Through a glass, darkly: Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire
Whenever Serge Lutens launches a fragrance, the buzz in the blogosphere is always intense. Is it a “real” Serge as opposed to the so-called imposters like L'Eau Serge (which I happen to like a lot)? Is it weird enough? Avant-garde enough? Is it too conventional for purists? I can't think of another niche line that is freighted with such heavy expectations for its new fragrances. Since the company has launched fragrances in virtually every style and genre except green, which The Master claims not to like, and creates them with the finest materials, I have come to expect that I will like, if not love, everything from the house, and I don't care at all if it is strange or unsettling or just plain pretty, I just want more of them. (My love for Nuit de Cellophane, one of the scoffed-at scents, is not likely to abate any time soon.)
I guess I was expecting 2012's Une Voix Noire to be the gardenia equivalent of the ferociously beautiful Tubéreuse Criminelle, but it's nothing of the sort. It is sweet of course, and slightly smoky, but it's not a sillage monster. I have been testing it on some of the hottest days of the summer and it is never overwhelming. It is very lovely and even wistful; who could have thought that a Serge Lutens white floral could be so tender? It's not like any other gardenia and/or tuberose white floral I know of except one, and that, oddly, is Andy Tauer's magnificent, huge and overwhelming Loretta – Une Voix Noire could be Loretta's baby sister, sweet and shy and unwilling to call attention to herself. I can see how it's a fitting tribute to Billie Holiday – she let her vocal talent speak for her. She didn't shout her lyrics, and never needed to.
Une Voix Noire start out rather emphatically, but just when you think it's going to take over the world, it backs off and instead of getting brighter like other heavy white florals usually do, it darkens, like a reflection in an antique mirror, a shadow scent that intrigues rather than dazzles. Part of its sweetness comes from a rum note, tempered by tobacco; this is not the usual heady pipe tobacco, fresh from the canister, of the Arabian fantasies Chergui and Fumerie Turque so familiar to Serge fans, but a trace of smoked cigarette caught late on a summer evening, a ghost of a presence that lends atmosphere but does not intrude upon the floral beauty of the main gardenia note, which is ripe and glistening and has none of the sometime disconcerting “cheesiness” of other gardenia perfumes. It seems as relaxed and natural as the flowers pinned to Lady Day's hair, and it just makes you want to get closer to breathe in its elusive sensuality. This one seduces up close, quietly and insistently, as intimate as a performance in a tiny music club after midnight, and oh yes, I am sure that she would have loved it too.
Une Voix Noire is part of the Exclusive line, available at the Palais Royale du Shiseido in Paris for 130 Euro (about $170 USD), and for a lot more at Barneys New York, but at least you don't need a plane ticket to buy it online.
Image credit: Billie Holiday photo via demeterclarc.com, original source unknown; special effects mine.
Disclaimer: My review was based on a purchased decant of the fragrance.