Every perfume junkie has an opinion on this: to buy blind or to test? I admit I am a thrill seeker so buying blind is a one way street for me. I have done it profusely, eBay being the ideal place for cheap thrill. But there is one perfume house that drags me by the nose when it comes to buying blind and buying expensive: Les Salons du Palais Royal Serge Lutens. There is something about that house, that man (Serge Lutens) that simply knocks down my common sense. It is true, he is a shrewd marketer. He has come up with the “Paris Exclusive” line, sold only in the house boutique. He bottles these fragrances in what I believe is the most beautiful perfume flacon ever devised. There are no samples available but anyone can have for free all of them in wax sample form, which are nothing but teasers since you only get to smell the basenotes in these. And to top everything up they are cheaper in a per ml ratio than the fragrances exported all over the world by the same house! Can you blame me for giving in so often?
My blind buys have often been success stories. After all deciding to buy a perfume unsniffed is an educated guess. I do a lot of research, read all the reviews and blogs and pretty much know what I am getting into. But buying Sarrasins was a tale of perfection. A climax of ticklish anxiety that started with pushing the “add to basket” button and exploded with the opening of the bottle. First of all, the name: Sarrasins. A reference to the mythology of the Syrian desert, already hinting hot humid nights, exotic landscapes and a dose of danger… The impeccable bell shaped bottle, balancing between nostalgia and technical austerity… And then the juice inside the bottle, in a unique blue, purple, almost black hue… Do you notice the echo of the imagery produced by the name in the optical qualities of the fragrance? You would have to be blind not to! Let’s not forget the man is a photographer. So I took the plunge, became 110 euros poorer and ordered the bottled mystery which was reported to deliver jasmine, in a dark sense. Anticipation only heightened the excitement. And a few days later the courier service delivered the goods at my doorstep. The mat, off-black carton box, matching the box with the delicate beige lines forming the house logo and name on it. With sweaty hands I opened the box to hold the almost black flacon with the spherical stopper that catches the light. Now here comes the difficult part: the bottle comes with a stopper that fits snugly into the bottle. Transport makes the fit even tighter. Trying to open the bottle is only some extra pressure away from breaking it. And once I got over that hurdle, it was pure heaven.
Jasmine is there, from top to base of the scent. If one is familiar with this note in perfumes then they have learned to expect a thick, sweet, animalic flower vibe that to many is associated to the smell of an old lady. Coquette but old. The jasmine in Sarrasins tells a different story. If white flowers to you are synonymous to feminine scents you have to try this one. No hint of sweetness whatsoever. The white flower is laced with the most unexpected topnote that is so familiar yet so difficult to name. Why is this difficult? Because you would never dare to associate it with a flower scent: it is car exhaust, petrol fumes! A touch of camphor in there too, like one would expect from a car exhaust pipe. A bit of black pepper adds to the dryness of the composition. As the wearing progresses jasmine seems to take a step back. Not that it becomes less noticeable. It’s like saying that King Kong took one step back. You will always be able to see him. But it feels like you are smelling the jasmine through the mist of its accompanying notes. The fumes, the pepper and the musk that slowly emerges giving an animalic note to the composition. Not the usual animalic note that comes from the jasmine’s indoles. What comes to mind is the smell of a cat’s fur. Something velvety, pleasing in a strange way, always flirting with aversion but remaining familiar and comforting.
While usually jasmine perfumes echo the smell of old, pricked, dead, stale, almost rotting jasmines, Sarrasins manages to capture the ethereal fragrance of a jasmine garden in full bloom in a hot summer night. I would imagine that Serge Lutens traveled to a hidden oasis in the middle of the desert and commissioned the local artisans to distil the oils of jasmine not from the harvested flowers but from the desert air. I imagine old men unwrapping their turbans in the night air, letting them fly in the desert breeze. Collecting them again in the morning and extracting the spirit of jasmines, not the fragrance. In a sense, Sarrasins is the platonic ideal of jasmine in a bottle. Every time I open the bottle I can’t help but feeling like walking by a rough brick wall. Suddenly the smell of the jasmine garden hidden behind the wall hits me and I have to tilt my head back filling my lungs with the flower infused night air. And opening my eyes again I now face the star studded night sky which has the exact same color as the magical fragrance inside the bell shaped Sarrasins bottle.