordinary gift or ability, manage to transcend their humanity and transport us with them, beyond the physical plane.

I recently had the supreme honor of attending a private rehearsal of the New World Symphony with the renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma. As I sat there watching him, I was struck by the unique balance of being and essence that is Mr. Ma. Watching him perform was a revelation. He simply functioned artistically on a different level than any of the other supremely talented musicians in the room. He had no sheet music to reference, and yet his performance was flawless. His absorption in the piece, a beautiful cello concerto by Schumann, was so intense that he was completely unaware of his surroundings. His body seemed to simply be the agent of some divine sound. Indeed, were it not for the fact that his shirt was wrinkled and that he was sweating profusely after the performance, I would have sworn he was not human at all.

Much in the way music can touch our soul, scents can similarly evoke strong feelings which transport us.  And there are those perfumers who have the innate ability to weave accords into a symphony of the senses. One such nose was Edmond Roudnitska.

Edmond Roudnitska was born in 1905 in Nice, which lies along the southeastern coast of France. While Nice is less than an hour from Grasse, which was the perfume capital at the time, Mr. Roudnitska started out in the world of perfumery with no formal education.  Despite his lack of traditional training, he would prove to be a virtuoso in the truest sense of the word. Mr. Roudnitska was known for his methodical yet imaginative approach to fragrance and is credited with the creation of some of the most beautiful and groundbreaking perfumes in history.

In addition to his innate vocation as a master nose, most inspiring was his dedication to fragrance as a form of art. He strongly believed in the importance of balance between the beauty of a creation and its profitability, and that above all else, the art should not be compromised for the profit. To this end, he founded Art et Parfum in 1946, a sort of perfume creation and research lab. In addition to his abilities as a perfumer, Mr. Roudnitska was a productive author, sharing both technical and ideological views on perfume, which he clearly regarded as a serious art form. I shudder to think what Mr. Roudnitska would think of the current environment, when more fragrances are released in a month than he released in all his lifetime. The very act of remembering this great creator is a testament to his success.

“L’œuvre d’art n’est pas conçue par le sens mais par l’esprit de l’homme.”  The masterpiece is not conceived by the senses – rather by the spirit of the man. (Edmond Roudnitska, translation mine)

Serge Lutens – Jeux de Peau

Serge Lutens – Jeux de Peau

 It’s as if the baker took us by the hand. serge 2

Your childhood is a slope. The farther down you go, the more it comes back to you. You must separate the wheat from the chaff to know who you are. All this to say that the smell of fresh bread from the bakery takes us back. The feel of warm bread against the cheek even more so, evoking a familiar sensation from my childhood.  Serge Lutens

If the exploration of fragrance is a journey that takes place both externally and internally, then no other house stretches the imagination further than Serge Lutens. The relationship between Lutens and nose Christopher Sheldrake seems almost supernatural – as though Sheldrake is able to channel the incredible imagery and visions of Monsieur Lutens and render them into olfactory reality. At least it appears that he is somehow channeling Lutens, because the resulting fragrances are so thoroughly in keeping with Lutens’s singular aesthetic and vernacular, not to mention so profoundly different than what Sheldrake has created for Chanel in collaboration with Jacques Polge, that some greater force must be at work.

While all of the Lutens/Sheldrake fragrances are exceedingly unique, there is a common thread of oddity that runs through them, beyond the scent signatures which most houses possess. As I have discussed previously in my review of Gris Clair… I imagine the Lutens line to be organized in a manner similar to a color wheel, with certain fragrances occupying a common general spectrum. To that end, I would categorize Jeux de Peau in the olfactory realm occupied by Chypre Rouge and perhaps Arabie, although the fragrance shares some similarities with Boxeuses as well. While I realize that this will immediately make Jeux de Peau a non-starter for many, Jeux de Peau is one of those beauties that slowly captivates and seduces, despite its oddity, or perhaps even because of it.

Jeux de Peau, loosely translated as “skin games” from the French, is certainly imbued with a sense of playfulness, as Lutens sought to capture the scent of freshly baked bread from his childhood in Lille, France. I wonder if he gained a sense of impish satisfaction imagining perfumistas worldwide attempting to sniff out the reputed bread note upon first obtaining their samples. While I was able to root out the elusive note, the fragrance for me represents a full breakfast compliment, as well as some non-breakfast foods. To relegate Jeux de Peau to a simple prank on the part of its maker, however, is to miss the true genius and beauty of this creation. Certainly, the Lutens/Sheldrake duo take us through an intellectual exercise, which keeps the wearer occupied and amused throughout the day, but one which does not diminish the overall result.

mode, architecture, beautŽ,

Jeux de Peau starts out with a brief green note, a cross between celery and green anise. The impression is fleeting and somewhat confusing upon first testing, because it is so obviously not breadlike. The note fades rather quickly, transforming into something that recalls the immortelle-like note in Chypre Rouge. After wearing Jeux de Peau a few times, this opening feels like a palate cleanser one has between courses at a sumptuous meal in order to better appreciate the nuances of the next course. The duo is clearly preparing us for something.

Jeux de Peau has the bitterness of yeast, coupled with the rich milkiness of oozing butter. There is a slight sweetness, as though the bread in question were a gorgeous brioche, its  buttery richness toasted to the point of caramelizing. Notes of licorice and coconut combine to give a complex, creamy dimensionality to the fragrance. The compliment to the toasted note comes in the form of a luscious, dense fruit jam, thanks to a melange of apricot and osmanthus, giving the fragrance a typical Lutensian opulence. All at once I realize this is no brioche, it is in fact a tarte tatin a l’abricot, warm and steaming from the oven, the thick apricot juices flowing over the sides and hardening into a glistening caramel crust. Despite what would seem to be an obvious gourmand effect, the fragrance is not as sweet as its counterparts in this category. Here Sheldrake’s skill as a perfumer seems most apparent – one has the intellectual impression of sweet pastry without it being overbearing or uncomfortable.

tarte tatin

After the initial cerebral play that Lutens/Sheldrake have just taken us through, the game involving the skin appears in the journey from Lutens’s memory to a place of sheer beauty. As a gift for accompanying the duo on this mental exercise, we are rewarded with a supremely beautiful fragrance. Incense, rich sandalwood and a touch of Lutens’s signature amber come together to reveal a refined and classically beautiful scent. While Jeux de Peau was initially one of the most difficult fragrances for me out of the Lutens line, after revisiting, it eventually became one of my favorites. Aside from the joy of wearing a beautiful perfume, there is a sense of emotional communion with its creator in the magical realm of memory, making Jeux de Peau a supremely intimate experience.


Notes: Milk, licorice, coconut, osmanthus, apricot, amber, incense and sandalwood

Shiseido – Feminite du Bois

Shiseido – Feminite du Bois – A Twilight Walk Through an Enchanted Forest


When encountering new fragrance releases, I am often tempted to “edit” the formula to suit my liking. A little oakmoss here, a touch of civet there and voila, the fragrance would be perfect. With the exception of certain houses which continue to produce thoughtful, quality fragrances, the current “race to release” phenomena has resulted in a number of momentary fragrances which are not likely to withstand the test of time, let alone the next marketing launch. It is during these times that I re-trench and seek out those golden standards who await me like so many old friends.

Even more frustrating is the alternate scenario: perfumes so sublime as to be nearly mythical in their compositions which mysteriously vanish from the shelves, driving us to scour the dark corners of the internet to seek out lost treasures. One of these treasures (of which I will freely admit to having a secret horde) is Shiseido’s Feminite du Bois. For our French speakers, and those who do not mind reading subtitles, here is Serge Lutens himself discussing the reformulation issued under his brand name.

Launched in 1992 as a collaboration between Christopher Sheldrake, Pierre Bourdon and Serge Lutens this groundbreaking scent ranks highly in my list of fragrance perfection. And yet… I cannot help but wish for one tiny change. While the name Feminite du Bois aptly describes the perfume’s highly successful and innovative transformation of cedarwood into a beguiling feminine scent, the name does not in any way prepare you for the magic and beauty of this composition.

Experiencing Feminite du Bois for the first time is much like a twilight walk through an enchanted forest. The fragrance opens with a dusky scent of spices, an inviting delicate breeze of cardamom, ginger and cinnamon, beckoning you deeper into the forest. The dark quality of these opening notes is rendered in a shadowy manner, a gentle whisper of the exotic wonders that await you.

As you make your way slowly through the warm dark opening notes, you suddenly smell light blossoms of orange, violet, and rose on the breeze, each coming together to form an impression of tiny flowers carving out a space in the forest floor. In keeping with Shiseido’s minimalist aesthetic, the floral notes are subtle and silky. Moving closer in, you notice a small gathering of trees, each bearing perfectly ripe peaches and plums, the fragrance of which catches on the breeze and makes its way to you. Animals are drawn to the soft sweetness as well, and you detect a soft honey note and remnants of beeswax as its inhabitants eagerly seek out the source of the sweetness. All of these scents here in the quiet of the forest lull you into a light dream and you stand for a moment, just breathing in the beautiful warmth, when suddenly you see her, the Lady of the Wood.

mode, architecture, beautŽ,

She has stood there all along, watching you as you made your way through the dusky paths, silently beckoning you with the warmth of woods and the slight musky wetness of the forest so as not to startle you with her presence. As you stand there beholding her, you are awed by her stealth, subtlety and beauty, and you are without words. For she is a wonder to behold.

Spicy Woods

Notes: cedarwood, orange blossom, peach, honey, plum, beeswax, clove, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Serge Lutens – A La Nuit

Serge Lutens – A La Nuit

mode, architecture, beautŽ,

I live in an area where the climate is predominantly hot and humid year-round. While this robs me of certain pastimes and limits my ability to fully indulge in my winter fragrance wardrobe, access to the outdoors I have in abundance. One of my greatest pleasures is evening walks through my neighborhood, where I am often accompanied by the sweet, heady scent of night-blooming jasmine. The sillage of natural jasmine is unbelievably potent, its indolic fragrance lingering in the air long after I have passed its source.

mode, architecture, beautŽ,

Jasmine adds a sense of surrealism to the night, stealthily appearing out of the darkness, a presence which becomes nearly palpable. Jasmine also evokes a bit of melancholy, as the tiny buds which were so tightly bound throughout the day unfurl come nightfall to reveal their gift, only to expire in the process. The scent we experience occurs at the end of the cycle for the flower, the nectar it releases serving as a call for renewal and rebirth by pollination. It is fitting then that the dense, sweet scent of jasmine can often suggest a hint of decay or decomposition. It is this tangible, poignant quality of jasmine that Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake capture so skillfully in A La Nuit.

While jasmine as a note is commonly used in perfumery to lend a rich, velvety quality to a fragrance, a jasmine soliflore is quite another thing altogether. If you do not enjoy jasmine as a singular note, then please read no further, for A La Nuit is surely the quintessential jasmine fragrance, with an opening so true to the flower that it almost resembles an essential oil. In “Perfumes: The A-Z Guide”, Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez refer to A La Nuit as “death by jasmine”. For me, the fragrance represents instead “death of jasmine”. Lutens perfectly captures the beautiful, ephemeral nature of this flower, from the moment of its opening bloom through its eventual expiration, rendering it in ample, sweeping strokes.

serge-lutens-a-la-nuit-lg-1Lutens and Sheldrake sourced high quality jasmine of Moroccan, Indian and Egyptian origins, combining them with green notes to render a three-dimensional floral presence. The opening is intense, even for a jasmine enthusiast and holds nothing back, much like the actual flower reaching its tendrils of scent through the night air.

A La Nuit remains tenacious and potent for close to two hours until little by little, the fragrance begins softening, like the embers of a dying fire. The overripe, spicy sensation begins dissipating, only to be replaced with a warm, slightly floral base that hints faintly at musk and Lutens’s signature amber, giving the fragrance a subtle woody character.

Like many of Serge Lutens’s fragrances, A La Nuit appears to be a narrative, written in scent which tells of the beauty and eventual dissolution of jasmine. While A La Nuit is the story of a flower, I cannot help but think that Lutens is conveying the reality of the human condition as well, its fragility and transience.


Notes: Moroccan, Indian and Egyptian jasmine, green shoots, white honey, benzoin, musk and clove

Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens


Image courtesy of Barney’s / Serge Lutens. Rights reserved.

In honor of Serge Lutens’s birthday this week, I thought I would post some biographical information on the man whose aesthetic genius spans multiple creative disciplines including perfumery, photography, art direction and design.

Serge Lutens was born on March 14, 1942 in the midst of World War II in Lille, a town near France’s border with Belgium. Lutens was separated from his mother at infancy, a circumstance which would mark his life forever and come to color his work. Lutens first worked in a beauty salon at the age of 14, and while this was reportedly not his first choice of career, it gave him an introduction into a world he would soon come to dominate. At the age of 18, he was called to serve his nation in the Algerian War, an experience which would propel him to seek out his dreams in Paris.

Lutens focused his efforts on amassing a portfolio of photographs, and through the lucky intervention of a friend, received an introduction to Vogue in the 1960s. The reaction to his work must have been astounding, because he was working for the magazine within the week. With such a prestigious start, Lutens was soon picked up by numerous fashion magazines, working alongside some of the biggest photographers and editors in the industry.

Lutens was contacted by Christian Dior in the late 1960s to assist them in the creation and launch of a makeup line, where his groundbreaking vision ultimately created a new revolutionary aesthetic that reflected the pulse of an entire generation. All the while, Lutens pursued other ventures such as filmmaking and travel, expanding his professional expertise. His travels exposed him to the cultures of Japan and Morocco, each lending a distinct exoticism to his style, and helping to form the imagery that would come to represent his unique vernacular.


His introduction to these cultures would have a profound impact on Lutens, one that would be readily evident in his later work. In 1980, Lutens collaborated with the largely-unknown Japanese cosmetics group Shiseido, helping to put them on the map as one of the industry leaders in the 1980s and 1990s. During his tenure at Shiseido, Lutens conceived the mythic Nombre Noir, a fragrance whose beauty was rivaled only by its black-on-black packaging.

Lutens matched the magic of Nombre Noir with his legendary 1992 Féminité du Bois, a fragrance which has achieved cult status among perfumistas. Féminité du Bois, which Lutens created in collaboration with Pierre Bourdon and Christopher Sheldrake, rewrote the perfume rules by fashioning a woman’s scent around cedarwood, a note traditionally ascribed to male fragrances.  Aside from being highly innovative, Féminité du Bois is indescribably beautiful, arguably one of the greatest perfumes of all time. Serge Lutens also created Les Salons du Palais Royal, a magical perfume shop which perfectly showcases his creations.

2000 saw the launch of Lutens’s namesake brand under he which releases fragrances and makeup in keeping with his singular aesthetic. Many of these releases, including Tubéreuse Criminelle, Jeux de Peau and Ambre Sultan, have changed the way we look at perfume, weaving an intimate narrative between Lutens and his admirers. As a result of his impressive and innovative body of work, Serge Lutens has received several FIFI awards, not to mention the distinction of Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. For our French-speakers, here is a link to a rare and memorable interview with Mr. Lutens which includes clips from his filmwork. The clip is worth watching even if you do not speak French, if only for a glimpse of this elegant and playful character. Serge Lutens Interview

serge 3

A very Happy Birthday to Monsieur Lutens and a wish that he continues gracing us with his magical creations!