lundi 25 février 2013

Serge Lutens, the Girl from Berlin and Tomorrow's Eve




Serge Lutens’s launches are increasingly becoming apparatuses (the untranslatable French term dispositif would be more accurate) in which the fragrance itself is the core, but not the sole element at play. And none more so than La Fille de Berlin, whose press presentation was timed to coincide with the Berlin à Paris book and exhibition of Lutens’s photographs. The press release, penned as always by the maestro himself, was every bit as cryptic as its predecessors – as cryptic as a perfume formula to a layman, in fact. A black box of a text teeming with hints and half-whispered secrets about feminine identification (as he did with Billie Holiday for Une Voix Noire), solitude, fear, furor, crime and guilt… 

Once more, the scene seems to be haunted by the ghost of the mother who apparently abandoned little Serge, seen in the text as a receding figure on an earth path… What has she got to do with Berlin? Lutens was born in 1942 in the midst of the German occupation of his native Lille… Does the name of the fragrance translate as “The Girl from Berlin” or “The Daughter of Berlin”?

Digging around in this black box -- this poetic dispositif – can yield rich chains of association which, in all likelihood, was Lutens’s intention. Cross the name of the scent with Lutens’s Expressionist inspiration as a photographer, and you land straight in the Weimar Republic. From there, follow the Rhine – Lutens does write of the Rhine-Gold, of lips dipped in Siegfried’s blood, of an armed maiden – from Wagner to Germany’s leading Expressionist filmmaker Fritz Lang, who adapted the myth of the Nibelungen in 1924…  

Hanna Ralph as Brunhild in Fritz Lang's Siegfried
Margarete Schön as Kriemhild Kriemhild's Revenge

… and from then on to his much better-known Metropolis (1927), where Brigitte Helm embodies two “daughters of Berlin”: the workers’ Madonna Maria, and her evil twin Robot Maria who whips the upper classes into erotic frenzy and leads the workers to destruction.

In Fritz Lang's Metropolis, Brigitte Helm as the real Maria...
... Robot Maria...
... and evil dancing Maria.


What’s all that got to do with perfume, you say? Bear with me. Lang’s two Marias – the virginal worker and the robotic vixen – may well spring from an earlier figure of female duality, perhaps the first android in literature, imagined by the French Symbolist writer Villiers de l’Isle Adam in Tomorrow’s Eve (1886). In it, a fictitious Thomas Edison has invented a robot in the likeness of Miss Alicia, whose perfect beauty is flawed by a shallow soul, in order to save her lover from despair and suicide. This android, Hadaly, is animated not only by Edison’s clever mechanisms, but by the beautiful spirit of a cataleptic woman. A product of human artifice, Miss Alicia’s “twin” is more perfect – closer to the innocence of nature – than the corrupted original, who bears all the female flaws of our mother Eve…

This could already stand as a metaphor for perfume. But Hadaly, the quintessence of female perfection, is literally fed on the quintessence of nature, perfume, since she requires only a few drops of rose oil and amber tincture to “live”… And that’s where Serge Lutens’s Berlin-inspired rose channels Villiers’ android via Fritz Lang’s twin Marias, or indeed Brunhilde and Kriemhilde, who competed with each other for the love of a hero rendered almost invincible by bathing in the blood of the dragon he slew…

Rose. Rose and blood. La Fille de Berlin is the breath of Tomorrow’s Eve, a head-turning potion bursting with rich rose oil on fur-smooth animal notes… Are those claws or thorns at the tips of her fingers? Within the mouth-burning fruity jamminess, there is a hint of metallic-mineral effects, brought on by pepper, conjuring a drop of blood. This is a grand, dark, angry rose, potent enough to seep into the bloodstream, with the glowering radiance of a ruby in the rough. A warrior queen thumbing her nose at all the wimpy yet migraine-inducing roses drenched in laundry musks flooding the market. Poison and antidote.

9 commentaires:

  1. Even if I turn out not to like the scent, I will keep this as one of the most amazing and inspired texts on perfume ever written! I am a cinephile as well as a perfume lover, and I loved your references to Lang and Metropolis.

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  2. By coincidence, our high school is celebrating 20's Day; my son has the part of F. W. Murnau. I so wish I had some of this to wear to the festivities! Great review, you follow SL's allusions through his maze of mysterious writing, always tying it back to the perfume itself. Not an easy task!

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  3. Patuxxa, thank you for your kind words... Researching stills from the Nibelungen made me want to see it again, which I haven't for... longer than I'd be comfortable saying. German cinema of the Weimar Republic era, and its Noir offspring, is pretty much what made a cinephile out of me.

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  4. Marla, I'm wondering how your son will embody Murnau! Nosferatu or Sunrise? What a great activity for a school! And thanks: Lutens does offer so many keys you feel like sometimes they might jam the door...

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  5. great article!

    sounds like a scent for me! can't wait to try this.

    and now i have to go find that story of the twin alicias!

    fun read and great pics (have always loved metropolis)!

    cheers,
    minette

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  6. Minette, thanks! I don't know what English translation is currently available, but it would be either under "Tomorrow's Eve" or "The Future Eve". I almost did my thesis on it here in Paris.

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  7. thanks, denyse. or, i could try my hand at french. maybe my genetics would kick in (i'm half).

    cheers,
    minette

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  8. Minette, let me know when you've given it a try!

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