With his newest fragrant offering to the Gods, Serge Lutens invades the territory of Chanel. In lewd terms "Lutens does Chanel"! Simply put, his Bas de Soie (pronounced BA-de-SWAH) will help establish a new audience who have been hankering after new territories of upscale refinement, but will also challenge his older acolytes to engage in combat with new elements which they considered "stuffy" for long. An encomium to iris and hyacinth, Bas de Soie had me perplexed for several days after I broke into my preview sample, which is why I took my while to post a full review after announcing the news of its introduction a while back.
Baptizing fragrances with tactile, fabric-reminiscent names, as was Serge Noire and Fourreau Noir, is not a new game for Lutens. In this case the name is erotically charged as it translates as "silk stockings". The feeling of Bas de Soie is not sexualized however, but eroticized; there is a difference. Picture the repressed, frigid sexuality of bourgeois doctor's wife Catherine Deneuve in classic film Belle de Jour; she needs the compulsion of the underground, afternoon bordello in order to blossom into sensuousness and have an illicit lover with flawed teeth by the name of Marcel. Yes, I know, the flacon Severine has in her bathroom (and accidentally smashes) is Mitsouko, its own connotations enriching the viewer's thought process (You can read our own take in the article The Agony & Ecstacy: Control & Surrender in Fragrances). But the celebrated Roger Vivier and Yves Saint Laurent attire of respectability (see this spot-on analysis of her feet) recalls Bas de Soie more than that "doomed love affair scent" by Guerlain. The mere mention of that film sounds ~by 2010 blogging standards~ cliché, as it has been dragged through the mud to reference myriads of scents & associations. But never before had I felt that it was merited like it is now... What Serge Lutens himself says about it? ‘This fragrance strikes a fine balance between hyacinth and iris, which intermingle. It's a black mass where dark guipure encounters white lace, in a union that involves smocking the stocking with silk.’
This new Lutens Bas de Soie is crepuscular, silvery fresh, reminiscent of Iris Silver Mist in its unapologetic sexless positioning; although not quite, the former's greenness being less invasive than the nitriles in the latter (plus Bas de Soie feels like it smells of iris Pallida more convincingly). To expand the simile I made in the beginning, "Lutens does Chanel", besides the lewd implications that might infer, the effect isn't that far fetched; or less perversely appealing: After all, the man behind the jus, perfumer Chris Sheldrake, whose alma mater was Chanel, is indeed again working at Chanel after many years, his tenure still allowing him to continue the wondrous collaboration with the virtuoso of Le Palais Royal. The core of the Bas de Soie composition would indicate a bulbous, undergrowth smell fit for chthonian, Eleusinian deities; after all both orris and hyacinth come from undergrowth (one is a rhizome, the other a bulb). Yet it presents itself decidedly above the ground and into an expensive salon where pearls glimmer down long, ivory necks flanked by beige-blonde hair, and ivory terry cloth hides delicate shoulders.
The iris in Bas de Soie is dry, soapy rather more than powdery, retro starched instead of rooty (he explored this "starched" idea recently with the anti-perfume L'Eau Serge Lutens), with the expansive feel of luminous silver tentacles engulfing you, much like they do in Chanel No.19, 28 La Pausa and to a lesser degree Cristalle in Eau de Parfum (which use natural orris butter). The molecules giving iris its character of coolness are called irones and this feels like an irone-rich composition.
The hyacinth is subdued, not tremendously "oily" or warm like it can be (its cinnamic facets usually giving a peppery jolt) or even "romantic" like we know it from Chamade or Grand Amour. Instead what I smell is lightly metallic, soapy-sweet, the way orris fragrances can take a nuance of violets sometimes, with a wink to Balmain's Ivoire and a galbanum-substitute/artemisia top note. You'd be hard pressed to recognise specific flowers within the composition: rose or peony perhaps seem apparent to my nose, their soapier-citric facets exalted in favour of their sweeter, warmer, liqueur-like ones.
The cool "clean" and creamy drydown (musks and pale woods with a wink to Infusion d'Iris by Prada) confirm that this is an atypical Lutens which eschews the spice bazaar and the resinous mysticism he has familiarized us with for so long, in order to introduce a new direction of cool composure and aloof pedigree.
Tenacity is good and sillage is medium. I allow myself to be even more thrilled by the leathery Boxeuses, the Paris-exclusive which will launch in September 2010 as announced here, but Bas de Soie is something I'd wear with pleasure and yes, cool composure.
Bas de Soie is part of the export line, an Eau de Parfum in the standard oblong bottles of the Lutens line, available from the usual suspects on August 1st according to the official info (some take pre-orders). The limited edition bottle (depicted) shows a pair of crossed legs sketched, wearing...silk stockings of course.
Pics from the 1967 film by Luis Buñuel Belle de jour starring Catherine Deneuve, via frederika.canalblog.com, ctache.blogspot,leopoldphotos & hazardousoperation both on Photobucket. Bottle photo uploaded by HighMaintenanceGirl on MUA.