One Thousand Scents

Friday, February 27, 2009

Red-Letter Day: Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge

I usually hear about, and read about, scents before I get a chance to try them, one of the disadvantages of living in the (relative) sticks. Serge Lutens' Chypre Rouge was launched in the middle of 2006, and I'm only just getting around to trying it now, though better late than never. When I originally read the list of notes, I assumed that "fruit gums" meant resins from fruit trees: I didn't know how they would differ from other tree resins, but Christopher Sheldrake, Serge Lutens' perfumer, seems to know what he's doing. (The official list of notes: thyme, pine needles, pecans, fruit gums, honey, beeswax, jasmine, patchouli, amber, vanilla, moss, musk.)

After having worn Chypre Rouge almost obsessively for the last three days, I can tell you that "fruit gums" doesn't mean the gum or resin from any kind of tree. It means fruit gums. Candy. Gumdrops without the sugar coating. I think it smells more like wine gums, actually, because there's a boozy/winy overtone to the whole opening, but it's candy nonetheless.

The composition reads to me as three big, solid objects laid side by side, or three acts of a play; the elements don't really segue into one another, but just start and stop. The first piece is those fruit gums, mixed with red licorice, stewed rhubarb compote, and red wine. It is very strange and yet enormously compelling. Some people find the opening too sweet; I rather like sweet scents and find Chypre Rouge just sweet enough, with the slight harshness of the wine carving through the cooked sugar. (I wore it to work yesterday and found myself wondering if people would be asking me what I'd been eating. Nobody mentioned it, fortunately, so obviously I had been judicious enough; but it is foody, though not in a gourmand way.) It is also very red; the "rouge" in the name is aptly applied.

The second act is rather spiny; the sweetness drops away and exposes a sharpish core, hard to describe but suggestive of acidic fruit and raw spices. I'm not in love with the middle section of the scent; I miss the sugar, frankly.

The base is not at all that of a chypre. There may well be moss of some sort in there, but it's not the usual oakmoss. Instead, the sweetness returns--a neat little trick!--in a red-tinged cloud of honey, patchouli, and amber. It's long-lasting, good for eight hours or more.

The liquid, as you can see from the picture, is a deep, intense red, which is a bit of a shock when you spray it from an opaque sample sprayer and see a scarily red splat of liquid appear on your skin. This is not the sort of scent you want to spray on clothing or bed linens. It belongs on your skin, where, if you are of the Lutens sort of temperament, it will make you very happy.

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