The perfume industry isn't what it used to be. We've known it for a while, years actually. Some optimistic but severely misguided souls tried to comfort themselves that while the big names, traditional houses and huge designer brands are all about the money and thus happy to comply with both IFRA and their CFOs and discontinue scents left and right, we will always have niche.
But niche houses, big and small, have their own bottom line to consider. Gobin-Daude disappeared into the ether, the exact status of Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier remains unclear, but they haven't updated their website in a couple of years and their NYC retailers only have a handful of bottles still remaining (if any). They haven't received a new shipment in ages. Other great brands have been phasing out perfumes left and right. Tom Ford said from the very beginning that the Private Blend line will change over time. Underperformers will be replaced with other scents. Sadly, the first victims of the policy have already been announced (Bois Rouge, Moss Breches, Purple Patchouli and Velvet Gardenia. All of them deserved a better fate). JAR had to stop producing the magnificent Shadow, most likely because of IFRA's oakmoss restriction. Annick Goutal had to reformulate the classic Eau d'Hadrien because, apparently, citrus oil is a weapon of mass destruction. But the worst news yet broke yesterday when Elena of Perfume Shrine posted about Serge Lutens sending four of his fragrances to the big Palais Royal in the sky.
This is a first for Serge Lutens and has shocked and devastated many fans, me included. Uncle Serge has been honest and upfront (well, as much as his Holy Crypticness can be) about the reformulation issue. It's no secret that the new version of Feminite de Bois isn't the same as the old Shiseido one. The same goes for Chergui. There were persistent rumours about the future of Miel de Bois after it was pulled from the export range and placed in the more exclusive bell jar. Between the scent's lack of popularity and an issue with the raw materials being placed on IFRA's black list, MdB was doomed. But no one saw the other ones coming: the relatively new (though admittedly not the biggest seller) Chypre Rouge and the two classics Douce Amere and Clair de Musc. The latter is especially surprising as Clair de Musc was considered by many a Serge for beginners and a layering essential. It really seemed like it was selling relatively well. Obviously, not well enough.
The axing of the four perfumes was not the only disquieting news from the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido. The most recent release, L'Eau Serge Lutens, had many of Uncle Serge's biggest fans scratching our heads. It was not just an "anti perfume". It was an "anti Serge", "anti Lutenade" and anti everything we've ever expected to emerge from the famed purple halls. Speculations were aplenty. From Papa Serge always doing the unexpected to simply selling out. Since Elena's review was as favorable as it was insightful, I was ready to believe it was his way of telling the world "You wanted clean? Here, let me show you how to do it right". Sort of flipping the bird in his very refined and ironic way.
But the latest news seem to be pointing to another, sadder direction. Have the Powers That Be at Shiseido, Uncle Serge's financial backer, started to put their foot down? Did they tell him to start making money, or else? Did they tell him that any new release must have a mass market appeal and smell shower fresh?
This is nothing but speculation of course, but my guess is that dear Uncle Serge is not going to have his art be dictated by bureaucrats and bean counters. As Elena has mentioned, he has hinted in the past that might go do something completely different. We've always known that perfume is not his be all and end all and he can always have Chris Sheldrake whip for him a special batch of extra strength MKK. It's us who are losing here big time and might be left with nothing but this.
Photos of Uncle Serge: luxuryculture.com