One of my preferred short stories in the canon by American author Edgar Allan Poe is William Wilson. Less popular than many of his more exploitable, creepy or evocative stories, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum or The Tell-Tale Heart, it manages to speak to the soul in a way that reminds me of a later favorite author, Herman Hesse, and his profoundly soul-searching novels with characters struggling to find their fate and to get to know themselves. This preface comes as a necessary explanation on why I found Laine de Verre, the latest fragrance launch by Serge Lutens, as chillingly puzzling as the double face of Janus, the two antiscians in the above mentioned short story.
Maybe this was all an idea that was suggested by seeing Uncle Serge pacing up and down as if somnabulating against himself in a clip worthy of utter puzzlement… [watch the clip here]
The cryptic text is -as always- a springboard for discussion or a chance for ridicule; it all depends on your worldview:
"It is only after he had been penetrated by the winter that,
laying down his arms, the Lord of Glass came to place
at the feet of the Lady of Wool flowers and ferns which had frosted on him."
Laine de Verre means fiberglass (yes, the one used as insulation) and as odd as a perfume inspiration this sounds (the actual material being a potent sensitizer creating an instant itch on the skin it touches) there comes a point in perfumery that one has to drop the "noble essences from the Comores islands" and the "ethically sustained eco-certified ingredients" schtick and just reinvent the wheel. This moment in perfumery has arrived. Fiberglass, then, why not!! After Serge Lutens fragrances with names such as Tubereuse Criminelle (criminal tuberose), Fille en aiguilles (you'll have to read the review to find out on that, it's more complex than it sounds), Nuit de cellophane (cellophane night), Vitriol d'Oeillet (carnation's vitriol) and La Vierge de Fer (iron maiden), Laine de Verre shouldn't come as a shock, at least in what has to do with semantics.
The "eau" line, with its initial L'Eau de Serge Lutens providing the first chasm with the hardcore Lutens clientele and with L'Eau Froide as the second installment to curdle the blood (in a good way), Laine de Verre continues in this collection that is differentiated both in packaging as well as in concept from the regular Marrakech-inflected line: these are "anti-perfumes", scents which aim to be perceived as an aura emanating from the wearer, legible the way supersonic whistles are legible to higher frequency listeners.
The metallic berries and citrus from Mars and the sharp aldehydes from Pluto opening predisposes for the character of the scent which is alien for the modern consumer of apple-scented shower gels and giant fake peaches standing in for latheriness. Lutens marries the abstract idea of "clean" from the middle years of the 20th century (aldehydic florals, such as Chanel No.22 and White Linen) and injects it with modern signs for niche: frankincense, sharp lily of the valley, a mineral and cedar-musk like haze which one can't put their finger on (actually Cashmeran or blonde woods).
Although I still prefer the more incense-y L'Eau Froide (and cannot wear the super sharp and starchy L'Eau), Laine de Verre has to be the second best in the Eau fragrances by Lutens, subdued but there, average lasting power and throughout ironic the way Comme de Garcons fragrances with no-names such as Odeur 53 made their (well) name. It might sound like sacrilege to the average Lutensian fan, but what Lauder did with their Pure White Linen in relation to White Linen is what the French maestro is doing here as well with a tiny helping of that weird, bleach note that made Secretions Magnifiques so horrifically memorable. Anyone who is mentally striking this off their list, now that I mentioned THE HORRIBLE ONE, might be appeased: uncle Serge hasn't totally went out of his way to make us notice, no. Laine de Verre isn't shocking.
In the end it all boils down to intent. With the Eau series, Lutens is authoring a new grammar of "clean": decidedly cool, with prominent use of aldehydes but also incense, mineral and metallic, maybe with a hint of chalkiness like a crushed aspirin, no sign of dewiness or soft muskiness, they perfectly encapsulate a spick & span minimalist loft or a white padded insane asylum, again depending on your worldview. This hygienic approach is in violent clash against the very idea of an added on fine fragrance, much like William Wilson came crushing down violently against his own self and consolidates my belief that Serge Lutens is pulling our collective leg in a deliciously playful way.
pic: Man Ray, Andre Breton before L'enigme d'une journee by Giorgio de Chirico, 1922.
In the interests of disclosure I was sent a sample in the context of the brand's regular promos.