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Le Participe Passé – Balsamic bliss from Serge Lutens


Anyone who’s poked their nose into the perfume world, and done a little experimenting with niche fragrances, has discovered Serge Lutens. For some, the Serge Lutens fragrances are the ones that send them on their journey down the perfume rabbit hole. The very first place we visited on our first perfume pilgrimage to Paris almost a decade ago was the Serge Lutens boutique in the Palais Royale, where we bought four of the bell jars. Two each – Muscs Koublai Khan and Bois de Violette for me, and Iris Silver Mist and Tubereuse Criminelle for Gwen, each regarded as iconic fragrances by perfume critics and enthusiasts. To say that we are huge fans of Lutens is an understatement, since collectively we own thirty-eight of his fragrances, all of which are listed in our Decant Store.

Over the past few years Serge Lutens explored new creative territory, seguing from his dense lush Oriental “Lutensian” style found in Ambre Sultan, Santal Majuscule, Arabie, Cuir Mauresque, Feminite du Bois, for example, into more abstract, focused, simplistic fragrances which were interesting to me more because of their difference from his signature style, rather than because they smelled spectacular. I missed the resins and balsams, the spices and amber and musks, the warmth, the shiver of anticipation I’d get when I’d sniff a Serge Lutens for the first time, knowing that I’m in for some very serious pleasure. That sweet feeling had disappeared with the newer releases……but now it’s back.

Le Participe Passé (Past Participle), his most recent release from Fall 2018, takes us back to his signature Oriental style. He says: “Take time to revisit our past and bring to light a consciousness. When the sap of our history deafens our memory.” Serge Lutens  With the very first sniff, Lutens took me back to the warmth, the radiance, the fiery spices and resinous woods, the dark indulgent sweetness and narcotic opulence found in the very best of his oeuvre.

Egyptian balsam is the core of Le Participe Passé and the waft from the first spritz is fantastic. Like snowy pine needles crushed and rolled between ungloved fingers, the balsam is slowly warmed by body heat so that the resins release their cool green notes . The sensation of warmth gains momentum as more wood resins and spices are added, creating a softly sweet incense accord with burnt sugar and smoky facets.

In the heart, the heat builds and the spiciness intensifies with notes of dried fruits and a faint maple-curry waft of immortelle, creating a delicate layer of caramel sweetness over the balsamic resins. In the base, notes of soft sueded leather and dark bitter patchouli balance the resins and caramel notes, cooling them into a blanket of opulent warmth, slightly sweet and boozy and golden ambery. The long dry down has a dense velvety waft which has me repeatedly lifting my wrist to my nose for another sniff.

This fragrance is deceptive. Since it opens with such a powerful balsamic statement, and is quite dense, it may be perceived by the inexperienced nose as too linear in its development, a one-note samba. But it is filled with contrasts and complexity, moving from cold to warmth, resinous to sweet, dark to ambery. Have patience and wait for the magic to play out on your skin. 

Le Participe Passé is our thirty-ninth Serge Lutens fragrance, and it has rekindled my deep admiration for the creative vision that he and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake have shared with perfume lovers over the past two decades. I'm fired up to rediscover the beauty of the other thirty-eight Serge Lutens fragrances in our Decant Store. Which one will I try first?

Le Participe Passé is listed in or Decant Store. Decants are $7.00 for 1 ml.

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