Serge Lutens Serge Noire ~ fragrance review

It’s almost Halloween! Now’s the time to start preparing my infamous Kevin’s All Hallows Eve SlopPot-pourri(TM)! Here’s the recipe:

Take a large wooden slop bucket from a barnyard, rinse it in a cow (or pig) watering hole and then rub the inside of the bucket with a goodly amount of cat urine (for the best results, use the urine of an un-neutered tomcat); allow the bucket to dry in the sunshine.

Inside the dry bucket, layer each ingredient listed below between one-inch layers of kosher salt to which a handful of cedar shavings and a vanilla pod have been added:

50 pieces of charred cassia bark (the bark should be blackened and retain only the most rancid traces of oil and odor);

Ten 1/8-inch slices of Swiss cheese;

Chain-gang T-shirt bits (with scissors, cut out and save the stained, armpit areas (bits) of 25 sweaty T-shirts that have been worn at least 10 hours on a 90-100 degree day;

One large box of moth balls, roasted (roast on a grill in the open air while wearing a HEPA-filter mask); and

10 handfuls of singed hair (visit a trusted local salon for clean, newly cut hair to singe, or, for pre-singed locks, visit the worst salon in your area and obtain fall-out from recently botched dye jobs, hair-straightening sessions, permanents, etc.).

Finally, pour the contents of three bottles of Angostura bitters and two bottles of grenadine into the bucket, top off with more salt, and let the mixture ‘rest’ in the (covered) bucket — in a dark and dank place — under lock and key — for at least two weeks. CAUTION: Keep away from children, asthma sufferers, animals, heat and open flame.

When the mixture has obtained a sickly sweet (yet burnt) malodorous odor, remove the T-shirt bits and any un-dissolved hair, mix thoroughly, and then pack the potpourri loosely into 4 oz. glass jars — to make giving easy!

After finishing my potpourri, I always perform a quality test: I take a deep breath with an open jar of potpourri pressed against my upper lip directly under my nostrils. Always perform this quality test while in bed or on a sofa: NEVER DO THIS WHILE STANDING UP. When I regain consciousness, I know my potpourri is a success!

NOTE: If you do not have the time, energy or stomach for making Kevin’s All Hallows Eve SlopPot-pourri but still want to experience it, obtain a sample of Serge Lutens Serge Noire.

Of course, the above story is a fantasy (please do not try this recipe at home), but a fantasy prompted by my first sniff of Serge Noire — a fragrance most foul. I don’t know what’s in Serge Noire (Cosmetics International lists ‘smoky, crystallized ash, saps, resins and cistus’ and other media sources also include cinnamon, patchouli, spices and ‘black wood’) and I can’t make one bit of sense out of Serge Noire’s marketing materials (Serge Lutens’ florid descriptions of Serge Noire leave me puzzled and amused). Cosmetics International claims Serge Noire was in development for TEN YEARS and quotes Mr. Lutens who said Serge Noire is "an ode to everlasting beauty under cover of night's rich plumage"; I’m betting there was either translation trouble or a problem understanding a thick French accent so I submit the following — Serge Noire is an ode to ever-blasting "Phooey!" and the shudder of Fright's ditch-rummage — an equally confusing, but tad more fitting, quote.

Serge Lutens Serge NoireThe first minutes of Serge Noire smell moldy, burnt, medicinal, cheese-y, and sinister. As Serge Noire comes into focus, I smell cistus, something cedar-y, vanilla, a hint of cinnamon, and amber. If you love weird, striking or outrageous fragrances, give Serge Noire a try, but if you do like those types of scents be prepared for Serge Noire’s abstract opening to quickly give way to a rather average sweet-woody-amber perfume in a style all Lutens fans will recognize. Certainly, for half of Serge Noir’s $140 price tag, you can find an equally good, or much better, woody-amber Eau de Parfum — without an unpleasant opening phase of development. (Remember not so long ago when the Serge Lutens export line fragrances were only $90 a bottle?)

The creation of perfumes, even ones we hate, provides employment and lots of money for perfumers, chemists, bottle designers, models, directors and film crews, marketers, advertising agencies, and retailers. I’ve decided to laugh in the face of disappointing perfume releases and not take the entire process too seriously (a new perfume may smell bad and have a nutty advertising campaign but its sales can fuel the weak worldwide economy, right?) Of course, when I belittle a perfume, you are free to laugh with me or to write in and defend it. Any Serge Noire fans out there?

Serge Lutens Serge Noire is available in 50 ml Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.

Note: top image is Monster #2 by autumn_bliss at flickr; some rights reserved.

Shop for perfume

Parfums Raffy


Leave a comment, or read more about commenting at Now Smell This. Here's a handy emoticon chart.

  1. Anonymous says:

    You are just too funny Mr Kevin! Gotta love him! I could not agree with you any more on this review. You are spot on buddy! I was totally horrifed by this one. You know I am quite the Serge fan, but NOIRE was a BIG BOTH HANDS THUMBS DOWN! Ciao!

  2. Anonymous says:

    C: I knew you would agree with me on this one!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Good grief, Kevin. I believe you could actually submit that potpourri recipe as is to Martha Stewart Living and get even more bang for your per-word buck. Gee, but this sounds delightful! Thank you so much for the laughs (chain-gang t-shirt bits!!!!).

    On a related note, I received my sample of SL El Attarine yesterday and a brief sampling was quite nice — like dabbing the distilled essence of a very nice, rich curry or couscous dish on my wrist. Not exactly the honey-apricot ambrosia LT & TS led me to believe, but I look forward to further testing. In general, though, the SL line is way too rich for my frugal blood.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Well I thought I was King of Gross but you've beaten me to the title, K! :) As much as I giggled reading through your recipe, I actually like Serge Noire VERY much, ha! No mold there or singed hairpieces or armits from hell. Ok, only a little of the latter but in a good way, you understand :) Benzoin, dried liquorice, a lot of clove and gorgeous smokeless incense – that's what I get out of SG. Could it be that your sample was mislabeled? ;-) Just kidding, of course! More for me, then. :)

  5. Anonymous says:

    Joe: I'm sure Martha has all ingredients handy! I've not tried El Attarine yet…I adore curry: on my plate. As for the SL line: all the ones I feel are worth the money these days are safely FAR away in Paris in bell jars.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Dusan: I think you are pulling my leg all the way from Europe! Didn't you forget to mention that gold nuggets form on the skin as Serge Noire evaporates? HA!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that reviews like this make me want to smell it? A propensity for self-torture? A desire to experience everything? Gadzooks. Hopefully by the time I have funds again I will have forgotten all about this…
    I love your reviews, Kevin.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Tama: thanks. You know the LURE of the outrageous/vile is present since childhood…how many times did I sniff inside a cup or ditch, etc. when someone screamed: “THAT SMELLS GROSS!!!!!” (as they pointed to the cup or ditch, etc….)

  9. Anonymous says:

    Haha! No. No gold nuggets, but wait, there just might be some on my wrist once the 1 million that I'm wearing right now dries down.

    I kid you not about the Serge Noire, dude. Can' say that it's exactly me but I like it.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I am dying to try this now. If it appeals to the odd, okay, abstract ~ what the hey? But then again, I've got work to do getting the team ready for the division series. ;)

  11. Anonymous says:

    Having tried a number of Lutens and liking none of them with the exception of 5 O'clock Gingembre, I am relieved that I am off the hook from trying yet another and wondering if there was something wrong with me.

    Thank you for making me laugh (hard) and for not for not asking “the Emperor” who his tailor is!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like an excerpt from “Perfume” by Susskind. The beginning of the recipe made me think you were describing With Love Hilary Duff.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I vote for you three Kevin, Robin, and Angela to write a 'Perfume Guide' all your own. Your wit, humor, and ability to rate a fragrance far exceeds that of Luca Turin and Tanya Sanchez by far! I'd sure buy it :)

  14. Anonymous says:

    You made me giggle Kevin, I had to stop half way through the article because It was so gross!!! Now tell me, You say it's a fantasy… have You REALLY made that potporri of Yours?:))

  15. Anonymous says:

    I love Serge Noire. I get no odd medicinal top notes – rather I get a flinty, low-smoke warming spice sensation upon first application (as if I have put something on, and it is warming my skin) followed by wonderful cinnamon and incense.

    I cannot wait to buy a full bottle. In fact, my birthday is next month and I think SN is going to be my present to myself.

    One of my favorite Lutens – up there w/ Ambre Sultan and Iris Silver Mist.

    Skin chemistry's a bi*ch, isn't it? :)

    Love the part about 'chain gang t-shirt bits'. LOL

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, you made me cry laughing!

    Thank you for the review. :))

  17. Anonymous says:

    Hollyc: nothing wrong with you…the Lutens style just doesn't appeal to you!

  18. Anonymous says:

    I second that!

  19. Anonymous says:

    MannybeingManny: Work first, Serge Noire second.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Celestia: I've never been near a Duff scent…hallelujah!

  21. Anonymous says:

    That's so kind of you scentsappeal.

  22. Anonymous says:

    IrisNobile: Once you get past the dissolving hair you'll be FINE! And the potpourri is a fantasy…up till now anyway.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Mike: glad SN got another endorsement…but a BOTTLE? HA!

  24. Anonymous says:

    lenika: you're welcome!

  25. Anonymous says:

    ROTFL!!! I love it.

    Yep, Serge Noire is pritty, pritty gross.

    It reminded me of Miel de Bois which should speak volumes.

  26. Anonymous says:

    love it! the review, not the fragrance. that i have yet to sniff. maybe ill wait till the 31st and really give myself a fright

  27. Anonymous says:

    What a delightful review! I didn't get this olfactory overload when I sampled it. I found it very uninteresting. It started off very medicinal, like cough syrup and herbs. After about half an hour, the cloves came rolling in and never left…even the next day. Probably should have dipped my wrists in hot water and booze and made a hot toddy.

  28. Anonymous says:

    This was a hoot! Chain gang t-shirt bits was tops! I tried SN a while back and was meh'd- funny I did think the sprizter girl had a glazed look in their eyes which belied how fabulous she tried to tell me it was!

    Must revisit, for sure…

  29. Anonymous says:

    Too funny! And unfortunately, so accurate. No, I certainly won't be one to defend Serge Noire. I promised myself that I won't get near it EVER again. I sampled it 3 times, trying to convince myself that it couldn't be THAT bad. Oh, but it was.

    Straight up BO and singed hair. Gaggity.

  30. Anonymous says:

    I needed to laugh this week. Thank you for providing the inspiration, Kevin.

  31. Anonymous says:

    Abigail: well, I'm a lover of Miel de Bois…so you must know how much Serge Noire shocked me!

  32. Anonymous says:

    Silversheep: apply with caution on Halloween…who knows what ghoul will attach itself to you!

  33. Anonymous says:

    lovethescents: I was surprised how the freaky part gave in to the average scent of the middle and base. For a minute I thought you wrote “should have slit my wrists in hot water…” HAHA! I felt you were getting TOO MUCH into the Halloween spirit!

  34. Anonymous says:

    Serge Noire is really, truly the most disgusting scent that has ever touched my skin. I have a problem with cumin. (I don't care if its not listed in the notes, there has GOT be cumin in there!) My skin shouts the scent of cumin through a megaphone: “Armpit! ARMPIT!” It smells like wintergreen gum that has been chewed by someone who has severe halitosis mixed with the unwashed, hairy armpits of a homeless person.

  35. Anonymous says:

    helenviolette: I usually “revisit” too…but this time I doubt I will…such was my reaction to those top notes.

  36. Anonymous says:

    KarenG: “gaggity” … nice word!

  37. Anonymous says:

    Kyriaki: glad to oblige

  38. Anonymous says:

    It's all Freudian. Maybe Noir makes you want to slit the scent off instead of scrubbing it off. Think I'll stick with the hot toddy (smirk)

  39. Anonymous says:

    Gaggity is a great word and much shorter than “enough to gag a maggot”.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Wait … so … you didn't like it?
    I lurve that thing, it's all yummy, sweaty goodness on me. But I loved your review!

  41. Anonymous says:

    Wow! Too funny!
    I liked this one quite a bit- I just bought at least two of the last ones and don't need to spend $140 on this.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Copyright infringement!!!!!!

    My mother used to make me take this stuff when I was a kid, I would have to be drug out from under the bed leaving claw marks all the way, and my jaws were pried apart as a whopping great tablespoon of this stuff was poured down my throat. It came from an ugly black bottle with the label of Father John's Cough Syrup on it.

    I always wondered how such a kindly looking man could make such stuff to torture little children with? Now I realize it was actually Serge Lutens in a collar!!!!

  43. Anonymous says:

    Oh dear, Kevin, count me in as another Serge Noire lover, and one who owns a full bottle. I get sweet benzoin, a strong whiff of pepper and clove, burnt incense… And I am a cumin lover, but it's not that strong to my nose. So I'm with Dusan here (maybe it's a decadent European thing)? And somehow perversely happy to love something so many people seem to hate here. But that may also be some twisted Old World sense of fun.

  44. Anonymous says:

    Jen: it IS rich in “skin scent”…whatever the ingredient or combo of ingredients produces that funk.

  45. Anonymous says:

    March!!!! I can't believe you love it so much…even with your adoration of sweaty goodness.

  46. Anonymous says:

    Tom: $140 is asking a lot in my opinion….

  47. Anonymous says:

    flannerygrace: HAHA! True…a friend just wrote me to say my description reminded her of “Castoria”…an ole-timely elixir of some sort.

  48. Anonymous says:

    carmencanada: I know what you mean…I always smile as I spray on Miel de Bois and think of the hatred it has inspired! (I just saw it is NO LONGER on the Serge Lutens website!)

  49. Anonymous says:

    Gotta say, Kevin, I'm with CarmenCanada (I wonder if it's a Canadian thing?). I really really dig Serge Noire, and get the same basic thing she does. Sorry it didn't floatcher boat, hon. Tons of things out there that will, and more cheaply, so what the hey. And speaking of hey, Hey, I thought El Attarine SUCKED. Like, totally was awful, awful, awful. So there you go. I think you said you liked it? Can't imagine it being anything less than a love-it or hate-it scent, but there you go again.

    Thanks for a highly amusing romp!!!

  50. Anonymous says:

    This sounds nice, but I do well with notes like civet/cumin and apparently, armpit!

    But given the current financial markets and my high bottle count. I'm passing this one (and many others) up. 140 is a bit steep at present…..

  51. Anonymous says:

    I absolutely love it! I sprayed a mouillette with it a week ago;' it's sitting on my desk and I get wonderful whiffs every so often. I want some – maybe not a whole bottle, but more than a piece of paper… There are quite a few perfumes I loathe, but Serge Noire is certainly not one of them.

  52. Anonymous says:

    Robin: Nope, have not smelled El Attarine yet…and you're welcome!

  53. Anonymous says:

    SFLizbeth: ye$, the current $tock $ituation is $obering…no more full bottles for awhile.

  54. Anonymous says:

    What Serge Lutens website are you referring to, Kevin? It never was on the Salons one (since it was always an Export), but it is on the new official Serge Lutens website here:

  55. Anonymous says:

    Bela…I think we're almost approaching a 50/50 split between 'love it' or 'hate it'…a much better reaction I guess than the top-to-bottom yawns of most recent releases….

  56. Anonymous says:

    Bela: thanks, I was looking on the wrong site…glad it's still listed. I was so worried I called to inquire about MdB's fate!

  57. Anonymous says:

    RoflMAO- Ok its not good, its absoulutely meh. But not a HORROR. its just an overpriced (yawn ) incense AGAin scent. But I loved your review.

    IMHO Serge Noire is for Fragrance Addicts only. It's for people who must have everthing trendy and expensive in fragrance.

    On me its meh, not bad , but not BW. not even 10ml worthy— its a very expensive and poorly rendered version of bvlgari black.

    Now Bois de Fruits a recent export is bee-you tee-ful.

    But I loved this review for the prose and have it bookmarked.

  58. Anonymous says:

    arabie lite

  59. Anonymous says:

    ROTFL, Kevin. Now tell me that Angel smells divine and I'll be sure that you are my evil fragrance twin. I think that both Serge Noire and Musc Botanique are quite elegant on me. But perhaps I'm just weird that way?

  60. Anonymous says:

    Oooh, you and I, D, we are definitely the decadent sort :D And we smell delightful! :)

  61. Anonymous says:

    I like Serge Noire very much. I even found it FBW. But I love your review, it made me smile a lot. For a while I thought it was a real recipe, until I read about the chain gang t-shirt pieces. Hilarious!

    Going back to SN, I like it very much even if at first it smells like curry on me (especially when I am spraying). I found that with Serge Noire less is always better, but I just can't stop smelling it. My husband has been getting on my case because we are in the middle of lunch, or watching tv and I keep smelling my arm.

  62. Anonymous says:

    memechoses: ah…that does not bode well then.

  63. Anonymous says:

    membhoses: thanks…several places near me stock SN so I'm curious to quiz the clerks and see how it sells.

  64. Anonymous says:

    Kathryn: I do not like Angel…the plot thickens

  65. Anonymous says:

    Arwen: EATING whilst smelling Serge Noire!!!! You DO love it.

  66. Anonymous says:

    Strange fragrance indeed. I tried it with a group of 5 other perfume lovers. None of them liked it on themselves, and at least 2 of them adore a number of fragrances that most people describe as skankfests. But everyone liked it on me. I certainly got mild cumin/sweat, along with spices and some smoky incense notes. On me the opening was odd, but not overly so and it dried down beautifully. Maybe I will rub some roasted mothballs on my arms prior to spritzing it, to enhance the All Hallows Eve effect next time I wear it.

  67. Anonymous says:

    *sigh* M, I wish it worked on me, but it smells like the back aisle of the local Indian grocery store on me.

    Kevin: that was absolutely hilarious… :-)

  68. Anonymous says:

    Sorry to hear you didn't like Serge Noire – I loved it enough to buya bottle. I don't get the medicinal notes – just lovely benzoin/clove/cinnamon/ light incense/cumin. Yum!

  69. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, some of these commenters are making SN sound like a fuzzy, delicious comfort scent! Exactly how long did you have to endure the SlopPot-pourri before it morphed into an unexciting sweet-woody-amber? I'm waiting for you to review and hate something I absolutely love so I know what this experience is like!

  70. Anonymous says:

    Kevin, some of these commenters are making SN sound like a fuzzy, delicious comfort scent! Exactly how long did you have to endure the SlopPot-pourri before it morphed into an unexciting sweet-woody-amber? I'm waiting for you to review and hate something I absolutely love so I know what this experience is like!

  71. Anonymous says:

    I have to say, I didn't think it was that bad either. i smells heavy on the cloves and spices to me but i would definitely wear it.

  72. Anonymous says:

    I have to say, this perfume is gorgeous compared to Secretions Magnifique. THAT has to be the vilest scent on the planet.

  73. Anonymous says:

    Brilliant review thanks Kevin. It will buoy me up for the rest of the day to think that I am not alone in disliking this one. I tried hard to like it I really did and after about two hours I can dimly appreciate some ashy incense note but the first two hours are a horror show on/for me. Something died a horrible death for that to be bottled…..Still I'm happy for those who love it but even happier that I can “save” my ££££s for something um, more me, say either of the Jubilations or Lyric woman or Timbuktu or Dzongka if what I want is incense.

  74. Anonymous says:

    mbanderson61: mothball talcum powder perhaps!

  75. Anonymous says:

    jtc: thanks…and there are plenty other weird-o fragrances for us out there somewhere!

  76. Anonymous says:

    Kim: glad it works for you!

  77. Anonymous says:

    Joe: I think the SN-lover commenters have been so kind to me! GENEROUS even! HA! I can't believe I've never dissed one of your favorites…let me know when I do! I get not an ounce of comfort from SN…the ugly part lasts 5-10 min…then, with a hint of mold, it goes sweet-woody on me.

  78. Anonymous says:

    donanicola: ah…we have the exact tastes (Jubilations, Timbuktu, Dzongkha…and even Lyric for women — so much better than Lyric Man). So: we NEED to save money for the Amouages especially, correct?!

  79. Anonymous says:

    Ha! I love the picture, and I also love the perfume, though I was fearing mounds of cumin. I. in fact, will stop by my local department store for a spritz on the way home! And will think of fuzzy black monsters carrying buckets of cheese! A perfect Edward Gorey perfume…

  80. Anonymous says:

    Indeedy :-)

    ps loved your review of Jicky too so I think we do have v similar taste!

  81. Anonymous says:

    houseofstone: I could NOT resist that monster image…and it's similar to my facial expression as I put on SN the first time.

  82. Anonymous says:

    hmm. have the evil potion on now, and 90% delighted – the other 10% feels I am biting a pencil really hard – the cedar is so strong right now I can taste it – with a lead chaser. still enamoured though…

  83. Anonymous says:

    True. Anything is better than indifference.

  84. Anonymous says:

    AB: I'm ashamed to admit I still have not gotten around to smelling Secretions Magnifiques…since the line isn't in Seattle it means ordering a sample and I'm never inspired to add it to the list!

  85. Anonymous says:

    Perversely, I really want to try this now ! I can't think of any other perfume that would even come close.

  86. Anonymous says:

    This was exactly what I got – haven't had the courage to sample it a second time yet…

  87. Anonymous says:

    It is by far the vilest thing I have ever smelled. I have never been so repulsed by a fragrance before. It has a really strong salty, metallic odour that seems to come and go. I was nauseous all day. No surprise, it is oddly tenatious and could not be scrubbed off without much blood, sweat and tears. I am a little perverse in that after hearing its' reputation, I just had to smell it but I have to say, although I like odd scents, this one beat me!

  88. Anonymous says:

    You know man, it's all good. I'm just happy going back to L.A., man. This Serge stuff sounds good for one of the greatest players, man.

  89. Anonymous says:

    OMG this is exactly how I feel on nearyl every SL! the worst was gris clair though – the unpleasent, scarry scent of a hospital when I was eight years old, where I should have stayed, far away from my parents, on a diet, with sick kids around me… I nearly started crying, and my friend and me ran out to the car to spray something different over it, because it just… reeked. she has been also reminded of a hospital, she lost two fingers on work-accident. horrid.

  90. Anonymous says:

    I am just now trying this, having delayed getting a sample. I love the opening. It is so retro, in a big, beautiful way. I can't think of what it reminds me of, probably because I am tired. Now, after almost 2 hours, it has faded to the pleasant amber woods you mention, but that opening! I really do love it. I just wish it would last longer.
    Happy holidays! I always enjoy reading your work.

  91. Anonymous says:

    mybeautyblog: goodness…that IS a horrid memory!

  92. Anonymous says:

    Exist: happy holidays to you too! (and glad YOU enjoyed Serge Noire)

  93. krokodilgena says:

    I’m smelling vomited skittles. :( :(

  94. Laurinha says:

    “Any Serge Noire fans, out there?”

    -Me, me!
    Although I would not put this one in the same league as a Chergui or Fumerie Turque, I find Serge Noire fascinating, not least because it seems so cryptic to my nostrils: like a firework of dark, smokey tones, which stays with my skin up to the dry-down, hence none of the “nice woody cedary notes”.
    I love the kick I get everytime I smell it, especially the medicinal start right after spraying: a morning wake up call of sorts for those days when only something serious, mixte and a bit crazy will do.

  95. This is gorge, at least on my skin, and dabbed. A tiny bit.
    Even my SO likes it (but he has not a common taste anyway).
    I get the black turtle neck, black, smoke, incense, cemetary, mothball, steel, hmmm… maybe vanilla, yes to amber in the meaning of “a girl named Amber”, skin, and again: Grave. Cemetery. Stone with R.I.P. And some ironic fun.
    I think it’s great, but how could anyone wear a whole bottle?!

    It lasts very good and it very intensive. Ooomph.

Leave a reply