Serge Lutens perfume has long been one of my favorite niche house perfumes. Since they are one of the few that have been around a long time not yet sold to LVMH or Estee Lauder (yeah, I know Shiseido owns them, but they seem pretty benevolent and hands off). In late November, I decided to wear some of my favorite Serge Lutens perfume, which led me to thinking – hey, I’m going to go through them all. So I did, and here’s my notes after each day’s wearing.
- Nombre Noir (1982) – The Holy Grail, the first, the one. I’ve tried it in parfum and EDT, and it is interesting – rich, complicated – but because of the age and fragility of this formula, it lasts almost not at all and is gone. Kafkaesque has a long explanation of why this perfume was so fragile and complicated. Let us rejoice that the didn’t actually bulldoze all the bottles. It is a perfume unicorn, one that disintegrates as soon as you put it on, but it’s a great few minutes.
- Santal de Mysore (1991) – I am not a sandalwood lover, but if I were, this would be my one and only. Spiced, smoky, slightly cuminy sandalwood, making a sandalwood exception for this. Mysore sandalwood, spices, cumin, styrax balsam and “caramelized” Siamese benzoin
- Bois de Violette (1992) – My first Serge Lutens perfume, and I clung to it so hard, and now I can’t remember the last time I wore it. Well, fixed that! “Woody violet wrapped in candy” is how I described it in the comprehensive violet post. Cedarwood, violet leaf, candied plum, peach, orange blossom, rose, violet, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, musk, vanilla, honey. This perfume was my first realization that dainty violet wasn’t that dainty.
- Bois et Fruits (1992) – Confession, other than Bois et Violette, I’ve not spent much time with any of the other Boisees. Woods, spice and candied fruits, there is a lot to love here.
- Bois et Musc (1992) – Soft woody musc, the one you should try if you want to dip your toe in musc or the one when you need something very wearable from this line. Cedar, plum, fig, peach and apricot.
- [pullquote]“Perfume is potentially a carrier for the imagination. Perfume is thick; it is poison and pure desire; it is eros in person.” Serge Lutens
[/pullquote]Bois Oriental (1992) – Violet, peach, plum, rose, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, musk, Atlas cedarwood, and vanilla. Besides Bois et Violette, it is one of my favorites of the boisees. A more transparent oriental with a light touch of gourmand.
- Rose de Nuit (1993) – Dirty, dirty rose, my favorite kind.
- Iris Silver Mist (1994) – Rooty, pungent, and just when you think you are going to smell like a cellar, this incredible little spice note arrives. One of my top five Serge Lutens perfumes. Iris, cedar, clove, vetiver, benzoin, incense, white amber, clove, galbanum, musk, Chinese spicebush.
- Un Bois Sepia (1994) – I always think of this as having no real home or place in the line. Sandalwood, cypress, vetiver, patchouli, opoponax. It’s just not terribly memorable.
- La Myrrhe (1995) – This requires some patience, which I had forgotten before I put it on – the open is horrendously bad, which makes it all the better when it turns into the beauty it is. There are a billion ways to describe it, but I think the best is to experience it. Mandarin, myrrh, lotus, bitter almond, sandalwood, honey, jasmine, amber, musk, various spices, pimento
- Encens et Lavande (1996) – Lavender and incense, what’s not to love? I’m not a big lavender fan, but if I were to love a lavender, this would be the one. Incense curls up the sharp, annoying edges of lavender normally making my teeth grind.
- Cuir Mauresque (1996) – Mandarin peel, orange blossom, burnt styrax, incense, cinnamon, nutmeg, amber, myrrh, cumin, musk, cedar, and civet. I forgot this is one leather I really do love. Warm and honeyed, this is so gorgeous and deserves its happy spot in the leather perfume pantheon. If you are afraid of leather, this is the place to start and stop – who needs to smell another one?
- Un Lys (1997) – The grown up sister of A La Nuit. This is more indolic, bigger, it expands and finds new places to lay down its lily tendrils over a smidge of vanilla. I love this so hard, it is stunningly beautiful and a joy to wear.
- Rahat Loukoum (1998) – My relationship with this Serge Lutens perfume is never smooth. I love whiffing this straight from the bottle, then I put it on and it either smells amazing for a while with almondy goodness, or it sinks into a muddy mess. I want that open and the way it smells in the bottle to last forever. What is wrong with making something linear?! Well, lots of things. I really want this one to be linear. White almond, crushed cherry pips, white honey, musk and vanilla.
- Muscs Koublai Khan (1998) – Starts off like armpit. If you’re new to this, just relax. I used to think that open was just awful and now I adore it. MKK opened my mind a lot about smell and that it didn’t always smell pretty. “It is the smell of humanity. Not the idealistic or beautiful part of it only, but the real part, the well-worn place of skin and sweat and memory and emotion. I can do nothing but bury my nose in this scent and breathe in all the misery and joy of being human. ” Civet, castoreum, cistus labdanum, ambergris, Moroccan rose, cumin, ambrette seed (musk mallow), costus root and patchouli.
- Tubereuse Criminelle (1999) – When I first heard of Serge Lutens Bell Jars that were impossible to get, this was the one it took forever to finally swap my way into a sample. Those of you newer to niche perfumery have no idea what it used to take to lay your hands on the Serge non-exports. An amazing tuberose with all that mentholated goodness pumping it up into projectile-force tuberose. Tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, nutmeg, clove, styrax, musk and vanilla
- Arabie (2000) – The smell when I was meandering through a Marrakesh souk. I mean, literally, that smell. I refuse to spray this on my skin because it lasts forever. I can appreciate it for 10 minutes, but not 10 hours. Cedar, sandalwood, candied mandarin peel, dried figs, dates, cumin, nutmeg, clove, balsamic resins, tonka bean, Siamese benzoin and myrrh.
- Ambre Sultan (2000) – Honeyed amber. I called it the bellweather in my amber review, and it still is. Amber, rock rose, bay, myrtle, oregano leaves and musk.
- Douce Amere (2000) – Difficult for sure. Bitter and a little weird while also being warm and licorice. I think of it as signature Lutens. Just check around the internets for the love/hate reviews. Cinnamon, artemisia absinthium, anise, lily, jasmine, tiare flower, tagette, cedar, musk
- Sa Majeste la Rose (2000) – Happy rose, not smutty like its older sister, Rose de Nuit.
- A La Nuit (2000) – The perfect, graceful, indole-breathing lily. This is one I rate highly as a pick for a wedding perfume. It
plays aroundsmacks you in the face with indoles, but just give it some time, and you’ll sail through that beautiful skanky beginning and begin your love affair with skank.
- Datura Noir (2001) – One that I ignored for years because I could never quite make up my mind how I felt about it, and I fall into the camp where this smells different on me every time I wear it. Sometimes a lovely gourmand, sometimes a little bitter, sometimes confusing.
- Chergui (2001) – Vaguely remember finding this incredibly overwhelming in how much it projected when I first tried it a decade or so ago. It really is warmed snuggliness. How was I so wrong? Honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, hay sugar, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood.
- Santal Blanc (2001) – I got absolutely nothing here. Even searching for a review of this nets almost nothing. It’s a softer, more restrained sandalwood, perfectly nice. Just not very memorable, but not all fragrances must leave some indelible stamp on your soul to be worth having. Yeah, I don’t believe that either, but some people do.
- Clair de Musc (2003) – The perfect musc for those who don’t like musc.
- Fleurs d’Orangeur (2003) – Yummy orange blossom. This one is so well-behaved, with just a hint of naughty in it. I think I’ve only written about it once when I did my Orange Blossom perfume post. I know March has been in love with this forever, and this is my one and only earlier review, which I stand by – “fleshy, dense orange blossom, cumin’ed to within an inch of its moral limits just on the open. Hang with it, that cumin plumps the orange blossom up, the armpitty aspects cool off pretty quickly, and it becomes a spectacular, lush, sensuous orange blossom.”
- Fumerie Turque (2003) – Smoky and amazing. I hadn’t worn this one in a while, but I’m so glad I did this and wore it again. Tobacco, leather, styrax, patchouli, rum, white honey, beeswax, currant, Tonka bean, vanilla, jasmine petals and Turkish rose.
- Un Bois Vanille (2003) – My gateway vanilla. Up until this, my experience with vanilla was those really heavy ones everyone loved in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Wretched, overpowering things. Not this, this is vanilla, but softer, it lets you relax into it instead of smothering you with a vanilla pillow. I still love it.
- Chêne (2004) – Another Serge Lutens perfume miss for me. Normally I’m all over anything with immortelle. It was tough finding reviews on this just so you could get a positive opinion. Oak-bark tannin, cedarwood crystals, birch, immortelle flowers, wood saps, Tonka bean, rum absolute, black thyme and beeswax
- Fleurs de Citronnier (2004) – Completely inoffensive and wearable lemon blossom tinged with tuberose and musk.
- Daim Blond (2004) – First Serge Lutens I tried, I believe, and it went into my spreadsheet as “ohmyyy, this is challenging.” Well, not anymore. It’s great, with a lovely spiced apricot patina over the suede.
- Vetiver Oriental (2004) – I normally adore vetiver, I could wear it every day, but I just can’t find love for this Serge Lutens perfume, no matter how hard I try. I don’t hate it, just don’t feel anything at all about it. Vetiver, Guaiac wood, chocolate, musk, amber, sandalwood, labdanum
- Borneo 1834 (2005) – Hiding in the stacks of a very dusty library and eating semi-sweet chocolate chips.
- Cedre (2005) – Cedre is on of the Serge Lutens perfumes that will never rank high, but on resmelling, I don’t hate it. There is too much going on somewhere in this for me to wear it. March loves it because, well, someone has to. Nope, not that bad, just busy. Tuberose, cloves, cinnamon, amber, musk, and cedar
- Miel de Bois (2005) – Remembering thinking this was cat pee. Honey has grown on me and not in a pee-like way. This combined with Chergui is brilliant. I need to pair this with a tea fragrance, it’s just gorgeous. Tea for Two? One of the Malone teas?
- Gris Clair (2006) – Lavender with training wheels. Actually, it’s great all on its own and is one of the few lavenders that I find easy to wear because I’m not spending all day thinking “yikes, lavender is following me around!”
- Chypre Rouge (2006) – Seething hate for this. Old joint review shows March and I were at opposite ends on this. I do not remember saying it was tears and buttcrack, but – well, I’m sure I did. Something happens when Serge dumps pine in his perfumes that isn’t good. Pine, thyme, beeswax, moss, vanilla jasmine, honey, patchouli, amber and fruit gums
- Mandarine Mandarin (2006) – Forgot I
likelove this one too! Kafkaesque has a beautiful long review that does it justice. Chinese orange, nutmeg, candied mandarin orange peel, Lapsong-Souchong smoky tea, rock rose, labdanum, Tonka bean and ambergris
- Rousse (2007) – Pretty sure I was one of five perfume bloggers that liked Rousse when it was released – still do. Spiced and warmed cinnamon baking. Mandarin, cinnamon, cloves, spices, floral & aromatic notes, fruit, cinnamon wood, precious woods, amber, musk and vanilla
- Louve (2007) – Almond, rose petals, jasmine petals, musk and vanilla powder. I weirdly kinda liked Louve more than anyone else I know. March said this “Wearing Louve is like sitting at the bar, flirting with the bartender, while you drink a rum and Diet Coke and eat the whole tray of maraschino cherries from the bar mixers. It’s probably not good for you, and you might regret it later, but who am I to spoil your fun?” I refuse to be Louve-love-shamed.
- Sarrasins (2007) – I forgot how much I love this monster jasmine. It’s everything I love my jasmine to be, with a lovely leathery base.
- Five O’Clock Au Gingembre (2008) – My memory said I hated this – my own words said my memory is crap. Beautiful spiced, smoky tea. Bergamot, tea, cinnamon, candied ginger, honey, cacao bean, vanilla, gingerbread accord, patchouli, vetiver
- El Attarine (2008) – Why can’t I remember anything about this? I try to remember something, then do a sniff to see if what was in my head matches what was in the bottle. Nothing, zip. Cumin, cedar, apricots, musk. It’s one of the skankier Serges on the open, but has a beautiful oriental drydown.
- Serge Noire (2008) – Like a crazy boyfriend you loved once and can’t remember why. Then you run into him, now certain it was the right thing to forget why you loved him. Cloves and sweat. This is one Serge Lutens perfume that has some of the most extreme reactions in the perfume-review universe – an excellent hallmark of a well-made Serge perfume. I’m still laughing reading it – Kafkaesque had a round-up. My fave – “It starts out like a punch in the face and a savage cauterizing of the ol’factory with several murderous spices. Then ATTACK OF THE CLOVES and suddenly your feet are raised high above your head as you are hoisted in the dental chair preparing for root canal treatment. This surely must be somebody’s idea of a practical joke.” Patchouli, cinnamon, amber and black woods
- Feminite du Bois (2009) – Booting the original Shiseido Feminite du Bois over to the Serge Lutens perfume line. I still love this amazing thing in both iterations.
- Nuit de Cellophane (2009) – “for those of you wanting to find a nonfreak Serge scent you can wear …” from my original review. Pretty and fresh. Okay, it is L’eau Osmanthus.
- Fourreau Noir (2009) – From my original review – “Think of it like this, it’s the Sonic Drive-in where Encens Et Lavande, Chergui and Fumerie Turque all show up, their brakes go out simultaneously, and they all wind up in an incredibly interesting jumble on the menu, something like: ‘Lavender Pancake Syrup with Hookah.'” It’s a treatment of lavender unlike any other, making it creamy and smoked. I had not worn this since I originally reviewed it, and I put it on, forgot about it, went back to smell it and fell in love. Beautiful stuff, but there are more people that disagree with me and Kafkaesque than agree. Tonka bean, lavender, musk, almond and smoky accents and about 300 other notes not disclosed.
- Fille en Aiguilles (2010) – My mind is unchanged from 2010 – ” just-cleaned-after-a-Friday-night truckstop bathroom, and not in a good way.” March loved it as did everyone else in the world, so ignore me on this. Pine needles, vetiver, sugary sap, laurel, fir balsam, frankincense, candied fruit and spice. This is the one Serge where I stand completely alone in the “hate it” camp against the entire Perfume Blogging World.
- L’Eau Serge Lutens (2010) – protesting its existence in the Serge Lutens perfume universe.
- Boxeuses (2010) – Leather, licorice, birch tar, fruit, plum, violet, cedar, styrax, incense, spices, cade oil are the notes. I like it more now than I did then. Boxeuses is one of Serge’s “busy” perfumes where the open is hate and I wind up liked/loving it after it’s been on for 8 hours. That’s no way to wear perfume.
- Bas de Soie (2010) – Should have loved it, these are my notes – iris and hyacinth. Thought I might, and then just no. Not interesting, the point of view gets missed somehow.
- Jeux de Peau (2011) – Serge Bake Shoppe sitting in the woods, and I love this one for a refined run through gourmand without the souk kitchen. Milk, coconut, licorice, osmanthus and apricot.
- De Profundis (2011) – This is one I’ve verbally slobbered over a lot. I’d be embarrassed about it and should be, but nothing will change my mind on it – genius, haunting, out of the depths I cry. Chrysanthemum, gladiolus, dahlia, chamomile, peony, woods, hay, violets, incense and candied fruit. 2016 was a hard year with my brother’s death, and this is what I wore to his funeral because it reminds me that every life matters even after it ends. See? I try to be brief on this, and it never happens.
- Vitriol d’Oeillet (2011) – Carnation dressed in worn leather over a white lace thong and teddy, perched on stiletto leather booties and rides a Harley custom painted in bright pink is what I said back in 2011, and I stand by that.
- L’Eau Froide (2012) – FRESH!!!! Sorry, I hate the l’eaus, still protesting their existence.
- Santal Majuscule (2012) – Best part of this Serge exercise is re-finding some much-loved scents of his. Already reviewed this and loved it. Perfume crack, and I blame the cocoa, which is gorgeous in this. Sandalwood, cocoa and rose.
- Une Voix Noire (2013) – Dying gardenia in a glass, Lucky Strike loosely held between your fingers, staring at your glass of Scotch. Perfect.
- La Fille de Berlin (2013) – Rose bushes dipped in sugared roses. This is big old-fashioned roses with a lovely little musk drydown. Tom explains it best – “In MKK the musk is dialed up to 12 while the roses are a whisper. In FdB it’s the other way around, but the dry downs share DNA.” Rose, violet, pink and black pepper, musk
- La Vierge de Fer (2013) – I remembered nothing about this. Smelled it again, for a couple of seconds on the open I was thinking, wow, I kinda — oh, nooooo. Now I remember why. I haaaaaated it, still do, always will. Lily, jasmine, amber, vanilla and sandalwood.
- Laine de Verre (2014) – from the awful mainstream line. I have no words to tell you how very much I hate this aldehydic musk nightmare.
- L’Orpheline (2014) – Almost threw this into the L’eau disgust protest, but no! The orphan, of course it almost got tossed in where it didn’t belong. Angela has a great review on it. Contrasting between one thing and the other, taking a scary journey through a patchouli swamp and settling in green incense. Aldehydes, woods, fougere, coumarin, clouds of ambergris, patchouli, incense and Cashmeran.
- L’Incendiaire (2015) – Incense of my dreams, it is subtle and perfect in every way, except the price tag. Geranium, carnation, woods and incense.
- La Religieuse (2015) – Had a hard time making up my mind when I reviewed it before. Not much has changed. It’s pretty and not all that conflicted. Jasmine, civet, musk, incense.
- Cracheuse de Flammes (2015) – Section d’Or that was not memorable. Spicy incense rose.
- Cannibale (2015) – A complicated, spiced rose that changes about 20 times during its long life. Burning resins, flowers, rose, frankincense, cistus, woods and smoky notes
- Sidi Bel-Abbès (2015) – Section D’or perfume with a great note list that ended in tears. Tobacco, beeswax, vanilla, tropical flowers, red fruits, Russian leather, cumin, frankincense, amber, benzoin, resins and spicy fougere notes. How can you have a note list like that and wind up with something ordinary for a few hundred bucks for 50 mls?
- L’Haleine des Dieux (2015) – This one I did not have to smell it, but assume it falls in the same pile as the other Section d’Ors (except two). Amber, leather, cistus, pine, musk, cashmeran, sage, vanilla.
- Renard Constrictor (2015) – Nothing really wrong with the Section d’Or fragrances, but with the exception of l’Incendiare and Veilleur de Nuit, they aren’t that memorable. Renard Constrictor is too generic for the price tag. Gardenia, tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, civet, ambergris, musk.
- L’Eau de Paille (2016) – It’s a L’eau!!!! No, no, no, no review on this.
- Baptême du feu (2016) – Lighter, less interesting Five O’clock Gingembre. Gingerbread, powdery notes (some say gunpowder?) mandarin, castoreum, osmanthus, woody notes.
- Veilleur de Nuit (2016) – One of two Section d’Ors that I loved. I know this is ridiculously expensive, but I just don’t care. It’s one of the few chocolate scents that I love. An elegant chocolate? Yeah, exactly. Rich, warm, it is the perfect chocolate. And you know what? I DROPPED it when I went to resmell it. I’ll be crying over that for more than a few months.
Dear God, that was unbelievably long and hard, but a great time visting with some much-loved Serge Lutens perfume friends I forgot how much I loved. Looking as a whole at the house, it was pretty incredible what a variety of masterpieces and controversial perfumes they have made. The last few years have been tougher and less innovative, which I think is natural for a line that’s been around for a few modern decades. What I found at the end, covered in so many of these each day, was just what a wonderful scented world Serge Lutens created. It’s a perfume world building on itself with each new release.
Favorite Serge Lutens perfume you’ve tried or the one you want to try you haven’t found yet? I’ll draw from the commenters and you can pick the 10 Serge Samples you want to try (Section d’Ors, you can just pick one, and it will be tiny because they are ridiculously priced, and some of them I ony have a few drops). Yeah, Merry Christmas! (samples provided by STC for the review and for the drawing) I’m also doing a drawing over on Facebook on the STC page for the same sample set, so you can enter both places to win!
Winners of the Sauf sample set – paigeW and Tandaina. Just click on Drop Us a Note at the top, send me an e-mail, remind me of what you won and get me your mailing address. I’ll send you a quick e-mail to let you know I got your e-mail and it didn’t land in a spam filter and then get it on the way to you. I only check Posse e-mail like once a week, so it can take a few days sometimes to respond there.