Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Serge Lutens Fourreau Noir: fragrance review

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.


  1. Hmmm...not sur what to think. I'm not a fougere kinda guy, so this sounds like a pass for me. Still, being a Lutens, it's always worth trying.

    Also baffled by the kitty on the bottle(?)

  2. Not sure what you mean by, 'The name means "black s[h]eath", but also the petticoat garment, etc...' The English word 'sheath' - followed or not by 'dress', means exactly the same as the French fourreau, i.e. a tight-fitting dress, unless the context indicates otherwise (swords, scissors, electric cables, flowers, er, contraception). And that's how most French women will understand the term. My dictionary tells me it has meant that since c.1780. I've never heard of the other meaning (petticoat).

  3. I am so excited for this one! I am a fougere lover and spray with abandon when it comes to Le Male in spite of my feminine anatomy. I am dying to try this one. Thanks again for the great review. As far the jar goes, I would love to have that kitty sitting on my shelf!

  4. E, the fougere 80's style worries me but who knows? I was skeptical when I read about Fille en Aiguilles but I love it.

  5. Anonymous01:09

    i just want the kitty cat bottle. almost don't care how the jus smells - for once!

    good to have you back! - minette

  6. I'm not a fan of fougere fragrances, but I adore the smell of the ferns that grow wild around here (the northeastern U.S.). Yes, many ferns do indeed have a fragrance, and there's nothing like the marvelously green, sticky, sap-like smell of a ferny forest dell -- mosquitoes and all!

  7. the bottle looks like it's from bewitched. i had high hopes for this but it sounds a bit meh, i am very interested in lavender at the moment. still the proof is in the sniffing- thank you for the preview!

  8. Anonymous15:14

    Really enjoyed reading your review. For sure I'm curious to give Fourreau Noir a sniff. Love Bret Easton Ellis.


  9. Dane,

    thanks darling for stopping by. I know how dedicated to Lutens you are and how your criterion is shaped (meant complimentary of course). I am very very intrigued of what you will think of it!!

    As to the bottle, I believe S is playing a trick on us. Fille (Girl) was mighty fine for a guy, so why not a kittenish bottle for a masculine scent? ;-)

  10. Bela,

    hi there and thanks for chimming in! Good to see you :-)

    Well, I am not certain whether I am inside the minds of the art creation team at Les Salons bien entendu and of course everything I say is my own opinion and impression, so interpret the following with that in mind:
    My "reading" of this is that they mean the sheath with its tactile, sensous, sexy if you please, quality. This is the first reading and no doubt the technically French one in the context you present it (I am 100% certain your dictionary is superior to humble mine, LOL)

    However there is indeed a garment that is used to make skirts stay up and is referenced as fourreau in general fashion parlance (Don't they use that term in the UK? Punky girls seem to still wear the item!): In fact not only do we refer to it as a matter of course here, but I personally have one in my wardrobe, as a remnant of a nostalgic phase I had spent eulogising 50s fashions when I was a very young University student (I think I have recounted that funny tale to you at some point on MUA as referenced to age judged by styling alone, but anyway).

    Given that that second "reading" ties in perfectly with those late 80s fashions when said petticoats had known a brief resurgence (and can be seen in some of those cinematic images), it made sense to include it, hoping the international audience would excuse it.
    Obviously I am not putting my hand on the hot stove that all French women will understand it like that, but at least you gave me the chance to elaborate on my second "reading" of it here for their sake.

    As always good to exchange convos on linguistic (and assorted) matters, I learn something new every day.

  11. Bananarchy,

    it would be very interesting to see how differing women's and men's opinion on this one should play out. I am waiting with baited breath to hear impressions when it becomes more widely (OK, a little bit more widely) available.
    It should be interesting. Le Male is considered very gay across the pond, yet it's ultra-popular with straight guys in Europe, go figure!

  12. E,

    who knows what you will think? If some more quantity lands on my lap for the sending you can count on forming your own unique perspective. It's interesting.
    Of course I loved Fille more.

  13. My dear Minette,

    so nice to see you too!! Thanks for stopping by!

    Yeah, the bottle should polarise: on the one hand the girly girls loving it, on the other hand the hard-core somber Lutens fans thinking it's so unlike him. I find it playful of him to do that to us. And a little cruel too... But don't we love his precious cruelty?? :-)

  14. N,

    you're lucky to live in a fern-aplenty environment, they're so lusk to look at and I love the green atmosphere. I really meant that technically no specific odour is related to them as with other plants/grasses (ex.galbanum, vetiver, patchouli etc), perhaps I should have been clearer.

  15. K,

    you nailed it with the Bewitched ref on the bottle. Now why didn't I think of that?!?

    It's a sensuous scent, curiously enough, nothing harsh about it. Oddly it might produce exactly the aversion many have to 80s and 90s fougeres, although I think it's much less bracing (at least when dabbed, not sprayed on paper).
    If you love lavender, do try to sample Kiki by Vero Profumo, it's delish!!!

  16. Dagney,

    thanks for saying so, much appreciated. I love Bret too, although he does make for some disturbing reading sometimes, but I like my books to be a little on the spooky side, easy things tend to bore me...

    Curious to see what you think of it when you give it a sniff!

  17. Hi, E --

    Thanks for the review. I am fascinated by this, although a bit wary, as many fougères do not work for me, particularly when they are coumarin-heavy... I hope that I will be able to try it soon.

  18. J,

    I am still trying to decipher what I think of it: is it retro, is it coquette or "mec", is it a playful innuendo to cross gendering...what.
    Contrary to Fille en Aiguilles which I liked instantly (so resinous, so warm), this one is more of a shape-shifter and needs further testing: dabbed it blooms more and is more sensual. On paper it is harsher. I am not really sure whether you'd like it. It does have the characteristic "emasculated" vibe of several oldies and don't know how comfortable you're with that. It can be a bit camp, admittedly ;-)
    Do you have any favourite fougeres? That might help direct me whether it would please or not.

    But at any rate I hope you get a whiff of it when you're next in Paris and let me know what you think!

  19. Anonymous18:07

    where can i buy this parfume? (purchasing online)
    Please, i want to buy this for my mom and im in Europe :)
    and btw...i have that original bottle but it's empty of course :D

    Thanks, Ana

  20. Ana,

    try http://www.sergelutens.com


  21. Hi, E!

    Remember me telling you about my quest for a new Lutens? Well, I'm having trouble deciding, which is why I was hoping I could enlist a little help from you :-) If it's no bother, could you briefly describe Gris Clair? I've never smelled it and I couldn't find a review on your blog. Do you like it? How does it compare to the lovely Fourreau Noir (which I've tried in the wax sample but which is currently out of my reach, both geographically and financially hehe).

  22. D,

    no bother at all :-)

    I recall Gris Clair as the opposite in progression to Encens et Lavande, I mean the progression from coldness to warmth and vice versa. Are you familiar with Encens & Lavande? The GC has an ashy note which is coolish, not the campfire sort of scent, it's quite individual (and clean-ish like Passage d'Enfer is). Lavender and incense ash, cooling down, not fiery.
    I think Fourreau Noir is warmer and friendlier to the skin though a bit masculine to me personally. If it's a new(er) Lutens you're after have you tried Jeux de Peau? It's unique and pretty skin friendly. Not too warm. I liked it quite a bit.

  23. E,
    You're the bestest! :-) I got a pretty good idea of what Gris Clair smells like based on your description. I did try EetL years ago from the wax sample and clearly remember loving it. I've heard that GC is colder and more metallic, though, but I suppose that should go well with summer weather.
    I had a mini of JdP and quite enjoyed wearing it although not enough to go for a full bottle. Santal Majuscule was even more to my liking but that one too isn't exactly my style. Actually, I'm in two minds now between Bois de Violette (smelled it, like it a lot) and Gris Clair, and I'm gravitating to the latter, even if it means doing a blind buy. There's also Five O'clock Au Gingembre, yet another one unsniffed. Ah, choices choices...

    How are you, my dear?


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