Serge Lutens Douce Amere ~ fragrance review

Douce Amere fragrance components

Douce Amere was launched by Serge Lutens in 2000. The fragrance is described as a "fresh oriental", and features notes of cinnamon, artemisia absinthium, anise, lily, jasmine, tiare flower, tagette, cedar, musk. The perfumer was Christopher Sheldrake.

Douce Amere is to my mind one of the glories of the Serge Lutens line. It centers on artemisia absinthium, the bitter herb also known as wormwood and famous as the source of the liquor absinthe. The fragrance starts with a brief flash of lemony citrus generously dusted with cinnamon: it is strong, and candy-sweet. The wormwood lends a bitter-green medicinal edge to the top notes, but it softens nicely as it dries down to something more like a milky pudding laced with black licorice, mildly spicy, with abstract floral notes and vague hints of something that smells very much like chocolate. It has a velvety finish, and a pale wood base.

Such a thing should be horrible — it doesn't sound appealing to me, at any rate — but the end result is extraordinarily compelling, and once the top notes fade it is not a particularly heavy or overly sweet perfume. It is one of those fragrances that has me wandering around all day with my arm affixed to my nose. It is both comforting and sexy, and considerably more sophisticated than most of my gourmand favorites. I am guessing that it qualifies as a love-it-or-hate-it scent, though. Try before you buy.

Happily, Douce Amere is in the export line so you can purchase it in the United States [in 2010, Douce Amere was moved into the exclusive range]. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

More perfumes with anise notes: Caron Aimez Moi, Guerlain Anisia Bella, Etro Anice, Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile, Lolita Lempicka and Slatkin Black Fig & Absinthe. Later this summer L'Artisan will launch Fou d'Absinthe.

Note: many thanks to Laurelines for the lovely drawing.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Your Very Evil Scent Twin here…you say “one of the glories of the Serge Lutens line” and I say “one of my least favorite Lutens's scents”. But that's all because of anise. I cannot wear anise.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Douce Amere is one of my favorite SL scents. Fortunately I don't get any licorice note. I am soooo lucky that all my fave SL are in the export range!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have to admit, I really like this fragrance…but I prefer the chocolate of Borneo 1834.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm with Columbina on this – this has me holding my arm as far from my nose as I can get it, in the hope that the distant drydown will be magical! I love the start of Douce Amere, but somehow as it dries down it drifts into sickly headache territory for me. A shame, as I think it must be wonderful on someone with the right chemistry (and better sinuses!). It's a stunning composition.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am intrigued by the SL line, but have found very few of his fragrances that I love. Douce Amere is an exception. I like it a lot and have used up my decant. Unfortunately, I don't think I would buy it, but I love its licorice/peppermint patty note. :):)


  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, LOL…I did also say it was a love-it-or-hate-it :-)

  7. Anonymous says:

    I wish I could say the same…still hoping Iris Silver Mist or Rahat will be the “export crossover of the year” one of these years.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Borneo is lovely if you like patchouli, no doubt!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, sickly headache territory! I don't find it that sweet, but then, it isn't something I'd reach for in summer so I can see what you mean.

  10. Anonymous says:

    We'll have to keep our fingers crossed for Chypre Rouge, no? Hugs to you too!

  11. Anonymous says:

    It's funny, I never really loved patchouli, but the mix is right in Borneo. Great for nighttime.

    Right now I'm wearing Daim Blond, and I'm not sure about it. It's very strange, which I've always liked the strange thing, but I'm still deciding.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Robin — most of the SLs I either love or strongly dislike — this is one I just can't decide about!! I will say it is a wildly interesting smell, and the wormwood part I'm crazy about. But as it dries down it never really loses its sweetness to a level I'm entirely comfortable with. I do think it's one of the compelling ones. Hmmm … off to re-smell my sample …

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have to say that it is one of many that I didn't love on the first try. Beware of trying SLs a second time…

  14. Anonymous says:

    I like Daim Blond, but don't adore it enough to buy it. Yet, anyway :-)

  15. Anonymous says:

    Ooohhh….Chypre Rouge??? I am behind on the latest news. Will have to look up the 411 on MUA for the latest details, as this one (from the name at least) sounds like a winner!


  16. Anonymous says:

    Aroma M Geisha Green is another absinthe/anise scent. (But do I remember correctly that you don't care for that one?)

    This SL sounds very intriguing, particularly if it's not overly sweet, like you say. Sigh. So many fragrances, so little budget for them!

  17. Anonymous says:

    If I remember correctly, nothing is known yet but the name!

  18. Anonymous says:

    Do note that not all commenters agree w/ me that it is not overly sweet!! Yes, you remember correctly — but would have mentioned it if I had remembered it ;-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Sweet licorice to the max. A Lolita Lempicka for grown-ups. That anise note kills it for me though – oh well!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Today I really loved Daim Blond. I'd tried it before and didn't love it, and today it was different. Took awhile though, at least an hour after I put it on. I'm looking for another Serge Lutens scent to love enough to buy a bottle of – I have only Un Bois Vanille. I've got high hopes for Gris Clair.

    I also tried Encens Lavande the other day…lovely. But not bottle worthy for me.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm, I did not get much licorice or excessive sweetness from this – the artemisia was very dominant, and I could sense the tiare and other florals trying to push their way to the surface, but they always remained subdued beneath the fresh herbal of the “wormwood”, tantalizingly out of reach. I really like this fragrance and I think it would be just glorious on a man, as most of the Lutens seem intended for that possibility.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Hi R! Late to post, but here I am with my 2 cents! Douce Amere is my fav SL. It's actually how I discovered SL in 2002 (pre-MUA, I'm proud to say!). I was waiting on line to see “The Rosie O'Donnell Show”, when the elevator door opened and Rosie's band walked out. There was a lovely fragrant cloud that followed the gregarious group of guys and one woman. I just had to have that scent!

    When I got home, I searched on-line for the band members' names, managed to track down the woman bass player (I figured she was the one who smelled so wonderful!) and emailed her. She was so flattered that I was writing about her fragrance, and told me she got many compliments on it from the Rosie staff (many of the men wanted to purchase Douce Amere for their wives!)

    She told me where to buy it (BG) and how much it cost – of course, back in '02, I thought $85 for a bottle of perfume was a king's ransom, and so did she! I promptly ordered the lovely DA, and have been enjoying it ever since. It's one of my favorite Spring scents.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Your description is so compelling. Sadly, I do find this combination of notes absolutely horrible–Douce Amere is ragingly medicinal and bitter on me. Couldn't rid my skin of it quickly enough. Which just goes to prove that just because someone with a sophisticated nose and an elegant turn of phrase (that would be you, R) appreciates a fragrance, it doesn't mean I will.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Lolita Lempicka for grown-ups is a great description…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Funny, I think of this one as too feminine for a man to wear. No doubt I'm wrong…

  26. Anonymous says:

    K, what a fabulous story, thanks so much for posting it!!

    Aren't we jaded now…$85 seems a pittance, LOL…

  27. Anonymous says:

    E, wow, it is bitter on me for such a short time. But one woman's HG is another woman's scrubber, LOL…

  28. Anonymous says:

    “Love it or Hate it” indeed — I ran the gamut from love to hate on this one. When I first bought it, I loved it…and loved it for its dryness. Then, the last few times I wore it, it seemed cloyingly sweet to me, and I swapped it away.

    The other day I tried IUNX No. 3, which I found very similar to Douce Amere, but much more transparent.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I liked IUNX no. 3, and don't even mind the sheerness except that it just didn't last on me at all. But sorry this line has been discontinued :-(

  30. Anonymous says:

    Absinthe–the green fairy–I'm hooked.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Absinthe seems to have been big in fragrance in the last few years, so you're in luck!

  32. Anonymous says:

    I was so sad when my little sample of this ran out today that I knew I had to buy a bottle…my first purchase of real, expensive, divine, grownup fragrance. It's my birthday, so I can (over)indulge myself, right?

    Thank you, Robin. I never would have found it without you and your fellowhip!

    -Ruby Ott

  33. Anonymous says:

    Happy birthday to you then, and I think you made a great choice to indulge! Hope it is the first of many wonderful scents — but not too many ;-)

  34. Anonymous says:

    I got my hands on a bottle of this today and it was my introduction to Serge Lutens. I think it is extraordinary. It shouldn't work, but it does. The bitterness is intruiging, and as you say in your wonderful article, it does temper after a while and the scent modulates into a very subtle, but not overly sweet, gourmand. The dryness is compelling and makes it an utterly grown-up scent. I've had my wrist stuck to my nose all day.

    I also tried Datura Noir and adored it. These scents are leagues ahead of most I've hitherto tried in terms of complexity and 'interestingness'.

  35. Anonymous says:

    So glad you like DA!

    It is a wonderful line, and can only wish all the great “exclusive” scents were available readily in the US. If you can, you must try Iris Silver Mist & Tubereuse Criminelle, both brilliant.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I'm a tuberose freak – 'Fracas' is my notion of an ideal scent. So I am very curious to know about 'Tuberose Criminelle'. Unfortunately, it is not available where I live, so I will have to wait until my next trip to France to sample!

    GIven that Fracas is embarrassingly carnal (it is a scent that makes me blush!) I'd be interested to know what happens to it in a Serge Lutens bottle :-)

  37. Anonymous says:

    TC isn't carnal, at least to me — just way cool. Ties Fracas for my favorite tuberose, with Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower a close third.

  38. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, after being impressed with this scent from the off (and I still am, in a way), I've found after a couple of attempts that it really is too bitter for my skin. I've read other posters' comments about that warm milky heart, and I get tantalising glimpses of it, but something in this mix does not like me.

    I can admire it, but it's too much like hard work to wear, and I have given it an honest try. Bah! It was an FB impulse buy. If anyone out there would like a bottle of it, please let me know, otherwise it will just gather dust in my cabinet…

  39. Anonymous says:

    What a shame! You could probably swap it on MakeupAlley, or sell it on ebay?

  40. Anonymous says:

    Hmm, I haven't ventured down the swapping route yet, still to dip my toe in those waters. It's more appealing than selling on ebay, which I have done.

    Since I live in Europe I wonder how easy a swap would be…

    It is a shame…I admire this scent, but it no like me :-(

  41. Anonymous says:

    Good luck then!

  42. Anonymous says:

    I'm beginning to wonder if my body chemistry just burns right through everything, since most things I try evolve very very quickly. This one starts out sharp, turns bitter for 2 minutes at most, then turns fizzy and sweet…rather like a rootbeer popsicle. :O Do you think that would make Serge cry? I thought it was just my nose, but my daughter confirmed that yes, it smells rather like rootbeer to her as well (on me).

  43. Anonymous says:

    LOL…my guess is that Serge couldn't care less what any of us think :-)

  44. Anonymous says:

    LOL…I didn't quite mean that. More, the indignity of the comparison. It would be hard to find a cheaper comparison than rootbeer popsicles. :D

  45. Anonymous says:

    I still have a feeling that his dignity is impervious to such things! Whereas as a Douce Amere lover, those are fighting words to me, LOL…

  46. Anonymous says:

    I know this thread was started a while ago, but I have to post this for all “Douce Amere” lovers—“Caswell-Massey” has a line called “Domestic Bliss”. The accompanying scent is interesting and cozy, but I realized recently that it is an imitation of (or coincidentally similar to) Douce Amere—it has the same off-kilter combination of spicy, sweet and savory as found in Douce Amere. The “Domestic Bliss” soap might be a cooperative companion to the SL scent.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, I'll have to look for it!

  48. Anonymous says:

    Yes, I'll definitely have to get someone else to try it on for me. I can imagine it smelling great on someone w/different chemistry.

  49. Anonymous says:

    I smelled this the other day on my skin (the first time imanaged to smell this SL) and i immediately thought of Dipytique's Tam Dao. I'm not really sure why – as the list of notes doesn't at all sound like Tam Dao but that was the first thing i thought of when i smelled this SL. Does anyone else get this?

  50. Anonymous says:

    They're both pretty cedar-y, that's probably it.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Hello Robin.

    I bought a bottle of this in Saudi Arabia (I am a Filipino working in the Middle East) and I would say Douce Amere is so far my favorite SL frag.

    Thanks for the great review. =)

  52. Anonymous says:

    So glad you're enjoying it! It's a wonderful scent for fall — although you're having VERY different weather than I am :-)

  53. Anonymous says:

    I popped in to Harvey Nicks today and spritzed myself in Douce Amere. 'Milky pudding' is right-on, Robin! I love this one. It's so different from anything else i know.

    I was hoping you could give me some advice – there are way too many SL scents to try out. I would love to purchase one or two, but the ones that sound the most interesting to me are all in the exclusive line (naturellement!) I am going to buy some samples from perfumed court for testing. I am thinking:

    Iris Silver Mist

    Rahat Loukoum


    Fumerie Turk

    It's hard narrowing it down, but it's too overwhelming to attempt to try ALL of them! From the reviews I have read on your website, i have narrowed it down to these 5 (including lovely D.Amere.) I already own Tabac Blond, McQ's Kingdom, Ormonde Woman and Ta'if and Stella McCartney's original. So I reckon those SL choices would be within my taste range. Are there any more you would suggest I should try out? Or do those sound like a good selection to be starting with?!?!?!

  54. Anonymous says:

    Actually I think that's a pretty good list. Do you really like iris though? If you don't, you could knock off the ISM. And you might try the cheaper Louve instead of the Rahat first and see if you like it?

  55. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Robin. That's good advice. I knocked off ISM for now, as I'm not sure if I am that into Iris. I ordered samples of Fumerie and Chergui. Also of Rahat so that I can compare it to Louve and see if I am happy with the cheaper version. I'm really looking forward to trying these, and hope they arrive SOON!

  56. Anonymous says:

    Good luck — hope you'll find at least one winner!

  57. Anonymous says:

    This fragrance is a prime example of the clear watery luminousness that Christopher Sheldrake has mastered in his blending. The fragrance changes with each re-smelling of your wrist, and in a very pleasant way for me.

    I must say that I am re-thinking sweet after having an aversion to sickeningly cloying amber that travels with one all day. This line of scents avoids that with ease, allowing sweetness to support other aspects of a fragrance's beauty. I tried all of the SL line in paris and so many were too sweet at first try. But the way they wear is so transparent, sheer and fluid.

    I found it curious that anise scared so many from this scent. It's masterfully blended to make the continuum from wormwood to anise to mint a seamless one, with no ability on my part to dissect that note as distinct.

    I am going to go broke; I now have to buy a full bottle of this scent as I have 1/4 inch of a generous spray sample left.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Anise does not seem to be a universally love note, it's true! But I adore this one too. Don't know that it strikes me as sheer in the least, but I do adore it :-)

  59. Anonymous says:

    “Extraordinarily compelling” is a most apt description for Douce Amere. The first few seconds of bitter unisex herb put me off. The next several minutes of warm tingly licorice and cinnamon sweetness made me stop and apologize to it for ever being put off at all. Now, days after I've been test driving my sample, I'm irrevocably hooked. It's so sexy and yummy and warm and creamy and my boyfriend loves it, too, so I think I should buy a case. The end.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Hey, good luck getting that case, LOL!

  61. Anonymous says:

    Dude, I am gonna get that case. Then I will wash my clothes in it, cook with it, and maybe get a transfusion with it. I thought I'd never love anything like I love Rahat! But where as one might gently make out with Rahat, I wanna take advantage of Douce in supremely vulgar ways. I wanna get to 5th base with Douce.

  62. Anonymous says:

    LOL — then I hope Douce Amere likes you as much as you like it ;-)

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