Serge Lutens L’Orpheline: Incense & Cream

L’Orpheline is a brand new release from the venerated house of Serge Lutens, a scent that seeks to symbolically explore the line between the cool, silvered, smoky blackness of the moon, and the richer, spicier ambered warmth of the earth. To that end, “High Mass” Avignon church incense and aldehydes transform into creamy Cashmere woods with almost a Mysore sandalwood-like veneer from spices, black incense, and amber. It is a fragrance that I have very mixed feelings about, but one which I think will be incredibly appealing to a certain segment of the perfume-wearing world.

Regular bottles of L'Orpheline, now available in parts of Europe and from Serge Lutens, with a U.S. release date of September 2014. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

Regular, standard bottles of L’Orpheline, now available in parts of Europe and from Serge Lutens, with a U.S. release date of September 2014. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

L’Orpheline special edition 'Lettrines" bottle, available now at Palais Royal Serge Lutens, and starting from October in all of Lutens' points of sale. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

Special edition ‘Lettrines” bottle, available now at Palais Royal Serge Lutens, and starting from October at all of Lutens’ points of sale. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

L’Orpheline special edition "Croix de Cimetière" bottle, now available at Palais Royal Serge Lutens, and starting from October in all of Lutens' points of sale. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

Special edition “Croix de Cimetière” bottle, now available at Palais Royal Serge Lutens, and starting from October at all of Lutens’ points of sale. Source: http://grey-magazine.com/l-orpheline

L’Orpheline was created by Serge Lutens in conjunction with his usual collaborator, Christopher Sheldrake. It was just released in Europe in June, and will come to America on September 1st. [Update 8/8/2014: the perfume has already hit a few U.S. retailers early, and is now available in limited fashion.] L’Orpheline (whose name translates to a female orphan) is an eau de parfum, but it is one of the handful of black-labeled Haute Concentration eau de parfums, like Fille en Aiguilles and Santal Majuscule.

On the European Serge Lutens website, L’Orpheline is described in wholly poetic, almost mythological terms:

Fragile but whole.

Its name hints at a break but before the fissures show, its first two syllable conjure Orpheus, a poet who could charm even stones.

L'Orpheline Ad via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

L’Orpheline poster via Serge Lutens Facebook page.

Serge Lutens has released a video which ostensibly purports to describe the scent in much greater detail, but it is rather surrealistic in imagery and Le Maitre (or Master) is even more esoteric than usual. I mean, really, really abstractly oblique. Frankly, I didn’t understand most of it at first, though I could not stop thinking of Freud. The video is subtitled in English, and is rather bewildering at times. Yet, in the end, I think some of the comments actually turn out to be a bit revealing in symbolic terms, and show what Serge Lutens sought to do with this fragrance, its development, its teetering between black and white worlds, and the sometimes contrasting juxtaposition of its notes.

Left, a special makeup compact released for the occasion of L'Orpheline. Right, part of the key text in L'Orpheline's online, video description.

Left, a special makeup compact released for the occasion of L’Orpheline. Right, part of the key text in L’Orpheline’s online, video description.

In essence, the video is about the orphan within us — an inner child who always remains “caught between the moon and the earth,” and “the fantasy of its black and white” — a child who navigates the tightrope between the two worlds, losing her footing, and falls. It’s extremely melancholic, even for Serge Lutens, and it reinforces my perpetual wish to hug him. (Yes, I am one of those crazed, die-hard, Uncle Serge admirers, even though I rarely understand everything that he is saying.)

Source: Serge Lutens website and Facebook page.

Source: Serge Lutens website and Facebook page.

As I’ve written in the past in my profile of Serge Lutens (Part I and Part II), many of his fragrances are an attempt to celebrate his beloved mother, but also to work through his extremely painful childhood where he was abandoned at a very young age during WWII, has memories of falling bombs creating a sense of death, was rejected by his father’s family as a “bastard,” and was generally an “orphan” of sorts himself. The connection between his past, the description of this particular perfume, and its name is hard to miss, even if the word “orphan” is presented in the French feminine form. The reference to Orpheus is significant, too, as the Greek character is usually known for his attempts to bring back his beloved from the Underworld, just as Serge Lutens seeks to honour, evoke, and symbolically bring back his mother through his creations. Moreover, Orpheus died at the hands of those who could not hear (or appreciate) his beautiful creations, which is something that I suspect Mr. Lutens feels himself. As I wrote in the profile, it seems my beloved “Oncle Serge” has a very fractured sense of self and deep wounds, but who wouldn’t with his background?

L'Orpheline, Regular bottle, black-label for Haute Concentration. Source: Serge Lutens.

L’Orpheline, Regular bottle, black-label for Haute Concentration. Source: Serge Lutens.

Ultimately, however, Serge Lutens tells us very little of a specific nature about the perfume, and certainly nothing about its actual notes. As usual, it’s a guessing game. The Perfume Shrine believes that the notes in L’Orpheline include:

top notes of aldehydes, with a heart and base composed of woods (cedar prominently), a fougere accord, coumarin, “clouds of ambergris”, patchouli, incense and Cashmeran (“blonde woods”).

My personal guess would be a little different, as L’Orpheline is nothing like a fougère on my skin with the typical elements commonly used in such fragrances today, like lavender, oakmoss, herbaceous elements, or geranium. There is only the coumarin which is not sufficient, in and of itself, to really constitute a “fougère,” in my opinion. Of course, skin chemistry can either amplify or muffle certain notes, and Serge Lutens always keeps his perfume pyramid secret, so who really knows? Nonetheless, the notes that appear on my skin are:

Olibanum frankincense, myrrh incense, aldehydes, Cashmeran (beige woods), patchouli, cistus labdanum amber, (aromachemical) woods, and coumarin.

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

Source: journeytoorthodoxy.com

L’Orpheline opens on my skin with a mix of cool, white myrrh incense and frankincense, followed quickly by slightly soapy, fatty aldehydes and a hint of ambered sweetness. The aldehydes are light and far from the extreme soapiness of some fragrances with the element, while the amber has a nuance of caramel but is also rather abstract, more like a generalized sweetness and warmth. The whole thing lies on a thin layer — almost like a sliver — of very creamy, beige woods. I’ve often noticed that my skin gives Cashmeran a Shea butter nuance, like that in some hand creams containing Cashmere or Shea, and the same thing appears here as well. I’m not saying that the white woods smell like butter, but they have that same sort of Shea creaminess to them.

Painting by Moon Beom, "Slow, Same, #3049 (2002)" via Mutualart.com  (website link embedded within.)

Painting by Moon Beom, “Slow, Same, #3049 (2002)” via Mutualart.com (website link embedded within.)

What was interesting to me was how the prominence of the various notes differed according to the amount of fragrance that I applied. In all cases, L’Orpheline opens as an incense dominated fragrance, to the point that I could smell incense (and only incense) even through the small wrapping which my vial came in. However, the nature of that incense bouquet varied depending on quantity. When I applied a lesser amount (and we will get to the specifics of that shortly), L’Orpheline was quite a cool, silvery-white fragrance in feel, with a “High Church” or Catholic Mass aroma like such famous incense fragrances as Avignon or Heeley‘s Cardinal. L’Orpheline lacks the bone dryness of the former, and the heavy soapiness of the latter, not to mention the extreme dustiness of both scents, but there is definitely a general kinship in the perfume’s overall vibe. L’Orpheline is definitely not an incense fragrance in the Middle Eastern or Amouage vein, but something much more austere, cool, white, and meditative. In short, Catholic or Orthodox incense.

Source: stdavidspokane.org

Source: stdavidspokane.org

On the other hand, when I applied a greater quantity of the scent, L’Orpheline was slightly warmer and sweeter. It is a fractional thing and question of degrees, as the perfume still had the slight touch of soapy aldehydes and still radiated an austere white, church incense, but there was a definite ambered glow lurking in the background. The soapy aldehydes were even less prominent, and the incense felt more tinged by creaminess than by fustiness or ancient, dank, church-y tonalities. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let’s pretend there is a scale of 1 to 10 where Avignon is a solid 10 in terms of heavily dusty, cold, High Church scents, while Cardinal would be a 9 and Profumum Roma‘s Olibanum  would rank as an 8. (If it were not for Olibanum’s strong citrus note, I would put it at an 8.5.) L’Orpheline would come in at a 6.5 or 6 on the scale when I apply a smaller quantity, and a 6 or 5.5 when I apply more of it. So, we’re a long way from Avignon, but that is the sort of incense that dominates L’Orpheline.

"Gold smoke" by etafaz on deviantART. (Website link embedded within.)

“Gold smoke” by etafaz on deviantART. (Website link embedded within.)

Regardless of quantity, an element that is a noticeable part of L’Orpheline in both instances is the woody note. It’s an aromachemical, but it is not a medicinal one, is far from rubbing alcohol, doesn’t smell particularly of cedar, and has rather a slightly ambered undertone to it. That said, I’m not a huge fan of its artificial dryness or the noticeable whiff of chemical pepperiness that it provides, but since neither undertone is a massive part of L’Orpheline (especially after the first hour), and since I doubt most people would be able to detect anything beyond slightly peppered “woodiness,” let’s move on.

L’Orpheline begins to shift quite rapidly. Within minutes, the aldehydes move to the edges where they turn into a mere speck 20 minutes into the perfume’s evolution. The incense becomes stronger and cooler, the amber retreats, and the tiniest hint of patchouli appears to take its place. There is also a wholly abstract spiciness that pops up its head, almost like a wisp of cloves, but the note is really too vague, muffled, and subdued on my skin to really specify. At the same time, L’Orpheline starts to slowly grow creamier as a whole, as the Cashmeran Shea woods begin to surge to the forefront.

"Inquisitive (2013)", abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

“Inquisitive (2013)”, abstract art by T30 on Etsy. (Website shop link embedded within photo.)

Roughly 10 minutes in, L’Orpheline is primarily a mix of peppered aroma-chemical woodiness and creamy Shea woods under a tidal wave of High Church myrrh incense that is just barely dappled by the whiteness of aldehydes. The visuals are all of white myrrh turned grey with a light dose of black frankincense, mixed with beige woods, and only subtle dabs of brown patchouli and cloves. Yet, despite all my references to the “High Church” aspects, L’Orpheline never actually makes me feel as though I’ve gone to Mass or am in an ancient, musty Russian Orthodox church. There is a subtle serenity to the scent, a meditative quality that evokes Kyoto and Japanese rituals more than anything else, perhaps due to the fragrance’s strong woodiness.

With every passing moment, the layer of creaminess in L’Orpheline grows stronger. There is a strange dichotomy between the austere, oddly cold incense with the dry, woody aromachemical juxtaposed next to the creamy butteriness of the woods and the intangible warmth of the patchouli and abstract spices. I now suddenly understand Serge Lutens’ reference in the video to the fragile orphan teetering between the moon (a silvery-black-white cold place) and the earth (which can be symbolized by the earthiness of the patchouli and the warmth of that subtle streak of amber in the base).

It’s very clever, but I’m not hugely blown over by the opening bouquet. My initial reaction to the tidal wave of incense was very enthusiastic, before being doused with the cold shower of the peppered, woody aromachemical and that touch of soapiness. Yet, I really like the buttery undertones to the Cashmeran, white woods. On the other hand, I’m far from keen on the perfume’s almost translucent body, thinness, and subdued nature. I suspect that it is supposed to parallel or symbolise the “fragility” of the orphan as she teeters on a tightrope in the blackness of night with the silveriness of the moon (the myrrh), but I’m not really into fragile perfumes.

In fact, from the very opening moments, L’Orpheline is an incredibly light, subtle scent — to the point of being problematic. I’ve worn the fragrance twice now, and it starts as an enormously “fragile” fragrance with extremely weak sillage and body. The first time that I tried L’Orpheline, the lightness was such that, after my standard 2 big smears of scent, I quickly had to add a third, even larger one, just to ensure that I could catch all the perfume’s nuances. In total, the first time that I tested the fragrance, I applied a little more than 1/3rd of a 1 ml vial. With that amount, L’Orpheline opened with perhaps 2 inches of sillage, at best, and barely hovered above the skin by the end of the first hour! It became a true, total skin scent on me roughly an hour and 45 minutes into the perfume’s development. By the same token, the tiny amount I applied on my chest had zero sillage wafting up at me after a mere 10 minutes. It’s been a long, long time since I tried a Serge Lutens fragrance that was so incredibly weak.

The fact that L’Orpheline is labelled as an “Haute Concentration” eau de parfum simply boggles my mind. I’ve tried eau de toilettes with more body, weight, or initial sillage. So, I tested L’Orpheline a second time and applied more, amounting to 2/3rd of a ml, or the equivalent of about 4 small sprays from an actual bottle. The sillage was still as weak, though it now took 3 hours for L’Orpheline to turn into a skin scent on me. Fille en Aiguilles, one of L’Orpheline’s siblings in the “Haute Concentration” line, is about 10 times stronger than this scent — and I know a number of people for whom Fille en Aiguilles is a light scent which quickly vanishes on their skin. In short, L’Orpheline goes beyond mere softness and lightness, even from the very first instance.

It’s a shame, because I have to say that L’Orpheline’s second, main phase is lovely. The very first, tiny intimations of what is to come begin roughly 20 minutes into L’Orpheline’s development when the creamy, Shea woods starts to compete with the incense for center stage. At the same time, there is a hint of spicy patchouli, while the aldehydes have completely vanished, and the cedar is not particularly noticeable in a clearly delineated, individual way. There are absolutely no key fougère notes on my skin, whether lavender, oakmoss, herbaceousness, or geranium, though I do think the Cashmeran woods are helped by the subtle creaminess that coumarin can sometimes demonstrate.

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

Painting by Moon Beom via lostateminor.com

Roughly 50 minutes in, L’Orpheline is primarily woody, smoky, incense’d creaminess with a touch of abstract spiciness, all nestled within a subtle amber that feels like a wisp of nebulous warmth. Both Avignon and Cardinal contain cistus labdanum, but the golden softness is significantly more noticeable in L’Orpheline. The key, though, is those Shea Cashmeran woods whose creaminess is slowly overtaking everything.

Nothing about L’Orpheline is revolutionary, edgy, unique, or original. It is certainly worlds apart from the traditional Lutens signature of dark, resinous woods with plummy stewed fruits, or his complicated deconstructionism in his more ground-breaking Bell Jar creations which sometimes approximate art more than anything else. L’Orpheline doesn’t even have the many, endless morphing twists for which Serge Lutens has become famous. Instead, it is a fragile, delicate, intimate little thing with strong echoes to other scents. I wouldn’t call it commercial, per se, but it doesn’t feel distinctive.

Source: www.ukcurtainsandinteriors.co.uk

Source: www.ukcurtainsandinteriors.co.uk

What it does feel like at this point, however, is something that is very elegant, as well as very wearable, comfortable, and serene. L’Orpheline feels like one of those uncomplicated scents that you’d turn to after an absolutely hellish day for a quiet evening at home. There is an oddly meditative, Zen quality to it at the end of the first hour and the start of the second, as well as a cozy softness. It feels like the perfume equivalent of soft, very thin cashmere pyjamas that you’d crawl into after a stressful day, or a pashmina throw that you’d curl under as you seek some peace and quiet.

And the perfume just gets better. By the end of the second hour, L’Orpheline becomes a seamless blend of spicy, creamy, smoky woods with incense and ambered warmth. It strongly reminds me of a softer, lighter, slightly diluted sandalwood and, yes, I’m talking about Mysore sandalwood! To be clear, it’s a weakened, diluted, thinner bodied impression of Mysore sandalwood, with a substantially greater amount of smokiness than the wood naturally manifests and with much less of its red-gold spiciness. But, somehow, through some alchemy in the combination of notes, L’Orpheline has taken on the various attributes of Mysore sandalwood on my skin.

Mysore sandalwood chips for a bakhoor incense burning. Source: agarscentsbazaar.com

Mysore sandalwood chips for bakhoor incense burning. Source: agarscentsbazaar.com

In fact, it is a significantly more authentic “Mysore” recreation than that in many ostensibly “sandalwood” fragrances that I’ve tried, including a number from Uncle Serge himself. The composite bouquet in L’Orpheline smells more like Mysore than the lackluster beige woods in Lutens’ rosy Santal Majuscule. It is also a much more enjoyable sandalwood than that in Lutens’ excessively foody Santal de Mysore. The sum total effect of L’Orpheline’s spices, patchouli, myrrh, frankincense, and creamy Shea woods has resulted in something that, on my skin at least, has a much more genuine Mysore vibe than the ghastly, green, very synthetic “sandalwood” in Kilian‘s new, massively overpriced Sacred Wood, and is also much more authentic than the watery cucumber, beige woods in Le Labo‘s Santal 33. I won’t even begin to talk about Profumum‘s wholly synthetic, chemical Santalum, or the snickerdoodle cookies of Frederic Malle‘s Dries Van Noten. L’Orpheline’s spicy, smoky woods are also more appealing to me than either Lorenzo Villaresi‘s decent Sandalo or Amouage‘s Sandal Attar with its greenish, buttermilk aroma. And I’ve noticed that the more L’Orpheline I applied, the more the perfume begins to approximate the Mysore vibe. Again, this is what occurs on me, but I very much hope that the same wonderful alchemy occurs with other people’s skin chemistry.

Source: houzz.com

Source: houzz.com

L’Orpheline doesn’t change in any substantial way at all from this point until the very end. In its final hour, the creaminess retreats to the sidelines, and the perfume becomes drier. What’s left is a wispy sliver of woodiness with the lightest hints of incense and abstract spiciness. There is little creaminess or Cashmeran, not a significant amount of ambered warmth, and the aromachemical nuance returns, though it is subtle. The overall effect isn’t bad, but it isn’t as enjoyable as the majority of L’Orpheline’s drydown phase with its warm, spicy, woody, smoky creaminess.

If only I could detect it better in a way that didn’t require me to practically take a bath in the perfume. To quickly repeat, at the lower dosage of roughly 1/3rd of a ml or 2 good sprays from a bottle (which is about one spray more than some people generally use), L’Orpheline hovers weakly and just barely above the skin at the end of 60 minutes, and becomes a skin scent on me a little after 90 minutes. All in all, it only lasted a total of 6.25 hours, and I had to put my nose actually on my arm and inhale hard to detect the nuances of the scent for much of the time.

When I used 2/3rds of a vial (or roughly 4 sprays from an actual bottle), L’Orpheline was still very weak from the start, became a skin scent on me at the start of the 3rd hour, but the longevity was better at 8.75 hours. For me, the speed with which L’Orpheline becomes a skin scent is a serious problem, as well as its incredibly translucent feel for the first few hours. The perfume may deepen and turn richer when the “Mysore” tonalities start to kick in, but at that point, I’m practically snuffling at my arm like a rabid dog trying to unearth truffles. It’s not my thing.

I think there is a very specific market for a scent like L’Orpheline, and those people will absolutely adore the fragrance. I want to tell you a story about my neighbor, whom I shanghai’ed into smelling L’Orpheline about 2 hours into my second testing when I had applied the very large amount. I specifically sought her help to get a sense of how the fragrance would come across to someone who almost never wears perfume and who cannot stand anything strong. So, I asked her sniff my arm, inquiring only if she thought the scent was too light, too heavy, too much, or very appealing. She sniffed, said, “Oh, is that sandalwood? I would wear that!!” Now, keep in mind that this is a lady who doesn’t actually like fragrance very much, who wears it maybe once every one or two years, whose husband seems to despise it, and whose concept of a good perfume is the most imperceptible, minimalistic thing around. She really liked L’Orpheline. In contrast, however, my post-lady who actually wears perfume took a sniff of my arm at around the same point in time and said, “I can’t really smell anything. Is it something smoky? I don’t know, it’s barely there.”

Source: de.wallpaperswiki.org

Source: de.wallpaperswiki.org

There are a few reviews already out for L’Orpheline. Persolaise experienced an opening of “sparkling” winter notes with incense, followed by fougère and woody-leather tonalities, but what he enjoyed most was the creaminess of the drydown which he called “comfort itself” with its “downy,” “soothing” serenity. His evocative, lovely review reads, in part, as follows:

The scent begins […with] a tiny puff of sparkling, winter-forest notes – juniper berries? rosemary? aldehydes? – followed by a suggestion of the chemically sterile, mineralic incense redolent of the heart of the brand’s Eaux series.

The story is then taken up by the middle section, with florals recounting one strand and fougère-inspired, woody leathers the other. The former is represented by geranium – subtle, verdant and rose-like – as well as a faint, clove-y blanket of carnation. The latter appears in the guise of a pristine patchouli and a whisper of suede, as confident as moonlight [….]

Source: plushaddict.co.uk

Source: plushaddict.co.uk

And the conclusion? I’d say it is comfort itself. An exhalation of contentment. In keeping with the relative serenity of everything that has come before, the drydown barely raises its voice above the level of a hushed – albeit fervent – declaration. It sinks into a downy pliability, a dusty, velvety powderiness, as reassuring and as elusive as reminiscence [….] Just when the wearer lets down their guard, a suspicion of something burning makes its presence known in the background (the dying embers of yesteryear?) but it vanishes the moment it appears. Fleecy, soothing and deeply compelling, this final stage of the scent is, in Lutens’ own words, “the wake of my life, that which remains when all has disappeared.”

Photo by Serge Lutens, circa 1980s. Source: lamaladietropicale.blogspot.com

Photo by Serge Lutens, circa 1980s. Source: lamaladietropicale.blogspot.com

One of the most tender releases we’ve seen from the brand for quite some time, L’Orpheline wears its wounded heart on its sleeve and pleads for affection, even as it conceals its face behind an ivory shroud. Be kind to it… and I daresay your devotion will be richly rewarded.

Our personal experiences may differ in terms of the opening, fougère, geranium, and floral aspects, but I agree with him that the incense has a “sterile” (or austere) feel to the start, though I think the “chemical” aspect comes from the woody synthetic instead. I definitely share his views on the comforting serenity of the creamy drydown stage. Most of all, though, I understand what he means when he says that there is a certain tenderness to L’Orpheline. I saw it as fragility, especially at the beginning, but “tender” might apply to the overall development or transformation of the scent as well.

Imran Channa, "Memories Series," 2011. Source: gasworks.org.uk

Imran Channa, “Memories Series,” 2011. Source: gasworks.org.uk

For The Perfume Shrine, L’Orpheline was a “cool and quiet,” “vaporous” fragrance largely centered on peppery incense, and bearing a “certain poignancy.” The main part of the review reads:

For this coolish and quiet fragrance (sequentially warmish, like Gris Clair) named L’Orpheline, Lutens and his sidekick perfumer Chris Sheldrake focus on incense notes, not as cold and soapy as in L’Eau Froide, neither as spicy warm and shady as in Serge Noire, but somewhere in between; entre chien et loup, between daylight and darkness. Frankincense, the impression of bittersweet myrrh and peppery (elemi?) rather than clove-y carnation notes seem to rise, a cross between spirituality and carnality? […]

Yet the end result in L’Orpheline is apart; neither a true Moroccan oriental like hardcore Serge fans have built an online cult out of, nor a classically French perfume for the salon, but a mysterious, vaporous emanation “between the storm and clear skies” […] The peppery accent on the incense reminds me of the treatment of carnations in Oeillet Bengale (one of the best releases of the year so far) while the musky underlay is soft, subtle, meditative and not entirely without a certain poignancy.

All in all, I have mixed feelings about L’Orpheline. The cold opening isn’t my cup of tea, but the rest of it is elegant. The heavily incensed, sandalwood-like creaminess at the middle to end stages is the epitome of loveliness, serenity, and meditative comfort. That said, I wouldn’t spend $150, €99, or £88 for 50 ml of a translucent, fragile scent (“vaporous” in another blogger’s words) with below average sillage and with longevity that is barely moderate unless I apply a vast amount. The very reason why the “Haute Concentration” line is priced $20 higher than the rest of the regular export line is because you’re supposedly getting greater richness, body, and strength. That is far from the case here, in my opinion. L’Orpheline is “Haute Concentration” in the way that a chihuahua is a Great Dane. It’s simply not.

Despite all that, I encourage anyone who is a fan of intimate, hushed fragrances centered around incense or smoky woods to give L’Orpheline a sniff. If you’re one of the many who have mourned the loss of true Mysore sandalwood scents, and if you don’t mind something with great fragility, then you definitely should look for a sample. Hopefully, you will experience the same spiced, smoky, creamy woods that I did. It’s lovely, and almost Zen in its serenity.

DETAILS:
Cost & Availability: L’Orpheline is an “Haute Concentration” Eau de Parfum that is available in a 50 ml bottle that costs €99, £88, and $150. For American readers, the perfume will be released on the U.S. Serge Lutens website on September 1st, but is already available at two retailers, and on one American decanting sites if you want to test it. For European readers, the fragrance is now on the European Lutens site, but also available for purchase from two other retailers as well. In the U.S.: Parfum1 just received the perfume in stock today, but have very few left at the time of this post. [Update 8/8: The Twisted Lily in Brooklyn just received l’Orpheline, and they sell samples, too.] L’Orpheline should be available at Luckyscent which always carries the export Lutens fragrances in a few weeks, as well as the usual retailers like Barney’s, Beauty Habit, and Aedes. Outside the U.S.: In Canada, you can find Serge Lutens export fragrances at The Perfume Shoppe, though they don’t have L’Orpheline yet. In fact, many places that carry Serge Lutens have not yet received the perfume, but I’ve provided general links that you can use if you read this review later. In the U.K., L’Orpheline is already available at Harrods. Although Liberty London and Les Senteurs both carry Serge Lutens, they don’t have this fragrance yet. House of Fraser doesn’t list it in their Serge Lutens section on their website, but some stores apparently already sell it. For the rest of Europe, Premiere Avenue already has L’Orpheline at €99, and they ship worldwide. In Germany, First in Fragrance doesn’t carry Serge Lutens, but Essenza Nobile does, though they don’t have L’Orpheline at the time of this review. In France, Serge Lutens export fragrances are sold at Sephora. In Italy, the line is carried at Alla Violetta, amongst others places. In the Netherlands, you can find Lutens at Parfuma. In Australia, Serge Lutens is carried at Mecca Cosmetica. For all other retailers and locations, you can use the Serge Lutens Store Locator to find a vendor near you. Samples: A number of the sites linked above may offer samples when the perfume arrives. I obtained mine from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $3.99 for a 1/2 ml vial. They ship worldwide.

42 thoughts on “Serge Lutens L’Orpheline: Incense & Cream

  1. Am I the first the comment? Hooray!!!! I’m first!!!!!

    And now for the fragrance, which I am just trying today. Granted, I have just worn it once and ran around town with it, but I found the sticking power to be quite good. It’s also has pretty good projection on me since I was able to get pretty strong whiffs of it as I was hefting groceries to and from home.

    Isn’t skin chemistry a funny thing?

    I think I actually am exactly the person that a fragrance like L’Orpheline is suited for. It reminded me actually of Mitzah with the amber swapped out for something colder and powderier. Lavander maybe? I can see that.

    As for the drydown, a cook friend of mine passed along a few tonka beans to experiment with and in the raw, it and L’Orpheline smell pretty darn close.

    But loved reading the review, dearest Kafka! Anxious to continue testing. This may be fb-worthy for me!

    • I’m so glad to hear that it had projection on you. How much did you apply? As for the tonka you experienced in the drydown, coumarin is often derived from the beans, so I’m not surprised you detected them. But was the drydown at all vanillic on you? Very interesting about the Mitzah. On me, the Dior is almost all about the labdanum amber, so I’m not sure what it would be like to swap it out for something else without having a completely different perfume in the end. LOL. Skin chemistry is a funny thing indeed.

      I’m just pleased that you love L’Orpheline so much. That’s great, since I know some of the other recent Lutens releases haven’t exactly been in your style.

      • I modestly swabbed, actually! I was super surprised! And it has even made it through a round of dishes. Impressive!

        I’m not sure if I would say that the drydown is vanillic. In all honesty, tonka beans don’t smell very vanilla-like to me. They smell well, like tonka beans. More like amaretto than anything else.

        As for reminding me of Mitzah, it’s the same smoky, billowy, almost Eastern incense, but soapier and much chillier. Mitzah on the right person is yummy. I don’t think anyone would call L’Orpheline yummy . . . um . . . ORPHANS OM NOM NOM NOM NOM!

        • What is a “fairly modest” swab by your definition, my dearest Baconbiscuit? After all, you’re the woman whose normal standard application is 10-12 sprays! ROFL. 😀 😛 I love that, btw. I always thought I applied a lot until I met you! Now, I feel positively subdued in my personal, off-time usage. LOL

          • So, is this the first new Lutens you’ve liked in a while? Because it is for me. I think it’s much nicer than most of the last 3 or 4, perhaps the nicest since… oh, probably Une Voix Noire which was a late 2012 release.

          • I fell for La Fille de Berlin. I’m not the biggest rose lover, but I liked how chilly and strange it was.

            I actually did like La Vierge de Fer too, but Laine de Verre? Oh man. That one. That one I couldn’t bring myself to try on skin. It made it to paper and I did not like it.

  2. I so want this to have some oomph on me. I really do. Creamy incense. Yes, please! This is something I could see myself blind buying right now if I wasn’t trying to be such a good girl and not buy anything at the moment. I suppose that would be a bad idea though since it all but disappeared rather quickly on you and we’ve had some similarities with lasting power for certain perfumes.

    • I wish you knew how much I was thinking of YOU while wearing this fragrance. Nonstop, in fact, each and every time. From the type of incense and Avignon feel (I know what that fragrance means for you), to the drydown, to the disappointment of the problematic, vanishing “vaporous” hush. And it wasn’t just that way on me, I suspect. If you read between the lines of Persolaise’s “hushed” restrained commentary, and the hints in The Perfume Shrine’s references, I suspect that “vaporous” discreetness might be common.

      Still, for someone like you, I think you really are going to have to get a sample and see. With your tastes, you just have to. I think you should take advantage of Surrender to Chance’s 15% off Serge Lutens sale which continues on until August 7th:

      Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Kerosene, Serge Lutens, Montale, Soivohle, Thierry Mugler and Tauer fragrances are on sale for 15% off. Use code LINESALE15 to get your discount on these lines through August 7, 2014, midnight EST.

  3. Once again, just a gorgeous and well researched review. I know that this might be too light for my tastes but I really love your spin on Serge’s inspiration and your Freudian take. I loved reading this. So precise and descriptive and informative.

    • I’m so glad, Tora. Your comments mean a lot to me, because there were moments over the last 2 days where I thought I would never finish this blasted review. LOL. I know that most people would probably have preferred if I just skipped over the whole background story to both the perfume and Serge Lutens, but it somehow felt significant to me. Something about the scent’s story and certain parts of its opening occasionally give me the craziest feeling of heartbreak emanating from Lutens.

      I’m probably being far too influenced by things, but it means a lot to me that someone actually loved my sections on Uncle Serge’s inspiration and its psychological/symbolic meaning. Thank you for being the best reader/supporter, and for always making me feel that the blood, sweat, and tears involved in a review were worth it!

  4. I am anxiously awaiting a decant of Lutens’s Orpheline and I think I will love it from your description. I own both CDG Avignon, CDG Zagorsk and Heeley’s Cardinal. I enjoy them all but I would like a warmer incense scent so Orpheline should be perfect for me. It will be interesting to see how my skin reacts with Orpheline. I get differing reactions to different Lutens’ scents. La Fille de Berlin created room filling sillage on my skin with just one tiny spritz on each wrist. Le Vierge, however, was lighter on my skin but longlasting.. Chergui and Fourreau Noir both have huge sillage on me. I cannot wait to try this one.

    Thanks so much for including the entire history of the scent and Serge’s thoughts about the perfume. I love to read and try to understand what Monsieur Lutens has to say about each scent. It doesn’t always make sense to me in a linear way, but I always feel that he has captured the spirit of each scent perfectly in his words and art.

    • First, I’m so happy to hear you enjoyed the backstory/background section as well! It really motivates me. And I know EXACTLY what you meant about how his words don’t make sense to you but, yet, he captures and conveys his meaning perfectly through the words, art, and the scent itself.

      Second, it sounds like you’re another admirer of Oncle Serge. LOL. 🙂 Actually, if I remember correctly, I believe I quoted your Fragrantica take on his Bois et Fruits, and that is how you eventually found the blog. heh. Do you know, Fourreau Noir is one of my favorite Lutens? It was the first lavender scent that this lavender-phobe fell for, after decades of terror and horror at the note. It doesn’t have huge sillage on me, though, and Fille de Berlin was certainly not room-filling! I wish some of the Lutens’ fragrances did that on my skin. You’re a lucky devil.

      With regard to L’Orpheline, I think you will like it quite a bit, judging by your taste for the High Church incense fragrances. And this would certainly be a warmer one, as you had been seeking. I am looking forward to seeing what you think. Honestly, sillage issues apart, I suspect that you will fall head over heels for L’Orpheline.

  5. The entire presentation of L’Orpheline makes me feel emotionally drained! What with the complex layers of psychology – pining for the moon, the feminine – floating about in dark space but even if your feet touch earth you’re dragged into some sort of Persephone underworld purgatory. And then the perfume sounds like one of those that’s elusive or that teases with the promise of something satisfying, then eludes you. I feel the need for a cup of hot chocolate and a lie down

    But it sounds like it could be a good one for creative inspiration – maybe to trigger a certain mood..

    In recent months I’ve tried Passage d’Enfer (very likeable) and Chanel’s No 22 – these are also interesting takes on a juxtaposition between ethereal incense and more earthy qualities. The way you’ve described ‘Orpheline reminds me of 22 – the aldehydic blast of cool incense with an underlying creaminess. Does it have anything in common? On me No 22 took aeons to reveal its warmer aspects. I suspect L’Orpheline would be similarly cool, which is never a great thing for me since I already have cool, close pored skin – some perfumes take too long to ‘warm up’ unless I’m in baking hot sunshine

    Still, I’m intrigued and must try this!

    • First, welcome to the blog, Rose. 🙂 Second, your description of the scent (complete with being dragged down to see Persephone) made me grin. Heh. It is all rather heavy, isn’t it?

      With regard to Chanel No. 22, no, I don’t think there are any similarities. On my skin, the Chanel has a monumental and massive blast of aldehydes and soapiness infused with fresh citrus, then flowers. It is also a largely floral scent with a lot of neroli and some orange blossom. The incense is insubstantial. It is a cool scent on me, but primarily because of the aldehydes. In contrast, L’Orpheline’s opening is dominated by the incense, and its coolness comes with a slightly church-like mustiness. No florals whatsoever. It also doesn’t feel crisp and light in the way that the Chanel ones does. Lastly, the Lutens warms up quickly, and has a subtle amber base pretty early on. The Chanel has nothing ambered about it, in my opinion, and the two perfumes’ finishes are very different as well.

      Since you don’t like cool scents, I think you should give L’Orpheline a try. Well, so long as you like incense, of course. 🙂

      • I’m glad to hear it’s not as cool as 22. They do say that people can be divided into those that get incense from 22 and those who get florals. I get alot of lemony unlit frankincense paired with aldehydes in 22, the flowers only emerge an hour in and it’s as though they’re in a fridge!
        Slight church-like mustiness with warm amber sounds nice, I’m wondering, is it burned or unlit frankincense, but I notice you’ve mentioned elsewhere it’s not too churchy! I will give this one a try, Lutens are always worth a try aren’t they? My faves probably FdB and A la Nuit

    • Is it the High Church incense that you don’t like, or any sort at all? Because you do like orientals, and a number of those have a frankincense note, so I’m guessing its the Catholic/Orthodox cool variety that turns you off. If so, I generally feel the same way. No Avignon for me!

  6. House of Fraser has it in stock (in some of the major branches) in the UK. Having tried it at lunchtime on Friday, I was back to pick up the bottle after work.

    A couple of squirts from the wee tester faded out pretty fast, and shrank down to a skin scent within two hours, but a heftier dose? 12 hours later and a lot more projection. OK, so that was four good blasts from the bottle. It certainly wafted up for good hours from the spray on my chest, without having to go snuffling away at my wrists. It’s so much lighter weight than any of the other Lutens scents I like to wear, but is quietly, and deliciously, persistent on me. (FdB, for contrast: one spray and I radiate that scent all day. Before I worked that out, I could *taste* that scent all day, which was a bit much, however much I enjoy the smell.)

    I am really enjoying the warm/cold shifts I get from it, and that lovely creamy smoke, which becomes quite rich for a while without stickiness during the middle hours.

    • Thank you for letting me know that Liberty has it, Katie. But what I’m really pleased to hear is how much you loved the scent. Tried it at lunch, bought a full bottle a few hours later… that is super!

      Interesting how a few squirts from a bottle yielded a similar result to what I experienced with a small amount, but 4 enormous sprays seemed to do the trick. I’m glad to hear that it lasted 12 hours on you. My skin is perfume-consuming, so I rather envy the longevity you got. And let’s not start on the great sillage you experienced, you lucky devil! 🙂 All in all, I’m really happy you found a fragrance that you love so much. Hurrah for Oncle Serge!

      • thank you! It’s rare that I fall quite so fast for something. I’m really rather pleased with it–and it’s currently improving my mood on a very tedious tuesday.

        Skin chemistry is so very weird, isn’t it? Some perfumes just *vanish* on me altogether, even if they are notorious monsters, like some of the Tom Ford ones, while some of Tauer’s are bigger than half a bottle of the original Poison. But Uncle Serge’s scents seem to play very nicely on my skin. Lucky me! (except, oddly, for ISM which turned into an evil icepick to the sinuses, and the tedious eaux, about which the less said the better.)

        (Actually, I snagged the sample and bottle at House of Fraser in Glasgow rather than Liberty. They only had three bottles in but they seem to be getting more soon and it should be more widely available on the 11th, according to the surprisingly well-informed and super-helpful SA there.)

  7. This sounds so tantalizingly perfect for me…incense and cream…Mysore…and then I come back to the fragility part. I am convinced that my skin would take hold of that fragile perfume and wring its evanescent little neck in about 15 minutes. So, for the money involved, I guess I will abstain. But thanks for the lovely description of what might be, if only it truly was haute concentration.

    • I thought about you and your skin, my dear. You make my perfume-consuming skin seem glue-like in comparison! I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone whose skin muffles and then destroys the olfactory bouquet with as much speed as yours does. Things that last a while even on me can last 15 minutes on you, and I would have to think that L’Orpheline wouldn’t fare significantly better. So, yes, I don’t think you should waste money buying a large decant or anything, but perhaps the next time you order something from STC you can get a sample sample. Just to see. After all, who knows, maybe the sillage would be soft, but you might be interested to see how Mysore-like it would be. Sort of a olfactory experiment just in that regard, if you will.

        • Well, I feel I should warn you that poor Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur seems to have experienced an explosion of metallic aldehydes more than anything Mysore-like. He even brought up Laine de Verre! (Laine de Verre….. *shudder*) That comparison is very worrying, and I truly hope it doesn’t turn out that way for others. I definitely hope it isn’t so for you, even if you’re only opting to buy a small decant.

  8. I would bet money that this is going to be a hit with me… love incense, love cashmeran, and I am enjoing lots of lighter scents lately. Can’t wait to sniff. I will not buy blind however, after the disaster that was Serge Noire, which sounded so promising and stank of smelly armpits on me. :-0

    • Just a quick note to add that I hope L’Orpheline doesn’t turn too aldehydic on you, dear Tara. Mark Behnke seems to experienced quite an explosion of them, in a way that actually reminded him of the dreary, unappealing Laine de Verre! 🙁 Very wise not to do a blind-buy with Uncle Serge, but perhaps now more than usual.

      • Okay, I got a chance to sample this weekend and… I was underwhelmed. 🙁 It smelled barbershoppy, very little incense, and didn’t make any kind of statement at all. I will be giving this one a skip. However, I still hold out hope for L’Incendiare!

        • Oh noooooooo, barbershop notes! Urgh, that means soapiness beyond belief. I’m so sad that the aldehydes went crazy on your skin, and that the incense was so little. 🙁 Really sad. Did you get creamy, spicy woods in the drydown with plushness, at least? Was the perfume too thin to sense much of the drydown? And how was the projection or body on you?

          I’m really sad it went so south on you, but thank God we’re all smart enough to avoid blind-buying a Lutens. One never knows what will happen with them on one’s skin, perhaps these days more than ever with his trend of “light” Eaux-style fragrances. 🙁

          • I do get some incense and wood in the drydown, but there is no projection to speak of. Not creamy in any way. Oh well, more money saved!

  9. Hmmm, this sounds better than some of the recent offerings (Vierge de Fer and Laine de Verre were, IMO, unwearable — in fairness, I didn’t do a full test but was rather repulsed just spraying it onto the paper test strip) but hardly among his finest creations. 🙁

    • I would be interested to see what you thought of this one. It should arrive at Luckyscent in a few weeks, so you can give it a good sniff there. 🙂

      • You know I *still* haven’t made it out to ScentBar since moving?! Woe is me! I’m just so lazy that driving to the west side is always an irritating prospect. I could take the bus, but that’s also an irritating prospect. LOL. Actually, I don’t think I’m traveling this labor day weekend – maybe I’ll check it out then, and possibly get myself a birthday present! 😛 I just finished off a few bottles of perfume via decanting, so I can somehow justify a little replenishing in my twisted mind! 😛

  10. Did you find this terribly different than Laine de Verre? I thought it had the same aldehydes and cashmeran opening and only differed in the choice of musks in the base of Laine de Verre and incense and patch in L’Orpheline. I fear Uncle Serge is going in a direction I do not want to follow. Do you like this lighter more “fragile” aesthetic?

    • How wonderful to see you, Mark (if I may call you that). That’s rather made my day. 🙂 With regard to the two scents, yes, I think L’Orpheline is night and day away from Laine de Verre or the even more ghastly Vierge de Fer. Thank GOD for that, as this would have been a very different review otherwise. I’m not kidding when I say that the thought of those other two sends a shiver down my spine.

      Laine de Verre opened on me with a variety of different sorts of detergent: Woolite to Tide, ending up with Bounce fabric softeners, while Vierge de Fer was hairspray nonstop, amidst some other really painful notes. In contrast, there was only a mere blip of aldehydes with L’Orpheline which felt like authentic aldehydes but with only slightly soapiness. No artificial detergent soapiness and synthetics overload. No winter whites or razor sharpness. Persolaise seems to have encountered a “sparkling” white winter at the start, but mine was very Avignon incense for the most part.

      I fear what I’m reading of your account, as it bodes terribly for what you encountered. If you’re bringing up Laine de Verre…. Well, you have my deepest sympathies. (That said, I still think Vierge de Fer was WORSE. Oh so much worse! lol)

      As for your main questions regarding the direction that the new Lutens fragrances seem to be heading, No, I’m not enthused. You’ve probably gathered by now that I worship the man himself deeply, so it’s been hard for me, and I’ve tried to figure out what is going on. The part of me that seeks see the other side of things has come up with all sorts of justifications, many of which sound very weak in my own ears. One of them is that it must be extremely hard for an artist (as Uncle Serge is or as he sees himself to be) to be constricted into the box of his past glories. The limitations created by himself regarding the signature Lutens style which was so popular. Who wants to be stuck doing nothing but dark orientals with plummy, stewed fruits, dark woods, incense and spices? Actors often hate being known for one break-out role which boxes them forever into certain roles, so it must be similar for perfumers. That’s the best theory or explanation I’ve come up with thus far, other than perhaps an age-related thing where he sees life very differently now.

      Is it very fair for us to keep on demanding that someone create something in a specific, limited style? No, probably not. And, yet, DAMMIT, I absolute HATE this new aesthetic that involves metals, fiberglass, watery crystalline sharpness, and/or fragility. I feel like a petulant child, wanting things my way, the way that I’m used to and like. I feel like many of us are having what truly amounts to a collective temper tantrum, and I think that raises significant issues of the burdens that the public’s expectations places upon artists.

      It is something that perhaps you and I can explore in a mutual post one day, because it really isn’t fair. At the same time, however, perfumery is a business in a way that art or painting isn’t. Well, for most people. In one of his interviews he’s given, Uncle Serge made it very clear that he makes perfumes for himself, and that he has no interest in being famous. I assume that extends to whether or not his “art” sells, but I have a hard time seeing his corporate sponsors, Shiseido, agree with a “market be damned” approach. Bottom line for us, however, seems to be that this is the direction which he wants to explore at the end of the life — regardless of what his fans think. So, you and I are stuck with fragrances that we either wouldn’t wear or that we hate passionately. Perhaps the upcoming Arsonist and the new “Gold” line will be different, but I’m not holding my breath. I think Uncle Serge wants to explore the evanescence of life in his twilight years.

      • Vierge de Fer is of a kind with Laine de Verre and L’Orpheline, I dislike all of them. La Fille de Berlin and De Profundis are the only two I bought since 2011 and I dearly love both of them. Every other release since then has been flawed by this going into the light.
        This is the crux of the matter do I just enjoy the wonderful collection of perfume that I own and allow that nothing Uncle Serge does lessens that in any way. Or do I rail against the light?
        I am always hopeful that L’Incendiare will be for us. Certainly Elena’s review on Fragrantica touches on much of the same issues we are speaking of and she found L’Incendiare to be more old school. We will see pretty soon I imagine.
        As I said as long as Uncle Serge wants to walk in the light I am not going to join him on his sunny side of the street. I am going to slink in the shadows Gollum-like with my precioussssess.
        As to the two of us sharing our thoughts in an article on this or any other perfume subject you only have to ask I would be thrilled to write something with you.

        • Really interesting in terms of La Fille de Berlin and how that was one of the two exceptions for you. It was problematic for me, and not just because I’m unenthused by rose scents (let alone metallic roses). I didn’t like the thinness, either, but the real thing is that I simply couldn’t forget the backstory or move past it.

          Normally, I find backstories to be intellectually interesting, but ultimately irrelevant. It’s mere theory, after all, with a good dash of PR hyperbole. In this case, however, the real backstory was nothing to do with the 1920s Weimar Germany or Marlene Dietrich-type things that so many thought it was. There was a video released at the time which makes it quite clear that the actual inspiration was the rape of a German woman in occupied Berlin who potentially fights back by murder. The whole “violent rape in the snow with blood” and implied murder…. it was too much for me. Even if a fragrance **without** the dreaded roses had that imagery, I couldn’t have it on my skin. I would always be thinking of rape.

          In terms of other recent releases, did you not like the 2012 Une Voix Noire with its smoky, decayed gardenia and Billy Holiday blues?

          De Profundis is exquisite and a work of art. It’s one I love and own too, but my love for Fourreau Noir (and patchouli) usually means I reach for it far more often. I suppose it’s more me.

          Re. your reaction to Uncle Serge’s overall direction these days, your description of “Gollum-like” makes me grin to no end. “Railing against the light”…. hm. I think it’s hard to answer that since we — and every other perfumista around — are so irrelevant to Uncle Serge’s vision and plans, so it’s useless in that regard. However, I have to think that Shiseido keeps tabs on critical responses to his output, so I do think it’s important to rail. It has to all add up in the end, even if it takes a while for the little drops in the ocean to form a tide. Surely they’ll say something if everyone is unenthused and sales start to be affected? I don’t think he’s listen or compromise his artistic vision, but I do think it’s important to speak up, even if it only helps other perfume-lovers like us, who might otherwise be misled.

          In the meantime, I suppose we are stuck hugging our old favorites, and acknowledging that nothing Uncle Serge does lessens his overall legacy. But I have to admit, there is sadness and disappointment involved in a lot of that, for you and I at least.

          I am so happy that you’d consider writing about this or something else! If I may, I’ll email you. Actually, I have wanted to do so long before now and just about general stuff, but I’ll pop something over later tonight. Right now, the Hairy German, my Teutonic Overlord, is demanding to be taken out before the thunderstorms hit, and I am a most obedient, well-trained slave. lol 🙂

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