Inhale the icy ringing air coming from the thundra filling your lungs. Feel the chill of cold water in a silver-tiled pool where you anticipated warmth. Remember the surprising burning sensation on your tongue upon munching an ice cube against the hardness of adamantine. Feel the wet, clean feel of stones in a brook. And imagine a kiss from dead lips...
If De Profundis aimed to capture the scent of death, the cold tentacles of a serene end to all can be felt in L'Eau Froide, from the pristine white-lined coffin to earth's cool embrace. I personally find this philosophical attitude to mortality very peaceful and cleasing to the mind.
Icy, you say?
The bottle and the box of L'eau Froide are inscribed with iterations of coldness...cold, icy cold, frosted, transparent, crystalline, calm, ice salt, large glass of water...
Cold? Yes, it is. But very pleasantly so.
I'm a firm believer in the cooling properties of unadulterated frankincense, the kind at the heart of L'Eau Froide, which I burn regularly: After all, the raw material shares terpenic, citrusy top notes in itself, which dissipate and volatilise quickly rendering that cool smoky ambience we associate with stone temples of old. But amongst fumeheads of northern latitudes, removed from the warmth & sun of the Mediterranean where frankincense use flourished, ‘frosty’ and ‘glacial’ are not adjectives we tend to associate with incense (rather pyrocaustic is, although on Perfume Shrine we have devoted a whole series to different varieties and nuances of incense fragrances). Nor is the association of niche orientals ~where incense notes are the bread & butter of perfumers fast becoming rock stars. But frankincense/olibanum, the par excellence incense note, is indeed cool: it can become very smoky and dense when in high concentration, but the more you dilute it the more it gains lemony, fresh facets that inspire deep breathing, the cleansing kind.
Serge’s press upon this newest fragrance is probably what matters anyway: ‘People only notice the pyrogen facet in smoky incense burners… but not the coolness, except for the church’s."
Before we jump into conclusions in how the maestro is doing atypical work, fandom-alienating possibly as in his first L'Eau, let's remember, Serge Lutens is no stranger to cool incense in his impressive line already: Encens & Lavande takes on the ashen facets of lavender-nuanced smoke, while Serge Noire is the spicy, warm & cool contrast of meditation. Nor is he a stranger to gothic coldness itself: from the "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" hard-as-nails menthol blast opening in Tubereuse Criminelle, to the perverse aloofness of Bas de Soie and the lavender-tinged greyness of Gris Clair, all the way to the bluish, dead lips of Iris Silver Mist... L'Eau Froide comes as the natural evolution of spermatic ideas in all these fragrances: the herbaceous top note that cools the sinuses, the chilling dampness, the resinous incense, the clean underbelly...
But we could be short-sighted if we didn't consider fragrances with a semblance outside the Lutens seraglio too: What L'Eau Froide reminds me most of is one of my favourite summer incense waters: Passage d'Enfer, composed by Olivia Giacobetti for L'Artisan Parfumeur. I must have gone through crates of it...
The terpenic, bright side of Somalian frankincense (reminiscent of crushed pine needles) is given prominence in Passage d'Enfer, much like in the Lutens 'eau' which unfolds the terpenes after a fresh mint start; this exhibits a hint of pepperiness (could it be elemi, another resin?) giving a trigeminal nerve twist. The effect is dry and very clean indeed (but unlike the screechy aldehydic soapiness & ironing starch of the first L'Eau), with a lemony, bitter orange rind note that projects as resinous rather than fruity and a projection and sillage that are surprising for something so ghostly, so ethereal, so evanescent.
It's the scrubbing mitt of a monastery in the southern coastline, rather than the standard aquatic full of dihydromyrcenol and Calone coming out of the cubicle in an urban farm. Still this aesthetic is something with which the average perfumista hasn't come to terms with yet; it will probably take a whole generation to reconcile perfumephiles with "clean" after the horros that have befallen them in the vogue for non-perfume-perfumes in the last 20 years. I'm hopeful. After all being a perfumista means challenging your horizons, right?
The little human warmth in the deep drydown of the new Lutens comes from the refined, vegetal musks that hide in Voyage d'Hermès or Goutal's Musk Nomade (ambrette seed); eschewing too sweet and powdery for a slightly bitter, metallic edge reminiscent of the iron in blood. The whole projects with a mineral quality, like cool peebles at the foot of a lemon tree.
Who will like L'Eau Froide and who will not
Incense accolytes who appreciate the monastic qualities of Tauer's Incense Extrême, the coolness & pine of Zagorsk and the white lily whiteness of Passage d'Enfer are the prime target of L'Eau Froide.
So are those who like Eau de Gentiane Blanche and Voyage d'Hermès. I think L'Eau Froide will be more popular with men than with women who view this dry mineral facet as emasculating.
The cool customers of Chanel No.19 (especially the eau de toilette which is rich in vetiver) and Paco Rabanne's Calandre, as well as YSL Rive Gauche for women, might also be satisfied with the silvery sheen of this Lutens fragrance. If on the other hand you prefer for your incense fix the densely oriental mixes like Caron's Parfum Sacré, the rich balsamic formulae like Ormonde Jayne Tolu, and the sophisticated smoky warmth of Hotel Costes, you would be totally disappointed. Then again you might be an omnivore, like me.
It's of note that no comparison can be effectively made with Etro's Messe de Minuit: Whereas the Etro is a chameleon, smelling in varying degrees of warm or cool according to your GPS positioning when wearing it, the Lutens is a la la la constant tune that doesn't waver much.
Will I wear it?
I was somewhat confused with last year's Lutens De Profundis and Vitriol d'Oeillet. Though arguably not the height of originality, I see myself dousing myself with L'Eau Froide each time I want to feel that chill on the small of my back that denotes either solace from a heatwave Med-style, or the exciting but safe thrill of peeking within the crypt when demons are hiding low on a snowy winter's day.
L'Eau Serge Lutens joined by a similar-looking bottle. (1.7oz/50ml and 3.4 oz./100ml, 69 and 100 euros respectively at select doors stocking Lutens fragrances from March 2012).
For our readers an advance sample sprayer is offered. Please tell us your incense memories, if you have any.
Draw is open till Sunday 26th midnight.
pic of the Dead Sea via english.al-akhbar.com