Baptême du Feu Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens
It starts off softly resinous and inky, i.e. thickish. Where you were bound to expect more of that tonality unfolding slowly, instead shrill accents of citruses intervene. They persist. These dark hesperides are supported by aromatic nuances flirting with the taste of bitter. This is the most acidic, shrill-tongued and sharp citrus to ever come out of Serge Lutens' imagination. If for a moment, you were taken back to the days of Mandarine Mandarin, in-between, all the bitterness of the world has thrust itself against the Coromandels of Lutens' sense of exotica. Bitter tears now rain on Lutens' parade. For there is no doubt to this perfume writer that most of the Serge Lutens œuvre is autobiographical, however it may be sublimated, magnified, composted, made more putrid, or more sublime, in turn...
In this case, Baptême du Feu is as sour as sour can be. If you have tasted sour candies of the ilk of Les Têtes Brûlées (Burnt Heads), you might know in what territory of human sensations we are wandering right now. The land is dark, nay black. The space is metallic and shrill. It might be outer space for all we know. You tongue is stuck on an ice-cold inox blade dipped in lemon and salt. The warmer counterpoint of ambergris in the background does little to assuage the brusquerie of the main accord.
Going back to Les Têtes Brûlées for their explanatory value of the notion of a « fire » where no smoke burns, it's about experiencing extreme sensations, ones that can go to your head - and hurt. Hence the name which means in French both « daredevils » and literally « burnt heads ». These candies for children who love to explore fun sensations even when they are objectively unpleasant, are marketed as candies that « rip your head off » and as « the most acidic candies on the market ». You're expected, if you're human, i .e., endowed with a belly button and blinking eyes, not to be able to eat them without making the most horrid faces. These candies were made to test your limits, preferrably at school, during a break, and with a group of friends serving as a gallery of mirrors to your own mien. It's a baptism by fire of a special kind when you taste them for the first time as you know in advance that it is going to hurt tremendously. You brace yourself for the inevitable. How could you chicken out ? You pray you're going to be able to withstand the pain.
To me, and because right now, the sourness of Baptême du Feu is lingering as a phantom after-taste on my tongue while my nose is getting burnt by citruses the way Ceviche is, it is a perfume closest to L'Incendiaire which played with our trigeminal sensations. It has a further link to the « eaux » de Lutens which are bent on exploring non-perfume and coldness ; Laine de Verre in particular comes to mind.
In the backdrop of this extreme hesperidic accord which cracks like a long whip of uncompromising sensation in the dark, you can smell softer aromas of fruits and licorice. The behind-the-scenes of the perfume is about the gourmand range of a Serge Lutens, born a son of the North of France. Pyrazines, jam, coffee, chicory, cinnamon, dried fruits are what make up his gourmand universe of childhood memories. There is a sense of classic conclusion to this dark firework : as the citruses languish, become mellower at long last, they also become softly and gently, spicier, evoking a traditional citrus-pepper accord.
The perfume remains sensual thanks to what I perceive to be an accord of soft Egyptian musk underneath it all.
In the end, you can see in Baptême du Feu one of the bitterest colognes you could count on when it's so hot outside that some kind of olfactory needling of your senses is what the doctor would surely prescribe you to spray on. Spray on and sail forth into the day and night - this is both strong and soft medicine, a « douce-amère » third generation - much more extreme. . Parallel to what the « bonbons » or Têtes Brulées sweets do, that is turn the notion of sweets upside down by making them taste ultra acidic, Serge Lutens turns nice smelling potions into challenging scents.