The breakdown of a new fragrance by Serge Lutens often resembles an exercise in Sibyllic prose deciphering. As announced a while ago, the newest Lutens oeuvre is built on a floral pattern and bears the surrealistic name Nuit de Cellophane (ie.Cellophane Night). Much fanfare had been consequently made on how the elusive, cryptic meaning of the text by Lutens would effectively line with the actual scent of the new creation. The nocturnal character of the little tale can only be brought to life through the realisation that those are night-blooming flowers, exuding their best under the veil of night. But the mysterious, the dangerous or the arcane have been eschewed for a luminous composition that is poised between the commercially celebrated and the expectedly orthodox. Canonical in the Lutens portfolio however Nuit de Cellophane is definitely not, in the sense that the sequestered feature of most of his visions is the inclusion of a bit of deliberate ugliness; jarring and mismatched yet generating subliminal beauty. To quote a commentator on Pascal Bruckner's comparable opus "the ability to induce a feeling of attraction, lust and temptation for things which would otherwise seem repulsive, outrageous or disgusting". Serge Lutens and his combatant "nose" Christ Sheldrake have successfully managed to make the bizarre (Serge Noire), the uncanny (Tubéreuse Criminelle, Mandarine Mandarin), the somputous (Vétiver Oriental, Muscs Koublaï Khan ) and the peculiar (Douce Amere, El Attarine, Cèdre) seem alluringly otherwordly like a savant figure in a world of duds and to entice us into not only being intellectually awed but actively clutched into their olfactory tentacles with no hope for escape. What is the truth for the rupture with this tradition of 45 scents so far, fortunately refreshed just last year by the introduction of not one, but two polarising scents under the spell of which I fell instantly?
It might have to do with the hermetically shrouded kind of collaboration that entails Chris Sheldrake's input in the range's compositions, as he has been weaned back at Chanel although allowed to continue to work for Lutens. It might also have to do with the opressively pessimistic climate shaping the market right now which bodes dark clouds that need a much sought after silver lining to give momentary ease of mind to the average consumer: Not impossible, but not very probable either as the scent has been the object of adjustments during the previous two years as per Lutens' own admission. It might even have to do with a retrogade desire of niche firms en masse to sneak up on the seasoned pefumephile who has been expecting a heavy artillery orientalised baba ghanoush spiced within an inch of its life and is instead served a mandarin and orange blossom cordial that quenches the common thirst a treat.
"The name evokes Paris before the war", intimated Serge Lutens. "It's almost an insult, a shock, a name that communicates the idea of pleasure but also of chic", he continued. With Nuit de Cellophane, Serge wanted to "enter the universe of nuances". This leaves me wondering whether he deems the previous fragrances in the canon as lacking of nuance, but I am leaving peripheral matters out in my eagerness to dwelve into the composition itself.
In Nuit de Cellophane Serge Lutens unfolds a fruity floral sympony of what seems like the tartness of mandarin, the lushness of champaca and some joyful jasmine, hiding its natural indolic glory in mock-demureness, extracted from the flower in a gust of "clean" volatility. A white rose note of great balance with shades of fruitiness is emerging amidst the other blossoms ~aerated, transparent, seen through the clear crisp "window" of cellophane. The scent of osmanthus is not realistically rendered in the apricoty-suede-like tonality it renders to other compositions like Osmanthus Intedite. (I am however holding out on the possibility of its blooming more convincingly in the hot weather ahead). The overall sensuality is subtle, hushed and too discreet in the form of creamy sandalwood and possibly a smidge of civet combined with "clean" synthesized musks. It took me a while to shake off the mind-proding disturbance of alarming familiarity with a commercial fruity floral I have known and it only dawned on me upon Octavian's likening it to Dior's J'adore L'Absolu (a beautifully crafted composition that is superior to the competent and pretty J'adore). My mind had veered into less sophisticated directions initially, despite Grain de Musc's enthusiastic rapture. I admit that like Beige by Chanel before it, it is pretty, will probably be one of the most wearable and popular in the Lutens line and not at all an bijou de plastique like feared going by the name alone. But is it really beautiful? The much needed soupçon of weird Lutensian ugliness is sorely missing I'm afraid...
Nuit de Cellophane by Serge Lutens is available in Eau de Parfum concentration in the standard oblong bottle of 50ml/1.7oz as part of the export line launching in March 2009 at the US (at the usual suspects carrying the Lutens portfolio). It's already available in Paris for 79 euros.
Two more fragrances by Serge Lutens will be announaced in the course of 2009.
One lucky reader will receive a sample of Nuit de Cellophane!
Brigitte Bardot pic from Henri-Georges Clouzot's film "La Vérité" via mooninthegutter blog
Bottle pic via velduftende.com