Serge Lutens started out on his creative path in life by being a hair stylist when he was an adolescent, then a makeup artist-cum-photographer (see Q & A in French and English with some of his ethereal and enigmatic pictures in part 2, also in part 2 English). He is known to find particular meaning in the opposition of white and black, a play of light which is expressed in his perfumery.
With Une Voix Noire (A Black Voice), his own obsessive themes find momentary resolution in the fascination he expresses for singer Billie Holiday which is ever so palpable, zeroing in on that moment of beauty quandary when the jazz diva had to cover a patch of singed hair before a concert with, what, what could she possibly use? -- gardenias...
While the iconic back-story to this new perfume seems to be about biography rather than autobiography, at first blush - a departure from his usual leanings - it is actually misleading since for Lutens, he is, at some level, also Billie Holiday, as he acknowledges it.
In the longest narrative yet that he has weaved around a perfume, he tells us more. Here is an excerpt,
"Her makeup was as effective as a mask. It transfigured her. Billie assigned the same powers to her hair that are delegated to witches and fairies. The success of her hairdo depended on their mood. She had to tame them. After so much dyeing and straightening, her hair no longer retained even the idea of having been so appointed. The teeth of the comb swept through the long locks which, wisely, one after the other, Billie pulled up to the top of the edifice and around a twisted hollow of pins and pushed them down. The last quarter of the cone would go frizzy. Mimi had set the straightening iron on the blue flame of a little burner. When it was hot, she held out the handle to Billie who kept the end gripped between her middle and index fingers like a visor. Crazy Mimi! It was red-hot. All of a sudden, Billie was in the midst of a disaster. The instrument’s beak held the burning wool in a smile – you may be surprised that a hairdressing tool would dare smile, but in the same way that long-beaked birds, especially pelicans, mock us, curling irons are not only equipped to play jokes on us but also to make fun of those who are its victims.
Hell is not so far off. It smelled of singeing. Coming out of the flames, Billie said to the devil:
- Poor dope! Look at that, you’re too clumsy!
Mimi was whimpering.
- Well don’t just sit there! There’s a girl in the club who sells flowers. Go get‘er for me.
Mimi dashed out. A current of air slammed the door. As best she could, Billie finished constructing the cathedral. She occupied her impatience with her fingers, imagined petals opening into corollas, or closing up again as buds, as you like. On the site of the burn, with the back of her hand, she placed her flowers of flesh.
Mimi came back, and just as if it were the result of sleight-of-hand, presented:
- Lucy! ... Look, Billie, we’re saved, there’s everything we need!
In fact, a girl wearing pumps perched two legs wrapped in black fishnet atop her heels. She was dressed in a short jersey of the same color. A wide ribbon around her neck held up, at waist height, a basket, with a flowerbed of white gardenias arranged over the pale wicker. Lucy suggested them. As feverish as a soldier’s fiancée facing the mailman, Billie turned her head and cautiously gathered together a snow- white cluster which she raised just to the point she called “the burn.” This immaculate bandage, this half-crown of mourning, this crescent moon gave Billie back her flowerlike smile."
Via press release