A multi-faceted and incredibly artistic man, Serge Lutens has done it all. He’s been a photographer, film maker, makeup artist, hair stylist, fashion designer and of course, a perfume art-director. After the launch of his own cosmetics line, he created his first perfumes Feminite du bois and Les Salons du Palais Royal in 1992. This caused him to realize his deep passion for the craft and the rest was history!
Fast forward to 2017 and his name is synonymous with niche perfumery and fragrance as an art form. It’s a carnal way of self-expression and goes beyond just “smelling nice”. It’s so deeply connected to our five senses, creating connections with memories. Fragrances are intrinsic, an undetectable signature for the wearer.
After being in the industry for so long, Lutens has seen it all, almost slightly disillusioned and cynical about his approach to the craft. BAZAAR explores the five senses with the man himself, in a no-holds-barred chat about the fragrances, his competitors and the rise of niche perfumery in recent years.
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1. After being a perfumer for decades, how has the fragrance industry changed over the years?
I have influenced and revolutionised the perfume and make up industries. Yet, what I did because I wanted to, and needed to, has today been robbed of all meaning by marketing. It produces a sort of death of which, if I wasn’t careful, I would be the honourable corpse.
2. What is your first scent memory?
It is a blend which makes its mark during the first seven years of our existence: thousands of olfactory memories, as a result of which we will either like, or dislike, what we are presented with next, and I don’t just mean smells (the nose is not just an organ you use to buy perfumes. You also use it to form an opinion of them).
3. What is the tastiest fragrance you’ve ever made? (Eg. Gourmand, etc)
I don’t really like the word but let’s say that if I had to name one in this olfactive family, it would probably be “Un bois vanille”.
4. Name the first scent/fragrance note that comes to mind when you hear these textures:
Hard: “La vierge de fer” for me
Soft: “Clair de musc”
Smooth: “Un lys”
Rough : “Laine de verre”
Velvety: “L’haleine des dieux”
Silky: “Renard constrictor”
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5. Name a song/music that inspired you to create?
I have music in the background on a photo shoot but never when I create a perfume. It is perfect for affected perfumers. They are very animated!
6. What are the things you’ve witnessed or set eyes on that inspired a scent?
Not an event in itself but violence is always present in a creation. Without it, the creation does not exist.
7. What do you feel about the rise of niche fragrances recently?
I launched the movement in 1992. All the others are just following me. It’s become a moniker for mugs.
8. Why do you think niche fragrances are so sought after these days?
What is rare for one person is not necessarily rare for another. The niche in itself is not a formula. As I said, it’s become a marketing technique. All very tedious!
9. What sets Serge Lutens as a brand from other niche houses, both old and new?
It was the first, the pioneer! The second house to do it was Frédéric Malle. All the rest are cold and meaningless.
10. Which fragrance has the most sentimental meaning to you?
“Ambre sultan” because it was the first in a series which we went on to describe as oriental. For me, nothing other than the distinguished Arab I had been dreaming of.
11. How has your approach to perfume making changed over the decades?
I am the marketing and I am not interested in all those perfumistas eagerly awaiting the next release.
12. Which fragrance do you envision the stylish Harper’s Bazaar woman to be wearing as her signature?
The woman is within me and if there is a “bazaar”, it is within her!
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