Sarrasins by Serge Lutens (2007) {Perfume Review & Musings} {New Perfume}

Sarrasins Platine.jpg

Sarrasins Platine Limited Edition

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)

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22 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. your Sarrasins review is stunning! however right now I 'm wondering if I 've been wearing the same Sarrasins. before reading your impressions I never thought of it as leathery and fiercely animalic, I detect musks and civet picking up as the scent dries down which might be interpreted as leathery but to me it 's very subtle. from start to finish Sarrasins is a soft bright jasmine on my skin, dabbed or sprayed supported by extremely tamed and controlled animalic elements, the orange blossom note is reminiscent of Fleurs d 'Oranger and Tubereuse Criminelle. on the other hand I find A la Nuit extremely indolic and too strong in its earliest stages.

    Aline et Valcour
  2. Thank you. The beginning of Sarrasins is reminiscent of the kind of strongly animalic/indolic jasmine accord one finds for example in Jasmin de Molinard. It is "leathery" but I am not saying that there is leather; it's just the intensity that makes it feel leathery and even skaï-like.

    I do not experience A La Nuit as strongly indolic but rather as juicy and floral.

    I really like the civet note in the drydown in Sarrasins, because civet is less common than musk although it marries well with it of course, and it is very sexy.

    I usually try to test the scents not right after I've washed as it strips the skin of its natural oils and tend to make the perfumes have less depth and resonance. A blotter test is a bit more linear I find.

    I think that it was Serge Lutens' intent to construct a more animalic jasmine this time, so I am not suprised:)

  3. I 'm pleased we all have our perception and interpretation on such a scent, which truly proves its complexity and beauty (although 1000fragrances talks about Sarrasins 's Diesel Fuel clone synthetic base notes from Givaudan which is such a joke of course, many in the industry hate him out of pure jealousy revealing their own shortcomings and frustrations).

    I wish A la Nuit had been at least as soft as Sarrasins for me, the beginning is also "plasticky" but I love the drydown on the skin.

    Aline et Valcour
  4. Some people will say that a review of a perfume is like a photograph just once taken in time, moreover offering a specific choice or framing/cadrage. There is that. At the same time it seems, if there is such a thing as an essentialist body chemistry, that certain materials would unfold in the same way each time.

    Perfumes are so complex, like I sometimes think, only the mere supports of our dreams, yet today more and more perfumes cut that dream short by their lack of depth and layering.

    I am testing the Diesel perfumes and they feel nothing like Sarrasins so far. A perfumer might be trained to recognize materials rather than their spirit and insertion into a different story perhaps?

  5. I agree the "dream" is being cut short nowdays even by unexpected perfumers. I thought it was "just me" but I 've just realised many Caron lovers have been disappointed lately with their new parfum (obvious) reformulations. I first bought En Avion in the 90s, it was such a beautiful scent, its unique rose violet powderness that supported the spicy neroli has just disappeared in recent versions. now En Avion smells more like wet band-aid, leathery and mossier than ever.

    what bugs me is how some bloggers such as 1000fragrances speak with such obnoxious "authority" just for the sake of putting down whatever they cannot find locally or because of other anti-elitist motives. that said I was wondering how someone who claims to be so familiar with Givaudan molecules would say Rose de Nuit directly inspired Rose Barbare. please someone tell me what 's the connection between the two, I don 't work at Givaudan and never will but I am very curious! LOL

    Aline et Valcour
  6. I think it would be best if 1000 Fragrances chose to answer your comment himself.

    I had this reaction recently with the parfum of Heure Bleue. It seems like a simpler version of its former self.

  7. Dear Aline et Valcour,

    To my happiness I live in Paris and have access to most of fragrance releases.
    I'm not familiar only with Givaudan raw materials, but also with IFF, Firmenich, Symrise and a lot of naturals... just because they represent the base of my everyday work.
    I didn't say that fragrance was a clone (an exact copy) but it's too similar some bases I have every day on my table. It's not the first time in perfumery (I will explain on other day where Ambre Sultan comes from).
    Rose Barbare and Rose de Nuit.
    Rose de Nuit was done by Quest by the perfumer Gilles Romey.
    Rose Barbare was done by Francis Kurkdjian who worked a lot of years at Quest than moved to Takasago.
    Rose Barbare is inspired by Rose de Nuit with an original twist. And both fragrances have an old ancestor: Coriandre - the accord rose elements-patchouli.
    About En Avion: it's the Caron version of l'Origan by Coty.

    About copies and clones: when the main idea of a perfume is replicated. It doesn't mean the same ingredients!
    Give me a fragrance, i will do you a "shortcut" in 12 ingredients. Perfumers do that everyday to understand how some accords work.

  8. Octavian,

    Thanks so much for your informative comment. I am wondering what base you are referring to for Sarrasins as I was struck by the fact that the civet-y dry-down is not smelt often these days. Do you mean to say it is in the spirit of a well-known base but with different ingredients?

    Diesel makes me think more of Mûre and Musc.

    I had the distinct impression the other day that Alpona was a gallery of ancestors that included several classic Guerlains, yet managed to come out with a rather unique personality. Quite fascinating.

  9. It's the idea of some bases like Jasmin 231, Jasmophore, etc. Another beautiful example: Kenzo Jungle Elephant was inspired by the Prunol base (de Laire done by Roudnitska). The perfume from Ropion has of course, not trace of that base inside. It's just an idea but done in a very creative way.
    Diesel is for me a big candy jasmin (a modern arpege, maybe) plus a big (too big) red fruit - raspberry. But I like it because is well done.
    In stead, the new Lalique makes me think of Mure et Musc....of 2007.:)

  10. Ok, I see that there is room for interpretation:)

  11. Octavian, make no mistakes here I really love your blog actually, I spent an hour the other day reading your threads on the old Rosine perfumes by Paul Poiret.
    I just have the feeling sometimes online perfume reviewers exagerate facts and maybe not purposely but when they happen to be the subject of critical opinion they don 't really take it too well. I love Luca Turin reviews and articles on Nombre Noir and Mitsouko but when one disagrees with him the man is on the defensive.

    I thought Rose Barbare was a new execution concept directly inspired by Mitsouko 's chypre construction. I 'm not a professional but to me Rose de Nuit and Rose Barbare smell extremely different.
    En Avion is my all time favorite classic perfume. I never tried Coty perfumes, the old ones.

    Aline et Valcour
  12. I would say that some time when I review, I tend to simplify things, to get to the essential.
    l'origan was a world bestseller in that period, as was No5. every perfumer tryed to have their.. Origan and No5. What happens today is not new at all, only the numbers are different.

  13. Octavian, essential or not I often have a problem with perfume reviewers putting down if not insulting in two lines someone else 's work and vision. I prefer their impressions on old classics like you did for Diorling and others.

    Romanian born philosopher Cioran wrote this on critics:

    "Tout commentaire d 'une oeuvre est mauvais ou inutile, car tout ce qui n 'est pas directe est nul"

    Syllogismes de l 'amertume - Cioran

    Aline et Valcour
  14. I am starting to wonder if it would not be more logical to publish these comments meant for Octavian on his blog?

  15. sorry it was just spontaneous humor since I believe Octavian might be romanian too.

    Aline et Valcour
  16. You don't need to apologize; I am just feeling that if you want to converse with Octavian more in depth it might be more practical that he sees your messages immediately or that you email him.

    Also the comments directed at people who put down a perfume in one or two sentences might be more useful if you said which reviews you meant exactly and to talk to these persons directly.

    I personally felt more respect for the perfume industry at the beginning of my career as a blogger than now since commercialism seems to be taking over and me-too perfumes are being "created" way too often. I completely agree with J-C Ellena however when he remarks that greater conformism is counterbalanced by better technique. Progress, new codes make certain classics look dated.

    I will talk more about his new book which I think is worthy of a review, if only for the simple reason that not everyone reads French fluently enough to have access to its contents.

    There will be quotes in both French and English.

  17. I wonder if his book will be translated in english?
    I think Ellena is an extremely talented nose in his lab, but I find his creations and style rather cold and culturally unispired. as much as it 's important to elaborate and rely on new molecules, a perfume cannot just be something technical. when Ellena went to Egypt for Hermes he came back with a very european citrucy scent that was really not groundbreaking. on the other hand if you send Serge Lutens to Egypt we all know we 'll get something closer to Feminite du Bois or Sarrasins than a refreshing lemony scent.

    Aline et Valcour
  18. Interesting. When I was reading his little opus, I had the same impression, that his vision was rather technical, a bit constricted, as if he were not feeling completely free through his own ideas and had a certain idea of minimalism that I personally ended up finding constraining. I don't like schools of thought in general. Ok, I'm of the school of thought that doesn't like schools of thoughts:) I also thought that he shorthanded the cultural role of Serge Lutens in the niche perfumery movement. He in fact does not say anything about it. He deserves to be given more credit than what he gave him. Of course, it's a short book, but still. He could have passed on certain basic stuff regarding marketing and elaborated more on the artistic side of perfumery.

    Hmmm, I think that the book should be more personal and more fleshed out to be worth a translation. But there are interesting insights.

  19. The beautiful and captivating review you did for Sarrasins wouldn 't be something possible for any of JC Ellena 's creations (that said I love his Rose Poivree).
    Serge Lutens is at the opposite end of the spectrum, his perfumes tell a story and instead of obssessing over new minimalist molecules he 's not afraid of overdosing on rich jasmine, rose, tuberose, honey, myrrh and wood and all those legendary perfume ingredients.

    Aline et Valcour
  20. Thank you for your kind words.

    As a perfume writer you would certainly need to channel very different impressions from these two authors. I was ready to do one on Paprika Brasil, which I thought had a very streamlined and abstract charm, but I haven't come around to it yet.

  21. In my opinion, your review of Sarrasins should receive an award.

    Because you found the key of comprehension that almost everyone missed. The axis around orange blossom water, and rose side (and almonds).
    (besides, before "eau de neffe", antique Romans were crazy about rosewater).

    I did'nt understand this perfume before you. Maybe the name and official description are missleading. "Sarrasins" depicted muslims, almost during crusades, as invaders. Adding that it is a Lutens depicted as a "leathery jasmine", you should obtain something masculine and strong.
    And everyone know how strong Lutens's perfumes can be.

    So everyone must have put its nose too near on the blotter, searching for strengh and complexity, and being disappointed, whereas the axis was on the top notes, from the point of view of a blissful and falsely innocent floral accord.

    You illustrated your message with a scythian necklace. I prefer to imagine a cabochon gem on a ring, simple and small like the subdued perfume Sarrasins appears to many, but a cabochon in wich you could see through an other era, the historical one you depicted, complex and fascinating. A bit like the idea of a medium seing through a crystal ball other realities.

    • Julien,

      Thank you very much for your kind words. I see a parallel between Serge Noir and Sarrasins from that aspect of a mystical past and East and West communication. I will publish a review of SN in the near future.

      It is very kind of you to suggest that this article be nominated for a prize. I am touched.

      Chant Wagner

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