De Profundis – Uncle Serge gets grief right

  • “The most terrible thing about it is not that it breaks one’s heart—hearts are made to be broken—but that it turns one’s heart to stone.” (from ‘De Profundis’ by Oscar Wilde)

Full disclosure:  there are very few Serge Lutens I can wear – he has that weird, prune-ish note in a lot of his scents that just turns to mouldy armpit on me – and the lighter fare is just… lighter fare.  But every now and then Uncle Serge hits it out of the park (for me).  One of those is the vaunted Daim Blond, which has that apricot/ stone fruit note embedded in plush suede (‘Daim Blond’ translates to ‘white suede’, though I always think of it as apricot-colored because I am a literal beast.  Daim Blond is plush, comfortable, afternoon-sunny.

De Profundis (the Other One)  is the persack opposite.

Achingly beautiful, it is the epitome of a mourning ritual, but not incense and the sickly-sweet scent of lilies. Rather, De Profundis uses the acrid scent of chrysanthemum as its overarching note and inspiration, which gives it a bit of cognitive dissonance – it’s a melancholic perfume, but alive enough to confuse the senses.  The chrysanthemum is omnipresent but never overbearing.  There’s violet in there, as well as a fern-y note that, oddly enough, speak to me of Autumn, rather than Spring.  It’s chilly but not cold.  This is late October in a bottle.

Whenever I think of De Profundis I think of the scene in LoTR where Lord Elrond describes his daughter Arwen’s future, should she choose to love a mortal king.  There’s a stunning visual where she, clad in her mourning clothes and veil, is drifting through an Autumn forest, doomed to live her immortal life in grief and despair.

Or is she?  As in Arwen’s story, there is also another facet of De Profundis that keeps it from sliding into the slough of despond – there is that glimmer of sunlight (in Arwen’s case, a child) that reminds that while in the midst of Life we are in Death, so are we in Life while in the midst of Death. It’s the touch on the shoulder that says ‘I am with thee’, who (or what)ever ‘I’ means to you.  It allows for grief, for melancholy – but it also quietly insists that, sooner or later, we must throw off our mourning clothes and return to Life.  Grief is human.  Hardening our hearts against the fear of future grief is what robs us of our humanity.  At least that is what De Profundis says to me.  What it doesn’t say, blessed be, is ‘buck up!’ or any of the other hectoring, absurd exhortations or pablum that seeks to diminish and dilute grief before its time.  De Profundis has no pablum to offer you.  It simply exists to remind you that grief is a part of life – and it is human.

Obviously (at least for me) this is not a casual scent.  It’s not a scent to wear to brunch with your gal pals.   It’s not a difficult scent to wear – at least not for me – but I am not a very casual person (I cannot imagine wearing this with jeans – but I rarely wear…).  It’s not a shrieker but it is ever-present, lingering as Lutens’s heftier scents are wont to do.  It won’t poke at you to get your attention.  Rather, it will wrap itself around you, much like Arwen’s mourning veil, and continue to make its presence known… until you finally succumb to its beautiful quietude.  For me, De Profundis is not the wailing and lamentation of grief; it’s afterwards, with the quiet realization that your grief exists.

Aren’t you glad you asked?

I’m not a huge fan of Uncle Serge’s scents, overmuch, but I am forever grateful that he and Christopher Sheldrake got this one right.  It is the other side of the Janus mask (Daim Blond is the fun side) that they created just for me (hey, a gal can dream).  I wish I had better words to describe its compelling beauty.  Maybe I will, come October.

You can get a sample from Surrender to Chance – and decide for yourself.




  • Luca says:

    Serge Lutens. What a genius!. Miel de bois, fille en aiguille, Serge noir, fils de joie…what’s not to love?

  • HemlockSillage says:

    This post is lovely. It has haunted me for the past two days. I have a swirl of images and a scent to weave through them. From the depths comes a quiet solid grief that you describe perfectly.

    I love De Profundis, and its marigold/chrysanthemum note. I waited a long time and drained many decants before I purchased it, but it is a treasure. I don’t wear it often, but I love it when I do.

    Dear Musette, you writing is powerful and a pleasure. Do you have a novel/collection of essays you’re making? I would like to read that! Be well.

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    I love De Profundis. Managed to get a bell jar for a reasonable price off Ebay a few years ago along with Sarrasins. I think after De Profundis, I haven’t kept up with the whole line. Bell jars are too expensive.

    • Alityke says:

      Sarrasins on eBay!!!???
      I’ve had it on saved search on U.K. eBay for three years.
      Im terribly envious of your fabulously finds

  • SpringPansy says:

    I think your words described it very well – beautifully done! I surprised myself by loving De Profundis (as well as Daim Blond–and by the way, I agree that DB is apricot-colored, at least in my head). Definitely a different side to the Serge Lutens of Arabie, Chergui and Fumerie Turque fame.

  • Dina C. says:

    What a beautiful essay! You picked two Lutens scents that I don’t remember sniffing (Murphy’s Law!), so now I’m all curious. The ones I have bottles of are the non-prune-ish type. Clair de Musc, Bas de Soie, Fille en Aigulles, and Fleurs d’Orangers. Love the sound of Daim Blond and De Profundis. Need to get samples I think.

    • Musette says:

      Bas de Soie is another keeper, imo! But I can only wear it in the dead of Winter and (maybe) early Spring, when crocuses are just poking up and there’s still mud and frozen earth.


  • Shiva-woman says:

    I’m a die-hard Lutens fan of virtually everthing he made (though I haven’t kept up in the last three years). Even his lighter work I’ve enjoyed, including l’Orpheline. The prune-plum winey-autumn note is exactly why I love so much of his oeuvre. Daim Blond is also one of my favorites, though not his Profundis. And his skanky musk or patch (Borneo) scents are sublime. Years ago I went looking for dupes of Mira Takla’s Vallee des Rois and found Serge. I wound up obsessing over him for many years, and that was the rabbit hole for me.

    • Musette says:

      I’m thrilled that Uncle Serge grabbed hold of you like that! I’m probably Uncle Serge-adjacent (excepting these two and maybe two others).


  • Patty says:

    Love this so, so much, and it is exactly right. I confess with wearing de Profundis probably more than, well, anyone. But we are southern and carry the dead with us. 🙂

  • March says:

    What a lovely, evocative post. SL was one of the lines I was most excited by in my early explorations, even if I didn’t want to wear them, I loved smelling them, although eventually there were just too many too quickly. I love his whole stewed-fruit thing although I didn’t “need” them. I am also fond of some of the most polarizing (Boxeuses and Miel de Bois?) I don’t remember De Profundis at all, I’m ordering a sample.

    • Musette says:

      My heart is aquiver, hoping you find it wonderful!

      And I love Miel de Bois, too! He does ‘intriguing’ very well, that Uncle Serge.


  • Alityke says:

    Musette, that is SUCH an evocative post. Beautifully crafted! De Profundis obviously touches your soul profoundly.
    De Profundis is one of the few of Uncle Serge’s output I just cannot get on with.
    My SL loves are the plum/prune/stone fruit ones. Daim Blond, Arabie. Ambre Sultan, Fille en Aguilles, Boxeuses & FdB all tick my boxes. The floral/rose output not so much. Though I make honourable exceptions for Rose de Nuit, Une Voix Noire & Sarrasins. Viva La Difference!
    Must admit to being vastly behind the curve on the new releases. Too many, too quickly, less than thrilling feedback from people I pay attention to.
    I’m currently downsizing so have no urge to even get more samples or decants.

    • Musette says:

      OMG! You have tried SO MANY of Uncle Serge’s offerings! I got bogged down with the whole oeuvre and the stewed stone fruit note.
      Then… Daim Blond sneaked up on me.

      And De Profundis stole my soul.


      • Alityke says:

        SL is still my favourite Art Directed house. I have back ups of many though I’ve just released a FB of A La Nuit into the wild.
        Must admit there is an excellent Daim Blond tribute that’s easier to source now it’s limited distribution. Bottega Veneta is slightly lighter but has that fruity suede nailed. Their Eau Velours is a plum leather, somewhere between FdB & the leather in Sarrasins but not the Jasmine.

        I wonder if apricots are allowed at the Squirrel Peach Festival? Maybe those mamma Squirrels wear Daim Blond or Mitzi. I’m guessing Peche Cardinal is a bit too expensive for squirrels with kits.
        I wish I could draw the images in my head, there again if I did I might get locked away

  • cinnamon says:

    This is spot on regarding the structure of ‘real’ grief and how it unfolds, changes, and shifts into something hopefully bearable over time. I’m sure I’ve smelled this but no memory. The Lutens that work for me really work but there are only a handful: Arabie, Rose de Nuit, Fille en Aigueulle (or however it’s spelled). They are all tremendously evocative. Sometimes perfumers really get it right.

  • Taxi says:

    I love your description. I’ve tried a few SLs but the scents don’t last on me. 30 minutes later, they’re gone.

  • Maya says:

    You just wrote one hellova post/review. I haven’t liked a single SL that Sheldrake has created so I stopped sampling years ago. Now I simply must try De Profundis. It sounds magical, melancholy, beautiful, and perfect for summer’s end.

    • Musette says:

      I hope you enjoy it – but I think it’s way better for Autumn’s near-end (ymmv) – even though the chrysanthemums are out now.


  • Tom says:

    I don’t know why I didn’t get a bottle of this back in the day when Gaia sent me a decant (lord knows I bought full bottles of practically everything else.) I thought of it as marking time, the feminine version of Serge Noire: “ ..Stopping at a place on the path and remembering a game you played as a child or a stolen kiss as a teen. Still feeling that teenager inside you but noting that your hands have marked the passing of time. Stopping for a moment and forgetting to think about the project at work you’re overseeing, picking up the dry-cleaning or whether that “Check Engine” light on the dash means a loose gas cap or a new car. Stopping short for one moment and just contemplating the beauty of the world and the fact that you have a place in it.”

    I need to try this one again..

  • Kathleen says:

    Your writing and description are beautiful. Now, I must experience this perfume.

  • Tara C says:

    Lovely post, thank you. I loved the original release of De Profundis and deeply regret not buying it immediately. The current version has an undercurrent of white musk that I don’t care for.

    Fortunately I love many Serge Lutens and can delicately sidestep those that either aren’t for me or that have been unfavorably altered by reformulation. Which reminds me, I need to sample the current version of Daim Blond as my bottle is nearly empty.

  • Pam says:

    All right. Now I gotta try this. Beautiful post.