Sarrasins (Saracens) by Serge Lutens starts with the suggestion of the clashing of a warriors' Dantean battle between jasmine and leather before slipping into the quiet night of a banquet feast or more strangely yet even more spontaneously evoked, a nocturnal fun fair encountered by chance on a traveler's road, which is redolent with the soft effluvia of rose and almond loukhoums and secretive spices. As the night makes its progression and wanes into dawn, sunnier notes appear that evoke the outcome of a process of civilization. To war succeeds peace and in this stage there is a weaving of civilizational influences as complex as the motifs treaded upon on Oriental carpets. The result is brighter. From the initial outburst of violence emerges the softening and hospitable influence of orange blossom, the "eau de naffe" brought by the Arabs to Europe. This orange blossom water gives in its turn a novel perfume accord, the light chypre or cologne invented on European soil. In this manner and quite unexpectedly, a subtle reminiscence of Diorella by Dior peaks through the waning stages of the perfume..........
Sarrasins is an oniric reflection on history and the sometimes brutal, sometimes exquisitely delicate points of contact between two civilizations that have nurtured each other.
The Serge Lutens library of perfumes already has a jasmine fragrance called A La Nuit. Despite its name that is a reference to nighttime, the jasmine showcased in A La Nuit turns out to be more radiant and diurnal than the jasmine interpretation in Sarrasins, which evokes the quiet and stillness of the night and the velvety balmy air of a summer night in the south of France. Sarrasins is part of the "Fleurs Nobles" collection of fragrances, which is one of the collections exclusive to the Palais Royal Shiseido gallery.
Sarrasins is a complex scent that gives the impression in the beginning of being built on a more simple formula than it is in actuality due to an initial strongly dualistic accord treated in clashing mode. The beginning of Sarrasins is fiercely indolic and animalic to the point of evoking raw leather whipping a bouquet of jasmine blooms. The jasmine seems arched back against the leather as in those exquisitely carved and highly stylized Scythian gold motifs depicting the battle between a warrior and a creature that is half-man, half-wolf. And the leather is so strong as to evoke in its turn the more synthetic smell of its imitation, skaï, which adds, for a time, a more modern edge to the perfume than one is used to smelling in the Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake creations. The jasmine accord here is initially in the vein of the jasmine perfume by Molinard.
Progressively, the leathery indolic jasmine fight subsides thanks to the softening influences of orange blossom and whispery spices. The heart is complex with hints of childlike innocence and the suggestion of a nocturnal fun fair, as in an oriental, Lutensian interpretation of the fun fair motif found in Angel by Thierry Mugler. It does not smell anything remotely like Angel (for once), but the notes conjure up the image of a similar locale except that rose-scented loukhoums are sold in the jasmine-scented night in the south of France instead of pralines around Christmas in Strasbourg in the north of France. The heart seems to smell first subtly of aniseed, fresh almonds, something a little doughy like the heliotrope in Caron Farnesiana. It becomes berrier, fruitier with echoes of Chypre Rouge and a reference to the same light syrupy texture. Then it becomes slightly aqueous as in the sensation one develops when sucking on a bonbon while drinking fresh water at the same time. The core of the perfume is multi-nuanced and very subtle. There is also a sprinkle of rose water, soft spices like cumin it seems, which together with the orange blossom evoke Serge Lutens Fleurs d'Oranger. There is also the distant murmur of Dior Poison in the background with its spicy honeyed and berried tones. Multi-layered uances succeed each other for a good while as the banquet table is plied with delicacies.
One is left with the impression that a violent military campaign was followed by a peaceful banquet and the suggestion of lips powdered with sugar by eating rose and almond loukhoums and then having one's hands washed with eau de naffe served from a gold ewer at the end of the feast as a sign of hospitality before putting on back one's leather gloves. The guests ride away on horses. They will next stop for a moment on the summit of a hill to contemplate the rising sun and feel the freshness of dawn.
The dry-down recaptures some of the leathery nuances while adding some fresh citrus-y accents. In fact one is reminded quite unexpectedly of Diorella by Dior and then later of a classic neroli-based eau de cologne. Finally, there is a further development of the scent that evokes dryness after freshness, more particularly flowers dried out by the sun in the maquis in the south of France and even further, the scent of a refined floral pot-pourri. The orange blossom here is finally evocative of the characteristic orange blossom perfume by Penhaligon's, which is now discontinued and presented these dried flower facets together with an animalic civet note. The longer civet-y dry-down is tenacious and exquisite. Symbols of war and hospitality intermingle creating a perfume which is traversed with tensions and promises of redemption.
In the end, Sarrasins seems to play with a deep fascination with duality and the attempt to surmount it by always evoking the counter-aspect of a given facet of reality. Sarrasins therefore becomes, even more than a particular historical reflection, however oniric, a poetic metaphor expressing this attempt to go beyond a dual vision of the world or perhaps conveying the inevitability of such divisions and tensions. In the end, only a dab of perfume will do, or so it seems.
The Platine and Gold limited editions are each available for 850 Euros, numbered 1 to 30 and signed with the monogram of the artist. The eau de parfum in 75 ml bell bottles is available for 105 Euros.
You can read a previous early short review of Sarrasins by Octavian Sever here.
You can see a picture of the gold edition here.
(Photo of Scythian pectoral from Iran Chamber)