jeudi 10 septembre 2009

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir: Lavender in a Tonka Sheath

My first impression of Fourreau Noir, the newest Serge Lutens exclusive Palais-Royal fragrance, was rather distressing. On paper, the strong lavender top-note rushed out with the cold, citrusy metallic clang of dihydromyrcenol (or some similar material), the ubiquitous “fresh” note found in most contemporary fougères. This being the first Lutens I’d actively hated – I’ve been wearing his perfumes since the Palais-Royal boutique opened – my stomach was actually in a knot when I went to test Fourreau Noir on skin.

Sadly, the fresh scent strip definitely wafted DHM (Isabelle Doyen, who I ran into a few minutes later, confirmed this), and the note is still going strong on paper over 24 hours later. Gladly, on my skin, it evaporated so quickly that it was practically unnoticeable.

Fourreau Noir means “black sheath” – either the sheath of a sword or a sheath dress -- an ambiguity that indicates the scent could be worn by men or women. But I would call it a Tiresias fragrance, Tiresias being the blind soothsayer of Greek mythology who spent seven years as a woman as a punishment for troubling the coupling of two snakes. He was famously called upon to settle a quarrel between Zeus and his wife Hera: who, of men or women, drew more pleasure from sex? Tiresias answered “women” and an irate Hera struck him blind (she had claimed it was men).

Similarly, Fourreau Noir changes gender mid-flight. It begins its existence as a masculine, inasmuch as lavender is perceived as a masculine note. This particular lavender is quite dense, almost medicinal, with a burnt, licorice-y edge, and lasts several hours on (my) skin, but when the tonka bean and immortelle kick in, Fourreau Noir is dominated by tobacco. As time goes on, the lavender melds into the tonka through its balsamic notes; or rather, the tonka seems to suck it up until Fourreau Noir becomes a thick, powdery, almond-scented aura shaded with wisps of incense, and assumes a more feminine appearance.

The lavender/tonka bean blend is what sets the composition in motion, but if Fourreau Noir morphed more quickly into its deliciously balsamic drydown, it would probably join its sister bell jars in my perfume closet. As it is, the lavender slices sword-like through the voluptuous tonka-incense base – clearly the sheath – too sharply for me to settle into the scent.

Just as last year’s El Attarine felt like Santal de Mysore wedged into Bois de Violette, Fourreau Noir may well be a variation on earlier motifs, this time a fleshier reworking of Encens et Lavande grafted on a bit of Fumerie Turque. Though there is nothing radically original about the scent – it is essentially an oriental fougère, but richer and better balanced than similar offerings in the mainstream – it has a late(ish)-stage, anthological quality that makes me wonder what past accords Lutens will feel inclined to perfect next. There are, it is said, dozens more in the pipeline…

Image drawn from Les Mamelles de Tirésias, an opera by Francis Poulenc and Guillaume Apollinaire, staged by Opera Trionfo in Haarlem (2001).

15 commentaires:

  1. Thank you for the review, D. I'm not sure what to think -- I guess I will have to try it, but your impressions do give me pause... Well, hopefully a sample will find its way to my door eventually. Or perhaps I will need to find my way to Paris.

  2. Uh-oh. Lavender and I have a very ambivalent relationship and the word "fresh" can make me back-pedal away from a fragrance as quickly as possible. Immortelle can give me trouble too. Sounds like a prescription for disappointment.

    Ah, but the drydown sounds so nice. And I have learned to always give Serge a chance, or two or three. So, I will dutifully (and happily) find a way to procure a sample, no matter what notes Fourreau features.

  3. Jarvis, you might get another impression. I was talking yesterday with Elisabeth de Feydeau who first reviewed it, and she said the lavender was very discreet on her skin.

  4. Melissa, frankly, the "fresh" molecule was gone in a flash on my skin and the immortelle discreet enough to make me wonder if it was there at all (no curry/maple syrup effect). The strong lavender was more of an issue for me.

  5. Lavender is not my thing and it clings to me for dear life + sometimes I seem to have an issue with tonka, but being a Serge (and the mention of tobacco) I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Must dig out the wax sample for what it is worth.

  6. Silvia: bear in mind that, as you well know, the wax samples represent the dry-down. Lavender is a clinger on me as well and I found that part a little rough to get through. Kind of a deal-breaker, actually.

  7. It's a sad little thing.

    That Hera was a long way from a sad little thing though, wasn't she? She always gave me nightmares...

  8. Lee: yup, Hera was never a goddess one could warm to, at least in the versions of the myths that came down to us from the Latin authors... Hope she hasn't put the spell on Serge. She's a spiteful one. But then they all are on Mount Olympus, aren't they?

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  10. Hi, D!
    Your 1st reaction (distressing) & then assessment on drydown (not so original) gave me cause to ponder your earlier thoughts on originality as such (posted in reaction to Billy's question about Serge Noire). It seems possible that, after a certain point in one's experience, a sense of the original is hard to come by, if only because one has already experienced so much [think the dry wit of a somewhat jaded, but still game, middle age]. And because a "vocabulary of expectations" (let's call it that) has developed without one's even being fully aware of it, things that speak another language are simply baffling, incomprehensible - and, when coming, as it were, out of the mouths of old & cherished friends, just plain scary. For openers, how is one to reply?

    It's as though you've just experienced in practice at least a couple of the things you were describing in theory before.

    I have to say, though, that it took me awhile to understand what was going on in Serge Noire - since my attachments had been through Muscs Koublai Khan, Chene, Borneo - very different to SN which came across as all Kim Novack, grey tweed suit and white gloves at first.

    Finally, must add two qualifications: haven't smelt FN, and am not a fan of lavender myself (makes me think of moths and headaches). So this comment, too, is theoretical.

  11. Christopher, thank you for that thoughtful comment.

    There's a discussion underway on the French post about originality, with one reader arguing that this new scent seems to be just a re-working of old ideas.

    I wouldn't say that it is only that: a perfumer, just like any kind of artist, may modify structures he's already expressed and thinks he may organize otherwise, or better (this was the line taken by Lutens about the reformulation of Féminité du Bois). After all, Roudnitska did mostly that throughout his later career.
    And as I'd written in that earlier response to Billy, Lutens and Sheldrake have already done whatever earth-shaking they had to do, so I believe the matter of originality may be moot *within Lutens' own oeuvre*. This late-period creativity may be just as rewarding.

    However, I'm not sure that my distress came from experiencing something new and unknown in Fourreau Noir. It was more recognizing an accord (lavender + DHM) that is rather a cliché in mainstream perfumery. That language is only too well known, and this is source of my bafflement.
    But then, I'm not a fan of lavender either, which probably explains why I can't warm to this as much as to Nuit de Cellophane, whose proximity to the earlier Dior J'Adore L'Absolue I hadn't noticed initially. I may have felt a little burned by that!

  12. Too funny! While you were kindly replying to me here, I was reading the discussion on the French posts!

    Agree with points you make there & here about 'reworking' being a mode of creation as original as any other - the last few SL pairings seem quite consciously to be that - and rather than mere aging we might do better to call this kind of process 'wisdom'. At least that's how we like to think of it with regard to our own lives!

    I was reminded of 2 of Kurosawa films - Seven Saumari and Kagemusha - the latter very late in the director's life, a reworking of the same themes as in the earlier film; but on a grander scale and with greater simplicity of form. Original in itself, though you could clearly see the familiar problems to which he was returning.

    And I agree that it is too often the case that those who revolutionize the field come to be seen as passe - overshadowed by their very success. (Didn't SL make that a motto at one point: "le mode se demode c'est meme son principe" (apologies, my writing in French is terrible!) So I appreciated how - on the French post - you so fiercely stuck up for SL, CS, and ER.

    I take your point about the problem of the cliche. That the combination didn't seem to escape cliche is a shortcoming.

    Don't think I've tried NdeC. SN was my first foray into the export scents, and I'm slow. Re FN: waxes imperfect at best, and trip to Paris long overdue.

    all best wishes

  13. Christopher: in arts, I'm quite the gerontophile, and no one was freer than the latter-day Picasso -- or, for that matter, the centenarian Raul Ruiz. Of course, perfumery *is* an applied art and more caught up in its need to please, though I'm fairly sure that's not a huge factor for Lutens, who seems to inhabit his own world.
    And your French is fine! Tell me when you make it to Paris...