Perfume Review: Tom Ford Private Blend Plum Japonais (Atelier d’Orient Collection)

Tom Ford does Serge Lutens. Or, to be more precise, Tom Ford tries desperately to be Serge Lutens, but falls flat on his face. That is my grumpy analysis of Plum Japonais, the latest Private Blend fragrance from Tom Ford. It is part of a brand-new collection of fragrances within his Private Blend line, and was just released in July 2013. The collection is called Atelier d’Orient, and consists of four perfumes: Shanghai LilyPlum JaponaisFleur de Chine, and Rive d’Ambre. Today is Plum Japonais‘ turn.

Source: Neiman Marcus

Source: Neiman Marcus

According to the Moodie Report, Tom Ford’s inspiration for Plum Japonais was the ume fruit:

Plum Japanais, as its name suggests, was inspired by the ume plum. ‘I have always been fascinated by unusual ingredients from exotic cultures,’ Ford revealed. ‘The ume plum…has great meaning in Oriental culture; in Japan and China, it is a sacred symbol of Spring. I wanted to craft a fragrance around the ume, because it has a texture and aroma that is so luscious.’

Now, I have searched and searched for some official word on who is the actual perfumer responsible for the Atelier d’Orient collection, or for Plum Japonais in specific. I can’t find it anywhere, which is slightly unusual these days when a perfumer’s name is frequently mentioned in press releases or in articles about a new fragrance.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens' Facebook page.

Fille en Aiguilles. Source: Serge Lutens’ Facebook page.

Still, it wouldn’t be important or significant except for one thing: Plum Japonais is a total rip-off of Christopher Sheldrake‘s gorgeous, stunning Fille en Aiguilles for Serge Lutens. It is a fragrance that I love with a passion, and it may be my favorite Lutens that I’ve tried in recent memory. So, you can imagine my grumpiness and sour mood when I thought about how Tom Ford was so blatantly copying about 90% of the Lutens/Sheldrake masterpiece. Yes, there are differences, but they are so minor that I will stick with my numeric assessment that 90% of Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles. It’s so close that much of the detailed break-down of Plum Japonais feels almost redundant (though I will do it shortly), but the main thing you should take away is this: Plum Japonais is Fille en Aiguilles done very, very badly.

Some perfumistas have compared Tom Ford’s style of perfumery to that of a frat boy with his fragrances’ over-the-top loudness and their hyper-sexualized marketing. I don’t always agree because I think Tom Ford is quite capable of producing more restrained, elegant pieces, though his marketing definitely verges on the bold and, sometimes, crass. But Plum Japonais definitely felt like a frat boy took a sledgehammer approach to Uncle Serge’s gorgeously refined, well-balanced, utterly beautiful masterpiece. Fille en Aiguilles may not rank among the best-known Lutens, but it is massively beloved amongst almost everyone who has tried it, some of whom rate it as their favorite Lutens perfume ever. And Plum Japonais simply cannot measure up. It’s as though One Direction attempted to cover John Lennon.

Christopher Sheldrake. Source:

Christopher Sheldrake. Source:

During my initial test of Plum Japonais, my irritation was becoming increasingly sharp and hostile, so I decided to make a more concerted effort to find out which perfumer was responsible for ripping off Christopher Sheldrake‘s creation for Uncle Serge. You cannot imagine my shock when I finally dug up the rumoured answer: Christopher Sheldrake himself! [Update: 8/4/13see the note at the end of this review for the information that a different nose seems to be responsible for the creation of Plum Japonais.]

According to the blog, Best Things in Beauty, “[t]he fragrance has been unofficially attributed to perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.” I haven’t seen that attribution mentioned anywhere else, so I have no idea if it’s true or not. But it probably is, given the enormous similarity between the two fragrances — and that just irritates me for a whole new set of reasons. It’s not the fact that Christopher Sheldrake is cheating on Uncle Serge (perfumers are allowed, after all, to work freely where they want, and not just for one client). Rather, it’s the fact that he’s taken his Lutens creation, and so barely tweaked it for Tom Ford that it feels almost insulting to Fille en Aiguilles. It’s damn lazy. And, making matters even worse, the result is a nondescript, utterly imbalanced, very flat, badly done, uninteresting version of Fille en Aiguilles. If Fille en Aiguilles were a person, it should sue for defamation and copyright violation. So, let’s get to Sheldrake’s One Direction-like olfactory copy of the Fille en Aiguilles.

Fragrantica classifies Plum Japonais as “Floral Fruity,” and the notes, as compiled from both that site and Premiere Avenue, include:

Japanese ume plum, saffron, Cinnamon Bark Orpur, immortelle, plum blossom, camellia, agarwood (oud), amber, benzoin, fir and vanilla.

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine,

Ume plums or Umeboshi. Source: Hudson Valley Magazine,

Plum Japonais opens on my skin with plum liqueur, plum molasses, brown sugar syrup, lots of ginger, strong frankincense smoke, and a subtle woodiness. It’s totally Fille en Aiguilles. Flittering around Plum Japonais’ edges are saffron, muted traces of fir resin, and candied immortelle. The latter shows off both its sides here: its herbal floral face, and its slightly maple syrup one. Once in a blue moon, the oud will pop up in the minutest trace, feeling as muted as the fir resin. 

Cinnamon tree bark. Source:

Cinnamon tree bark. Source:

Within minutes, Plum Japonais’ syrupy plum sweetness turns darker and significantly woodier. There is almost a burnt undertone to the combination which probably stems from the cinnamon tree bark, which is a whole, different animal than mere cinnamon powder. Amusingly, it’s an ingredient that Sheldrake featured front and center in another Lutens’ creation, the woody cinnamon oriental, La Rousse. The bark has an aroma that is spiced, but more akin to very dry, somewhat bitter, acrid, smoky wood. I wasn’t crazy about its odd nuances in Rousse, and I’m not crazy about it here. Still, it’s very subtle at this point, adding just an indirect effect to the overall woodiness running like a vein through all of Plum Japonais’ sticky, fruity sweetness and smoke.

Ten minutes in, something else rises to the surface. An odd floral note that I assume is the camellia. It’s a very creamy, velvety, white, languid scent with a strange but subtle lemony undertone, and it feels quite out-of-place amidst the increasingly dry, smoky, woody bouquet. The spices feel more noticeable, too. The saffron adds a definite kick of fieriness to the fragrance, though the note is not very distinct in its own right. For a few minutes, it adds such a bite to to the fragrance that it almost seems as though a red-hot chili pepper were thrown into the mix, but that impression quickly fades. By the 15-minute mark, Plum Japonais actually feels a little off-kilter. The lemony, creamy floral camellia attempts to balance out the increasingly harsh smoky-woodiness set amidst all that plum molasses and liqueur, but it can’t pull it off. The note is too muted. And, I still think it feels totally out of place.

Fruit Jam. Source: (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Fruit Jam. Source: (For recipe or website, click on photo. Link is imbedded within.)

Nonetheless, Plum Japonais is still almost entirely Fille en Aiguilles, only with minor differences. The very piney, evergreen forest hues of the Lutens beauty are practically non-existent in Plum Japonais, the inclusion of “fir” or “fir resin” in the notes notwithstanding. Sheldrake (if it is indeed he who is behind Plum Japonais) has substituted instead a different sort of woodiness to the scent. Yet, woody dryness is hardly the main, dispositive characteristic of Fille en Aiguilles. It’s the bloody spiced plum liqueur infused with frankincense smoke, that trademark Lutens’ signature of stewed fruit made more concentrated and plummy, with brown sugar sap, and heaping, walloping, hefty doses of sharp, black incense. And Plum Japonais has that in spades, from start to finish.

The problem is that Plum Japonais is like a knock-off of an expensive designer suit, only all the proportions are wrong. Lutens’ Fille en Aiguilles is stunningly balanced, whereas Plum Japonais is not. It feels significantly more acrid, more unbalanced in the sharpness of the smoke and the dryness of the woods. And nothing in the first two hours changes my impression, even though some of the other notes wax and wane in prominence. The immortelle occasionally rises to the surface, feeling like the herbal-floral version now, and not the maple syrup one, but it is muted and vague as a whole. The spices feel a little punchier than they did in the opening minutes, and I continue to think that there is ginger mixed in the blend. The camellia, in contrast, has now retreated to the background where it adds just a quiet, shy, creaminess and muted floral whisper to the overall bouquet.

The more interesting thing is the oud. It was just a whisper in the opening, hiding in the shadows behind all that plum liqueur. Now, however, the agarwood is more a wave that surges, ebbs, and then repeats the process. Sometimes, it feels muted, but it becomes increasingly significant at the start of the second hour, turning Plum Japonais into a fragrance where the dry woods almost compete with the incense-infused plum molasses. Unfortunately, I don’t particularly like these dry woods as compared to the richer, deeper, and significantly more interesting pine ones in Fille en Aiguilles.

As for the smoke, it varies as well. On certain parts of my arm, it feels quite bitter, pungent, and harsh, while, elsewhere, it’s more blended into the fruit. I think the cinnamon tree bark is behind some of the differences. Its smokiness in Serge Lutens’ Rousse felt quite acrid and bitter at times, and I think the note here has combined with the frankincense to create a combination that feels quite harsh at times. It’s never the smooth, almost sweetened incense that you’d expect, or, indeed, the gorgeous smoke in Fille en Aiguilles. This is much sharper and drier in nature, with a slightly bitter undertone.

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source:

Japanese Plum Liqueur, Yamazaki. Source:

It takes 50 minutes for Plum Japonais to soften and lose some of its harsh edges. The plum top notes start to feel flatter, while the smoky oud and the woods in the base seem smoother and less sharp. There is still a bitter, slightly burnt, pungent nuance to the woods, but the perfume as a whole feels a bit less askew and out of balance. Unfortunately, Plum Japonais also starts to feel a little murky and muddy at this time, both texturally and in terms of the distinctness of its notes. It’s starting to blur into a pretty smoky-woody-fruity fragrance just barely dominated by plum. By the end of the second hour, Plum Japonais is starting to fizzle out with notes that feel increasingly amorphous. The sillage has changed too, as the perfume just barely hovers an inch above the skin, if that. Plum Japonais is now just flat, stewed, sweet plummy jam with vague smoke and dry woody notes. In short, the Serge Lutens signature of dried, sweetened, dark fruits with oriental touches, but without the Lutens oomph and drama. At the 3.5 hour mark, Plum Japonais is a total skin scent, and has devolved to mere plummy sweetness barely flecked by some amorphous dryness and smoke. It remains that way until the very end, growing even more hazy, until its dying moments when it’s just vague sweetness.

All in all, Plum Japonais lasted a little over of 6.75 hours on my perfume-consuming skin, with incredibly restrained, soft sillage after the first hour. I applied quite a hefty portion too, as I had a very large sample from Neiman Marcus, so I basically wetted a long patch on my forearm with the equivalent of about 5 huge smears. If I’d applied my normal amount, I suspect the numbers would be significantly lower.

I have to admit, given the strength of Plum Japonais at first, and the power of Tom Ford’s Private Blends in general, I’m a little surprised at the shortness of time, as well as the restrained nature of the fragrance when taken as a whole. However, the fact that the perfume is ultimately quite subdued makes a lot more sense if you put it into context and in conjunction with the similar characteristics of Shanghai Lily. Both Atelier d’Orient fragrances seem intentionally designed to be more quiet, restrained takes on a spicy Oriental. I suspect that Tom Ford is aiming this collection at wealthy buyers in Asia, buyers who may not appreciate his usual, brash style, or a truly hardcore, intense Oriental in the style of something like Amouage. Plum Japonais is an attempt to give them a more subdued take on a masculine, woody, fruity oriental, with Shanghai Lily attempting to do the same for the more feminine, floral oriental version. That said, I want to emphasize that Plum Japonais is not a masculine scent at all. It’s wholly unisex for everyone except those whose perfume preferences lean towards the fragrances that are either fresh, clean, soapy, dainty, powdery, aldehydic, or some combination thereof.

Plum Japonais is too new for there to be many reviews available for comparison. My sense of how people generally see the Atelier collection as a whole is that they think it’s nondescript and uninteresting, with Plum Japonais being the best of the lot. That does not mean that they think it’s a great perfume, however. The Basenotes review section for the fragrance has only three reviews up at this time. One of them, “kende,” seemed to share my views about Plum Japonais’ development:

The problem is how short lived this wondrous moment is. Within 15 minutes the scent begins to feel more and more flat. The complexities start to vanish and what suddenly remains is a puny, underwhelming “perfumey” base that smells like a very commonplace generic perfume type of scent. This doesn’t take hours, mind you. It takes no greater the length of 45 minutes to unravel from that rich, opulent opening. […]

This perfume could’ve really been something special, that opening is something every perfumista should experience, but there is no backbone to hold Plum Japonais up over the hours. It goes on like a work of art and but feels more and more like a cheap photocopy as the minutes turn to hours. […]

The scent is 4 stars.

The longevity is embarrassing for a Tom Ford private blend. 0 stars.

Kende doesn’t know it, but Plum Japonais absolutely is a “cheap photocopy[,]” and he or she needs to go try Fille en Aiguilles. Over in a separate Basenotes board thread, the common consensus for Plum Japonais is, and I quote, “meh.” As one poster put it, “I’m honestly not impressed with any of the new Atelier scents. I guess this would be the stand out, but thats not saying much.”

No-one talks about Fille en Aiguilles because, as I noted up above, it’s not one of the better-known Lutens fragrances. But the perfume blows Plum Japonais out of the water! It is also significantly cheaper than Tom Ford’s ersatz, wanna-be copy which costs $210 for the smallest version. Fille en Aiguilles retails for $140, but can easily be found discounted at a number of online perfume retailers, with the lowest price I’ve seen being $80. (See the Lutens review for full retail links.) Honestly, writing out that price differential just offends me even more. Plum Japonais is such a total waste of money. It’s one thing to take a great perfume and use it as a source of inspiration for another; lots of perfumers create scents that have some overlap or a common signature. But Plum Japonais is such a completely out-of-whack, wholly unbalanced, fizzling, flat, totally lazy, “cheap photocopy” of such a supremely stunning, refined, mysteriously seductive, incredibly evocative, utterly mesmerizing scent that it’s positively insulting. The irrational side of me feels like shaking Christopher Sheldrake — who may be my favorite perfumer ever — and asking him, “Why? Why??!!”

In fact, I think I’m too irate to continue this review.

[UPDATE: 8/4/2013– According to one commentator to the blog, “Mike,” who left an answer below, Christopher Sheldrake did not mutilate his creation because Yann Vasnier of Givaudan is the actual nose behind Plum Japonais. Mike cites as sources two unnamed bloggers who contacted Tom Ford. He later directed me to a review at CaFleureBon which states that Yann Vasnier is the creator of Plum Japonais. That review was posted just yesterday, a few days after my own, so the information wasn’t available to me at the time, but I’m very grateful to Mike for telling me about it. I would like to extend to Christopher Sheldrake my heartiest apologies for thinking he had plagiarised himself with a bad copy, and for wanting to shake him like a rag doll.]

Cost & Availability: Private Blend Plum Japonais is an eau de parfum which comes in three sizes that retail for: $210, €180, or £140.00 for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle; $280 or £320.00 for a 100 ml/3.4 oz bottle; or $520 for a 200 ml/8.45 oz bottle. The line is not yet listed on the Tom Ford websiteIn the U.S.: you can find Plum Japonais at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. I don’t believe Nordstrom or Saks has the new collection yet. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I believe Tom Ford is carried at Holt Renfrew, but they only list 2 of the old fragrances on their online website. In the UK, you can find Plum Japonais at Harrods (which only has the small size), Selfridges (which carries both sizes), or House of Frasier (both sizes). The small size is also carried by Harvey Nichols. All the stores sell the small 1.7 oz/50 ml size for £140.00, while the super-large 250 ml bottle costs £320.00. In France, Plum Japonais is available at Premiere Avenue which sells the 50 ml bottle for €180. For other all other countries, you can use the store locator on the Tom Ford website to find a retailer near you. Samples: You can buy samples of Plum Japonais at Surrender to Chance starting at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque

I had high hopes for this one. Very high hopes. Smoke, tobacco, leather, vanilla, and spice. The famous, beloved Chergui supposedly ratcheted up a notch. Turkish rose, smoke, and honeyed pipe tobacco in a sensuous, opulent, oriental fragrance done by Uncle Serge and that mad wizard, Christopher Sheldrake. Well, not on my skin…. 

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

The old, discontinued, vintage 1.7 oz/50 ml version of Fumerie Turque.

Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that was created by Serge Lutens‘ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2003. Though it is primarily an expensive Paris Bell Jar perfume that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, Fumerie Turque came out at some point in a regular, cheaper, import-version, 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is still sometimes available online. And, somewhere along the line, the fragrance was reformulated — quite drastically, according to some — to become a softer, less tobacco-centered, more vanillic, sweet fragrance. My sample is of the current version, and it leads me to wonder what on earth it must have been like before.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

The Bell Jar of Fumerie Turque that is now the only version sold by Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens describes Fumerie Turque on his website as follows:

Smoking can kill you.

That’s one reason why I like using leafy blond tobacco as a raw material together with honey, underpinned with a few, slightly obscured hints of rose petal.

For some reason, Fragrantica has two entries for Fumerie Turque. There is no indication of which is the entry for the current version, and each lists slightly different notes. I haven’t seen that before, even for reformulated fragrances. Whatever the explanation, if one compiles both versions, the notes in Fumerie Turque would seem to include:

white honey, candied Turkish rose, juniper berries, chamomile, Egyptian jasmine, smoked leather, beeswax, Balkan tobacco, red currants, Peru balsam, patchouli, tonka, styrax, suede, and vanilla.

Styrax resin via

Styrax resin via (Website link embedded within photo.)

Fumerie Turque opens on my skin with smoke, vanilla, leather and spices. The fragrance is dominated by styrax, a resin which has a very dry, smoky, spicy, leathery nuance. It infuses everything it touches, including the rose note which starts out being sweet, but which quickly turns dry and smoky. Alongside are tobacco curls, nestled amidst sweet vanilla and a light touch of vanillic powder. In the background is the faintest chilly touch of a woody, pine note that feels syrupy and resinous, almost as if it were juniper resin instead of juniper berries. Wafts of a floral, slightly tea-like note flit about, as if the chamomile has been infused with the same, spicy, chewy, dense styrax as everything else.

There is something a little bitter and sour about the blend, despite the sweet, smoky, somewhat leathery notes underneath. It must be the honey with its slightly sulphurous undertones. Honey is an extremely tricky note for some people, as their skin chemistry can turn it sour, urinous, skanky, animalic, raunchy, or some combination thereof. I happen to be generally lucky with the element, which I adore, even on those rare occasions when it can feel almost sulphurous as it does here. But, I must say, I am not at all keen about its sour nuances in Fumerie Turque. I’m even less enthused as it gets worse, quickly turning into a smell that is simultaneously stale, sour, bitter, sharp, acrid, and, eventually, almost rancid in feel. The beautiful, sweet, freshness of the rose has receded along with the vanilla, its powder, the juniper berries, and the dark, tea-like chamomile, leaving the harsher, animalic notes utterly untamed. Rank bitterness is what comes to mind, and I imagine that people who traditionally have always had problems with honey might fare even worse.

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via

Leather Tanning in Morocco. Photo by Burrard-Lucas via

Ten minutes into Fumerie Turque’s development, those harsher notes become extremely prominent. The leather feels almost raw, like tannery hides left to cure in the sun. There is a tarry, animalic, phenolic, musky sharpness to the smell. And the rank sourness of the honey now feels quite rancid. Making matters worse is the tobacco, a note I normally love. Here, it feels neither like dried tobacco leaves, nor like sweet, fruited, honeyed pipe tobacco. Instead, it smells like a stale, dirty ashtray with the remnants of a few, old cigars.



To be honest, I’m somewhat appalled by the overall combination: urinous, sulphurous, rancid honey with raw leather and stale ashtray smoke is really not my cup of tea. Not even the occasional flickers of rose and vanilla which pop up and down, going back and forth from the background to the foreground, can fix the stale, sour, bitter, animalic pungency emanating from my arm. And, have I mentioned the word “rancid” yet? I once had the misfortune of cleaning a friend’s fridge which had been left untouched for over a year; the smell of the rotten eggs had a similar sulphurous, smoky rancidness. Only here, they’re mixed in with a disconcerting stale sweetness. I know the horrible bouquet is due purely and solely to my skin’s chemistry — just as I know that others may (and do) have a wholly different, extremely positive scent sensation with this much admired fragrance — but I can only recount my own experiences and, thus far, it’s revolting. I’ve never, ever had honey go south on me… until now!



Fumerie Turque continues in that painful vein for a while. The vanilla makes every valiant attempt to come to the foreground to soften things, and once in a while, it actually succeeds. It’s short-lived, however, as the rancid sourness marches on like a Turkish army hell-bent on whipping me into submission. Thirty minutes into Fumerie Turque’s progression, beeswax joins the Devil’s Brigade, mocking me with yet another, additional layer of sourness. The animalic, almost dirty, raw leather, and the stale tobacco ashtray aromas join in, cackling gleefully at the faint whimpers that are starting to emanate from my miserable little self. I look at the Fumerie Turque’s longevity rankings on Fragrantica (“very long lasting” say the majority), mutter some expletives, and contemplate sending dear Uncle Serge a “Dear John” letter. I also wonder if it’s too early to start drinking.

Red Currants via onlyfoods.netClose to the end of the second hour, Fumerie Turque decides to take some pity on me. It starts to soften, becoming milder, less feral and brutal. The leather, ashtray and honey elements take on a rounder, less intentionally hostile and aggressive edge, though their undertones retain that rancid stench that is still too bloody sharp and acrid for my tastes. Thankfully, the sillage has dropped from its previously potent levels, making me hope that Fumerie Turque has decided to engage in an olfactory cessation of hostilities. Er… not quite. We are now launching into a whole new sort of merciless madness. At the 2.5 hour mark, Fumerie Turque turns into a strange mélange of vaguely sour, vanillic baby powder infused with the odd tartness of red currants berries, atop a base of light, sweet smoke and somewhat treacly rose. I sighed so deeply, you have no idea, and wonder what Uncle Serge would think of a blotchy, tear-splattered letter.

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Vanilla powder and essence. Source:

Fumerie Turque continues its descent into powdery, smoke-tinged sweetness. It’s quite a relief, given what came before. Close to the end of the fourth hour, there is more vanillic baby powder, tart fruit notes, whispers of smoke, and a definite subtext of honeyed sourness. The new addition, however, is beeswax — and it’s the only part of the somewhat muted, faded combination that I find pleasant. Around the middle of the fifth hour, Fumerie Turque fades into abstract, powdery vanilla with honey and a whisper of beeswax, and remains that way until the end. All in all, Fumerie Turque lasted just short of 6.75 hours, which is much less than the enormous longevity that I had braced myself for. On average, the sillage was moderate: very forceful in terms of projection for a brief period at the start, but then, significantly softer while still being noticeable within the tiny bubble that wafted an inch above my skin.

Normally, with fragrances that take such a terrible turn on my skin, I would give the perfume two tests. Sometimes, maybe even three. I couldn’t do it with Fumerie Turque. I simply couldn’t. It wasn’t only that extremely difficult opening but, rather, how exhausting the progression was in its forcefulness and in the unalleviated monotony. Fumerie Turque isn’t linear from start to finish but, within its two distinct stages, it certainly feels a little singular. I always say that there is nothing wrong with linear fragrances if you love the notes in question but, obviously, that was not the case here. 



There are a few reasons why I’m so incredibly disappointed with the manner in which Fumerie Turque manifested itself on my skin, beyond the really obvious ones, that is. First, many people consider the fragrance to be the more advanced, complex, sophisticated brother to Serge Lutens’ Chergui. Fumerie Turque is supposed to be richer, smokier, less vanillic or powdery (in both its original and reformulated version, presumably) than the fragrance that I own and love. It seemed indubitable that Fumerie Turque would be even more up my alley.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. The non "Classic" but vintage bottle.

Karl Lagerfeld Cologne. Not the current “Classic” bottle, but the vintage one.

Second, Fumerie Turque seemed very familiar upon first sniff of the fragrance in the vial. It instantly and immediately brought to mind one of my favorite comfort scents, the superb Karl Lagerfeld Cologne in vintage formulation. Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s beauty is actually the sole reason I started this blog. I needed a place to properly express my love for this fragrance when I reacquired a bottle on eBay, and I couldn’t do it in a Facebook status post, though I certainly spent a good few paragraphs trying. My very first perfume review was, in fact, a rushed, hurried, rather short affair on the joys of Karl Lagerfeld’s interpretation of and homage to Shalimar. A few parts of that review:

Imagine your boyfriend’s leather jacket, covered with honey, and in an old Russian or Greek Orthodox church filled with smoky incense and the whiff of a passerby in rose and jasmine…. this is better. If there were a honey seller in a stall sandwiched between a musky spice vendor of nutmeg, tarragon and anise, and one who sold sweetly fragrant tobacco that your uncle put in his pipe — all in a giant leather store filled with the finest British leather saddles, which was in a Turkish bazaar… this is better.

[…] Some say that it’s like a male-version of Shalimar and I suppose it’s the faint touch of powder in it. But if Meryl Streep wears Shalimar (and she does), then Tina Turner would wear this. If Shalimar is a Rolls Royce, this is James Bond’s Aston Martin or perhaps a BEAST of a muscle car driven by a Russian Orthodox monk in a leather jacket. That’s it! This is the smell for Rasputin, though one commentator elsewhere said that they thought Robert Redford in the Great Gatsby would wear this. I disagree. This is pure leather smoke covered with honey.

And….. it’s sex on a stick. […] Just be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart and that, depending on your body chemistry, powder may predominate over leather, tobacco or honey. Also, if you’re not into powerful scents, do not put on more than one spray.

Not a week goes by that I don’t regret the brevity of that article (relative to my usual verboseness). Not a week passes that I don’t vow to do the perfume proper justice with a revisit. Karl Lagerfeld Cologne has been a favorite fragrance of mine for over two decades — and Kafkaesque exists purely and solely because of it.

That fragrance is what I immediately came to mind when I took a gandering sniff of Fumerie Turque in the vial: a richer, smokier, drier, less powdery, less sweet Karl Lagerfeld. I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped, and I couldn’t wait to try it on the skin. Later, much later, after the bloody, leathery, stale, rancid chum in Fumerie Turque’s shark-infested waters had faded away, I was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the only one who thought there were similarities between the two fragrances. A passing, brief comment on a Basenotes thread devoted to Fumerie Turque said: “When I read these threads, I wonder how many who enjoy FT have tried the original Lagerfeld Cologne (before it became “Classic”).” I have no idea who the poster, “Bigsly,” is, but I want to give him a hearty Bravo for unknowingly reassuring me that I’m not insane (and, also, for his excellent taste). Because, yes, when I read positive descriptions of Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica, they sounds a bit like what I experience with Karl Lagerfeld.



There are significant differences, however. The Karl Lagerfeld is much sweeter, more vanillic, and more powdery than the largely acrid Fumerie Turque. It has a bergamot, citric, and subtle, vaguely herbal element to its beginning. More importantly, the leather is very different in Karl Lagerfeld; it lacks the raw, animalic outbursts in Fumerie Turque, while being significantly stronger and richer than it is in Chergui. Also, the tobacco smoke is sweeter than the more acrid, stale, dirty version in Fumerie Turque, more akin to pipe tobacco, and is additionally supplemented by incense. If the Lagerfeld didn’t precede both Lutens fragrances by almost 20 years, I would call it a lovechild of Chergui and Fumerie Turque, combining the best parts of both in a much stronger, more potent, intense, powerful blast. But Karl did it first. There is also another big difference: the Lagerfeld is available in vintage form for a mere pittance on eBay. You can buy a 2 oz bottle for between $20-$30, depending on times, vendors and competing bidders. Sometimes, they can go up to $45, but I bought my bottle for about $18! The key — and this is really important — is to AVOID anything that has the word “Classic” on the bottle because that is the reformulated rubbish version! (I beg of you, don’t do it. It’s not the same at all.)

I realise that my review of Fumerie Turque has descended into an ode to Karl Lagerfeld Cologne, so let’s return to that Basenotes thread. It’s interesting because the chap had an equally brutal start to Fumerie Turque, which he bought blindly based on the positive praise for the fragrance. Though he subsequently fell in love with Fumerie Turque, I think his experience is illuminating, in part because it also references some other well-known fragrances:

I sprayed some on my bicep. OH NO!!! I REALLY SCREWED UP BUYING THIS STUFF!!! Immediately, I got this sickly powdery feminine stale urine porta-potty smell that some of the negative reviews had mentioned. Totally, totally unwearable. […]  five minutes later I noticed that tobacco note– and it was actually a very nice specimen of tobacco. If only that other “pissy, honey, rose” stuff wasn’t going on…

Yet, he gave it a second shot, mostly due to the many, many raves for Fumerie Turque from people he respected. And, this time, he noticed some differences. First, there was a strong similarity between Fumerie Turque’s “beeswax and the emerging red currants/fruit” and the smell of Chanel‘s Antaeus, a fragrance that he had initially hated but then grown to love. Second, with a little time, Fumerie Turque developed into something lovely on his skin:

… the pipe tobacco was starting to come out very noticeably. I’ve truly NEVER experienced a fragrance that did such a 180 in the wearing and bloomed into something so cool. It still had a bit of that Habanita powdery quality and that dense honeybun beeswax in the base, but the tobacco was starting to steal the show in a big way. Some people call this scent “smokey” but thankfully, it’s not smokey to my nose– at least not in a negative manner. The first time I smelled it, it did conjure the back room of a bar where there had probably been a lot of second hand smoke, but once it started to blossom, it was smooth and ethereal. Again the beeswax is right there in the beginning and it almost makes you nauseous, but it only takes about two minutes for the composition begin unfolding into what it will become. As time goes on, the scent becomes more “blonde” as in blonde tobacco, and begins to feel lighter, but not lesser.

To compare this to a tobacco scent like Pure Havane almost makes me laugh now. I like Pure Havane a hell of a lot, don’t get me wrong– but this stuff is on a whole different level. This is adult, it’s grown up seduction in a bottle. Pure Havane is the most playful, fun tobacco scent I’ve tried, but Fumerie Turque is not for children. […]

What Fumerie Turque is, is an ACTUAL PERFUME.  […] Christopher Sheldrake has created a real masterpiece here. Top to bottom. Something that relies on a little necessary chaos out of the bottle to get on its feet, but once it does, and starts walking upright, god it’s beautiful. [Emphasis in bold added by me to the perfume names.]

There are numerous gushing, quite poetic raves about Fumerie Turque on Fragrantica (where it is enormously loved in both of the perfume’s listings), but I chose that particular Basenotes review for a reason. It highlights how some people can have a very positive experience with Fumerie Turque at the end, despite the sour, “pissy” start.

It also shows that, as many Basenotes commentators agree, Fumerie Turque is a perfume that can sometimes take a few tries. A number of Lutens fragrances require patience but, given the trickiness of honey as a note, Fumerie Turque may require more patience than most. In all candour, if I didn’t already have my beloved Karl Lagerfeld and Chergui, I probably would have given Fumerie Turque the necessary second chance that so many people say it requires, especially as I found some of the vintage bottles (which are supposed to be far better than the current version) available online for a significantly cheaper price than the current Bell Jar formulation. But I do have Lagerfeld and Chergui, so I’m not hugely motivated. Plus, there is also the simple reality that some honey fragrances never work out on a person’s skin, no matter how many chances you give them.

Would I recommend that you give Fumerie Turque a shot? Well, never as a blind buy, no. However, if you love Chergui, then yes, by all means, give Fumerie Turque an exploratory sniff. Get a sample, see if it works for you, and, if you love it, then you can get the more affordable vintage version that I’ve found on some of the online retailers below. (Actually, I would highly recommend the Karl Lagerfeld above all else, especially if powder notes don’t go south on your skin.) On the other hand, if you don’t love Chergui, or if you already know for a fact that honey is always one of your fatal notes, then I would advise that you stay clear of Fumerie Turque entirely. If it didn’t work on my honey-loving skin, I can’t imagine how badly it might turn out for those who never have any luck with the note. I suspect you’d end up in a foetal position, crying for a Silkwood shower….

General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Fumerie Turque is an eau de parfum that Serge Lutens now offers only in the large 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version that costs $290, or €135. However, you can still find the smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle (that is now considered “vintage” or discontinued) on some U.S. and European perfume websites. About seven of the usual, big, online perfume sites (Amazon, FragranceNet, etc.) have Fumerie Turque listed, but the fine print shows it as “Sold Out.” However, I found the perfume at several smaller vendors. Buy Beauty Deals sells the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle of Fumerie Turque for $108.50, A Matter of Fax for $117.11, Perfume Mart for $121.50, Fragrance Zoo for $127.49, Planet Aroma sells Fumerie Turque for $130.63, Islander Mall for $132.92, and SurfAvenueMall for $140. I have no idea how reputable any of these vendors may be.
Serge Lutens: You can find Fumerie Turque in the bell jar option on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). It’s priced at $300 or €135.
U.S. sellers: Fumerie Turque is exclusively available at Barney’s in the bell jar format for $290. The site has a notice which states: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.” I did not find Fumerie Turque listed at Luckyscent or any of the big, niche perfume vendors.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, I think you can find “Fumerie Turque – Retired” at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US$120, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch, but I’m not sure what they mean by “retired” and if the perfume is actually in stock. For Europe, I couldn’t find the 50 ml bottle sold at a single online vendor. It’s the expensive bell-jar, or nothing. In Australia, you can get Fumerie Turque on sale in the discontinued 50 ml bottle from Brand Shopping for AUD$199.65 with free shipping. In the Middle East, I saw the “vintage” Fumerie Turque listed on the Universal Perfume‘s site. However, there is something weird going on where there is no pricing, and it won’t let you put it in your cart until you give one. Elsewhere on the site, the perfume is priced as $189.99.
Samples: You can test out Fumerie Turque by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Serge Lutens Sample Set of 3 Paris Exclusives (Fumerie Turque, along with Borneo 1834 and Chergui), which starts at $11.50 for a 1/2 ml vial of each. Fumerie Turque is also included as an option in a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review – Serge Lutens Bois de Violette

VioletsIn the heart of the cedar forest, one tree towered above all the rest. Its dark, dry bark was peppered, and sometimes spiced with cinnamon, with cardamom that was so rich, it almost verged on chocolate, and with sappy sweetness. The gnarled tangle of its ancient roots protectively surrounded the forest’s greatest treasure: a large bunch of African violets that cast a purple glow that shone like a beacon. Its fragrant smell took over the darkness, lending the forest its name amongst the villagers: “Bois de Violette,” the forest of violets.

The smell was powerful but dainty, delicately airy but dense, and filled with layers that danced in a play of light and dark. The purple petals were bedazzled by fat prisms of dew, creating a watery, purple sweetness. The leaves were dark green, and spicy with the crackling pepper that matched the aroma of the trees around it. And its heart was so sweet, it was fruited, honeyed, and syrupy. From the freshness of succulent, fleshy, ripe peaches hanging on the vine to the sweetness of dark, stewed, glazed fruit, the violet syrup ran like purple blood through the veins of both the flower and the trees. A delicate mist of powder fluttered around the edges, like a darting Tinkerbell who popped up here and there, but who ultimately decided her presence wasn’t needed in the festive play of dainty floral violets, violet syrup, dewy, green, watery, violet freshness, and dark, peppered woods.



That is Bois de Violette, an eau de parfum that was created by Serge Lutens‘ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 1992. Though it is primarily an expensive Paris Bell Jar perfume that is exclusive to Serge Lutens’ Paris headquarters, Bois de Violette came out at some point in a regular, import-version, 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle that is easily available and sometimes discounted online.

Serge Lutens Bois de VioletteSerge Lutens describes Bois de Violette on his website as follows:

Full of vim and vigor.

Once again – and I’m repeating myself – femininity worked its way into this composition, by way of its leaves and a few flowers, whose color – a charming discovery made in a secluded thicket – won me over. A vigorous fragrance, it never gives up!

There is a reason why Uncle Serge says he’s repeating himself, and it’s something that is an important context for the fragrance. Bois de Violette is one of a quartet of “Bois” or wood fragrances to follow from Lutens’ ground-breaking, debut perfume, Féminité du Bois for Shiseido. It is a highly admired, much-loved fragrance which essentially served as the mothership for all the Bois siblings which followed.

Luca Turin, the famous perfume critic, has a very useful explanation of the history of the Bois line, their perfume structure, and how Bois de Violette differs from the rest. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he talks of how the “woody-fruity structure of Féminité du Bois was first devised by the perfumer Pierre Bourdon, … and then passed on to perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, who developed it with Lutens… to keep it as dark and transparent as possible.” When Lutens decided to open his own perfume house, he needed more perfumes for his line, and decided to do variations on his uber-successful Féminité.

Enter the technique known as overdosage, widely propagated by Bourdon, in which a backstage component in one perfume is moved to the forefront in a new composition, a sort of rotation in perfume space. From Féminité du Bois came four variations, three of which create new effects by bold-typing one of the components of the original: musk (Bois et Musc), fruit (Bois et Fruits), amber (Bois Oriental).

[¶] The fourth, Bois de Violette, differs because the woody-fruity violet smell of methyl ionone recapitulates and intensifies the rest of the fragrance. Its rotation takes place around the center; the stained-glass mandala is perfected by a violet gem around which everything dances. [New paragraph spacing added.]

In the remainder of that Five-Star review, Luca Turin talks of the day he bought his bottle of Bois de Violette and how he felt as though he were “carrying the most precious object in the world.” He also adds how Bourdon’s fifth perfume sketch or proposal for the Féminité/Bois series accidentally wound up becoming Dior‘s Dolce Vita. But perhaps the truly intriguing part of the review is the sense one has of the usually acerbic, disdainful, haughty, and wholly unimpressionable Luca Turin — “His Majesty” as he is sometimes known — being completely humbled by Bois de Violette. It’s not something one sees very often in his summations, and it says quite a bit about the perfume.



Fragrantica classifies Bois de Violette as a Woody Floral Musk, and says that its notes consist of “violet, violet leaf and cedar.” I see that simple trio mentioned almost across the board in the note listings for Bois de Violette, but I also came across a few references to orange blossom. It intrigued me, especially as one never knows the full, official listing of ingredients in Serge Lutens’ fragrances. So, being a little OCD, I did some digging, and found a surprisingly lengthy list on a few sites. According to The Perfume House (which sells one of those rare, small 1.7 oz bottles of Bois de Violette), the perfume actually includes:

Cedarwood, violet leaf, candied plum, peach, orange blossom, rose, violet, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, musk, vanilla, honey.

It’s a very different matter, wouldn’t you say? In the vial, Bois de Violette smells of violets, its green leaves, and something dewy. On the skin, however, the perfume opens as a rich, complex bouquet of dried fruit, violets, violet powder, wet violet petals, the green of the leaves, the wet, damp earth surrounding it, and violet syrup. In the background, there are subtle flickers of orange blossom, peach, sweet tea rose, musk, cinnamon, and a drizzle of honey. The perfume feels simultaneously light, dark, airy, sheer, and thick– all at once. Yet, its projection is so subtle, delicate and light that I actually had to double my usual dose (to about 4.5 large, dabbed smears) to get all the nuances.



The delicacy of the violets is stunning. Fragile, dainty, watery, airy, and, yet, that dark, dense, syrupy shadow lurks behind them. In a strange way, it feels almost ominous, this pretense of delicate fragility with a big, hulking, dark shadow looming broodingly from behind the thicket of equally dark trees. The forest that initially felt a little in the distance starts to inch closer as the opening minutes pass by. It’s cedar, but it’s more than just simply dry, peppered woods. The tree is dark from spices like cardamom, and the merest hint of fiery cloves. The two work in conjunction with the sweetness of the dark fruits, the syrupy violet, and the drizzled honey to create an unexpected impression of something like cardamom-patchouli-chocolate. It’s subtle, muted and short-lived, but cardamom chocolate definitely comes to mind in those opening moments.

Also lurking in the shadows, in a slightly bewildering juxtaposition to the rest of those notes, is a hint of delicately feminine violet powder. It’s as if Snow White’s compact and violet-orris lipstick had suddenly fallen on the wet, damp floor of a dark, peppered, cedar-cardamom forest, lying nestled amongst dark, haunting violets in an interplay of feminine and masculine, light and shadows. I’m not a huge fan of powdery notes, no matter how light and sheer, so my favorite part of Bois de Violette in the opening minutes may be the more delicate aspect of the flowers themselves. Both the violets and its leaves have a wet, earthy greenness that feels wonderfully fresh and natural. It’s as if they’ve been spackled by dew and by hints of sweetly dark, fresh, early morning soil.



Yet, there are flickers of fruit that start to stir in the background, and which soon add a different nuance to the notes. At first, it’s merely the usual Sheldrake/Lutens base of candied prunes and plums, but soon, less than fifteen minutes into the perfume’s development, there is the peach. It feels bright, sweet, succulent but, also, as fresh as if it were still hanging on the tree. It’s lovely, and reminds me of a note in a vintage classic, but I’m hard pressed to figure out which one. It’s not the peachy intensity or potent sweetness of YSL‘s Champagne/Yvresse, nor of Hèrmes24 Faubourg, and certainly not Guerlain‘s Mitsouko, but there is something frustratingly familiar about it. Whatever the similarity, the peach note is a perfect accompaniment to the violets, adding to their delicate sweetness in a way that sometimes fits better than the darker, candied, syrupy plums or prunes.

Cedar forest via British Columbia's Ministry of Forestry,

Cedar forest via British Columbia’s Ministry of Forestry,

Around this time, the honey begins its slow rise from Bois de Violette’s depths. It’s not heavy or dark, but, rather, sweet, fragrant, and almost floral in nature. Bois de Violette has suddenly turned incredibly fruited and sweet. In fact, the violets feel quite overshadowed in a distinct, individual way. No longer front and center, they lurk behind the honeyed fruits, both fresh and stewed, and the dark cedar trees infused with spices. The cedar is, to my slight regret, supplemented by ISO E Super and it’s initially strong enough to make my head throb a little. That said, it’s not too much as a whole, just enough to underscore the woodiness of the base and to amplify the note of pepper which begins to emerge. That subtle nuance of pepper is almost everywhere, from the delicate, green spiciness of the leaves to the cedar base, and it adds an interesting contrast to Bois de Violette’s floral, fruited, honeyed, wet, earthy and powdered tones.



The perfume’s aquatic undertone is really pretty. It’s as though Bois de Violette’s violet syrup can’t dispel the early morning dew on the flower’s petals. The watery, pastel effect is almost a little discordant amidst the peaches, stewed fruits, honey, and peppered woods. As that combination grows stronger, the aquatic element starts to grow weaker, along with the violet powder. Both recede to the background where they will pop up from time to time like a Jack in the Box, but generally they are just subtle, indirect effects on the perfume’s main composition.

The same thing happens with the green leaves which give a really good fight to the stronger, sweeter notes. They refuse to vanish completely, appearing every now and then in a lovely touch of slightly pungent, very peppered freshness. It feels as if you’ve taken a violet’s actual leaves, and crushed them between your fingers to release their subtle oil. That aroma remains throughout much of Bois de Violette’s development, but it’s rarely front and center as it is in the opening 30 minutes. Instead, it lurks in the background, a mere supporting player to the flower and cedared woods.

As time progresses, the notes wax and wane, hitting certain peaks before ebbing away like the tide. First it is the spices which melt into the background forty minutes into Bois de Violette’s development, no longer noticeable in an individual, distinct manner. Instead, they simply add an indirect effect to the richness and complexity of the sweet base. Then, it’s the turn of the musk. Exactly one hour in, the musk appears, feeling neither white nor dark and animalic. Instead, it’s sweet, and strangely indolic in a way. It grows and grows in strength for the next two hours, imbuing everything it touches with a fine mist, until it, too, fades into an amorphous, nebulous, background effect.



At the 90-minute mark, Bois de Violet starts to change quite dramatically in feel. The perfume feels more subdued, not to mention muted. All the edges have blurred, making the fragrance feel like an out-of-focus swirl of violet sweetness, musk, and dry, spicy, sweetened, peppered woods. It’s hard to know where one note begins and another ends, as they overlap into each other. There are no longer any distinct fruity, peachy, aquatic, leafy, green, spicy, or powdery touches that can be pulled out. Not all those notes are dead, however. Exactly two hours into Bois de Violette’s development, the powder re-emerges. It’s as if it had to wait for the forceful top layer — the dark woods, the fruit, the violet syrup, and the spices — to retreat in prominence before it had a chance to unfurl. The overall result is a soft, slightly powdery, violet fragrance with a hint of fresh, green violet leaves and a lightly sprinkling of pepper (and ISO E Super), all atop a base of violet syrup and woody, peppered cedar.

The perfume turns gauzier and more abstract with every hour. Around the 3.75 hour mark, Bois de Violette is a nebulous, amorphous blend of violets, lightly dusted with a hint of powder and musk, and infused with a vague sense of something green. It’s a soft, muted, sheer, airy combination that floats like transparent purple gauze above the skin. A short time later, at the five-hour mark, Bois de Violette is nothing more than an abstract, sweet, floral musk.

The perfume remains that way until its very end, exactly 7 hours from its start. The sillage was initially moderate before fading to something very soft, discreet, and unobtrusive. And, remember, I had to apply double my usual amount with Bois de Violette (to almost 5 very large dabs in all) to get those numbers. On Fragrantica, there is a mixed assessment of both the projection and duration, with the most votes (10) ascribed to “moderate” longevity and soft sillage (10), followed by moderate (9). One commentator notes that Bois de Violette lasted a mere 2 hours on his skin, but 8 hours on his clothes, with sillage that dropped after 10 minutes to become extremely close to the skin. I suspect that Bois de Violette is a fragrance which will require a lot of sprays to really last, but which will always be extremely discreet and unobtrusive in projection.

Monin Sirop de Violette. Source:

Monin Sirop de Violette. Source:

I like Bois de Violette, but something holds me back from being really impressed. I can’t pinpoint what the problem is. Perhaps it’s the way Bois de Violette went from being so incredibly sweet at first, to becoming a little too blurry, nebulous, and simple. Perhaps it’s because I felt as though the delicate, fresh, natural beauty of the violet flower was initially overshadowed and, then, later, felt so vague that it was like grasping at the wind. And, yet, none of those characterisations are the full story or, maybe, even fair. Bois de Violette is extremely pretty at times, deliciously mouth-watering at other times, and almost delicately…. something. Perhaps if the floral and green aspects to the violet were stronger, I could use the word “haunting,” but Bois de Violette never arises to that level for me. Maybe if it were less syrupy sweet for a good chunk of its development, it could feel like the stained glass window that Luca Turin references with such admiration. Perhaps it’s because the perfume seems like all things violet at once, and, yet, it’s not one single thing at all. It tries to be the full violet from petals to leaf to the earthy damp soil and the trees around it; but it’s also fruited and syrupy, peppered and woody. Maybe it should stick to one thing or the other? Or, maybe, I would have been happier with a more delicate, haunting, pure floral, a violet version of the flowers in the lyrical, stunning, moving and utterly poetic Lutens’ beauty, De Profundis. I don’t know what it is about Bois de Violette, because I certainly like it and would wear it, but I’m not swept off my feet.

I get the sense that many in the perfume community see Bois de Violette as the most perfectly balanced, beautiful violet fragrance around. Whether it’s the handful of bloggers who have reviewed the scent, or those on MakeupAlley who, by and large, adore the fragrance, Bois de Violette is much-loved. On MakeupAlley, for example, 72 people give the perfume an overall rating  of 4.2 out of 5, which is pretty high for such a large number of reviews. The general feeling is that the flowers are dark, sexy, sweet, and perfectly countered by the cedar woods. For example:

  • Sexy, dark violets, perfectly balanced – never cloying or candied and never so intense as to hit people over the head.
  • There’s a period of time in the beginning when the violets are just too much, but once that settles down, this is a beautiful violet-wood fragrance, perfectly balanced and blended.
  • My favorite Serge Lutens. Sweetened (but not overly sweet) violets and woods, mainly cedar. So smooth! It’s warm and snuggy, perfect for winter. Strong yet close to skin, just the type of scent I adore.
  • Candied violets and cedar. Starts out playful and nostalgic, babyish in a vintage way.The violets are effervescent and floating, just loosely tethered to the very grounded cedar. On me, the violets don’t settle down for hours, but when they finally nestle into the wood, it is revelatory, surprising, with perfectly balanced almost austere taste. The scent is romantic and old-fashioned, but not quite a grandmother scent. Instead, it’s like digging in the attic and finding an old wooden chest, filled with mementos of your grandmother’s secret wild life.
  • What a beauty this is! An exquisitely balanced composition of cedar and violet – neither too sweet nor too dry – Bois de Violette has a a wonderful mellow tone to it. The scent is clean, focussed and rounded; it is not a candy-sweet violet or over-green on me, and there is no powder – this violet is deep and true to life. The cedar, too, is warm and pure. Bois de Violette is a wonderfully elegant, tranquil scent[.]
  • A singlular and unique composition of cedar, violet leaves and violet flowers. Ethereal, vivacious and sparkling.
    I was stunned at the super intense cedar note that came through at first. It sure is a woody blast and in those first few seconds lacks any violet. The cedar note is at first so intense that it is almost body odorish but in a good way. Then the violet sweetness emerges and remains playful throughout the rest of the development. The fragrance becomes super sexy[….]



  • I don’t get a pronounced cedar note like others here. I smell REAL, fresh violet in all it’s glory. [¶] Not typically a lover of florals, I would have to say that this is the best violet scent that I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample. [¶] Full bottle worthy!

Over at Basenotes, Bois de Violette receives equally high numbers and, yet, I get  the sense that people are not quite as enamoured. Moreover, “well-balanced” does not seem to the majority consensus, by any means! Out of 24 reviews, 75% give it five stars, while 25% give it three stars. The fragrance is repeatedly compared to its mother, Féminité du Bois (which many find to be extremely similar), but also to some other violet perfumes. Yet, despite those five-star ratings, quite a few commentators seem to prefer the mothership perfume. As for the “candied” sweetness of the violets, a number of people find it to be “cloying” or excessive. (“Killer sweetness” was one description of it, and it was not said as a positive.) On occasion, there will be a handful who find the note to be fresh and natural, but they aren’t many. Obviously, how Bois de Violette manifests itself will all depend on your skin chemistry, and the extent to which it amplifies or mutes the sweet basenotes. Mine always opts for amplification, and, clearly, Bois de Violette with its syrup is no exception.

Though I wish the perfume were a little fresher, I do recommend Bois de Violette, especially for those who like somewhat sweet fragrances but not full-blown gourmand ones. The cedar, green, peppery, and watery elements provide some balance, depth, and complexity, ensuring that Bois de Violette is more than just candied, syrupy violets. And, it differs from many violet fragrances out there which are primarily powdery and, therefore, somewhat old-fashioned in feel. Bois de Violette can be worn by men and women alike, it’s versatile for day or night, and its low sillage makes it extremely office-appropriate. I’m somewhat dubious about the fragrance’s longevity, though the fact that you can buy it relatively cheaply in a regular bottle (as opposed to the exclusive, uber-expensive Bell Jars) means that you can spray on enough of the perfume to give it greater duration.

All in all, it’s definitely a fragrance worth looking into. If you’ve never tried Serge Lutens before, Bois de Violette is a surprisingly wearable fragrance that could be a good entry point into the line. And, for those who are experienced perfumistas, the range of the violet’s nuances — from petal to leaf, and all the things around it — may win your heart.

General Cost & Discounted Sales Prices: Bois de Violette is an eau de parfum that Serge Lutens now offers only in the large 2.5 oz/75 ml bell jar version that costs $300, or €135. However, you can still find the smaller 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle (that is either a special edition bottle or something now discontinued) on some U.S. and European perfume websites. It retails at $200, but you can also find it on sale at a much lower price. Bois de Violette is currently on sale at Amazon which sells it directly, and not through third-party vendors, for $94.79. It is also on sale at FragranceNet where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $97.19 with free domestic shipping and free international shipping for order over $100. The price is also reduced at Sears which sells Bois de Violette for $95.95 through a third-party vendor with $6.95 shipping. FragranceX sells the 1.7 oz bottle for $96.92. I don’t know how long these specials will last.
Serge Lutens: You can find Bois de Violette in the bell jar option on the U.S. and International Lutens website (with non-english language options also available). It’s priced at $300 or €135.
U.S. sellers: Bois de Violette is available at Barney’s in the bell jar format which costs $300. The site has a notice which states: “This product is only available for purchase at the Madison Avenue Store located at 660 Madison Avenue. The phone number for the Serge Lutens Boutique is (212) 833-2425.” However, you can find the special 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle for $200 at LuckyscentAedesBeautyhabit, the Perfume House, and Shop Rescue Spa.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Bois de Violette at The Perfume Shoppe for what is US$200, since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver branch. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. For Europe, it gets harder. I get the sense that the perfume is seen as “Limited Edition” for many European vendors, in the sense that Bois de Violette is now a Paris Bell Jar Exclusive and, thus, limited for sale elsewhere in Europe. However, I did find a few vendors which carry the old or special edition 1.5 oz/50 ml size. In the UK, Bois de Violette isn’t listed at Harrods, but the 50 ml bottle is available at Liberty and UK 5th Village, both of which sell Bois de Violette for £105. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €106, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. In Belgium, Bois de Violette is exclusive to Senteurs d’Ailleurs which sells the 50 ml bottle for €110. In Australia, you can get Bois de Violette on sale from FragranceNet for AUD$105.99 with free shipping.
Samples: You can test out Bois de Violette by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. It is also included as an option in a Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are also 1/2 ml each, but you get your choice of 5 Lutens Non-Export fragrances (ie, those that are Paris exclusives).

Perfume Review- Serge Lutens Cèdre

One of my favorite aspects to Serge Lutens‘ line of perfumes is the dramatic, complex flair shown by many of them. Love them or hate them, his perfumes almost always have character. Once in a blue moon, however, you stumble across one that is, quite simply, dull. It’s hard for me because I can easily write reviews for perfumes I hate and for perfumes I love. Those that leave me utterly apathetic and unmoved are a whole other story, however. It’s even harder when you can see that it’s a well-made fragrance, but it just sits there for you. Serge Lutens’ Rousse was one of them: a somewhat strange perfume which actually had some nice parts but which, ultimately, felt banal. Cèdre is another, but it lacks even the benefit of strangeness to keep me somewhat on my toes. I’m so utterly apathetic, I can barely summon up the energy to describe it. So, here goes nothing….

Cedre via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Cedre via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Cèdre is an Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration that was created with Lutens’ favorite perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake, and released in 2005. On his website, Lutens compares the fragrance to a sort of woody pastry

Like a pastry made of wood.

Another take on Féminité  for an alternate reality. True to its name, it contains cedar, to which honey is the key. But I have added tuberose, barely perceptible but of paramount importance.

Strangely, Serge Lutens’ press release for the perfume (as quoted by the Belgian store, Senteurs d’Ailleurs) is a whole other, disparate tale, describing the felinity of a wildcat with steps of steel and the tenseness of a criminal proceeding:

The wildcat glides along, cautious and rhythmic with supple, velvety steps of steel. The forest watches…
A heavy, restless silence, a tense moment, similar to those preceding the jury’s verdict to condemn the accused, guilty or even the innocent…
A rich, woody, animalistic, soft fragrance… harmonises in full splendour with arrogant tuberose.
A strong musk blended with amber, clove and cinnamon adds the final touch to the regalia.
An irrevocable verdict for this essential, profoundly original fragrance….

The perfume notes — as compiled from LuckyscentFragrantica and the two Lutens statements — thereby seem to be:

Cedar, Tuberose, Clove, Cinnamon, Honey, Musk, and Amber.

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Ronny Fein. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Cèdre opens on my skin as a boozy, rummy, ambered fragrance. It is a potent blast of cinnamon apple pie, raisins, and dried, purple, stewed fruits with subtle flickers of dark smokiness and a dash of cloves, atop a base of sugary brown syrup. The cedar note dances hazily in the background, muted and really minor in the overall scheme of things. It’s more like an amorphous woody element that never feels like peppery cedar but, rather, like something simply dry, spicy and lightly smoked. Moments later, a delicately floral tone creeps in, but it’s not immediately distinguishable. Like the cedar, it’s muted, hidden, indistinct, and strongly imbued by a heavy, dense sweetness that feels like honeyed molasses mixed with a slightly buttery, caramelized, brown sugar.

Source: Talk of Tomatoes (click on photo to go to website with its recipe for rum, plum, cardamom jam.)

Source: Talk of Tomatoes. (Click on photo to go to website with its recipe for rum, plum, cardamom jam.)

To me, Cèdre immediately calls to mind Jean-Claude Ellena‘s Ambre Narguilé with its strong rum raisin, stewed fruits, and smoky accord. The similarities are inescapable, though Cèdre is stronger, richer and denser in both feel and potency. It is so highly concentrated in its opening moments, in fact, that I initially wondered if I had applied too much as something about it made me head throb. It almost felt as though there were small touches of ISO E Super in the base, lurking around and adding to the velvety, creamy undertones of the fragrance.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

Immortelle. Source: The Perfume Shrine.

The floral note in Cèdre really bewildered me at first. Nothing about it smells like tuberose to my nose. Actually, it smells a hell of a lot like immortelle! I tried Cèdre twice, and both times, I had the same impression. The note has the same dry, slightly woody, vaguely herbal feel of immortelle’s flower, along with that subtle maple syrup nuance that can characterize the flower. The aroma wafting off my skin is absolutely nothing like tuberose with its very indolic, ripe, voluptuously fleshy whiteness. It’s not even like a Lutens/Sheldrake take on tuberose with its sometimes chilly, metholated nuance. Nope, at no time do I smell tuberose in Cèdre. It’s my favorite flower and, if you put a gun to my head and demanded that I find tuberose in Cèdre, I still wouldn’t or couldn’t do it.  As you will soon see, others have a totally different experience.

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: Diary of a Mad Hausfrau. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Ten minutes into Cèdre’s development, it is a boozy, rummy, plummy, raisin fragrance with spices, flickers of incense smoke, sugary sap, muted woods, and hints of some dry, masculine floral. There is a growing sense of something creamy in the base, as well as something a little bit animalic. It’s not dirty, skanky, or raunchy, but there is a leathery, musky undertone that slinks around the background. Twenty minutes in, the perfume’s edges turn soft and blurry, becoming a well-blended mix of notes without any sharp delineation. The most individually distinct element that I can pull out of the mix is boozy rum raisin, but the rest seem to overlap and melt into each other.

As time passes, the creaminess and smoothness of the bouquet grows, as does its hazy feel. At the forty minute mark, the rum raisin accord in the foreground is replaced by an abstract, plummy, spiced sweetness. The perfume’s background notes are tinged with amber and with a subtle smokiness that feels nutty, sweet, warm and resinous. Wafting all around, like a subtle shadow, is that vague floral note with its herbal, woody, dry, syrupy feel. Ergo, immortelle.



Cèdre gets blurrier by the minute. At the end of two hours, it’s an abstract swirl of sweet, lightly spiced woodiness with amber, smoke, and some nebulous floral hints. There is a subtle feel of something honeyed, musky and faintly leathery in the base that makes me think that the “amber” must include some labdanum. The whole thing just barely hovers above the skin. Around 3.5 hours in, Cèdre is an abstract amber that feels veiled with honey and a touch of cinnamon. The muskiness grows more pronounced, such that, midway during the fifth hour, the perfume is merely sweet, ambered, labdanum musk with a leathery undertone and a hint of spices. Cèdre remains that way until its final moments, 7.25 hours from its start, when it is nothing more than a trace of musky amber.

Months from now, whenever I think of Cèdre, I have no doubt that the only description I shall be able to conjure up is “blurry Ambre Narguilé.” In fact, I shall be hard-pressed to recall its details in a few days from now, let alone in the weeks and months to come. That says something about a fragrance — and it’s not good. I suspect I shall recall far more how a vast number of people find Cèdre to be a tuberose fragrance. Because they really do. Tons of them, in fact!



My favorite review of Cèdre comes from One Thousand Scents whose opening paragraph made me laugh for a good ten minutes the other day. I think it’s the tone of indignant outrage that does it, along with the characterization of Serge Lutens himself:

If you are a normal person and you are going to make a perfume called Cèdre, which is the French word for cedar, then by god you are going to make a cedary scent, something that puts the spotlight on the wood. If, on the other hand, you are Serge Lutens, which is to say by definition you are not a normal person, then you are going to make a big, wild-eyed tuberose scent and confuse the hell out of everyone.

I’m laughing all over again. As for the perfume itself, he admires Cèdre on an intellectual basis, but he seems to truly hate the smell itself:

The opening is an explosive tuberose, kind of dirty, with a weird toothpasty quality–toothpaste without the mint in it. There is a faint burning spice in there, although really nothing could survive the onslaught of tuberose sweetness. The sweetness is key, because this doesn’t have that harsh, screechy edge that tuberose so often has for me, and that’s the only reason I could sample this and not desperately want to scrub it off. Even so, it’s kind of cloying; it keeps coming at you, demanding to be noticed.

Eventually the floralcy, though not the sugar, begins to die down a little, and the cedar finally sidles into view, with the faint ribbon of wood smoke that cedar so often carries. This is very nice, and it lasts a very long time. 

Cèdre for me works less as a scent than as an intellectual experiment, an essay in cognitive dissonance: what you read doesn’t match what you smell, and what you smell is two extremely disjunct things forced into harmony. I could never wear it, that’s for sure.

On Fragrantica, people’s impressions of Cèdre largely seem to fall into four categories: those who think it’s mostly just a cedar fragrance; those who think it’s almost all tuberose; those who think that the two notes are in a perpetual tug of war for hegemony; and those who think it’s actually an amber fragrance. The main note in the perfume, according to 92 people, is tuberose. Amber comes in next with 65 votes, while cedar is in third place with 58. One commentator said Cèdre began with “[a] very aggressive tuberose opening on me. It smelled very heavy, greasy, sexy, almost obscene!” The note left after 10 minutes on her skin, never to return, but, for another, Cèdre was almost all tuberose:

The name Cedre can be a little misleading. Surprisingly this is a soapy and elegant tuberose fragrance, with a spicy and woodsy drydown. The cedar note is barely evident in this fragrance’s composition, so don’t go expecting any masculine woodsiness while testing Cedre.

For many commentators, however, things are not so black and white, and Cèdre is a mix of things, sometimes dominated by amber. Two examples:

  • This was not what I had expected from a perfume named ‘Cedre’. The opening notes were a clash of cloves and cedar and for a few minutes it seemed these two were playing out some sort of war of attrition. I wasn’t sure who would win. This was a fleeting phase and shortly they both settled to allow the amber, cinnamon and tuberose rise from the battlefield. Oh wow. This is good stuff. It has the classic Lutens DNA but the tuberose gives this an ethereal quality that seems to give these rich notes a lighter touch. As I write this, the tuberose is developing a wonderful animalic note.
  • Cedre is a rich amber fragrance opening with cinnamon and labdanum. It contains that signature Lutens rich amber “hum”, though the intensely resinous cedar like the living tree, or freshly chopped firewood in the composition gives it clarity, preventing it from turning into a syrupy mess. It’s more like a wood-burning stove baking up fresh cinamon buns. [¶] Cedre has an effervescent quality like an artisan-crafted all-natural birch beer, and the labdanum makes the sweetness smooth, warm, and wearable. It is a basket of sweet and spicy offerings from the forest floor to the canopy. It is the sweetness found naturally in forest air, distilled. [¶][…] This may be my favorite gourmand to date.

Many bloggers seem to be divided into the camps listed above. For Robin at Now Smell This, Cèdre was an amber fragrance with an opening blast of tuberose that was initially mentholated (as in Tubereuse Criminelle), but whose floral nature was eventually muted by woodsy, honeyed amber notes that had a subtle animalic, leathery flicker in the base. She found the cedar itself to be “surprisingly subdued; it is a very woody fragrance but it has none of the sharp edges I commonly associate with cedar.” Yet, she could also see how a friend of hers would think Cèdre was all about spiced apple, which is what I got, too. As a whole, Robin was ambivalent about the fragrance since, the first few times she tried it, “it was too much sweet amber and too little cedar and tuberose,” but she could see it growing on her.

Tuberose, and Lutens’ Tubereuse Criminelle, were also on the mind of the PeredePierre whose review begins by saying that the release of Cèdre was a surprise because “[w]hat no one was expecting [was]… a tuberose-laden scent with only the slightest hint of anything woody.” Calling Cèdre “a challenging composition,” he writes:

Cedre starts off with a powerful, mentholated camphor note. Not nearly as shocking as Tubereuse Criminelle, but still quite the sucker-punch. Immediately evident are the spices – clove, cinnamon, and the usual suspects for a Lutens fragrance. Tuberose is clearly the main player in the scent from the beginning, although it softens somewhat as things progress. Cedar does makes its way in eventually, although not nearly enough to warrant a star-spot in the perfume’s title. Cedar’s typical raspy character is felt more than any obvious woody presence.

The drydown reveals something much more interesting though – a dirty musk! Up until that point, things are a bit cloying, a bit on the sweet side, and very much full of clove (not my favourite thing in the world), but the musk note is an intriguing touch. 

Over at Perfume-Smellin’ Things, Marina prefers Lutens’ Bois Oriental, finding Cèdre to fall short in comparison. She find it to be “pleasant,” in a review that essentially damns Cèdre with faint praise:

Sweet-ish woods, lovely almost imperceptible tuberose, a tiny dash of cinnamon. Every note is understated, muted, almost demure. Rich and animalistic? Absolutely not. Soft? Definitely. Also, I must say, rather unremarkable. Cèdre is one of those neutral, elegant, “politically correct” scents that are appropriate anywhere, anytime.

The Non-Blonde adores Cèdre, but she notes how many people find it to be far from the cedar fragrance that they had expected:

When Cedre came out in late 2005, many people were somewhat bewildered. They expected Uncle Serge to treat the cedar note in a similar way he stripped oak a year before when he created Chene. Instead of a glorious dry tree, they found themselves sampling a boozy, sweet, ambery oriental perfume with a creamy tuberose in the middle.

Which, of course, is exactly why I adore Cedre.

It radiates. From the sweet opening to the sweeter drydown, this is one weird scent. It takes you on a trip to places where otherworldly things grow. There’s apple-free cider, radioactive cinnamon, clove that doesn’t bite and wouldn’t remind you of the dentist, wood that glows in the dark, white flowers that disappear and pop out again and black honey. It’s a carnival and can get quite big and noisy, but on my skin it’s heaven.

All the bloggers seem to have experienced a fragrance that was profoundly more interesting than the muted, slightly abstract, boozy, rum raisin, spiced amber that manifested itself on my skin. I love those notes, but something about Cèdre’s composition was neither original nor dramatically edgy. I think it was the muffled, murky, blurry aspect to the notes. Had they been more sharply pronounced and distinct, I might have felt much less bored by the amorphous swirl of ambered stewed fruit. Or, perhaps not. It’s not as if there aren’t half a dozen rummy, boozy ambers already out there…..

I don’t know what to say to you in terms of recommendations. Those who hate tuberose — and Tubéreuse Criminelle, in specific — should probably stay away from Cèdre, but then, what happens if it’s all dense, rich, spicy amber without even a hint of tuberose? Or a pure cedar fragrance that evokes a “wood-burning stove baking up fresh cinamon buns” and whose base feels infused by a subtle gourmand sweetness? Perhaps you’d love it. The problem is, I have no idea what may show up on your skin.

If it’s any use or guidance, a number of people on Fragrantica compare Cèdre to Amouage‘s Memoir Woman, while on Basenotes, I’ve read a lot of comparisons to how Cèdre has the same vibe as Histoires de Parfums Tubéreuse 3 – Animale. I haven’t tried Memoir Woman yet, but my recollection of briefly testing Tubéreuse 3 is that it was a significantly more leathery, difficult, dry, immortelle-based fragrance at its start. Though it’s supposed to be a similar take on a masculine tuberose, I didn’t leave Tubereuse 3 on my skin long enough to get to that part. What I did smell was mostly an immortelle fragrance with leather, tobacco and pungent, dry hay. In short, something very different to the Ambre Narguilé vibe I get from Cèdre. (That said, it’s odd how the only floral that showed up for me in Cèdre is something that feels like a muted immortelle, but absolutely nothing that smells like tuberose.)

If my personal tastes or thoughts are of any help, I wouldn’t bother with Cèdre. It leaves me completely cold — and this comes from someone who loves both Lutens, and boozy, spicy amber fragrances in general. In fact, Cèdre triggers so much apathy and disdain that writing a long review about it has resulted in feelings that almost verge on the hostile for the poor fragrance. So, I shall end this review here and now.


General Cost & Sales Prices: Cèdre is a concentrated eau de parfum that comes in a 1.7 oz/50 ml size, and whose retail price is $140, €99 or £83.00. However, Cèdre is currently discounted at Pricefalls where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle is priced at $82.03. LilyDirect sells Cèdre for $82.28. Canadian readers may want to check if the company has started shipping to Canada as planned some months back. FragranceNet sells Cèdre starting at $84.31 with a coupon, or for $99.19, with an additional 15% OFF with the coupon code RESFT5 (which probably comes to the same amount of $84.31). There is free domestic shipping. Rakuten (formerly sells it for $90. 
Serge Lutens: you can find Cèdre on the U.S. and International Lutens website, with other language options also available. 
U.S. sellers: Cèdre is available for $140 at Luckyscent, Barney’s, Aedes (though it is currently out of stock), and other high-end perfume retailers.
Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Cèdre at The Perfume Shoppe for what may be US$135, but I’m never sure about their currency since it is primarily an American business with a Vancouver store. They also offer some interesting sample or travel options for Lutens perfumes. In the UK, you can find Cèdre at Harrods or Liberty where it costs £83.00 for a 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle. In France, Premiere Avenue sells it for €92 instead of €99, and I believe they ship world-wide, or at least through the Euro zone. In Belgium, it’s carried at Senteurs d’Ailleurs. In Italy, you can find Cèdre at Essenza Nobile for €98 and, in Germany, you can go through their German section which sells the perfume for the same price. In Australia, it is sold out on the Grays website where the 1.7 oz/50 ml bottle retails for AUD $127.50, but you can find it massively discounted at Australia’s Fragrance Net for prices starting as low as AUD$91.05 with a coupon. Cèdre is also sold at Perfumery for AUD$115 instead of AUD$200, at Australia’s StrawberryNet for AUD$143.50, and at CosmeticsNow for AUD$147.95. For other countries, you can use the Store Locator on the Lutens website.
Samples: You can test out Cèdre by ordering a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. There is also a Four Lutens Sample Set for $18.99 where the vials are larger at 1 ml each, and you get your choice of 4 Lutens Export fragrances (ie, not those that are Paris exclusives).