Black Phantom (“Memento Mori”), the latest fragrance from By Kilian, is a fragrance that is a far cry from the terms and imagery surrounding it. The phrase “Memento Mori” means “remember you must die” in Latin, and was given to objects which were meant to make you ponder or remember your mortality, like skulls. And, indeed, a glittering black skull is placed right on top of Black Phantom’s perfume box.
Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, floating and being engulfed in a cloud that glows with pearlescent luster like opals mixed with mother-of-pearl. Unlike most clouds, this one hovers low on the ground, a few feet above the swaying tips of a field of lavender, some in bloom, some tightly budded and tipped with green. They ripple in the warm summer’s wind, a wind that carries the scent of the orchard mere inches away where orange and grapefruit trees grow like citrus sentinels watching over the aromatic field of purple. With every gust, the branches shake their flowers in a shower of white petals, their scent mingling in the air with that of the lavender. The trees hang heavy with fruits that are fresh, bright, and only recently ripened; the juices which seep out from time to time are sweet, but not sticky or jammy, and they, too, join the scented swirl within the opalescent cloud.
On the other side of the lavender is a river. Its banks are emerald with grassy vetiver, red with rose bushes, and white with jasmine that drips a golden honeyed nectar, but its waters are swirls of brown from malted beer and caramel from ambered resins. A small nook of cedar and spicy sandalwood trees lies just beyond, their roots growing amidst more grass, vetiver, and lavender.
I press soft flesh to bark in the evening’s gold dusk,
to breathe heavy hues of a Satyr’s musk.
My body is swelling with the oak’s root and seed
Our veins and our vines weave together with ease,
And as your chatter dispels at the shake of our leaves,
You set your ear to our chest, to hear the whisper of trees. [….]
Beneath the dark of your eyelids, our damp forest floor rises.
The lilac of lavender soothes dwindling sight.
The essence of our body’s sap stained perfume
Soars above oak beams, drenched in silk, silver light.
I press the soft suede of an apricots sheath to your lips.
The sweetness jars with narcissus’ bitter.
Head tilted, enchanted, you breathe your first breath, with the timber of touch I lead you, bereft
of sight and of sound, but with gilt dew on your skin
each of your pursed pores unravels, and the forest seeps in.
I watch moist emerald moss survive in the sun,
I catch burnished, bronze leaves that fall from each stem.
While dwelled in the canopy, I skim saplings in starlight,
And dust gilded galbanum through the dim of the glen.
From autumn to summer, from winter to spring
The branches and bow are open.
The changing of seasons ticks with the sun.
Each colour prints petal marks to rest at your chest; it is dappled with wolf’s blood and the slick of deer’s tongue.
Roses creep at my ankles, bergamot blooms
Clary sage clouds you with billowing fumes,
and here in my tree I watch you awaken; I do not hide behind trunk or stem.
So dance with the Dryad’s, sip all you have taken
Fall blind, deaf and drunk in the pearl of the glen.
As many of you are undoubtedly aware by now, major changes are sweeping over Serge Lutens. They extend beyond changes to the mere look of bottles or their pricing and entail a whole reshuffling and revamping of the many lines or collections within the brand, thereby signifying a new marketing and business approach by Shiseido which took over the full management of the Serge Lutens brand a year ago. Many of you have already read the news of the specific changes elsewhere, but not everyone follows the same perfume sites or groups, so I thought it was worth a post here on Kafkaesque so that everyone had the chance to buy any old favourites whilst they could before the higher prices kick in.
At the end of this article, I’ll share some thoughts about the possible larger meaning of all this, why I think Shiseido differs from other companies (like L’Oreal or LVHM) that have taken control of perfume houses, why the nature of Shiseido’s relationship with Lutens might be cause for cautious optimism, and, finally, which Lutens fragrances have, in my opinion, have already undergone reformulation prior to the new bottling.