One Thousand Scents

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Trick Question: Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille

What's the simplest, most accessible thing Serge Lutens could make and still be true to his vision and his reputation as an offbeat, just-this-side-of-avant-garde niche perfumer?

My first impression of Un Bois Vanille was that Serge Lutens was playing some kind of joke on his devoted fans, because all I could smell was, in essence, Comptoir Sud Pacifique Vanille Coco. I thought that there couldn't possibly be coconut in the damned thing, because it doesn't seem like the sort of thing Lutens would do, so, given the choice between trusting my nose and trusting my assumptions about a brand, I chose to disbelieve my own senses.

There is coconut in there, as it turns out. A big blast of vanilla-infused coconut? How can this be? What saves the opening from being a retread of the CSP is a little static-electricity buzz of dry licorice. There isn't a lot of it, but it adds the necessary Lutens touch of slight oddness.

A few minutes in, there's a moment of LouLou, a Cacharel oriental from the late eighties composed of tropical flowers and lots of vanilla: the LouLou doesn't last long, but it suggests that tucked into Un Bois Vanille is a floral note, probably tiare, that (somehow) makes a brief appearance and then darts away again.

After that, Un Bois Vanille is straight-up vanilla. For something you'd think would be a wood scent--the name means "Vanilla Wood"--it isn't very woody. Guess what? It doesn't matter. Un Bois Vanille consists mostly of the second-most beautiful vanilla I've ever worn. (The winner is still the base of Tom Ford Black Orchid, and you are going to have to sit through a lot of other stuff, beautiful though it is, to get to that vanilla.) It lasts just about forever, too; ten hours later, it's still clearly evident, and not just in a nose-to-the-skin way; it still wafts and eddies around you. If you are in the market for a simple yet spectacularly beautiful vanilla scent, sweet and effusive and glorious, then trust me on this: you are going to want to get your hands on Un Bois Vanille.

And now I'm off to New York for a week, where I am going to manfully fight my urge to buy a bottle of this stuff and who knows what else. I'm trying very, very hard to declare a moratorium on scent-buying, but I have a feeling that if I should end up in Bergdorf Goodman and should somehow get a bottle of Un Bois Vanille in my hands, my moratorium, and my resolve, will collapse. Wish me luck.

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