Friday, April 11, 2008

Break This Bittersweet Spell on Me ~Douce Amere by Lutens: fragrance review

Douce Amère's sonorous name, meaning "bittersweet" in French, brings back memories of childhood with a Prustian rush: the precarious balance of bitter and sweet like a poisonous plant, like bitter sightshade; the smell of danger and dare of a bitters sip coupled with the comfort of a vanillic dessert consumed long after playing truant and getting grounded for it. Or even the strange macaroon-style cookies my mother baked comprising of coconut, dusting sugar and strong ouzo: a recipe concocted in hell, I'm sure, but tasting like a fresh slice of heaven. Bitter food and drink have the perverse tendency to make you yearn for them several years later and this is no exception.

Yet Douce Amère remains one of the most underappreciated fragrances in the Lutens oeuvre for some reason, even though it came out in 2000; 8 years ago, enough time to make its mark and lure in accolytes.

Jean Poiret, a French actor and playwright who wrote and starred in the original 1973 Paris production of La Cage aux folles, is the author of Douce Amère , a comedy written in 1970.
However upon looking around a bit, I also found another synonymous theatrical happening:
"[...]Madame Douce-Amere (Mrs. Bitter-Sweet) is a female Marcel Marceau, whose curious antics and invisible dog take her beyond the walls of her home and into the laps of the audience. Madame invites you to help yourself to her hot chocolate and cookies and then sit back to watch the fun".

I am not sure if Serge Lutens was inspired by either (or even by the Solanum Dulcamara "nightshade" plant) nudging "nose" Chris Sheldrake into embottling the satyrical and funny along with the poignant. But it would have been interesting to contemplate that he would. His fragrances often evoke heavy costumed dramas to me, with secondary actors in the wings, getting a quick turn on the stage for some precious moments before they disappear like in a Euripedean episode.

Cinnamon fondles the herbal constituents of Douce Amere into submission while the naughtier peppermint-like accents along with what seems like citrusy oils raise their naughty head from time to time in wistful yet tantalizing temptation. The medicinal opening of aromatic wormwood -the plant that gives absinthe drink its green pungency- belies the hedonistic, Epicurian progression into a velvety gourmand meant for gustatory appraisal. Soft, woody accords finish it off in a kiss of sweet departure.

In a way, Keiko Mecheri's Paname is a poor man's substitute for Douce Amère (and the line has been criticized for drawing heavily on the Lutens line for inspiration). They have a very similar start, but ultimately the Lutens fragrance remains more compelling. Paname has a sharper, more astringent tone with heavier sweetness in the coda, unlike the infinite tenderness of the Lutens's base.
The liquorice feel of Douce Amère also recalls a grown up, tipsy Lolita Lempicka after a round of absinthe cocktails; while its sweetness is vaguely reminiscent of the pudding notes of Casmir by Chopard, although much more airier, less clotted.
Unlike many in the Lutens canon, Douce Amère never veers into the amber highway to the orientalised Silk Road and remains an enigma, perched like a Prodikean Hercules on the brink of two roads. Or one party of unrequited love with equal parts happiness and despair.

Notes (provided by Serge Lutens.blogspot): artemisia absinthium, anise, cinnamon, marigold, foamflower*, jasmine, lily, tagetes, vanilla, musk, cedar.

*Foamflower is scientifically called Tiarella cordifolia or Tiarella trifoliata (two separate species within the same genus).

Douce Amère comes in a 50ml/1.7oz bottle of Eau de Parfum and is available through Aedes, Luckyscent, the Perfume Shoppe, and select department stores around the world.

The title of the post comes from the song "Bittersweet" on the clip above.

Clip: Apocalyptica featuring Ville Vallo (from HIM) and Lauri Ylönen (from The Rasmus) "Bittersweet" , originally uploaded by xxtasteofinkxx on Youtube.
Pic Scent of Green by Bolandrotor/Flickr.


  1. Anonymous19:41

    okay, so now i'm going to have to go revisit douce amere, the only one that really hasn't worked on my skin. funny you mention the paname - it was my first keiko, and for a long time, my last. the first sniff sent me to the south of france and some uncapturable memory. so i bought it. and never had that experience again, and actually discovered i didn't like it. finally gave it away. but since then i've found a couple of keikos i do like. - minette

  2. Anonymous03:45

    actually, chypre rouge is even worse, not sure how i could forget that... - m

  3. Dear Minette,

    I do hope you get to like it second time around. These things happen all the time, as we know ;-)
    Your uncapturable memory sounds worth exploring (I wonder now!)

    Yeah, Chypre Rouge for all its impressive literature accompanying it is a very difficult one. I had reviewed it some time back.

    Hey, which couple of Keikos do you like?

  4. Anonymous23:05

    hi, helg,

    well, i revisited the douce amere this afternoon, and it is still a no-go for me. didn't even want it on skin this time. you're right about paname's nod its way - the two share a similar feel.

    of the keikos, i've gone for ume, musc, and genie de bois. ume is by far the most interesting of the three. her musc is very good, if you're into musk, and i am. just wore it yesterday and it made me feel good all day the genie i have to be in the mood for. it feels very "wet" to me, as if the earth in it can never quite dry out.

    how 'bout you? - minette

  5. Anonymous23:20

    i meant genie des bois. i need a nap. - m

  6. Nice review. I liked DA very much the one time I tested it, but I've never been moved to buy a bottle. You make me want to try it again. The main thing I want, though, is to taste those ouzo flavored macaroons!

  7. Thank you Minette for all your most interesting information. Sorry about the DA not working for you (but diversity makes the world goes round!)

    I haven't tried Ume, but am tempted to. Same with Musc! (I'm very into musks).
    I wasn't thrilled with Fleur de Peau, nor Sanguine...
    must be the most tenacious thing I have ever tried!

  8. Thank you dear M. I think you should give it another chance. It's the kind of wistful thing that I like. I feel bad about poor DA being so little thought of... *snif*


    We should meet at some point and I will bake some ouzo macaroons for you! :-)
    (or to make things easier I can mail you the recipe: they're very easy and very good)

  9. Anonymous14:34

    Every time I smell DA, I am bowled over by its melancholy beauty. But perhaps the underlying sadness in the fragrance could account for its lack of popularity? It reminds me of the ending of a black-and-white film existing solely in my imagination, when the heroine (Lana Turner, perhaps? in a silver evening dress and a white fur stole) steps out into the night, into the driving snow. Her life is in shards behind her, her lover has left her. Somewhere there will be a new life, perhaps even a new love, but for now there is the snow, the dark, and bittersweet memories accompanying her first step into the unknown.
    God, but I love that scent!

  10. Enfin!! Someone understands. :-))

    Thank you Zindra for telling it (so beautifully) like I feel it. Yes, exactly: melancholy and life in shards...

  11. I've been revisiting Douce Amere recently (along with the other two discontinued fragrances of the Serge Lutens export line, Chypre Rouge and Miel de Bois) and succumbed to purchase two bottles available online at a discount price (plus one bottle of Chypre Rouge and another one of Miel de Bois).
    I agree it's a contemplative melancholic fragrance but not sad not as sad as it sounds, strangely I feel Douce Amere is the one Serge Lutens fragrance that most closely resembles my 'bittersweet' character.

    PS: Thank you for the goodies from Greece, it was very much appreciated!

  12. Uella,

    thanks for commenting and sorry for being so late to reply. Was just sorting through my mails and saw this and saw I hadn't dignified it with a reply. So here I am.

    It's definitely a great scent to own and as such it is worth investing in a couple of bottles, especially as it will become difficult to procure in the States. It's melancholic, not sad or mean, which is a nicely contemplative feeling, I always think. Of course not everyone does, but I think you of all people "get" it.

    Glad you enjoyed the goodies and they arrived safely. What did you think of the latest Lutens decant I included?? :-)

  13. You're welcome ;-) Thank you for the Boxeuses nice size decant but I haven't worn it much. I'm waiting for something to happen that hasn't happened yet, it still hasn't grown on me. I think it's a nice perfume but too much of a cross between Daim Blond and Feminite du Bois. Cuir Mauresque is my favorite Lutens leather, a beautiful modern take on Tabac Blond. Unfortunately, it's my best friend's favorite scent, he's been wearing it at the UN for work for more than ten years now, there's no way I can wear "his" Cuir Mauresque.


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