mardi 22 juillet 2008

Serge Noire by Serge Lutens


Incense is the first letter of the perfume alphabet, its most archaic expression and its strictest sense: perfume, from the Latin verb fumare, “smoke”, with per, “through”. It is the smoke of the precious aromatic resin that seals the alliance of men and gods on the altar. The most incorruptible substance, exempt from the fate of all vegetal and animal flesh; the purest and most combustible, which consumes itself without leaving any remains, other than its fragrant wreaths. Immateriality itself.

It is to this Alpha and Omega of perfume that Serge Lutens has dedicated Serge Noire, the fragrance that bears his name, the one that best expresses him – it was, apparently, several years in the making. As though all the flowers and spices of the Orient had to be explored before reaching incense, the sacred ingredient the Ancient Greeks believed was gathered in the country of Saba at the hottest time of the year.

If Serge Lutens, in the text that accompanies the launch of Serge Noire, speaks of Japanese temples or of haute couture salons (see the interview he gave to The Scented Salamander), it is not unlikely that he also thought of the mythical dimension of incense: he also mentions the Phenix, the legendary and immortal bird who builds his nest of incense and myrrh, and who regenerates by flying into the sun. After all, incense is part of the fragrant heritage of so many cultures that it can be dreamed in many guises.

You’d expect, when smelling what Lutens calls his “gray oriental”, a charcoal drawing; black dust blowing grey clouds on white paper. You imagine an austere scent: black fabric on white skin, the essence of haute couture.

But have Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake, who founded the modern school of orientals, ever given in to the fleshless and grim charms of minimalism?

The first application, a dab in the Salons du Palais-Royal – in the combined effluvia of all the other fragrances – yields the balsamic, softly smoky cinnamon-vanilla note of benzoin.
The second application, sprayed at home from the sample, is quite different: what leaps out is the clove, along with another peppery note (Helg, in her Perfume Shrine review, says it’s elemi, a spicy, peppery and citrusy resin).The salubrious and slightly leathery incense – much softer than the type that is burned in churches – then weaves its curls around a vaguely powdery floral note. Carnation? As usual, the Palais-Royal won’t tell. But it is oddly reminiscent of the original Coty L'Origan...
When sprayed, however, Serge Noire doesn’t prominently smell of benzoin at the outset – its honeyed accents only come out well into the development.

Serge Noire doesn’t play on sharp contrasts: it is rather a sizzling succession of resins, a superposition of grey veils. Unlike Lutens’ first essay on incense, Encens et Lavande, the composition doesn’t stress the coldness of the note. Despite its age-old, meditative rigour, Serge Noire smiles as serenely as the archaic Greek Korê.


Serge Noire will be launched outside of France in September 2008.

Image: Photograph of smoke, from http://www.lumendipity.com/

26 commentaires:

  1. Brava "fleshless and grim charms of minimalism" indeed! I'm happy to comment first! No wonder I thought I'd be captivated by SN that rainy day I happened to steal a scent strip from the shop! Incense clove benzoin spice are all my friends, although sometimes they don't speak to eachother very nicely! I'm delighted that they have combined in such a salubrious way!

    RépondreSupprimer
  2. Well, you were literally one of the first members of the public to sniff, you lucky woman! Serge Noire is quite wonderful, and I see a full bottle in my near future...

    RépondreSupprimer
  3. Ooh, I'm all afluster! Thanks so much for reviewing this much anticipated Serge release, D - it sounds like something I would love; but then I've yet to meet a Serge that will leave me indifferent. I can't help but feel a teensiest dab of envy :)
    Have you by any chance sampled El Attarine? Now, that one seems to have my name written all over, in gold capital letters no less. :)
    P.S. I'm so miffed that my friend from Paris surprised me by coming here for the holidays earlier than usual. I would have asked her to bring me a bottle of La Myrrhe! *sigh*

    RépondreSupprimer
  4. What a great lede, and a great lead-in image as well. Did you see how Versace and Alexander McQueen did almost exactly the same smoke embroidery/jacquard pattern for their most recent men's collections? I found it rather strange.

    Anyway, this sounds lovely, although I do have to note that in all the descriptions I've seen of it so far, no one seems to go out of his or her way to describe its originality. Does it radically reinterpret incense? It sounds good though, and I'm hoping I get some of that carnation when I sniff it as well. Like Dusan, I await your opinion of El Attarine, despite the fact that je deteste immortelle.

    RépondreSupprimer
  5. Dusan, I'm with you on the Lutens. I own about half the bell jars, a handful of exports, and I think it's still by far one of the most exceptional fragrance lines. La Myrrhe would've been an excellent choice - a perfect East meets West blend of resin and aldehydes.
    I haven't smelled El Attarine: that's due out in September. I'll try to catch a whiff when I go back to buy Serge Noire, but no promises...

    RépondreSupprimer
  6. Oh dear, to have found this through your link at the bottom of my post (thanks!). Sorry about being so late in coming to say how lovingly you wrote about it.
    It's truly magical, isn't it? I grabbed a bottle as soon as my little fingers could do it!

    RépondreSupprimer
  7. Billy, I'm ashamed to say I've been to busy to follow the collections, even from afar... Isn't that picture something? I hope the author will forgive for filching it. He explains how he did it on the link below my post.

    As for originality, I'd say that as Lutens-Sheldrake have raised the bar very high on that in the past, with other houses following suit, and faithful perfumistas expanding their range of tastes and perception...

    For that reason, it may not be as earthshaking as earlier releases, but it's of a much higher standard, in that respect, than the other recent exports. Quite perfect.

    RépondreSupprimer
  8. Hi Helg, I was just going to write to you to say I'd linked your review! Silly me, I thought the fragrance was coming out in August and only got to the Palais-Royal today, when I could've smelled it three weeks ago! I'm glad we agree on its beauty. And I'll be getting a bottle this week, I'm sure.
    I'm curious to know if you get the "benzoin first" effect when you dab, too? It's the darnedest thing...

    RépondreSupprimer
  9. It was interesting to read both your and Helg's reviews sequentially - I got a much more austere and incensey picture of the scent from Helg's review, and more of a warm benzoin/clove picture from yours. If you both were convinced to purchase, then I am sure I will love it. Must call the Perfume Shoppe in Vancouver to reserve my bottle!

    RépondreSupprimer
  10. I was really struck by my first impression in the shop: it was so much warmer, rounder and benzoin-laden that the first, tempting descriptions had led me to expect. Much more enticing and seductive...
    I really wonder if it wasn't dabbing versus spraying. Anyway, I'm sure you'll want this. I'll bet -- o sacrilege -- that it's lovely when it's layered...

    RépondreSupprimer
  11. ::thud:: Benzoin & incense??? Good googly-moogly, sign me up! I am now panting to smell this.

    RépondreSupprimer
  12. Well, yeah, A., you kinda need this. Now pick yourself up from the floor, dust off those Stefano Pilatis (the ones that were chewed on by Shine) and call up your local Serge provider for the launch date! For once, I'm so happy to report on an export that all my non-European readers can lay their noses on!

    RépondreSupprimer
  13. Sadly, the average fragrance customer has been conditioned to shun complexity for the "fleshless and grim charms of minimalism" or at least for a vision of fruity cleanliness. It's all good and fine for enthusiasts such as ourselves to champion SL for what he clearly hasn't forgotten how to do, but I have to wonder as to how (and when) the big brands will begin to pay heed to this branch of the niche market and give us perfumes that are "phenomena" in their own right. Only Tom Ford (Black Orchid, Private Blend and White Patchouli) seems to be going out on this limb, and for some reason many consumers sample them and look for reinforcement not to buy (comments such as, "Oh...oh... it's too strong" or "It's dirty"). How can we in the blogosphere put "power" and "complexity" back on people's lips, making them merits rather than detractions?

    RépondreSupprimer
  14. That's a very relevant comment, C., I've just been thinking along the same lines, in particular about Tom Ford. He *has* pushed the envelope, especially in his Private Blends.
    I do think the blogosphere has some measure of influence in exposing more complex compositions. But I doubt we'll ever make a dent in the big guy's marketing decisions. Plus, if you have to google "santa maria novella" or "tubéreuse criminelle" to find us, how are we going to reach and teach the Juicy Couture fans?

    RépondreSupprimer
  15. stella polaris1 août 2008 20:43

    it is also sold at Sephora in Champs-Élysées! I saw it, and tried it last Thursday..

    RépondreSupprimer
  16. stella polaris1 août 2008 20:43

    it is also sold at Sephora in Champs-Élysées! I saw it, and tried it last Thursday..

    RépondreSupprimer
  17. Stella Polaris, yes I know, it's now available all over France, but it wasn't when I wrote the post. I will amend the mention, though, thanks for reminding me.

    RépondreSupprimer
  18. Carmencanada, I really enjoyed your review. The boys at Aedes gave me a few vials this week so I have plenty until I can buy my own bottle as soon as it 's released in New York. My first impressions, Gris Clair stripped off of lavender, same incensy base and fruity apple cinnamon topnotes, reminiscent of Rousse but toned down. After an hour I could barely smell it but later in the evening as I was outside with the high humidity Noire revived into a subtle pathchouli incensy drydown.

    RépondreSupprimer
  19. Thanks Emmanuella. I'm glad we agree we've got a winner here! I also find that Serge Noire lives well in the heat and humidity. I like to spray it in the decolleté, where it wafts up to my nose. I hadn't thought of the Gris Clair connection, but then I've never worn it.
    It actually has quite a lot of "throw": even when it seems to disappear it creates an environment around you.

    RépondreSupprimer
  20. When you have a chance to try Gris Clair please do so, I 'm curious to know if you find any similarities too.

    RépondreSupprimer
  21. E., I've got a sample here. Will do.

    RépondreSupprimer
  22. Love love love!
    Love Ida, the wonderfulest warmest woman in the world!
    And love SN, although must say the b-c-i combo reminds me of something, terribly! Have only worn it for the last two hours but it's definitely
    love love love! :D

    RépondreSupprimer
  23. Dusan, I take it Ida (whom we agree on) sent you a sample? I'm glad you love it. It's been taking some dissing, but will that stop us? I think not.

    RépondreSupprimer
  24. D, yep, it was the lovely Ida who sent me the sample. Dunno, SN isn't exactly me, it's more an aspirational fragrance but it does meld nicely with my skin. Unlike most SLs I've tried, SN starts very dry and smoky, almost austere, on me and, much like Chene, becomes warmer and more 'solid' the longer it sits (though the smokiness remains), a quality that I love about both perfumes. I also feel that the name fits the juice and that more than anything, SN is about benzoin (funny, at times the benzoin registers as dried liquorice!). A beautiful creation indeed... who cares what others think :)
    bises, ma chérie

    RépondreSupprimer
  25. I love that trip from austerity to warmth too... all about the benzoin (the licorice part could be a birch-tarry thing).
    Bisous à you too, mon chou!

    RépondreSupprimer