Serge Lutens Nuit de Cellophane (2009) {Perfume Review & Musings}


Cellophane was invented in 1908 by Swiss chemist Jacques Brandenberger. The new term was coined as a contraction of "cellulose" and "diaphanous", transparency being one of its chief characteristics. If transparency is not a new effect in perfumery, the reference to the material cellophane is. Cellophane is used to keep food, but also fresh flowers, and sometimes, women (certain rituals of beauty include the use of cellophane and olive oil, for example). It is both a functional and a beautifying material when wrapped around a bouquet of flowers, or candies, making them seem more fragile and precious, as if kept under crystal panes or ultra-shiny brittle silk. Its plasticky quality gives it a hard edge and a modernist sense of romanticism once you associate it with flower gifts. Even eroticism, if you go farther into the night...

There is also a sexual connotation attached to cellophane as it is an erotic inspiration for some to wrap a naked body in this thin, see-through film (the clingging kind often, but not only), which can nevertheless become more opaque as layers are added onto layers. Bondage fetishists make it one of their choice toys, together with latex or leather.

But cellophane is special. Perhaps it is the most transgressive of those materials, associating in one stroke memories of cellophaned bread on the kitchen table, decent, flirtatious bouquets of flowers, and a metaphor on nudity.

Precisely. Smelling the new Nuit de Cellophane by Serge Lutens one reaches a first conclusion that this work seems to be in its most characteristic aspect a work on the sensuality of floral notes, mostly jasmine, osmanthus, with a certain undercurrent of vanilla-and-magnolia softness, and narcisuss drenched in honey (as in Ozbek by Rifat Ozbek). Followers of Serge Lutens will recognize his palette of colors, his strokes, his self-referential quotes as he opens the boundaries existing between his different perfumes. But to what effect this time?...


Cellophane Show Girls, Rara Avis


Gerbera in cellophane by Rinthine

We were told that Nuit de Cellophane is an osmanthus perfume, but it is not an obvious osmanthus perfume at all at first. What is most striking at first therefore is a feeling of sensual mingling, in the end, of all those familiar Lutensian notes. What is new is more attention paid to the simple joy of feeling one's skin turn into a velvety, sticky trail of floral notes and the apparent desire to create an olfactory synthesis that is the sillage, which smells different from any preconceived notion you might have had of it. Like for Vanille Galante, I am struck by how the sillage or wake here becomes a sign of freedom, living its very own life, boomeranging back to you, telling a different story than the conscious one. It is a part of the perfume whose identity escapes you a bit, even quite a bit. And it smells good, interesting and intense. You are glad you were caught unaware.

But let me go back to my initial impression of a tension between hard floral notes and soft floral notes in Nuit de Cellophane. This tension can be said to exist throughout the Lutens and Sheldrake corpus of works : Tubéreuse Criminelle, Sarrasins vs. Fleurs d'Oranger, Un Lys. Nuit de Cellophane makes me think of a synthesis of Tubéreuse Criminelle and Fleurs d'Oranger with aspects of Mandarine Mandarin, plus unusual bready, cereal-y and oily facets and a certain pellucid quality in the midst of darkness.

This review could have started (and in fact did start at first that way) with a practical recommendation: Nuit de Cellophane is much more subtle and smooth when dabbed on rather than sprayed on. As the so-called export line offers both options (the package contains a screw-on cap and a spray nozzle. You can thusly modulate your preferred method of application). Dabbing on offers a more classic sense of harmonious balance, spraying on is more about the crinkly sound of cellophane.

How did I find out? I was intrigued by the feeling that Nuit de Cellophane seemed to hesitate between two states, that of a "hard floral perfume" contrasted to that of a "soft floral perfume." Notwithstanding the fact that the title of the perfume contains a reference to a synthetic material, cellophane, that has a "hard" side to it and which could be rendered with a slightly synthetic edge in the composition, I decided to verify my impressions with the dab-on method, which can make a significant difference in some cases.

The sprayed-on Nuit de Cellophane is hard, a bit synthetic indeed, reminiscent of hairspray (I have a theory about haispray-faceted vs. nailpolish-faceted perfumes which I started writing about) the dabbed-on Nuit de Cellophane is kittenish, immediately ambery, honeyed and soft. You will have to choose the mood you want to be in. Sprayed on it is indolic, a bit raw, a bit hard (aldehydes?), soapy, with a green floral accord that is often smelt in other perfumes but is wrapped up in softer, smoother notes here. It creates a light honeyed texture through which pierce rubbery and camphoraceous floral accents. The sprayed-on perfume is a bit weirder and interesting too as it unleashes better the jasmine indoles that smell like the real thing with their curious gustatory facets of fried dough - the smell of Chinese breakfast fritters at the market in Hong-Kong or Urumqi in the cool morning to be precise - and sesame oil. I can confirme this as I went to sniff my Jasminum Polyanthum comparing it with a bottle of sesame oil from Chinatown in my cupboard for confirmation, or infirmation. Jasmine indoles do have something in common with the base notes of a thick and dark sesame oil.

Nuit de Cellophane is presented as a fragrance composition resting on osmanthus from China. The interesting part of this program is that Nuit de Cellophane turns out to be a non-too-obvious osmanthus perfume and after giving it some thought, I would call it a "difficult osmanthus perfume" resolutely setting itself against any mainstream expectation of how prettily and diaphanously osmanthus might be treated. The petals and delicate nuances of osmanthus do not appear exactly like on a silken Chinese screen. You will not find here many of the echoes of the ravishingly delicate osmanthus rendition of Osmanthus by The Different Company, for example. Nuit de Cellophane is about an oily, intense osmanthus, a heavy one, weighed down by honey and depth, part of a dark atmosphere, and sticky rather than calling to mind the scent of osmanthus as carried by a breeze. The osmanthus being an osmanthus nevertheless brings a sense of crystalline, shiny fruitiness to the composition making the atmosphere less dark and more pellucid, but as if from within. The osmanthus appears rather late into the development of the fragrance and emerges more in the drydown together with white musks.

Suddenly the name of the perfume all makes sense. It is the contrast of a night lit by cellophane, its capacity to refract light, appearing bright and shiny. If you look at the picture of the chorus girls using cellophane costumes, you can see that it is a great light-catcher, making those girls sparkle on the stage like fireflies.

The composition seems to be very linear. After a while, one realizes that the flowers never really suggest luminosity and the familiar movement of blooming in the day. It is a slow-progressing scent, as if it crawled on the ground and the night kept a tight lid on its usually spontaneous exhuberance. The Lutensian spices have retreated, are more in filigree, although one feels like a dusty rosy veil of Ras el Hanout was left behind to linger on.

The impression I retain from Nuit de Cellophane is that of a meditation on osmanthus leading us down unsuspecting paths. I derive from it the same kind of feeling you experience when you watch some movies by Godard or read a philosophical text that questions your preconceived notions: a stereotype, a mental habit has not only been shot in the wing but was killed right in front of your eyes.

Nuit de Cellophane is a very intellectual osmanthus fragrance, quite brainy in its approach while finding a simple resolve, to the point where I fear it might meet with incomprehension.

The perfume officially launches in March of 2009.

For more information about Nuit de Cellophane, you can read our previous announcement

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19 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Stunning review ! You really have a talent for what we Parisian people call " l'ineffable " :)
    My question is: does NdC bear any resemblance to Datura Noir, by any chance ?

    SL Fan

    • Thank you -- I would need to find my sample of Datura Noir to give you more than a superficial impression. At first blush, no, because Nuit de Cellophane does not have the billowy heliotropine and almondy character of Datura Noir. But I know that there is osmanthus and apricot in Datura Noir, so it would be worth pondering over more and exploring that filiation.

      If I am successful in excavating DN, I will add a comment.

      Thanks for your question!

      Chant Wagner
  2. Thank you for such an indept review. This new SL sounds wonderful.

    I know that many have been puzzled by the use of the word cellophane, but I always thought it was wonderful. For me, cellophane, the hard crackly type, conjures images of special opulent gifts which you can see, but can't touch. It also reminds me of ice or fire depending on how it captures and reflects light.

    From you review it sounds as if SL has captured those images. I can't wait to sniff it.


    • I love your characterization that cellophane reminds you of either ice or fire depending on light.

      The word "cellophane" conjures up unusual poetry. It reminded me of that scene in American Beauty where a flimsy plastic bag is filmed dancing in the wind. Beautiful, but only if you pay attention to it.

      I hope you enjoy it. I certainly have. I think there will be notes that will be a bit off-putting to some but overall, it leaves the impression of a mental journey. And that's what counts for me.

      Chant Wagner
  3. Osmanthus added to the standard lutens notes - how original! And, linear? No progression or note evolution to speak of! Disappointing stuff. Its time for Mr. Lutens to take a break to let the creative juices flowing again. By the sound of it, Osmanthus by TDC blows this out of the water.

    • Hi Zztop,

      Saw you had changed your pseudo but recognized your unmistakable tone (actually the system says you're the same person)!

      The problem which often arises with the work of Serge Lutens is that people expect him to put out a groundbreaking perfume three times a year, instead of letting him develop a personal vision. Also one may argue about what originality means. There is a form of originality that is coarse, a bit obvious, and then a form of originality that does not seek to shock and awe, in fact does not seek anything, but to express itself.

      Nuit de Cellophane has a transmutative quality in its sillage (like the latest Vanille Galante). It smells exquisite when you are the least aware of it. Once you accept the displacement of the osmanthus motif, it actually becomes very present. It is in fact complex in an understated way. I know this because psychologically it invites you to reapply it as you feel some element of it is still in the shadows.

      What I meant regarding the comparison with TDC Osmanthus is that in NdC, the motif is not as obviously front and center, but a bit more underground. As you may well know, Ellena privileges diaphanous textures, while Lutens is more into velvety, deep textures. Both have recently made an attempt at doing perfumes against type while pulling their own compositions in the directions of their own preferred aesthetic choices. It's interesting to contrast them (without caricaturing them).

      So, I would say to the people who have no patience with the artistic dynamic of Serge Lutens that at least they can expect to discover a perfume that smells ravishingly good, while being more textured than TDC Osmanthus.

      What I said about the slightly "synthetic" note in the top ought to be put into context: for example, if you contrast NdC with Fragile, you will see that Fragile comes across as more literally synthetic in its white floral notes than NdC.

      Reactions to NdC others than mine have included "it smells awesome", "it smells interesting", "I like it"(from a guy).

      Hope you can enjoy it

      Chant Wagner

  4. Marie-Helene,

    I can't log into your system with my original id for some reason and thanks for commenting on my "tone" - thats very kind of you, I wouldn't have expected anything less.

    I clearly understand the different textures and styles of Ellena and SL, but I dont advocate a fragrance release just because of a certain "schedule" (a luxury which I assume Mr. Serge Lutens has). Assuming that you are a fan of classic perfumery construction, I would expect that you prefer a certain non-linearity and dynamism in your fragrances (ofcourse high quality accord frozen in a linear structure can also be pleasant).

    Do you think these recent releases from the house have all been (recently) composed by Sheldrake or are they "left over" compositions, remnants of past releases? I haven't tried NdC but going by the past 3-4 from the house, I am not holding my breath.

    I will catch you on BN where we can discuss this more (if you are there under "Marie-Helene" that is).

    • I do not know what you are referring to exactly because our comments' section is open. People can comment anonymously if they prefer to do so.

      I would have to ask regarding the ongoing collaboration with Sheldrake.

      You could look at older perfume ideas as "leftovers" or a collection of possibilities that were put on the back burners.

      I prefer to comment on my own blog.

      Chant Wagner
  5. Another lutensian night theme, just can 't wait to smell it!
    On the dabbing vs spraying on thing, I wear scents the way Lutens wears them (he hates spraying fragrance and often mentions the notion or concept of "parfum bijou" that one wears like they 'd wear a broche). Dabbed on, Serge Noire is one of the most etheral/transparent ashy/incensy woody scent but sprayed on, it 's just like what Tania Sanchez described it, cloves on crack gone wild.

    Garde Rose
    • Yes, in this way, one could see a perfume as being even more like music, like an instrument that you can play and modulate through the vista of your own interpretation. It indeed can make a difference to dab on or to spray on a scent and to decide where to spray it, on skin, clothing, on what part of your anatomy...

      I haven't read Tania Sanchez's review of NdC, but she is probably saying other things than that. Just for other readers to know, who haven't smelled the scent yet, I would say that that description, at best, could only apply to a facet of the scent.

      Chant Wagner
  6. Amazing review Marie-Helene! I already bought a bottle and it looks like the sales people at Aedes and Barneys are very excited about this new Lutens fragrance, I know I am!
    Nuit de Cellophane is a magnificient fruity floral of osmanthus deliciously drenched in mandarin honeyed jasmine and preciously wrapped in cellophane. Alluring and sexy.

    • Thanks! Yes, you're right, it's a good example of a sophisticated take on a fruity-floral when the latter has become synonymous in so many cases of juvenile perfumery.

      Chant Wagner
  7. Absolutely and at least Lutens osmanthus apricoty take on fruity floral is not another girly pink raspberry that everybody does and it wouldn 't be a Lutens either if aided mightily by his sense of humor, he didn 't wrap the whole thing in cellophane! (although accross the perfume boards, the cellophane thing seems to be too much of a mind stretch for those who are used to french perfumery only known as Angel and Miss Dior Cherie! LOL).
    I 'm curious, besides Lutens, who does "apricot" in perfumes? He 's got quite a few; Sarrasins, El Attarine, Daim Blond and Bois et Fruits...

    Garde Rose
    • There are many fragrances that incorporate an apricot note, the fruit or the blossom, too many to count. Trésor is a famous example. Comptoir Sud Pacifique vanille abricot was all the rage at one point. There was a floral Guerlain Aqua Allegoria with an apricot note in it I remember. You can also smell apricot in osmanthus perfumes.

      One apricot experience I particularly enjoyed in a fragrance was in a Woolite product which had, unexpectedly, a terrific jammy apricot drydown which was very realistic.

      Chant Wagner

      • Wanted to add that in case someone is surprised I didn't mention Mitsouko that's because I do not like the aromachemical Nectaryl and certainly don't think it gives a good rendition of apricot/peach on its own.

        Chant Wagner
  8. Marie-Helene, your reviews are such a joy to read! Poetry + information. As a Lutens lover, I cannot wait to try this one.

    Thank you, Marie-Helene. Keep up the excellent work! :)


    • Well Jim, it's nice of you to stop by and say these kind words. I will keep up the good work, thank you for your encouragement!

      Nuit de Cellophane is both fleshy and transparent, a nice tension.

      Chant Wagner
  9. I tried this new scent today, and I am very disappointed. Slowly but steadily Serge Lutens' scents are less and less natural. This new one smelled like one of the chemical concoctions at Estee Lauder or Elizabeth Arden. Sharp. Cheaply floral. Zero undertones. Doesn't leave any sexy residue on skin like Datura Noir or Clair de Musc. Over time, it left subtle singular floral note on skin but overall the scent was so chemical, predictable, and flat, I wouldn't purchase it. I am back to Creed and Annick Goutal. Sorry.

    Julie Gabriel
  10. I recently found this fragrance at Barneys in San Francisco
    I was so prepared to dislike this fragrance...

    however's very "SPRING"

    first words that came to mind ..

    with a hint of Swiss Alpine Air...
    go figure


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