Tea at Buckingham Palace. That is Serge Lutens‘ goal and inspiration for Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre. It is a cozy, versatile, unisex fragrance that takes woody oriental notes to the edges of the gourmand category in a symphony of milky tea, candied ginger, honey, dark chocolate, spices and woodsy notes. It’s not revolutionary or particularly complex, but it is quite lovely. Even better, it is a fragrance that is currently heavily discounted for US buyers on a variety of different sites as Serge Lutens is discontinuing this fragrance from his American rotation.
We’ll get to the discontinuation issue shortly but, first, the perfume itself. Serge Lutens describes the scent as
Tea at Buckingham Palace.
Centered on candied ginger, this fragrance is a ritual ceremony.
It caters to the quicksilver in us, to our imagination dressed in white gloves.
The perfume was created in 2008 by Christopher Sheldrake and its full set of notes, as compiled from Fragrantica and Luckyscent, seem to be:
Top notes are tea and bergamot; middle notes are candied ginger, cinnamon and woodsy notes; base notes are dark cacao, honey, amber, patchouli and pepper.
I’ll be frank: nothing about this scent evokes a formal, regal, reserved, diamond-clad, white-gloved Queen Elizabeth II to me (or any other British royal for that matter). In this instance, that is a very good thing because this is not an aloof, distant, haughty or baroque scent. Instead, it is an infinitely cozy scent that covers you in a light, soft veil of sweet, spicy notes like your favorite, creamy cashmere sweater.
Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre opens on my skin with fresh, zesty lemon that quickly turns spiced from the lightly smoked woods that feel almost like cedar. For a split second, the lemon note feels a little like the start of a man’s cologne but the impression is fleeting and the citrus is soon warmed by the woods and by the advent of ginger. The latter is simultaneously like the fresh ingredient and like its candied, crystallized version. Hints of cinnamon (and something that feels like cloves) also appear, along with the subtly orange undertone to bergamot.
The citrus notes are lovely but, alas, a little too fleeting for me. Within minutes, they are overshadowed by far sweeter tones. There is rich, dark honey which is surprisingly airy and light in feel, and never thick, cloying or excessively sweet. The honey is tinged with a dark chocolate element which is chewy and rich like a dark ganache, and subtly sprinkled with cinnamon powder. Dancing along the edges are quiet touches of patchouli, black pepper, and amber.
The whole thing may sound like a very heavy combination of elements, but the perfume is extremely light, beautifully well-blended, never overdone, and surprisingly soft. It projects very little beyond one’s body even from the start, and just gets closer and closer to the skin as time goes by. The very discreet notes cover you in an airy cocoon of spiced, candied ginger infused with other, alternating elements and, while it tiptoes to the very edge of the gourmand category, it never really crossing over.
One reason may be the more oriental dry notes. Even apart from the cedar-like woods, light black pepper, and dry spices which undercut some of the sweetness, there is the key issue of tea. At the ten minute mark, Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre starts to evoke a lovely cup of milky tea. It’s not strong and black like Oolong or a much richer Chai, but soft and mild like the more fragrant Earl Grey. On my skin, alas, the note isn’t particularly strong or long-lasting; it vanishes after less than thirty minutes. On others, however, the bergamot, citrus and tea notes seem to last quite a decent amount of time.
As time passes, the perfume subtly changes. At the twenty-minute mark, the pepper, patchouli and cinnamon become more prominent, the ginger becomes much less candied, and a subtle note of beeswax makes its appearance. Then, forty minutes in, the wood notes start to become much more significant. There is almost an oud/agarwood-like element to the note. It’s quietly smoky with a faintly chilled, mentholated, peppered edge. I suspect that is due to the combination of cedar-like wood with its occasionally evergreen undertones and the patchouli which can have a lightly mentholated aspect. At least, it does whenever it is handled by Christopher Sheldrake; I’d say mentholated notes are his signature! Here, there is nothing camphorous, unpleasantly medicinal, or even rubbery like pink bandaids; there is merely a definite cool, chilled aspect to the patchouli and woodsy notes. It serves to further undercut some of the sweetness of the perfume which is now far less honeyed and much more dryly chocolate-y in nature.
For the next few hours, different notes wax and wane in prominence, but the core elements remain fundamentally unchanged. By the end, Five O’Clock Au Gingembre is predominantly a light, sheer mix of: candied ginger; dusty dark chocolate; gauzy amorphous amber; and subtle patchouli. To my surprise, it’s not very sweet, especially as compared to that very honeyed opening. In fact, I would say that the final hours are actually a bit dry in nature due to the slightly powdery nature to the dark cocoa.
Another surprise was the sillage and duration of the scent. Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is very, very, soft. The sillage is low from the start and becomes close to the skin in as little time as an hour. For those who like their perfumes to be discreet and unobtrusive, that will be a definite bonus; for others, like myself, that incredible shortness of time may be an issue.
The duration was also problematic for me. I may have perfume-consuming skin, but Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre definitely clocked in at the low-end of the scale by just barely reaching the five-hour mark. To be honest, I actually thought it had vanished after four hours, but some very determined, obdurate sniffing detected faint traces lingering on a few parts of my skin. So, I’ll say that it’s five hours in length, even though the majority of the scent disappeared on me after four. I have had much better luck with many of the other Lutens fragrances. One of my friends who is a hardcore Lutenista has this theory (with which I agree) that the lighter the colour of Lutens’ juice, the lighter its duration. And Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is an extremely watery (though very pretty) light-brown colour.
Despite the longevity issue on my particular skin, I definitely enjoyed Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre. And I think others would too, unless they disliked sweet notes that seem to be “foody” in even the smallest way. It’s incredibly versatile and wearable — every day and throughout the year. Its lightness and low sillage makes it eminently suitable for even the most conservative office environment. And, it is also very unisex, though a few women have found it to be a wee bit too masculine. (I suspect that is because of the woodsy and peppered undertones that appear after an hour.)
Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is also a great deal at the moment, particularly for American buyers. As noted earlier, Serge Lutens discontinued this scent from its US retailers in 2012 and, as a result, it is hugely discounted at a number of places. (Full pricing information and details below, including links to places that ship internationally.) However, the perfume is currently available on the Serge Lutens website and will continue to remain there for the foreseeable future. Oddly enough, despite the repeated and widespread discontinuation comments, Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is still available on the Barney’s website. I have no idea how long that will last, but why spend $120 with possible tax when you can buy the perfume for $87 with no tax and free domestic shipping within the US? Who doesn’t love a bargain?
In short, Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre may not take you to have tea with the Queen at Buckingham palace, but (to mangle the old song) it is definitely tea, ginger & sweet sympathy.
Beautiful review, as always. Actually I can’t believe I haven’t tried this Serge Lutens perfume yet? It sounds like I might like it. Thanks for introducing it 🙂
It’s definitely not a sweet monster that would overpower you with patchouli and heavy spices! Extremely airy, light and harmonious. I hope you will get the chance to give it a try, Lucas. 🙂
I hope so too, won’t be chasing after it though 😉
I read at least several lukewarm reviews for Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre before I tried it so you can imagine how surprised I was once I did. Now, being familiar with the most of Serge Lutens’ perfumes, I realize that Five O’ Clock Au Gingembre is on the oposite side of the scale from many “heavy heaters” in the line and understand that it might have been a disappointment for those fans who prefer more prominent perfumes. But, in general, I thought it was very-very pleasant. I don’t need a bottle of it now but I’m a little upset that it’s being taken off the regular line-up.
Good review and a very useful purchasing information.
Yes, it’s definitely very far from being a heavy hitter or a prominent scent! I’m with you in enjoying it and finding it very, very pleasant, though the longevity on my skin means it’s not something I would seek out to buy a full bottle of despite the great sale price. I’ve seen quite a bit of love for it on Basenotes where I believe, if I remember correctly, there was something like 20 positive reviews and just 7 neutrals and 3 negatives — not bad numbers for such an airy, light, simple Lutens. I have to say, I’m very surprised that he’s removing it from US stores given how Americans generally love sweet fragrances and how this one definitely verges close to the gourmand territory.
Out of all the Lutens this was the one I have always wanted to try (and I am a big fan of Fragrancenet.com has been a lifesaver for me when my girls want Bond no 9 bottles!). Based on your review (milky tea? I am a tea fanatic…for drinking, that is!) I think I would very much enjoy this one.
I love a good bargain and I’ve ordered from FragranceNet in the past myself! As for the tea note in the Lutens, I hope it’s stronger on you than it was on me. It seems to have been more prominent on a number of other people from what I’ve read. It was lovely for the time that it appeared on my skin but I would have been even happier had there been more of it. Are you tempted to try a sample of this? (I always think people should sample before buying blindly, especially as sillage and longevity can be an issue with this one.)
SL on overstock.com?!?!? Blink. Blink. Wonder what other treasures lie over there . . . I imagine a whole cache of Feu d’Issey . . . no, probably not 🙁 Sigh!
Overstock.com had quite a few Serge Lutens, to my disbelief, including a great price on Sa Majesté La Rose which is my personal favorite amongst the Lutens roses. (I know, you’re a Fille de Berlin girl. LOL). As for Feu d’Issey, I did a quick look for you and found this site, Perfume Emporium, though I think there may be a waiting list? http://www.perfumeemporium.com/perfume/257/Le-Feu-D'Issey-Issey-Miyake The Light versions seem to be more common but I found the regular on eBay. Alas, it’s currently going for $195 for a 1.6/1.7 oz bottle. I suspect that that is too high.
Seriously?! Okay, looking on overstock.com now . . . but there is a part of me that wonders how they have been stored at that rock-bottom price . . .
Ah, Feu d’Issey. I have been nursing my weird little decant. I hate how the good ones always get the axe.
I went from being indiferent to Five O’clock… to being one of my favorites from Serge Lutens line. I found really good deal on it and had to grab it. Very cozy, relaxing scent. I usually prefer heavy fragrances, and Five O’clock is missing in projection, but it perfect comfort scent and quite cersatile one.
I thought of you a lot when reviewing it, Ross, since you had been curious as to what I would think and had brought it up a few weeks ago. I’m very glad I followed your suggestion and got a sample! 🙂 It definitely seemed super light for your tastes (and mine) but I can see very clearly why you’d love it so. Very versatile and comforting, indeed!
I think this one is a really underrated treasure of the line. No, it’s not life-changing or incredibly powerful, but it’s really lovely. I prefer heavier things, but it’s very comforting. I do wish it had a bit more strength/silage, but I really love it for what it is. I need to smell Sa Majeste la Rose, which sounds amazing. I think spice scents can easily be either “too much” or just totally unmemorable, but this one strikes a good balance for the most part. Hmmm, maybe I’ll wear it to bed. 🙂
It’s a VERY comforting, cozy scent — and you know I don’t particularly care for gourmands! I think this perfume is a very good starter perfume for those who may want to get into the Lutens line since it is so much more approachable than something like Tubereuse Criminelle, to give one example. And, for those who love light, discreet perfumes, it works for those reasons as well.
By the notes alone, a perfume-o-meter would have pegged this as perfect for me; however, its sheer thinness was not appealing. I will give this another try and if I still don’t like it, I will wait until the weather is warmer before re-trying.
I can definitely see it as being too thin for a lot of people. I would have far prefered it if it had more opaqueness and body, but I still would have been tempted to buy it as a cozy scent if it lasted on me. With my skin — so very different than yours — the duration was too short. 🙁 A shame, as I really enjoyed the patchouli, dark chocolate and ginger aspects of it.
Hmm…Do you think I’d like it? I do love amber and patchouli. Worth ordering a sample?
It’s much more dark chocolate and patchouli than amber and patchouli, just to clarify. I think you’d like it, Jackie, but for one thing: it’s VERY soft and light! This almost makes Chergui look like a bulldozer in comparison and Chergui is not an overpowering perfume. You, like me, prefer things that are a bit stronger and with more projection. So, from that perspective, I don’t know. But for the perfume itself, I think you’d find it very versatile and cozy. It’s worth a sample if you’re ordering from Surrender to Chance because it is a very enjoyable fragrance (esp. if you love patchouli and ginger), but it may be too thin for your personal tastes.
That looks more like “afternoon tea”, I’d say! 🙂 “High tea” is what they call “supper” up north. (It’s a minefield…)
I remember liking this, but it never tipped over into full blown love. It was the HGS of a SA at Les Senteurs, which made me take notice of it during my early sniffing forays. But it is somewhat under the radar for sure.
PS You can imagine that I would like a perfume that is an “airy cocoon”, the ginger being an added bonus!
It does seem like the sort of airy, light thing that you’d appreciate. 🙂
Aha, just thought – this may be a punning reference to the height of the tea on that multi-tier cake stand!
The whole “supper” vs. “dinner” thing is too much of a minefield, indeed. I’ll take your word on whatever you think the photo looks like most.
A copious and tall afternoon tea! 😉
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