Oh, Chergui, you've been in my life for so long. I first was acquainted with it way back in 2008 during a visit to the Serge Lutens counter at Barney's in Boston. I had never heard of Serge Lutens until that day, and was drawn into the line immediately. The sales associate gave me a handful of samples (this, Ambre Sultan, Arabie, and Cedre) and my love affair began.
The sheer, luminous tobacco note that is in Chergui is only mildly sweet, touched with honey, and supported by a significant dose of hay absolute. Chergui is just as much a hay fragrance as it is tobacco, with warm, grassy, earthy, deep fruity elements of hay present. Iris is more evident in the heart, its dry, cool, silvery texture contrasting with the warmer notes. Everything is round and supple, few serrated edges save for a welcome suggestion of medicinal bitterness, just a subtle undertone. Over time it all settles into comforting, dusky, musky woodiness.
What's fascinating to me is how Chergui has found itself the standout from SL in the fragrance community, with many only familiar with the house through it. Indeed, Chergui is arguably another masterstroke from Christopher Sheldrake, but I invite those who are unfamiliar to explore others from the house (including the aforementioned). It remains one of my favorite houses, for nearly 14 years.
I revisited Chergui, as the first time I tried it was in 2006, and it didn’t work for me then. I wanted to see if it, or my nose, had changed. The answer is yes, though for a while I wasn’t sure whether it was me or it.
There’s a certain amount of consensus other fragrances in Chergui’s genre are better, and wondering what all the fuss about it is. There’s no doubt Chergui got caught in the reformulation grindstone and what came out is different. The original was a powerhouse, and it isn’t as much now. It is still dark, sweet, and tobacco-ey, and smells deep and comfy, but in 2006, It was more complex and overpowering (and more animalic, I believe, though I’m not certain of that), and I couldn’t wear it.
Yet some of those animalic components survived the reformulations and still aren’t sitting well with me, and are too smelly on my skin. I can wear today’s version more easily, though to be honest, I’m not certain that’s a compliment. I can say I wish the drydown had a little more of it’s original edge than it has now, and find the present one more tamed, but the real reason I won’t pursue it is the combination of notes that didn’t work on me are still there.
I realize what Im about to write down does not align with the fragance pyramid above but I have to be honest about what I perceive. For me I get the notes of vanilla extract, resin, benzoin, juniper, hay, Sandlewood and tabacco. I owe a lot to Serge Lutens. His fragrance Fille En Auguilles sent me on a fragrance journey for years and I'm still reeling. The rest of the SL scents dont take me so far, including this one. But dont get me wrong, I like Chergui and I think it is a fragrance more personal in style, and that it was created to serve a purpose rather than to impress or call attention to itself. For those who treasure balance and consistancy in their lives, I think this fragrance will serve them well. As is stated on his site Chergui "creates an effect that involves suction more than blowing". So, obviously Lutens is aware that it does not have a big projection and that it is instead rooting a person, having a settling affect. It does have good longevity, leaving a warm resonous aroma for hours that sort of hovers very close to your body and blends making it feel very natural as if it is your own actual body's smell. For that reason it is comforting and grounding. This is a scent I would layer, I have not done so yet but I think it might serve very well as a base that would nicely project and involve other fragrances.
A honeyed up amber and tobacco with a hint of powdery iri. And sandalwood in a supporting role. It's sweet and boozy out of the gate but the tone gives way to the lighter iris and sandalwood features, which for me spoiled the potential. I like most of what I've sampled from Lutens and there is no doubt Chergui is a high quality and popular scent. Not one I'd wear often though and I prefer the amber-resinous Amber Sultan over Chergui. The wife likes it more than me, but I can still give it a thumbs up.
Smelling Chergui for the first time in 2020 is a disappointment for me. Sure it's well made, and it's exactly the genre of fragrance I like, but there's nothing special about it, when one has known Amouage, Tom Ford, L'Air du Désert and countless other interpretations of the same themes.