Sonoma Scent Studio 101- Five to Get You Started

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So far in this series I have been concentrating on niche lines. A reader sent me an e-mail which made me realize independent perfumers also have large collections and some advice on where to start there would also be appreciated. The reader requested some insight into one of my very favorite independent perfume brands Sonoma Scent Studio.

Sonoma Scent Studio is the indie label that perfumer Laurie Erickson founded in 2004. Ten years later it is one of the premiere independent perfume labels out there. Despite there being twenty-one choices on her website she creates her perfumes at a sedate pace. I have been pleased to act as tester during the process a few times over the years. Ms. Erickson takes the time to source just the right raw materials, a trait common among the best indie perfumers. As a result the entire collection is one worth trying but if you need a place to start here are the five I would begin with.

laurie ericksonLaurie Erickson

Champagne de Bois– Ms. Erickson wanted to capture the effervescence of champagne and to do this she selected a number of aldehydes to provide the sparkle. This was paired with a spicy woody base Ms. Erickson had developed containing sandalwood and vetiver which are kicked up a notch with clove and amber. I’ve always felt this captures the fizz of fine champagne which tickles the nose before the wine refreshes the palate.

Tabac Aurea– There is the most photorealistic tobacco perfume I own. Ms. Erickson captures the smell of a tobacco leaf curing barn as you stand within breathing deeply of the drying tobacco leaves. It captures the narcotic sweetness of tobacco leaf by using a judicious amount of tonka and musk. Cedar brings home the wood of the barn. This all ends on a sweet amber and vanilla mix.

Wood Violet– I am not a fan of fruity florals but Ms. Erickson balances her mix of violet and plum so efficiently it even makes a grump like me smile. She wraps the core notes in cedar and sandalwood along with a spicy duo of cinnamon and clove. As much about the spice and woods as it is the plum and violet which is probably why I like it so much.

handsSMS(Photo: Avis Mandel)

Velvet Rose– There are few fragrances which capture their name better than Velvet Rose. Ms. Erickson makes a tactile rose of crushed red velvet. She keeps it very simple using a Damask rose as the center of her fragrance. She uses violet leaf and carnation to add green facets and a bit of clove-like floralcy, respectively, to surround the rose in the early going. In the base a fabulous patchouli provides depth and detail while the musk provides strength.

Cocoa Sandalwood– Ms. Erickson started her all-natural line with this stunning creation which does exactly what is advertised. Ms. Erickson takes cocoa and coffee absolute combined with cinnamon to create a deep dark cacao accord. This coats a renewable New Caledonian sandalwood. The absolutely brilliant choice to add peach lactone to keep this from being too desiccated is perfect. One of the finest natural perfumes I own.

Sonoma Scent Studio is a brand well worth the effort to seek out and she does offer a sample program so you can try before buying. The five choices above are a gateway to one of our best independent perfumers.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased of these perfumes.

Mark Behnke

Parfumerie Generale 101- Five to Get You Started

Pierre Guillaume has been producing perfumes since 2001 when he releases his first fragrance under his Parfumerie Generale label. That first perfume PG02 Coze was my introduction to this idiosyncratic perfumer. M. Guillaume is a perfumer who works on the more ethereal side of the perfumed spectrum. Many of his perfumes have an opaqueness to them that sets them apart from many other lines. That gauziness can be seen as a drawback by those who like a lot of oomph in their perfume. I find it draws me in close; to lean in to gather up the delicate tendrils with care. Over the past fourteen years the collection has grown to over 30 perfumes. Here are the five I would suggest are a good starting place.

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Pierre Guillaume

PG10 Aomassai– M. Guillaume has a reputation for composing great gourmand perfumes. In my opinion Aomassai is the greatest within the collection. A roasted hazelnut accord is decorated with caramel, cinnamon, licorice, and herbs. This is not an opulent gourmand it is a droll gourmand.

Querelle– This is the fragrance which makes me ask over and over why caraway is not used as a topnote alternative to bergamot. In Querelle M. Guillaume uses black caraway and sweet myrrh to draw you into a heart of rose and vetiver. Frankincense and ambergris finishes this which is my favorite of the entire Parfumerie Generale line.

L’Ombre Fauve– Even though I’ve said M. Guillaume likes to keep it lighter L’Ombre Fauve shows what he can do when he turns to the dark side. I have seen some of the more intense entries in the Parfumerie Generale line described as having a “furry” quality. L’Ombre Fauve might be the most prominent of the “furry” PG’s. Intense red amber, civet, and a cocktail of woods keep it simple but incredibly animalic.

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PG24 Papyrus de Ciane– M. Guillaume is a student of the history of perfume and for Papyrus de Ciane he wanted to use the classic Mousse de Saxe base that forms the foundation of the great Caron perfumes. M. Guillaume takes that starting point and imposes his style upon it. A veil of green galbanum, a watery green accord, and incense set up the darkness of the Mousse de Saxe. The success of this perfume is I never think of the original source of Mousse de Saxe I just enjoy a modern take on a classic base.

PG25 Indochine– M. Guillaume’s inspiration was a sepia toned photograph of the Mekong River. Indochine is a perfume of tints. A bit of pepper is cooled off by a breeze of cardamom. Rich honey is drizzled over a woody thanaka accord. Benzoin is the final ingredient. Indochine feels like it is unstuck in time both vintage and contemporary at the same time.

Parfumerie Generale is a line I often recommend and it has become much easier to experience as it is more widely available these days. Give these five a try and if they appeal to you there are many more worth trying.

Disclosure: This review was based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Montale 101- Five To Get You Started

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If there was a perfume line I was thinking really needed a Perfume 101 Montale Paris would be top of the list. Since 2003 eponymous perfumer Pierre Montale has been producing a prodigious amount of fragrances. His line was one of the first to really explore oud in all of its myriad configurations. M. Montale’s fascination with that note continues to the present day. Oud is so connected to the perception of the line that many are unaware there are some pretty amazing fragrances within the collection that do not have a drop of oud. One warning about this line, it is not for those who like their fragrances light or subtle; M. Montale creates extroverted powerhouses. It is that pedal to the metal attitude which makes Montale Paris one of my favorite lines. Here are the five I would start with if you are new to the line.

pierre montale

Pierre Montale

Black Aoud was my introduction to the classic oud and rose combination. This is so classic that to get Forest Gump on you it goes together like peas and carrots. All of the rough edges of oud are consumed in an inferno of intense rose. There is some patchouli and musk here but the sheer power of the rose and oud overwhelm everything. This was also my introduction to Laotian oud and the hint of floralcy within that particular version makes Black Aoud the perfect duet.

When asked to name my favorite amber Blue Amber is the one I name. Unlike Black Aoud where M. Montale just let the magic happen between the core notes. In Blue Amber he spends time surrounding the core with notes that complement and contrast. Geranium supports the spicy core, coriander contrasts it with green edges. Vanilla sweetens the amber only for patchouli to take it darker. If you love amber and have never tried this one add it to your list.

red vetyver

Red Vetyver has been described as Terre D’Hermes on steroids and while I understand that as a surface description I would say there is more going on here than a more intense imitation. A very pungent grapefruit is on top and this is the full grapefruit with the slightly sulfurous aspects on display. M. Montale then adds elemi to allow its lemony cool to soothe and a slug of black pepper to provoke. This is the place where Red Vetyver becomes its own perfume and the cedar and vetiver finishes it on a clean and green accord. This is one of the few citrus based fragrances I wear in the winter because it has a heft unusual within the genre.

Sweet Oriental Dream is M. Montale’s take on a gourmand. He makes the choice to recreate a vanilla rosewater confection adding in honey and almond for good measure. Of all of the gourmands I own this one is the one which makes me hungry.

As I said M. Montale is renowned for his capacity to use oud in so many ways. I would also venture he is even more proficient with vanilla as that note shows up throughout the collection and he knows how to tune it for the effect he is looking for. Vanille Absolu is what he thinks a vanilla soliflore should smell like. He takes a rich vanilla heart and swirls cinnamon, clove, and sandalwood around it. This is what I want vanilla to smell like rich and spicy.

Montale Paris is a line which can intimidate just by the sheer number of fragrances in the collection. You shouldn’t let that stop you from discovering one of the perfume lines which truly reflects one perfumer’s aesthetic. It really is a journey worth taking and any of the five suggested are good places to take your first steps.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle 101- Five To Get You Started

When I speak with Michael Edwards on the beginning of niche perfumery he can accurately names L’Artisan Parfumeur in 1978 and Annick Goutal in 1980 as the first niche lines. When I think of when niche perfumery really managed to breakthrough I go back to 2000 when Frederic Malle released the first nine perfumes in his Editions de Parfums brand. These were the first perfumes to feature the name of the perfumer on the bottle. It really was the beginning of my starting to take a stronger interest in the people behind the perfume. Over the last fourteen years and 21 total releases I can say that this is one of the strongest collections of fragrances on the market. There is not a mediocre one in the whole group. A particular style might not be to your taste but the quality and creativity is always prominently displayed. This is one of the best places for anyone interested in niche perfume to start and here are the five I would suggest you begin with.

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Frederic Malle

There are a plethora of citrus colognes but Jean-Claude Ellena’s Bigarade Concentree is one that stands way above the fray. There is fantastic bitter orange (bigarade) surrounded by the most gentle aldehydes. The heart is rose, cardamom, and a bit of textural pepper to coax the spiciness from the rose. It finishes with a golden hay note over cedar. This fragrance re-invigorated my interest in citrus fragrances all by itself.

Lys Mediterranee by Edouard Flechier is one of the most luminous perfumes I own. M. Flechier weaves three sources of lily raw materials to render a larger-than-life composite as the core of this fragrance. He adds orange blossom, angelica, and musk as the perfect complements to the uber-lily. If you want lily in your fragrance here is one of the best.

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Maurice Roucel

Musc Ravageur by Maurice Roucel has a bit of a rakish reputation as a lady-killer if you believe the stories told on the perfume forums. That has died down over time and now what remains is a fantastic ambery musk by one of the great perfumers working. Starting with a flare of tangerine and lavender which are spiced up wiith clove and cinnamon we reach the base notes which form the ambery musky accord. I was well married by the time I found this but it is one of the few fragrances I wear which generates unsolicited compliments, so maybe its reputation is deserved.

For so many years the baseline tuberose perfume was Robert Piguet’s Fracas and nothing came close until Dominique Ropion’s Carnal Flower. M. Ropion chooses an eclectic company of complementary and contrasting notes for the tuberose. He uses eucalyptus to accentuate the mentholated quality a the heart of the flower. He adds coconut to provide an oily sweet contrast. A few other white flowers join in to create the other great tuberose fragrance.

Pierre Bourdon showed that he was more than the perfumer who created Cool Water when he made French Lover (aka Bois D’Orage). When I smelled this when it was released in 2007 it felt like a more sophisticated version of my old staple Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. It doesn’t smell anything like it but it was the one fragrance I continually chose over it once it was in my perfume cabinet. M. Bourdon uses the rich spiciness of pimento to lead into a finely balanced heart of iris and galbanum. It is a greener floral because of the presence of the galbanum and it keeps the iris from getting powdery. A musk and vetiver base finish this off. If I was still prowling the night looking for a connection French Lover would be one of my choices.

As I mentioned above the entire Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle line is consistently excellent. So start here but do yourself a favor and keep on going through the whole line it is a magical ride.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.

Mark Behnke  

Tom Ford 101: Five to Get You Started

The idea for this series came when I took a friend to the Tom Ford fragrance boutique at Bergdorf-Goodman. His eyes began to spin and he looked at me with the silent plea of, “Where do I start?” I realized that, as I did that day, I could help others navigate the mega-collections that are out there.

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Tom Ford

Tom Ford, on the fragrance end, has been a mix of trendsetter and the ad campaigns have been provocative; needlessly provocative some would say. Do a search and you can make up your own mind on the PR side of things. On the fragrance side of things this is an overall very strong collection which is split into two different tiers. The Signature Collection comprises the mainstream releases and can be found at most of the masstige store chains. The Private Blend Collection is more exclusive and carries a price to match that exclusivity. There are currently 10 scents in the signature Collection and 29 Private Blends. Here is where I think you should start.

Black Orchid was the first fragrance release, in 2006, by the new Tom Ford Beauty. Tom Ford would join forces with Karen Khoury as Creative Directors on the fragrance side, a partnership which continues to the present day. Perfumers David Apel and Pierre Negrin perfected an exotic orchid accord at the heart. The top notes pierce it with a ray of citrus sunshine and it takes root in a base of incense, sandalwood, and patchouli. Marketed to women I have turned so many men onto this it is one of my favorite gender bender fragrances.

A year later the Private Blends would arrive and Tobacco Vanille would start a trend of ultra-rich tobacco fragrances. Perfumer Olivier Gillotin uses the leaves and the flower of tobacco to create a narcotic hypnotic heart. Spices pick up the dried leafy quality of the tobacco but a precision tuned vanilla paired with benzoin coaxes the sweet undercurrent to the foreground and makes this the ultimate comfort scent.

Harry Fremont

Harry Fremont

Grey Vetiver was released in 2009 as part of the Signature Collection and was composed by perfumer Harry Fremont. This might be the easiest to wear vetiver fragrance on the market. Citrus and sage opens into a floral heart of orris and nutmeg before vetiver, amber, and oakmoss combine for a fantastic finish. Grey Vetiver is one of my favorite suggestions for a workplace perfume as it is very interesting without being so extroverted to make people take unusual notice.

Perfumer Rodrigo Flores-Roux is one of the most amazing perfumers when to comes to taking a floral note you think you know well and illuminating things you’ve never noticed before. In 2011 he did this with jasmine in the Private Blend, Jasmin Rouge. M. Flores-Roux takes an unapologetically whole jasmine with all of its skanky indoles in place and surrounds it with clary sage, cardamom, and a gorgeous cinnamon. This transforms the jasmine into something completely different than I am used to wearing.  All of this is on a leather and vanilla foundation. This is as sophisticated as jasmine gets in a perfume.

There is no triter note in perfume than lavender it has been used and abused in too many cheap compositions. Perfumer Yann Vasnier completely rehabilitates that reputation with the Private Blend Lavender Palm. By using the two sources of lavender together and expertly blending them with clary sage, fizzing aldehydes, moss, and resins; Lavender Palm feels like that kid from the wrong side of the tracks who has become a big success. This has become my summer lavender staple since its release.

As I mentioned above the Signature Collection can easily be found at upscale department stores. The Private Blends are more exclusive but still quite widely available.

Disclosure: I purchased bottles of all the fragrances mentioned.

Mark Behnke

Etat Libre d’Orange 101- Five to Get You Started

One of the perfume lines which lives up to the ideals behind niche perfumery is Etat Libre d’Orange. There is almost no other niche brand which so fearlessly pushes the boundaries. Owner and creative director Etienne de Swardt is audacious in the perfumes he oversees for his label. Right from the first eleven fragrances released in the fall of 2006 he laid down a marker that Etat Libre d’Orange was going to be very different. In those first releases is the perfume widely regarded as the worst smelling perfume ever, Secretions Magnifiques. Just do a search and you will see videos of people pulling horrified faces and blog or forum posts plumbing new depths of verbiage trying to describe the experience. I, personally, think it is a masterpiece of perfumery but it is really only for those ready to approach it on its own terms instead of as a rite of passage.

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Etienne de Swardt

Because of Secretions Magnifiques there are many who are wary of exploring the other fragrances in the line and that is a shame because I believe Etat Libre d’Orange is one of the best niche lines on the market. There is not a boring fragrance in the collection and many of them are exciting for the singularity of their existence. If you’ve been wanting to give Etat Libre d’Orange a try and want to sort of slowly expose yourself to the aesthetic and attitude of the line I have five suggestions which might make things a little easier.

Fat Electrician was released in 2009 and was composed by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu. M. Maisondieu created a fantastically nutty vetiver by combining chestnut cream with the vetiver. It is bracketed by fulsome olive leaves on top and sweetly resinous myrrh and opoponax in the base. This is vetiver given a new twist.

Fils de Dieu was released in 2012 by perfume Ralf Schwieger. Hr. Schwieger created a Technicolor fragrance which pays homage to all things Southeast Asian. It percolates early with a palpable humidity which contains lime, ginger, shiso, cardamom, coconut and rice. By the end it turns into a sensual accord of leather, vetiver, and castoreum. One of my top 5 new fragrances in 2012.

Tilda-Swinton-ELO

Like This was released in 2010 by perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui. Like This was Tilda Swinton’s celebuscent and she chose to collaborate with Etat Libre d’Orange. If every celebrity labeled fragrance was as good as Like This that segment of the market would be less looked down upon. Mme Bijaoui uses immortelle as the core of Like This and then proceeds to swaddle it in layers of ginger, tangerine, neroli, pumpkin, vetiver, and musk. This all comes together gloriously and Like This has been my Thanksgiving fragrance for the last three years.

Noel au Balcon was released in 2007 also by Antoine Maisondieu. Based on the name this is supposed to be for the Holiday Season but I wear it year-round because it is an easy to wear honey focused fragrance. M. Maisondieu uses the honey as a matrix to trap apricot and tangerine along with labdanum and cinnamon. It all eventually releases to vanilla, vetiver, and musk base.

Rien was released in 2006 by perfumer Antoine Lie. Of all of the very challenging Etat Libre d’Orange fragrances I think Rien is the most approachable. M. Lie created a dynamic intense fragrance which starts with the fizz of aldehydes which reveal a cumin and pepper-laced rose before ending on a leather and frankincense base. It is sharp and piquant and resinous and animalic and completely gorgeous. Of all of the first releases it was Rien which really sealed my enjoyment of the line.

M. de Swardt has a very arch sense of humor which plays itself out over the labels and names of the fragrances but if you can put aside your wariness because of Secretions Magnifiques and your raised eyebrows at the names and imagery an exploration of Etat Libre d’Orange is as good as it gets in niche perfume.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes that I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Creed 101- Five To Get You Started

The House of Creed is one of those perfume producers which elicits strong opinions for and against. What is not up for debate is it is one of the best-selling niche fragrance houses in the world. Creed is many perfumista’s entrée to the world of niche perfume and it instills an unusual loyalty to those who admire the brand. One of the things detractors point to is the reliance on the celebrated history of the Creed brand and unashamedly talking about the trendsetters who have supposedly worn the brand over the years. Olivier Creed is the current head perfumer the sixth generation to have that position. He is also currently training his son, Erwin, to become the seventh generation, assuring the continuance of the brand for years to come.  Creed perfumes are easy to find but because of their popularity there are many counterfeits out there. If you are going to dip your nose into Creed it is best to start by trying from a reputable source.

olivier and erwin creed

Olivier and Erwin Creed

Green Irish Tweed was released in 1985 and could be said to be the fragrance which would begin this current phase of popularity Creed enjoys. It really lives up to the green in its name especially in the early phases of development as lemon, verbena, and violet leaves combine to form a clover soft accord. The heart is a much understated orris which is more opulent than floral. This leads to what is pretty much a signature base note accord to many Creed fragrances with ambergris and sandalwood. Green Irish Tweed is a quiet fragrance and often when wearing it I will think it is gone only to have someone comment on how nice I smell. Of anything I own Green Irish Tweed is one of those few which elicits spontaneous compliments.

In 1987 Bois du Portugal was released and it is one of my very favorite woody lavender perfumes I own. Creed says in their press release that this was Frank Sinatra’s signature fragrance. Whenever I wear it I always get a very 60’s vibe to it. In my imagination this is the fragrance I expect Don Draper of “Mad Men” to be wearing. It is simple as bergamot and lavender are the opening notes and the Creed ambergris and sandalwood base is tweaked with a healthy addition of vetiver. Bois du Portugal is a great perfume and very close to my favorite in the line.

Love in White was released in 2005 and the very first bottle was gifted to then-First Lady Laura Bush; the current occupant of the White House, Michele Obama, is also said to wear this. This is a fresh bouquet of three of the best floral ingredients of orris, jasmine, and rose. They are kept light and not as bold as they can be in other fragrances. The base is, again, the Creed ambergris/sandalwood signature with a bit of vanilla and cedar to complete this variation.

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Millesime Imperial was released in 1995 as aquatic perfumes were ascendant. Millesime Imperial shows a pedestrian genre like aquatics can be infused with a bit of class. The citrus opening of Millesime Imperial is lemon and orange and each of these notes is distinct in the way they display themselves. The overplayed ozonic notes, which exemplify the aquatic, is swathed in a decadent orris. It could have come off like putting designer lipstick on a pig; instead it is like draping a tuxedo jacket over a t-shirt elevating the common to something less so. The base is the same as the others before but with a bit of musk to add a bit of animalic growl to the signature sandalwood and ambergris.

In my opinion Creed has been on a bit of a roll over the last three years or so. With the release of Aventus in 2010 that roll was just beginning. Meant to evoke the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, Aventus has a unique progression of notes. An unusual fruity opening of blackcurrant, apple and surprisingly prominent pineapple are combined in a very pleasant olfactory fruit salad without ever getting out of control. The heart of jasmine rose, birch, and patchouli twist the floral stalwarts with traditional woody contrast. The base is not the Creed signature as ambergris is there but this time oakmoss and musk round out the final phase. Aventus breaks the Creed mold in every way and that has continued over the last few releases.

Creed is such a popular house becase the great majority of their perfumes smell great and whether you buy the PR or not I know I always feel a little more elegant when I’m wearing Creed.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these perfumes I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Bond No. 9 101-Five To Get You Started

There are few perfume houses as prolific as Laurice Rahme’s Bond No. 9. Since she founded it with sixteen fragrances based on New York City neighborhoods in 2003 there are currently over 70 Bond No. 9 fragrances to choose from. I am going to suggest five of those to start your exploration of this uniquely New York perfume house. Bond No. 9 has some exclusives for Saks Fifth Avenue and Harrod’s and I’m not including any from those collections because of their exclusivity. The main collection Bond No. 9 fragrances are some of the most accessible niche perfumes to be found and they should be easier to find than many other niche brands.

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Laurice Rahme

Chinatown is arguably the best perfume in the entire line. Perfumer Aurelien Guichard was a rising star in 2005 and his modern chypre underneath a soft fruity floral opening is incredible. If I was making a list of the best perfumes released post-2000 Chinatown would be near the top.

New Haarlem was one of two perfumes by perfumer Maurice Roucel for Bond No. 9, the other is Riverside Drive. M. Roucel creates an abstract version of a coffee gourmand fragrance. There is definitely coffee at the core but he adds in things no barista would think of like lavender and patchouli. The latter is really what turns New Haarlem into one of the better gourmand fragrances on the market.

high line bottle

2010’s High Line by perfumer Laurent LeGuernec is inspired by the recaptured railroad line turned into urban green space in downtown New York. M. LeGuernec composed a fragrant sonnet to springtime and growing things. The opening freshly cut grass accord is joined by a fresh bouquet of spring flowers most notably tulips. This is all laid over a base accord of sun warmed concrete after a spring shower. The smell of nature in a big city setting makes High Line one of my favorite spring fragrances.

In 2007, Aurelien Guichard created Silver Bond (aka Andy Warhol Silver Factory) it is a sheer incense fragrance with a metallic twinge throughout. It opens with a very sheer citrus, lavender, and incense opening. A combination of violet and iris are used to enhance their sharper more metallic facets which adds the sort of weirdly artistic flourish to what could be a straightforward incense fragrance without it. The base notes go towards a much deeper incense vibe.

Success is the Essence of New York (aka Andy Warhol Success is a Job in New York) is a grown-up version of Calvin Klein Obsession for Men. Perfumer Claude Dir takes a softly spicy opening centered on cardamom into a floral accord of tuberose, rose, jasmine, and orris to fashion a depth form those notes without becoming cloying. The warm base of amber, vanilla, and patchouli serves to round this out.

If you’ve been itching to take a perfumed tour of New York courtesy of Bond No. 9; grab the olfactory subway and make your first stops on the five suggestions above.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Serge Lutens 101- Five To Get You Started

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I’ve been doing this a long time and as new brands come, and go, I tend to be there at the beginning which allows me to grow along with the perfume house. I often wonder how somebody new to the world of niche perfumery deals with some of the larger lines that they hear so much about. When you are faced with trying to figure out a place to start you generally have to rely on your best guess at what will work for you. With this series I am going to take some of the larger perfume houses and suggest five introductory fragrances as a place to start your journey. First to get this treatment is Serge Lutens.

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Serge Lutens (l.) and Christopher Sheldrake (r.)

Serge Lutens was established in 1992 and for over twenty years Creative Director Serge Lutens and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake have been creating some of the best perfumes in the niche perfume space. With over 40 perfumes released under the Serge Lutens label it is a formidable task to figure out where to start. With Serge Lutens the best place to start is truly at the beginning.

Feminite du Bois was originally created under the Shiseido label but now is under the Serge Lutens imprint. I remember smelling Feminite du Bois for the first time and being absolutely fascinated that a fragrance with Feminite in the name had such a pronounced cedar heart. The real genius here is the pairing of violet with that cedar note. The core accord is bracketed by orange and a trio of spicy notes to create a vibrancy one rarely finds and it is a hallmark of Serge Lutens fragrances that will appear time and again. Feminite du Bois underwent a re-formulation when Serge Lutens acquired it from Shiseido but this is one of those which manage to keep the spirit of the original alive.   

In 2000 with the release of Ambre Sultan this style would become more refined with another inspired pairing of herbal notes with a warm amber. Bay leaves, coriander, oregano, and angelica root provide a feisty contrast to the languorous warmth of amber made even warmer with the additional resins of benzoin, styrax and a full suite of balsamic notes. This is often the fragrance which turns many into amber fanatics.

sa majeste la rose bottle

Also in 2000 Sa Majeste La Rose shows M. Sheldrake’s adeptness with a simple rose soliflore. By using an opulent Moroccan Rose as his nucleus he then sends into orbit around it lychee, clove, and honey to impart a mobility to the rose which elevates it to something much more than just a soliflore. Sa Majeste La Rose is one of the most versatile entries in the entire Serge Lutens line perfect for a wide variety of uses.

One of the hallmarks of the Serge Lutens style is a “stewed fruit” accord which pops up frequently. In 2004’s Daim Blond it shows up swathed in cardamom, orris, and suede leather. You will swear there are dried apricots in the note list, they aren’t listed but they are there, and this is a good place to see if you like “stewed fruit” in your fragrance.

Five O’clock au Gingembre is my last choice as it shows the skill of M. Sheldrake with a gourmand in the Serge Lutens style. An exquisite tea accord leads to a mix of gingerbread, ginger, and cinnamon which have an unusual warmth that will make you think a tray of gingerbread cookies are cooling somewhere nearby. It slowly settles into a honeyed cacao and vanilla finish that manages to keep from turning into treacle and always stays terrific.

Serge Lutens is one of the perfume houses that really produces quality fragrances year in and year out and if you’ve been needing a place to dive in the five above make for a good place to introduce yourself to Uncle Serge.

Disclosure: This review is based on bottles of these fragrances which I purchased.

Mark Behnke