There is not a person alive who has been unaffected by the wretchedness of 2020 and the pandemic that has dominated the list of traumas. I won’t even start to talk about the issues of this year because they are many and all hideous. But what about the escape methods for many of us during the best of times: scent? How much is perfumery still a big escape in the midst of one of the worst years in the 21st century?
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.
As many of you are undoubtedly aware by now, major changes are sweeping over Serge Lutens. They extend beyond changes to the mere look of bottles or their pricing and entail a whole reshuffling and revamping of the many lines or collections within the brand, thereby signifying a new marketing and business approach by Shiseido which took over the full management of the Serge Lutens brand a year ago. Many of you have already read the news of the specific changes elsewhere, but not everyone follows the same perfume sites or groups, so I thought it was worth a post here on Kafkaesque so that everyone had the chance to buy any old favourites whilst they could before the higher prices kick in.
At the end of this article, I’ll share some thoughts about the possible larger meaning of all this, why I think Shiseido differs from other companies (like L’Oreal or LVHM) that have taken control of perfume houses, why the nature of Shiseido’s relationship with Lutens might be cause for cautious optimism, and, finally, which Lutens fragrances have, in my opinion, have already undergone reformulation prior to the new bottling.
There are unicorns that hide amongst the shadows of our world, fragrance unicorns that are spoken about in hushed, reverential tones, fragrances of such great rarity that they rise from the eBay mists only a bit more frequently than King Arthur’s Avalon. These myths of legend belong to an elite club in the vintage world, and one of them is Nombre Noir.
Nombre Noir is so famous for so many reasons that it’s hard to know where to begin. It was the very first fragrance ever made by the visionary Serge Lutens, his introductory footsteps into the perfume world, albeit under the umbrella of Shiseido rather than his own name. That would come later, but so many of the famous Lutens olfactory signatures make their debut in Nombre Noir that it’s like following a map into the future. But the reasons why the fragrance is so mythical have little to do with Lutens himself and everything to do with an aggregation of olfactory, technical, and market-oriented factors. The fact that there is a whiff of Greek tragedy to the tale just adds to the mystique.