Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Serge Lutens Bas de Soie: fragrance review

With his newest fragrant offering to the Gods, Serge Lutens invades the territory of Chanel. In lewd terms "Lutens does Chanel"! Simply put, his Bas de Soie (pronounced BA-de-SWAH) will help establish a new audience who have been hankering after new territories of upscale refinement, but will also challenge his older acolytes to engage in combat with new elements which they considered "stuffy" for long. An encomium to iris and hyacinth, Bas de Soie had me perplexed for several days after I broke into my preview sample, which is why I took my while to post a full review after announcing the news of its introduction a while back.

Baptizing fragrances with tactile, fabric-reminiscent names, as was Serge Noire and Fourreau Noir, is not a new game for Lutens. In this case the name is erotically charged as it translates as "silk stockings". The feeling of Bas de Soie is not sexualized however, but eroticized; there is a difference. Picture the repressed, frigid sexuality of bourgeois doctor's wife Catherine Deneuve in classic film Belle de Jour; she needs the compulsion of the underground, afternoon bordello in order to blossom into sensuousness and have an illicit lover with flawed teeth by the name of Marcel. Yes, I know, the flacon Severine has in her bathroom (and accidentally smashes) is Mitsouko, its own connotations enriching the viewer's thought process (You can read our own take in the article The Agony & Ecstacy: Control & Surrender in Fragrances). But the celebrated Roger Vivier and Yves Saint Laurent attire of respectability (see this spot-on analysis of her feet) recalls Bas de Soie more than that "doomed love affair scent" by Guerlain. The mere mention of that film sounds ~by 2010 blogging standards~ cliché, as it has been dragged through the mud to reference myriads of scents & associations. But never before had I felt that it was merited like it is now... What Serge Lutens himself says about it? ‘This fragrance strikes a fine balance between hyacinth and iris, which intermingle. It's a black mass where dark guipure encounters white lace, in a union that involves smocking the stocking with silk.’

This new Lutens Bas de Soie is crepuscular, silvery fresh, reminiscent of Iris Silver Mist in its unapologetic sexless positioning; although not quite, the former's greenness being less invasive than the nitriles in the latter (plus Bas de Soie feels like it smells of iris Pallida more convincingly). To expand the simile I made in the beginning, "Lutens does Chanel", besides the lewd implications that might infer, the effect isn't that far fetched; or less perversely appealing: After all, the man behind the jus, perfumer Chris Sheldrake, whose alma mater was Chanel, is indeed again working at Chanel after many years, his tenure still allowing him to continue the wondrous collaboration with the virtuoso of Le Palais Royal. The core of the Bas de Soie composition would indicate a bulbous, undergrowth smell fit for chthonian, Eleusinian deities; after all both orris and hyacinth come from undergrowth (one is a rhizome, the other a bulb). Yet it presents itself decidedly above the ground and into an expensive salon where pearls glimmer down long, ivory necks flanked by beige-blonde hair, and ivory terry cloth hides delicate shoulders.

The iris in Bas de Soie is dry, soapy rather more than powdery, retro starched instead of rooty (he explored this "starched" idea recently with the anti-perfume L'Eau Serge Lutens), with the expansive feel of luminous silver tentacles engulfing you, much like they do in Chanel No.19, 28 La Pausa and to a lesser degree Cristalle in Eau de Parfum (which use natural orris butter). The molecules giving iris its character of coolness are called irones and this feels like an irone-rich composition.
The hyacinth is subdued, not tremendously "oily" or warm like it can be (its cinnamic facets usually giving a peppery jolt) or even "romantic" like we know it from Chamade or Grand Amour. Instead what I smell is lightly metallic, soapy-sweet, the way orris fragrances can take a nuance of violets sometimes, with a wink to Balmain's Ivoire and a galbanum-substitute/artemisia top note. You'd be hard pressed to recognise specific flowers within the composition: rose or peony perhaps seem apparent to my nose, their soapier-citric facets exalted in favour of their sweeter, warmer, liqueur-like ones.

The cool "clean" and creamy drydown (musks and pale woods with a wink to Infusion d'Iris by Prada) confirm that this is an atypical Lutens which eschews the spice bazaar and the resinous mysticism he has familiarized us with for so long, in order to introduce a new direction of cool composure and aloof pedigree.

Tenacity is good and sillage is medium. I allow myself to be even more thrilled by the leathery Boxeuses, the Paris-exclusive which will launch in September 2010 as announced here, but Bas de Soie is something I'd wear with pleasure and yes, cool composure.

Bas de Soie is part of the export line, an Eau de Parfum in the standard oblong bottles of the Lutens line, available from the usual suspects on August 1st according to the official info (some take pre-orders). The limited edition bottle (depicted) shows a pair of crossed legs sketched, stockings of course.

Pics from the 1967 film by Luis Buñuel Belle de jour starring Catherine Deneuve, via, ctache.blogspot,leopoldphotos & hazardousoperation both on Photobucket. Bottle photo uploaded by HighMaintenanceGirl on MUA.


  1. Thank you so much, Elena, for such an excellent review; you do know how to whet one's interest: I will hardly be able to wait until I can sample this at last!


  2. This was such an evocative post, especially the phrase: "the expansive feel of luminous silver tentacles engulfing you" - I can totally relate to that. A reviewer of Apres L'Ondee in The Times once described it as "mercury trickling down bathroom walls" which has always stayed with me, as your phrase will...

    In the absence of knowing about irones till now, I have in the past fumblingly described La Pausa and Iris Silver Mist as "cryogenic iris", so it is all making a lot more sense now.

  3. I haven't yet met my ultimate iris. Maybe Serge has developed it here. Thanks for the thought-provoking review. (Am now considering eroticized vs sexualized as far as perfumes go.)

  4. "confirm that this is an atypical Lutens which eschews the spice bazaar and the resinous mysticism he has familiarized us with for so long, in order to introduce a new direction of cool composure and aloof pedigree"

    then Nuit de Cellophane which has been Lutens best-seller fragrance at niche perfume stores like Aedes since its launch last year is atypical, Clair de Musc is atypical, L'Eau, another Lutens best-seller at locations like Barney's and Bergdorf & Goodman is atypical - looks like the average Lutens consumer is atypical...

    I got my Bas de Soie bottle from Paris: polished, silky, soapy clean, enigmatic, long lasting, love it, my favorite Lutens ever!

  5. Laurinha,

    I do, eh? They should be paying me but alas they don't, LOL

    It's very sample-worthy and I can venture to say rather drool-worthy, I predict it will be popular. ;-)

  6. Flittersniffer,

    thanks for being so kind.

    I do recall that metal liquid running down the walls, it was originally about narcissus and Je Reviens, if I recall correctly in Susan Irvine's guide as told by Joan Juliet Buck. Which doesn't mean that she might not have used it in another scent (AlO in this instance) for another fragrance! It is a pretty fabulous phrase!!

    As to "cryogenic iris", it's as good a phrase as any of the calibre of the above. Good description! And see, there's a scientific explanation behind it too.

    Thanks for stopping by! :-)

  7. Cheryl,

    it's really lovely and not at all "bulbous" like turnips or carrots which is an issue with several people and iris (not specifically me, but I do realise not everyone likes the carrots connotation!) The retro hyacinth is a genius take and the lightly ambery musks provide a contemporary feel.

    I should think the eroticized vs.sexualised is an interesting distinction which one can carry on to almost all areas of sensual stimuli, if so inclined: I often have private, introverted fun thinking of nations, cultures, food, drink, art and yes, perfumes in those terms. ;-)

  8. Uella,

    I should think that you would chime in and indeed it's good to know you love it. I wouldn't expect less. It's quite lovely and I'm sorely tempted. (my shelves heave under the weight of Lutens as it is, but...)

    As to "atypical", I meant an "atypical Lutens scent" rather than atypical in the general sense. It's not like his more numerous renditions of spice and dried fruit and aged wood of which he has cemented his reputation. I have absolutely no doubt that the Lutens customer is atypical and highly sensorial.

    Very interesting info about L'Eau Serge Lutens being so well received; thank you! Is it really official from those stores? I had received a promo directly from the company the other day, which promised a couple of complimentary miniatures and free shipping for every order of L'E and so I entertained the thought that it didn't do all that well after all... I guess I was wrong!!

    PS. Got something and thought of you, will send something over before the month is up.

  9. Thanks for that pointer about Susan Irvine and Juliet Buck. I managed to find the article on "glacial perfumes" I misquoted, and as you correctly surmised, Apres L'Ondee is considered by the journalist to be in similar vein to the narcissus absolute which prompted the original image.
    : - )

  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Last try (the text box chops the end of the link off).

  12. As someone who has Chanel no. 19 on her list of perfume immortality - I wore it at 19, and I wear it now, and likely when I'm 89, too - I cannot wait to try this, especially after such an evocative, sensual review. I love, love, love iris (hate the Prada!), I love ISM, but I can't wear it every day, and the idea of something related to the L'eau - in terms of minimalistic approach - sounds very intriguing!
    Is anyone able to tell me if the Lutens boutique would provide a spray sample if I ask them nicely? I will never, ever but unsniffed Serges ever again...

  13. How timely! I received a small decant of Bas de Soie from a friend last night and I'm wearing it today. Your review is spot on. I found that it went on soapy and cool, but it sweetened over the hours. I don't always like hyacinth-Chamade, for instance, is hard for me to wear and I prefer the vintage edc to some of the other concentrations of it. But in Bas de Soie, it seems understated and elegant.

  14. What an elegant, descriptive review!

    I, too, will look forward to the release of Boxeuses in September.

  15. Flitter,

    here at last...
    "Glacial" is a nice term! Although I never found Apres L'Ondee really so myself (I like it quite a bit, for apparently different reasons).

  16. Flitter,

    thanks for your efforts on the link. I have accessed it and it's indeed very interesting to read. Thank you!!!

  17. Tarleisio,

    thanks for the lovely compliment. :-)
    I bet you WOULD like it! I don't really find it related to L'Eau olfactorily (which is not to my personal liking although I realise it's something done in a conceptual way and to strike a different "path" for the Lutens line, hence the Eudermine-like bottle). But as you say there is a different approach here which first manifested itself in L'Eau (the "starched" quality) and the cleanness in a few previous examples (maybe the metallic part too like in Un Bois Sepia). I find the most kinship with the Chanels and it's on a par, so do try it out!

    To answer your question, I didn't get a direct sample out of the company (they usually send me one, what happened this time?) and had to procure it via other means, but I think if you write to them they might oblige. They usually send the wax samples to existing customers, but if you state you like other Lutens fragrances they will know you're one? Hypothesizing, haven't actually done it myself. Worth a shot!

  18. As usual I'm intrigued!! When will this be officially out?

  19. Melisa,
    I agree with your assesment and how utterly charming we coincided! The hyacinth is more subdued in BdS than in Chamade, to be sure.

    I think the older Guerlain EDC formulae have citrusier, sparklier, more lively tops which makes them utterly charming and less "patisserie" (a welcome effect especially in heat). Maybe that has something to do with your preference?

  20. Josephine,

    thanks and welcome!
    It's very sample worthy and of course Boxeuses is a different beast, so I'm saving up for that review.

  21. Sue,

    perish the thought I'm enabling. :P
    It's officially out on August 1st but I have seen some stores online taking pre-orders. You can Google-search them and write to them to ask to be on their mailing list.

  22. I'm on the fence about this one, I like how it is composed and I love iris of all sorts! Of course this one is quite different and a lot of people have compared it to the notorious Secretions Magnifiques, what do you think? I'm not sure if my sudden detection is imaginary lol

    1. I wasn't aware of its comparison to Secretions Magnifiques, that's interesting!
      Though they both share a metallic facet, the bleach (and somewhat putrid-sweet) facet of SM makes it unpalatable to me; it reminds me of an operating theatre -operating theaters are very cool and they have a metallic, bloody, sweeitsh smell about them- which is freshly bleached with lotsa bleach.

      On the other hand the iris-hyacinth combo here in BdS is metallic, yes, and cool, but not sweet -and absolutely zero bleach- and that's probably what attracts me personally.

      Thanks for commenting!


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