A version of this article appeared on Ca Fleure Bon written by Megan In Sainte Maxime.
The Serge Lutens range is easily one of my favourites. Chergui is the perfume responsible for my mad perfume crush, the first in a long line of Lutens heartbreakers. The man himself also intrigues. His now iconic, fiercely visionary images for Shiseido, and the subsequent development of the innovative Feminité du Bois signaled a creative tour de force. Christopher Sheldrake is the perfumer behind the vast majority of the fragrances in the line, and their teamwork continues to evolve. They don’t always do what is expected, yet are still capable of unleashing strangely beguiling works of beauty.
There are now a large number of creations in the Lutens canon. Some are instantly welcoming (Ambre Sultan), a few I turn my nose up at (Serge Noire) and others stealthily creep up on me. Douce Amère (2000) falls into that latter category. This is one of the lesser known and under appreciated Lutens fragrances that seems to have fallen through the cracks. While other perfumes have won acclaim such as Iris Silver Mist and Tubéreuse Criminelle, this has flown under the radar, yet is not dissed either. It just seems to be a wallflower in the collection. In style it seems to verge on gourmand territory, but never really stretches to what might qualify as such in this day and age, when Willy Wonka levels of sweetness reign. In essence it’s a light oriental gourmand with a quirky twist. It actually feels like something Parfumerie Generale’s Pierre Guillaume might whip up with his culinary sensibilities.
It was not love at first sight with Douce Amère, yet I was determined to make a friend of this perfume, to understand its facets and what made it tick. Slowly but surely it beckoned me with its delectable nuances. I’ve warmed to it now, we’ve become well acquainted and I believe this is a start of an intimate friendship. The name Douce Amère means bittersweet. This is pretty much the perfect summation of this perfume. For once Serge the storyteller is not speaking in tongues.
“First bitter, then sweet, it’s absinthe of course. As green as wormwood is grey, these two ideas tussle inside me… only to kiss and make up on the skin.”
Any perfume that references absinthe immediately has a sort of forbidden allure, a post-impressionist romanticism. It’s the alcoholic potion that can play with your mind and was all the rage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in France. Douce Amère features artemisia absinthium a herbal but bitter note, also known as wormwood. This along with other ingredients including anise is what gives absinthe its distinctive flavour. It’s an unusual blend in a perfume, but has that addictive edge.
This green herbal bitterness is present in the perfume right from the beginning but dulled by a fleeting glance of light citrus. It feels astringent and cool with an unusual medicinal edge that adds a sense of intrigue. This part of the perfume is the Amère, but it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The perfume transitions fairly quickly into the Douce, losing the chill and warming to a delicate floral heart dusted with cinnamon. There’s a seamless blend of deliciousness with lily and her floral friends. While the bitterness takes a back seat, there are touches of anise that stay throughout. The muted sweetness of the scent is very alluring. It’s not a full-blown sweetie pie; it feels like a vanilla with a weak dose of licorice mixed into a milky cup, along with the requisite woods.
Douce Amère definitely hasn’t been given the sugared Willy Wonka treatment. It also doesn’t stray into Luten’s Un Bois Vanille syrupy treacle territory either, but radiates charm with its offbeat pallor to its non bitter end. Above all, Douce Amère is a surprisingly easy to wear perfume, that comforts like a warm, camel coat. It’s intelligently constructed and has a bookish elegance. It’s a winter warmer, weaving its spell in the cooler months like a sip of absinthe in a dimly lit bar.
I imagine French landscapes in the depths of winter, laced with greenery and pastry coloured hues when I wear this perfume. Van Gogh, quite the fan of absinthe painted some beautiful depictions of the French countryside in these colours. Or perhaps you might like to insert yourself in Woody Allen’s bittersweet film, Midnight in Paris. You’ve gone back in time to the roaring 20’s. You’re chatting with Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds and knocking back the absinthe under a starry starry night.
Notes : Images : Yves Saint Laurent and Lulu de Falaise taken from Vogue UK with my bottle of Douce Amère : Serge Lutens for Shiseido : canvasmagazine.net : Absinthe poster : thespiritsbusiness.com : Greenery on house and bottle of Douce Amère : My photos : Van Gogh : Farm Near Auvers or Thatched Cottages by a hill 1890 : Midnight in Paris scene : theboar.org
Review based on my own sample. Opinions my own.