Perfume Review & Musings: Chypre Rouge by Serge Lutens & Sample Giveaway

chypre_rouge.jpg Red Chypre is an unusual olfactory construction, a chypre reinterpreted to the point of nearly losing its identity as a chypre and being recognized only with hesitation, seemingly serving essentially as a symbolic crossroads for Serge Lutens' memories and impressions. The perfume here is biography and quest speaking of soul-searching and soul-finding tracing a path leading us from the present to the past or, perhaps it would be more correct to state, from the author's days as an adult to the chapter of his childhood. It also reflects his life journey from West to East. How significant are these elements in his creation of perfumes is made explicit by Lutens, "A perfume can only emanate from a memory, from something you have known earlier on, or from a cultural path."

Serge Lutens offers us clues that reinforce the mystery and secrecy of Chypre Rouge. It is a perfume that will offer its wearer the charm of strangeness; it exudes it.


The scent refers to a red oakmoss that is half-dreamed, half-remembered and that we are not sure is really present as a significant chypre ingredient...

Chypre Rouge starts with very fleeting fresh top notes suggesting classic bergamot with a hint of mint. It is so fleeting I missed it several times. Then there is an extraodinary outburst of pungent spices which instead of decreasing in intensity increases in intensity over some time. There is in it a very characteristic savory spice note pointing its head conjuring up images of Chinese cooking as well as of Arabian spice stores (Izrael in Paris in particular) and that I identify as Chinese licorice. It smells literally of an Oriental all-spice.There are sharp spices counterbalanced by soft spices essentially to my nose, sharp pepper and nutmeg notes rounded off by the sweetness of coriander and the softness of mace. Mace dominates and explains for me, in part, the red in the name of the perfume. The sharpness is accentuated by an animalic honey. Yet it soon also softly unfolds. Pecans and caramel surface. A balsamic note is perceptible but not very strong. Underneath the fireworks of dry dark spices there is the syrupy softness of a berry syrup. It is soft but not cloying.


To me, the spicy stage refers obviously to Marrakesh and to Lutens' adult life in Morocco. As the perfume unfolds further a new olfactory ambiance emerges. The scent is now more Western and it smells of slightly spicy redcurrants and blackberries topping a layer of sweet, burnt caramelized pecans. Beeswax emerges. This slightly tart fruity stage to me suggests by contrast, the sweetness and gourmandise of childhood. The perfume has become soft and tender and brings about soothing impressions.

We know that Lutens had a catastrophic childhood as he himself stresses and so this indicates to me a sense of reconciliation with his past. The dry down evokes a light musky berry trail in the vein of Mûre et Musc compositions.

Chypre Rouge, which is both a spicy and gourmand scent like Arabie (created in 2000) is a more mature and sophisticated perfume than the latter, in my opinion. It is also more difficult to like immediately because of its initial uncompromising dryness. The perfume is less immediately pleasing at first but also more unique. Some people might be taken aback initially by the savory spices box effect because the spices seem to present the quality of being edible rather than just fragrant. I would say that despite its syrupy softness it is less sweet and more subtle than Arabie. The strangeness that I point out in Chypre Rouge is not at all unsettling or if it unsettles it also signals a happy resolution with its soft second dominant accord. The perfume-wearer senses that Lutens has come to port and that peace has conquered. "Softness and depth, secret in scents where, laying our cheeks we can only dream." The perfume, although recalling the softness of Douce Amère, reveals a softness that has more depth and more complexity.

It is quite an addictive scent as the ensemble of sensations it offers are rather unique. It retains some characteristics of a chypre thanks to the tartness of the berries that project the characterisitc aura of high pitched notes you find in a chypre, but this aura does not project very far and remains close to the skin. I would say that it is a spicy, gourmand, and soft chypre. For its cultural gourmand references, I would be tempted to call it a fusion perfume if you will, a term not usually used to refer to perfumes but to cuisine. I prefer it to the habitual characterization of "Oriental" because it does not make a classic use of exotic ingredients but rather uses them to allude to two separate worlds.

The story behind the scent remains intriguing.The fragrance operates for me like a symbolic bridge constructed over time and space. It is replete with half-drawn symbols. The fragrance smells to my nose of two dominant hues, black and purplish red. It is both a perfume of darkness, of intensity, a quality sought out by Lutens of his own admittance, and one of limpidity and calm, a light red suffused with the possibility of purity and transparency. The opacity of the red moss originally reflecting the uncommunicable suffering of a child has now been able to transsubstantiate itself into the transparent quality of a perfume and the clean water of limpid memories in other words, into self-expression and acceptance.

Having read about Serge Lutens' life, it then seems that the perfume transfigures profound symbolical colors and shades encountered by Lutens in his experience and, perhaps, also stands as an unconscious search for a decoding of their meaning.

Serge Lutens now lives in Marrakesh, also called the Red City -- called Al Medina al Hamra in Arabic due to the beautiful hues of ochre, red, coral, deep pink etc. that cover its architecture. Chypre Rouge's imagined world, that of Lutens -- or is it more mine? -- contains the red walls of the city and the redness of spices found at the souk. The darkness of the perfume punctured with clarity is perhaps, I like to imagine, like those alleys in the casbah of Marrakesh that seem to lose themselves in the intricacies of the medina, half hidden in the shadows of the day, only cut through, at times, soft, at other times, piercing rays of light passing through the half-transparent dark textiles or lattices obscuring the sky above narrow passage ways. These alleys are like dark veins through which life pulsates, a bit shadowy and vague, yet offering a sense of directionality, a path leading one's steps in the direction of a home. They, probably more than any other alleys in the world for Serge Lutens are capable of suggesting the steps to be traced to enter one's abode as well as the sense of loss and the experience of abandonment overcome. For the stroller full of strangeness like Lutens these intimate streets having taken him away from his country of birth lead him after a detour back to his past, to the smells of childhood and the nostalgia for softness and gentleness. The artist is known to sashay hours on end in the medina seeking...happiness; I really meant to write, new smells.Marrakesh_lightShaft.jpg

In the story appended to the perfume, Lutens tells us about a red moss that left a marked impression on him as a child. Red Chypre, the red moss, the red walls of the city, the red of berries, the red of mace and nutmeg found in the perfume, the bloody battle of adults finding a protective echo in the fortress of the casbah, the bleeding heart of a suffering child finding its expression and reflection in a red moss, the mystery of the blackness of his mother's dress, of her jet beads on her wedding day and the obscurity of alleys covered with black textiles, the vivid ochre of the walls and the darkness of the alleys. Lutens' fascination for black and red reappears in his color palette as a makeup artist.

What Chypre Rouge reveals is a marked contrast between two atmospheres, two places, two different periods of the author's life and a system of correspondences between the two. It also fulfills in part an aesthetic program that is close to its author's heart, namely that a perfume should be able to be a commentary on civilizations. Lutens once stated, "I would love to tell the Arabian history through perfume creations. I think women are now mature enough for another type of perfumery -- one that can be linked to civilisations."(rather than self?)

In this sense, Chypre Rouge is mid-course towards attaining that goal, being both a biographical and cultural bridge set between the civilizations of the East and the West thus closely following Lutens' own biographical itinerary from France to Morocco, with perhaps a hint of the Northern American aromatic world where his son, Antoine, lives. It is a perfume of destiny, of the past and the present, of a life that has come full circle.

You can read two very different great reviews of Chypre Rouge by March and Patty on Peppermint's Patty.

Please enter a note in your comments if you would like to be included in a drawing for a sample of Chypre Rouge. I will announce the winner on Friday evening.

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45 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Your posts are always thoughtful but this one was truly rich with ideas and sensory descriptions. Thank you. I would of course love to be entered to win a sample of this perfume.

  2. Indeed a review both personal and thoughtful, colourful and rich. Thank you for a great read! Naturally, I, too, would like to be entered in the draw.

  3. Oh my! This new SL sounds wonderful, love to try a sample.

  4. I am so glad I found your wonderful blog: great writing. Please would you enter my name for the sample? Thanks so much!

  5. Oh, what a glorious read. I came back twice and read it. Today I will reapply a little more and meditate on your comments. Marina got licorice (review today) but I didn't at all... Also, can you tell me: what was so wretched about his childhood? I had no idea.

    Thanks for this poetry.

  6. Cait,

    Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the review. You're added.

  7. Fascinating and VERY different view of this fragrance-how well you write! It was informative, and a pleasure to read...

    I am intolerably curious about this new juice, and would love to be included in the draw...

  8. Dinazad,

    My pleasure. You're added too.

  9. Anne,

    It is quite unique; I personally think that it is full bottle worthy.

  10. Tommasina,

    Welcome to the TSS and thank you so much! You're added.

  11. Wonderful review! I admired Chypre Rouge but did not like it. I would have loved it if, as you say, the "initial uncompromising dryness", did not evolve on my skin into a darkly gourmand licorice-rose-wood scent that was strikingly reminiscent of Lolita Lempicka. Oh well, one lemming killed, hundreds more to go :-)

  12. This perfume almost scares me, it's so against what I would create -- strangeness aside, as I like strangeness! So, therefore, I would like to see if I win a sample.

  13. March,

    Thanks so much! It is really a mix of spices with some dominant notes. I had CR on one hand and an actual narrowed-down list of spices on my other hand because it smelled familiar and I just had to nail it! I was able to say it was Chinese licorice because I have a tea with it. It does not smell as anisey as the standard licorice.
    It appears that Lutens was a neglected, almost abandoned child. His mother remarried and wore a black dress embroidered with jet beads on her wedding day. There seems to have been experiences of enormous symbolic violence and suffering in his childhood. He just hints at it sometimes and it is very poignant.

  14. Chaya,

    Thank you! A perfume like that suggests deeper meanings especially when one knows a little about Lutens' bio.

    You're added.

  15. Marina,

    Thanks! I may be more drawn to it than you because it recalls childhood memories for me too and reflects in part my own experience of having lived between East and West.

  16. Anya,

    What an interesting feeling! I wonder at what level you feel scared? It's true that Lutens and Sheldrake have taken some risks by making such a perfume (or letting it develop that way as Lutens believes in serendipity.) It can only be a perfume of personal conviction because it is so individual.

  17. H, your review is simply beautiful and thoughtful, as always.

    I love testing SL fragrances because I love the stories and the imagery behind them. Unfortunately only a few of them really "work" with my body chemistry. But, I am always up for testing them, so please, please include me in your drawing. Thanks!


  18. Thank you for a lovely review. I enjoy wearing Serge Lutens' perfumes and am curious about this new one. Please include me in your drawing.

  19. What a wonderful, fascinating review. How interesting about it reflecting a journey from west to east. I'm convinced I will love this scent, as I love all of his creations. Do you know if Sheldrake will continue to work w/ him now that he's at Chanel?
    That's so sad about Serge's childhood. I've often wished I could read French well if only so that I could read more about his life and that of other perfumers. I'm as curious about their backgrounds as I am about the backgrounds of my favorite artists or writers, but so much less is written about perfumers. Thanks for the insight here!

  20. I've read the reviews by March, Patty, Marina and now you - and I have _no_ idea whether I will like this or not! Great description, though. Please enter me in the drawing!

  21. What a beautiful and evocative review...Please enter me in the drawing.

  22. Fascinating article! I truly enjoy your in-depth explorations of all aspects of fragrance. Read the other reviews and am more curious than ever. Please do include me in your drawing - thank you!

  23. I'm intrigued both by Lutens and his imaginative perfume creations. Please enter me in the drawing as well thank you.

  24. R,

    Thank you very much. This one has a soft, rounded quality in the 2nd stage that might work with your SC as I think it has a mellowness akin to that of a Guerlain. But I agree, even if they don't "work" they're always interesting to test.

    You're added.

  25. Dianne,

    Thank you. I think this one won't disappoint Lutens' fans. It is unmistakably original.

    You're added.

  26. Elle,

    Thanks very much. From what I read and heard they're still working together. A journalist in France said they were going to continue collaborating. I think that perhaps there might be some tolerance on the part of Chanel here but that they might feel also that it does need to be broadcasted.

    Chypre Rouge was created while Sheldrake was still officially working with Lutens by the way.

  27. Twibbet,

    If you like unconventional perfumes this one will grab your attention even if it does not work with your skin chemistry.

    You're added.

  28. Sybil,

    Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    You're added.

  29. BBliss,

    Thank you. Lutens' perfumes are often captivating and this one has something special.

    You're added.

  30. Aracelis,

    I agree, an in-depth biography of Lutens would be fascinating.

    You're added.

  31. Thank you for the fascinating review. After reading it, I would love to be included in your drawing as well. Serge took a while to grow on me and I think this one will be a winner.

  32. Jenny,

    Thank you very much! This one did grow on me and so I would say it's worthwhile to persevere and try a few times if you think the spicy stage is a bit much. You've been warned:)

    You're added.

  33. Very much enjoying this blog - like this one and the recent interview with Andy Tauer! Please include me in the draw.

  34. Erin,

    My pleasure. You're included.

  35. Wow! What a great review. You really paint a picture in my mind. I'd love to be entered in your drawing to try this interesting scent.

  36. Justine,

    Thanks! Serge Lutens' perfumes are very evocative in general and this one even more so than some others.

    You're in.

  37. Blessings~~~ Amazing story on Serge Lutens life and the perfume...I happen to love the smell of oakmoss for one so that has me interested in this perfume already!I am not yet familar with Lutens perfumes so please add me to the draw. Thanks.~~DeerHealer~~

  38. DeerHealer,

    I think they are must-trys, if not must-adopts:)

    You're added.

  39. Lovely descriptions. I enjoyed reading this!

    My one and only Serge Lutens fragrance is Ambre Sultan. Incredible!

    I'd be interested in being added for the drawing!

  40. Jeanne,

    I love Ambre Sultan too! It's actually their bestseller.

    You're added.

  41. was! Ambre Sultan is not Serge Lutens best seller at Aedes and Barneys locations in New York; this summer Fleurs d 'Oranger is #1

    Nombre Noir
  42. Nombre Noir,

    Thanks for filling us in. I read this in a French source so it's possible it applies/applied only to the French market at one point in time. Just posted about Chypre Rouge; it is now available at Aedes.

  43. Kindzmarauli vs conyaq, or some...

    Jacky Trun
  44. I wore a sample of Arabie for a week in different settings to see if
    it worked for me. I liked the dry down with the warm date-like scent and the note of cumin. Reminds me of date nut bread. I could not tell if it had any sillage or retention beyond
    my own awareness because it
    became so close to my skin.
    I was going to purchase some until my boss came in
    and said she could smell the new toner for the copy machine. I will try the new
    Rouge soon.

  45. Hi Mary,

    She must have been preoccupied by the copy machine toner:) All sorts of associations can arise of course - at least one thing is certain is that she detected an obtrusive scent in the room:)


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