Exclusive: An Interview with Serge Lutens

I was recently granted the enormous honour and privilege of interviewing Serge Lutens. He was not in Paris during what had originally been intended to be a short stay on my part, so he kindly offered me a written interview. I cannot express my gratitude enough; even for someone as verbose as myself, there are truly no words to adequately express my appreciation, and how excited I was to receive the news.

Serge Lutens at his Marrakesh villa. Photo, courtesy of Shiseido and Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens at his Marrakesh villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

My admiration for “Serge Lutens” has always been primarily for the man himself, even more than for his fragrances, despite their beauty, creativity, and originality. I’m utterly fascinated by the way he thinks, by his intellectuality, and by his elusive, enigmatic, Sphinx-like nature. The more I probe, quite often the less I understand, and the more intrigued I become. At this point, I think it’s quite safe to say that I have a full-blown obsession with trying to figure out Serge Lutens, and a complete acceptance of the fact that I never will. Genius is simply not subject to normal analysis or understanding. And, for me, Serge Lutens is the last of the 20th-century artistic greats, a combination of Picasso, Camus, Yves St. Laurent, Herb Ritts, and Richard Avedon — all in one very sylph-like, elegantly stylish, black and white, enigmatic package.

As a result, I intentionally asked questions that were designed to be more personal or theoretical in nature, and to focus on the mysterious man behind the legend. I also did not want to bore Monsieur Lutens by repeating the same sorts of queries that he gets so often, like what perfume he wears. Besides, I have already covered extensively both his background and childhood, his rise to success, his time at Vogue and Dior, and his perfumes in a very detailed, two-part profile. (Serge Lutens Profile Part I, and Part II). In short, I was selfish and asked what I personally wanted to know, regardless of whether it pertained to perfume. In most cases, it did not.

The responses I received were detailed, long, philosophical, and thoughtful. Monsieur Lutens had taken the time to respond to each one (and there were twelve in all!) in depth and with enormous seriousness. I was thrilled, and a little awed. However, the responses were all in French, and, to be honest, I sometimes find my dear “Oncle Serge” to be a little oblique and abstract. (Even in English!) So, while I certainly understood his meaning and most of his nuances (I think), I did not trust my own French enough after all these years to provide you all with a truly accurate translation. (For example, I had to go look up what the word ‘ankylose’ meant, as I’ve certainly never encountered it before in either French or English!)

Consequently, I enlisted the help of two friends to provide a translation that faithfully captured the underlying tonalities, right down to the smallest metaphor and nuance. In a few, rare instances, I lightly reworded their interpretations or combined their two separate versions into one. Below, you will find my questions, Serge Lutens’ original French response (in italics), and then, the translated version (in red). Linguistic or contextual notes are in green. I hope you find his answers as interesting as I did.

Photo: Marco Guerra, Alaoui Marrakesh, the Palmeraie Villa.

Photo: Marco Guerra, Serge Lutens at the Palmeraie Villa, Marrakesh. http://marcoguerrastudio.com/?projects=portraits

1.      Out of all the great painters, are there any whom you might consider your artistic twin in terms of their aesthetics, poetic self-expression, or overall sensibilities? If so, why?

What may be one of the two portraits in London's National Gallery to which Serge Lutens is referring. This is Rembrandt's "Portrait of an old woman ages 83." Source: rembrandtonline.org

What may be one of the two portraits in London’s National Gallery to which Serge Lutens is referring. This is Rembrandt’s “Portrait of an old woman aged 83.” Source: rembrandtonline.org

Si vous voyez quelqu’un traverser un musée à toute vitesse, ayant l’air de chercher un ami dans un hall de gare, ou de chercher la sortie, cela doit être moi ! Mon œil est à ce moment-là aux aguets et aguerri. Il se ressent en danger et par lui, s’en trouve aiguisé (L’Art lui-même est un danger sinon, pourquoi ?). Parmi la foule agglutinée au milieu des chefs d’œuvre, je jette un œil, comme on le dit, mais parfois, je freine ma cadence et me dirige vers un tableau comme aimanté. A lui seul, il a l’air de justifier ma venue en ce lieu. Je ne sais pas pourquoi ; cela peut être n’importe quoi. C’est inexplicable mais cette toile me touche. Elle peut être signée ou pas (dans ce cas, c’est encore plus magique car plus mystérieux). A partir de ce moment-là, le tableau est en tête. Je garde éventuellement en mémoire la période et la signature (s’il y en a  une) et je sais qu’un jour ou l’autre, par un texte, une photographie, un parfum…ce tableau se fera connaître. Les grands peintres ne me sont pas moins indifférents que des inconnus. Aimer quelqu’un de connu peut vouloir dire qu’on essaie de se situer par rapport à un goût. Cela me gêne. Cependant, à la National Gallery de Londres, il y a deux femmes très vieilles. Traits et yeux semblent pris dans les rides, comme une mouche dans une toile d’araignée. La position de leurs visages est fixe et prise dans l’immense collerette de coton blanc amidonné. De cela, on retient la robe noire, la couleur blanche de ces godets multipliés autour des épaules et qui, comme un plateau pour une tête coupée, mettraient le doigt sur l’âge et sa beauté juste avant qu’ils ne meurent. Ce sont des Rembrandt !

What made be the other portrait to which he is referring: Rembrandt, "Portrait of Margaretha de Geer."

What made be the other portrait to which he is referring: Rembrandt, “Portrait of Margaretha de Geer.”

If you should ever see someone hurriedly crossing a museum, looking as if he is searching for a friend in a train station, or looking for the exit, that someone must be me! At that instant, my eye is wise and watchful, it feels the danger and is thus sharper (Art itself is dangerous, otherwise what is the point?). In the middle of the crowd huddled amongst the masterpieces, I cast a glance, as one says. But sometimes I slow my step and am drawn to a painting as if it were magnetised. This work alone seems to justify my being here. I do not know why, it could be anything, but the work touches me. It can be signed or not (in the latter case, it is even more magical because the experience retains its mystery). From that moment, the painting will remain with me. I may keep the period and the signature (if there is one) in mind and I know that at some point, through a text, a photograph, a smell that the piece will manifest itself. Great painters are no less important than the lesser ones. Liking someone famous may mean that one tries to position oneself in relation to a given taste. This bothers me. However, there are two very old women at the National Gallery in London. Their features and their eyes seem trapped by their wrinkles, as a fly in a spider’s web. The position of their faces is fixed and caught in the immense ruff of rigid white cotton. From this image, one retains the black dress, the whiteness of the multitude of ruffles ringing the shoulders which, like a platter holding a severed head, would accentuate age and its beauty just before they both succumb. They are Rembrandts!

2.      What pieces of music or particular songs move you emotionally and intellectually, or have such an impact on you that you turn to them in moments of great joy or sorrow?

La musique a ceci d’étonnant : elle vous enveloppe et si elle vous touche, elle vous comprend, elle vous gagne comme le ferait une ankylose des pieds jusque la tête. En un mot, elle vous saisit. Parfois, afin de découvrir en elle ce qui m’intrigue, je l’écoute et la réécoute. Il se peut, si je suis heureux, qu’elle me fasse danser seul, ou plus tard dans la journée, qu’elle me rejoigne et que sans elle, malgré tout, je la chante. Les joies et les solitudes qu’elle peut engendrer sont autant souhaitées l’une et l’autre mais, à dire vrai, la musique était surtout le lien indispensable qui, dans le temps de mes images, constituait l’atmosphère amniotique entre le modèle et moi-même. Elle était moi et je me voyais en elle. Se voir dans un autre sexe que le sien n’est pas évident mais, pour moi, cela a toujours était naturel.

[R.A’s Translation Note : “Musique” is a feminine noun in French (“la musique”) and its gender is paramount to the sense of Mr Lutens’ answer. It is thus also referred to as “she” in translation.]

Music is astonishing: she envelops you and, if she touches you, she understands you and  she conquers your being, like pins and needles running the entire length of your body. In a word, music grasps you. Sometimes, in order to find out why she intrigues me, I will listen to her again and again. On occasion, if I am happy, I may start to dance alone; or, later in the day, she might find me again and, though she is not with me, I may begin to sing. While the joy and the solitude she brings are equally pleasing, in the period of my photography, music was the amniotic atmosphere that connected me to my model. Music became me, and I saw myself in her. To see oneself in another gender than one’s own is not easy, but for me it was always natural.

[Kafkaesque’s note: I read those last two lines in a different way, and thought Monsieur Lutens was saying that music also helped him see himself in the model. That it was an indispensable link and atmospheric amniotic fluid which made the model become “me, and I saw myself in her. To see oneself in another of a sex other than one’s own is not easy, but for me it was always natural.” Given the issue of gender pronouns, I think his meaning can probably go both ways.] 

3.      What was one of the most meaningful things that someone has done for you? I’m not talking about gifts of great value, but an action that touched you deeply, even if it may have been a small thing?

Elle n’est pas une petite chose vu qu’elle est ma naissance et, par ce fait, ma mort. Je ne développerai pas ici ce thème. Cela est trop personnel mais, je suis né en 1942 à Lille, dans le Nord de la France. Je suis un enfant naturel, reconnu par une seule personne. Celle qui m’a mis au jour.

It is not a small thing as I am speaking of my own birth and, consequently, of my death. I will not elaborate on this, it is much too personal. However, I was born in 1942, in Lille, in Northern France. I am a natural child, recognized by only one person. She, who brought me into the world.

"Solitude has hard teeth." - Serge Lutens. Photo taken in Morocco by Ling Fei. Source: Le Monde Magazine. http://www.lemonde.fr/style/portfolio/2012/05/11/la-vie-en-images-de-serge-lutens_1699467_1575563.html

“Solitude has hard teeth.” – Serge Lutens. Photo taken in Morocco by Ling Fei. Source: Le Monde Magazine. http://www.lemonde.fr/style/portfolio/2012/05/11/la-vie-en-images-de-serge-lutens_1699467_1575563.html

4.      Were there any classic fragrances that you loved or wore before you started creating perfumes of your own?

Avant de les générer moi-même, je ne m’intéressais pas du tout au monde du parfum. Cela ne me touchait pas, aux deux sens du mot. Les senteurs sont depuis  un moyen de dire ce qui m’est cher. Que je sois en colère, en retrait du monde ou autre, l’instant où je les réalise est notre moment. Cet instant dépassé, cela cesse de m’intéresser. Certains s’y reconnaissent, d’autres pas ; cela n’a aucune importance. Le parfum se doit d’accuser ce tout que vous êtes, composé du mal et du bien que vous seul connaissez.

Before creating them myself, I had absolutely no interest in the world of perfume. Perfume did not touch me, in both senses of the word. Since then, scents have become a way for me express what is dear to me. Whether I am angry, isolated from the world or what not, the moment I create a scent is our moment. When that instant has passed, I am no longer interested. Some may recognize themselves [in a scent] and others not, it is of no relevance. Perfume must bear witness to all that you are, the good as well as the bad that only you know.

5.      What historical eras and places interest you so much that you wish you could go back in time to explore them for yourself, and why?

Ce que l’Histoire de France a eu comme effet sur moi, c’est le rêve, mais retourner dans le temps n’aurait pas de réalité. Ce qu’on garde d’une époque est souvent capté par le regard d’un peintre, d’un écrivain… et de ce fait, contient une part plus ou moins grande de suggestivité. L’Histoire sert une idée, une cause, une patrie. Ses visions nationalistes me sont étrangères. Pour répondre à votre question, je n’ai pas cette curiosité. Je ne serai pas mieux dans une autre époque que celle où je vis actuellement, même s’il est certain que la création née toujours chez moi, d’une situation qui me déstabilise.

The impact of the History of France on me was to make me dream, but to return to the past is not realistic. What one keeps of an era is often captured by a painter, a writer… and can thus be more or less suggestive. History serves an idea, a cause, a country. Its nationalist visions are foreign to me. To answer your question, I do not have that curiosity. I would not feel better in another era than my own, even though it is undeniable that creation only comes to me when I am feeling destabilized.

Source: news.madame.lefigaro.fr

Source: news.madame.lefigaro.fr

6.      You seem to draw inspiration from literature as much as from history. Who are some of your favorite writers? Is there a particular book or poem that you could read again and again without getting tired of it?

Si la poésie s’écoute parler, je ne l’aime pas. Si un auteur s’enfonce dans l’anecdote, il m’ennuie. C’est ce qui le met à vif, qui est insupportable aux autres et qui lui, le fait vivre, qui m’attache. Je retrouve ceci chez Baudelaire comme chez Jean Genet. Ces deux personnalités veulent à la fois être aimées et pour ce faire, nous montre à quel point, elles peuvent être détestés. Le condamné à mort est une œuvre magnifique, même si Baudelaire est le plus grand orfèvre des mots qu’il cisèle comme des bijoux fins mais avec toute la violence du forgeron. La littérature n’est pas un choix. En général, tous ceux qui ne l’ont pas lu, retiennent d’un auteur ce qui est dit partout. De Proust, on ne garde de sa Recherche du temps perdu, que l’histoire de cette madeleine mais c’est ignorer que Marcel Proust est la plus grosse madeleine du monde !

When poetry likes the sound of its own voice, I find it unattractive. If an author sinks into anecdote, he bores me. What connects me to a writer is what makes him bleed, what is unbearable to others but allows him to live. I can find this rawness in Baudelaire and Jean Genet. These two individuals show us how profoundly they long to be loved and in order to achieve this, show us how much they can be hated. Genet’s “Le Condamné à Mort” is a magnificent piece, while Baudelaire may be the greatest goldsmith in the way he chisels his words like a fine jeweller, yet with all the violence of a blacksmith. Literature is not a choice. Generally, those who have not read a given author simply retain what has been said about him. Of Proust’s “A la Recherche du Temps Perdu” [In Search of Lost Time] many only remember the story of his “madeleine”, but that is ignoring that Marcel Proust is the biggest “madeleine” in the world!

[My Note: The episode of the madeleine in Proust’s work (specifically in Swann in Love) is famous for being the first instance of the theory of involuntary memory, and that theme is repeated throughout Proust’s work (and In Search of Lost Time). You can read more of the Involuntary Memory Theory, as well as the specifics of the madeleine incident and recent, modern analysis of Proust’s concept regarding memory triggers at the Huffington Post. You can also find an explanation of the Madeleine incident and the nature of cognitive memory recall at Wikipedia. It’s briefer, but, in my opinion, not as clear as perhaps the initial paragraph at the Huffington Post explaining the Madeleine metaphor. In essence, though, Monsieur Lutens is saying that Proust and his works are themselves an involuntary trigger of memories. He is also saying that the “madeleine” reference is itself a memory trigger for those who have not actually bothered to read the book, but are merely relying on what they have heard.]

7.      Is there a person in history or character in literature with whom you particularly identify? If so, why?

S’il m’est arrivé parfois de m’identifier à des personnages, c’est plus pour certaines parties. Un peu comme un homme miroir qui rechercherait des similitudes. J’ai ce talent qui est aussi un défaut mais il est certain que l’autre se voit également en moi. Remplacer et trahir c’est ce que, profondément, je fais et je suis. C’est le double en un seul.

If I have sometimes likened myself to characters in books, it has only been in morsels. A little like a mirror man searching for similarities. I have this talent, which is also a flaw, but yet it is undeniable that the other also sees himself in me. To replace and to betray is, fundamentally, what I do and it is what I am. It is the duality within the one.

8.      How has the perfume industry changed from the time when you first started in the 1980s? I’m not talking about IFRA or the EU, but in terms of your experiences as a perfumer and any pressures created by the business in terms of yearly output, the type of perfume genres, or the nature of the industry as a whole?

Serge Lutens in his perfume studio at his Moroccan villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Serge Lutens in his perfume studio at his Moroccan villa. Photo, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

S’il n’y avait que la finalité produit d’un parfum, cela ne m’intéresserait pas. Quand il n’est pas un véhicule de ce qui me tient à cœur, à corps et à cris, le parfum n’a pas plus d’intérêt que l’assaisonnement d’une salade (surtout que je ne mange pas !). L’industrie opportuniste de la parfumerie a fait du parfum un produit d’identification dont l’objectif est que chacun puisse se retrouver via des scénarios stéréotypés : l’idylle amoureuse (très vendeuse), la réussite professionnelle et ce qui en découle, l’argent, le luxe…Tout cela n’a rien à voir avec l’identité et ce qui devrait toucher nos fibres les plus sensibles. Niche ou pas niche ! Ce que je fais depuis maintenant plus de 20 ans tient d’une démarche autant littéraire qu’olfactive, mettant en scène des zones et des terrains vagues en moi-même ignorés. Pour le reste, je ne sais pas si le monde de la parfumerie a changé. Il faut vendre plus, en faisant passer la banalité pour de la rareté et de l’ordinaire pour du luxe. Un immense trucage qui n’a rien à voir avec nous. En tous cas, pas avec moi !

If the perfume as product were the end goal, it would be of no interest to me. When perfume is not a vehicle for the things that I hold dear to my heart, to my heart and soul, then it might as well be a salad dressing (especially since I do not even eat any!). The opportunistic fragrance industry has turned perfume into a lifestyle product where the objective is for everyone to identify with stereotyped scenarios: the romantic idyll (a great seller), professional success and everything that stems from it, money, luxury…none of this has anything to do with identity per se, nor with what should strike our most sensitive chords. Niche market or not! What I have been doing for over 20 years stems from an approach that is both literary and olfactory, depicting areas and wastelands ignored within me. Otherwise, I do not know whether or not the world of perfume has changed. One has to sell more and thus banality is passed off as rarity and the ordinary as luxury. All the smoke and mirrors have nothing to do with us. At least not with me!

9.      What are some of your favorite dishes or things to eat? Do you have any gourmand or gastronomic weaknesses?

Serge Lutens in the Palmeraie Gardens, Morocco. Photo: Patrice Nagel, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Serge Lutens in the Palmeraie Gardens, Morocco. Photo: Patrice Nagel, courtesy of Serge Lutens and Shiseido, France.

Peut-être est-il logique ou destiné que tout artiste se dirige, dans le temps, vers une forme d’ascétisme, rigueur oblige ! La faim crée une tension qui me semble providentielle à celle que la création requiert. Cependant, il n’est pas exclu que cette tension puisse, d’un jour à l’autre, se transformer en un comportement gargantuesque et cette autre extrémité de la rigueur prendrait alors des proportions énormes, dont je serai l’image vivante. Toute restriction implique une autre extrémité et ceci vaut dans les deux sens.

Perhaps it is logical or destined that all artists, at some point, drive themselves towards an ascetic approach, as rigorous standards may require. Hunger creates a strain I believe to be providential to the tension required by creativity. Which does not mean that that this tension cannot, from one day to the next, be transformed into gargantuan behaviour. This other extreme of rigour would then take on enormous proportions of which I would be the living image. All restriction implies an opposite extreme, and this goes both ways.

10.   You are clearly a perfectionist, and that can come with a high price. Are there any aspects of perfectionism that plague you in particular, or that you wish you could change?

Je me permets de vous contredire : je ne suis pas un perfectionniste même s’il est certain que tant que la justesse ne m’aura pas rejoint, je ne la lâcherai pas. La justesse se présente à tout moment, dans notre comportement, notre choix vestimentaire, nos attitudes, nos goûts…C’est en quelque sorte le point sur le I. Cela parait dérisoire mais sans ce point, le I n’existerait pas. Il ne serait qu’un droit-fil. La perfection pour la perfection ne pourrait pas me toucher alors qu’une erreur, une maladresse peut le faire mille fois plus, qu’une chose dite « bien faite ».

[R.A’s translation note: the concept of “justesse”, which is at the heart of this answer cannot be translated in a single English word. Not only does it encompass concepts such as authenticity, truth, perfection, or exactness in all their philosophical, literary, artistic and scientific senses, it is deeply embedded in a part of French culture that presupposes that there is one “right way” to everything. For that purpose it has been left in French in the text below.]

Please allow me contradict you: I am not a perfectionist, even though it is undeniable that I will not let go until “justesse” has caught up with me. “Justesse” can present itself at any given time, in our behaviour, our choice of clothing, our attitudes, our tastes…It is the dot on the “i” so to speak. It may seem trifling, but without this dot the “i” would not exist. It would only be an unbroken line. Perfection for perfection’s sake does not move me, but a mistake, a blunder can touch me a thousand times more than something that is “done right”.

Source: alafoto.com

Source: alafoto.com

11.    “Veni, Vidi, Vici” would seem to apply to many areas of your life, but it can’t have been easy. Which of the many worlds that you’ve conquered was the hardest? Are there any worlds or areas that you wish you had explored on a professional basis?

Ce n’est pas une question de difficulté puisque c’est un non choix. Rien n’a jamais été facile ou pas. Cela a toujours été tenu par une exigence, une rigueur, un besoin d’éclaircissement pour un texte, une mise en trouble pour un parfum, une entrée dans le royaume des ombres pour le fard. C’est là au fond que je me sentais chez moi ! L’idée de facilité me ferait reculer. Je sentirais que je suis mon propre imposteur.

It is not a difficult question since it does not involve a choice. Nothing has ever been easy or not. It always had to do with an exactingness, a rigor, a need for clarity in a text, a feeling of uncertainty for a perfume, an entrance into the kingdom of shadows for make-up. This is where I felt at home! The idea of ease would make me recoil. I would feel as if I were my very own impostor.

12.   What do you do to relax, to de-stress, or, perhaps more importantly, to get your mind to stop thinking so much?

L’esprit est occupé. S’il ne l’était pas, ce serait un temps vacant. Le temps est la seule valeur à laquelle j’accorde de l’importance. Rien d’autre que lui ne pourrait me donner ce sentiment d’urgence que j’ai toujours eu. Il met l’alarme au rouge ou, si vous préférez, la conscience de la mort depuis le début de ma vie est peut-être ce qui fait ce que j’ai fait.

The mind is busy. If it were not, it would be empty time. Time is the only value I give importance to. Only time can give me the sense of urgency I have always felt. It activates the alarm bells or, if you prefer, the awareness of death that I have felt since the beginning of my life [and which] may account for the fact that I have achieved all that I have.

Serge Lutens by Cristian Barnett. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Serge Lutens by Cristian Barnett. http://www.crisbarnett.com/serge-lutens/

Again, I extend my deepest thanks to Serge Lutens for taking the time out of his busy schedule to so patiently and thoroughly answer my questions. I’m so grateful for this enormous privilege, his graciousness, and his kindness. I’d also like to thank my two friends (Liesl E. & Richard A.) for helping me out with their translation skills for all the finer nuances. (I know it wasn’t easy, but I don’t know what I would have done without you two!)

100 thoughts on “Exclusive: An Interview with Serge Lutens

    • Thank you!! I was so nervous when hitting the “Publish” button, I had to take several deep breaths and stop myself from going over it one more time!

    • Thank you, my dear Ginza. I know I should probably have asked more questions on perfumery, but I was much more curious about other things. (How I restrained myself to asking only 12, I have no idea!) I still find Oncle Serge to be incredibly enigmatic and my fascination has not dimmed in the least, but at least now I know for certain that we both have a fierce passion for Baudelaire. Oscar Wilde is still unclear. lol.

      Did any of his answers surprise you? For me, I would never have guessed that it would be Rembrandt’s paintings that he would mention (and describe so, so beautifully!), or that he didn’t see himself as a perfectionist. I’m still unpersuaded by him on that last point, though. Even if he phrases things differently or can appreciate the beauty of a mistake, Oncle Serge seems like one of the most perfectionistic people on earth! And I mean that as a huge compliment.

      • Everything he says is very intriguing and loaded, but not surprising as such to me. Baudelaire seems like a natural choice, as, in way, does Rembrandt for those murky depths.

        To be honest, though, I just wonder if he is also capable of a ‘normal’ conversation down the pub, as speaking this way all the time, in gravely philosophical tones, must surely be exhausting for him as well as his listeners. THAT would be even more intriguing in some ways, to hear what he comes out with when these sphinx-like layers are peeled away (if they ever are). He is genuinely enigmatic, I’ll give you that. And I just happen to love most of his perfumes as well, which is always a bonus.

        • I understand your reaction completely. I’ve spent many a night when insomnia plagued me by having imaginary conversations with Uncle Serge in my head (yes, I realise I sound quite deranged!) over tea and biscuits. None of those conversations entailed quite so much abstraction. That said, I think the very fact that he wasn’t specific, was so theoretical, and was so philosophically enigmatic is revealing in and of itself! It’s not just that he’s French and an intellectual, but also that he seems to be genuinely exactly thus: an introverted philosopher who translates everything in terms of art, poetry, philosophy, life and death — all in abstraction.

          He doesn’t think like you and me — and I suspect that is one of the keys of his success. To achieve all that he has done, and to revolutionize so many artistic fields, he has to be at a different level. Not mundane and ordinary like us, but something more elusively profound. His perfumes are part of him: complicated, complex, and different. So it’s probably not surprising that he can’t sit down for a pint or a glass of wine, and talk about the boring things that I talk about.

          You know, I’ve always thought of him as the artistic version of Camus, and I don’t mean that only in terms of the existentialist streak that runs through his works. He just seems like the epitome of the French intellectual who lives in his head, and sees life in the most beautiful, haunting, dark, complicated of ways, and whose creations reflect a strange beauty as a result. Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” with its beautiful theories against suicide, or the sheer, utter genius that is the exquisitely profound, stunningly written, historical analysis that is “The Rebel” — for me, Lutens is their perfume equivalent.

          So, yeah, I would have loved some specifics and more simple basics, but then, I probably would have been disappointed. Because that is not who Serge Lutens is, either in reality or the version that is in my head. I don’t know if I’m explaining it well.

  1. Congratulations on this wonderful opportunity, Kafka!
    I am not the biggets fan of Mr. Lutens’ fragrances, but he’s as complete as a true artista can and should be. I greatly admire his sense of aesthetics and his always being one step ahead.
    Congratulations once again,


    • Thank you, darling Caro. I appreciate it, and I’m glad that you can respect him as an artist and visionary, even if his perfumes don’t necessarily speak to you. They don’t to many, and I would be the first one to understand. Lutens fragrances aren’t always easy, are usually incredibly complicated, and sometimes, are more like works of art than something you can just spray on and go. But I’m glad you can admire the man behind them. 🙂

  2. I need to go back and read some bits of the interview but I just wanted to stop say : OH MY GOD!!!!!! My heart literally started beating faster when I read your intro- how exciting that you got a chance to interview him. And your questions are the kind of questions that I want to know the answers to. I was a little surprised by Rembrandt too though I’m not sure who I was expecting (maybe Degas, since he is my personal favorite..;-))

    • Haha, your reaction was like my initial reaction to the news. I just about keeled over. Then, I was a babbling, blithering, stuttering idiot for the whole rest of the day. Make that the next two days. My brain felt addled from complete shock, and I couldn’t think straight. I think I may have just been reduced to making gurgling, bleating sounds. lol.

      In terms of painters, his tastes are probably far and wide, and I know he was greatly influenced by the Dadaist movement, while also liking Chagall (one of my favorites), Picasso, and some early 20th century painters. (I think one of his photo series paid homage, in part, to Klimt, along with some of those previously mentioned, and maybe Monet? It’s fuzzy in my mind). Still, I never expected him to go back in time to Rembrandt.

      I must say, as a history lover, I was enormously impressed by his answer about history. Because he’s right, history can often be best captured by a painter, artist, writer, etc., and I can see how the nationalistic aspects to History (with a capital, and in the abstract) may be very unattractive to a man like him.

      Also, I’m ridiculously amused by what seems to be a loathing for salad sauce. LOL.

        • I think he meant salad dressing as the French do it, since they certainly don’t have things like Ranch or Thousand Island over there. So, he’s referring even to oil and vinegar.

      • I also giggled at his distaste for salad dressing. If it isn’t a very simple vinaigrette, it ruins everything. And I typically have salad without any dressing whatsoever. Eating a damp, soggy, salad is so profoundly repulsive to me. I think my distaste stems a lot from the fact that a lot of places overdo dressing and it completely overwhelms the ingredients of the salad. Yuck.

        Why I felt the need to share this, I don’t know. It was nice to feel *some* kinship with Serge Lutens, because he seems very inaccessible in many ways. It really humanized him in a way I haven’t really seen in many of his interviews.

        • Since the French don’t have things like Ranch dressing, I think he is referring to simple vinaigrettes. He can’t be talking about anything else because I can’t fathom where Serge Lutens would come across Thousand Island or Bleu Cheese in Morocco where he spends most of his time. So, perhaps he prefers his salads plain or merely with olive oil?

      • I love his answer on perfection because to me the answer captures the essence of his perfumes. He is not a perfectionist in the sense that he doesn’t seek perfection but only that moment that conveys the (perfect) truth. I love that he seems to be moved by the imperfect because often imperfection can be more revealing and beautiful than perfection. And I see that in his perfumes and this fact always seems like a little secret that the ‘wearer’ of his perfume can share with him. In a sense, his work makes me see him as the spiritual equivalent of Donatello as well as the film maker Luis Bunuel.

  3. Holy cow Kafka! You must have fallen off your seat when you got the news that you’d been granted an interview! Congratulations for giving us another fascinating peek at the enigmatic genius that is uncle Serge. I agree with Ginza above, I still wonder what this man would have to say on a subject where a straight answer was required or whether for him everything is tinted and twisted and profound. “What would you like for breakfast Serge? Cornflakes or a boiled egg?” “Ah, well that is like asking me which was created first….. Could the egg have been formed without the corn to feed it’s mother?….”

    I don’t mean to mock, I admire Serge Lutens’ work as an artist very much as you know. I think that interview has given me more food for thought on his fragrant motivations, for him it will always be about explaining some depth or other within himself, his perfume will always be strange and profound and purely a single minded, introverted creation. I think that he may not market his perfumes in the same way that for instance JAR does, but the experience of smelling them is just as abstract because I sort of feel that they were not intended for us at all, yet they sell in their millions…. Such a weird concept…..I’m going to have to go away and think about that…..

    • As I just wrote to Ginza in a very long reply, I think this is the essence of who he is, heart and soul. At his most profound level, he is a man who sees life as a series of abstractions and personal reflections (or the lack thereof). I think you nailed it when you compared him to JAR in terms of what the perfumes are about. Serge Lutens is primarily creating perfumes to explain, explore, or reflect some part of himself, so I think you’re absolutely right when you say that — at their most conceptual and original level — they’re really not for us at all.

      He said as much in one of his answers here, but also in things I quoted in my past profile on his quest for self-identity. Here, in this piece, Serge Lutens said flat out that it would bore him to tears to make perfume for the sake of making perfume as a commercial product. It has to be a piece of his heart, his soul, and his innermost cries. If it’s not, then it might as well be salad dressing for him. (And he clearly hates salad dressing. LOL!) So, I think you’re absolutely right in what you noticed and felt.

  4. Thanks so much for this. I am a huge Serge fan and this was a fabulous interview.
    Whenever i see a photo of Serge, i am reminded of Udo Kier in Andy Warhol’s Blood For Dracula.

    • Thank you, dear Jordan. It’s not quite the ideal dream, though. That one would involve meeting Uncle Serge! My next project: figure out how I can get to see him and his Morocco villa! 😉 lol

  5. Fascinating interview, Kafka. Your interest in the man, as well as his works, is clearly warranted. Once again I lament my inability to read French, as all translations are necessarily inexact.

    • Translations are definitely never exact, and the many innuendos in the French language make it particularly tricky. When you add in Serge Lutens’ always Sphinx-like, enigmatic answers, and his general tendency towards abstraction and metaphors, it definitely becomes a whole other ball game. lol. (At one point, I had 3 translation versions, if you include my own, and none were precisely the same!)

      Still, I’m very glad you got a glimpse of both the brilliant intellectual that he is, and of the reasons why he intrigues me so. I only lament the fact that I wasted a question on food (on the complete off-chance that he may enjoy it, with Asian cuisine being specifically what I had in mind). I should have asked him else, perhaps about animals because I can see him as being the sort to find great beauty in their inner soul. Then again, one can never guess what Serge Lutens may answer. Though, now that I reflect upon it, don’t you think Serge Lutens is very much like a cat? A sleek, black feline who can curl himself up sinously or prowl elegantly in the shadows?

  6. Niche ou pas niche !
    I also loved Proust as the biggest madeleine in the world.
    I have no idea what this means but it was great to read and ponder on further.

    “If I have sometimes likened myself to characters in books, it has only been in morsels. A little like a mirror man searching for similarities. I have this talent, which is also a flaw, but yet it is undeniable that the other also sees himself in me. To replace and to betray is, fundamentally, what I do and it is what I am. It is the duality within the one.”

    Bravo Kafka. The questions were very personal. Are you sure you did not send him 50 questions and he choose to answer 12? Lol.

    I appreciated understanding justesse. I understand Frenchness way more now as a result. The only regret is I would have liked to know at least one dish that delighted Uncle’s tastebuds.

    • Hahaha, re. the Madeleine. In essence, he’s saying that Proust himself — as well as all passing references to the “madeleine” (that represents the issue of memory recall) — are a type of madeleine themselves, because the mere reference to Proust’s Madeleine conjures up a meaning of things, even if the person has never read Proust. He’s saying that both Proust and the madeleine have basically become short-hand references or symbols, much like we know what a “Freudian Slip” or “Pavlov’s Bell” is even if we’ve never read either.

      His larger point (and yes, there are layers upon layers of meanings with Serge Lutens) is that some people haven’t actually made the effort to read things, but just go by short-hand references in society or pop culture. And his larger point even FURTHER still is that he likes authors who bleed their heart and soul out in their works, not just necessarily those authors who are considered to represent great literature (like Proust).

      As for the questions, a friend firmly told me that I should have 12, max. She was very firm that I should not go beyond (especially as she knew that each one of those 12 would probably be multiple compound questions – as they turned out to be. lol) I was SOOOO tempted to make it 15, and I could barely choose the 12 that I did. It was really agonizing to go through and decide which ones to reject.

      Like you, I would have loved to know at least one dish he loved. There have to be at least ONE thing in both the Asian and Moroccan cuisine that he adores. I also wanted to know what he thought of Oscar Wilde, Camus (my personal, ultimate favorite author), and yes, Kafka…. *grin*

      On another note, I’m glad to know that my theories about him and his mother were accurate. But there was great sadness (and quite a bit about death) in his words that struck me too. An awareness of death from the time of his birth…. It says a lot about him that he feels that. 🙁

      As for his comments about the “opportunistic” perfume industry…. Ouch! But, I must say, I loved every bit of that, and the slams at marketing and reduced quality. Bravo, Uncle Serge!

      • In a previous interview, quite recently, Serge stated that he was a big fan of Champagne + Marie Antoinette Candies – Fondants (although he can’t be chucking back too many of those with his svelte figure). He also said that he ate just one time every day, very late in the evening, which ties in with his answer about having an ascetic approach to your question about food.

        • Thank you C. He is actually svelte – not many people are.
          Kafka let us have Champers and Fondants this weekend. I will be wearing MKK, the sweat of Kublai Khan and you De Profundis, the cry from the depths. This has been a very enjoyable and insightful posting. I see Poodle has arrived and now on top of all this I am now laughing with her cheese comment.

          • Champers and Fondants, it is! But I’m not sure about wearing De Profundis. I’m in a mood for the perfume which became my first bell jar, but whose identity shall remain secret until I get to writing about it. 😉 😀

        • Marie-Antoinette Fondants? Mmmmm, tasty. Thank you for sharing, C. I’d bet that he loves sushi, too. It’s not just all the time he spent in Japan, but, also, the purity, minimalism and aesthetics of sushi as a whole.

        • This part? “If I have sometimes likened myself to characters in books, it has only been in morsels. A little like a mirror man searching for similarities. I have this talent, which is also a flaw, but yet it is undeniable that the other also sees himself in me. To replace and to betray is, fundamentally, what I do and it is what I am. It is the duality within the one.”

          I honestly don’t know, but I would guess that he’s saying that he has the ability to see a little of himself in small portions of characters in books. The way we all do, in trying to identify and relate to literary characters. He may also be saying (but I’m not sure) that it’s a bit of a betrayal of the real him to relate to imaginary people, but that we all have duality or mirror people within ourselves and that we see our own reflection in others. That’s my very, very rough guess, but honestly, I didn’t understand his comment fully.

      • camus and kafka are also among my favourite authors. 😀 hurrah for the existentialist genre.

  7. Great interview. He’s so cryptic at times though. I wonder what a regular conversation would be like too. I mean, he’s got to relax and just chat about the weather once in a while, doesn’t he? I wonder if he likes those wonderful French cheeses you’ve been teasing us with or if they stifle his creativity. I’m going to have to go back and re-read this. I love his perfumes. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by his answers but I am.

    • Which parts surprised you, Poodle? As for the French Food post with all the cheeses, it’s coming. 🙂 I have decided to stagger and only slowly roll out the posts on other Paris perfume boutiques, because it may be too much in a row. So I’m going to intersperse reviews and other stuff in-between, and the Food post (with all the cheese) is scheduled for 2 reviews from now.

  8. I know how positively chuffed you were to get this interview, and rightfully so! I know you rarely rest, but I hope you took a few minutes to reflect and give yourself a huge pat on the back. As you very well know, not everyone gets to interview him so he and/or his team must have thought quite highly of you!

    This was quite enjoyable to read, but I think if I knew Serge Lutens in person and interacted with him I’d probably find myself tearing my hair out! His artistic temperament oozes out of every fiber of his being (that’s honestly not meant to be read as negative — but just to say that he’s definitely a type of person that I am not!). His answers are always thought provoking, but he often never quite addresses the question — and this is something I’ve noticed in every interview I’ve read of his (which, granted, hasn’t been all that many but enough that it’s more than simply a coincidence). Someone else above my comment wondered whether he was capable of “normal” conversation and I have to say I myself have often wondered the same thing! I do know, however, he is an extremely private and guarded person, so maybe his answers are slightly more direct with people whom he knows and trusts. I have to think while he’s probably somewhat more direct in his personal interactions, he always maintains an emotional wall.

    He’s truly a genius, and clearly a very thoughtful man. Very interesting to read his responses because it gives a lot of insight as to how the gears turn in his mind. Thank you for sharing it, and again, congratulations on the opportunity!

    • He is definitely said to be very, very private, and so I’m sure his answers would be more direct with those that he knows intimately and trusts. Still, I think he was also very much himself in some ways here, because I think this is really how Serge Lutens thinks or sees life.

      He is also a French intellectual down to his fingertips, and they are a very particular sort of person (in my experience) who filter life through the lens of philosophical abstractions. I’ve seen it so many times, and it’s very much a part of the French culture to analyse things in the larger picture. I remember a taxi driver in Monte-Carlo once engaged me in a long conversation about Sartre and existentialists. The chap who used to cut my hair when I lived in Paris would talk about society in terms of the great authors, in an almost metaphysical construct. This is a part of the French psyche and culture. There is a reason why the cliché is of French people wearing black, sitting in a café, and arguing about intellectual matters. For them, it’s a part of their daily reality. It’s a whole different mindset to the Americans, the Germans, the Italians, etc., and I think that’s why it seems so alien to people who aren’t really familiar with the French way of thinking or being.

      Serge Lutens simply takes it to another level because he’s an utter genius. lol

      • Some insight into the French mindset is definitely helpful in trying to understand Serge Lutens. Which, as you know, is an exercise in futility, but it truly does help get *slightly* closer, at least! 🙂

  9. “banality is passed off as rarity and the ordinary as luxury”
    Brilliant observation. Sadly, it applies everywhere. Thank God for people like Serge Lutens (and Kafka!) who buck the mediocrity trend! And thank you for giving us a peek inside this creative, brilliant mind and heart

  10. One of the very few perfume art directors that deserves to be called as such!His vision is still unsurpassed

  11. wonderful post! you posed such wonderful, thought-provoking questions and his answers are so fascinating. your friends did a lovely job translating as well – although your posting this interview in full was good practice for my french :^)

    his comment about proust himself being a madeleine made me laugh! nice insight. and i really like what he had to say about history. i think it is easy to glamorize the past, but as a woman of colour who grew up under colonial rule, i don’t think i would like to relive any previous era. history propels us forward. society is certainly far from perfect, but i wouldn’t like to give up the technological, scientific and (most importantly) social progress we have made up til now.

    his choice of rembrandt was initially a bit startling because, i suppose, i imagined he’d pick someone a little ‘edgier’ – but now that i think about it, rembrandt seems oddly apt for his aesthetic…

    thanks for a wonderful post, as usual!

    • Thank you so much for adding your personal perspective to the history question, Julia. 🙂 You’re right, it’s easy to whitewash the past, erase it of its more painful or terrible aspects, and to ignore the great many strides that we’ve made today.

      I shared your reaction to the Proust as a Madeleine comment, and your initial surprise at the Rembrandts. But I found his descriptions of those two old women really made me see the paintings in a whole new light. I’d love to go to the Louvre or the Met with Serge Lutens, and hear his interpretations of particular art pieces.

  12. excellent questions that try to present the whole Mr. Lutens. His elusive, general and esoteric responses gave more away about this enigmatic auteur than direct answers might have. the side notes in green are particularly useful in creating a sense of context from the general translation. i think you are going to have to write your own travelogue/scent compendium some day. you have the erudition, savoir faire & passion to produce something compelling. congrats on the interview 😉

    • Aww, thank you, Tim, for the huge, huge compliments. They really mean a lot to me. As for the green notes, I wanted to limit my own interpretations or explanations in order to let M. Lutens’ own voice speak loudly without distraction, but sometimes, it seemed a bit necessary. I’m afraid I didn’t always understand what he was saying upon first reading, but that’s very Uncle Serge, no? And you’re right, the very elusive and philosophical nature of those answers says as much about him as very direct, specific ones would have. 🙂

  13. Dear Kafka,

    First of all, congratulation on the rare opportunity you’ve got. I understand how important that interview is to you taking into the account your fascination with Mr. Lutens.

    Also I want to mention that I think your questions were great, I enjoyed reading each of them and, for a while, was anticipating the answers… until I stopped.

    And that brings me to the last point. Since I don’t think either Mr. Lutens himself or even anybody on his staff will read the comments and mine comes closer to the end, after many nice and polite ones, I do not feel the need to sugarcoat my opinion.

    Most of his answers are non sequiturs. If we’re lucky, parts of each answer might be interpreted as if he actually was answering the question posed but mostly it’s just a rambling somewhere in the proximity of the topic of or words used in your questions. I even had a suspicion for a while that somebody on the staff was doing a keyword search in multiple texts written by Mr. Lutens over years and choosing something that kind of fits – like those automated help and F&Q systems on different sites. Many of those passages are interesting and make sense as an essay on their own but I would rather sign under my inability to apprehend the connection between your questions and Mr. Lutens’ answers than pretend that I see and appreciate the philosophical genius of those answers. I don’t.

    It doesn’t change how I feel about Mr. Lutens’ creations (love some, like many and respect the rest) or how I view his role in the field’s development. But I still think it was a strange way of giving the interview.

    • Sweet Undina, I greatly respect your feelings and can share some of them. I would have enjoyed more direct or specific answers, but I think that the fact he didn’t give them and chose an abstract response instead is actually quite revealing in and of itself. I wrote to Kevin just a little while ago about how his approach — to me at least — is the epitome of the French intellectual and very much in the vein of their culture. They have a very different way of thinking about things than Americans, Italians, Germans or the like. Actually, in some ways, for me, it’s a bit like the Japanese intellectuals or writers whose works I’ve read, like Tanazaki, for example, or their very elaborately abstract, symbolic and philosophical way of handling something as simple as a tea ceremony.

      So, in that sense, and for me personally, the answers told me something about Serge Lutens. Were they the specifics of what historical eras he loved? No. Did they show that his mind takes an abstract approach to issues of history, and that he focuses on general themes? Yes. Take his comment about perfectionism: it’s really a statement on beauty, or how you can find the ultimate perfection in flaws. And his comment on the areas of life that he hasn’t yet explored or conquered is more a statement about how he felt most of his life didn’t involve a choice because he was driven by an awareness of death that he had from the start. It’s the perspective of a man in his ’70s who is looking back upon his life as a whole, and drawing a general conclusion from its direction.

      His answers may not be how you, I, or another person would have chosen to answer them, but they do seem very much like Serge Lutens as a whole. Unique, different, complicated, and — like his perfumes — morphing, twisting, and introverted. Think about how so many people find some of his perfumes to be more like works of art to admire or be perplexed by, than versatile, every day, easy compositions. His answers were like that. So, in that sense, they are very Serge Lutens.

      At least, that’s my approach to it all. I more than understand if you see things differently and struggled with his way of answering. Just as I often say about his perfumes, they aren’t for everyone, but they are always different. 🙂

      • And…as my comment above stated, I loved his answer on perfectionism because I kind of identify with what he said..(see!!- two people in my head)

    • No disrespect to M Lutens, but I (figuratively) fell out of my seat laughing (I would have literally fallen down laughing if my son wasn’t sleeping on me).. I have two people in my head, it seems.One seems to know what SL means while the other sees exactly what Undina’s saying..I can’t reconcile the two viewpoints but I can definitely enjoy both. ..:D

      • Yes! I feel the same Lavanya and Undina. There is a French cultural context here that I am learning to appreciate based on the comments and Kafka’s replies.

      • At a rough guess, I think M. Lutens would be quite pleased that you have two people in your head, each saying something different and making you question all sides of things. 🙂 It’s a bit like his comment about the mirror man who can see parts of himself in others and, thereby, is somehow not being true to himself as an absolute, separate, unique individual. The duality in the mirror, or the two voices in your head — see, you’re more like Serge Lutens than you knew, Lavanya! *grin* 😉

  14. Dearest Kafka
    A quite superb interview.
    Your questions (to which you did a great disservice at the start) seem to me to be quite perfect.
    They are the questions of influence, inspiration and reflection than would ask any artist, which, after all, is what Serge Lutens is.
    I notice much has been made of M. Lutens’ abstract and vague answers. Albeit I had the advantage of being able to follow them in French and have a number of French friends whose voices I can hear enunciating them in my head. But they didn’t seem particularly more or less convoluted or enigmatic than the way many French people speak when asked personal questions.
    Part of it I put down to a formal system of education that still has logic and philosophy as core elements, part of it to the abiding French curiosity with psycho-analysis, but in the main it strikes me as a function of the natural inclination towards restraint and privacy that characterise many French people.
    Saying very little rather elegantly is a technique many of our Gallic friends have learnt when they simply wish to avoid giving a direct answer.
    How lovely to have such large interior lives in a world where increasingly we are asked to display more and more of ourselves for common entertainment.
    Excellent interview.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • I’m so happy that you get it, my dear Beau. So, SO happy, and a bit relieved, I must say.

      I’ve tried to explain how his approach very much epitomizes the French intellectual and their particular, unique culture metaphysics, but I fear that it is too much of a different world unless you’ve experienced it for yourself. There is none of the straightforward, direct, “black and white” of the American approach, nor the Italians’ more passionate, sensuous, almost visceral response, or even the Germans’ pragmatically prosiac one. It’s different. (And Monsieur Lutens is actually quite Japanese, to me, in some ways in terms of how everything has a larger symbolic, metaphysical import, even in the small aspects of daily life.)

      You’re right about the very particular French system of education (and its hardcore focus on philosophy for the Bac!) which lends itself to some of this, but I also think that M. Lutens generally thinks about life in a way that is at a more metaphysical level than most of us. Or, at least, than me. And he never condescended to any of us by simplifying his answers to a more easily digestible nugget for the common masses. He gave us the respect of responding to us as equals. I, for one, appreciate that a great deal.

      BTW, I don’t know how often you check it, but I sent you an email yesterday at the Dandy’s gmail account. 🙂 My comment there applies more than ever.

      • Dearest Kafka
        Yes… there is something about the elliptical elusiveness of M. Lutens answers that definitely has echoes of Japanese culture, and indeed, of operating on a different thought plane.
        The other trait you correctly identify is an absolute refusal to conform to society’s desire for us to ‘dumb down’. I am left with the abiding sense of a man who will explain his complex thoughts in the language he feels most appropriate and accurate, not words which lend themselves to sound bites and easy digestion.
        For this he is to be commended.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy
        PS Thank you for the most delightful email

    • Dearest Dandy, the French remain fascinated with psychoanalysis? Perhaps there’s an opportunity for me to have a second practice there. Now, if only I spoke the damn language…

      • Ha, one of my closest friends (and the person I stayed with for most of my Paris trip) is a French psychoanalyst. After living in her world for a week, I’d say the French remain quite obsessed with the subject. 🙂

      • Dearest Feral
        In my experience (and that of a few friends who practice) the French and South Africans seem to be more hooked on Freud than anyone else outside New York.
        Though a friend who’s an existential psychotherapist enjoys the most glamorous dual practice in London and Paris that I can imagine.
        Good luck on your expansion plans.
        Tee hee.
        Yours ever
        The Perfumed Dandy

  15. Kafka, I have little to add to the superbly intelligent exchange that you’ve inspired here except to say “Brava!” for your questions. I can remember, decades ago, hearing Nora Ephron talk about how one of the basic, unfortunate tenets of journalism is that anybody can be made to sound stupid in an interview by asking him/her stupid questions. You, on the other hand, used your intelligence to give SL a chance to express his. What a gift for us to read.

    • I’m touched, FeralJasmine, I really am. I’m glad you saw beauty in his answers, and in the brilliance of his mind. Thank you again for your very kind words on the interview. It means a lot to me.

  16. Kafka, this was a wonderful interview that I very much enjoyed reading. Your questions were a lot more interesting than the typical ones and I found the answers fascinating as well. I would very much like to see the Myers-Briggs typing of the people for whom the answers were annoying as opposed to the people who found them interesting, as I believe that is the cause of the disparity. I also would very much love to see Serge Lutens’ chart (his answers are very indicative of strong placements in the 8th and 12th houses).

    The part that surprised me, if I am reading the answer correctly, was that he seemed to be saying that once a creation is done, he never revisits it emotionally? I found that both fascinating and sad.

    • Heavens, Myers-Brigg’s personality assessment…. that is brilliant, Nancy! I’m sure the results would be intriguing, and probably very revealing. If I recall the last time I took the Myers-Briggs, I was ENFJ or the Idealist Teacher. lol. With regard to M. Lutens, he was born March 14, 1942 in Lille, and is a Pisces. I’m sure his natal chart would be fascinating.

    • I would absolutely love to have seen see his Myers-Briggs! I’m an INTJ, and I think my T and J explain a lot as to my reactions to his responses. While I think we have the IN in common, I think I utilize my N quite differently than he does. Or at least, it manifests itself quite differently in the two of us.

  17. I’m sure he was thrilled to get questions that aren’t the perfumer’s equivalent of, “How do you get your ideas, Miss Alcott?” Fascinating interview- though I’m kind of giggling that he says he’s not a perfectionist!

    • Ha, that part made me smile too! He may be one who can find great beauty and almost perfection in a flaw, but he is most definitely a perfectionist by my standards! To be honest, I had rather hoped he could guide me personally on how to live with the difficulty of being one, because perfectionism can drive you quite mad sometimes. lol 🙂

  18. Reiterating what others above me have said, this was an exquisite interview in large part because of the genuine interest and dignity of your approach, both in asking the kinds of questions you did and the care you went to in interpreting his responses. Congratulations, Kafka, on both landing the interview and the care you took with it. I enjoyed his answers greatly, as I enjoy their deeply feeling nature coupled with truthfulness, even if those answers aren’t easy to parse out. But the question where you asked him essentially about which achievements of his were perhaps the most challenging or hardest to accomplish – and he answered, “Nothing has ever been easy or not. It always had to do with an exactingness, a rigor, a need for clarity in a text, a feeling of uncertainty for a perfume, an entrance into the kingdom of shadows for make-up. This is where I felt at home!” – that answer makes perfect sense to me.

    • Thank you, dear Suzanne, for your kind words on the interview and how I tried to be as faithful as possible to his every meaning. It wasn’t always easy, since I wasn’t always sure WHICH of some possible meanings may really apply. LOL. (I still read his music answers differently than my two friends.)

      His answer about challenges and achievements was written so, so beautifully, was it not? Almost lyrical. He’s such an exquisite writer, in my opinion. I didn’t respond — on a personal level — to that part as much as to some other answers he gaves, but I thought his line about the “kingdom of shadows” was simply exquisite!

  19. Definitely a very interesting interview to read. He and I are two very different people since I’m very grounded in the mundane details of life.

  20. What a score to have been granted an interview with the master (or, MASTER may be more appropriate) Serge Lutens himself! If there was one word I would use to describe him based on this interview as well as what I’ve read (your two-parter and the SL website), it would be “ENIGMATIC”, which you had used. Also, despite all the luxurious trappings, from his Marrakesh home to the Palais Royal mothership, I view him as unworldly.

    The entire interview was priceless and the part that resonated most with me was his paradoxical answer to your last question – “… the awareness of death that I have felt since the beginning of my life [and which] may account for the fact that I have achieved all that I have.” and part of his answer to Question 4 “When that instant has passed, I am no longer interested.” So on the one hand he “thinks” he had achieved all he has (and has no need to rest on is laurels) but he doesn’t de-stress (or so it seems) and will work towards another “end of my time” masterpiece.

    And now I need to go figure out how to use justesse in a sentence.

    • Master Majuscule Hajusuuri. I too am enjoying justesse as an addition to my lexicon. Will be watching out for your maiden voyage with this word.

      • Ha, I’m going to tell my friend how his note about “justesse” has generated some fascination with the whole concept, as well as a determination to use it in English. I think he’ll find that to be hysterical.

    • I think using the term “the MASTER” is totally accurate and appropriate. *grin* It’s interesting to me the other term or word you used — “unworldly” — in describing him. I’m going to have to mull that one over, but my initial reaction is a disagreement. I don’t think he is unworldly at all, but I do think he is OTHERworldly. Completely and absolutely otherworldly. He lives in another world than you, me, and most others. A world that is theoretical, intellectual, within him, inside his head, and full of larger metaphysical constructs.

      But you know, I can really relate to him on some levels. I really do. It’s this weird mental connection I feel with and for him, and which I can’t always explain. I don’t understand the specifics of his answers sometimes, but I really feel as though I understand HIM as a whole. On some levels at least. Perhaps it’s the case of the “man in the mirror” and people’s natural tendency to look for similarities with others — even if it’s not actually accurate — but I’ve lived a large portion of my life “in my head.” I still do — to the point that 3 friends told me that same thing on this recent holiday back home to France. I don’t (or no longer) see life in such metaphysical terms, but I do tend to view everything in a larger, symbolic light that can be rather abstract at times. And I share some of his feelings about other things, that I won’t get into here.

      In terms of the paradox you noted between two of his answers, I think that he can be a man with some contradictions within him. But then, I think all great geniuses have that, especially when it comes to the issue of motivations, driving forces, and inspiration. They’ve achieved great things *precisely* because they are driven in ways that are different than you and I.

      If you figure out how to use “justesse” in a sentence in English and, more importantly, in a way that seems wholly natural, please let me know. lol 😀

    • Thank you, Clayton. That means a lot to me. I’m so enormously happy that you see the beauty of his intellect, appreciate the exquisite way in which he writes, and share my enormous admiration for his brilliance. There seems to be such a split in terms of people’s reactions to his answers, and while I can completely understand the reason why, it makes me genuinely happy when others can see Serge Lutens as I do. Of course, I have the impartiality of a gnat when it comes to him, and admire him so much that I am completely biased on the subject. lol

      • I would love to meet him some day. Your interview was a rarely opened window into his colourful personality, even though inside it is simply various shades of Noir. I think creative people are always good at creating, few of them a good public speakers or answering questions in a matter of fact way. Reading this I felt like Alice going down the rabbit hole.

        • I would give anything to meet him too! My only difficulty would be to suppress my constant and immense desire to hug him. I really don’t know how I would control myself, and it would undoubtedly mortify the both of us. You know, it’s not even because of my admiration for him, but because of his life. You haven’t read my profile series on him, but if you’re ever bored, you may be interested in Part I where I found out some things that aren’t generally known about his early life. It was…. hard. From illegitimacy and rejection by his relatives, to foster homes, and more. http://akafkaesquelife.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/serge-lutens-profile-part-i-his-childhood-his-early-years-what-drives-him/ While it clearly shaped the man that he is today and drives him, it all sounds so unbelievably painful on an emotional level that the scars remain today. They create that reclusiveness and loneliness, and it simply makes me want to hug him.

          Since you seem to share my fascination with the inner man, I’ll tweet you the link, as I don’t know if you’ll return to read this reply. BTW, it’s so good to meet a fellow fan of the man inside.

  21. Pingback: Sunday Link Love, Volume #160 | FFBlogs

  22. (Clayton you have inspired me to comment yet again on this post.)

    To Uncle Serge

    The first time ever I sniffed your ‘fumes,
    I thought the sun and moon, and the stars rose before my eyes
    Perfume and these words above were the gifts you gave
    To the dark and the endless skies…

    • Hey, you could have fit justesse in there somewhere, couldn’t you? LOL. I think we should have a contest for the best use of justesse in a sentence or a poem 🙂

      • Right, that is a challenge Hajusuuri. I will take it up if you, Kafka and Clayton will also compete (with camaraderie of course) for the title of Word Conjurer. Or non-compete but supply words as per your idea above.

          • LOL, I doubt my comment nesting levels for the blog would be sufficient for something like this. As for the game or competition, I would only be up for it in the sort of circumstances I just outlined to Hajusuuri up above. I don’t usually like to use the blog for things like that but, in this case, in this context, and on a broader level, I might be persuaded. 🙂 How one would judge, though, or WHO would judge…. that would be tricky, I think, no?

          • I’m game, too, but only if Clayton and perhaps a few other blogs participate, otherwise it might just seem like a very weirdly insular, non-inclusive, personal inside joke. On a broader level, it would be a very fun game. 🙂

  23. The first time ever I sniffed your ‘fumes,
    I thought the sun and moon and the stars rose before my eyes
    Perfume and these words above were the gifts you gave
    To the dark and the endless skies

    The first time ever I sweated Kublai Khan
    The plains rose, the mountains levelled
    and the musk deer ran, ran
    To the ends, to the ends of the earth

    The first time ever I was lost in a souk
    I met a man who did tell me, what perfume required of me,
    “To act with justesse, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your ‘fumes, your ‘fumes”

    (Can’t say that this is original. More a pastiche or reinterpretation of Roberta Flack and Micah. As for meter – this ain’t Iambic pentameter.)

    • LOL @ the comment about iambic pentameter!!! Very nicely done, Jordan. Really lovely, indeed, and a nice incorporation of the tricky theory of “justesse.” 🙂

  24. Congratulatons Kafka 😀 ,you must be very happy to have been able to get an interview from someone you admire so much. He truly is an intelectual and he seems to analyze and think about life in a very different way. I must admit that his comment about history dissapointed me a little bit, since I am a history lover, and I have personally imagined going back to the past more than once, also contrary to a comment above me, I wouldn´t mind going back to an older society, being well aware of the ugliness but also of the great beauty of the past, since after all, who is to say that our society is truly civilized today and that the current order of things will not crumble in the near future? (Something that I believe will happen relatively soon). But going back to the interview, even if I was dissapointed by that answer I loved some other aspects, like the ability to see himself in the opposite gender and his interest in the essence of art, and of his personal perfume creations, which he sees as an expression and a part of himself, this is by definition an artist. Intelectually he must have a very analitical and complicated way of thinking, which has allowed him to become who he is, a very interesting caracter. Although I do agree with above comments, he must relax and speak in a mundane way sometimes, if he doesn´t he must be truly tired.

  25. Pingback: Serge Lutens Profile – Part II: Perfumes, His Inspiration & The Search for Identity | Kafkaesque

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