100 Fragrances Every Frag-Head Guy Should Try, part 19: Serge Lutens
by, 4th November 2011 at 12:49 AM (9002 Views)
For todayís rather late installment, I give you my salute to another of the most important lines in perfumery today, Serge Lutens. Though best known for perfumes that masterfully balance sticky sweetness with spicy undertones over woody and resinous basenotes in tribute to the bazaars of the middle east, Serge also deserves kudos for his simpler florals and, on a deeper level, for his self-referential style, going back through the years to quote his older perfumes in clever ways that reward his fans for paying attention to the little details he clearly works hard on.
53. Feminite du Bois by Serge Lutens
Serge Lutens first designed Feminite du Bois for Shisedo before he launched his own line, but itís now available under his name. Purists will insist that you track down a sample of the original Shisedo version, but Sergeís version is great on its own and easy to find, so thatís the version I went with.
As Sergeís first scent over which he had complete creative control, it ended up predicting many of the themes heíd return to with the rest of his line, from plummy rose to dried fruits to the use of aldehydes and patchouli with the fruit and rose to make ďsparklyĒ jam. As such, Feminite is required sniffing as a guidebook to the Lutens line, as well as because of its cult status. Smellwise, it clearly owes a debt to Egoiste and its mix of patchouli, rose, plum, and aldehydes over sandalwood, but Feminite has more sparkle and life and expands the sandalwood into a rich buttery stew, resplendent with a bazaarís worth of dried fruits and spices.
54. Arabie by Serge Lutens
Arabie is probably the ultimate Lutens. Itís thick and sweet but medicinal and somewhat strange. Itís a dense mix of his favorite ingredients, resulting in the smell of dried fruits and pie spices over a thick, bready base, but with just enough cumin to give the illusion of a both sweat and Middle Eastern food. Thereís also a strange mentholated quality that makes sure that no one mistakes Arabie for a gourmand.
55. Chergui by Serge Lutens
A heavily-suggested Basenotes favorite, I couldnít possible leave off Chergui. Itís a deft mix of patchouli and that tobacco smell from Le Male, but somehow sparkling and with an aromatic herbal green element keeping it bright. Itís got the Serge Lutens thickness, but without being at all standoffish or sticky sweet.
56. Sa Majeste la Rose by Serge Lutens
Sa Majeste la Rose is on this list for two reasons. First, itís here to demonstrate that, in addition to his famously complex fruit spiced ďorientalĒ concoctions, Serge also does really nice, relatively simple florals quite well. Second, like the entries in the ďNecessary SniffingĒ post, itís also a great example of a very common mixture of notes.
Of course, itís mostly rose, but itís the supporting notes that make a rose perfume. Almost all rose perfumes (Sa Majeste included) top their rose with violets to make it smell brighter and a pinch of faux lily to give it a leafy green undertone. They also commonly use honey as a basenote, because itís a surprisingly good compliment to the rose, while berries give a subtle depth. Seriously, there must be hundreds of rose/violet/lily/berry/honey perfumes out there Ė if you can name a straight-up non-dark rose perfume, itís almost guaranteed to follow these notes. As such, itís a mix thatís worth getting to know. To compliment this common structure, some perfumes add a pinch of mint to the top (Jo Maloneís Red Roses is known for this), while older perfumes often use aldehydes to give a subtle waxy feel (this is one of the tricks in Sa Majeste) or a touch of patchouli to give depth.
57. Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens
Amber, like leather, is another one of those smells thatís open to interpretation. Sure, thereís ambergris, but itís a whole different thing and the actual ambergris tincture Iíve smelled is rough and almost moldy smelling and resembles oud more than any amber perfume I know. As such, the smell we know as amber is actually a complex mix of ingredients, usually stryrax and balsams (which give its medicinal and buttery facets), and often incorporating vanilla and frankincense for character.
Ambre Sultan has made this list not only because itís one of the highlights of the Serge Lutens collection, but also as a truly great amber perfume. It balances the amber perfectly, with enough buttery creaminess to give depth, but also with enough herbal twang to give it brightness and balance. Ambre Sultan pairs its amber smell with a typically Lutens spice bazaar of cumin and curry, as well as green herbs and sweet dried fruits.
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