Serge Lutens & Shiseido’s Nombre Noir: The Legendary Unicorn

Serge Lutens in an ad for Nombre Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

Serge Lutens in an ad for Nombre Noir. Source: Fragrantica.

There are unicorns that hide amongst the shadows of our world, fragrance unicorns that are spoken about in hushed, reverential tones, fragrances of such great rarity that they rise from the eBay mists only a bit more frequently than King Arthur’s Avalon. These myths of legend belong to an elite club in the vintage world, and one of them is Nombre Noir.

Nombre Noir is so famous for so many reasons that it’s hard to know where to begin. It was the very first fragrance ever made by the visionary Serge Lutens, his introductory footsteps into the perfume world, albeit under the umbrella of Shiseido rather than his own name. That would come later, but so many of the famous Lutens olfactory signatures make their debut in Nombre Noir that it’s like following a map into the future. But the reasons why the fragrance is so mythical have little to do with Lutens himself and everything to do with an aggregation of olfactory, technical, and market-oriented factors. The fact that there is a whiff of Greek tragedy to the tale just adds to the mystique.

Nombre Noir via Fragrantica.

Nombre Noir pure parfum via Fragrantica.

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Serge Lutens Veilleur de Nuit

Source: upi.com

Source: upi.com

So, I guess luxury “Choco-Florals” have now become a thing. This year alone, there have been three luxury-priced Roja Dove chocolate floral orientals ($500+) and a luxury-priced Amouage ($300+) one. And, at first glance, Serge Lutens‘ new Veilleur de Nuit (“The Night Watchman” or “Watcher of the Night”) would appear to be joining their ranks.

The reality feels different, though. To me, Veilleur de Nuit is quietly and only tangentially floral, and the fragrance is primarily an animalic chocolate with leathery, musky, and smoky facets. When wearing it, I never thought of something like a chocolate version of Tubereuse Criminelle. Not even once. I thought of a chocolate twist on Boxeuses instead, albeit only briefly.

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Serge Lutens Bapteme du Feu

Bapteme du Feu, the latest release from Serge Lutens, is not a scent that lends itself to easy characterisation. What I can say is that it’s different, puts a sometimes bizarre twist on traditional fragrance categories or genres, and that the old Lutens eccentricity and creative twists are back. Wearing it left me flummoxed at times, highly ambivalent at other times, but at least it feels like a Lutens, for better or for worse.

Source: shutterstock.com

Source: shutterstock.com

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Serge Lutens Arabie: Souks, Spices & Sweets

Photo: Nahid Sultana Tithi via his site, Journey Around The Globe. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Photo: Nahid Sultana Tithi via his site, Journey Around The Globe. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Close your eyes and imagine yourself spending a day in an old souk, perhaps in Marrakesh or Tripoli. The air is thick with heat, so you buy a refreshing drink of blood oranges infused with Angostura aromatic bitters, decorated with candied orange peels and sprigs of fresh herbs. One vendor catches your eye, his tables piled high with leathery black figs, the fattest, stickiest Medjool dates, syrup-laden Middle Eastern sweets, and honeyed desserts. Large sacks of colourful spices lie on the ground, next to ones filled with bitter Bay Leaf, oregano, and other green herbs. Nearby, bottles of rich labdanum amber and leathery Tolu balsam resins surround gleaming silver trays filled with cinnamon-scented, hard, dark benzoin resinoids.

Loukoumades drizzled with honey . Source: egyptianstreets.com

Loukoumades drizzled with honey . Source: egyptianstreets.com

An enterprising chap, the seller even offers you cooked food in case you missed your lunch, large bowls filled with curries or banana-leaf savory dishes straight from his Indian wife’s kitchen. You stand before his wares, sipping your drink of herbal Angostura bitters and orange, nibbling on a dried date as you contemplate ordering either a main meal or dessert. Suddenly, a vendor on a bike comes out of nowhere and crashes into you. The barrel of immortelle in the back goes flying into the air, crashing into the tables, throwing everything to the ground, and releasing a flood of sticky syrup over them all. Apologizing profusely, the vendor offers to cook you dinner in his kitchen. Hours later, he replaces your ruined clothing with an outfit made of soft Tuareg leather, but the resins from the accident still coat your skin, encasing you in a cloud of amber infused with spices, sweet myrrh, and sweetness.

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