Although you are probably used to my perfumed hyperbole by now, I think I may be about to exceed my own limits of slick lusciousness when I recall and recount how I reacted to buying a bottle of Serge Lutens Cèdre.
It was strange. I had had a sample, one of those black Lutens’ mini sample sprays that perfumistas all know so well, and felt, at the time, that Cèdre was perhaps just another sweet, spiced boisé like all the rest . Which I love. I adore Féminité Du Bois, particularly in vintage parfum – it is like being lost in a dark-corridored, plum-teaked labyrinth, and I enjoy the whole ‘Bois’ series in fact – Violette, Musc, Et Fruits – Chergui, Daim Blond, Rousse; all the classic Lutensian perfumes of that style: I enjoy their stylized, urban richness.
Then, one day, though, when told by James Craven of Les Senteurs that I should try it again, that he really loved this perfume, I sat down and properly concentrated on this lesser-loved Lutens and there it was: suddenly there was something in that animalic, Abyssinian tuberose, spices, and sweet, dripping mess of Atlas cedar from Morocco that made me go a bit, suddenly go ga ga.
The combination locked.
The attractive/repulsive, almost cow-pat like richesse (glistening! too sweet! too carnal!): the ambered, cinnamon notes burring like columns of treacle beneath the masculinized African tuberoses and their flicks of clove, almost sublimated and disappeared by the sun-drenched wood sap, yet there, wide-lipped and smouldering underneath…… I knew for sure, at that moment, that I would have to go right out and buy myself a bottle.
There is something about buying a Serge Lutens in Japan. You have to go to Isetan in Shinjuku, the only place he is sold, the most prestigious department store in Tokyo, where your purchase is checked for contents and spray function; packaged up; wrapped, and where the rigorously polite sales assistant will insist on accompanying you to the door, not letting you hold on to your property until she has handed it over to you, graciously, with a stately, appreciative bow.
Somehow, therefore, you feel that you just can’t get the bottle out of the box on the street or the train for a quick sniff and peruse, though of course I have (yes, sacrilegiously, I do love Nuit De Cellphane, and Louve! My god, Louve, my baby – and then Un Bois Vanille and of course, my favourite of them all, Borneo 1834…….all of which have been whipped out on the train and inhaled, furtively and surreptiously)…..For some reason, though, Cèdre, an anti-intuitive purchase for me in some ways, remained in the box emballaged; untapped; until I got her home.
Duncan was in bed. I was in my raspberry-red hospital pyjamas that I had kept as a souvenir after my stay at the Royal Free in London for pneumonia all those years ago ( I lived ! I fully recovered! Against the doctors’ miserable, pessimistic advice (…you will never be the same again….)!!
There. In my hands. Ready. Flowing from side to ambered side against the meniscus. The plenitude of a full bottle of perfume, a plenteousness that can can tip me into a crazed, disinhibiting mania of just wanting to just pour the entire thing over my body, even as the fierce desire to preserve as much as possible of the liquid acts simultaneously as a puritanical, checking brake mechanism.
This tension: sheer, wanton avidity versus measured practicality and pragmatism, the desire to just fling the stuff about in wild abandon even though, or because you know, it is expensive and you should thus be trying to preserve every last, precious, drop to make it last and prolong the pleasure.
I love these contradictory impulses.
And over the years I have almost lost it with certain perfumes, especially sweet, vanillic orientals, and used them up in practically no time at all through my sheer unbrokered excitement. But that night with Cèdre was probably one of the most ridiculous. The initial top accord ( which the base never quite lives up to in all honesty, becoming merely a pleasant spiced amber note that could probably have done with being amped up a bit, yes but) that initial stage, on that first night, just sent me into a frenzy. Not just spraying on my arm, my neck, my hand, all over, and gnawing, inhaling myself like a prisoner gulping at fresh air on his first day of release, but also dipping the strings of my pyjama trousers right into the bottle, right down to the depths, watching the perfume rising up, absorbing up the tuberosian nectar (it’s the honey; yes the honey in the scent that binds the sweet cedar essential oil with those tenored flowers, and that ambery, lascivious feel-up that malingers underneath it all, that had me splashing the perfume all over the room with my trouser strings, sighing and flapping about consciouslessly with fierce, perfumed pleasure, overheated; lost in some strange, mannish, catnip ecstacy.
And when I came to, after however long it was ( I have no idea), I would say that at least a quarter of the bottle had gone. In one sitting.
And then: nothing. Since that single, fickle orgy I have used the scent only on a number of occasions, always enjoying that beginning, as my synapses have probably been seared with that one mad evening and my smell brain immediately thus rises to the occasion upon smelling it. But on the few times I have worn the perfume out in the daytime or evening somewhere, a few hours into its development, I start to feel almost bored of its tempered, generic amber smell, and it never feels quite right.
No, it is that initial rush I love in Cèdre. The tantalizing foreplay; the sun-drenched, dulcet liquid and its wooden, oozing possibilities.
The blind lust.