Serge Lutens L’Orpheline Review

Serge Lutens L'Orpheline

Serge Lutens L’Orpheline released in Europe this month (July 2014).  It will be available around September 1 in the United States.  I wasn’t really sure from the early promotional material whether it was a perfume, poetry, an art installation?  It’s the usual hard to understand Serge avoidance of notes.  So let’s look —

[pullquote]”Fragile but whole. Its name hints at a break but before the fissures show, its first two syllable conjure Orpheus, a poet who could charm even stones.”[/pullquote]

That clears it all up, right?  I did find notes listed at Perfume Shrine – aldehydes, woods, fougere, coumarin, clouds of ambergris, patchouli, incense and Cashmeran.

What Serge Lutens L’Orpheline does beautifully is takes the tension between things, the place where it joins (yeah, I’m trying to take my inspiration from the poetical snippet) and lets it exist. The two things that sit with each other in L’Orpheline are fougere notes and incense.  There’s a bright green lushness that opens L’Orpheline, and then it quickly is surrounded by melancholy incense, woods and ambergris – mostly woody incense, though I get quirky and interesting ambergris as well.  As it dries down, there is some merging of the notes, but their fragile truce where one does not overwhelm the other is pretty heartbreaking.  I’m not much of a fougere girl, but this fragrance is an amazingly beautiful thing, holding that fragility and earthy charm perfectly.

The concept of this being like an orphan intrigues me.  Does it feel a little bit like this is something that isn’t sure what it is, but has the imprint of parents it never met and encapsulates all of the charm without understanding exactly why or how it came to be?  You know, I don’t know, but I love the imagery the name evokes.  With or without all the poetry of the name, it is full of mystery and imagination and depth.  Wearing Serge Lutens L’Orpheline keeps me entranced and thrilled.

In my perfume ennui, I have found something to keep me really happy.  Sooooooooooo let me ask.  When one of these Lutens creations comes out with not notes listing, some obscure description, do you just cringe or really get into it?  I’ll do a random drawing for four samples of Serge Lutens L’Orpheline from commenters today.


  • grizzlesnort says:

    I want some of each. I want the story but I want an idea what’s coming out of the bottle. too. Thanks for entering me in your draw.

  • dinazad says:

    My appreciation of perfume centers entirely on the pictures the scent evokes – I suck at notes and actually have a pretty bad sense of smell….. So I see Monsieur Lutens’ flowery prose as the picture he wanted to draw with the fragrance, which usually has little to do with the pictures I see when I smell it. I find this juxtaposition of images very interesting, it adds a further dimension to my appreciation of a scent, as do the images it evokes for other people.

  • Diana says:

    I don’t follow with the narrative description very much–more interested in the notes. I wear stuff that’s supposed to be sexy when I’m not feeling the least bit sexy, heavy stuff in the summer heat, wispy scents in the winter, etc…. I just wear what I like when I feel like wearing it and I make my own narratives for each scent that I have. Much like in the rest of my life, I march to the beat of my own drummer. 🙂 Please enter me in the drawing! xoxo SL probably makes more of my favorites than any other house.

  • Ingeborg says:

    I have had little luck finding new perfumes based on main notes, so I have totally stopped blind buying anything but samples. The descriptions of the SL perfumes are lovely, and based on them I decide if it is a new perfume I would like to sniff as soon as possible, or if I am willing to wait. With SL finally available locally I will more easily be able to sample and make up my own mind about notes. Usually I find reviews to be a better source of information than the stories in the marketing, so I often wait for reviews on blogs before I even buy small samples.

  • poodletwins says:

    I like to have a narrative of some sort to see wheat inspired the perfumer. I look at a list of notes as a sign post for me to see if I might want to travel in a particular direction. However, I rely on reading many reviews first and then I ponder the list of notes as I take my initial sniff. So, yes to both things. Thanks for the chance at a new SL!

  • Jackie b says:

    I realise that the wordy descriptions are advertising, and designed to get the buyers in, but I would prefer to read an unbiased review which has more meaning to me.
    If I have not read anything at all, I like a list of notes to give me SOME idea, although often they are not what I end up smelling.

  • Tiffanie says:

    I love the stories that go with fragrance, especially if the perfume is sitting in front of me waiting to be inhaled. Otherwise it is just a wee bit odd to me, interesting, but sometimes slightly off-putting. Although I must admit a story with an emotional tone can make me remember the name of the perfume longer than a list of notes would.

  • Rednails says:

    I prefer just the notes. The stories strike me as even more pretentious versions of the over the top copy you see in promo material. I know it all sounds better in French, but really…

  • I cringe a little bit, but then I am intrigued. Not publishing the notes is a good way to get people discussing the perfume and discerning them for themselves. Of course, we perfumistas are always curious about what makes up a work of perfume, but I imagine the perfume’s creator(s) would just as soon not spell it out. Did anyone ask Beethoven how many G#s he used in his 5th Symphony?

  • masha7 says:

    I strongly prefer both, but only if the notes are somewhat accurate, which these days, they usually are not. I do enjoy SL’s twisted little poetic hints, though! How does this one compare to Clair de Musc?

  • Ashley A says:

    I am rather partial to the stories created around fragrance, but they always make me giggle a little bit. I prefer it when there is a story AND some idea of the notes and structure of the perfume. Still, it just makes me laugh a little because so many of the press releases for fragrances are absolutely DRAMATIC. I love it. And also cringe at it.

  • jirish says:

    I really don’t mind it when Lutens skips the notes to focus on the feeling of the scent. Perfumes are more about feelings and less about notes for me as well, even in scents where I can pick out the notes quite well. The thing is though, you really have to be able to back up your prose when you release promotional material like this. I’m glad to hear that Lutens does with L’Orpheline.

  • Carol S says:

    When I first tried Lutens in 2007 at Bergdorf’s , I thought I would own the entire line eventually ! But not so…I purchased Miel du Bois and Ambre Sultan on first sniff that day . Subsequently , over the years , none of the others has worked for me . I enjoy Serge Noir for only a few minutes . Likewise for Filles en Anguilles . BUT THIS ONE has my full attention . I would love to sample it , so thanks for the chance Patty !!

  • Elia says:

    Neither really, I don’t cringe when there is no note list, but I also don’t get excited or drawn into the mystery.
    If I liked the scent then I’d start thinking about what it consists of.

  • Tara says:

    I pretty much ignore his cryptic texts and go straight for the sniff, because the notes mentioned often bear no relation to the actual smell.

  • Bastet says:

    I love Serge Lutens and own many of his perfumes, but always wait for the more practical reviews (such as yours) before deciding whether to sample a new fragrance. His stories and descriptions don’t do much for me.

  • Lynne Cleveland Vitzthum says:

    I mostly hate it when the description doesn’t include notes. I appreciate the poetry, but if tuberose is hiding in there somewhere ( not that tuberose is capable of hiding!), I want to know about it. That said, I’ve avoided some perfumes because of the notes list, only to find out later that I loved the perfume. Go figure.

  • Katrin says:

    As much I am moved by stories and am mesmerized by those stories and half-stories and sentences Lutens offers, I wouldn’t dare to go for any of those perfumes if I didn’t know the notes. I generally find a list of notes very helpful.

  • Dina C. says:

    I admit, I’m a cringer when I read those poetic puff pieces that say nothing about the scent. Wasn’t it Steve Martin who said “talking about scent is like dancing about architecture?” Or maybe I’m paraphrasing him. Anyway, I agree. I would MUCH rather read a list of notes and a perfume category like chypre, floral, oriental, aquatic, etc. As for Serge Lutens and his scents, I think they are very interesting to sniff. My favorites are the atypical ones. Thanks for the drawing, Patty!

  • Neva says:

    For me a scent is an emotion, an impression, not a list of notes. I go through the list if it is spelled out for me, but it’s the composition that counts and this I can only experience by sniffing. This one sounds wonderfully autumnly and I would love to try it. Thank you for the review and the draw!

  • lemoncake says:

    Generally I like to read the notes but knowing that detail doesn’t always convey how I’ll perceive the scent. Maybe it’s better to come with an open attitude and experience the fragrance for what it is to me. Thanks for the draw….would love to try it.

  • Connie says:

    I have to admit that I generally don’t read anything other than the list of notes- the expansive scent descriptions are so often misleading, and I’d rather figure out the scent for myself. Thanks for the draw, it sounds gorgeous.

  • Though the list of notes doesn’t tell us a lot, for so many reasons (omissions, approximations, flights of fancy), I like to know what I’m getting myself into. But even knowing what a scent IS doesn’t tell us everything: Vitriol d’Oeillet, which was a carnation scent, didn’t work for me (and I LOVE carnations).

  • poodle says:

    I like both. Notes often don’t help because what it looks like on paper in a note list is oftentimes not how it smells. I’m a notorious blind buyer so I can be swayed by a story like Lutens usually tells. I love how melancholy this sounds.

  • Scentella says:

    I am so ignorant about many of the notes that I actually find his poetic description pretty useful. It points in the right direction. The description of this one makes me think of something a bit strange that changes a lot.

  • Dusan says:

    Actually, I don’t much care for his perfume copy and tend to skip the whole thing altogether. But his fragrances, ah, now that’s a different story. It’s been a long time since I tried a Serge, so fingers crossed I get to smell this one, which sounds amazing!

  • Lynley says:

    I like the poetry for knowing what the perfumer’s inspiration is, but it doesn’t tend to sway my opinion on a fragrance. As for notes, I know what I like, I also know that I can be surprised- and fooled. I’m betting what I think is not the case at all, so I’d love to smell it and see 🙂
    Thanks Patty

  • KimB says:

    I always try the Lutens fragrances and do so a number of times. Usually it is either indifference or immediate love. While it’s nice to know the notes, I am still going to try a new Lutens and if I love it, get a full bottle, no matter what the notes!

  • flowergirlbee! says:

    i would like there to be both poetry and notes….

  • Irina says:

    I love his playing us with strange, beautiful texts and images , in his case and only his-I don’t mind
    thanks for the draw, would love to be able to try it

  • kareng says:

    After all these years of sniffing almost everything I can get my hands on I’ve found that I prefer reviews to either overwrought descriptions or a listing of notes. Thanks to all reviewers!

  • Becky says:

    I’d love a go! Incense is my favorite. I like the copy to be a bit more descriptive, but I am an SL fan girl generally speaking. They get a pass. 😉

  • Angela says:

    I prefer listing of notes. Otherwise it is even more subjective and frustrating at times. Really has me curious though. Thank you for the draw!

  • Sapphire says:

    This sounds intriguing. Beautiful artwork, too. Thanks for the draw!

  • Ann says:

    Lovely review, Patty! I think by now, with Serge Lutens, I have learned to just go with the flow, not to read too much into the ad copy, and not to expect any particular thing; I just jump in and give it a try. Unless it contains notes that I know hate me. This one sounds very interesting. Of course, no draw for me, but thanks for offering it!

  • Mrs. Honey says:

    I don’t mind the lack of notes. Frankly, notes tell me very little anyway. I wait for the blog reviews or the comments on MUA.

  • Cecilia says:

    It sounds lovely and mysterious. I’d love to try it. Thank you for the draw.

  • Caroline says:

    Have to admit I cringe. Your post reminds me of an old Blondie song–I Know, But I Don’t Know.

  • JanLast says:

    You know me, I just go to STC, order a sample and jump in. Unlike, say Ineke or Tom Ford where I love them all, there is a back and forth relationship with Serge Lutens. There are as many nos in my like column as there are yesses. For me, it’s a crap shoot.

  • Ellen says:

    I’m not sure about the lavender, but anything with incense intrigues me. I certainly want to try this. Thanks for the draw.

  • LisaInDenver says:

    As someone with a couple of literature degrees from a past life, I usually appreciate a deftly turned phrase….except when it comes to new fragrance releases, where I want structure and details, dammit 😉 Truly, though, while my tastes are fairly broad, there are some notes that set off alarm bells, and several that are no-fly zones for me, so I like to know what I’m getting into when deciding whether to sample new releases.

    I’m intrigued by your description, Patty; what I’m guessing are the basenotes – Cashmeran, patch, incense and ambergris – are right up my alley. One alarm bell is clanging: aldehydes. After 25 years of perfume addiction, I have found only one fragrance with this note that I like (or in this case, love). The good thing for me is that that fragrance is La Myrrhe, so perhaps Uncle Serge can once again woo me with aldehydes that sing in harmony with the other notes, rather than screech many octaves above the other ensemble. The fougere thing is a bit of a concern, since lavender is a tough note for me, but I do like Encens et Lavande, so perhaps L’Orpheline’s incense note will play nicely with the fougere aspect. You have definitely talked me into giving L’Orpheline a fair shake. Thanks for this early review!

  • Audrey says:

    It just tells me that the scent is feminine. I have no idea what that means, sweet? I much prefer honey or vanilla to be precise. Thank you for the chance of a draw!

  • Holly says:

    I kind of love a perfume ad that references Orpheus (but I’m a lit prof)! thanks for the draw!

  • ElizabethC says:

    I am both highly amused and cringe, slightly, at the lack of real descriptors. But I enjoy the Lutensness of the process! Thank you for the drawing!

  • Kitty says:

    I much prefer a description with notes, being the structured gal that I am, Having said that, I can sometimes wear a fragrance for hours and not get the same notes outlined in the description. Nonetheless, you have beautifully described a very intriguing fragrance. I would like to be entered in the drawing, but will definitely be trying this in fall in any case.