- “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 jeans..so…). 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.