We have been convulsed. A ranting playboy demagogue is soon to become the most powerful man in the world at the head of a political party that believes that climate change is a ‘hoax’, and is intent on de-ratifying the historic Paris Accord – possibly the only chance left there is to still make a difference to the planet. Vice President Pence believes in conversion therapies for homosexuals, something akin to psychological torture and which is known to be very damaging spiritually to the individual concerned; entire geopolitical tectonics have been shifted overnight: in Japan, there is a terrified scramble for Prime Minister Abe, himself a nationalist hawk, to try to work out what D.T. is all about and whether the threatened phasing out of America’s military support for Japan and South Korea will leave us at the mercy of the insane nuclear fantasies of another dictator, the ridiculous Kim Jong Un, just across the pond and who could obliterate us in an instant if he so desired, not to mention the renewed aggressiveness of China…….

I could go on, but like the name of this latest perfume by Serge Lutens, it goes without saying that this week has certainly been something of a ‘Baptism Of Fire’. I don’t actually think that I am exaggerating. Yes, I am known to be melodramatic, overemphatic, even way over the top; I do exult in extremes of emotion and the explosive power of language, but that is more to simply try and nail the essence of a feeling than to overembellish it into a lie or a soundbite: this last week, for instance – well I can’t really even say ‘for instance’, can I, because it is all completely unprecedented: there has never been an event like it in my lifetime, and although I expected it deep in my heart and gut (last Tuesday night, when the world still seemed kind of sane, I was talking about the next day’s election with two very bright students of mine and they asked me who I thought was going to win and I honestly told them: my instincts tell me definitely Donald Trump, but the optimist in me is intellectually trying to say Clinton, but I knew (incidentally, I don’t understand why many of you actually didn’t…I do think that the dreamy idealism of many liberal people is intensely problematic…….just because you might have that extra dose of empathy and compassion running naturally in your bloodstream doesn’t mean that half the rest of the world does…..get real)…..anyway, blah, blah,blah it seems to have become impossible to write about anything else whatsoever, let alone try and write on here a new perfume review.

But I shall endeavour to do so nonetheless (and please forgive this rather supercilious tone of mine today – I think I am still trying to contain the fury of my furnace…don’t forget that my stage alter ego is Burning Bush – and never has that name felt more right nor suited to the times).

While many people across America, perhaps understandably, rejoice in the mere fact of tumultuous change (because let’s face it, the prospect of four years or more of Hillary Clinton were rather uninspiring), the rest of us, and most of the world, are full of fear. It has been an extraordinary week, exhausting emotionally and psychically when you are trying to get on with your job and your life and these cataclysmic events are going on all around you. It feels as if life as we know it is coming to an end. And perhaps it is.

At the same time, for mental wellness’ sake, a person cannot let That Man invade his or her consciousness for too many hours of the day (it struck me a couple of days after the election just how much psychological space the Orange One must have been occupying in the Mind of Humanity these last few days (and weeks, and months..)….like a great Satanic scourge coursing through the brain cells and soul systems of much of the planet: it is a face and voice that one cannot abide yet it fills up your brain all the same against your will, like a rapist…when I saw the photos of him gloating in the paper the next day I literally felt my chest compressing in a kind of asphyxiating panic at the prospect of my mind being dominated by such a shallow, opportunistic dick for the next four years, at the thought of what he could do with and to the world, and my absolute rage and disgust towards the crude, foolish suckers who voted for him….god, I could go on and on and on but the whole point of this post was to try and move on to the next stage, to get back to perfume, or something not related to this unholy gaggle.)



(sorry, just vomiting up some fire…..)

In any case. The only reason for my choosing this particular perfume today in order to try and move on (in vain), is obviously because of its name, in keeping with the recent more exclamatory and Biblical sounding perfumes being released from the Serge Lutens range (suited to the haranguingly apocalyptic times we are living in), as if the labels he puts on the bottles will detract our attention from their more lacklustre, attenuated nature. They are still nice, and almost always smell-worthy, but La Religieuse, L’Haleine Des Dieux, Cannibale, Cracheuse de Flammes and their ilk are not the thunderbolt revelations their names might suggest. It is as if, like a certain person we were talking about before, their bark is predictably harsher than their bite (which is what I am really hoping will be the case). Still, Baptême Du Feu is pleasing to the senses, and quite original, in relation to the vast majority of either mainstream or even niche perfumes that very usually smell along quite similar lines. This latest release (part of the middle-tier black labelled line, not the ‘cheapie’ originals nor the recent, extravagantly priced Section D’Or gamut), I would describe as a spiced, balsamic-aromatic, a curious creation that is ostensibly a gingerbread perfume (fresh, taut notes of ginger, cinnamon and mouth-smacking mandarin) over an imaginative contradiction of powdery osmanthus, benzoin, ambrette and castoreum that unexpectedly tilts the perfume, despite its semi-gourmand oriental overtures, into the realm of the eighties’ masculine: a mid-level Lutens that I can’t quite get a handle on myself  – though I am very pleased by its uncategorizability in this fervidly labellous times- yet one that I would certainly gladly be sat next to on a person, male or female, for a couple of hours, in order get to know this fragrance more intimately. It does have something that slightly draws me in. Even, vaguely, a touch of mystery.

But though the grand doyen of Parisian perfume is still going strong after all these sleek, luxuriant years (“ My emotions are fluid. Like liquid wax poured into a mould, they determine what seduces me—like this gingerbread heart”), we, the perfume cognoscenti, are perhaps now less likely to take each of his pronouncements as seriously as we did in the days when Serge Lutens first crashed down beautifully onto the perfumed planet like Bowie in the Man Who Fell To Earth over a quarter of a century ago and each (pseudo?) poetic enunciation we took, almost, to be like  the words of a saviour. We are wiser now, and can see through the bluster. And I am hoping that this also holds true in other realms of the world right now as well, that grand intonements that can terrify or thrill the soul, just on the surface level, be they aesthetic, or political, can instead turn out, like this pleasing but ultimately somewhat disappointing perfume, to be more gentle, hollow, innocuous banalities.


Filed under Ginger

26 responses to “THROUGH THE FIRE: : : : : BAPTEME DU FEU by SERGE LUTENS (2016)

  1. I am wrung out by the whole election thing and also by at least one of my well-meaning American liberal friends unloading some “you white people” rhetoric from an online source demanding that it is now my duty to make my racist/sexist/etc. Trump-voting friends and family see the error of their ways. Being Canadian, I don’t have any, but the patronizing “sure, it’ll be hard work, but you and your attitude of white privilege screwed us in the first place and so we call the shots now and you owe us” is blaming and shaming at its most unfair and hurtful (regardless of whether or not I technically qualify) and only serves to increase animosity between groups: the last thing that country needs. Thank you for letting me get that off my chest.

    Now, to “Uncle” Serge. (Thank you for letting me read something soothing and interesting, some much-needed escapism, Neil.) He and I go back a long way and if I “owe” anyone it’s him/Chris Sheldrake for getting me into niche in the first place. Dismayed by Lutens’ reformulations, underwhelmed by stuff like La Fille de Berlin (sorry, to me that was a yawn of a rose, nothing dark or edgy about it), purely pissed-off at those premium-line $$$$ prices, and with lots of other houses competing for my affections, he’s lost a fair bit of ground with me. You’ve said it so well in this piece of writing and I appreciate how you’ve encouraged us to take a look at the larger picture with the same jaded detachment and see the potential for a less-catastrophic outcome.

    • I owe you also for that. Despite my own rage, I do at the same time wonder how productive it can be. And I hope to move beyond just this now on The Black Narcissus as well. I just read a very beautiful eulogy to Leonard Cohen in the New York Times, about his absolute and total yearning for the transience of beauty, and I always want the same.

      • I kind of just shot my mouth off there, actually, and it’s so cool that I feel safe enough to do that here with you. I’ve seen all sorts of replies from your readers since I’ve been following you, and you invariably respond as gently, thoughtfully and positively as you can, regardless. I must read that eulogy. I understand that yearning. I absolutely wouldn’t be able to cope without beauty, even if it is just the end of the season’s cherry-red tuberous begonias snipped from the garden and tucked into a pretty old vase in the sunlight of the kitchen window. That small act saved me today, along with a few shots of Annick Goutal Nuit Etoilée EdT. And reading you.

      • Would you do me a review of that, actually? I have a bottle but never have. I like to have guest reviewers on here sometimes and I love your writing style. You can send it to my email address: I don’t edit other people’s work so what you write will be what goes up. Nuit Etoilee ( a strange little perfume) could be just what we need right now, actually. I might have to get Duncan to wear it at the weekend.

  2. Susan

    Interesting that you would write about fire- there have been more than 20 wildfires in north Georgia and the Carolinas this fall, which is rare for this part of the country. The smoke rolled into Atlanta Wednesday morning (100 miles to the south), and the acrid smell and the brown haze suit my mood.

    • Which will mean that when it all clears you will enjoy the clear blue skies all the more….

    • Incidentally, I only recently realized that I am a fire sign: Sagittarius. For some reason I had assumed I was earth. But although I love heat, I am not attracted to fire at all – a total non pyromaniac. I love water. I have realized, though, that in actual fact the fire personality does make sense. I am pretty combustible!

  3. Neil, I love your blog…and nothing could be more appropriate at this time for you to write about than “fire”. I for one have been filled with fire ever since Mr. Drumpf has been elected. I still cannot fathom it nor understand it. I have been sad, angry and enraged at different times in the past week and yet at the same time. It is constantly in my mind and I do not know how I will survive four years of that buffoon being our President.

    • Which makes me realize that my own incandescence is perfectly natural and not exaggerated. I am not America, obviously, but I live in an American- influenced country and am a total aficionado of The New York Times so am doused in that country every day (plus virtually all my favourite film directors are from the U.S…so much about the country I do love). I am finding that by expressing my apoplexy it is helping. So rant away also, whenever you like!

  4. Yesterday I spent my Sunday drinking red wine and listening to Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, hoping to have some peace of mind. But this morning the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks, as it has every morning since the election results.

    • It is VERY hard to accept that particular human in that role. The mind just can’t accept it. It will take a long while, I think, but that is why the thing I put up the other day about the art resistance etc was so important to me. I am a highly sensitive person, I think (as are most of my readers, it would seem – I love this community!) but also a very angry one and quite strong at my core. I think having to justify my very existence at a young age, then asserting that right, then actually having a real life with real love and art and experience and preserving my integrity have meant that I don’t doubt really doubt my convictions. I KNOW that man is a dickhead – we all do. I still do want to try and give him a chance though, if you would believe such a thing. I don’t want the optimist in me to die.

      • That is one of the most comforting things I have read: that you want to give him a chance, that you don’t want the optimist in you to die. How evolved and enlightened is THAT? And brave, and strong. You gave me a huge gift, to hear another good person see past all this dickheadness to hope, to possibility. And hell, impeachment if necessary, goddamm it!!

  5. Steve L.

    Here in San Francisco, supposedly one of the more progressive cities on earth, would you like to know how many people turned out to vote? Fifty-four per cent. Yes, in this most bitter — and obviously important — of all elections, almost half the electorate was too busy, too disengaged, too apathetic, too damn lazy to cast a ballot, which incidentally can be done at home by mail. I’m afraid the world’s not going to become a better place until and unless more people care about something besides themselves.

  6. Unfortunately, your optimistic to give the dickhead a chance worked out just as lots of us thought. To have this monster in power during a pandemic has been a double disaster. That DH has caused so much chaos…every single day it’s something. The fact that I have survived during these past four years has been a form of a “miracle”. I believe he needs an “exorcism” more than a Baptism, I am “praying” that he will NOT have another four years to torture us. As far as Bapteme-du-feu, I have a bottle of that and need to revisit it. I know that lots of people did not like most of Serge’s religious series perfumes, but I actually like several of them. Perhaps I will wear one each day through November 3rd, and make a “novena” for Biden to win the election and cast the satanic DH out of his paradise.

    • I don’t believe this is any exaggeration. It is hard to overdo one’s feelings about how utterly pernicious the influence of this vile bloated hollowness has been.

      If you are reading this, Lucy – for some reason your comment got deleted : my apologies. I wanted it to go on longer. I find it placating to hear other people’s views on the topic. J people won’t engage with it and have a bland acceptance that drives me crazy.

  7. Robin

    If I weren’t an antitheist (by Christopher Hitchens’ definition) I’d be on my knees praying for Trump to be ousted.

  8. Robin

    I am encouraged, though, that since you wrote this piece four years ago the voices of moderation (John McWhorter, Jonathan Haidt et al) have become stronger and have validated my concerns in 2016 (which are even more concerning today). I think divisions have grown wider and forces more malevolent. Mainstream thought — feeling, more accurately — has become less fact-driven. I walk on eggshells more. I worry about the future.

    • Yes. I feel that I am not integrated, that everything is so FRACTIOUS and fractured. It is stunning that one angry, aggrieved individual can have such an impact on us all. He has invaded our psyches.

  9. Tara C

    DT has sucked all the latent poison in the American psyche to the surface and succeeded in creating more division than there has been since the Civil War. Whoever wins, it will be explosive.

    As for Bapteme du Feu, I really liked it when it first came out, but last summer I bought another bottle and it smelled like bug spray. It could be my nose though, it’s unreliable lately.

    • Really ?

      In what way unreliable ?

      That must be quite upsetting for a perfume lover.

      Are you in San Diego yet?

      • Tara C

        Still going through the final stages of menopause, hormone fluctuations seem to cause my odour perceptions to occasionally be off. I am still in the car, somewhere in Nebraska. A long torturous drive. The first hotel we stayed at was unspeakable.

      • Oh lord. ‘Somewhere in Nebraska’; to a Brit it sounds incredibly exciting, just like the road movie I will probably never live.

        I am sure the reality is somewhat different.

        I hope your nose recovers ( and the rest of the trip is far better ).

        Was it a filth pit?

      • Tara C

        It is not my idea of a good time. Nasty hotels, bad food, painfully long hours of sitting cramped in the car. The first hotel had assorted filth under the bed (rotting french fries, balls of hair, etc) and a grimy barely functional heater. We shivered under the thin blanket until I got up and laid all the bath towels and our jackets on top. I slept in my fleece jacket but had no pyjama bottoms as they got packed somewhere unfindable in the car (which is filled to the roof). We are now in Laramie Wyoming, a barren godforsaken place.

      • !!!

        Dear lord. You could write a full story on this. I am gagging at the filth but even more horrified by having to shiver under the towels. Such situations make me irrational, and could lead to murder.

      • ( apologies for destroying the zen )

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