If Charles Baudelaire or Oscar Wilde (pleading with Lord Alfred Douglas from within his jail) are references both in plain view in the new Serge Lutens fragrance De Profundis, and they themselves relied on this, their posthumus reputation might be rather lacklustre. Whether it is fatigue or overfamiliarisation, the olfactory seraglio at Palais Royal has began showing signs of tiredness, despite the vivid, novel colour of the latest perfume which shines in its beautiful bell jar like a bright amethyst. You can almost hear the cry of the 130th Psalm "De Profundis Clamavi Ad Te, Domine" for all the drama in front of your eyes! Sadly, experiencing the fragrance by one's nose is underwhelming, after such build-up, promising the scent of death, no less.
De Profundis is a piercing, sharp, dusty and at the same time aldehydic "clean" floral that petters out to woods and a little fruity violet, rather than the dark, dangerously sexy or earthy, medieval scent suggested by its apothecarial look.
"When death steals into our midst, its breath flutters through the black crepe of mourning, nips at funeral wreaths and crucifixes, and ripples through the gladiola, chrysanthemums and dahlias.If they end up in garlands in the Holy Land or the Galapagos Islands or on flower floats at the Annual Nice Carnival, so much the better!What if the hearse were taking the deceased, surrounded by abundant flourish, to a final resting place in France, and leading altar boys, priest, undertaker, beadle and gravediggers to some sort of celebration where they could indulge gleefully in vice? Now that would be divine!In French, the words beauty, war, religion, fear, life and death are all feminine, while challenge, combat, art, love, courage, suicide and vertigo remain within the realm of the masculine.Clearly, Death is a Woman. Her absence imposes a strange state of widowhood. Yet beauty cannot reach fulfilment without crime. The chrysanthemum is the sole pretext for writing these lines.Turning grave sites held in perpetuity over to Life – a familiar of these haunts – the chrysanthemum invites Death to leave the cemetery and offer us its flower. De Profundis clamavi." [translation by Fragrantica]
But how did we get to here? L'Eau Serge Lutens seems like a seperate entity in the canon, both in context and in smell, and for that reason was given leniency, even if it alienated much of the fan base; and while Boxeuses conversely recycled the familiar in a most pleasant way, I was rather hesitant into jumping for a full bottle of Serge's last, violent and incongruous release, Vitriol d'Oeillet. This was a first. Not jumping up & down for De Profundis, later on, sounded like sacrilege! But the expectations were set too high: Baudelaire is too much of a decadent aesthete to reference with impunity; Eros & Thanatos has been explored as an idea by scholars for millenia; and a scentscape inspired by death is a risky bet ~ the church has the patent down pat after all. Lutens took the All Saints tradition of taking chrysanthemums (autumnal flowers) to graves and span it into composing a floral that would get inspired by death.
De Profundis olfactorily resembles a dusty, powdery yet sharp scent of herbal tea and flowers, with a smattering of honeysuckle, lily of the valley and greenish notes (green jasmine, green lily) on top; not melacholic chrysanthemums promised by the ad copy, but rather the aftermath of the funeral, despite the closeness with the autumn blossom.
What is more unexpected is that the bouquet of green floral notes very soon gives way to a "blanched" soapy musk resembling Galaxolide (but not quite! what is it?), and aldehydic nuances, reminiscent of the worst memories of L'Eau Serge Lutens and at the same time like bottled light, ozonic, lifting upwards and upwards...like a soul to the light?
Whereas the soapy concept was thick as thieves with the humorous, ironic allusion to "clean" in L'Eau as a sign of defiance in an era when perfume connoisseurs are embalming themselves in thick resins, stinky florals or bitter pharmaceutical-worthy oud notes to prove their mettle, in De Profundis the trick doesn't quite work again: The synthetic feel of the powdery note is far off the luxurious iris of Bas de Soie (which still denoted a classy sexiness) and at the same time it lacks the nuanced greyness of the majestic and unsurpassable Iris Silver Mist. Amidst it all, a fruity scent surfaces, enhanced by alpha methyl ionone (a recognisable violet note), giving a mildly sweetish, pleasant backdrop which bears a hint of familiarity with the previous Lutens fragrances. Although seemingly a loud perfume upon spraying, in its rather screechy projection upon first spray, De Profundis mellows into a soft woody skin scent which doesn't last as -usually- expected.
Evaluating a Lutens creation in less than stellar terms leaves me with a certain disillusionment, which is painful to experience. For more than 15 years, Lutens used to instantly transport me into imaginary travels atop a magic carpet which seemed to continuously unfold new motifs, to lull me into a reverie that united the mysticism of the East with the classiness and chic of the West. Perched, as I am, between two worlds, from a geographical point of view, this unison spoke deeply to my soul. I'm hoping that the line will find again its axis, but with dearest Serge reaching 70 it looks like it is a precarious, foreshadowing prospect and I find myself sitting on a church pew like a kid, confused with the world and eager to catch at straws...
Official notes for Serge Lutens De Profundis: chrysanthemum, dahlia, lily, violet, earthy notes.
For our readers, 2 samples of De Profundis, out of my own stash, will be given. Tell us, what would you like to smell in a "death perfume"?
Movie still of Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense by M.Night Shyamalan, Music set to the psalm 130 Arvo Pärt