mardi 1 novembre 2011

Serge Lutens De Profundis: Death freshens up

(Pour la version française, cliquez ici.)

Despite the rumours, Serge Lutens is not quite ready to hand in the pipettes. At least not before he’s had another shot at dismaying his die-hard fans with his second Eau, which will be presented to the press next week. Meanwhile, De Profundis, a suiting fragrance to review on the day of the dead. 

The name conjures so many cultural and religious references no actual fragrance can live up to it; besides, by the time you’ve finished mentioning all of them, not to mention admiring the juice in the bottle with its glorious ultraviolet glint, you’re too written out to tackle the actual scent.
My first test runs of De Profundis elicited a few surprising reactions. A perfumer friend squirmed for about an hour at a café table before blurting out “What’s that you’re wearing? Something about it makes me very uncomfortable.”

“The chrysanthemum is tinged with bitterness. I added, as is sometimes mentioned, a hazelnut flavour over a superb incense. If “De Profundis” triggers unease, I am delighted! It would have been a pity to let this flower waste away in cemeteries, wouldn’t it?”, Serge Lutens replied when I reported this to him.

Could it be that there is something of a funereal aura – the sweetish odor of putrefaction – hanging over De Profundis? I’m grateful to say I couldn’t tell. But my initial impression was indeed a haunting sense of déjà-smelled – perfumery is nothing if not a house of ghosts…

At first, something about the tension between De Profundis’s slightly bitter, sappy-fresh greenness splashed on a milky-nutty effect brought Comme des Garçons Calamus (Series 1: Leaves) to mind, but no… Then it dawned on me: Dune.[i]

Fresh, green orientals are an olfactory oxymoron, but both Jean-Louis Sieuzac’s underappreciated classic for Dior and the latest Palais-Royal exclusive belong to this oddball category. 
But the herbal bitterness in Dune is somewhat stronger, and the nutty, coumarinic, oriental softness of the heart and base more pronounced. Where Dune straddles its extremes by developing as imperceptibly as a sand dune shifting of its own accord, De Profundis, in a typical Lutensian fashion, goes for a more baroque option, with dry, raspy incense poking through the green-white abstract floral, which seems to borrow in equal parts from muguet, magnolia and carnation (could there be a touch of pepper in there that blew over from Vitriol d’Oeillet?).

A dab of animalic funkiness reminiscent of chamomile along with a fair dose of indole give the floral note heft; alongside the touch of soapiness, and modestly tucked under the hazelnut effect, I’m getting a tiny whiff of saltiness and what I could describe as chestnut flower, or rather what chestnut flowers smells of – something Lutens alludes to obliquely in the press release (“…leading altar boys, priest, undertaker, beadle and grave-diggers to some sort of celebration where they could indulge gleefully in vice.”) Maybe I’ve just read the marquis de Sade too much, but to my nose there is a hint of… fresh celebration in De Profundis. 
Life and death. Pourquoi pas?
Illustration: Maria Casarès as Death in a screen capture from Jean Cocteau's Orphée.

[i] Re-reading Octavian’s review after writing this, I see he homed in on the same comparison , which I hadn’t noticed the first time round .

18 commentaires:

  1. Now here's one review I can read straight away, because I know it'll be ages before I get to smell the scent.

    Ive always loved Dune, but somehow, the tone of your review doesn't suggest that you've fallen for this latest effort from SL. How did you find the longevity? OC wasn't too impressed, was he?

  2. I already had samples from two european friends this summer. Overall impression, white floral with a little earthy green tinge/violet-tinged top note. I was told it smells "pretty" and feminine.


  3. Persolaise, I sprayed it on about eight hours ago and it's still quite strong and diffusive, so that's not an issue to me. I found out years ago that the bell jar scents have much better volume and long-lastingness when transferred to an atomizer.
    But you're right, it's not the type of note that speaks most to my heart. Though the current version of Dune is a bit thinner than the original, to me it's the stranger of the two.

  4. Emma, it *is* pretty and feminine. I wish the incense came out more strongly over the development though, for contrast. But that might be my skin.

  5. I wore this today, on the day of the dead. . .love its green floral vibe atop incense. It's my favorite Lutens in quite a while. I wore it today for its underlying creepiness, its crepuscular vibe. Strangely, I could see it just as easily in the spring,for it's green life, pushing up from the dead of winter, "out of the depths."

    My knowledge of flowers is abysmal, but I think of this as more marigold-like in its opening. I don't think of chrysanthemums as having much scent. Bitter, dissonant orange then green and floral. I love it. Sprayed from a decant, it lasted about 6 hours on my skin.

    Tonight, I changed to Boxeuses, and I'd be hard pressed to choose which I love more. I want both. Hopefully, I'll be able to visit Paris soon, and then wear them both with abandon. These disturbing, passionate Lutens fragrances are why I keep searching for new scent experiences. Thanks for your timely review. Be well.

  6. HemlockSillage, I went and smelled chrysanthemums at the florist's -- in fact that's one of the reasons I waited so long to write the review: I wanted to compare. Sadly, the varieties on offer were pretty much scentless.
    I'm happy you got so much pleasure and inspiration out of De Profundis and Boxeuses -- hope you'll be able to come and get the full bottles soon!

  7. A floral from Serge Lutens is something I can put my money on. It is nice to read positive reviews because I know I am going to love it, it just makes my preconceptions more justified :)
    Marrigolds would be lovely, I love there smell, to me it is more honeyed leather than floral, I can live with marrigolds. Very excited about this! and about the new Eau. I just loved the first one. It has the same ironed cotton note I loved in Gris Clair...

  8. Memory of Scent, I'll probably be giving a couple of hints about the new Eau next week, but the actual review will be posted closer to launch date, early next year.

  9. I tried De Profundis the day it was introduced, and while it made me think "baroque" for the first ten minutes, I didn't find it strange at all. I really must get atomizers for the Lutens bell jars. The tiny bit of De Profundis that was dabbed on my arm at the shop disappeared far too fast and my tired nose gave up. I decided not to purchase.
    As for Dune, it's one of my faves. There is something different in the new Dune, which I recently purchased, but after a half hour or so I think it's the same, or maybe I stop paying close attention. Dune is truly strange, there's nothing like it. It's not even beautiful. It's on its own wavelength or something, because it's warm, but doesn't register as cozy and comforting. I did not think of Dune with my arm pressed to my nose in the Jardins du Palais Royal, though.

  10. Carla, that's why I say that Dune is the odder of the two. A significant bit of its structure can be found in a Chanel... Not saying the dots should be connected since perfumers often work on similar accords...
    Anyway, the atomizer is absolutely the best technique. Those teeny dabs never cut it for me!

  11. I have absolutely no idea which Chanel you mean! I don't think it's like any of the Exclusifs. Nor Coco Madamoiselle. Chance?

  12. Carla, of course you know that if I answer that, Chanel will have to kill me... ;-)

  13. I think you mean Cristalle de Chanel....

  14. I don't, actually... It's something that came out after Dune.

  15. Oh yes, I forgot about Allure, and I actually used to wear it, along with Dune. I haven't smelled Allure in a long time.