Thursday, January 15, 2009

Serge Lutens Chergui

Maybe I should have saved reviewing Chergui until the week of Valentine's Day. It's such a romantic scent, one that calls to mind passion and intimate spaces more than the devastating eastern wind of the Moroccan desert (I wonder if there's some hidden meaning in the fact two of my most favorite perfumes in the world are named after the dry winds of Morocco. The other one, of course, is Andy Tauer's L'Air du Desert Marocain). But I'm on a serious Serge kick lately, so why not?

Chergui is an equal opportunity beauty. Not an androgynous unisex, but a scent that works beautifully on both male and female, creating an intoxicating atmosphere around its wearer without resorting to a gender cliché. After all, everyone wants to smell a little honeyed, warm, with a bit of the outdoors and a lot of sex appeal.

It took me a while to get the hey note. Actually, I didn't notice it until I tested Chergui side by side with another Serge Lutens honeyed wonder, Fumerie Turque. The latter's dry smoke made the hey stand out, just the way a similar test against the chewy Ambre Sultan shows Chergui's dryness. It also brought forth the iris note with its leathery connotations, adding to the scent's incredible richness and complexity.

Chergui is a surprisingly quiet scent, though its longevity is very impressive (10-12 hours). You'd think it should be reserved for the cold months, but despite the decidedly fall/winter notes (according to Luckyscent: honey, musk, incense, tobacco leaf, hay sugar, amber, iris, rose and sandalwood), this fragrance blooms beautifully in the summer heat. It's dry enough not to get cloying, instead it radiates and shows a clean, stark facade.

Chergui used to be a Paris exclusive (meaning a bell jar that could only be purchased at the Salon), but a couple of years ago it was released as the limited edition export gift from Uncle Serge to his loyal fans in the rectangular bottle with the higher price tag ($130, if I remember correctly, before the ones in the black labels were promoted to $140). Something has shifted lately at the Palais Royal, and just like how several of the other non-export have found their way to Bergdorf, Aedes and Scent Bar, Chergui has been repackaged with a cream label like the rest of the line and is priced like them at $120 (the Haute Concentration ones, as well as Vetiver Oriental, are still have the black label and the higher price tag).

In a recent interview for Bois de Jasmin, Mr. Lutens has said: "The great problem of commercial perfumery is that people keep buying it!". I believe that a big part of the reason people keep buying mainstream drek is the fact it's readily available. Making the good juice a little easier to find without a trip to Paris and getting lost trying to locate the boutique might be an important step in steering the potential consumer in the right direction. A bottle of Chergui (or any of the regular exports) costs the same as that horrible David Yurman Eau de Jersey Mall (I live here. I can say it). Maybe now a few more people would reach for the good stuff.

Chergui is now available at the better department stores and niche fragrance boutiques on my side of the pond, as well as their equivalents in the UK and the rest of Europe. I bought mine at Barneys.

Photo: Sea of Sand by Declan McCullagh. The description says: "Wind whips the sea of sand in the Sahara Desert across a lone paved road, creating near-whiteout conditions". I thought it was fitting.


  1. Wow, the way you write about this perfume makes me want to go out and get it right now. I've always been afraid of honey scents for two reasons. The first being that honey often translates to sugar on a my skin. The second being that it always dries to a powdery woody monstrosity that makes me want to die a little. I can't wait to see what it smells like on me!

  2. So, in matter of perfume, you prefer desert to dessert :)
    To my mind, Chergui shows resemblance to Dune from Dior. By hazard, I think.
    And I'm amazed on the fortuitous similarity, a dry amber, cover by flowers, soft spices, and a name related to the desert.
    Some others Lutens can be related to great perfumes. It's due to the classical way Lutens built up fragrance around natural costly compounds for inspiration. With that process, your composition ends often near a classic glory of perfumery that already exists.

    Another exemple, Datura noir reminds me of poison, but with better ingredients. That's a bad example from me, poison must verge on synthetic to make the pun.
    Cuir mauresque is an exception, it was voluntarily a departure on tabac blond.
    Pre-LVMH glory, pre-L'oréal glory. I love Lutens creations on their own. And when the old glory is to damaged by big brands, it's good to know its sibling by Lutens


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