I think it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen for a new Serge Lutens fragrance. Perhaps it was La Religieuse in 2015 or La Fille de Berlin in 2013, I can’t remember, but I know it has been a while! I adore many of his back catalogue greats (especially L’Eau Froide, Tubereuse Criminelle, Sarrasins, Iris Silver Mist, Feminite du Bois, and Fleurs d’Oranger) but many of the new ones have failed to resonate. There have been interesting elements to his fragrances of late, but it seems that he has moved away from the dense orientalism and fleur fatale inspirations of his past, opting for yet more abstraction in fragrances that don’t really make as much of a mark.
Well, I am pleased to say that Lutens’ ‘meh’ streak has come to an end with the latest addition to Collection Noire (the most widely available Lutens collection): Le Participe Passè (The Past Participle). In the usual Lutens way, the perfume is presented with little information other than a riddle that is difficult to decode, with Lutens only telling us this: “past moments that surge into the present have many scents. I have interpreted that which most evokes the past.” Thanks for that, Serge – real helpful! Anyway, this new scent is more than a riddle or a description, it’s something much more than that – Le Participe Passè is quite the spectacle.
Top: Fir Balsam
How Does it Smell?
The initial blast of Le Participe Passè is quite something. It almost takes one aback with the opaque cloud it offers up. Initially, one notices an intensely green note of pine needles – cold and aloof – a sharp greenery that gives the impression of pine needles frozen in ice. This cooling effect is intensified by a backdrop of incense that is treated with transparency and the paleness of watercolour. All of that sits behind the curtain of fire that is everything else in Le Participe Passè.
Warmth. That’s the core of Le Participe Passè. Embers of an intense fire – a blaze of cumin and immortelle – glow red hot, casting a deep and rich smoke. As one can imagine, the signature of immortelle and cumin is somewhat heavy and together they create a hefty fabric patterned with a whole variety of facets. There’s a sweaty, spice facet (attributable to the cumin, for sure), but also a sweet maple character and a hint of curry spice (hello immortelle). It’s the olfactory equivalent of velvet and it creates the perfect base material for that cooling pine brocade.
Because of its density, Le Participe Passè takes quite a while to develop on the skin. As it does eventually dry down it reveals a Lutensian (now a word) base of amber and woods. It’s not quite as herbaceous and plush as the brand’s iconic Ambre Sultan, for example, instead opting for something more jagged that marries the richness of wood with the wintry beauty of pine. It feels fully fleshed out, if somewhat opaque.
Le Participe Passè is interesting to me. It feels like an essay in contrasts and it’s does with pine what Dior’s Eau Noire did with lavender, pairing it with the maple tones of immortelle, but instead of creating a smooth extension of the core note by tessellating the matching toasted sugar facets a la Eau Noire, Le Participe Passè aims for discord, creating an angular coolness immersed in an impassible weight of resins and amber. Does it capture my attention and fascinate me? Yes, it really does and it’s a fine return to form for Lutens. Do I want to wear it? Ask me in December, because I have a feeling it’s going to really sing in winter. I’ll keep you posted…
Le Participe Passè is available in 50ml (£110) and 100ml (£160) Eau de Parfum.
Sample, notes and quotes via Serge Lutens. Images are my own.