Do you ever think of certain scents as “warm” or “cool”? I do. Amber, leather, oakmoss, and wood smell warm to me, while herbs, citrus, green notes, and ozone smell cool. Florals can go either way, especially rose. Most perfumes seem to have an overall warm or cool flavor to them, too, or they start out cool then turn warm. Serge Lutens L’Orpheline bucks the trend by straddling both cool and warm notes at the same time. In the end, the fragrance feels like a worthy complement to a rainy autumn afternoon.
In true Serge fashion, the press material surrounding L’Orpheline’s release is more mystical than practical. (I imagine members of some future cult bowing to a huge black-and-white portrait of Serge Lutens while chanting bits from leather-bound perfume box inserts.) We do know that the fragrance was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake and includes notes of incense, ashes and musk.
L’Orpheline kicks off with a burst of lavender and, I swear, mint, hinting at Gris Clair. (Note: L’Orpheline’s top notes smell more complete when it’s sprayed than when it’s dabbed from a sample vial. I had the chance to test it from an atomizer in Paris, and its herbal beginning really stood out.) This part of L’Orpheline comes off as cool to me and even a little standoffish. Underlying the lavender is a wet, slightly sour incense that feels both warm and cool. In an unusual twist, spicy clove or carnation clings to the incense. Again, more warm plus cool notes.
Before long, L’Orpheline has absorbed the lavender. While the incense-clove combination still hums along, the fragrance now brings out the big guns: Patchouli with a capital “P.” Maybe it’s my patchouli-amping skin, but I get cushions and cushions of warm, slightly dirty patchouli puffing its way around the spice and incense.
After a few hours, L’Orpheline’s incense fades, and the fragrance settles into a sweet, slightly spicy, musky patchouli that clings to skin for most of the day. Although L’Orpheline is persistent and has body, I wouldn’t call it obnoxiously assertive. It’s perfectly unisex, too, and I think anyone from Rocky Balboa to Rita Hayworth would feel comfortable in it (if, say, either were still alive).
To me, this is one of the best fragrances Serge Lutens has released lately, even if it won't dethrone my beloved Chêne or Iris Silver Mist, Bois de Violette, Féminité du Bois, Fleurs d’Oranger, and a few others. Like these fragrances, L’Orpheline has a definite signature and personality. That’s why I keep coming back to Serge’s fragrances. Even if I won’t be binding my perfume inserts in leather any time soon.
Serge Lutens L’Orpheline Eau de Parfum Haute Concentration is $140 for 50 ml and comes in the rectangular export bottle. For information on where to buy it, see Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.