One Thousand Scents

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Aglow: Serge Lutens La Myrrhe

A while ago I was talking about one of the mysteries of perfumery: how something simple could be made to seem complex, or vice versa. La Myrrhe is one of the vice versas.

If you have much experience with commercial perfumery you already know that a list of notes is not likely to be of much use to you when deciding if you would like a scent. It may be outdated. It may name things that aren't there: "carnation" in a list may simply indicate the presence of clove oil or eugenol, to make you think of carnations. It may mislead you by emphasizing unimportant notes and omitting others: it will definitely be incomplete. The almost useless (and at any rate in no particular order) notes for La Myrrhe are "mandarin, myrrh, lotus, bitter almond, woods, sandalwood, honey, amber, jasmine, musk, various spices, pimento." But you don't need to know that, because you probably aren't going to be smelling all those things anyway: whatever is in La Myrrhe is there to flesh out a very simple idea.

It starts, as do so many Lutens scents, with a brief whoosh of something that vanishes quickly: in this case, a billow of bright aldehydes which will make many people think it's inescapably a women's scent (though like most Lutenses it doesn't care who wears it). After that, the whole scent consists almost entirely of one radiant thing: candied orange peels soaked in bitter myrrh.

It is, of course, more than that, but it's all there to accent the myrrhed oranges. Bitterness comes and goes unpredictably, cutting through the candied sweetness and giving the illusion of Seville oranges; a hint of floralcy adds fullness and makes you think of orange blossom (but is actually upon examination jasmine); a shaving of dry wood underscores the incense quality of the myrrh. If you are not one of those who think that incense has a funereal quality, then La Myrrhe would make a perfect Christmas scent: it's certainly ideal for winter.

My first brief experience of La Myrrhe didn't do it justice: I was in the temple of Lutens, overwhelmed and awed (and on a real time budget), and my nose was too full of other things to appreciate its glories. As the bell jar above will tell you, La Myrrhe is an Exclusive, which means that it isn't available through the normal channels and will only be available to you through decants or on a trip to Paris. Worth it.



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