Bourreau des Fleurs is the newest addition to Serge Lutens‘ Section d’Or. The name means “executioner of flowers” and the fragrance is devoid of any floralcy. Instead, it is a delicious, rather addictive, semi-gourmand oriental that traverses the light spectrum from golden immortelle to a darkness created out of salty black licorice, balsamic amber resins, and incense-y wood smoke. It’s my favourite new Lutens release in a long time, but it comes with some baggage.
Bourreau des Fleurs was officially launched in June. I assume that it is an extrait de parfum like all the original entries in the Section d’Or collection, though the Lutens’ website does not specify its concentration. However, two Lutens vendors, Harrods and Premiere Avenue, list it as an eau de parfum. I think it must be an error since one of the big selling points of the high-priced Section d’Or is that its fragrances are richer, deeper, and more luxurious extraits.
On his website, Serge Lutens describes Bourreau des Fleurs as obliquely and morbidly as is his wont:
The condemned woman: Executioner you are severing the chord but you are my lifeblood; you course through me like the sap of a tree.
The executioner: And you are the wood in my heart.
As a small aside, I think that exchange takes on quite a different and rather disturbing shade of meaning if what I’ve read about Bourreau des Fleurs is true: that it is intended to represent Serge Lutens’ love-hate relationship with his mother or even to be some sort of strange homage to her. In the past, Monsieur Lutens has said that he expresses his emotions and mental state vis-à-vis his perfumes, and that it is also a way for him to process his painful childhood. (See Part I of my Lutens profile for details on his illegitimacy and his abandonment during the Nazi occupation of France.) If one juxtaposes the executioner fragrance and those lines between condemned woman and her hard-hearted male killer with his second release for 2017, “Dents de Lait,” or “Baby Teeth,” a fragrance with milky notes whose advert features a smiling baby in diapers, I can’t help but think that, at this late stage of his life, Monsieur Lutens is signaling a growing internal conflict between two Freudian extremes: the desire to execute his mother and the desire to crawl back into the womb. I really hope that he is all right or that I’m misreading things.
Bourreau des Fleurs’ note list is a secret, but some sites offer a few suggestions. Harrods puts forth: “Caramel, sap, resin.” Parfumo posits: “Licorice, Immortelle, Charred wood.” Based on what appears on my skin, my guess for the note list would be:
Immortelle, licorice, stewed fruits (plums and prunes), cumin, ginger, cedar, labdanum, Tolu balsam, benzoin, and probably myrrh and sweet myrrh resins.
Bourreau des Fleurs opens on my skin with many of Serge Lutens’ favourite accords. There are the dark stewed prunes, plums, and cedar of the Feminité du Bois series, most specifically the sweet, honey-laden, autumnal strains of the Paris Exclusive, Bois et Fruits. There is also Arabie‘s Arab bazaar of spices and immensely sticky dried fruits, both of which are laced with just a hint of Fille en Aiguilles‘ ginger plums and incense smoke.
Strands of black licorice weave these separate but related and overlapping accords together, but it is nothing as compared to the main focus of Bourreau des Fleurs’ early hours: immortelle. Initially, in the first few moments, it is merely a soft ripple that laps at the corners of the dried fruits, spices, and singed woods but, with every passing moment, it grows in strength until, less than five minutes in, it gushes forth like a geyser, coating the Lutens signature accords with a thick, ambered, sappy, honeyed, and maple syrup-like sweetness.
Its effect is to reduce the Feminité/Bois et Fruits, Arabie, and Fille en Aiguilles refrains and to move Bourreau des Fleurs much closer to the breakfast gourmandise of Jeux de Peau. (It, too, had licorice and immortelle, even though they weren’t the central focus). Maybe it’s a trick of the mind or mere suggestibility but I could swear that Bourreau des Fleurs bears hints of Jeux de Peau’s buttered wheat toast lurking somewhere in there in its earliest moments, as well as its whisper of saltiness. The latter undoubtedly stems from the licorice which grows stronger after 20 minutes, quite overshadowing the cumin, cedar, and even some of the plums. It’s as though the licorice (laced with balsamic resins like Tolu balsam) were the bridge between the mainland and a small archipelago of islands, its quietly bitter, salty, anisic chewiness connecting the savory gourmand immortelle with the more oriental, woody, spiced, and Arabic side of past Lutens classics.
As a side note, many of you know that I don’t like gourmand fragrances and that I have an extremely low tolerance level for sweetness, so let me say at the outset that I thought the balance of notes was perfect here and that I never once found Bourreau des Fleurs to be cloying. Yes, the opening is sweet but it is more in the oriental way rather than being anything heavily or purely gourmand. There is just enough darkness, bitterness, singed wood, and resin to counterbalance the immortelle. Furthermore, the scent turns drier, smokier, and even more oriental as it develops. I suspect the licorice may be more of an issue for some people than the immortelle or sweetness; licorice is not the most popular note in perfumery.
When considered as a whole, Bourreau des Fleurs’ development can essentially be compared to a medical flat-line that experiences several periodic squiggles up and down during the first five hours as it gradually traverses the light spectrum from goldenness to darkness before finally settling on a long, simple drydown. During the first five hours, the changes are merely small ones, an incremental emphasis of one accord over another. For example, roughly 2.25 hours in, Bourreau des Fleurs grows smokier, woodier, spicier, and drier, although not majorly so. If one were to use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the mildest, the levels would go from a 2 to perhaps a 4, while the immortelle drops from a 10 to 8. About 3.5 hours in, the resins increase in a similar fashion, from a 2 to a 4. At the same time, the licorice fuses completely with the immortelle and Tolu balsam to form one indivisible unit, and the spiced, dried/stewed fruits become a mere background aura.
About 4.5 hours in, Bourreau des Fleurs turns darker. The licorice, smoky, woody, Tolu balsam, and amber resins go up another 2 notches to level 6, while the spices and dried fruits turn into mere blips on the far horizon. Something about the smoky, woody, faintly bitter and resinous darkness smells like more than mere licorice, cedar, and Tolu to me; I think there is a good dose of either myrrh resin, sweet myrrh, or, more likely, a mix of the two buried in there. Either way, the cumulative effect is to cut through even more of the immortelle’s sticky, honeyed, maple syrup sweetness and to shift the balance of notes towards the licorice-resin side.
There are no further significant developments after the middle of the 5th hour. Bourreau des Fleurs simply dissolves into an indeterminate but rather delicious, cozy, and snuggly cloud of sweet-dry, sweet-bitter, smoky, spicy, woody, resinous darkness. The fragrance continues like that in a flat line until it finally dies away.
Bourreau des Fleurs had low projection, average to soft sillage, and good longevity. Using several generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle on the same patch of forearm, the fragrance’s opening projection was about 2 to 2.5 inches, at most. The scent trail extended 5-6 inches, but began to shrink 1.75 hours in. After 3 hours, Bourreau des Fleurs formed an intimate bubble that extended maybe 2-3 inches around me. The fragrance turned into a skin scent after 6.25 hours, although it was easy to detect up close without much effort until the 9th hour. In total, it lasted just under 13.75 hours. Judging by the longevity votes on Fragrantica, the fragrance may have performed far better on me than on some. (The two reviews on that page at this time from people who have actually tried it are very positive about how it smells, though, and neither one had longevity issues.)
I really enjoyed Bourreau de Fleurs, thought that everything worked beautifully together, found it to be the most appealing Lutens since L’Incendiaire, and I would love to have a bottle, but this is a fragrance that is subject to a completely different set of calculations than most and there are several reasons why. First, it is to be completely expected that everything worked well together because this is a composition that recycles not only the classic Lutens signature accords but also some of his most popular ones. L’Incendiaire was also a “greatest hits redux, “and I wasn’t so thrilled by that fact back then which makes me wonder if my feelings about Bourreau are because I actually love it, because I’m simply resigned to the recycling at this point, or because I’m so relieved at being spared Lutens’ current olfactory aesthetic with its watery, synthetic, anemic, and overly clean lifelessness? I don’t know. While I genuinely do enjoy Bourreau de Fleurs, it’s difficult to deny that it merely reassembles bits of old fragrances and that it is arguably, therefore, an unimaginative pastiche of dead ground. Am I shrugging at that here because of how much I dread the thought of fragrances like “Baby Teeth” (or the L’Eau series) and because even recycled old Lutens is more enjoyable than modern Lutens?
I realize my questions make me sound like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City, but they are questions worth asking when one is writing a positive review about a fragrance like this one, a fragrance which recycles the past for a very high price: €480, £425, or roughly $550 for a mere 50 ml. The answer to my questions is probably a combination of a factors, none of which would be significant by themselves if Bourreau de Fleurs were a $150 scent, but one cannot judge a €480 mash-up of previously released and much more affordable Lutens fragrances in quite the same way. Hardcore, longstanding Lutens aficionados — the very sort of perfumistas who read fragrance blogs like this one — probably already own at least a few of the aforementioned classics in their original, unreformulated form. I cannot see many of them shelling out €480 to have a mash-up of Jeux de Peau and Arabie or Jeux de Peau and Feminité du Bois, especially when they could simply layer their existing fragrances. Is it enough that Bourreau de Fleurs is a thoroughly enjoyable scent when it brings absolutely nothing new to the table and is merely a deeper scent that is housed in a fancier black and gold bottle? I doubt it.
Arguable redundancy isn’t the only problem at this price point. No matter how much I may love the sweet-savory-smoky-resinous mix, there is no denying that Bourreau de Fleurs is singularly monolithic and linear which, again, wouldn’t be an issue at $150 but it becomes something more serious at $550/€480 for a mere 50 ml. Yet another factor is the longevity/sillage situation. Judging by the Fragrantica votes, a number of people did not experience either a particularly long-lasting fragrance or one with great sillage.
Usually, I would tell you to try Bourreau des Fleurs for yourself to see how you fare, but that brings us to the final problem: this isn’t the easiest fragrance to try or even to find. Lutens doesn’t permit most of its retailers to carry the high-end Section d’Or line, and, at the time of this post, months into its release, Bourreau des Fleurs is only offered at the Lutens Paris headquarters, London’s Harrods, Premiere Avenue, and, presumably, Barney’s. (The latter doesn’t show the fragrance on its website, however. And Lutens does not offer it for online purchase on its sites, either.)
I don’t know what to say except that it’s a shame such a wonderful fragrance is out of reach for so many, both in terms of price and access. Many readers follow this blog because you have tastes similar to mine and I would bet money that at least 30 or 40 of you would just go nuts for Bourreau de Fleurs and would see it as an utterly delicious “cozy comfort” winter fragrance. But I can think of only three readers who might possibly shrug off the price tag and redundancy to buy it (if they could find it), and I’m not dead certain even about them. This is a very simple fragrance for such a high price.
Oh well. At least it was enjoyable to test and doesn’t have an embarrassing, atrocious name like “Baby Teeth”?
Details/Links: €480 or £425 for 50 mls. The US price is probably around $550, but the fragrance is not listed on the Barney’s Serge Lutens page for me to know for certain. At the time of this post, the fragrance is unavailable for direct online purchase via Serge Lutens US or Serge Lutens France, but you can buy it from Harrods and France’s Premiere Avenue. Russian’s Spell Smell may get it later on but it’s unavailable there at the moment. Samples: Surrender to Chance has Bourreau des Fleurs starting at $7.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.