Saturday, July 26, 2008

The first "discontinued" Serge Lutens fragrance: a bad omen or not?

According to latest developments, arising from a discussion on Perfume of Life forum, initiated by my friend Denyse who lives in Paris, the unthinkable has happened: Serge Lutens has decided to discontinue Miel de Bois, one of the least liked and most derided fragrances of his in the export line. [edit to add: it has become a Paris exclusive]

It's not so much that it is a great loss in terms of users who will be lamenting its passing, because like mentioned above, it was extremely unpopular due to its overuse of phenylacetic acid*, which is used to give a honey-like odour (in accordance to the "miel" part of the name which means honey in French), but which can produce an olfactory profile of urinous nuances in high concentration. The news are not officially corroborated or explained as yet.

However this has sparked a fear that if indeed the reason of discontinuation is its abysmal reception by the market, then there is something rotten in the kingdom of Denmark and the Lutens brand is not impervious to the vagaries of marketing and sales. This could mean trouble for many of the less popular fragrances of the line, like the celery-smelling Chypre Rouge, the cozy yet dirty animalic Muscs Kublai Khan or the exquisite Douce Amère. And for a brand that has set the bar much too high, this would be foreboding and sad.

Nevertheless, Perfume Shrine in an attempt to exorcise the above demons, has researched a bit and found out that the key ingredient phenylacetic acid is used in the illicit production of phenylacetone, and therefore subject to controls in the United States. Perhaps the high concentration of said ingredient in the fragrance made it difficult to continue producing it without jumping through hoops of bureaucratic paperwork?

Additionally, phenylacetic acid has been found to be an active auxin (a type of phytohormone) molecule, predominantly found in fruits. Auxin comes from the Greek αυξανω which means "to grow", affecting cell division and cellular expansion, which means it has the potential to disrupt another organism's hormonal balance. Used in high doses, auxins stimulate the production of ethylene which can in turn inhibit elongation growth, cause femaleness of flowers in some species or leaf abscission and even kill the plant.

Whether this has tangible effects in humans is not to my knowledge, however seeing as the IFRA and EU terms of ingredients use call for severe restrictions on so many other substances used in perfumery, it might bear some relevance to the desire to discontinue the fragrance.

I don't know which of the reasons thus hypothesized is worse, but in any case, if you are among the few admirers of Miel de Bois or of daring compositions which will be shown to one's grandchildren when everything will be sanitized in the near future, this is your time to stock up.

*Stop the press latest info: I have been informed by a highly savvy source that Christopher Sheldrake, the nose behind it, never liked it and Serge Lutens himself might have stopped liking it too, which could account for his perfectionist streak showing through axing it. Remains to be seen.

*The ingredient is also known as α-toluic acid, benzeneacetic acid, alpha tolylic acid, and 2-phenylacetic acid.


  1. Could be regulatory, as you say. Still not good news. I don't think Muscs Koublaï Khan should quake in his boots, though, at least for marketing reasons -- unless new synthetic musks are added to IFRA's death list. My very authorized source (not the same one as the person who told me about Miel de Bois) says it sells quite well.

  2. I don't like it either :-(
    MKK is not the same, I know it has loyal fans (I count myself among them too), but there seems to be new regulations cropping up every minute which makes it rather frustrating to keep up with.
    Let's cross our fingers this is an isolated case, like I hypothesized.

  3. Elizabeth15:13

    That was a very interesting post for this science-lover. Thanks! Of course, I now have to sniff this MdB and see what all the fuss is about.

  4. Thank you Elizabeth. Please do! The experience is interesting to say the least :-)

  5. This smells like straight honey on me and very strong. I prefer L'Occitane's.

    But I was glad it didn't give me any of the descriptions that others say about it on them.

    I doubt any nose hits every fragrance perfectly.

  6. I have not had the time to smell this yet, time to do so before it disappears!

  7. Anonymous17:21

    Hi Helg,

    Good to hear this one is being cut from the line.

    MdB is the worst perfume I have ever spritzed on. Here's what happened:

    I was in Neiman Marcus maybe over a year or so ago and I decided to spritz on some MdB because I do like the scent of honey. I spritzed it liberally on both wrists and OMG!!!! I was overcome with the scent of a toddler's diaper drenched in urine on a really hot day. It was horrid. I RAN up the escalator to the washroom and tried to scrub that crap off but it just wouldn't wash off. UGH! I ended up leaving my little sniffa for the day because that scent ruined it for me. I couldnt' get past it. It was like it was stuck in my nose.

    MdB is the only perfume that has ever done that to me.

    Farewll MdB and don't come back. ;0



  8. alyssa17:40

    I am giggling with glee over even the unverified suggestion that the great Christopher Sheldrake doesn't like MdB...

    Does this mean (gasp!) I'm cool after all?

  9. Karin,

    you're lucky! And I agree that L'Occitane's is a much softer, mellower honey ;-)

  10. L,

    please do so, but with care! In the privacy of one's house is preferable :-)

  11. Dawn,

    you have a point! Your experience sounds gruesome, it would have seriously ruined my Sniffa too, had I been in your place, I guess.
    I don't hate it with such passion as you ~maybe because I was lucky not to overspritz myself, so I had a much more balanced reaction-, but I do find it urinous in an unpleasant way...
    Off with its head! LOL

  12. Alyssa,

    first of all, I always found you very cool! :-)
    And second of all: it's not unverified about CS ~he does not like it! Fact! Has stated so directly to my realiable source.

    Which puts a very interesting spin on how coolness is perceived, huh?
    *major wink*

  13. I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't have strong feelings towards MdB either way, but... even Guerlain discontinues things, right? I may just have to hie myself to Barneys and give it a long deep sniff and see if I should keep some for posterity.

  14. There is no regulation problem for the molecule when used in a product. What you mentionned occur when you have pure rawmaterials and of course you need some authorizations. But as the perfume is produced by a big fragrance supplier ... the only reason for MdB would be sales or a marketing decision (like you said if SL doesn't like it anymore).

  15. Catherine21:30

    If this decision has something to do with sells and marketing, please, please, please, my dear Serge Lutens, do not take my Chypre Rouge away!!!!

    (hmmm, maybe I should get that back-up bottle sometime soon....)

  16. Anonymous01:27


    Off with its head for sure.

    It will be re-released under the name:

    Miel de Boleyn. ;0


  17. I know I shall have rocks thrown at me but you can ditch all the Lutens . I do not like one and cannot see all the fuss about them.

    I am now hiding behind a wall, a thick wall at that! LOL

  18. Dain,

    I think Guerlain discontinues or changes things regularly (even before the LVMH days there were some), so in my own mind it's not the same, really... (although I can see how Guerlain is much more tied to traditions and is a hallmark into itself)
    Lutens -up till now, at least- has a very elitist approach to the whole shennanigans of the market (albeit with a good sense of what ignites coveting!), so this is really a first!

    I am looking forward to what you think when you get thee to Barney's ;-P

  19. Octavian,

    it's good that it is not as regulatory (after all, I didn't find any study with effects on humans when used in dilution)and thank you for shedding some light on my hypotheses. I appreciate the suggestions!
    So it does seem that Lutens doesn't like it any more and/or it has seriously languished sales-wise, questioning its right on the market (which I can't stop feeling is a bad sign...)

  20. Catherine,

    oh dear, I am very much afraid that if -perish the thought!- they do start cutting down the unpopular ones, Chypre Rouge will be in danger. Let's hope not, because when will that end, if it starts in earnest? :O

    It's never a bad idea to stock up on something you really love.

  21. Dawn,

    Miel de Boleyn sounds perfect! It does have "but a tiny neck" after all ;-)

  22. M,

    well, I am a great fan of Lutens fragrances and own several, but I can see how they could be disliked by many (even I dislike a couple). So no rocks thrown your way! LOL
    It's not a sign of uncoolness not to like them and bravo to you on being upfront on your opinion. There's no shame in that, ever!

  23. Anonymous16:55

    Everybody hated it, the prudish POL clique was horrified by this foul smelling urine type fragrance but once discontinued it 's going to become another Lutens cult fragrance that everybody wants to have like Nombre Noir.


  24. That's exactly right and I am placing bets as we speak!! ;-)

    (only Nombre Noir was indeed beautiful)

  25. it really is too bad to see a discontinued Serge Lutens! Even though I haaaated Miel de Bois, literally the worst smelling perfume ever (ok, let me just say the worst Lutens and leave it at that!) I wouldn't want to see Lutens dc any other fragrances. MdB is not a loss for me, personally, but what if he were to dc something I love? Very interesting that you found Sheldrake and Lutens both never liked MdB either! I'm sure, once dc'ed, there will be a sudden horde of people looking for it and describing it poetically...
    Thanks for the very interesting post!

  26. Thank you Abigail, just saw your insightful comment (sorry for the delay).
    Yes, discontinuation is always sort of sad...then again this particular case is intriguing to watch, especially in light of what you're predicting!! ;-)


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