Serge Lutens Bourreau des Fleurs

Bourreau des Fleurs is the newest addition to Serge LutensSection d’Or. The name means “executioner of flowers” and the fragrance is devoid of any floralcy. Instead, it is a delicious, rather addictive, semi-gourmand oriental that traverses the light spectrum from golden immortelle to a darkness created out of salty black licorice, balsamic amber resins, and incense-y wood smoke. It’s my favourite new Lutens release in a long time, but it comes with some baggage.

Bourreau des Fleurs. Photos from Fragrantica. Collage my own.

Bourreau des Fleurs was officially launched in June. I assume that it is an extrait de parfum like all the original entries in the Section d’Or collection, though the Lutens’ website does not specify its concentration. However, two Lutens vendors, Harrods and Premiere Avenue, list it as an eau de parfum. I think it must be an error since one of the big selling points of the high-priced Section d’Or is that its fragrances are richer, deeper, and more luxurious extraits.

On his website, Serge Lutens describes Bourreau des Fleurs as obliquely and morbidly as is his wont:

The condemned woman: Executioner you are severing the chord but you are my lifeblood; you course through me like the sap of a tree.

The executioner: And you are the wood in my heart.

“The Execution of Lady Jane Grey,” by Paul Delaroche, 1833. Source: Wikipedia.

As a small aside, I think that exchange takes on quite a different and rather disturbing shade of meaning if what I’ve read about Bourreau des Fleurs is true: that it is intended to represent Serge Lutens’ love-hate relationship with his mother or even to be some sort of strange homage to her. In the past, Monsieur Lutens has said that he expresses his emotions and mental state vis-à-vis his perfumes, and that it is also a way for him to process his painful childhood. (See Part I of my Lutens profile for details on his illegitimacy and his abandonment during the Nazi occupation of France.) If one juxtaposes the executioner fragrance and those lines between condemned woman and her hard-hearted male killer with his second release for 2017, “Dents de Lait,” or “Baby Teeth,” a fragrance with milky notes whose advert features a smiling baby in diapers, I can’t help but think that, at this late stage of his life, Monsieur Lutens is signaling a growing internal conflict between two Freudian extremes: the desire to execute his mother and the desire to crawl back into the womb. I really hope that he is all right or that I’m misreading things.

Photo: Opticoverload on Flickr. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Bourreau des Fleurs’ note list is a secret, but some sites offer a few suggestions. Harrods puts forth: “Caramel, sap, resin.” Parfumo posits: “Licorice, Immortelle, Charred wood.” Based on what appears on my skin, my guess for the note list would be:

Immortelle, licorice, stewed fruits (plums and prunes), cumin, ginger, cedar, labdanum, Tolu balsam, benzoin, and probably myrrh and sweet myrrh resins.

Bourreau des Fleurs opens on my skin with many of Serge Lutens’ favourite accords. There are the dark stewed prunes, plums, and cedar of the Feminité du Bois series, most specifically the sweet, honey-laden, autumnal strains of the Paris Exclusive, Bois et Fruits. There is also Arabie‘s Arab bazaar of spices and immensely sticky dried fruits, both of which are laced with just a hint of Fille en Aiguilles‘ ginger plums and incense smoke.

Source: goodwine.au

Strands of black licorice weave these separate but related and overlapping accords together, but it is nothing as compared to the main focus of Bourreau des Fleurs’ early hours: immortelle. Initially, in the first few moments, it is merely a soft ripple that laps at the corners of the dried fruits, spices, and singed woods but, with every passing moment, it grows in strength until, less than five minutes in, it gushes forth like a geyser, coating the Lutens signature accords with a thick, ambered, sappy, honeyed, and maple syrup-like sweetness.

Jeux de Peau via Fragrantica.

Its effect is to reduce the Feminité/Bois et Fruits, Arabie, and Fille en Aiguilles refrains and to move Bourreau des Fleurs much closer to the breakfast gourmandise of Jeux de Peau. (It, too, had licorice and immortelle, even though they weren’t the central focus). Maybe it’s a trick of the mind or mere suggestibility but I could swear that Bourreau des Fleurs bears hints of Jeux de Peau’s buttered wheat toast lurking somewhere in there in its earliest moments, as well as its whisper of saltiness. The latter undoubtedly stems from the licorice which grows stronger after 20 minutes, quite overshadowing the cumin, cedar, and even some of the plums. It’s as though the licorice (laced with balsamic resins like Tolu balsam) were the bridge between the mainland and a small archipelago of islands, its quietly bitter, salty, anisic chewiness connecting the savory gourmand immortelle with the more oriental, woody, spiced, and Arabic side of past Lutens classics.

Licorice. Source: Dylanscandybar.com

As a side note, many of you know that I don’t like gourmand fragrances and that I have an extremely low tolerance level for sweetness, so let me say at the outset that I thought the balance of notes was perfect here and that I never once found Bourreau des Fleurs to be cloying. Yes, the opening is sweet but it is more in the oriental way rather than being anything heavily or purely gourmand. There is just enough darkness, bitterness, singed wood, and resin to counterbalance the immortelle. Furthermore, the scent turns drier, smokier, and even more oriental as it develops. I suspect the licorice may be more of an issue for some people than the immortelle or sweetness; licorice is not the most popular note in perfumery.

Source: benzinga.com

When considered as a whole, Bourreau des Fleurs’ development can essentially be compared to a medical flat-line that experiences several periodic squiggles up and down during the first five hours as it gradually traverses the light spectrum from goldenness to darkness before finally settling on a long, simple drydown. During the first five hours, the changes are merely small ones, an incremental emphasis of one accord over another. For example, roughly 2.25 hours in, Bourreau des Fleurs grows smokier, woodier, spicier, and drier, although not majorly so. If one were to use a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the mildest, the levels would go from a 2 to perhaps a 4, while the immortelle drops from a 10 to 8. About 3.5 hours in, the resins increase in a similar fashion, from a 2 to a 4. At the same time, the licorice fuses completely with the immortelle and Tolu balsam to form one indivisible unit, and the spiced, dried/stewed fruits become a mere background aura.

Artist unknown. Source: Yakitori Taisho on plus.google.com.

About 4.5 hours in, Bourreau des Fleurs turns darker. The licorice, smoky, woody, Tolu balsam, and amber resins go up another 2 notches to level 6, while the spices and dried fruits turn into mere blips on the far horizon. Something about the smoky, woody, faintly bitter and resinous darkness smells like more than mere licorice, cedar, and Tolu to me; I think there is a good dose of either myrrh resin, sweet myrrh, or, more likely, a mix of the two buried in there. Either way, the cumulative effect is to cut through even more of the immortelle’s sticky, honeyed, maple syrup sweetness and to shift the balance of notes towards the licorice-resin side.

Source: earthweek.com

There are no further significant developments after the middle of the 5th hour. Bourreau des Fleurs simply dissolves into an indeterminate but rather delicious, cozy, and snuggly cloud of sweet-dry, sweet-bitter, smoky, spicy, woody, resinous darkness. The fragrance continues like that in a flat line until it finally dies away.

Bourreau des Fleurs had low projection, average to soft sillage, and good longevity. Using several generous smears equal to 2 good sprays from an actual bottle on the same patch of forearm, the fragrance’s opening projection was about 2 to 2.5 inches, at most. The scent trail extended 5-6 inches, but began to shrink 1.75 hours in. After 3 hours, Bourreau des Fleurs formed an intimate bubble that extended maybe 2-3 inches around me. The fragrance turned into a skin scent after 6.25 hours, although it was easy to detect up close without much effort until the 9th hour. In total, it lasted just under 13.75 hours. Judging by the longevity votes on Fragrantica, the fragrance may have performed far better on me than on some. (The two reviews on that page at this time from people who have actually tried it are very positive about how it smells, though, and neither one had longevity issues.)

I really enjoyed Bourreau de Fleurs, thought that everything worked beautifully together, found it to be the most appealing Lutens since L’Incendiaire, and I would love to have a bottle, but this is a fragrance that is subject to a completely different set of calculations than most and there are several reasons why. First, it is to be completely expected that everything worked well together because this is a composition that recycles not only the classic Lutens signature accords but also some of his most popular ones. L’Incendiaire was also a “greatest hits redux, “and I wasn’t so thrilled by that fact back then which makes me wonder if my feelings about Bourreau are because I actually love it, because I’m simply resigned to the recycling at this point, or because I’m so relieved at being spared Lutens’ current olfactory aesthetic with its watery, synthetic, anemic, and overly clean lifelessness? I don’t know. While I genuinely do enjoy Bourreau de Fleurs, it’s difficult to deny that it merely reassembles bits of old fragrances and that it is arguably, therefore, an unimaginative pastiche of dead ground. Am I shrugging at that here because of how much I dread the thought of fragrances like “Baby Teeth” (or the L’Eau series) and because even recycled old Lutens is more enjoyable than modern Lutens?

I realize my questions make me sound like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and The City, but they are questions worth asking when one is writing a positive review about a fragrance like this one, a fragrance which recycles the past for a very high price: €480, £425, or roughly $550 for a mere 50 ml. The answer to my questions is probably a combination of a factors, none of which would be significant by themselves if Bourreau de Fleurs were a $150 scent, but one cannot judge a €480 mash-up of previously released and much more affordable Lutens fragrances in quite the same way. Hardcore, longstanding Lutens aficionados — the very sort of perfumistas who read fragrance blogs like this one — probably already own at least a few of the aforementioned classics in their original, unreformulated form. I cannot see many of them shelling out €480 to have a mash-up of Jeux de Peau and Arabie or Jeux de Peau and Feminité du Bois, especially when they could simply layer their existing fragrances. Is it enough that Bourreau de Fleurs is a thoroughly enjoyable scent when it brings absolutely nothing new to the table and is merely a deeper scent that is housed in a fancier black and gold bottle? I doubt it.

Arguable redundancy isn’t the only problem at this price point. No matter how much I may love the sweet-savory-smoky-resinous mix, there is no denying that Bourreau de Fleurs is singularly monolithic and linear which, again, wouldn’t be an issue at $150 but it becomes something more serious at $550/€480 for a mere 50 ml. Yet another factor is the longevity/sillage situation. Judging by the Fragrantica votes, a number of people did not experience either a particularly long-lasting fragrance or one with great sillage.

Usually, I would tell you to try Bourreau des Fleurs for yourself to see how you fare, but that brings us to the final problem: this isn’t the easiest fragrance to try or even to find. Lutens doesn’t permit most of its retailers to carry the high-end Section d’Or line, and, at the time of this post, months into its release, Bourreau des Fleurs is only offered at the Lutens Paris headquarters, London’s Harrods, Premiere Avenue, and, presumably, Barney’s. (The latter doesn’t show the fragrance on its website, however. And Lutens does not offer it for online purchase on its sites, either.)

I don’t know what to say except that it’s a shame such a wonderful fragrance is out of reach for so many, both in terms of price and access. Many readers follow this blog because you have tastes similar to mine and I would bet money that at least 30 or 40 of you would just go nuts for Bourreau de Fleurs and would see it as an utterly delicious “cozy comfort” winter fragrance. But I can think of only three readers who might possibly shrug off the price tag and redundancy to buy it (if they could find it), and I’m not dead certain even about them. This is a very simple fragrance for such a high price.

Oh well. At least it was enjoyable to test and doesn’t have an embarrassing, atrocious name like “Baby Teeth”?

Details/Links: €480 or £425 for 50 mls. The US price is probably around $550, but the fragrance is not listed on the Barney’s Serge Lutens page for me to know for certain. At the time of this post, the fragrance is unavailable for direct online purchase via Serge Lutens US or Serge Lutens France, but you can buy it from Harrods and France’s Premiere Avenue. Russian’s Spell Smell may get it later on but it’s unavailable there at the moment. Samples: Surrender to Chance has Bourreau des Fleurs starting at $7.99 for a 1/4 ml vial.

25 thoughts on “Serge Lutens Bourreau des Fleurs

  1. Oh >insert expletive here<! I was quite excited about SL’s finally having something that sounds good to me until, well, um, the price. Big sigh. Even if it’s only “big hits redux”, I would have been excited. I’ve been wearing Chypre Rouge lately and remembering how much I once loved just about the whole line. I guess Monsieur doesn’t want us peons to be wearing his juice. C’est la vie!

      • Shiseido’s loss. Sadly, mine as well. I would really love to own this fragrance. But there is no way I’m spending that sort of money, even if it came in a 100 ml bottle.

    • To be fair, I would put the blame on Shiseido rather than Oncle Serge. I highly doubt he thinks about pricing, cares about it, or has much say in it. I think he considers price only in so far as it gives him a framework to pass along to Christopher Sheldrake in sourcing his materials, a sort of general estimate of how much he’s permitted to spend. Oncle Serge lives too much in his head as a grand intellectual to think about something as common, mundane, or plebeian as money, and he’s also passed along the running of the business to Shiseido over the last 18 months to 2 years.

      So, yes, someone doesn’t care about us peons wearing his juice, but I would say it’s Shiseido. In the end, though, it doesn’t make any difference, does it? The result is still the same. 🙁

      You would absolutely love this fragrance, though, Julie. You really would. Hands down and no question whatsoever in my mind.

    • C’est toi, Cele? Si oui, alors oui, lol. 😉 Je pense que ça irait très bien pour tes goûts, sauf pour le sillage. Le sillage n’est pas super fort.

    • En passant, le parfum d’Unum que je viens de passer en revue il y a quelques jours te conviendrais encore plus. Il est tout à fait ton truc.

  2. Reading this, I am reminded once again how difficult it is to translate such a primal sense as smell into words. K, You are an artist.

  3. Dang, darn, dagnabbit! This so soooo meeeee. But the price point….and I have to rein back now this month because of uh-hem, recent aquisitions…sigh. I love SL, and even some of the newer offerings like L’orpheline (on second bottle). But Jeux de Peau is up up there. Two accords I go bonkers for: immortelle and licorice/anise/fennel/absinthe. Add in resins, incense and oh good grief. In the mountains where we are, there is a year-round scent of immortelle and fennel, often interspersed with cedar, oak, and now the rains have come, dirt and dried leaves and fruits. When I first got interested in niche/indie SL was my opening and a house that suited me entirely–my psychic “homeland.” Well. I’m off to STC. I can test-drive at least. In the meantime I’m going to try layering–never did this with his works.

    • This one is totally you, Shiva! Might as well have come with a name tag on it. But get the SCT sample and then, if it’s true love, maybe you can write to Santa to ask him to drop it down the chimney next month…. 😉

      Btw, I didn’t know that immortelle and anise/licorice were your catnip! I will add that to my mental note list for you.

      What did you think of your new bottle of Areej Le Doré’s Oud Picante? When you have some time, I hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences in that post. I’d love to hear about it, and I’m sure other people would be interested, too, as quite a number of people read that review every week. But there is no rush at all. Whenever you have some time. 🙂

  4. Lovely review, as always, dear Kafka!
    Re concentration of the Section d’Or collection: the SL sales girl at Galleries Lafayette claims their concentration is 80%. Not sure if that qualifies as uber-extrait .. 😉

    • Interesting information, so thank you for sharing. I have to say, though, that I find it to be unlikely that they’re 80% natural oils, essences, and raw materials, only 20% alcohol. That would put them at essentially attar strength, and not one of the Section d’Ors rises to that level in my experience. Fragrances like that weird, rather thin, wheat/porridge-y thing definitely isn’t attar concentration. So uber, super duper, 80% extrait richness is highly unlikely, in my opinion. I think sales girls say lots of things, and I rarely believe a quarter of it. Lol 😉 😛

      I know you were merely sharing the company line on this, so please don’t take my comments the wrong way. I appreciate you letting me know what the official marketing position is, Angelika.

      By the way, long time no see! It was last in 2014 (?) with the EU petition, I think, no? I hope you’ve been well and that 2017 hasn’t spread its terribleness to you as it has to so many others I know. Don’t be a stranger and please feel free to pop in again whenever you have a moment. 🙂

      • Thank you for your kind reply, Kafka! I have my doubts as well as regards this marketing position. So I proceeded to give that poor sales girl a hard time and made her check with Shiseido’s person in charge of their SL marketing and apparently she did (somewhat unwillingly it seemed and not at all amused by my questioning her statement). Today she reported that indeed the concentration is 80% perfume oil, referring to a Ms. Agnes Al Hatimy at Shiseido.

        Excellent memory, btw.! It last was with the petition. 2017 has treated my nicely for the most part and speared me much of the grief so many are faced with.I trust you are well? And thanks for the invitation! Happy to pop in again and comment, if I believe I have something pertinent to share. 🙂

        With best wishes from Berlin,
        A.

  5. Thank you Kafka for another great review, the medical flat-line is a brilliant comparison! I find the name a very clever wordplay, and I was somehow touched by the story and the symbol behind the fragrance. Reading the press release, I’m reminded of my teenager years when I firmly rejected some of my parents’ ideas, either by difference in worldview or simply by rebellious impulse. The relation between my parents and I is usually good, and these rejections of ideas never did escalate, but it’s only during recent years that I finally realised and accepted that even I’m trying to navigate my own path, there’s always part of me shaped by my parents, one way or another.

    Regarding the fragrance, I enjoyed it, too. On me, it’s primarily a rich immortelle with various nuances and is among my favourites in Section d’Or. However, when I think of other great immortelle fragrances, Bourreau des Fleurs doesn’t stand out and the price of Section d’Or seems almost ridiculous. I’m glad that I tried it, but I had to cut it off my want list like the flowers. 😛

  6. What an amazing, entertaining review, dearest Franz !
    I already thought you had a major change of your parfum taste : it’s sweet and yet you like it ?! That alone would make me want to try it, since I share your antipathy for sweetness in parfum… And I admit that licorice and the price are a bit scary too… Anyway, I’ll be in London in few weeks.
    Probably it’s no surprise for you that the painting by Delaroche is one of my alltime favorites , I will re-visit it when next time in London !

    • Mi’Lady, long time no see. I hope you’ve been well and survived 2017’s turbulence. As for the painting, I thought of you when I posted it. My apologies for sharing a picture of your demise. lol 😉

  7. OMG, this sounds so good except for the cumin note, but then again, that seemed to be drowned out by all the other parts. I anticipate going to Barneys next week so I may be making a donation. BTW, I finally got L’Incendiaire at a 40% discount so I am a happy camper 🙂

    • The cumin is noticeable as a clear note only in the first 10 minutes really. Thereafter, it’s definitely drowned out by everything else.

      Lucky you for getting L’incendiaire at such a big discount. Was that due to someone selling it off? I can’t imagine Barney’s offering 40% off their fragrances. Either way, nice score, Hajasuuri.

  8. My ideas of what’s an acceptable price for perfume have changed so much since I got started. So I adored your thoughts on why we might or might not be willing to pay exorbitant amounts. Yet I think of Gardelia, Mohur Extrait, or O Hira, and what they bring to the table just seems like more. But it’s all personal taste and finances in the end, I suppose.

  9. The only thing your lovely review did for me was to answer the question you posited at the start . Is Mr. Lutens alright ? No he isn’t .

    • Welcome to the blog, Carole. Just out of curiosity, is it the pricing of the fragrance in light of its simplicity or the juxtaposition of inspirations for the two 2017 releases which leads you to reach that conclusion? 🙂

  10. I tried Bourreau des Fleurs after reading your review, and while it’s nice, it definitely felt like a mix up of Lutens perfumes. I got a hefty dose of cumin piled on top of a woodier version of Fille en aiguilles, then licorice over an amber-y base. Hardly groundbreaking, and ultimately rather forgettable.
    It did have good lasting power, though, so there’s that.

    Now that new Unum on the other hand, I’d like to investigate…

    • How interesting that you didn’t encounter much (any?) immortelle! But even with it, the fragrance is retread and re-mix of the old scents, so it can definitely feel forgettable. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ll never know how much of that is driven, as I wrote in the review, by my great disappointment over all the releases of the last 3 years and by my dread of the new style represented by Dents de Lait.

      As for the Unum, perhaps you can order a sample from Essenza Nobile? I haven’t heard of any Parisian stores carrying the line.

      • You know, maybe there were some immortelle but I was so bored with it that I stopped paying attention really fast, so I couldn’t tell you. 😀 Eh
        I did find it enjoyable, but it seems it turned out better on your skin than on mine. It did make me miss my Fille en Aiguilles bottle (I haven’t got it with me right now) quite bitterly.
        One thing that annoys me more than a little, I forgot to say, is the name. I understand that it has deep, personal ramification for Lutens and that it relates to his own family history and wasn’t intended to have broader implication but, gee, am I tired with this trend of romanticizing violence against women in perfumes. It adds up and it’s gross. Not to mention that there is nothing original in the « Women prettily suffer » theme. This, of course, goes way beyond Lutens, but I’m tired of it.

        Thank you for your recommendation Kafka! I will look it up. I just need to find the time to sit down and make a list of samples. I just seem to never find it lately. Ahhhh, well. I will eventually!

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