Ready To Wear: The best scents are complicated and dramatic

 

Anyone who cares deeply enough about the quality of their chosen scent will understand that it is not necessarily something that will land, as if by magic, on their doorstep.

This applies especially to those who prefer something a little more obscure than those developed by the big brands, however lovely their fragrances may – or may not – be. In that case, a trip to Serge Lutens' extraordinary salon (it's too grand to be described as a store, please) in Palais Royal in Paris is in order.

Nestling in the historic arcades, this precious jewellery box of a boutique has an interior as cool and dimly lit as a Renaissance church, in muted shades of purple and with a central spiral staircase in black, bronze and red copper worthy of even the grandest of entrances. One of the city's best-kept secrets, it's busier than usual during the twice-yearly couture season when le tout fashion descends upon the French capital.

At least some of Lutens' fragrances are available in this country, and they have a cult following. More rarefied is a series exclusive to the salon that includes the unashamedly vegetal Iris Silver Mist, Bois de Violette, a marvellous cedar-based scent, and my favourite, Rose de Nuit.

If there is a single factor that unifies Lutens' oeuvre it must surely be that his scents are anything but "clean" – as in broadly commercial and reminiscent of freshly laundered sheets and/or soapy skin; as in the olfactory equivalent of a Lenor commercial. Instead, they are complex and aimed squarely at the woman, not the girl. The warmth of Turkish rose absolute and yellow jasmine in Rose de Nuit is played off against more woody vetiver. Amber, musk and patchouli, meanwhile, ensure that the finished juice is less overtly fresh, feminine and girlish and more sensual than most rose-based fragrances.

If it were a book, Lutens says, Rose de Nuit would be One Thousand and One Nights. A piece of music? Stravinsky's The Firebird. More pragmatic good news: having invested the time and effort to travel for your perfect perfume in the first place, it can then be ordered online. At which point it will land, as if by magic, on your doorstep – or by courier at least.

sergelutens.com

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