The topnotes of Serge Lutens Serge Noires smoky, dried fruit incense draw me in every single Goddamn time, like a mermaid's song. And then I am dashed cruelly against the rocks that are this scent's downfall the unmistakably oniony sweat of unwashed (male) armpits.
Ask me how I know. No, really. I first smelled this when I was visiting Mont San Michel with my family when I was seven. The children had sat down in a grumpy, sun-beaten heap on the doorstop of the nth church, refusing to indulge our parents any further in their unquenchable thirst for the various religious icons and tchotchkes of French medieval churches, which seemed to us to be identical to the ones we had back home, only a little older and grimier.
From our vantage point, we got to study the interiors of everyone's nostrils, skirts, and armpits. People passed over us; we were ignored, perhaps not even seen. A middle-aged man stopped under the mantel and leaned against the cool wall for a moment to gather himself, and in that moment, I understood that dried sweat could smell like onions and black pepper and celery the makings of a mirepoix, practically when suspended in droplets in the thicket of a man's armpit hair.
The onion sweat accord can be parsed out later as clove, cumin, black pepper, and incense. While I love clove in stuff like Eau Lente (Diptyque) and the Eau de Parfum by Commes des Garcons, I admit that it can come off as sweaty and metallic to an almost objectionable degree. But the operational word is almost. There's always something in those fragrances to reign it in herbaceous oppoponax, a bit of honey, some sandalwood. In Serge Noire, the clove business simply goes too far. It sidles up to the breaking point of human endurance and then waltzes brazenly past it, lurching unchecked into pure onion sweat territory whence it cannot be redeemed.
I keep trying it, hoping I am wrong or that my perception will loosen up, allowing me to glimpse the true beauty of this scent as others describe it. But as of May 2020, and upon my 14th attempt, I have to admit defeat.
Goodness do I enjoy this scent. I'm glad I was not deterred by the many detractors who find it to be unpleasant.
Opening it's dry and dark-a clove and cinnamon combination. It's truly a scent for cooler weather (which is exactly what I'm in right now). After the first 20 or so minutes I notice the cedar, it's a wonderful combination. There is very little sweetness in it like many designer ouds, but it does have warm notes to keep it from being too stringent. Leaning more masculine but could see a strong woman wearing this and turning heads.
The drydown turns it a bit (very small) more powdery and less dark, still woody and aromatic. Projection is average, longevity isn't great (3-4 hours). The dark warmth of this scent keeps me coming back for more, and this will be in my rotation for the cold months to come. I personally find the comparisons to body odor ridiculous-this is the way I wish my body smelled when I sweat!
I purchased 1.7 oz for $40-for this price, I'd do it again in the heartbeat. Be brave, be bold-give it a try.
Whew! The opening of Serge Noire is what I imagined the Scent of Oger to smell like! ;-) To quote Shrek who is an Oger..."Ogers are like onions...they have layers." Serge Noir has several layers thats for sure.
This opens like an acrid, eye burning onion with a dark, dank blackness lurking just under the surface of the onion stench. Within 30 minutes the onion changes to the chap stick like note that I also read about...check and check. The onion apparently comes from the cumin. The chapstick like note I believe is from the elemi, as I've smelled a similar note in an elemi heavy scent before. I'm only about an hour in, so I'm hoping for more transitions that I've read about. I love clove and cinnamon, so I'm hoping for more of that. We'll see how this develops. What a weird fragrance. Weird from the standpoint of, "why would someone purposefully make something like this to market and sell to the public as a scent to wear on their bodies?" It almost makes you wonder if they did it just to see how many people would buy it. The opening alone is off putting enough to drive many people away, but I'm going to work with it and see if I can possibly figure out a way to wear this stuff...
Judging from the reviews here and elsewhere, Serge Noire seems to develop very differently from skin to skin. Skin chemistry seems to be a huge factor with this scent. From some reviews I wouldn't think we're talking about the same perfume. Of course it can be a matter of taste, why people judge so differently. I happen to like woods and incense, another one of my favourites is Malle's Portrait of a Lady, though PoaL is much drier. Or it may be the case that reviewers don't wait for the full development. Serge Noire takes 15 to 20 minutes to develop, merge and settle down. I get the phoenix metaphor here, it changes and changes. Or may be the secret is to use just a tiny little amount.
I don't get any cumin or castoreum or bitter oud notes, let alone BO, nor any syrup and fruit notes either, just cinnamon, cloves, cedar, sandalwood, amber and incense. Warm spices, precious woods and uplifting incense all blended so well together after the first few minutes and wrapping me like a cashmere shawl all day long. On me it has tremendous longevity. Perfect for autumn and winter and also for a rainy day in summer. For me its a masterpiece and one of my all time favourites. Ten out of ten.
Yet another fragrance ruined by the bitter, acrid oud-like note of cedar gone bad. There is cinnamon, amber and clove here too, which balance the bitterness with some sweetness, but the bitter cedar and patchouli act with these notes like two ends of a seesaw, one minute one is in the ascendance, the next, the other.
Night it is, but an ultimately unpleasant night. I never will understand why so many fragrance addicts enjoy just smelling "bad," but that is the state of the world's noeses today, and there is no end of attempts by niche houses to accommodate them.
This just smells bad to my nose and is one of the very few Lutens I am unable to give even a neutral to.