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

Serge Lutens – Fille en Aiguilles

Serge Lutens – Fille en Aiguilles


Vincent Van Gogh


It seems unbelievable that December is upon us. Winter calls to mind snowy evenings by the fire with a mug of warm spiced tea, after a brisk walk though a pine forest, where the cold night air traps a scent and suspends it in its icy fingers. And while it may not be even remotely cold where I live, the humidity has diminished, and the thermometer has been gracious enough to dip to the point where my favorite winter scents can make their debut.

Serge Lutens is the master of intellectual perfumes, ones which weave an olfactory story. Fille en Aiguilles is no exception, and yet it creates more a sense of atmosphere than a story alone. But how to create a fragrance based on the notes of pine, incense, candied fruit and spices without creating a cliché?

Released in 2009, Fille en Aiguilles is true to the Lutens/Sheldrake formula of combining disparate notes that cannot possibly belong together in any cogent manner, and turning up their more difficult aspects beyond the point of discomfort until they positively soar. Fille en Aiguilles starts out with a candied fruit note reminiscent of wintry holidays that will feel familiar to Lutens fans. It is rendered here with more subtlety than Arabie or Chypre Rouge, as though the intent were to envelop the wearer in a blanket of comfort rather than provoke or shock.


The fruit quickly fades to a forest full of pine and fir notes, warmed with wintry spices, which carry on the opening theme of candied fruit. Pine is a note I never imagined loving in a fragrance, as it could so easily become unimaginative, but here it is rendered with such elegance and creativity, it is difficult not to fall under its spell.

Then Fille en Aiguilles, which roughly translates to “girl in stilettos”, shows us her Lutensian edge with a bit of the camphorous halo many of us have come to love, though rendered with far more delicacy than in his explosive Tubereuse Criminelle. Detractors fear not, the effect is subtle and further subdued by beautiful frankincense. The combined effect is stunning, enveloping the wearer in a soft, smoky haze, much like a tender embrace on a cold winter’s night.

Notes: Pine Needles, Vetiver, Sugary Sap, Laurel, Fir Balsam, Frankincense, Candied Fruit, Spice.

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween


While Halloween is not celebrated in all parts of the world, I enjoy it for the theatrics it provides. People of all ages are encouraged to play a role for a day, dressing as a favorite character, or perhaps something dark and mysterious. For me, no other perfume house captures this dramatic spirit more than Serge Lutens. From his minimalist packaging, to his opulent fragrances, Lutens has a flair for the spectacular.

What better way to spend a few minutes on Halloween than to take a mini-tour of the equally extravagant Les Salons du Palais Royal located at 142 Galerie de Valois, 75001 Paris. The following photographs are courtesy of a kind friend in Paris who battled the elements in order to snap these shots and pick me up a sample of La Vierge de Fer (review to follow). What fragrance will you be wearing today?












































































Serge Lutens – Fourreau Noir

Serge Lutens – Fourreau Noir

Lavender is a top contender for my favorite note status. It is comforting and bracing all at once – a reminder to slow down, and an inspiration to keep going. The scent of lavender has been traditionally used in aromatherapy for relaxation, and it is easy to understand why. One whiff and my mind immediately drifts off to visions of lavender fields in the South of France, where row upon row of the dusky, green-grey stalks wave their lovely purple buds in the wind, imbuing the region with the magical scent of summertime. Lavender is the scent of freshly scrubbed faces and hair and clean sheets drying in the sunshine.

With all of these associations in mind, I was completely unprepared for the treatment of lavender in Fourreau Noir, which translates from the French as “black sheath”. Black indeed, and sharp as a knife. While in my mind Lutens had already created the quintessential lavender fragrance with his 2006 Gris Clair, he revisited the lavender theme in 2009 and turned it on its head.


Fourreau Noir starts out with an sharp, almost metallic citrus note which explodes into an intense, slightly medicinal lavender, but there is no hint of summertime freshness to be found anywhere in this bottle. Instead, Lutens and Sheldrake manage to make lavender come alive with the warmth, and dare I say fur, of a living creature. The extreme lavender opening softens and blurs out of focus with the introduction of tonka and coumarin, lending a sweet warmth to the lavender note that I love on some days and cannot wrap my mind around on others.

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Fourreau Noir is a perfect cold-weather scent when the balsamic syrup of the dry-down feels warm and smooth rather than cloying. Indeed, this is one of those fragrances that seems larger than life in the heat and humidity, but is as soft and tame as a kitten in the winter. While I spend the warmer months of the year looking forward to wrapping myself in oriental fragrances, Fourreau Noir offers the depth of this genre, while hinting of warmer days to come. This one takes the prize for the most ingenious and unusual treatments of lavender.

A special thanks to Barney’s for the sample.


Notes: Lavender, Tonka, Musk, Almonds, Smoke


Serge Lutens – Douce Amere

Serge Lutens – Douce Amere


Fall is without a doubt my favorite season. While we face the bitter regret of another summer passed, we can rejoice in the knowing that sweet times lie ahead in the coming months, where the endless holidays give us reason to unite with family and friends. That interplay which makes life interesting carries over to fragrance as well, where the juxtaposition of seemingly incongruous elements often creates something which is greater than the sum of its parts.

Christopher Sheldrake perfectly captures this duality in Serge Lutens’s Douce Amere, a 2000 fragrance which is only available outside the U.S. at present. Mention “oriental” and “Lutens” in the same sentence and no doubt Ambre Sultan will come to mind, but Douce Amere is one of Lutens’ most unique creations, despite not being his most well-known. On first sniff, it doesn’t smell like an oriental, nor does it smell much like a Lutens, as it features none of the velvety, viscous, jammy qualities many of his fragrances are known for. Douce Amere is instead like a pale green chiffon, light and sumptuous, but slightly synthetic in a deliciously elegant way.


Douce Amere starts off with a blast of medicinal wormwood, a bitter green in the manner of Diptyque’s Eau de Lierre (in character only, the two smell nothing alike). The herbal concoction is lightened by a touch of mint, which is so subtle and elusive it seems to linger just out of reach. The green fairy, as absinthe was traditionally known, then spreads her glorious wings with subtle floral notes, tiare being the most prevalent to my nose, but maintains a largely anisic character throughout.

 First bitter, then sweet, it’s absinthe of course.

As green as wormwood is grey, these two ideas tussle inside me… only to kiss and make up on the skin.       Serge Lutens

Just when one imagines that the bitterness has taken hold, Douce Amere turns on the point of a knife into a soft, slightly powdery skin scent. A light musk, with a whisper soft woods, renders a delicate sweetness which speaks to some of chocolate. It serves to soften and sweeten the bitterness of the fragrance, but Douce Amere retains a light dry quality throughout which keeps it from becoming a true gourmand. While the two fragrances smell nothing alike, the combination of anise with subtle gourmand elements reminds me of the effect created by Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, although that masterpiece possesses the furry, warm quality we generally associate with orientals, while Douce Amere does not.

Like many of the Lutens fragrances, Douce Amere has wonderful lasting power, but its sillage is much gentler, wearing more politely close to the skin than say Chypre Rouge. I enjoy the tension created by the transition between bitter and sweet, but find Douce Amere deliciously wearable, even in warm weather.

Notes: Absinthe, Cinnamon, Anise, Lily, Jasmine, Tiare, Tagette, Marigold, Musk, Cedar.


Serge Lutens – De Profundis

Serge Lutens – De Profundis


De Profundis, released in 2011, is centered around the scent of chrysanthemums, a flower which is frequently associated with funerals, and which for many brings to mind somber associations. I made the point of seeking out chrysanthemum blooms to form an unbiased opinion, which I believe is consistent with what Monsieur Lutens was trying to achieve intellectually: to give this lovely flower new life through the power of fragrance. While De Profundis is a realistic impression of chrysanthemum with its spicy floral character, it is much more.

I am always astonished by the ability of the Lutens/Sheldrake team to create perfumes with so much character. Whether one enjoys the resulting creation or not is sometimes besides the point – there is no denying the complexity of Lutens’ fragrances, which always seem to evoke a certain sense of atmosphere. De Profundis goes beyond this point, conveying a sense of presence.

My first impression of the fragrance brought to mind a “paranormal” phenomena known as clairalience – a form of extra-sensory perception where one acquires information primarily through smell. People who experience clairalience will suddenly smell the scent of flowers, a familiar perfume, or some other scent with no visible or logical source, the explanation being that a deceased loved one is making their visitation or “haunting” clearly known by way of a scented manifestation.

Indeed, the character of De Profundis is so memorable as to be haunting. While there is no denying the more somber associations, I find the fragrance to be ethereal not corporeal, the scent of a spirit. The soaring, bright green opening gives way to an abstract spicy floral with a tinge of decay, like flowers past their prime. Despite the presence of indolic notes, the fragrance remains light.Screen Shot 2013-05-04 at 10.40.35 PM

The crisp opening is tempered by a subtle incense which seems to hover over the spicy, sharp bouquet, giving it a depth unusual for a floral. It is this contradiction which helps to make De Profundis so memorable, as it seems to inhabit two distinct realms at once.


Notes: chrysanthemum, dahlia, lily, violet, earthy notes.

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.

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

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

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

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