Anyone who has ever read my perfume posts probably knows by now that I am a major fan of the Serge Lutens line. I either love or like every one I have tried, and I have sampled nearly everything in the Export line and a couple of the Exclusives, with hopes to try the rest of them in the future. (Fumerie Turque, you are officially on my radar.) Recently I obtained a sample of one of the fragrances on my “hit list,” the fabulous Chergui. It seems that this 2001 fragrance has finally been released into the Export line, at least for a while, and I am seriously tempted to cave in. The price is up to $140 now for the 50 ml standard bottle (no bell jars on this side of the pond) but the way fragrance prices are going these days it almost seems like a bargain.
All of the Lutens perfumes are meant to be unisex, but some lean more one way or another. To me Chergui goes just a little bit more in the masculine direction, yet it is so devoid of “manly” stereotypes as to render any attempt at pigeonholing fairly useless. Yes, it’s warm and dry, and yes it has tobacco in it, but oh, that honey! The list of notes is probably not complete, since the SL perfumes are never fully revealed, but here goes: honey, musk, leather, incense, tobacco leaf, hay sugar, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood. I have no idea what “hay sugar” actually is, but I am most definitely in favor of it.
Unlike some of Serge Lutens’ work, there is no weird opening to get through before the “real” character begins to emerge. The honey hits as soon as it goes on the skin, and anyone who is phobic about honey in perfume would probably not even try this in the first place. I would urge patience, for it does subside eventually and the incense and amber chime in, accompanied by the delightful hay aroma. The leather also makes its presence known, but it’s not a heavy, dark obvious note, but rather a smooth and refined essence, like the finest bridle a horse could ever wear. (It reminds me a bit of Daim Blond in this respect, but not as suede-like.) The tobacco is the dry leaf, pre-ignition, which is good because I love the aroma of a good pipe tobacco before it’s lit up even better than afterward. The iris is true and clear with no powder, and everything rests on a pillow of rich, redolent rose, the kind that feels as blood red as a ruby, with a deep heart of mystery.
Chergui is one of those paradoxical fragrances that works really well as a comfort scent when you really need one on a chilly, blustery day, and which equally comes into its own as the perfect thing to wear when it’s warm and dry. Indeed it is named for the hot desert wind that blows through the Sahara, and it sings when the heat makes most other fragrances wilt and give up, or turn sticky and close. It never loses a certain sweetness, but the tobacco and leather keep it from veering into foody territory; it is far less sweet than Arabie, for example, and nowhere near as honeyed as Miel de Bois – which, by the way, I also really love, since I am one of the apparently rare individuals who can’t get enough honey in my life.
All of the Serge fragrances have a conceptual theme, though some of them are so abstract that it’s hard to figure them out without a road map. I would say that Chergui is one of the more straightforward ones, but beneath its amber and honey haze there lurks more than a little danger. The heady mix of tobacco, hay, leather and exotic incense reminded me immediately and forcefully of something, but it was not a scent memory; it was a scene from one of my favorite films. If Chergui could be brought to life, it would be the riveting shipboard poker game sequence from Carroll Ballard’s wonderful 1979 movie The Black Stallion. Intrigue, greed, suspense, beauty, danger, horses and curling smoke, all leavened with plenty of sweaty tension. Something about Chergui does that to me, and it’s hard to explain. I can be wrapped in its deliciously luxurious and comforting embrace, yet all I can think of is how much I want to be bad - in the best way possible.
Video clip of the opening scenes of The Black Stallion; the card game scene starts at about 3:30 but it should be watched in its entirety (10 minutes) if only for the great music. This is one of my favorite movies of all time!
Image credit: Satellite photo of a Sahara dust plume over the Atlantic Ocean, realclimatechange.org