Serge Lutens – Sa Majesté La Rose

Serge Lutens – Sa Majesté La Rose
Sa Majeste la RoseFragrances are, for the most part, an exercise in artifice: by combining a series of notes, perfumers are able to weave together a cohesive scent that evolves over time. At times, the notes work in harmony to create complementary accords or impressions, while other fragrances charm us with seemingly incongruous themes that somehow work together beautifully (think Missoni Eau de Parfum, with its alternating layers of fruit and chocolate).

While Serge Lutens is a master of olfactory tales, Sa Majesté La Rose is a distinct departure from his standard fare. Instead of an opulent romance of exotic, far away lands, the fragrance is a perfect illusion, a realistic study of the majestic rose for which it is named.

Sa Majesté La Rose opens with a pert, slightly spicy rose tinged with a hint of fruity liqueur. While it possess a fuller, richer body, at the opening it is not unlike Rose by Caron. As the fragrance progresses however it takes on a subtle complexity that reveals just how multi-faceted a rose can be. Sa Majesté softens into a warm, slightly smoky rose with hints of honeyed camomile. It is somewhat astonishing in its realism and yet it is never tiresome.

Red Rose Bouquet

In fact, Sa Majesté La Rose reminds me of walking into a room and witnessing a bouquet of roses unfolding over the course of the day. Starting out slightly tart in the morning when first placed into the vase and sharing the opulence of its scented gifts in the evening as the soft, velvety petals unfold.

While Sa Majesté possesses enough character to be worn on its own, it makes a delicious fragrance for layering, adding a rosy fullness to whatever it comes into contact with. It lends itself especially well to layering with other fragrances in the Serge Lutens line. One of my personal favorite combinations is with Muscs Khublai Khan, with Sa Majesté enhancing the subtle rose qualities of Muscs. While the combination may sound like an olfactory overdose, the meeting of these two powerhouses has the effect of tempering the more extreme aspects of each, much like a successful romance brings out the best in us.

Notes: Moroccan Rose Absolute, Gaiac Wood, Clove, White Honey, Musk

Caron – Bellodgia

Caron – Bellodgia

caron bellodgia

There are certain fragrances which are like a revelation for us, sending our senses reeling as our minds attempt to catalogue all of the myriad impressions they inspire. Bellodgia, created in 1927 by the perfumer Ernest Daltroff, the nose behind such classics as Tabac Blond and Nuit de Noel, is truly revolutionary. While it is often referred to as a study of carnation in all of its spicy glory, and meant to invoke all the beauty of the lovely, sunny seaside town of Bellagio, Italy, Bellodgia’s beauty runs much deeper.

The carnation certainly takes center stage during the opening, and its vibrancy nearly blinds us to the other important figures arranging themselves onstage. The piquant spice of the carnation and lily of the valley is enhanced by a smoky facet with such intensity that it reminds me of the charcoal trail fireworks leave behind. The carnation begins to smolder with the spice of clove, which melts and softens into a creamy, powdery cloud.

In fact, this combination of carnation and clove works so well that it found its way into another incredibly successful fragrance which I shall post about soon. For those few of you fortunate enough to have smelled Guerlain’s Bouquet de Faunes, the clove in Bellodgia takes on a similar character, miles away from its interpretation in Diptyque’s L’Eau.

While with its exotic name, Bellodgia is meant to transport us to summery climes, for me Bellodgia is all about winter. It possesses a deep and embracing character which feels perfect with cashmere and thick, plush scarves and while I can imagine it being worn by elegant women with fur stoles and opera length gloves, it just as beautifully dresses up a pair of blue jeans.

Bellagio Italy

Unlike some of the other vintage Carons, the vintage extrait version of Bellodgia can be found online for a reasonable price. If you are a carnation or clove lover, the vintage is worth seeking out. Unfortunately, I cannot much recommend the modern reformulation which is dissimilar to the original, due in great part to restrictions on many of the original ingredients.

Notes: Carnation, Rose, Jasmine, Violet, Lily of the Valley, Clove, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Musk.   

Guerlain – Bouquet de Faunes

Guerlain – Bouquet de Faunes


Few fragrances are shrouded in as much mystery as Guerlain’s Bouquet de Faunes. The fragrance, which debuted in 1922, and its singular flacon designed by René Lalique in 1925 (reportedly his first and last for the house due to a clash of egos) is rarer than rare, appearing once in a blue moon in various auction houses, for a sum many times its weight in gold. And yet, miracles do happen (in my case, meeting and befriending a lifelong Guerlain collector), and I was beyond fortunate to secure a bottle for myself.



The little bits of information that I was able to gather about the fragrance over the years could not have possibly prepared me for my first encounter.  The bottle, which was historically available in a few different variations, one with waves (as depicted in the advertisement), then later without, and even rendered in a subtle amethyst in its rarest form, is spectacular. The flacon features a face on each of its shoulders, alternating the visage of a faun with that of a woman, in what appears to be a reference to the face above the entrance at the 68 Champs. The smoky glass just slightly veils the parfum within, the darkest, densest fragrance I have ever laid eyes on, adding to its mystique.


The first time I held the bottle in my hands, I was tempted to stop right there: for what could possibly surpass the beauty of this vessel?  I need not have worried. The meticulous nature and creative genius of Jacques Guerlain are immediately noticeable. Knowing that the fragrance was originally created to perfume furs and given the animalic potency of the other fur perfumes and leathers I have tested, I expected to be overpowered by its aroma.


Overpowered yes, but by its beauty rather than its strength. While the fragrance undoubtedly possesses a distinct animalic nature, it is rendered in the softest, velvety tones. Much like a perfect symphony is more than the sum of its parts, Bouquet de Faunes creates an overall impression more so than any other vintage Guerlain I have tested to date. Rather than being merely a collection of notes which result in a pleasant smell, Bouquet creates a mood, and imparts a feeling of comfort and well-being. In fact, its warmth reminds me more of a gentle deer faun sleeping peacefully on the rich forest floor, than of the playful, mischievous Pan.












Amethyst Bouquet de Faunes, Courtesy of Bragmayer Collection

Amethyst Bouquet de Faunes, Courtesy of Bragmayer Collection

Bouquet is linear to some extent, with no obvious blast of top-notes. It settles fairly quickly on the skin, revealing a beautiful melange of subtle floral notes and light animalic accords. While Bouquet reveals soft hints of jasmine, civet and the slight oiliness of castoreum (with perhaps a hint of patchouli), the main impression is that of warm, shadowy cloves, which are portrayed here with a softness not unlike the cloves in Caron’s Bellodgia. While Bouquet smells like no other fragrance I have ever encountered, it does share some similarities with other Guerlains. From Jicky, it inherited the silky, slightly icy quality, which is tempered here by the plush velvet richness of Shalimar. Its soft powder is rivaled only by L’Heure Bleue, but here we see it rendered in low, muted whispers.


Bouquet is without question one of Guerlain’s greatest masterpieces, a tribute to its creator Jacques Guerlain. While I wish beyond hope that this beauty would be more accessible (I even considered not reviewing it due to its rarity), I fear what the result would be given the severe restrictions on perfume materials and the current state of Guerlain fragrances. I fear I will have to content myself with taking surreptitious whiffs of the fragrance and dreaming of its jasmine sister.


Notes: Floral Notes, Animalic Notes, Clove

Bouquet and Jasmine Bouquet, Courtesy of the Bragmayer Collection

Bouquet and Jasmine Bouquet, Courtesy of the Bragmayer Collection










Guerlain – Mitsouko

Guerlain – Mitsouko


Despite being named after the heroine in Claude Farrère’s novel “La Bataille”, if each perfume symbolizes a woman, Mitsouko would have to be the mythological Eve, the first woman and mother of all. For it is in her composition that we can find the DNA for many beloved and wildly successful perfumes including Rochas Femme, Diorama, Youth Dew, Opium and Coco Chanel. Mitsouko was the astounding creation of Jacques Guerlain. Reflecting the world’s fascination with Chypre by Coty, a ground-breaking creation which combined the somewhat odd bedfellows of bergamot, jasmine, labdanum and oakmoss into what would ultimately become a new fragrance category, Guerlain took this novel concept one step further with the introduction of a warm, creamy, ripe peach note. The original Chypre is often described as being a bit rough around the edges, a quandary solved by Guerlain with the introduction of the newly-discovered Gamma-Undecalactone, also known as Aldehyde C-14. Without getting overly technical, there is some debate over the use of the aldehyde reference to C-14, which is technically a lactone, a term which refers both to the molecule’s structure as well as to its fragrance which often has a creamy (milky) scent. Aldehydes are often used to give a fragrance that special opening “sparkle” (imagine the first moments of Chanel No 5), whereas C 14 has a very specific golden peach tone. Nomenclature aside, the introduction of this molecule beautifully rounded out the more angular structure of Chypre into an unforgettable masterpiece.

Mitsouko is at once bold and soft, womanly and earthy. It is the smell of the fall, the warmth and spice of cinnamon and the odd sweetness of decomposing leaves. Its beauty is, quite simply, astounding. While Mitsouko is perhaps one of the most beloved and written about fragrances, it can often be a difficult one to approach if one is just developing their appreciation of vintage or more complex scents. Thanks in part to the inclusion of oakmoss, a popular perfume fixative before restrictions limited its use, Mitsouko has a certain musty smell reminiscent of library books which some find challenging upon first sniff. Ironically, it is the diminution of this same note in the modern, reformulated version, that many perfume enthusiasts bemoan the loss of.

Approaching perfume is not unlike learning about wine: at first, one’s palate can more readily appreciate simpler, sweeter wines, but with time, one is able to appreciate the dry and more complex varieties. So it is with Mitsouko, so be sure to give it some time if you are unable to love it right away – this is one of the perfumes most worth knowing. While many have followed in her steps, Mitsouko is perhaps the finest example of the Chypre genre, if not one of the greatest perfumes of all time.


While I have various examples of Mitsouko in my collection, each with a slightly different scent due in large part to varying ages, the new reformulated version is in some respects a distinct departure from the original vintage. While the lasting power matches that of the original (my scent strip still held scent 48 hours later) the unfolding of the fragrance was decidedly different. While it is definitely still recognizable as Mitsouko, there were aspects throughout the drydown that seemed quite foreign to my nose, and at one point I thought I had mixed up my samples. Overall the fragrance seemed thinner and while I was comparing a modern EdP to a vintage parfum, I attribute the lack of depth more to the absence of oakmoss than to the concentration, as vintage versions of the EdT or even EdC seemed to have more weight than the modern EdP.

Indeed, an overall note on the vintage EdT and EdC Guerlains (and Chanels as well) – these are often excellent and substantial renditions of the parfum (with the exception perhaps of Chant D’Aromes). While they are often a touch more powdery than the parfum (especially true for L’Heure Bleue) they are a wonderful option if one is looking for a more affordable alternative to a vintage parfum.

Fruity Chypre

Notes: Bergamot, Lemon, Mandarin, Neroli, Peach, Rose, Clove, Ylang-Ylang, Cinnamon, Oakmoss, Labdanum, Patchouli, Benzoin, Vetiver.

Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant

Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant


October is officially upon us, marking the beginning of sweater weather for many. I live in a part of the world where it stays warm and humid for quite a bit longer, but the changing daylight patterns make me crave my fall and winter perfume wardrobe terribly. While there are some fragrances which will need to wait a little longer before coming into rotation, I start craving an oriental that can straddle the seasons and help tide me over until the cooler weather finally arrives.

I am always struck by how original Kenzo Jungle L’Elephant is, especially for its time. Were it to be released today (instead of in 1996), it would surely have been as a niche creation. It is without question one of Dominique Ropion’s more unique scents, a distinction it shares with Carnal Flower and Thierry Mugler’s Alien. L’Elephant is a wonderful melange of spices underscored by smoky woods and soft cashmeran. The sparkling mandarin opening is enlivened by cardamom, cloves and cumin. While I am not particularly reminded of either a jungle or an elephant, I do have the sense of being swept away on an exotic adventure.

Elephant de la Bastille watercolor by Jean Alavoine

Elephant de la Bastille watercolor by Jean Alavoine

L’Elephant’s heart is slightly anisic, the perfect interlude into its delicious woody base. While amber and cashmeran can often give a fragrance a dense heady quality, L’Elephant manages to remain light and sparkling. L’Elephant has terrific lasting power but is never overwhelming the way some of its sister orientals can be. L’Elephant can be found online for a reasonable price at several discount retailers or on eBay, where I purchased mine. It is an energizing, powerful scent which never fails to give me a lift.

Notes: Mandarin, Cardamom, Cumin, Clove, Ylang-Ylang, Licorice, Mango, Heliotrope, Patchouli, Vanilla, Amber, Cashmere.

Serge Lutens – Iris Silver Mist

Serge Lutens – Iris Silver Mist


There are certain perfumes which so perfectly capture the essence of a particular flower that they achieve a level of cult status that makes it nearly impossible for other fragrances to contend with. For the deep velvety rose, there is Guerlain’s Nahema. For the lovely tuberose, there is Fracas by Robert Piguet. And until I am fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of the mythic Iris Gris by Jacques Fath, there is no single perfume which so fully captures the essence of iris as well as Iris Silver Mist.

Iris Silver Mist was a collaboration between Serge Lutens and Maurice Roucel, the nose behind Hermès 24, Faubourg, and Musc Ravageur from Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle. The story goes that Lutens pestered his nose to devise the consummate iris – and Roucel reciprocated by creating a fragrance incorporating every iris note available – an iris to end them all. The result is fairly magical, like witnessing the plant’s evolution through all its stages of growth. Iris Silver Mist starts out with a rooty, carrot-like note that is all iris bulbs, vegetal and earthy with a slightly spicy snap. As the fragrance evolves, we make our way up out of the earth, along the sharp, crisp green stalk of the plant. Once it is warmed by the skin, the floral aspect becomes more prominent and we are treated to the iris flower in all its splendor: metallic, dusty, powdery, soft and slightly ghostlike, with hints of its green stem and soil-covered bulb hovering in and out of focus.

Although Roucel may have taken direction from Lutens with respect to the creation, the fragrance speaks to me of another perfume house. While Iris Silver Mist certainly shares some of the bold characteristics of other perfumes in the Lutens line, it felt like their version of a Guerlain, though perhaps with a touch of irony. Iris Silver Mist has good longevity, though its sillage is lighter than many of Luten’s other creations. Many Serge Lutens fans often comment that his perfumes come on too strong when sprayed as opposed to dabbed, and this may be one of the exceptions. While Iris Silver Mist comes in one of the gorgeous “bell jars”, I personally felt compelled to decant it, so I could spray with abandon. Breathtaking.

mode, architecture, beaut??,

Notes: iris, clove, cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, white amber, labdanum, musks, benzoin, incense.

Christian Dior – Diorella

Christian Dior – Diorella

If Diorella had a face, it would be the exquisite beauty of Jane Fonda in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi, B-movie masterpiece Barbarella. Both reflect a beauty which is disarming, innocent, sensual and yet somewhat strange. Dior released Diorella in 1972, yet another masterpiece created by Edmond Roudnitska.


Diorella first tempts you with the freshness of lemony greens rounded out with a touch of melon and floral notes, giving the opening a hint of ripeness. Were it to end there, Diorella would have been an attractive, linear warm-weather fragrance, perfect for after a shower. But as is often the case with great beauty, Diorella has an underlying complexity which must be experienced if its beauty is to be fully appreciated.

Regardless of how many times I smell the opening, I am always surprised by a sense of underlying strangeness just beneath the surface, not unlike smelling an approaching storm before one feels the first drop.  As the top dissipates, a savory note of basil begins pushing toward the surface, which seems both out of place and brilliant, hinting at the richness of soil which lies underneath. Diorella is not unlike a flower blooming in reverse, its petals collapsing onto themselves and rolling up into the stem, which then plunges below the surface back into its damp, musky bulb. Diorella takes its time unfolding, each layer becoming increasingly sensual as the earthiness of oakmoss and vetiver settle down into the warmth of patchouli and musk.

If Diorella had sisters (or daughters perhaps), for me they would be Calyx Prescriptives and Cristalle for their green ripeness and Ma Griffe for its mossy magnificence.diorella


Notes: Lemon, Peach, Basil, Bergamot, Melon, Green Notes, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Violet, Rose Bud, Carnation, Cyclamen, Oakmoss, Vanilla, Clove, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Musk, and Patchouli.

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