Renard Constrictor is a pure parfum or extrait that was presumably created by Christopher Sheldrake, and its name translates to “Fox Constrictor” (which my mind unfortunately insists on reading as “Boa Constrictor”). The official description that is quoted on Premiere Avenue talks about furry animals, but says nothing concrete about the scent itself:
The memory is but fleeting, it refuses to remain in my conscience.
Like a timid furry creature, it retracts at a caress. It is a fear that stifles the hero.
As always, Serge Lutens keeps his note list secret, but all early assessments find some sort of white floral as a core element. Most people seem to think it is a mix with either tuberose or gardenia singled out as the most prominent flower, but my friend who kindly sent me samples of the remaining three in the collection found Renard Constrictor to be a hardcore gardenia scent. If I were to venture a guess at the note list, it would be:
gardenia, tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, civet, musk (ambrette?), ambergris, and a heaping amount of white musk.
Renard Constrictor isn’t a fragrance with a great many twists and turns like the old Lutens creations, but there are essentially five “micro-stages,” some of which are more like brief transitional phases. The fragrance opens on my skin with gardenia and tuberose that have been stained purple with Welch’s grape juice or jelly. The latter stems from a natural organic compound called methyl anthranilate which exists in white flowers like tuberose, gardenia, jasmine, and orange blossom. As that Wikipedia link explains, the same compound is also found in Concord grapes. In addition, though, methyl anthranilate has been synthetized into an aromachemical that is used in perfumery. Christopher Sheldrake definitely played with some form of the note, either occurring naturally or otherwise, in Serge Lutens’ gardenia, tobacco, boozy Une Voix Noire, and I think he’s done so again here with Renard Constrictor.
There is a flurry of lesser notes as well. Under the sweet grape jelly, the flowers are streaked black with indoles that smell mentholated and camphorous, initially to the point of smelling like mothballs. Something green, outdoorsy, woody, and practically fizzy follows immediately thereafter, but I can’t place it precisely. It’s crisp and chilly in a way that is very similar to juniper berries and gin, but not quite. (ISO E Super?) What is easier to pinpoint is a possibly related whiff of sap, although this is not the sweet pine sap of something like Fille en Aiguilles but something cooler and rather green. About 15 minutes in, orange blossoms pop up on the sidelines, followed by a hint of jasmine sambac. Both of them are indolic and sweet, but it’s hard to tell much else given the murky, indistinct quality of all the notes in the fragrance.
Ultimately, though, these are all merely the finer points of a shapeless scent that debuts primarily as various forms of white flowers which are mostly purple from grape jelly and black from indoles, but with a hint of slightly crisp, chilly greenness from the juniper-ish note. All of it feels like an oddly thin, diaphanous bouquet for an extrait de parfum. In fact, I consistently had to stop myself from applying a double dose of the scent rather my usual standard amount that I try to stick to for baseline comparisons.
Even stranger to me is the extreme nebulousness of the bouquet. There is almost zero delineation or clarity of notes beyond “white flowers” in the opening phase. Within mere minutes, the camphorous blackness, the mothballs, and the chilly “juniper” gin/sap all coalesce into an out-of-focus blur that quickly seems to hover out of reach, an elusive wisp that streaks across the distant horizon. What’s left is largely a white blob of grape-y florals without much distinctiveness. It’s been a while since I tried a fragrance that lost its individual layers and character quite as rapidly as Renard Constrictor.
Even worse, it’s opening bouquet bears no Lutens identity to me. Actually forget Serge Lutens, the lack of personality or clear identity doesn’t make it seem like a fragrance from any established niche brand at all. Within 30 minutes, both the mothballs and the gin-like elements vanish, though an undertone of camphorousness remains. In essence, Renard Constrictor is now a simple mix of lightly indolic white florals that have been slathered with sweet purple grapes. It feels like something that Dior would have put out as a Poison flanker, perhaps a sister to the white floral, Pure Poison. I actually don’t mind Pure Poison and own a bottle, but I expect far more from Serge Lutens and even more still at these price points.
Sadly, the grape-y white floral blur is better than what lies ahead, particularly the final phase of Renard Constrictor. The second micro-phase begins roughly 45 minutes into the fragrance’s development with the arrival of civet and musk (ambrette?), followed by a golden sweetness that vaguely hints at some amber down the road. It’s a bit hard to tell what it is going on with either note, because the Welch’s grape jelly is growing stronger, while the florals feel wispier and hazier than ever. The civet is almost as shapeless. Rather than feel “furry” like the Lutens description, it’s simply a little musky, beige, and slightly sharp. What it really feels like above all else is beige scratchiness, akin to a fuzzy sweater that isn’t the best quality and includes a lot of rayon or polyester.
All of this is a brief transitional bridge to the third phase in which Renard Constrictor changes quite dramatically. 90 minutes in, the amber arrives on the scene, releasing a flood of caramel sweetness that coats the floral blur and muffles the grape jelly a little. It also softens the scratchy quality of the civet musk, smoothening its edges, and creating a softer, milder fuzziness that is now more akin to a mid-range Alpaca sweater. The flowers turn even more translucent, becoming merely a demure backdrop when I smell my arm up close, though Renard Constrictor still reads as an amorphous “white floral” from a distance. Still, the caramel amber sweetness now leads the charge, followed by the civet musk, while the grape-laden florals bring up the rear. (Yes, the Welch’s jelly is still there.)
For a short while, Renard Constrictor continues as a fuzzy, civety, amber musk with a thin streak of vaguely fruity white flowers weaving around the background, but an ominous sign pops up about 2.5 hours into Renard Constrictor’s development when an almost laundry-like aroma rears its head. It is initially a fleeting, ghostly note in the back, but I was utterly perplexed the first time I tested the fragrance and detected it because the third phase had led me to think that Renard Constrictor was meant to be a “safe” or commercial version of Muscs Koublai Khan (MKK), only nebulously floral, mild and merely fuzzy instead of properly animalic. Now, though, it’s as if as slug of Tide laundry detergent white musk had been added as a counterpoint to the “dirty” musk of the civet. I loathe white musk in general, but when it rises to the level of smelling like actual Tide detergent and it’s in a very expensive fragrance as well, it makes me grit my teeth.
The small, ghostly pop of Tide balloons with astonishing rapidity into a major presence by the end of the 3rd hour. At that point, the fourth micro-phase begins and Renard Constrictor is a full-on mix of ambered, civety, warm musk and laundry musk. The duo is lightly flecked by a grape-y white flowers, but they are small streaks that are quickly shrinking into slivers. Even the amber has turned into an abstraction that wafts quietly around the background. In short, both types of musk are rapidly replacing the florals as the main focus.
I’d originally heard that Renard Constrictor was a floral scent which is why the official description’s sole emphasis on fur confused me but, in hindsight, I think that was a loud hint that Serge Lutens meant this to be a musk fragrance above all else. Why, oh why, did it have to include the laundry kind though, and so much of it? I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the disconcerting juxtaposition of soapy cleanness next to civet muskiness since Sheldrake did something similar in La Religieuse, but that simply underscores yet again how derivative Renard Constrictor is, not only of mainstream fragrances like the Dior Pure Poison of earlier, but of other Lutens creations as well. In addition to the others mentioned here, like MKK, La Religieuse, and Une Voix Noire with its grape-y gardenia, there is the laundry clean floral, Vierge de Fer, and Nuit de Cellophane which had a similar idea of loudly fruity white flowers that turned into soft, fuzzy musk cleanness. In short, Renard Constrictor bears zero creativity in any of its themes, and it feels as though the well of ideas has run dry.
Things only get worse. And worse. Renard Constrictor’s long drydown, its fifth and final phase, begins essentially midway during the 5th hour. It can be summed up as laundry, laundry, laundry synthetic cleanness with a pinch of a warmer, fuzzier, sweeter musk. At first, the fragrance smells almost entirely of Tide laundry liquid, but it slowly takes on the smell of fabric softener dryer sheets instead. It is painfully similar to a vaguely “floral” version of Bounce that I have in my laundry room. (I checked, and did a side-by-side sniff. They’re horrifyingly similar.)
And that’s all there is to the fragrance until the very end. For hours upon hours, I waft nothing more than Bounce floral white musk with an occasional, ghostly hint of something warmer. The scent lasts about 16 hours on me, so that is basically 12 hours of various types of laundry products. If I hate the smell of Tide on my skin, I think the even more intense aroma of Bounce is infinitely worse. I couldn’t bear them in Lutens fragrances like Laine de Verre and Vierge de Fer, but in something that costs $600 for a mere 50 ml? I’m appalled. I thought the Section d’Or fragrances were meant to include only the most expensive ingredients, implicitly indicating that we were putting the synthetic, clean, commercial crap behind us? Either I misunderstood, or Serge Lutens simply cannot let go of his new aesthetic. In my opinion, after smelling a similar laundry soapiness and white synthetic musk blanketing the roses in the opening of Cracheuse de Flammes, it’s the latter. And that fills me with endless dismay.
Like all the other Section d’Or fragrances, Renard Constrictor had excellent longevity (alas), intimate projection, and moderate sillage. Using a few spritzes from a mini-atomiser equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle, Renard Constrictor opened with 2-3 inches of projection and about 5-6 inches of scent trail. It became a skin scent 5.75 hours into its evolution and lasted about 16 hours, though I had to put my nose right on the skin to detect it after the 9th hour.
On Fragrantica, Renard Constrictor only has two reviews at this time, and they’re split. “HighMaintenance” loved the scent, writing in part:
Renard constrictor is the grand feminine of Lutens new super exclusive “gold line”. I see it as a modern take on vintage fur perfumes such as Weil Zibeline and Lanvin My Sin, basically a grand floral bouquet with narcotic sweetness of tuberose, neroli, jasmine, gardenia and lascivious warm musks. If Cracheuse de flammes is wonderfully more dramatic and enigmatic, Renard Constrictor is a magnificent, sensual, seductive and luxurious perfume. […][¶]
Perfumistas who wanted to like Muscs Koublai Khan but thought it was very one note, linear and quite frankly hard to wear and others who love Fleurs d’oranger / Nuit de cellophane but are looking for a more opulent, intoxicating and sophisticated alternative will fall in love with this perfume. [Emphasis to perfume names added by me.]
In contrast, “Deadidol” basically shrugged, comparing it to an extravagant floral lotion at one point and saying flatly that it was nothing “even remotely on par with past Serge releases.” His review reads in full as follows:
A plush white floral that’s mainly orange blossom over a lactonic tuberose that wears tastefully light, yet is spun full-bodied and cozy through a nifty use of resins. There’s a throwback elegance to it — mostly because it’s not blaring off the skin — but it’s still hoofing it down hackneyed paths. Pleasant and surprisingly subtle, but wholly unoriginal and redundant. It smells more like an extravagant lotion than a perfume. Friendly enough, but not worth a fraction of the asking price and not even remotely on par with past Serge releases.
Mark Behnke of Colognoisseur liked Renard Constrictor the most out of the lot, but that’s not saying much since the new fragrances were the last straw for him and he’s now given up on Serge Lutens as a whole. His cursory synopsis for Renard Constrictor reads:
Renard Constrictor was the only one I actually considered wearing. The pine and the styrax are back but this time surrounding a pretty gardenia on a bed of amber and musk. As with the other Section D’Or releases there is not one iota of a new idea here just something seen many times in other brands.
I fully agree with him and Deadidol, there is nothing original here at all. However, unlike Mark Behnke, I would never consider wearing Renard Constrictor at all. Not if it were given to me for free. Not in a million years. Not ever.