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.