Noir this, noir that...What is it about Black that makes it creep up on you with the silent force of a nidja? After Serge Noire [click for review] which was inspired by the black serge material used for clothing for so long, now comes Fourreau Noir from il maestro Serge Lutens and his sidekick Christopher Sheldrake. I was lucky to preview it before its official release (next month) and its perplexing attributes have me pondering on its retro ambience.
The name means "black seath", but also the petticoat garment that was used to make dresses with lower-body volume stay crisp is referenced, as staying even today in fashion parlance "en fourreau pleats". The desire to allude to timelessness is evident and one could liken it to perfume companies' desire to present a hint to the classicism of their compositions not destined to be ephemera (although Guerlain's La Petite Robe Noire was nothing but!)
The coumarinic, benzopyrone tonka bean note laced with only a hint of lavender appears fougère-like (hold the moss, please) in Fourreau Noir with a musk bottom that is between proper and improper; an allusion and wordplay almost, between the Latin lavare (to wash, to clean) of lavender and the intimacy of warm caramel-rich musk ~of which Lutens has cornered the market with polar opposites Clair de Musc and Muscs Kublai Khan. If Encens et Lavande and Gris Clair are intensely about lavender, but of the smoky kind and respectively warm and cool, Fourreau Noir is not predominantly about lavender but tips the hat to the extrait de parfum version of Jicky missing its intensely animalic vintage character (ie.civet).
Fougère ("fern-like") forms one pillar of the modern perfume classification, usually masculine-geared, originally founded by the legendary Fougère Royale for Houbigant which was composed by renowned perfumer Paul Parquet. The main accord of this fantasy scent ~ferns don't really have a smell of their own~ includes a bright top note of lavender and sensual base notes of oakmoss and coumarin, with a popular subdivision being "aromatic fougères" which include herbaceous notes, spices and woods.
Atypical for Lutens arguably to go for an overt masculine smell in any of his fragrances, championing the reign of the unisex so far most vehemently (even the virile-looking Vetiver Oriental is more oriental than vetiver in fact!). Yet in Fourreau Noir, the "black sheath" is more of a throw-back to 80s bachelor silk boxer shorts, encasing "peau de mec" (guy's skin) meant to hint at the seductive stakes of a rich playboy that undulates between Bret Easton Ellis heroes ~ Less Than Zero debutants and American Psycho's gang of lawyers~ splashing a bit of Gaultier's Le Male without any inhibitions as to its perceived gay quota, with a hint of patchouli. Contrary to the cocaine-sniffing which such associations would bring to our vortex with the haste of lightining, there is a discreet and revisionistically pleasant whiff of marihuana-incense plus caspirene (the later reminiscent of a gigantic feminine bestseller, can you guess?). Tonka beans also pledge their allegience with hay, vanilla grass (Anthoxanthum odoratum) and sweet grass (Hierochloe odorata) while coumarin, the main component, derived through the cyclization of cinnamic acid, bunches them up all together for the sweet picking. Suffice to say the intemingling is evocative of closely-shaven cheeks (no three-day stubble from this guy!), topping expensive Cerruti suits, dancing dangerously close to yours.
My friend Denyse first mentioned dihydromyrcenol, a synthetic note which Chandler Burr describes as an abomination ("sink cleanser spilled on an aluminum counter"), included in several masculine fougères and aquatics of the 1990s (Drakkar Noir, Cool Water, Aqua di Gio, CK One, YSL Nuit de l’homme, but also Coco Mademoiselle!!). Dihydromyrcenol as a raw material does smell harshly of lime-citrus with a metallic yet also aromatic edge and is very fresh (interpret this as you'd like). However the effect at least when dabbing Fourreau Noir on the skin is not as harsh as all that to me personally, aided by the mock bravado displayed by the sweeter aspects of the composition no doubt, such as a bittersweet myrrh inclusion, a nod to the majestic Lutensian opus La Myrrhe (to which I will revert soon) as well as the other elements mentioned above (impressions of patchouli, ambery hints).
While Fille en Auguilles (the latest export Lutens fragrance, reviewed here) has unlocked precious memories for me, this one has not produced the same reverie yet, perhaps because that dizzying lifestyle hasn't been mine. If he offers Fourreau Noir, with a handheld velours compact hiding an expensive jewel but shutting swiftly before you touch it as a joke, question yourself about accepting: are you frizzily-haired Pretty Woman enough for it?
Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir notes: tonka bean and lavender, with musk, almond and lightly smoky accents.
Fourreau Noir officially debuts on 1st September 2009 as an exclusive to Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris (75 ml, 110 €) in the familiar bell-jars that stack up on the purple and black shelves. The picture depicts the Limited Edition bottle which is in total disaccord with anything opulently Lutensian so far: I am perplexed but also intrigued despite myself!
Edit to add: People have been wanting that kitty bottle. Might I point out that it is only the Limited Edition bottle and those go for 850 euros each :-(
Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Serge Lutens news and reviews, Paris shopping
Pics Less Than Zero via pastemagazine.com, Pretty Woman via blog.jinni.com.