For the past two years I have wanted a Serge Lutens fragrance. His concepts and perfumes captured my attention, but it is a collection I have taken a relaxed approach to discover, exploring and understanding the many facets of his work. Like any relationship you have with a person, it takes time to understand who they really are, what it is you love about them and which of their quirks drive you a little insane. It is all these things that over time you come to love and can’t live without. Having taken this approach with the Serge Lutens’ range it was during this trip to Paris that I decided I was finally ready to commit. I was going to have my first Serge Lutens fragrance and I knew the best place to go for this was the Salons du Palais Royale Shiseido, the exclusive boutique conceived and designed by Serge Lutens in 1992. The boutique was created at a time when Parisians had forgotten the Palais Royale gardens. Even today the gardens are much less frantic in comparison with nearby Rue Saint Honore and the resulting tranquillity offers a nice backdrop to Lutens’ Salon. Deliberately hard to find, Lutens ensures those who enter his boutique have purposely sought his audience and are not merely strollers who have discovered him by chance.
In contrast to the surrounding garden that is bright and airy, the salon is dimly light. Like the cluster of high-end jewellers who line the Place Vendôme, Serge Lutens perfume bottles shine and attract the eye like jewels, standing out from the dark coloured interior that embraces them. Downstairs holds the perfume collection that to date includes thirty-one exclusive scents created by Lutens for the salon. These eau du parfums can only be sampled in the salon, another reason why I wanted to wait until I was in Paris to choose my first scent. I met with Sandrine Wagner, who directs the Salon. She kindly invited me upstairs to share a cup of tea and discuss the background of the brand and its esteemed creator. Serge Lutens began his career with an apprenticeship in hairdressing at the age of fourteen. He moved to Paris in 1962 where he worked for French Vogue styling hair, make-up and jewellery. This experience allowed him access to some of the most influential creative minds in fashion during the 1960s. In 1967 he was invited by Christian Dior to design their make-up line. It was following a chance encounter with a Japanese model in the 1980s that lead him to Shiseido who were looking to rework the brand towards a more global image. His work, iconic ad campaigns for Shiseido not only reshaped the brand but affirmed his own creative style earning him two Lions d’Or. Also an accomplished film director and designer, Lutens has succeeded in many creative endeavours. In 2000 he launched his own line, Parfums-Beaute Serge Lutens, a collection of exclusive perfumes that have won many hearts around the world. Renowned nose, Christopher Sheldrake engineered the fragrances under Lutens’ direction. There is a true sense of understated luxury about the brand. Lutens who lives in Morocco has designed a space that references the North African culture he has adopted as well as his love of the orient. The wooden stools and table I sip my tea from, the hand painted walls and the colour palette of the salon all work to bring his fragrances to life. Ambre Sultan came into being after he arrived in Morocco and was gifted a wooden box filled with amber. He opened the box after some time and was taken by the resulting scent of wood and precious resin. Muscs Koublaï Khän and Rahät Loukoum are examples of the designer’s work that assist his followers to journey through the souks of Marrakech. Feminite de Bois is another Lutens classic. Created in a time when prominent wood notes were not seen in women’s perfume, Feminite de Bois was engineered by Christopher Sheldrake and Pierre Bourdon. The fragrance was originally launched as part of the Shiseido collection and in 2009 found its rightful home at the Salon du Palais Royale. Each September Serge Lutens releases a new fragrance. The launch is celebrated by a numbered edition of precious bottles that have been specially cut and designed, often with hand detailed artwork. Aside from these collectable versions the Salon also offers an initial engraving service for clients who wish to personalise their perfume purchases. As Sandrine takes me through the collection I love the way the perfume blotters assume the hues of their scented juices. The fan of paper looks like a rainbow rich in violets, ochres and browns. I journey through the trademark Lutens woods, fruits, musks and my mind settles on a number of perfumes.
The exclusive salon parfums are dabbed instead of sprayed. Because of this Sandrine recommends I apply my shortlist on skin to fully appreciate the scent, which will develop in the ensuing 5-15 minutes. Fourreau Noir is one of them. A play on words the name translates as either a black weapon sheath or a women’s black dress. As the notes begin to dissolve I notice the lavender tonka accord reminds me of Christian Dior’s Eau Noire and although it is a well crafted scent, I decide my first Lutens needs to be unlike anything I have in my collection. Another paradox of words, Tubereuse Criminelle is applied to the back of my right wrist. Tuberose is a rich intoxicating scent and is among my favourite floral notes but near impossible to tame in a masculine fragrance. Sandalwood is another of my favourite perfume ingredients and although I have just come from Rome taking with me a souvenir, Profvmvm’s Santalvm, a Roman sandalwood, I cannot resist Lutens’. Not just sandalwood but a surprising feast of gourmand ingredients, Santal de Mysore offers an original perspective on the king of fragrant woods. After the appointment my hands, wrists and arms are covered in scent and I have made my decisions. I leave with Santal de Mysore, Tubereuse Criminelle and L’Eau, a perfume Serge Lutens describes as his break. Perhaps it is a break from what we expect from a Serge Lutens fragrance, or perhaps it provides an olfactory break. It is a light floral with aldehydes and musk, a soapy clean contrast to the animalic spices and dense woods that dominate the collection. With a new scent appearing in the salon every September, I can see myself making an annual pilgrimage to Paris in autumn.
25 Rue de Valois, Paris