How Serge Lutens’ New Scent Reveals the Legendary Perfumer’s Unspoken Past

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L’Innommable is the latest in Lutens’ roster to turn the art of olfaction on its head – and tell a very personal tale in the process

While Serge Lutens has long been responsible for some of the fragrance world’s most subversive scents, the innovator also lays claim to some of the last century’s greatest beauty imagery. A quick meander through an image search of his make-up artistry, from his mask-like Pierrot faces in campaigns for Dior in the 1970s to his bewitching kabuki contours for Shiseido in the 1980s, will give a flash course in his ability to transform the beauty ideals of a given moment. The figures in his imagery are constructions – artistry of the highest, and most dramatic, order, nearer to classical sculpture than that of the human form. Naturally, his fragrances follow suit: ethereal, philosophical and poetic, built on themes like milk teeth (Dent de Lait), wolf mothers (Louvre) or poison (Tubereuse Criminelle), to name but a miniscule percentage. It means his unique olfactory rarely resembles typical perfume, the kind that comes complete with a celebrity ambassador, floral notes and dreams of holidays.

The 76-year-old provocateur continues to create new fragrances at his home in Marrakesh even today, each derived from a dark and often autobiographical place – that which drives his passion for the medium itself. “My history in fragrance was driven by a defined personal journey,” Lutens told AnOther last year. “It wasn’t a choice or a wish. Let’s just say I couldn’t escape it.” While Lutens’ play on aesthetic beauty pushes at the boundaries of fairytale and theatre, his olfactive forays reach far deeper, into his history – “a bridge between images and words,” as he says. A brand new eau de parfum, L’Innommable, takes this penchant of his to the next level.

French for ‘indefinable’, L’Innommable unites benzoin from Thailand, cumin and frankincense in an evasive ambery aroma. Its name and its very construction work to pinpoint a shadow that Lutens lived his life beneath: born out of wedlock in 1942 his father refused to claim him, leaving Lutens with only his mother’s name, or “no identity” as he explains. For Lutens, L’Innommable is “the unspeakable. It is that which cannot be said or which is condemned above all else” – a truth he has spent his life coming to terms with. The result is a fascinating scent that, too, is indefinable. More like a shadow than a juice, the parfum hangs around the body like a cloak. Though dark, its presence is also feather light – barely there – closer to a dry chug of steam or a waft of incense than to anything that might emerge from a perfume botle.

It is with this new creation that Lutens unveils his new Gratte Ciel – ‘skyscraper’ – collection, a renaissance of the ten best-selling fragrances from his Bell Jar collection. Realigned in tall black tower-like bottles, these repackaged favourites fall at a lower price point than their exquisite and bulbous forbears, welcoming a new, Modernist client.  

L’Innonmmable is available at Serge Lutens boutiques and counters now.