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Friday, March 09, 2007

Needle in a Haystack. Perfume Review: Serge Lutens Chene

I often lie awake at night and dream of a perfect storage solution for my samples and decants. The storage of my feverish dreams is an impossibly-high-tech, or rather sci-fi container disguised as an antique cabinet… Inside…is an infinite space …At a push of a sequence of silvery buttons, the desired vial is brought out from the depths of the “cabinet” with a swoosh of invisible robotic hands… No more panicked rummaging through numerous boxes, no more swearing in the manner that would shock even the most foul-mouthed fishwife, no more unidentifiable samples without labels, no more having to empty out the whole drawer just to find that one tiny little vial, that needle in a haystack…

In reality, my samples are kept in what a friend would call an organized chaos, and a foe would rightfully identify as a mess. On a good day, the newly arrived samples are immediately categorized as Reviewable and Non-Reviewable. (On a bad day they are just dumped on my desk and sit there till a good day comes.) The Non-Reviewable samples are put into either the Somehow Get Rid Of Box or the Don’t Want to Review but Can’t Part With Yet box. The lucky Reviewables are placed into this 12"x7"x7" chest…

…and there they stay, patiently awaiting their destiny…At night, when all is quiet, you can hear the Etat Libre d’Orange samples whimpering in horror, they know that the Review Day is upon them… Some wonderful treasures (the vintage Diors! the old, obscure Guerlains!) have been in that chest for over a year, because I am either too intimidated by their beauty to dare to write about them or because their reviews keep getting postponed in favor of the never-ending new releases…It is entirely possible that some samples will still be in the box, a decade from now.

I tried dealing with the backlog of samples by having Sniffathons, but those are awfully exhausting. The solution was arrived upon by the super-smart Ina of Aromascope who came up with the idea of the Needle in a Haystack post, which from now on will become a regular feature on our blogs. The sample (or decant) of the day will be chosen by each of us blindly (no cheating allowed) and promptly reviewed. And this is how I have chosen my first Needle in a Haystack. I closed my eyes, stuck my hand into the Reviewables Chest, groped about, clutched a random sample, prayed the random sample won’t turn out to be Gucci Rush or POTL, opened my eyes and saw…Chêne.

Chêne is one of the Serge Lutens scents (or scents in general) that I should have loved but didn’t. With notes of oak bark, cedar, birch, immortelle, tonka bean, rum, black thyme and beeswax, it seemed to have my name written on it in bold capital letters. Yes somehow it left me cold. Yes, I acknowledged its spicy-woody gorgeousness, but the earth refused to move even a little bit when I wore Chêne. And such sad state of affairs would have probably continued were it not for Ina’s Needle in a Haystack idea. Reluctantly I applied Chêne, bracing to write a blah review about a Lutens fragrance…and the magic finally happened! What used to be too-sharp, became intriguingly astringent; the perfume, which was too dry, suddenly acquired a succulent, unexpectedly sweet undertone.

Chêne opens up on me with an accord that I can only describe as a smell of spicy prunes. The bitter woods seem to be paired with a fruity, boozy note, and the resulting luscious piquancy is incredibly attractive. As the scent progresses, the “fruits” disappear and the complex, opulent woody accord begins to showcase its numerous facets. The woods of Chêne are smoky, dry, spicy, velvety, warm; practically every characteristic that can be attributed to a woody note is present here. I adore the stage when the intense herbaceousness of the thyme and the sweet, green “meatiness” of immortelle become apparent. The base is a sophisticated affair in reddish-brown and dark-green, with the fiery woods, the slightly medicinal rum and the sweet, sweet tonka enveloping the wearer in a magical, deep, alluring sillage that only Lutens is capable of creating…The good news is that now I have another Lutens fragrance to love. The bad news is that I urgently need yet another bell jar… oh well!

Chêne is available exclusively at Salon du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris, €100.00 for 75ml.

Please visit Aromascope to read about Ina's Needle in a Haystack.

The first image is from the second is my own, the third is from


Blogger Unknown said...

Funny how we both ended up using the word "meaty". ;D Lucky you! What an easy scent to review... I adore Chene. It reminds me of the birch tree bunches they use in Russian bathhouses (you know, veniki). More refined, obviously. ;) It's also great for layering. I can't for our next draw. ;D

11:07 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

Oh honey!

Welcome! I could never understand why Chene didn't work for you: although I get less of the pruniness that you do; and kudos to you for putting a name to that velvety undertone that soften those bone-dry woods. This was the first bell jar I got (through extraordinary means) and I adore it. I'm so happy it clicked with you!

I'm wearing Aomassai today (one of your many spot-on recommendations to me) and I feel like I have to back and review it again- I've been smelling so much more in it. I feel the same way about Chene as well. I read some of my early reviews and cringe....

11:13 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...

BTW- I'd love to write that my samples are elegantly housed in a crystal whatever as would befit my tony zip code, but the tested ones go in the box my mobile phone came in. The untested ones are in a small shopping bag from ScentBar and the decants that I use every day are in the dish I put my keys in. I am impressed by the nice home for yours!

Oh the glamour!

11:21 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... bring back the days when this was a scent only druids would partake... a scent that NO ONE wore or could even get their hands on... i loved passing on decants to my most beloved friends (to mystify and seduce)... but now everyone wears chene and whatta bore... the world grows smaller by the minute... BTW is there nothing you "two" DON'T wear?

2:04 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Colombina, a wonderful review. What a perfect phrase: "a sophisticated affair in reddish-brown and dark-green." I love Chene. Of the Serges I've tried, it's my favorite. If I were to visit Paris, a bell jar would be mine.

I've been wondering: How in heck does one pack a bell jar now that one can no longer bring liquids onto the plane in one's hand luggage? How does one protect such a precious fluid from baggage handlers? The very thought frightens me.

2:54 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is top of my lists of must haves ever since my decant dried up, though I'm attempting to wait patiently for it allegedly to be the LE export this autumn. It's hurting.

3:44 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I have always loved Chene, but it doesn't get as much wearing from me as it deserves. You have inspired me to give it more!

5:22 AM EST  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

It's uncanny.
I've been agonizing about tha same thing; especially the cavernous cabinet that masquerades as a small piece of furniture...
Something that protects scents from light , helps organize effluvia.

The storage of my 'collection' would give you does me .

I'm awaiting my decant of this from Patty !
Ironically, I've not yet smelled it, but it sounds like me [although, to be truthful, FT sounded perfect, and was merely 'eh' on me, a bloodless, pale nothing, alas]

Now, I'm excited...going to dance.

Have a wonderful w/e, my peeps !

6:49 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A friend sent me a small sample of Chene over a year ago and I've been in love with it since the first sniff. If only I had a Paris connection. Oh. And a lot of money. :-) What a great one to pick for your first needle in a haystack.

7:26 AM EST  
Blogger elle said...

What a lucky first draw! Adore Chene. For me it's a Christmas scent. And, as Ina said, it's brilliant for layering - especially w/ Chergui.
I'm SO w/ you on the anguish of finding samples. Go anywhere in our house and open a random drawer and you're likely to find one full of samples I mean to organize decently one day this millenium.
The most foul-mouthed fishwife :-)

7:47 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your sample organization looks/sounds veeeeery familiar....

I only tried Chene recently; it was one I'd failed to run across and the name kept popping up. It is lovely. Very Serge-ish but less sweet than some (which I like.)

7:53 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I'd love to sit in a Russian sauna (banya), and I love when they use veniki :-)

8:21 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

What's wrong with your old reviews? They are wonderful.
Have you got to try Bois Blond at LS? I think you'll love it too.

8:22 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Yours might be in a mobile phone box, but they are sorted out and don't lie about in a mess as mine are prone to do. Mine lead a complex, mysterious life of their own.

8:25 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Dear Anonymous,
I understand how you find it disappointing that we, mere mortals, wear Chene. What we don't wear? We don't wear Nez a Nez and I personally can only bring myself to wear a couple of Etat Libre Orange scents. I am afraid that apart from that we wear pretty much everything, including such super-duper exclusive stuff as JAR. I did my spring cleaning the other day wearing Jardenia. Quelle Horreur! Sorry!

8:30 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

When I win a lottery and get to go to Paris (that would also be when the moon is blue, the voluptuous lady sings and the sample containers are filled with infinite space)...I'll bring with me a big roll of bubble wrap. It is very light, so no probs there. And I'll wrap all my purchases in many layers of bubble and they will be totally safe and sound in my check-in luggage. See, I am quite ready for my trip...just waiting for the blue moon to rise. :-)

8:39 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Why wait? :-) For you (lucky Europeans) Chene is only a phone call or a mouse click away...I don't even think that, if and when it is released as an export, it would be that much cheaper considering that the exports are 50ml and the exclusives are 75ml. Just sayin' :-)

8:43 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh, Chene is totally, totally you :-) You should wear it more often!

8:44 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

FT is another Lutens that should have wowed me, but hasn't so far. I understand why others love it, but on me it is kind of blah. So sad. :-(

8:45 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

We need a French connection, and a lot of money...or better what we need a French connection with a load of money who is extremely fond of us and would just buy the bell jars for us, just like that *sigh*

8:46 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I am going to try layering Chene with Messe de go-to layering scent :-) Chergui is yet another SL that doesn't work for me even though it sounds like my kind fo scent :-(

8:47 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

What you mean, similar? You have a futuristic cabinet filled with infinite space?? :-) Seriously though I am tired of the disorganized state of my samples *sigh*

8:49 AM EST  
Blogger Erin said...

I'm baaaaack! And you picked my favourite and new purchase for your first review. (Like and own Asja from yesterday too.) And the answer to Maria is that a bell jar is 75 ml and therefore under the 100 ml limit. It easily fits in the plastic bag they give you to put liquids in your carry-on luggage. Unfortunately the stoppers are not very tight so a very tiny amount may leak out and wick into the cardboard box and baby sock you have carefully wrapped your bell-jar in. Love you all, darlings!

9:11 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Great to have you back! And congrats on Chene! I am not at all envious, no, not at all.

Aww, a baby sock around the stopper? Aww! :-)

9:15 AM EST  
Blogger donanicola said...

A couple of weeks ago I went to a contemporary arts and crafts fair at the V&A and came across my ultimate storage for perfumes. It was crafted from oak, about a metre high, maybe more, and had various drawers and compartments of different sizes thus enabling the storage of all bottles/decents/samples. And it was a masterpiece of craftsmanship - I loved it and if I had 6k (£) hanging about I would happily have passed it over in exchange. Such a nice man who made it too. Anyway, back to reality - Chene now joins my (ever growing) list of non export SL's to try somehow. Hm, got an email about two returns on eurostar for 90 quid today - is that a sign? Thanks for a lovely review, Marina and for the inspiration on how to get through my spring cleaning - wear a lovely scent!

9:18 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh, that sounds like a perfect, perfect storage! But 6k! Ouch.
And yes, 90 for two returns is a sign. The Universe is trying to tell you something, and you should listen :-D

9:22 AM EST  
Blogger lilybp said...

I agree will L. that Chene + Chergui is an ideal combination. Even if you are not a chergui fan (too sweet?), you should give it a go. Notice that I am AVOIDING talking about my sample "organization."

9:33 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha! Good thing no Serge Lutens scent has ever worked for me. Otherwise, I'd have another lemming on my hands from this brilliant review. But what a great idea: needle in the haystack! Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning when reading about all the latest releases. It'll be nice to read about some of the "oldies" as well.

9:33 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

OK, I will try layering those two...But please tell us about your sample organization...:-)

9:37 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Have you tried La Myrrhe? For some reason I have this feeling you should love it.
Of course, my sample box is full of new releases as well, so the chance that the next review might be something like Lovely Prism :-)

9:38 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have tried La Myrrhe. I did not love it, but it may be that I had too high an expectation. I think I need to give it more of a chance.

9:53 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Yeah, exceedingly high expectations ruined many a scent for me. A couple of recent Lutens releases are examples of that. I should re-visit them probably.

9:56 AM EST  
Blogger Unknown said...

Welcome aboard the Chene Train! I know there's a song I can warp to fit this.

I, luckily, get to escape the pruniness for the most part, so I love this with a passion.

9:59 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

The song that comes to mind is Hotel California :-)

10:01 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Thank you! All credit is to Ina, this was her wonderful idea.

Would you come and organize my samples, decants and bottles? :-)

10:08 AM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

Wonderful review. I have a sample of this waiting for me in Tulsa. It's so funny how I read the ingredients of this scent and got visual images like druids chanting in a deeply green forest with carved stone idols covered with moss and ferns. There are definitely scents that I love simply because I have romanticised them to the point that I could only love matter what!

11:49 AM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...


Back to the Perfumarie Generale question of the other day. I didn't order because of a nasty bout of food poisoning. I hope it's OK to hijak your Chene comments for a second. I am ordering Bois Blond but is Querelle a good vetiver or should I look elsewhere? It's tough living in a 3rd world country with only your blog to keep me (warm) informed!

11:52 AM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

What is it with druids today :-D Something in the air, I guess :-)
I hope Chene lives up to your expectations!

12:00 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Querelle has a wonderful vetiver note, but it if you are looking for a straighforward, "soliflore" vetiver, you'd be disappointed, since there is more to Querelle than just vetiver.

12:01 PM EST  
Blogger tmp00 said...


(apologies to Columbina for hijacking her comments)

Bring back those heady days of when? 2004? Sorry pumpkin, but that doesn't really make you cutting edge, just whiny. Whiny and extremely dull.

Kelley- Glad to read the package arrived!

Now back to our regularly scheduled commenters..

12:03 PM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

Good point. I loved your review of Querelle (hated the book and was shocked buy the movie). I guess I will (sigh) get a sample first.


12:03 PM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

Yes, Tom. Both you and Marina are helping me face my beliefs concerning prosperity consciousness (or should I say poverty consciousness)!

12:06 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Getting a sample first is always a wise choice...that's what I always do, oh yes! I do indeed. *whistles innnocently*

12:13 PM EST  
Blogger Kelley said...

See, this is why I worship you from afar, because you make me laugh!

2:09 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the perfume packing tips. (A baby sock is so darling.) I should have mentioned that the only way I'll get to Paris is through lottery winnings, and I keep forgetting to buy a ticket. :-(

My DH and I are on a frustrating hunt for the perfect storage for samples. I want them to be able to stand up so there will be less loss of liquid around the stopper. I read on one of the blogs (here or the Posse) that someone had found an antique cabinet for storing needles. Perfect! Alas, there can't be a lot of those out there. In my ideal space age cabinet, all the samples would stand up.

2:39 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

I just had a strange idea...if one could get hands on a big piece of sponge (you know, the squishy type, not the natural sponge), and make little holes in it...the samples could stand in that, and the sponge could be put in a drawer. Not very glamorous though, is it...:-)

2:44 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Tee hee! :-)

2:44 PM EST  
Blogger Solander said...

It's funny you should mention organization, because I actually went and bought myself a cheap little filing cabinet for my perfume collextion today. I'm so proud of myself! In the big bottom drawer lies all of my perfume bottles (you guessed right, as a not-quite-starving-but-you-get-the-picture student I only have a few) in the middle drawers are my tons of cheap perfume oil samples, carded samples and decants, and in the small drawers with even smaller compartments I have all my "real" perfume samples sortet alphabetically after house. Yay me. I only fear I will outgrow it very soon. My to-test pile lies on top...

And I love Chene, it's the forestiest forest scent I've come across. I don't find it sharp, only dry, like lichen smells dry.

2:47 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Oh congrats!! Great idea. But i hope your collection outgrows that cabinet very soon :-)

2:49 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina, the sponge idea is brilliant!!!! (Adding sponges to shopping list.)

5:18 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Really? :-) You know, I think I am going to give a try too. I am thinking a 2" sponge should hold vials quite well :-)

5:21 PM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marina -- dang. I didn't *realize* Chene was only reserved for friends of druids .... should I pour my decant down the drain and go back to wearing Desperate Housewives?

Nope, what I meant re the samples was: I have a box (or three) that look like what you have pictured :-)

5:24 PM EST  
Blogger Marina said...

Maleficent :-),
Yeah, Desperate Housewives is I guess pretty much what we might be allowed to wear :-)

5:28 PM EST  
Blogger StyleSpy said...

Oh, I adooooore Chene. I always say I smell like the world's sexiest Number Two pencil when I wear it.

3:11 PM EST  
Anonymous Plastic Bottles said...

Sounds like you need to come up with a proper storage method or catalog. How do you normally store your perfumes and where do you get your storage containers?

1:23 PM EST  

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