I don’t know about you but it took me a long time to ‘get’ Serge Lutens. The line that is, not the man himself, I doubt there is anyone on the planet who can profess to ‘get’ Serge Lutens himself, but I digress. Yes, it took me a long time to understand why everybody raved about everything Lutens, there was just something about all of those thick-set, heavy orientals that simply didn’t click with me.
But alongside his dense orientals Lutens has a number of gothic florals (Iris Silver Mist, Tubéreuse Criminelle and Sarrasins etc) that really do speak to me and it wasn’t until I tried these that I felt compelled to convert and pray at the altar of Sergeism. It is this great love of Serge’s florals that made me so excited to try his latest exclusive offering, a perfume that focuses on a highly fragrant, yet elusive flower that yields no oil; the gardenia.
Une Voix Noire (A Black Voice) is the name of Uncle Serge’s essay on gardenia and it takes its inspiration from famous American jazz-singer Billie Holiday, or “Lady Day” as she was sometimes known. For the lady who wore gardenia flowers in her hair, Lutens and his olfactory-partner-in-crime Christopher Sheldrake have created a fragrance that evokes the odours of “jazz, drinks and the night, and, beyond all that, a troubling line of white gardenia-scented smoke.”
Gardenia, Tobacco and Rum
How Does it Smell?
My motto when it comes to all things Serge Lutens is “expect the unexpected” and this little adage can most certainly be applied to Une Voix Noire. Expecting a big, dusty gothic gardenia in true Lutensian style? Thing again! Une Voix Noire is as understated as it is unusual and as beautiful as it is beguiling.
The opening of Une Voix Noire is a real melting pot of smells and textures. There is Lutens’ signature stewed fruits, that feel a little more tart and transparent than usual, along with powdered coffee, a touch of menthol and dark, rubbery flowers. The gardenia is there but it doesn’t feel too pronounced to begin with, almost as if it is laying just beneath the surface awaiting its cue.
Une Voix Noire is most definitely a multi-faceted fragrance and each of its many facets slowly evolve almost un-noticed at first but every now and then one will notice that things have changed dramatically. After a while it gains a strong element of sweet tobacco which plays off of the fruit whilst adding a touch of cinnamon/vanilla sweetness and subdued smoke that evokes the smell of cigarette smoke on clothing rather than a bar filled with cigarette fumes.
The base is again a melange of contrasting smells. Most noticeably there is the gardenia, which with time has become darker, more narcotic, rubbery and peppery. Interestingly it never really becomes an all-out cheesy/mushroomy gardenia, instead it is something different altogether; a black gardenia seen through a piece of gauze. Rum-tinged vanilla is then folded delicately into the gardenia allowing Une Voix Noire to exit the stage on a bed of auburn coloured velvet.
Une Voix Noire is a truly stunning perfume, it manages to capture the beauty and talent of Billie Holiday as well as the dark passenger of her addictions. Yes it is gorgeous but it is also troubled and there is something unsettling about it that means that one cannot help but feel sad. It is a fragrance that inspires mixed emotions and for that reason alone it can be considered as a fitting fragrant tribute for the lady who sang the blues.
Une Voix Noire is available in 75ml Eau de Parfum (€130/$300) as part of Serge Lutens’ exclusive collection.
Good news for American perfume lovers, usually only available in Europe the non-export exclusives are now available to order in the USA via us.sergelutens.com.
Image 1 via JaxAble on Deviantart. Image 2 nearandfar.wordpresss.com. Notes and quotes via Serge Lutens.