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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Comforting Intrigue of Serge Lutens Chergui

By Donna

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

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31 Comments:

Blogger Ines said...

I always find it fascinating to read other people's thoughts on Chergui. I can't seem to get pass the opening which smells too honey/hay to me and sits heavy on my stomach. I'll give it another go after your review. :)

2:49 AM EDT  
Blogger Trina said...

I have tried Chergui SO many times because it is *perfect* for me on paper, but something doesn't work. I assume it's whatever SL chooses for their honey notes, since MdB is also horrible on me while FT is a dream.

It's been a year or so since my last attempt, and I'm inspired to try again! I may wait for autumn, though.

5:28 AM EDT  
Blogger rockinruby said...

Love the review: I adore Chergui. Every once in a blue moon, I put it on and find it to be incredibly vile and wonder how I ever liked it. The other 98% of the time it makes me swoon. Go figure.

Marina, if you would like a sample of Fumerie Turque, I'm happy to send some your way. I'm sure it's my favorite Lutens, and it's probably one of my favorite scents of any line.

8:22 AM EDT  
Blogger RusticDove said...

This is my first comment here @ PST, but I have been enjoying the really well written reviews for a while now. I am SO dying to try a honey scent. There have been a few releases lately with that note and I'm very intrigued. I wonder if I'll be in the 'love it' or 'hate it' camp?

8:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous sybil said...

Yay, Chergui! I can't wear MdB a thousand times over, but Chergui is excellent. Thanks for the great review!

11:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Proximity said...

I've been reading this blog for a long time now, but I don't believe I've ever commented before.
I just wanted to say, thank you for a great review of one of my favorite fragrances.
I never though of Chergui alongside The Black Stallion (which I've loved since I was a kid), but you're totally right - Chergui really does capture the spirit of the movie.

11:35 AM EDT  
Anonymous Water Damage New York, NY said...

awesome!

<3 Lindsay

12:03 PM EDT  
Blogger Tammy said...

Honey doesn't work for me at all, not one bit but you make this sound sooooooo good!!

12:12 PM EDT  
Blogger Divina said...

Hello dearest Flora! Please -please- don't spring for Chergui before trying Fumerie Turque! I consider FT really superior, far more complex in any case. It is also more indulgent and sweeter (but not as sweet as Arabie for example). What I *love* about FT and Chergui misses is the huuuuge animalic note FT has. Combined with the hay and tobacco, it really is pure bliss. Starts out slightly scary, but has gorgeous development and just keeps getting smoother.

12:32 PM EDT  
Blogger ScentScelf said...

Absolutely ♥ Chergui. Have since nearly the start of my perfume odyssey. Divina, your observations about Fumerie Turque have piqued my interest in that one...have never tried it. "Animalic" in what way? I find that sometimes I find great joy in what people call "animal," and sometimes...great scrubbing. ;)

1:42 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Ines, I will agree that the honey is not for everyone, but it sure is for me.

3:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Trina, now I am even more curious about FT!

3:53 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Rockinruby, thank you. I would love a sample of FT, maybe we can do a trade. I am actually one of Marina's guest writers, so she can tell you how to find me. :-)

3:57 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

RusticDove, thanks so much for commenting!

There are some other good honey scents out there too - You might want to try something a little milder before you try the Mother of them all, Miel de Bois. I recommend Ginestet's Botrytis for a really wonderful honey perfume - Luckyscent has it.

4:02 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Sybil, now that I have found it I think it's a keeper!

4:03 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Proximity, I appreciate your comment!

Isn't it fascinating how perfume can just reach into your brain and pull out stuff from decades ago like that? Part of the reason I love it so much.

4:05 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Water Damage - thanks!

4:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Tammy, there is a lot more than honey going with Chergui, you might want to try it. The tobacco and hay are fabulous.

4:09 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Dear Divina, does this mean that I can't wear FT in public? Just how animalic IS it? :-D

(I would probably do it anyway - I have been known to wear Bal A Versailles to the office. I know it's naughty to do that but sometimes I can't help myself.)

4:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Scentself, I am so glad I finally tried it, I wish I could try all the Exclusives. I seem to have a real affinity for the line, my skin just says "Aahh" when I put on a Serge.

4:18 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

I am absolutely with you in the honey loving camp. If a perfume has honey, you can be absolutely sure I'll be trying it, possibly purchasing it unsniffed. I got both of the new MAC honey scents unsniffed just because...well, how could I resist that clarion call? And the price certainly was right. Oh, and since this is a Serge review, I'll bring it back there by mentioning that the Africanimal reminds me a bit of Miel de Bois (that wildly popular scent which I am actually a fan of - one of the five or six in the known universe). Anyway, thanks for this great review of Chergui! Can't imagine life w/out it.

4:30 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your thoughtful review. I adore, adore, adore Chergui. It is a true classic in my eyes (or nose, rather). It is excellent in any climate, any circumstance, any body part.

lovethescents

6:03 PM EDT  
Blogger RusticDove said...

Thank you for the recommendation Flora. I actually have a sample of Botrytis from Luckyscent and I do love it. I had forgotten about it and that it was a honey scent. So now I know - I'm a honey fan! I'm probably ready to go on to more adventurous honey based fragrances. I've been known to love some quirky, complex perfumes. I'm not afraid! haha

6:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, I knew we would both be in that camp! I have plans to try the new MAC scents in the next few days, I can't wait!

9:41 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks lovethescents, I totally agree! :-)

9:42 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't comment here often but Chergui always sounded nice. Now that I know that hay lies within, I'm all over it. The honey worries me a little (man, I've been hearing a lot about honey in fragrances these last few weeks!) but this does sound really wonderful. Thank you for the review!

10:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous 2scents said...

I've also sampled almost everything in the line (Arabie and Cuir Mauresque elude me) and Chergui is one of my enduring favorites. Its complexity is intriguing; there's nothing else like it.

11:55 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Anonymous, the hay part is one if Chergui's best aspects, I just can't resist hay! It's usually too wimpy in perfumes, but here it's a star.

12:45 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

2scents, I love Arabie, but it is VERY sweet, and Cuir Mauresque I have yet to discover. Chergui went right to my top favorites of the line as soon as I tried it.

12:48 AM EDT  
Blogger Trina said...

Flora - you owe it to yourself to try FT! I find it "animalic" only in that it reminds me somewhat of warm fur. If someone smoked a pipe with a cat on their lap, that's how I imagine the cat would end up smelling. It's my favorite scent for winter, and a perfect scarfe or coat fragrance - it smells *heavenly* the next day and even after that.

Now I may have to jack up the AC tomorrow and spritz some on. I'm feeling a craving. Chergui can wait LOL!

1:04 AM EDT  
Blogger Divina said...

Flora & Scentscelf: re the animalic note, it is urinous, which I hope does not scare you off. It keeps going strong at first, but then smooths out beautifully and becomes soft and magical. It is very sexy. To me, FT is more feminine than Chergui if that makes sense. I am wearing Chergui today because of your review and I have to say the tobacco & hay in FT are far stronger. Chergui employs a really sweet and smooth pipe tobacco note while FT combines good pipe tobacco with drying tobacco leaves, oh, it's so yummy. To be sure, they are both excellent perfumes. *hugs to both!*

7:24 AM EDT  

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