In Part I of this two-part series, we looked at the life of the visionary who is Serge Lutens, a lonely man, born in war, unwanted by many in his family from the time of his birth, whose very existence was considered to be “a problem,” but who went on to revolutionize the worlds of fashion, beauty, photography, and perfumery. Now, in Part II, we’ll talk about his philosophy and approach to perfumery, as well as the sources of his inspiration. We’ll address the issue of inaccessibility and exclusivity, and his views on such issues as whether perfumes are aphrodisiacs, what he thinks about fragrances being unisex, and how his creations are ultimately about the search for identity. (You can also turn to my exclusive interview with Serge Lutens himself if you are interested in learning more about the man.)
SERGE LUTENS & PERFUMERY:
Like every artist, Serge Lutens reveals a little about himself in each of his creations. For example, Tubereuse Criminelle shows his love for Baudelaire (who is my favorite poet as well), while De Profundis reveals, depending on your interpretation, either a spiritual appreciation for the Psalms or his enjoyment of Oscar Wilde. Yet, Serge Lutens’ intellectualism is clearly drawn to the darker things in life. Baudelaire, after all, is known for Les Fleurs du Mal, a compilation of poems about death, sex, decay, hedonistic excess, and finding beauty in the darker parts of human existence.
De Profundis is an extension of the same theme, finding beauty in death. In a telling bit of symbolism that would have Freud salivating, Serge Lutens’ strange backstory for the fragrance includes the line: “Clearly, Death is a Woman.” Oh dear. The rest of the story, as provided by Fragrantica, isn’t any cheerier:
When death steals into our midst, its breath flutters through the black crepe of mourning, nips at funeral wreaths and crucifixes, and ripples through the gladiola, chrysanthemums and dahlias.
If they end up in garlands in the Holy Land or the Galapagos Islands or on flower floats at the Annual Nice Carnival, so much the better!
What if the hearse were taking the deceased, surrounded by abundant flourish, to a final resting place in France, and leading altar boys, priest, undertaker, beadle and gravediggers to some sort of celebration where they could indulge gleefully in vice? Now that would be divine!
In French, the words beauty, war, religion, fear, life and death are all feminine, while challenge, combat, art, love, courage, suicide and vertigo remain within the realm of the masculine.
Clearly, Death is a Woman. Her absence imposes a strange state of widowhood. Yet beauty cannot reach fulfilment without crime.
Hard as it may be to believe, De Profundis’ backstory is (in my opinion) almost joyful, relatively speaking, as compared to that of La Fille de Berlin. Contrary to some people’s belief, that fragrance has nothing to do with Marlene Dietrich or the decadent excesses of Weimar Germany. When I was writing my review right before Valentine’s Day, and during my research, I stumbled upon a YouTube video in which Serge Lutens read the story behind the fragrance. I also found a brief interview he gave to the New York Times. The two things made abundantly clear that La Fille de Berlin was focused on the struggles of a German woman or women in Soviet-occupied, post-war Berlin. It is a story that is filled with implications of rape and, even, perhaps murder, to the point that I can’t really bear the perfume itself, even to this day.
At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who is this man?!” Baudelaire, Oscar Wilde, the bleak backstory about the beauty of Death for De Profundis, and now, rape by Soviet occupiers, the transformation “of murder into a masterpiece,” and a woman’s lips covered by “the blood of Siegfried”?
Now, however, with all the things which I have learnt and which are discussed in Part I of this series, now, I get it. It’s about survival through the very worst of human suffering, through the greatest of all pain, even through the most traumatic aspects of war. It’s about the triumph of survival. And, ultimately, it’s about his triumph, and that of his mother (with her own wartime experiences) as well.
This ability to take the wounds of the past and see them as something more positive is reflected in his comments to The Independent in the interview discussed in Part I:
In one breath Lutens states, “You have to create your own happiness, we are the key to our own happiness,” while in the next he says, “It’s very dangerous to believe in such a cliché”. What he means, of course, is that happiness should not be confused with material wealth, beauty or success. “Even if society thinks you’re a mistake, you need to come to terms with it,” he says without sadness. “Maybe be happy about it, rejoice. Sing it as a song, clothe it, perfume it and close it to yourself.”
Serge Lutens has certainly clothed his past in perfume, and used it as a source of happiness. Yet, you may be surprised to learn that he does not actually see himself as a perfumer at all. According to the FAQ section of his website, he sees himself merely as a storyteller whose fairytales or fables are expressed through flowers and wood.
It is a process that takes time, and one whose inspiration often lies at the junction of “scent and memory.” He elaborated on both issues for The Independent:
“Sometimes it takes 12-17 years [to create a new perfume],” he says. “Sometimes it takes one year – that is the minimum – and then I will say that’s it. Then I’m not interested any more, I’ve said what I had to say.”
Although the inspiration for each creation comes from a different source, Lutens believes that through his work he is “trying to determine an identity, find a new language”. He shares his philosophy of scent and memory that underpins all his work: “It is an exercise of the memory, of your sensitivity. By the time you turn seven, this is what we call in French the reasonable age, you are going to, so to speak, record 750,000 odours in a box. Your nose is not made by these fragrances, but is there to assess whether you like, or you love, or you hate. These odours are going to create an interlace of paths going in all directions. From these odours you’re going to smell millions more, and only say ‘I love’ when you recognise something, not discover something. What you can recognise is nothing else but yourself. So around this [identity] I am trying to make the perfume recognisable. If I am using wood I want the perfume to smell like wood.”
Indeed, wood marks the beginning of Lutens’ fragrance journey. In the past he has attributed his first trip to Marrakech in 1968 as his moment of epiphany. At a small wood-workers’ studio in the souk he found a piece of cedar, “a quite attractive and a captivating type of wood; tasty, very sweet but also musky”. So overwhelmed was he by the scent that Lutens knew he had to make a perfume from it.
The impact of Morocco on Lutens went far beyond the mere appreciation for cedar. The country, its history, and its culture have become the source of much of his perfume inspiration. A good chunk of the Lutens line is oriental, after all, with clear references to the Middle East. Yet, Morocco has also become something more. It’s become this very solitary, lonely man’s sanctuary, his peaceful haven, and the place where he purposefully goes into self-imposed exile for much of the year. In my research into Lutens’ life, I stumbled upon a detailed photo series of his stunning, elaborate villa in Marrakesh, and, honestly, if it were my home, I’d probably never leave either!
The site, Kontraplan, features a photo-series called Casbah Confidential that shows Serge Lutens’ hideaway. I was so completely staggered by the sight of various rooms, I decided to include a few of them below. In order to give full credit to the site, all photos have the Kontraplan link embedded within, so clicking on them will take you to their article:
It’s quite something, isn’t it? Can you blame me for straying from the issue of perfumery? And can you imagine living in such Oriental opulence?! (On a side note, I wouldn’t be surprised if that militaristic room played some inspirational role in his development of either Sarrasins or Cuir Mauresque!) But we should return to the topic of actual perfumery.
In the FAQ section of his website, Serge Lutens shares a few of his thoughts on everything from the question of whether perfume can be an aphrodisiac, the issue of “unisex” in perfumery, and the purpose of fragrance. Please accept my apologies in advance for the wonkiness in the formatting, as the Lutens code and WordPress’ system seemed to be at war for much of the time. (And HTML coding is not my thing!)
- What is your current philosophy with regard to perfume?
- Perfume resides at the very heart of us. It is a means of self-expression. It is the dot on our “I”, a way of contemplating ourselves and sensing who we really are. It is also, in some ways, a weapon which seduces more by consequence than design. Perfume exists in the first person.
- Do you think that perfume can have an aphrodisiac effect on the people around us? What makes a perfume seductive?
- To be precise, there’s no such thing as an aphrodisiac perfume only aphrodisiac people. Wearing perfume doesn’t make you seductive. Being seductive is the result of being alive; being loved for who we are is what is important and not trying to be someone else!
- What is your opinion of unisex perfumes?
- Ask the perfume what sex it is. Who knows if an oak is male or female, or whether a rose is a he or a she? A watch is made for telling the time, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter whether it’s large or small, so long as you can read the face clearly so that you’re on time for a date! Are there CDs for men and CDs for women?! Absurd! Perfume is a product aimed at the senses not a particular gender.
- What are your favourite perfumes? Are they the most successful ones?
- The only favourite I have is the one I’m working on at any given time. It’s impossible to choose. Some of them marked the start of a new period, such as Féminité du bois which introduced the theme of “identity”, or Ambre sultan, which was the point of departure for my Arab period. Those two perfumes obviously made an impact but, as far as I’m concerned, they’re just as important in this respect as Serge noire or De profundis. They create short circuits and express emotions through fragrance. They serve as reference points or “repères” in French (notice how that word contains the word “père” or father). What interests me is going further, not into the perfume, but deeper into myself, exploring my innermost depths to extract darkness from light, and make it just as visible. [Emphasis added.]
- What perfumes do you hate? What ones do you wear and why?
- If I hate a perfume, it is only because of the person wearing it, whom I either can’t stand or who makes me feel that we inhabit different worlds and that it would be impossible for us to find any common ground! I could love the most ordinary or revolting perfume if it were worn by someone I found attractive! Personally, I rarely wear perfume and, when I do – and I do so advisedly – I wear Cuir mauresque, applied liberally so you can tell what I’m wearing. I go for this one as much because of its name as because of its fragrance, which is a leathery scent, like Cordoba leather tanned over acacia. [Emphasis added.]
As a side note, I recall reading somewhere that his choice of perfume is not Cuir Mauresque, but Serge Noire. It is one of the more challenging perfumes from his export line, in my opinion, and a fragrance that reportedly took ten years to create. I can see the fragrance suiting him because, for me, Serge Noire is the story of a phoenix with a two-sided, almost Janus-like duality. And, as this peek into his history may show, Serge Lutens is definitely a phoenix in some ways. Still, if he wears Cuir Mauresque, I’m even more glad as it is one of my absolute favorite fragrances from his line. It is a scent that I think oozes classic sex appeal, a fragrance that would suit Ava Gardner, just as much as the man who began his career by celebrating female beauty at places like Vogue and Dior.
The contradiction in his personal perfume choices matches the contradiction within the man himself. The interview in The Independent emphasizes more than a few times that Lutens can be, as they put it, “contrary”:
On the one hand, he talks dispassionately, almost disparagingly, about people who declare their work a passion, but then declares that if he did not create he would die. To him, the message is important, the medium only secondary: “The passion of fragrance does not exist. You go inside something, you’re pulled to something you can’t resist despite yourself. But that’s not a passion for a fragrance; it would be ridiculous to call it that.”
Or take his view that perfume should be “inaccessible.” It is a philosophy that Lutens seems to have intentionally tried to render concrete in the most literal, geographic, physical sense possible: you can’t get to his Salons directly from the street, but, instead, you have to enter from the gardens of the Palais Royal. The Independent article has more on the issue of inaccessibility, the concomitant aspect of exclusivity, and the paradoxes within Lutens’ view:
[His store’s] inaccessible location was apparently chosen by Lutens to “attract a clientele of connoisseurs, not casual customers”. […][¶]
Originally sold only through the Palais du Royal, his creations are now slightly more widely available, with selected stockists including specialist perfumery Les Senteurs and Harvey Nichols. The complexity of the blends, the narrative behind each scent and the formulation of cosmetic means that this is a brand that appeals to aesthetes. “Perfume is just molecules,” he says in his contradictory way. “The best perfume-maker was the wind, rivers and pollens…”
Lutens does not believe perfume should be accessible, nor that it should be worn every day. To him, if you wear perfume, “you are giving yourself arms, weapons. Transforming a weakness into a strength, protecting yourself by making a stand. This is the main purpose of my perfumes – strengthening your inner self”. Indeed, he explains that he only wears his own fragrance of choice, Cuir Mauresque, very rarely: “I wear it because it makes me feel good on this particular day”.
His philosophy of “perfume as weaponry” differs vastly from my own views of the purpose or nature of perfumery, but I’m fascinated by the psychological layers behind it. And, ultimately, I’m even more fascinated than I originally was by the man himself.
In the past, I set out to systematically answer the question — “Who is this man?!” — by exploring the side of “Uncle Serge” that he’s shown in his olfactory creations. This new journey into his biographical past has been a further attempt to understand the man whom I admire and respect like few others in the perfume world. Nonetheless, I always knew one could determine only the tip of the iceberg, and little else, from second-hand accounts. Even so, this journey has left me simultaneously more perplexed, more awed, more confused, more illuminated, more impressed, and more at a loss of what to make of Monsieur Lutens than I was before.
Perhaps that is how it should be. Genius is complicated. Visionaries can be contradictory, and their core essence sometimes elusive. Serge Lutens is a quiet, complex, unbelievably talented, utterly brilliant man with a painful past, a vast range of interests, an enormously inquisitive intellectual mind, and a unique creative vision. One can’t neatly tie up such a man in a well-ordered package, and stick a bow on him. If his perfumes show anything, it is an infinite capacity for metamorphosis, and more layers than an onion. In that, and in their sophisticated, multi-faceted, sometimes difficult, contrary nature, they are the ultimate representation of the man behind their invention.
So, perhaps the best one can do in trying to decipher the enigma that is Serge Lutens is to remember that his olfactory art is really a search for identity, an identity he himself does not always understand:
“I don’t know what I am really, but by creating my own weapons and talking about them I provide them to you. Some people are going to recognise my fears. I do not want to be recognised or famous, I don’t really care about having my name in big letters, the point is to recognise who you are. All I’m talking about is identity – that is all I’ve been talking about my whole life.”
[UPDATE: you can read my exclusive interview with Serge Lutens here in which he talks more about his intellectual interests, his artistic loves, his philosophy, and his aesthetic approach to perfumery.]
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“Ask the perfume what sex it is. Who knows if an oak is male or female, or whether a rose is a he or a she? A watch is made for telling the time, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter whether it’s large or small, so long as you can read the face clearly so that you’re on time for a date! Are there CDs for men and CDs for women?! Absurd! Perfume is a product aimed at the senses not a particular gender.” Bravo, Mr. Lutens! 🙂
Lovely second part to this profile! I thoroughly enjoyed it. But, God, how I wish he’d be less interested in exclusivity. Why must those bell jars be so out of reach for those of us in the US (specifically, De Profundis). C’mon Serge, throw me a bone! 🙂
Don’t start me on the prices for Bell Jars in the US! (Like you, De Profundis is singing its siren song to my perfumed soul.)
As for the issue of gender classification, I laughed out loud at his comment about CDs! Talk about driving home the point!
OT: Can you imagine waking up, and just lounging about that enormous, opulent, over-the-top villa? That house is just another thing to add to my many Serge Lutens-related obsessions. 😀
Thank you for this research and output. A great exploration of Serge’s influences and influence. I have dwelt on his words before about “exploring my innermost depths to extract darkness from light, and make it just as visible”.
Sometimes I think he means to turn darkness into light and other times I think he means to make darkness more visible but still keep it’s characteristic. De Profundis.
What a lovely quote! Thank you for sharing it, Jordan. And how typically for it to be both oblique and filled with layers. Very Serge Lutens. I love it. 🙂
How completely fascinating! Thank you for these essays Kafka, I really appreciate the depth of your research. Who is this man indeed…… I’m going to keep coming back to this I can already tell, it will be a brilliant reference tool for reviewing his perfumes. You are the best 🙂
Thank you so much, Susie, for your kind words. I’m so glad you found his life interesting, especially as I know that you will be exploring some more of his fragrances soon. Hopefully, soon, you will join the Cult of Serge Lutens…. 😉 😀
My decant of De Profundis arrived in the post today Kafka! I haven’t taken the lid off yet, I know that as soon as I smell it I will be totally distracted from my current review so I’m holding on until Sunday night. God I hope I can do it justice! 🙂
I’m seriously worried that I may have over-billed it to you, since anything that is very talked about or hyped brings with it the risk of huge disappointment. Really, I don’t think I’ll be at ease until I read your review. Fingers crossed that it works for you, sweetie.
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Such an interesting person – I loved a comment he made during Denyse Beaulieu’s interview with him in June 2010:
Je m’en tiens à mon quant-à-soi. Les vagues ne concernent que ceux qui savent nager. Pour ma part, je coule à pic et vous emmène au fond.
I keep my distance. Waves only concern those who know how to swim. As for myself, I sink like a stone and I drag you to the bottom.
The whole interview is a good read and an excellent adjunct to your wonderful profile of Serge Lutens.
Thanks for the link!
Both parts of this are absolutely AMAZING! I have even more respect and admiration for this man and his creative genius now. Thank you so much, Kafka, for putting so much time and research into the background of this mysterious man. It really makes me want to visit the Paris store. And I am so glad you included the photos of his Moroccan home – it is stunning! Bravo!
You’re very welcome, my dear. It means a lot to me that you liked it and found his story inspiring. Like you, I found my admiration and respect for him grow by leaps and bounds. As for his Moroccan villa, ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!!!!!! 😉 😀
(I can see vans of crazed, fanatical, cultist, Lutens fans descending down on his tranquil hideaway, banging on the gates, and demanding to be let in, while poor Uncle Serge looks on in panicked fear and wonders, “What the hell is going on?!” LOL.)
Sign me up for the road trip! We could do a Dubai/Morroco perfume tour!
Part 2 was just as good as part 1. That house! I want to go to there.
It was really interesting to get to know more about the man behind the perfumes. Thanks. I’m also glad that it didn’t ruin him for me. I’ve read interviews on other people and ended up not liking them all that much.
To me, your last comments are the ultimate compliment. Like you, I’ve read a number of profile pieces on people and actually ended up losing respect or not liking them afterwards. It’s always tricky to do something where you lay out a person’s talents, faults, and thorniness in as full or honest a manner as possible, lest the reaction isn’t positive. I’m enormously relieved that I didn’t ruin him for you. For me, no matter how much I may like or enjoy his creations, it is Serge Lutens himself that I admire. Forget the fragrances, it’s the man who counts for me.
As for that house, stunning isn’t it?! There was only one photo showing the gardens, but I would love to see more on that part, too. It’s not surprising that a man with such an eye for beauty or focus on the aesthetics of things would build such a powerfully forceful refuge for himself.
He should give tours of that place. Can you imagine all the perfume nuts like us just lining up for that? Capped off with a little shopping in the family room gift shop? Lol. For a man who seems to have had a lonely start in life he sure has a lot of ” nieces and nephews” now. Like you, I just love Uncle Serge.
And some of those “nephews or nieces” may be a little more fanatical or obsessed than he’d ever imagine…. 😉 😀
Another masterpiece! I actually read this on my little Android and it did not do justice to the opulence of his home. Now seeing the larger version of it, I am in AWE! Speaking of accessibility, for someone navigationally challenged and a non-French speaker like me, the boutique at the Palais Royale was VERY difficult to find! I walked half the perimeter of the Louvre TWICE before I found my way back to the inner section of the Palais Royale. There was so much construction going on that I easily missed the garden with the fountain. Also, with the stores to the right of the boutique all shuttered, the area gave an impression of neglect. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the Serge Lutens sign, but it skipped two beats when it looked like it was closed since it was kind of dark inside; however, I realized it was my sunglasses that made it look darker than it was so I happily walked in and a bell signaled my entrance into the world of Serge Lutens!
The opulence of his Marrakesh villa is simply stunning, isn’t it? I’d seen smaller photos in the past, but these were the first that really seemed to do it justice and show the full range of the house in detail. My jaw was on the ground, and I just barely restrained myself from including more of the photos. LOL.
So funny about the Paris Salon, and how you walked the perimeter of the Louve to such an extent in your attempts to find it, only to locate it and think it may be closed. Ha, poor Hajusuuri, my heart would have dropped too. Dare I ask what damage you did inside and what Bell Jar you bought? Come on, I’m dying to know about your adventures inside the Uncle-ship and headquarters!
Considering this man’s contrary, reclusive, and almost severely intellectual leanings,it feels almost like a miracle that he has shared his talents with the public. To me he feels like the penultimate ‘artiste’. Difficult, temperamental and genius beyond mere mortal comprehension. I can see why you are drawn, like a moth to a flame, to this man. I can see how you want to ‘get inside his head’. Mr. Lutens could be a perfect study for you. And an intellectual match, to be sure. That palace he has been building for 35 years is as much a masterpiece as his perfumes! Something I noticed while rereading this, is the way Serge dismisses the perfume itself as having any power, but that the power lies within the person wearing it. He strongly believes in each human beings ability to create their own aura. Perfume is just a tool or a message or even a ‘weapon’ to strengthen one’s force. Clearly, Mr. Lutens is a man who has summoned and amassed his own personal power, and we are the luckier for witnessing and sharing his progeny.
Oh, Tora, you got it exactly, my dear! It’s Monsieur Lutens’ mind that has always been the reason for his appeal to me. His fragrances, sure, they can be great or even masterpieces, but it is the man and his intellect that is the real lure. I definitely want to “get inside his head,” and, in some crazy way, I feel quite bonded to him. We both had turbulent childhoods, Baudelaire is my favorite poets, Oscar Wilde one of my favorite writers, I love history, I’ve written extensively about Japanese history, I’m love the opulence of the Middle Eastern one, we both appreciate royal history, I love many of the same painters as he seems to be inspired by… the list goes on and on.
I found your comment on the power of perfumery to be really interesting and completely astute. I didn’t notice the implication, but you’re absolutely right. Yes, he does dismiss a fragrance as having any power because the power lies within the person wearing it. I had disagreed with his whole thing about perfumes being something you shouldn’t wear often, let alone daily, because one should use it infrequently as just a weapon. Your interpretation, however, makes perfect sense and puts it in a much more appealing, interesting, and inspirational light.
I definitely can see his point now, as you’ve phrased it and put it. I bet you’re right and that is exactly what he had meant! After all, this is a man who overcame some difficult childhood experiences by harnessing his own inner power, creating his own aura, as well as his own success. There are a lot of brilliant people about — child prodigies, even, like him — but not all of them go on to success. The key difference seems to be the will of the person in question, the unwillingness to give up, and the ability to persevere no matter what the emotional demons inside. He harnessed his own will, in a testament to the power of the individual and what is inside him. So, yes, I can definitely see now why he thinks a mere perfume is nothing in terms of having any real force or power of its own.
Brilliant, Tora. Thank you for the insight and your brilliant analysis!
Thank you for putting all this together.
Reading through part 2 has made me realize how much perfume ideas I actually share with Mr. Lutens.
Serge Noire is one of my favourites from the line. I have never put my thoughts on it into words but it’s a perfume that makes me feel like myself when I wear it. And very strong (of mind).
And Fille de Berlin is now much clearer to me, I find it strangely difficult which is no wonder after reading the basis for it.
I also don’t believe in perfumes for either sex, if you enjoy it, wear it.
Btw, the “hidden” Salons is so very true. 🙂 On my first trip to Paris, I tried twice finding it before I resorted to asking a policeman to point me to the Palais Royal entrance. In my defence, the main gate was closed due to something or other, so each time I tried finding the Serge Lutens boutique, I was wondering the outside of the Palais, never being able to find the entrance.
And lastly, speaking of wearing perfume every day, I don’t think I could wear SL perfumes every day. I can wear some of my every day perfumes without thinking about them, but wearing a SL creation requires some mental strength if you don’t want the perfume to overpwoer you and make you look like you’re wearing something not fitting. I actually wrote a post about it. They are “partnership” perfumes, they need your character to balance them out and make them shine.
Or it could juust be me who thinks that…
You know, I struggled with his comments on the accessibility of fragrances, and how he thought they shouldn’t be things that one wears daily. I don’t agree at all with that last bit, but I definitely agree with you that *HIS* fragrances are not the sort that one can wear every day. They require thought, and aren’t always easy. (Well, most aren’t. I think Un Bois Vanillé, Chergui, and some of the florals are much more versatile or approachable. Un Bois Vanillé could definitely be an everyday perfume, I think, but it is one of the few.) That said, you’re absolutely right and I think you’ve put it beautifully as “Partnership” perfumes! 🙂 I know what you mean, and very much agree.
As for the “hidden” Salons, I loved your story. Hahaha, “Dear Mr. Policeman, please help me find Serge Lutens.” 😉 LOL! I’m not laughing *at* you, btw, but at the whole ludicrousness of having a headquarters that is intentionally hidden and obscure. It’s so Lutens and so contrary, one can’t help but laugh about it. You and Hajusuuri both got lost so badly, I can only hope that I can find it myself when I go in October. I suspect I may need a policeman’s help as well…. 😉
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Fabulous, Kafka. Isn’t it amazing, the kinds of discoveries that are made, the paths one wanders down, in just thinking and writing about perfume? Look where’s it’s taken you (and us, as your readers). I think you’ve found where your heart dwells in writing these articles about Serge Lutens.
The last two paragraphs in your article (your summary and his quote) resonates completely for me. The true gift, for me, in contemplating perfumes – trying out so many of them, falling in love with a small few, trying to get a handle on why they move me – is that it allows me to discover my own identity. Monsieur Lutens could not be more right about that.
I think my heart definitely did lie in it because I love history even more than I love perfume. So, to combine the two in a piece that focuses on a man whose intellect and brilliance I profoundly admire…. it was a perfect storm of events. If it were easier to get access to the information and sources I would need, I’d do a lot more on the historical side of perfumery. Biographical pieces are harder because there aren’t a lot of people I find genuinely compelling, and even fewer whom I’m in awe of. The one and only thing that has ever truly impressed me is intellectualism. Not intelligence, but hardcore intellectualism across a wide range of fields or subjects. For me, that is the real reason why I admire Monsieur Lutens so much, not the perfumes themselves. But they certainly don’t hurt. LOL!
The issue of perfume being a means to discern identity is an interesting one. I certainly think perfume can reveal different facets of our character, yes. For me, personally, it’s more about a manifestation of one’s personality and identity, or about a vehicle/trip through time and geography. But that’s the great thing about perfume: it has the ability to do different things or take on different meanings for different people. Just like music and painting in that sense, no? 🙂
Thank you so much for this series of articles! I found them absolutely fascinating. The parts about his childhood are moving… it’s very inspiring that he was able to overcome the lack of stability and become the success that he is. I especially enjoyed reading about how his relationship with his mother impacted him and his work. I’m not much into fashion, so I only knew vaguely that he had worked with Shiseido at some point, but I didn’t realize he’d had such a big impact on the fashion industry, just as he’s had on the fragrance industry.
I became interested in fragrance just a couple years ago, and as I was starting to learn more and read reviews I kept hearing so much about Serge Lutens fragrances. However, I still hadn’t tried any until I left to study abroad in France for a year. In France the export line is more widely available in Sephora and other stores than it is in the U.S. (where I’m from), and since there was a Sephora a few streets away from my apartment, I began working my way through the export line. Even the ones I knew I couldn’t wear myself, I admired the compositions greatly. There is so much variety in the line, and yet many of them share common elements that mark them as his work. Such creativity… Then when visiting Paris I was able to pay a visit to the boutique and try some of the exclusive line. It was a bit overwhelming with so many of them I hadn’t tried before, but the SA was very nice and let me sniff as many as I wanted, then sample a few on my skin and come back later in the day. I only had enough money for one bell jar at the time, but perhaps if I make it back to Paris someday I will be able to get another. Right now I have De Profundis and Fille en Aiguilles, but I also love Gris Clair, La Fille de Berlin, Daim Blond… I have the wax sample set now too, so I can re-try some of the exclusive line at home. I know I’ll enjoy it.
The photos of his house are breathtaking as well. He is truly a fascinating individual. His fragrances are one of the lines I admire most, and I’m sure it will remain one of my favorites even as I continue to explore the world of fragrance.
Hi Songeuse, welcome to the blog! 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing a little bit about your perfume journey, as well as your thoughts on Serge Lutens. We seem to like a few of the same ones as I think De Profundis will be my first bell jar, and I adore Fille en Aiguilles! Like you, even when I can’t wear a particular Serge Lutens fragrance, I can see the thought, creativity or originality of it, and respect it. That doesn’t happen for me with a lot of perfume brands. (Amouage is another like that.) As for his house in Morocco, amazing, isn’t it? 35 years and designed down to even the lights and ceiling! Want to come with a bunch of us on the roadtrip to go stalk Uncle Serge in Morocco? 😉 😀
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Wow. I am totally speechless. So fascinating! And his house! Wow.
Did I tell you a knew a bartender who met Uncle Serge? He came into the bar and after he left, the bartender texted me that some perfume person came into the bar and gave him a book. And since this bartender knew that I was obsessed with perfume, he thought he would stump me by taking a photo of the text and sending it to me.
Of course, any SL copy is immediately recognizable and he was stunned that I knew. But we all would here 🙂
You’d told me the story, but without the added but very evident tone from the bartender that amounts to “WTF?! Some perfume person is giving me a book??!” Somehow, that really makes me. It cracks me up because I can just hear his bewilderment at what must have seemed like the oddest thing ever. I mean, why would anyone just give a book, right? To a NYer with the sort of toughness that bartenders have, it must have been a real head-scratcher, especially as he didn’t know that it was a big deal. LOL. So funny.
As for Serge Lutens’ house, isn’t it amazing? It took 35 years, and he attended to every single detail!
Wow!!! What a story!!! What a way of writing!!!! Simply philosophical. Great. I also admire Serge and consider his fragrances as a part of his inner self. I had troubles finding the Salon so I ended up buying Chergui at Sephora. No regrets at all even though I was looking for Cuir Mauresque. Anyway, I now understand the purpose of fragrance from a VERY different point of view. I’m pouring a bottle of Chergui over me, ja ja. Full power. I love your writing.
Hey, Ivan, welcome to the blog! Thank you so much for stopping by. I’m so glad you enjoyed the profile on Serge Lutens’ life. As for Chergui, I’m wearing it right now, and Cuir Mauresque is another favorite of mine! 😀 Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I hope you’ll pop by the blog again sometimes. 🙂
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