The earthy autumnal scent of chrysanthemum is evident to my nose from the start. In the background is that bitter Oud-like wood note that Lutens is so devoted to and which ruins a dozen of his scents for me.
I don't get the carnation, violet or hyacinth as distinct notes. There is a mild sweetish vibe which supports the chrysanthemum, but which is unimpressive.
It is for me another of the non-scents, so light and so ephemeral as to disappear within minutes. This is one that certainly baffles me, given all the positive and in depth reviews here of its effects on emotions.
I give it a neutral as it is an experience lost on me that could be due to intervening factors I'm not aware of. Definitely one that should not be purchased blind.
This is a happy perfume, able to breathe atmosphere into a blue skied and fairly hot day. I don’t find the marketing spin at all helpful, obscuring the perfume’s effect for me. The name, the story attached to this name, vibrant purple dye, none of it seems to fit my experience of the smell.
De Profundis is deceptively light at first, but soon blooms into a huge and long-lasting haze. When I decant some drops from my 2011 bell jar into a vial and apply a couple of sprays, it is like sitting on a stone bench under a blossoming tree whilst I rest my back after attending to a flower bed. The flowers are neither sweet or sharp, and this bit is in sync with the perfume’s name, a turbid accord takes up a prominent place amidst the floral sunlight medley, that successfully conjures up the idea of the smell of fresh soil, a moody presence adding an undercurrent of sulkiness. There is subtle frankincense low and creeping in the shady corners. The description melancholic could fit here.
This perfume is tenacious, and that is what I don’t like about it in the far drydown, which is a monotonous greenish floral, not unpleasant or a scrubber but surprisingly weedy, and tiring, with an aquatic transparent feeling, like water left to stagnate in an old vase or collect in rain barrel. When it reaches the last stage I layer on a different perfume. A seasonal wear so doesn’t receive much use, but I choose it some mornings in the Spring.
From the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord!
Despite the chilling despair of Psalm 130 from which the title De Profundis (“From the Depths”) was taken, and the gloomy death poem that Oncle Serge sent out with it, there is nothing melancholic or funereal about De Profundis the perfume. That’s the problem with back-story in perfume – one association from the perfumer and our mind rushes to meet it, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Oncle Serge hadn’t mentioned death, nobody would be talking about this perfume using words such as death, sadness, melancholy, or funerals. But he did, and they do…
Actually, De Profundis is a rather classical piece of work, its chilly, wet green floral opening recalling in particular the muguet dampness of vintage Diorissimo and the hyacinth dewiness of Chamade. The opening notes are vivid and naturalistic – they made me gasp! You get the impression of a clump of flowers being ripped from the earth and being held up to your nose to inhale them, dripping wet roots, crushed stalks, stamens, clinging earth, dewy petals and all.
What flowers? Hard to tell, only that there is a wet, green, stemmy feel to them all – I sense the bitterness of crushed dandelion stalks, tulip bulbs, lily of the valley (the sweet, slightly soapy “white” scent of the flowers), sharp hyacinth, and later on, the fruity sweetness of violet petals. I don't know what chrysanthemums smell like, but perhaps they smell like a mixture of all these flowers. I find it to be a joyful, cheerful opening – akin to spring flowers pushing their way through the frozen earth and snow and into the sun.
Yes, the opening is great – wet, green, a bit wild, and definitely earthy. I am not really into purely floral fragrances, but I have to admit that more often than not it is the vivid, naturalistic florals that move me almost to tears – De Profundis achieved this, as did Ostara, En Passant, Sa Majeste La Rose, and Carnal Flower. There is something about the purity of the flowers in these perfumes - I get the same rush of emotion smelling them as I do smelling the flowers in nature. It is perhaps a long-buried spiritual drive within me, something that says, look here, look what nature created for you – look, smell! These perfumes move me because they replicate a tiny piece of that awe I get from nature and capture it in a bottle.
Ah, there I go, despite myself, talking about God and nature, etc., etc. Oncle Serge’s marketing for De Profundis must have worked on me after all.
Anyway, after a thrilling opening, De Profundis starts to deflate under the weight of its own gorgeousness. Floral notes of such dewy, crystalline beauty are very hard to keep aloft – they wilt as quickly as the real flowers do. Even as you are enjoying the savage, wet greenery of the start, the perfume starts to desiccate and shrink back onto itself, like the feet of the Wicked Witch of the East shriveling under the house that Dorothy dropped on her. An ocean of white musk rises to take the burden of the florals on its shoulders, and one hour in, only hot breathing on your white-musked-up skin will revive the ghost of the stupendous green flowers you were smelling before.
It’s such a shame! The same thing happens with Ostara, but that has a much better, creamier dry down that makes the experience more satisfying from beginning to end.
Nevermind. We live in an era where perfumers have to reformulate and take short cuts, and I suspect that this is the sort of gutting that has happened to De Profundis. I don’t mind re-spraying to get that initial burst of beauty, because it really is an opening that deserves to be relived over and over again.
To me, the opening of De Profundis spells out a message of hope – that alive things may emerge from the depths (“De Profundis”) of the black, cold earth after a long, hard winter. That life may begin again.
Despite myself, then, I am making the connection to Psalm 130. Of course, De Profundis is also the name of the letter that Oscar Wilde wrote in an agony of despair and rage to his former lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (“Bosie”), while in prison on charges of moral indecency (Lord Alfred Douglas being the same person who put him there). Tired and nervous from two years in jail under the ever-watchful eyes of cruel guards, Wilde wrote this letter page by page a month before his release, handing each page off at the end of the day because he wasn’t allowed to have books or papers with him in his room.
His letter is full of anger, hatred, and blame (for both himself and Bosie) but ultimately it seeks to lay out the terms for forgiveness. Just like Psalm 130, where the supplicant begs for God’s mercy to lift him out of the depths of his misery, so too is Wilde’s letter a plea to be allowed emerge once again into the light. I like to think that Wilde was able, one day, just outside his barred window, to smell the spring flowers pushing through scads of icy earth, and that he too sensed that there was hope for new life to crawl out of the depths.
Be still my heart, one of the most fragile, ethereal, beautiful creatures I've ever had the luck of crossing. I could describe notes (the dark florals, chilly incense, and green stems), but it just wouldn't do it justice.
De Profundis, like the Oscar Wilde letter to his former, and hated, lover, is dark, sad, cold, and stunning. The overall effect is akin to feeling the cold winter air hit you after your face is warmed by the fire. Haunting. One of Lutens' best.
I tried this a year ago, and it came across as sober, dry and somewhat gray. I retried it, and it was nice this time, but different than my first take. I read the reviews - De Profundis seems a shape-shifter. As time has gone on, several more wearings, it has emerged as a fragrance I truly love and resonate to.
My first thought is, how many fragrances have I sampled and discarded after one sample that may have, like De Profundis, grown to be favorites? It's an unsettling thought and there are several I'm going to resample because of my experience with this one. Sometimes I can binge-sample, which is never a good thing for me, with the limited fragrance molecule receptors of my nose :) It seems I can pick up only so much in one superficial wearing and am often surprised by a new understanding with several wearings.
But for De Profundis: This time it was hushed, fresh florals, not in a vase but held by the stems in the hands, outdoors; a combination of uncommon flowers that end up having the resonance of a subdued gathering of sweetness, remembrance and memory. I see its association with funerals. These florals have the feel of notes in quiet conversation. Of shared reminiscence. And hopefulness. Serve Lutens deals so well with violet and I sense it's quiet kindness in De Profundis. Combining it with the subtle cheer and sunniness of chrysanthemum makes it come out a little more but gives this gathering a great deal of soul. A vague undercurrent of smooth incense provides a peace and acceptance.
It has the potential because of its midtone quality and modulated air, of being one of the most versatile fragrances I wear. I'm not a big fan of colored juices, but I like the lavender color of this one. It works.
07th April, 2015 (last edited: 25th March, 2016)