Serge Lutens Sarrasins ~ perfume review, with an aside on Norma Kamali Jazmin

Serge Lutens Sarrasins fragrance, limited edition bottle

Sarrasins was the latest fragrance to join the exclusive (i.e., not exported) collection at Serge Lutens. It launched last year, and was described as a velvety floral, built around "a stunningly beautiful jasmine, gloved in jet-black ink". The notes include jasmine, carnation, woods, musk and coumarin.

I read quite a few reviews of Sarrasins* before I smelled it, but as sometimes happens, I had already developed an idea of the scent in my head shortly after seeing the bottle and reading the ad copy (the "gloved in jet-black ink" and also "a sumptuous jasmin which smoothes its fur... A sigh of time"). So despite all evidence to the contrary, I was expecting — and looking forward to — a big huge skanky jasmine, dark and possibly rather scary.

Sarrasins, as many of you already know, isn't exactly that. It is not, first off, a jasmine soliflore in the manner of Serge Lutens' A La Nuit. It is a stylised portrait at most, with the jasmine most evident in the opening, after that, it is blended with other floral notes. The top notes are lush and big (it almost seems to exist in 3-D), but the jasmine doesn't have the same bite that it does in A La Nuit, and as it dries down, it gets softer and quieter.

I should note that Sarrasins is often described as heavily indolic. Perhaps my indol-o-meter is off, or has simply worn away from years of overuse, but I don't find it so at all, in fact, Sarrasins struck me as surprisingly clean. After it has been on skin for about an hour, it smells almost fresh and springlike. The adjectives that come to mind are not things I generally expect from Serge Lutens: Romantic. Pretty. Feminine. Wearable.

I couldn't decide what I thought of Sarrasins when I first smelled it, so I set it aside for a couple months. Now, trying it again, I'm still not sure. Sarrasins is lovely, and does not, like Louve (the 2007 export release from Serge Lutens), leave me entirely cold. I'd wear it if somebody gave it to me, that is for sure, and perhaps it will sneak up on me yet, but so far, I'm in like, not love.

If what you're looking for a big huge skanky jasmine, dark and possibly rather scary, you might try Norma Kamali's Jazmin. I described A La Nuit's top notes as "as close to being buried alive in flower petals as anything else I can think of", to which WinterWheat quite accurately commented in reply that Jazmin was possibly even more so — "...like having the petals crammed up your nostrils". It rivals Bruno Acampora's Jasmin for a jasmine that might be best left to the true jasmine fanatic. I found it overwhelming the first time I tried it several years back, now it seems just about right.

Serge Lutens Sarrasins is an Eau de Parfum, and was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. The juice is a rather alarming dark purple. The bottle shown is the limited edition bell jar; only 30 were to be produced, at 850€ a pop. The regular 75 ml bell jar is 105€. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

Norma Kamali Jazmin is $80 for 100 ml Perfume. For buying information, see the listing for Norma Kamali under Perfume Houses.

* More reviews can be found at Perfume Posse and Perfume Smellin' Things (Marina's review and Tom's review).

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44 Comments

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Ok, I didn't take in a word of this article the first time – I was so distracted by that beautiful bottle! Their description does make it sound so dark and overpowering, nothing about how it looks makes me think “fresh and springlike” either. It sounds so very nice (especially since it's snowing here today!). This is one of those perfumes that is out of my league (for now…) but I really love reading about it! :)

  2. Anonymous says:

    Note to self: try Norma Kamali's Jazmin.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Isn't that bottle GORGEOUS??? I want one. Not paying for it, of course.

    Honestly, Sarrasins smells like spring to me: jasmine, a bit of orange blossom soap. But everyone else might disagree, I've seen it described as indolic AND dark. The dark part must be going right over my head.

    We're getting a few snowflakes here & there too…

  4. Anonymous says:

    K! I hope you didn't mind my quoting you. I should have asked first, but since you said it “in public” anyway I decided you wouldn't mind (?)

    Sarrasins might be just what you need — just try to ignore the first 5 minutes or so.

  5. Anonymous says:

    M, I hope the “dark” part isn't inaccurate — I can't decide. For sure, it is STRONG jasmine, and has what seems to me to be just the right amount of skank.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Robin, this is one of those times I wish I knew something more about aromachemistry and smell perception. Because clearly one person's “indolic” is another person's “clean,” and I believe we're talking about the same things. I found this a pretty clean jasmine. OTOH I find Montale Jasmine Full satisfyingly filthy, but others disagree. It's the same with the Armani Prive Jasmine Eclat. Seriously, it was almost humorously skanky on me — even my sister-in-law in the car commented it smelled like a barn to her. But nobody else I know smells it that way. Do you have any theories? I wonder if it's related to (for example) our varying abilities to smell various individual musk notes.
    adding a final note that I am not a huge bottle freak, but that bottle is astonishing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    There are times when I'm also convinced that people are just using a different meaning than I am (for the same word), but gosh, indolic is indolic — we all know what “fecal” smells like, don't we? In reasonable amounts, it ought to make something smell sultry. I'm just not getting sultry from Sarrasins (nor did I get it from the Montale).

    I know virtually nothing about aromachemicals, and unlike you, don't even want to know anything. I started to read the Wikipedia entry on Indole and my eyes glazed over instantly. But perhaps you are right — maybe there are natural or synthetic indoles that some people can't smell, just as some people can't smell certain musk aroma chemicals. It would explain a lot. I did read descriptions of Sarrasins as a “poop-fest” and was dumbfounded.

    Also true, though, that there was a time when I found strong jasmine scents VERY hard to take. I distinctly remember being knocked out by the Norma Kamali. 500+ perfumes later, hey, it smells great.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Last year it was iris, and this year, I hope, will be the year of the jasmine.

    Love it or hate it, this amazingly heady bloom is due for a major comeback, don't you think?

    Hugs!

  9. Anonymous says:

    As a student of the mind, so to speak, I find this whole thing fascinating. I find anything fecal to be quite unpleasant, but obviously some people really like it. And another set of people don't detect it much at all. Is this physical or mental? Are you somehow learning to smell Jasmine, or smell it differently, or not smell it so much, as you try more and more scents (“500+ perfumes later”)?

  10. Anonymous says:

    Reposted comment from “Daim Blond”, as the original with the long link stretched the page:
    Sarrasins is a purer jasmine than A la Nuit but it 's not a soliflore, it evolves berrier, fruitier and it 's composed with oriental elements wich gives it a duskier, leathery drydown.
    I 'd like to provide The Scented Salamander Sarrasins review 's link whom I believe grasped best Serge Lutens 's conceptual and olfactory dimensions on this perfume linked to civilisations and Arabian History.
    http://tinyurl.com/2rz2sm

  11. Anonymous says:

    Well, many of the things that add sultry or sexy to perfumes are unpleasant in large doses, right? Ambergris, musk, civet, etc. Just the right dash makes a perfume worth smelling though.

    And I'd think you're learning to appreciate jasmine, I guess?

  12. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I certainly hope so! I want that jasmine Hermessence — is that a rumor or did I dream it up?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like you liked it better than I did :-)

  14. Anonymous says:

    It was pleasant but still too indolic for me. I've come to the conclusion that I can only take jasmine is very tiny doses. It was just a bit boring, I thought.

    On the other hand, I find the colour of the juice absolutely gorgeous (beware it stains, of course) – hold it against the light; it's stunning. As for that bottle… out of this world.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Well, you know, maybe that is it: a bit boring. Elegant, but then a bit boring in the end.

    The color of the juice *is* gorgeous, I just don't like to put things that color on my skin!

  16. Anonymous says:

    you 've had great reviews for other fragrances!

    as for The Scented Salamander I also loved her Chypre Rouge review as she analyses Lutens cultural influences, this was very captivating although I mostly wear Lutens most conventional, feminine and wearable fragrances such as Louve, Fleurs d 'Oranger, Clair de Musc and of course the ultimate so ladylike and elegant leather fragrance, Daim Blond.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I'd like to write with it.

  18. Anonymous says:

    here 's Serge Lutens own poetic words on Sarrasins (french), the imagery is stunning, always playing with the synergy of beauty and dark subversive worlds.

    “Sarrasins, par ce mot d'écolier aux frayeurs inculquées, en liaisons dangereuses de peurs, de désirs s'est menti ce parfum qui habite l'orage.

    Sentinelles de nos secrets, ces terreurs magnétiques ont revêtu leurs tenues solennelles pour une fusion des sens.

    C'est une fleur de velours sur un chemin de fer, une arme blanche aux dents d'un guerrier noir, une petite araignée qui se rit aux éclats sur son collier de soie et, en cagoule rouge, le bourreau de Venise condamnant son amour en un baiser mortel.

    Né d'un soupir de l'ombre, un jasmin pétrifiant de beauté et ganté d'encre noire en robe chauve-souris nous offre Sarrasins.

    A peine posé en nuit sur le silence maure, il se mit à vibrer en une messe des ors”. Serge Lutens

  19. Anonymous says:

    I didn't find this indolic at all either. It was a big, sunny, lush, clean but creamy jasmine – nothing dark about it. It's the smell of the south of France in the late spring/summer when I go on my holidays. It's an incredibly wearable jasmine for those who find the usual offerings too indolic, or too heavily cut with another flower like honeysuckle or tuberose.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I have to agree that it's a very pretty bottle, and I have to admit that the color of the juice in the bottle reminds me a little bit of grape Kool-Aid, but hey, I like the color of grape Kool-Aid =0] I wish I had the funds to travel to try this out, it sounds like an interesting scent. I do have a soft spot for jasmine.

  21. Anonymous says:

    LOL — it does look like grape Kool-Aid — but more elegant in that bottle :-)

  22. Anonymous says:

    Sunny & lush is about how it wore on me too :-)

  23. Anonymous says:

    Well, I'm afraid that, although I am a *huge* admirer of Serge Lutens and his visions – in most fields, I always find those blurbs slightly annoying and incredibly pretentious (and, yes, I understand them all since I'm French). What most of those images have to do with the Saracens and/or jasmine is anyone's guess. What one needs to know is the connection between the former and the latter (they invaded the south-east of France in the Middle-Ages and the south-east is where jasmine grows), and the fact that the word 'Sarrasins' has scary associations. Nothing else, really.

    There is one more sentence that belongs to this text, btw – the first one: 'Certains mots prisonniers des replis du temps descendent en ténèbres aux oubliettes du beau.'

    I think SL wants to be a polymath, but for someone who started as a hairdresser (which, in France, used to be what dunces were told to do when they left school – I'm not saying he was a dunce, and he probably had a vocation for that kind of profession, but that's how it would have been perceived at the time; girls were told to be secretaries or hairdressers/beauticians) to have become such a success as a designer, perfumer, etc. is extraordinary. I'm not sure he needs to be a poet as well.

  24. Anonymous says:

    J, But I've never supposed he writes the blurbs himself? Or do you think he does?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Actually, R, I don't know whether he does or not. It doesn't really matter because they are used to promote his creations in his name therefore he has to agree for them to represent his thoughts about them, doesn't he? Unless he has so little clout within the Shiseido organization that he has to grit his teeth and let *them* impose those blurbs on him. If that is the case, I feel sorry for him.

    I have a feeling he is party to this, though. It does fit with the image he is trying to convey of himself and his perfumes. Have you ever been upstairs at the Salons? There's this room where the press releases take place and he sometimes invites special guests. I've seen it: it's all very Zen. He's designed everything in it. It's beautiful but ever so slightly pretentious.

  26. Anonymous says:

    No, never been to the Salons — haven't been to Paris since the 80s. I'm overdue for a trip, no?

    I just sort of assumed he had some PR person write them. Whichever, all perfume ad copy is ever so slightly pretentious.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Oh, I hope you get to go very soon. :-)

    That is true. But SL is a control freak and I'm not sure he would agree to have *anything* come out under his name unless absolutely forced to by a powerful force (i.e. Shiseido). We'll probably never know. In the meantime, we can carry on being puzzled by that purple prose.

  28. Anonymous says:

    I hope I get to go to! But of course, I probably won't ;-)

  29. Anonymous says:

    I always think it is just exposure, but do let us know what you discover!

  30. Anonymous says:

    what I find pretentious are those judgemetal nobobies who put down someone 's art just because of where they come from assuming facts on childhood and background…I 've read all Lutens articles and warched all of his interviews, he 's by far the most cultured, educated and passionate perfumer around!

    sorry but this is not “just all” to this story, that 's why I provided The Scented Salamander link on Sarrasins who did such a great job at reviewing Sarrasins!

    Lutens is a huge admirer of subversive authors such as Pasolini and Jean Genet. he once said he 's so into Genet he 'd be able to give classes on Genet at La Sorbonne. his poetry style is influenced by subversive litterature and art, his world is a synergy of beauty and darkness wich is intellectually so refreshing and challenging.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Please don't insult other commenters just because they don't agree with you, thanks. Any more comments of this nature in this thread will be deleted.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I know New Yorkers who spend a hundred times more money in art. I 'm thinking to call Salons Shiseido, I 'd love to buy it provided it 's still available but I doubt it. I already have Daim Blond limited edition.

  33. Anonymous says:

    This is my first time commenting, but I've been lurking here for many months.

    As a newbie in the world of niche fragrances, I'm relishing the pleasure of sampling many scents I'd never even heard of. I've sampled an admittedly small number so far, but I'm sure having fun doing it :)

    I love, love Sarrasins. Personally, I get that same menthol/tire rubber (albeit a less pungent version) opening note as Tubereuse Criminelle. Then, it turns into this lovely creamy, jasmine, which has incredible staying power on my skin. I prefer Sarrasins to A La Nuit simply for the opening. I've recently purchased decants of Sarrasins, Tubereuse Criminelle and Un Lys. They're all so incredibly beautiful and well done.

    Thank you for a great blog. I enjoy reading the reviews here, which are helping me learn as I go.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hi and welcome, and thank you so much for the kind words! I've heard several people mention the mentholated opening in Sarrasins, but I'm just missing it entirely. So glad you're loving Sarrasins. For now I'm going to stick w/ my umpteen other favorites from SL (including TC & Un Lys) — I can't afford another one anyway!

  35. Anonymous says:

    This is unrelated, but I didn't know where else to post. My husband's Mom is fond of a French perfume that he claims is discontinued. It comes in a dark blue bottle the shape of an oval that is wider at the top, and the cap of the bottle fits snugly onto it like a hat (so the top continues the shape of the bottle.) I don't know the name, he can't remember it, and I would love to surprise her with it when we visit. Any clues? Thanks a million! Tania

  36. Anonymous says:

    I'm so sorry but I've no idea. You might try posting a query on the fragrance board at MakeupAlley?

  37. Anonymous says:

    I received my bottle of Norma Kamali “Jazmin” EDP about two hours ago, and promptly had a wonderful shave with my H. Boker straight razor, QED “Jasmine” shaving soap (satisfyingly skanky), and finished off with the NK “Jazmin” EDP (expectedly skanky). I agree with you: NK “Jazmin” IS a very strong Jasmine scent, and it DOES smell great. Now I'm off to the tattoo shop (where they're used to my “smelling”) :-D

  38. Anonymous says:

    Did you buy the NK unsniffed??? That is brave of you! Either way, glad it worked out.

    Is QED the brand? It is sounding familiar — might have had this conversation in the comments before — and like something maybe I need?

  39. Anonymous says:

    I need to start first on the bottle: I like the regular bottle so much more than the engraved bottle. Even if I can see the purple on my skin in really bright light, I also love the color; purple is my favorite color. I'd buy a full bell jar just to display it. I'd probably decant into a more appropriate container and just dummy up some colored water, though. It doesn't hurt that it's at the top of my SL list, either. It was neck and neck between S and TC, but TC hasn't lasted very long on me insofar.
    I have no clue what “indolic” actually smells like, but I sense a great similarity between S and TC in the top notes and tuberose is indolic, so I guess that figures. Though, I would agree with the quote; it smells more like a pot of ink than the heavenly sewage of TC. I think it matches it's color quite well in this respect. I certainly am wondering how you got clean out of it, though. We must have different chemistry. We actually seem to have different scents. I'd reach for this in the winter, though not for a reminder of spring. It's just a thing I have: cold scents for cold days. And my, the jasmine is lovely. Again, this caused mild revulsion among my friends. I need to start up a local perfumista club where we could just sniff the oddballs of the fragrance world and swoon. xD

  40. Anonymous says:

    I've seen such widely varying views on Sarrasins — it is weird.

    Indoles smell fecal at high concentrations, basically :-)

  41. Anonymous says:

    Ah, thanks for clearing that up!

  42. Iris says:

    This was a definite no-go for me. Early on, it was gorgeous, and the floral notes really sing. But as time goes on, my body chemistry really bring out the indolic notes. I’m not kidding, my husband came home and said “do you smell sewer”.

    • Robin says:

      LOL…that’s not good!

  43. sweetgrass says:

    I got a sample of Sarrasins from Surrender to Chance, and I like it, but to me it also smells really similar to the Attar Bazaar Tunisian Jasmine oil I got from Whole Foods. I did a side-by-side to make sure it wasn’t just all in my head. I had a dab of the oil on one hand, and a couple of dabs from my Sarrasins sample on the other, and the openings are nearly identical to me. Both have a distictly mothbally note. They do diverge a bit in the drydown, with Sarrasins becoming sweeter, and the carnation becoming somewhat more evident. The Tunisian Jasmine stays dirtier and gets almost mossy, but the jasmine note is strong enough in both throughout that even the differences in their drydowns aren’t that pronounced.

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