Serge Lutens Chene ~ fragrance review

tree bark

As every serious Serge Lutens fan knows, every year, one fragrance from the "exclusive" collection (i.e., those that aren't exported to the US) is selected as a limited edition addition to the "export" collection (i.e., those that are). These fragrances get packaged in the regular export bottle (i.e., the tall rectangle) instead of the bell jar you get in Paris, and they hang around until they sell out. Last year's pick was Fumerie Turque; this year, we're getting Chêne. I don't know why it is never Iris Silver Mist or Tubéreuse Criminelle, but I keep waiting and hoping.

Chêne was launched in 2004, and described as "the comfort and magnitude of oak" (chêne is the French word for oak). It was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, and the notes include cedar crystals, wood sap, black thyme, immortelle, beeswax, silver birch, rum absolute and tonka bean. Chêne opens on the rum absolute and sweet green wood sap, lightly honeyed, and for a brief time, smells like something I might very much like to drink on a cold winter night. The rum mostly fades as the woods and spices heat up, and Chêne turns dry and earthy-mossy. There is just the tiniest hint of honey and vanilla to sweeten the woods, which smell like freshly cut wood chips mingling with the scent of long-empty wooden spice boxes from another century. Several commentators have detected a pinch of cumin, and there is, for a brief time, a light undertone of something sweaty.

Of all of the fragrances in the Serge Lutens Les Eaux Boisées collection, Chêne has the sparest, most unadorned character; the woods are the point here, and while it is beautifully done, it perhaps lacks the big "wow" factor of some of the others in the line. I would call it a sleeper scent — the sort of thing you might dismiss on the first or second try, only to become hopelessly smitten on the third.

Anyone could wear Chêne, but as unisex fragrances go, it perhaps tips the scales towards the masculine side. It layers beautifully with Serge Lutens Fleurs de Citronnier, and undoubtedly has possibilities with other florals as well. The lasting power is excellent.

Serge Lutens Chene perfume

Serge Lutens Chêne is $130 for 50 ml Eau de Parfum. In the US, it has so far appeared only at Barneys (I think?), but it will be at other Serge Lutens retailers eventually. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

Note: top image is Field907 017 Tree Bark Macro [cropped] by Fractal Artist at flickr; some rights reserved.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    So does this mean you've become hopelessly smitten now? YAY! This is one of my favourites, and it's lovely to see such an excellent review of it. I agree that it is one of the sparest Serges. Trust me to go to extremes: I love the very streamlined ones and then the big, bilgy, baroque ones (Douce Amere, for instance) and only like everything in between. (Not that I'm turning down ANY bottles Santa brings me.) Anyway, I really ought to shut up now and go supervise the movers! Just wanted to give you some applause for this review…

  2. Anonymous says:

    I only smelled Chêne in the flesh, as it were, about two weeks ago. Until then I'd only smelled the wax sample. I found the juice very pleasant, a bit too masculine for me, but the drydown was absolutely wonderful. I have a 'mouillette' on my desk and I sniff it from time to time. It's really lovely.

    I'm still puzzled by the fact that I wear a floral scent when I love woody ones so much. LOL!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful review! I like Chene very much, though I don't know that I'm “hopelessly smitten” yet. Still, sometimes, it is just the thing–spare and comforting at the same time!

  4. Anonymous says:

    E, I like it much better this time around, and just as well I waited until it was in the export line, right? Good luck with the movers — hope it all goes very smoothly!!!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    J, I am betting it would layer beautifully w/ FdO too!

  6. Anonymous says:

    J, it really is a comforting scent — interesting that SL described it that way, since it is rare that I find their descriptions helpful.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Now I want to try Chene.

    If Iris Silver Mist ever hits the export line, I'll be forced to purchase. The other SL scents haven't tempted me beyond a decant.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Well, then you probably need just a decant of Chene. But seriously, not even Tubereuse Criminelle?

  9. Anonymous says:

    Lovely and spot-on review of a great perfume! Thanks to the super-lovely generous Erin, who's written a great review herself, Chene has become one of my favorite SLs. It's strange how the initial 'wetness' (I want to drink the rum too) of the bark and twigs warms and dries to an incredibly 'solid' yet soft scent of what I see in my mind as a looming tree trunk. Agree w/ spare and comforting and will add glorious. Bitter-sweet like sacher tort. :-)

    Was wearing it once while shopping around (Chene, not the sacher tort, LOL) — at Sephora I felt like experimenting so spritzed Black Cashmere over it and the result was amazing! And now I can't help asking if you've got round to Magnetism? Would love to know how it fares with you…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Chene is my favorite SL. I love how warm and golden it is for a wood scent.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Enough on that sachertorte already, unless one is on the way in the mail, LOL ;-)

    Chene + Black Cashmere sounds intriguing, will have to try that! But no on the Magnetism, I'm behind as always!!! Promise will get to it soon.

  12. Anonymous says:

    love chene layered with douce amere or un bois vanille. In fact, of two of those three are great together, especially douce amere and un bois vanille. I don't usually layer but after reading somewhere that the Lutens people encourage it, I have been playing around in the line.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I'm beyond smitten, from the first try. Bought my bell jar within minutes which was a first.

    It's the deep boozy dryness which gets me every time.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Really — I would have thought DA in particular would drown the Chene right out! Going to have to try it, thanks.

  15. Anonymous says:

    It is lovely, and you're so lucky to have the bell jar!

  16. Anonymous says:

    The way you described that scent brings up this image up in my mind:
    Someone sitting in front of the fire place in a log cabin somewhere in the middle of the woods in winter. The person sitting in front of the fire is in an oversize ivory sweater, enjoying his/her down time with a Jack and Coke and enjoying the down time during a blizzard.
    Yup. This is definitely a scent that I would like to try out myself, although I'd probably purchase it for my husband. =0]

  17. Anonymous says:

    Give it a shot, perhaps you'll even love it on yourself :-)

  18. Anonymous says:

    I probably would *smiles*

    I might have to order it online though, because I don't think they carry it around here. I'm going out of town in a couple of days, and I think there are a couple of shops out there that might carry it =0]

    If I happen to get a hold of it then, I'll definitely hop back on here and tell ya what I think =0]

  19. Anonymous says:

    I don't know that anybody but Barneys has it yet, but good luck!

  20. Anonymous says:

    Wearing Magnetism today, finally, and it's nice! Have not tried the women's Magnetism, but it has a bit of a vanilla Coke vibe that reminds me a bit of Escada Collection — unfortunately don't have any on hand to compare, but I'm sure Collection is much sweeter.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I tested this for the first time a couple of weeks ago, and after a short walk went straight back to buy it. It is almost intoxicating, albeit a bit linear. It's also different from anything else on my shelf. It also lasts and lasts and lasts – over 12 hours for me!
    The best part of all is that the Chene was half price, so I bought the only two bottles they had. For some reason, a couple of Lutens were on sale, so I also got the only bottle of Rousse for half price (which I probably wouldn't have paid full price for), although I left the bottles of Arabie behind.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Half price! *faints*

  23. Anonymous says:

    Not a bad deal, was it? Have to say I love Chene, and it has terrific staying power.

    Maybe I will go back for the Arabie after all, even though it's not my favourite of the Lutens…

  24. Anonymous says:

    Amazing deal! I'd have taken the Arabie, but I don't wear it either, LOL…

  25. Anonymous says:

    Where did you find Serge Lutens for half price?!? Inquiring minds want to know!

  26. Anonymous says:

    In case the actual purchaser doesn't come back to answer you, I can add that all I know is that it was in London, and only know that because another reader picked up bottles of Chene + Rousse for me while they were still on sale. But don't know which store!

  27. Anonymous says:

    Half-price SLs in London?! Where? The only place where I've ever seen discounted SLs (not by very much) was Harrods. But that was, like, five years ago.

  28. Anonymous says:

    J, sorry, I've no idea, I didn't even ask.

  29. Anonymous says:


  30. Anonymous says:

    Bought the half-price SLs in the Dublin branch of House of Fraser. I asked the SA why those three particular SLs (Rousse, Chene and Arabie) were on sale and she said she had no idea, just that the order to mark them down comes from head office. So try any of the HoF branches in the UK…

    (As an aside, HoF has some eccentric mark-downs: one or two Guerlains, GirgioPerla, and several popular designer scents)

  31. Anonymous says:

    Aha, Dublin, not London!

    When asked, the SA in the Oxford Street branch of House of Fraser said, ''No, we never had these on sale and we never do.'

    The luck of the Irish again. LOL!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Is it just me or does Chene smell a lot like Lacroix' Tumulte Pour homme? And does anyone else think Chene and Tumulte smell like softer, more refined versions of CdG's Sequoia> (all 3 of which I own and love!)

  33. Anonymous says:

    The Lacroix & the Sequoia both smell more cedary to me than the Chene (and the Lacroix smells more incense-y to me than the Sequoia), but hey, they're all just big hunks o' wood :-)

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