Unlike my love affair with Giacobetti or Ellena, my relationship with Serge Lutens and Chris Sheldrake is a little more on/off. I´m sorry to say that our ménage a trois is often subject to strong flare ups on my part, and I sulkily leave those two elegant chaps behind me, seeking out simpler desires. They´re, like, totally intense, all the freaking time!
Because, although Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido is without doubt my favourite modern perfume house, I do have long periods where I find most of their complex, rich, decadent offerings a little too much for me. I own plenty of their scents, and have piles of decants too, but I have strange weeks in winter (the SL season) where I sniff them, admire them as art forms, and then move on to wearing another fragrance altogether. And I imagine it is their very nature as art forms that can be off-putting. Take Borneo 18whatever. It´s Angel stripped down to an abstract core, a spiky monochromatic installation piece that initially seeks to repel more than interest. Or the initial pizza-topping overload of Ambre Sultan – a mixed-media painting where dried leaves are mulched into the deepest of burnt umbers.
Even Chergui, one of my favourites, that most lyrical ode to a sepia-tinged late summer moment (visually for me an Impressionist depiction of low light drifting through ready-for-harvest fields), is today a joke like Magritte´s pipe painting – the tobacco´s been mixed up with mint tea and everything else but the kitchen sink. It definitely isn´t for a pipe.
I´m of course being unfair – I could choose myriad other scents that don´t fall into the heavy oriental category – the austere beauty of Encens et Lavande, the bloom-like precision of Sa Majesté or Un Lys, the otherworldly iciness of Iris Silver Mist. But none of these most marvellous creations strike me as everyday scents, even though they go through periods of everyday use for me. They are all essentially odd – misfits in the world of smell. No matter how elegant and refined everything about the brand may be, they´re quirky and jerky and different much more than they´re ever proper´. There´s nothing BCBG about them.
Which is why I suppose Rousse surprises me, right from the first sniff. My immediate response was that Sheldrake and Lutens are continuing to head in new directions, and here they seemed to have picked up a trick or two from both Ellena and Giacobetti. However, that´s not to say Rousse is anything other than recognisably Lutens.
It opens with a sweet, softly spiced and slightly astringent blast – like cinnamon sugar on toast with a dash of zest. But then what hit me as most significant was an emergent sense of openness to the scent – like with Ellena (and Giacobetti to a lesser degree) there is a quality of sheer layers brushing up against each other here, rather than a thick diffusion of smell. Perhaps Borneo has this quality too: as though non-essential elements of the scent have been gutted from it, only leaving what exactly does the job. And this is where it gets difficult for me to describe the scent itself-it´s clear, crushed, a little dusty. Like a layer of something on a gnarled country table, the oak pitted and worn. Rustic, russet, rousse – the etymology seems strikingly relevant – this isn´t an urban smell.
When I first sniffed this, I wrote to Patty and March and told them it was all of an apple pie – the pastry crust (soft, buttery, dusty), the cinnamon, a couple of cloves – and of course none too sweet apples. That captures part of what this scent is and potentially makes it sound like a gourmand monstrosity – a Yankee air freshener turned into a teen perfume. But it´s also a child of the Bois series, related to Feminité but most closely, if memory serves, Bois Oriental. And this is why it´s typical Serge. For, in spite of the apple pie hominess, the transparency, the similar dry down to Idole de Lubin where the spices heat up and become more prominent, it´s woody and inventive and encapsulates something that is ineffably part of that house. I love it.
So, Serge and Chris, time for a kiss and a cuddle. We´re back on, boys.
Oh, and by the way, if I was to triangulate its position, I´d say it lies somewhere in the orange brown territory marked out by the borders of Bois Oriental, Idole de Lubin and Cinnamon Tiger Balm. The last product was my cure all in my late teens and early twenties, and may be the reason I loved this scent on first sniff: it transports me. And there´s nothing better than that. It´s also, for me at least, what gives it that quintessential SL oddness. And if you think oddness is out, you´re at the wrong blog.