I just sampled the new Serge Lutens and as it usually happens after smelling a Serge Lutens on your skin for the first time, one has an Ahhh….! moment. That’s what uncle Serge meant! The quote that teases into Baptême du feu translates something like this:
“My emotion is fluid. Like wax that flows into a mold, it solidifies what attracted me, here, this heart of gingerbread”
Five o’clock au gingembre revisted then? Not quite. Baptême du feu opens directly with gingerbread but does not stay there for long. This one actually contains a note of lemony, fresh ginger that chases the gingerbread out to the top notes. Immediately I get the reported gunpowder note, a note that I have learned to fear and respect in Beaufort Tonnerre 1805. It is more of a texture than an actual ingredient. It smells cold, metallic, abrasive, like a box of unused matches minus the wood. The combination of gingerbread and fresh ginger with this one is strange but it works. Apparently what it achieves is keeping this little gingerbread man away from the kitchen table. Baptême du feu does not feel like a gourmand at any point. On the contrary, as it progresses woods become more prominent, a cedar-but-not-quite note that blends in with the spices and initiates a latter floral phase in the development. This floral phase is vague and not feminine. I can’t tell you exactly what kind of flower this smells like. According to Fragrantica (the most extensive unofficial note listing available at the moment) it is osmanthus. But then again Fragrantica also mentions “powdery notes” which I think they got somewhere lost in the translation of “poudre à canon” or “poudre noire” from French. I cannot think of any reason to classify this fragrance as powdery. By the drydown, all the gingerbread is eaten up and you are left with a very nice base of piquant woodiness, delicate incense and vague warm florality. But the imprint of the coarse, metallic, gunpowder texture is always there. I cannot identify the castoreum from the Fragrantica note listing but I blame it on me, I don’t own this note. However there is a warmth in it that reminds me of feminine scents of the 80’s and I guess this is where castoreum comes in. Maybe what I see as a note of incense is actually the effect of castoreum, but you get the idea.
Baptême du feu recycles the gingerbread theme but in the end comes out smelling like something completely new. If the spicy, sweet overload of gingerbread was what attracted Serge Lutens in 2008, his emotions seem to have taken a comfortable distance now and the end result floats in this new territory that he has initiated us in with L’orphéline and the intense woodiness of the Section d’Or subfamily. He has left behind the orientalism of his earlier creations and Baptême du feu feels a lot closer to Paris than Marrakesh or India. Delicate, balanced, poised, maybe not breath-taking, but still I believe that it is the initiation to the new Serge Lutens sensibilities for the turbulent 10’s.
Notes from Fragrantica: Gingerbread, Powdery notes (probably meant to say Gunpowder), Mandarin, Castoreum, Osmanthus, Woody, notes
Notes from my nose: Gunpowder, Gingerbread, Fresh ginger, Cedar, Incense, Floral notes