Smoky leather corseted by frankincense, then enveloped in resinous amber, spicy patchouli, and fiery cloves lies at the heart of Cannibale, one of Serge Lutens‘ new parfums in his Section d’Or Collection. It’s a fragrance that took me all over the place. Images of wild tribal dances around smoky fires competed with flashbacks to France’s Madame Pompadour and the powdered aristocrats of the ancien regime wearing old-fashioned rice powder and acidic floral vinegars at Versailles. Those flashbacks were later replaced by flashforwards in time to modern niche hits like Mona di Orio‘s Cuir, Annick Goutal‘s Ambre Fetiche, and Tom Ford‘s Amber Absolute (or its tweaked parallel version, Sahara Noir).
And, throughout it all, there were loud reverberations of several past Lutens‘ creations, first and foremost Serge Noire, then Ambre Sultan and L’Incendiaire. At times, parts of Cannibale drew me in appreciatively before another element repelled me, sometimes making me recoil quite literally. There were also glimmers of the old Luten’ innovative whimsy and originality, but they occurred early on, before being drowned out entirely by a bouquet that made me feel I was wearing fragrances from other brands. When you spend a small chunk of time mentally cataloguing all the possible amber, leather, and Serge Noire combinations that could create the same scent — one bearing a far higher price tag than those individual parts — then I think there is a problem.