By Amy Derungs

October 14, 2020


Serge Lutens perfumes - my personal story...

Stepping into the little Serge Lutens salon at the Palais Royal in Paris is like stepping into heaven itself! One enters from the sun-drenched gardens into a wonderland of blue and violet hues and it takes a moment to adjust to this new reality. The air is deeply fragrant. Attendants flutter around the wrought iron central spiral staircase like angels. On narrow counters and along the ornate walls the famous precious perfumes are proudly displayed. The painted ceiling, the intricate floor, every piece of fine furniture speaks of luxury and magic.

Although I had bought Serge Lutens perfume before – my very favorite is “Sa Majesté La Rose” – nothing can compare to a visit to this heavenly little gem in the heart of Paris!

My Choice is Ambre Sultan

Ambre Sultan

This perfume is described as daring, amber, sophisticated, woody, patchouli, warm, Marrakesh, vanilla, classical, sensual, intriguing...

Nine of the Most Popular Serge Lutens Perfumes:

Ambre Sultan

Described as daring, amber, sophisticated, woody, patchouli, warm, Marrakesh, vanilla, classical, sensual, intriguing.

Serge Lutens says: “The point of departure was a scented wax, found in a souk and long forgotten in a wooden box. The amber only became "sultanesque" after I reworked the composition using cistus, an herb that sticks to the fingers like tar, then added an overtone that nobody had ever dreamed of: vanilla. Why? Because vanilla is sticky, too, and it clung to my memory.”

Described as innovative, woody, generous, Oriental, violet, spirituality, sandalwood.

Serge Lutens says: "This scent expresses the masculine side of femininity and vice-versa. It's all about cedar. Wood accounted for 60% of the composition. Amazed, people called it revolutionary. The fragrance took on its own identity, which is the one thing that really matters to me."

Serge-Lutens
Serge Lutens Berlin

Described as rose, thorny, spicy, powdery, pepper, complex, Berlin, 1920s, beautiful, delicate, strong, independent, mysterious.

Serge Lutens says: “She's a rose with thorns, don't mess with her. She's a girl who goes to extremes. When she can, she soothes, and when she wants...! Her fragrance lifts you higher, she rocks and shocks.”

Described as protective, delicate, neroli petals, radiant, Tuscan iris powder, lunar, moonlight, gentle, clear, purified, astral, musk.

Serge Lutens says: “Lighter than ever, it holds out the promise of a caress. The musk walks in moonlight, a wild beast tamed.”

Serge Lutens - Clair de Musc
La Religieuse

Described as civet, floral, musky, animalic, balsamic, smoky, jasmine, white floral, deep.

La Religieuse is inspired by Serge Lutens' childhood and the conflict between good and evil within his religious upbringing. This pure and mystical fragrance has contrasting notes of jasmine and civet, leaving a delicate scent on the skin and a warm aroma of incense in the air.

Described as narcotic, seductive, datura, mysterious, fascination, musk.

Serge Lutens says: “Like a diabolic trail of smoke left by Satan in Paradise. Some say this fragrance will enthrall you; others that it will make you crazy. Others still that excessive exposure will kill you dead. To be precise, one night I took brugmansia, also known as Angel's Trumpet, and distilled the notes of its lingering memory.”

Serge Lutens - Datura Noir

Described as narcotic, seductive, datura, mysterious, fascination, musk.

Serge Lutens says: “Are you familiar with the scent of osmanthus? The flower is white or tinged with orange. From the tight clusters of its petals bursts the scent of jasmine laced with mandarin orange. On hot summer days, it provides a breath of fresh air.”

Nuit de Cellophane
Serge Lutens - L’Orpheline

Featuring notes of musk, incense and cedarwood, Serge Lutens L’Orpheline offers a contemporary take on traditional musk scents. Fragile and intimate, it aims to capture the light of the moon.

Described as heady, haymaking, warm, sweet tobacco, Sahara, sumptuous, Mysore sandalwood, sensual, dry wind, ambery, candied.

Serge Lutens says: “A fire fanned by the wind, a desert in flames. As if bursting from the earth, Chergui, a desert wind, creates an effect that involves suction more than blowing, carrying plants, insects and twigs along in an inescapable ascent. Its full, persistent gusts crystallize shrubs, bushes and berries, which proceed to scorch, shrivel up and pay a final ransom in saps, resins and juices. Night falls on a still-smoldering memory, making way for the fragrant, ambery and candied aromas by the alchemist that is Chergui.”

Chergui

A Brief History of Serge Lutens

The Early Days

Born in Lille, Northern France, in 1942, Serge Lutens maintains that his personality was indelibly marked by separation from his mother when he was just weeks old. Living with one foster family after another and seeing little of his mother, as he put it, he lived life at a distance – and through his imagination. His childhood gave Lutens a rich well of emotions and dreams which he would pour into his fragrances later on in life.

At 14 Lutens was given a position in a beauty parlor in Lille. "I turned into a hairdresser without really wanting it; it was an absolute nightmare." Although he says he would have liked to be an entertainer or even a horticulturist, inside a couple of years he had built up his very own style – solid eyeshadow, ethereal skin and short hair flattened down – and took to making-up and capturing images of his female companions.

Life in Paris

Called up at 18 to serve during the Algerian war, on his arrival back in Lille in 1962, Lutens chose to leave for Paris. Here, stretches at hairdressing and as a photographer prompted a job in make-up aesthetics for French Vogue, starting with that year's Christmas issue. Working with photographers, for example, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, he was soon fervently sought after by titles, including Elle and Harper's Bazaar.

In Partnership With Shiseido

In 1967, he was asked by Christian Dior to create a make-up line to drive Dior’s inventive vision. Lutens has said that by the last part of the Seventies he was "a little tired of being labelled Monsieur Dior" and chose to approach Shiseido in 1979. Around then, the Japanese cosmetics company was massively significant in its own market yet couldn't seem to break into the global market. With Lutens' help, the brand became one of the most dominant of the Eighties.

Nombre Noir is born

Following two years with Shiseido, Lutens created his first fragrance, Nombre Noir, which "burnt a hole into everyone's collective memory ", as per Chandler Burr, previous New York Times fragrance pundit, in his book The Emperor of Scent, with narratives crafted by 'nose' Luca Turin. Turin said of the scent that it was "just too wonderful for words, one of the five great perfumes of the world". No longer being produced, yet at the same time most loved among fans, a 60ml container is recorded to have sold on eBay for $999 at the time of writing.

Les Salons du Palais Royal

Proceeding to make perfumes for Shiseido, helped by the organization's in-house nose, in 1992 Lutens set up Les Salons du Palais Royal – a previous bookshop in Paris' Jardins du Palais Royal, changing it into a house of perfume. Initially planned to launch his second Shiseido aroma, Féminité du Bois, its out of reach area was clearly picked by Lutens to "attract a clientele of connoisseurs, not casual customers ".

At the turn of the new millennium Lutens branched out, keeping up the partnership with Shiseido, to make his eponymous brand of scent and make-up, neither of which came about rapidly. "Sometimes it takes 12-17 years [to create a new perfume]," he says. "Sometimes it takes one year – that is the minimum – and then I will say that's it. Then I'm not interested any more, I've said what I had to say. "

Wood denotes the start of Lutens' fragrance venture 

In the past he has credited his first outing to Marrakech in 1968 as his moment of epiphany. At a little carpenters' studio in the souk he found a bit of cedar, "a quite attractive and a captivating type of wood; tasty, very sweet but also musky". So overpowered was he by the aroma that Lutens realized he needed to make a fragrance from it.

Serge Lutens Today

Not a flashy man, he carries himself modesty, accepting that his most prominent extravagance is having the option to state he can live without "almost everything, except perhaps for friendship ". Initially sold distinctly through the Palais du Royal, his creations are presently somewhat more broadly accessible, with stockists including authority perfumery Les Senteurs and Harvey Nichols. The multifaceted nature of the mixes, the story behind each fragrance and the definition of corrective implies this is a brand that interests people of good taste. "Perfume is just molecules," he says in his contradictory way. "The best perfume-maker was the wind, rivers and pollens… " 

Lutens doesn't believe that perfume ought to be readily available, nor that it ought to be worn each day. To him, on the off chance that you wear scent, "you are giving yourself arms, weapons. Transforming a weakness into a strength, protecting yourself by making a stand. This is the main purpose of my perfumes – strengthening your inner self". Indeed, he explains that he only wears his own fragrance of choice, Cuir Mauresque, very rarely: "I wear it because it makes me feel good on this particular day ".

Still working, today Serge Lutens lives in Marrakech, Morocco: a city of color, exotic fragrances and mystery – the place where he discovered the creative potential of the world of scents. And the rest of the world waits eagerly, always, for his next vision, his next perfume ‘dream’…

Conclusion

To me the haunting perfumes of Serge Lutens are deeply evocative of childhood - and of nature in all its richness. Like an alchemist, Serge Lutens captures even the most fragile of fragrances and brings them to life in his own distinctive way.

Ambre Sultan is perhaps the most well known of the fragrances by Serge Lutens. Dark and sophisticated, yet warm with vanilla and patchouli, it reminds one of nights in Marrakesh.