It was something of a relief to escape from the chemical confines of Boots The Chemist (exactly the same nose horror as Amsterdam Schiphol) and, before getting the train back to my parents’ house, having a quick, cursory sniff around Birmingham Selfridges.
I was dismayed at my having fallen away by the wayside in my knowledge of the most current niche brands, however – quite a few new groove houses that I had never even heard of – but pleased to encounter, finally (as they have not yet crossed the sea to Tokyo and probably never will), the niche-within-niche collection of Serge Lutens, The Section d’Or.
It was inevitable that such a spendy quintet should emerge. With the exponential gap between high street and exclusive getting ever wider in price and scope, the original set of Serge Lutens was starting to look curiously cheap. These new perfumes are most certainly not, but before we get to all that, let’s see how this exotic assemblage actually smells.
With provocative names such as Cannibale and Renard Le Constrictor we can be forgiven for perhaps expecting big, outrageous olfactions that will re-establish the Lutens/ Sheldrake collaboration as a creative fragrance force to be reckoned with. Instead, while all are good in their own way and I would possibly even consider wearing two (which, in this age of unappealing muck is gargantuan praise coming from me), only one strikes me as going out slightly on a limb and breaking new ground for the house, while the others are somewhat denser rewordings of familiar themes.
To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a full on amber release from this house since the classic Ambre Sultan (2000), which is a perfume I have worn myself with its rich, effulgent apothecary of a sultry, but which has gradually become meek and attenuated in its far blander, recent reformulation. Cannibale takes up a similar theme but with an emphatic celeriac/ fennel note, plus a more macho-ish, almost Axe body spray streak underneath that I consider offputting but which could definitely work as a manly, ambrish hybrid. Not deserving of a cannibal though, who would surely smell effortlessly more monstrous, and/or seductive.
‘L’Haleine Des Dieux’ or Breath Of The Gods, is more appealing to me. A smoother, more quietly rapturous and wearable Ambre Sultan, but without the quirky, and to me, slightly unpleasant herb/spice dustish facets that I never truly liked in Sultran toned right down, alongside a fresher, more floral /citrus undertone that makes the perfume more seamless and luminescent. I could wear this, definitely, as a straight amber, even if in truth I have to declare that it contains nothing divine.
Sidi Bel Abbes is the most conventionally masculine scent that the Lutens house has ever produced. It is an interesting hybrid of East and West tropes, combining dense dark Arab conventions that remind me of an afternoon I once spent in an Arabian perfume shop in Kuala Lumpur’s China town, and a hairy, eighties sexuality that smells like Naples circa 1982. I can’t say I like this exactly, as it is almost brutishly smooth and hair-oiled – leering – yet at the same time, if the right (preferably Middle Eastern, hirsute hunk) were to approach me with some of this sprayed on his thighs and upper torso (and no deodorant), I can’t say definitively that I could actually resist.
Far more up my own street personally is Cracheuse De Flammes, or Flame Spitter, which is a beautiful rose jammy raspberry licked foreshow of a coral pink perfume that smelled perfect on my skin ( I kept sniffing and sniffing), with a quite gorgeous throw and crystalline demeanour; a kaleidoscope of fruit flower and spices with a soap creamy underthrow whose nearest recognisable relatives in the Serge Lutens canon would probably be Fille De Berlin and Vitriol D’Oeillet, but more appealing to me than either, mainly because it does what I like best in a perfume – namely become, eventually, a moreish and delectable skin scent (despite the name this is a very homely comforting dry down, clean and floral), while stimulating the mind and senses in the opening light diffusing salvos. Bravo – except for the price. I was quite genuinely stunned to hear the sales assistant coolly say £480, when I had been expecting at most half that. Much as I like the scent, it simply doesn’t merit such a tag in my view: the difference in luxuriousness and inventiveness between this range and the ‘standard’ one is not so noticeable as to necessitate such a huge luxe chasm. Still, if you have that sort of cash to spare and like optimism-drenched rose scents, this jammy little charmer is worth a splash.
As is Renard Le Constrictor, a silky, alluring and peculiar orange blossom violet somewhere in the Indianish ballpark of Guerlain’s Insolence eau de toilette: lurid, heady and possibly quite hypnotic on the right person who wants a perfume that is a touch left field and out of the ordinary, something striking . Duncan hated it immediately, but then he would , as a confirmed detester of orange blossom in any form (which today he memorably described as ‘residual hormones in a bathroom’ – and I know what he means, even if I remain more open and persuadable on the neroli and orange blossom front). Compared to the original flirty, citric room-opener Fleurs D’Oranger,though, this is quite plummy and mysterious, serpentine even, which, given some of the bland and uninspired recent releases from Monsieur Lutens, gives us hope that there is still some imagination and sensual exotica left in the old fox yet.