Serge presents the new perfume in these words written in a vertical sequence: " Friable mais entière.À demi-mot, son nom se fêle. Avant la brisure, les deux premières syllabes portent le nom du poète qui même pouvait charmer les pierres. " Lutens of course winks at Orpheus, the legendary Greek poet and prophet who charmed every being with his music and tried to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the dead by way of his skills, only to meet with his own death from those who could not hear his divine music…which ties with the cryptic text he has written on L'Incendiaire, his other fragrant release, in a new "golden line", announced here a while ago. How's that for two shots with one stone?
Does Serge try to bring back his repressed beloved, his mother, a small bit at a time, with each of his fragrances? Possibly. Lutens is a grown Remi (after Malot's "Sans famille"), on a journey of the roads of France, on a journey of the roads of perfume. And like Carax or Rivette or any master of that school, he certainly takes his time into letting us share his journey.
The poetic concept of the "orphan", "fragile but whole" (this is a French expression that really loses in the translation), is inspired by Lutens's own childhood, "of ashes" and rage, his painful memories of being raised without a mother and abandoned by his father, though the change of sex in the fragrance name suggests a Freudian transposition regarding the significance of the Father (as suggested by Lutens himself). He conflates the male with pain ("le Mâle : le mal"), an Oedipal symbolism that doesn't go amiss. Nor is it intended to.
For this coolish and quiet fragrance (sequentially warmish, like Gris Clair) named L'Orpheline, Lutens and his sidekick perfumer Chris Sheldrake focus on incense notes, not as cold and soapy as in L'Eau Froide, neither as spicy warm and shady as in Serge Noire, but somewhere in between; entre chien et loup, between daylight and darkness. Frankincense, the impression of bittersweet myrrh and peppery-acrid (elemi? cumin? ginger?) rather than clove-y carnation notes seem to rise, a cross between spirituality and carnality? Lutens knows how to marry contradictions and swath the opulence of orientalia into Parisian refinement. The spicy note in the heart reminds me of a mix between mace and cumin, reminiscent of both Secret Obsession (the now discontinued Calvin Klein fragrance) and a lighter Serge Noire by Lutens.
Yet the end result in L'Orpheline is apart; neither a true Moroccan oriental like hardcore Serge fans have built an online cult out of, nor a classically French perfume for the salon, but a mysterious, vaporous emanation "between the storm and clear skies", between the ashes of the past and the uncertainty of the future, a Delacroix painting, a dwindling match leaving embers behind. The peppery accent on the incense reminds me of the treatment of carnations in Oeillet Bengale (one of the best releases of the year so far) while the musky underlay is soft, subtle, meditative and not entirely without a certain poignancy.
L'Orpheline would suit anyone who like Pierre "had been waiting for something", regardless of their sex. Haven't we all?
One sample out of my own decant to a lucky reader commenting below. Draw is open till Sunday midnight.