Serge Lutens Feminite du Bois : Perfume Review

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Vintageglamor

Original (Shiseido Féminité du Bois):

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Reformulation:

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

When Shiseido Féminité du Bois was launched in 1992, its strong core of cedarwood (a traditionally masculine note) was truly avant-garde. It presented a break with tradition and a new vision for feminine fragrances. These days, feminine scents based around a strong accord of woods are more common in the niche category but also in the mainstream launches.  It is telling that Estée Lauder Sensuous, the first pillar brand release since Beyond Paradise, chose to take the rich fruity-woody character of Féminité du Bois as its starting point. Recently, Féminité du Bois was relaunched under the Serge Lutens brand, and once I got a hold of two versions, the original and the new, I decided to compare them.

Perfume is a living object, and it changes even after you bring a bottle home. If a formula is opened and is rebalanced, it is a given that the result will be different. Over time I have learned to accept it. I wear reformulated Guerlain Shalimar and Samsara with pleasure. Caron Nuit de Noël (even minus the mossy plushness) is still a wonderful fragrance. I prefer the radiant freshness of the new version of Hermès Amazone to the mossy darkness of the original version. In other words, a fragrance is not automatically destroyed by being reformulated. The main issue is whether the reformulation manages to retain the distinctive elements of the composition, its character and its signature.

I do not find that this was accomplished in the case of the new Féminité du Bois. The woody accord, which is the most distinctive element of the composition, is attenuated to the point of being pale and insipid. The strong impact of the violet-cedarwood note that oscillated between dark woods and warm fruit is reduced to the point of mere suggestion. While the original Féminité du Bois had a very impressive development—from the mezzo soprano of orange blossom to the basso profondo of woods, the new version maintains the same pitch throughout. It stays rather close to the skin and vanishes on the same pale woody-violet note that set its tone.

I probably would have been more disappointed by the new Féminité du Bois if the Serge Lutens collection did not include Bois de Violette and Bois et Fruits. Since they contain elements of the original Féminité du Bois, their vibrancy and intensity more than make up for its pallor.

Shiseido Féminité du Bois included notes of cedarwood, orange blossom, rose, violet, honey, plum, beeswax, clove, cardamom, cinnamon. Serge Lutens Féminité du Bois (fragrance family: classical woods) contains Moroccan orange, Turkish rose, Atlas cedarwood, violet, beeswax, honey, peach, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, sandalwood, musk. It is available from boutiques and retail stores such as Aedes and Barneys New York.

For the discussion of the original Shiseido Féminité du Bois, please see my 2006 review.

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23 Comments

  • patuxxa: I own both an original Feminité du Bois eau de parfum and Bois de Violette… I really wouldn’t expect a Lutens fragrance to suffer such a watering-down: Femilité du Bois without the warm richness hat to me recalls compote / baked fruit just isn’t the same. I’m glad my bottle is still almost full! December 16, 2010 at 11:16am Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, lucky you! The eau de parfum is so beautiful. Of course, in case of the new version, your mileage may vary. I have seen some good reviews of the new version. To me, it just missed that rich woody note that was such a revelation to me when I first smelled Feminite du Bois. December 16, 2010 at 11:22am Reply

  • March: Oh my goodness, so glad I held on to my originals! (I also have the parfum, which is stellar.) And what a great review. I sort of forget, because of other kinda-similar scents (including the SLs), how *different* and strange and compelling FdB seemed to me at first. It deserves a revisit.

    I don’t recall; did Mr. Lutens ever publicly discuss why he changed it? It seemed to me like an aesthetic decision on his part (?) rather than an issue with raw ingredients? Do you know? December 16, 2010 at 11:35am Reply

  • Victoria: March, the parfum was incredible! I remember that the violet note in it was an antithesis of a demure and shrinking violet. It was the first time I have felt that violet could be sensual.
    I have not read much on the reasons for reformulation, but I would imagine that the absence and the astronomical price of certain raw materials (not least of which is sandalwood), plus the new regulations must have conspired to make it what it is. Sheldrake is a very good perfumer, from both creative and technical standpoints (his treatment of myrrh in La Myrrhe still amazes me!) So, if he could not make it work, I guess, the restrictions must have been really profound. December 16, 2010 at 11:42am Reply

  • Marina: What a shame…poor Feminite! December 16, 2010 at 1:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yet, life goes on just as it did before… :) December 16, 2010 at 1:39pm Reply

  • Olfactoria: Another one bites the dust… December 16, 2010 at 2:31pm Reply

  • March: Thanks, V. And you’ve reminded me I need to revisit La Myrrhe. December 16, 2010 at 2:35pm Reply

  • minette: i have a bottle of feminite under the brand shiseido – the curvy one. i had debated over buying it for months, maybe even years. it just sat there, unloved and dusty, on the shelf of my favorite mom-and-pop discount perfume shop, the only apparent attention paid to it coming from me, until i finally bought it. but i didn’t buy it for love. i bought it because i hoped that one day i would “get” what everyone who loves this scent “gets” from it. so far, i get sort of a soliwood cedar, kind of damp and dull. i honestly don’t get the fervor over this scent, and i’m a huge SL fan. of course, many of you don’t like bas de soie, and i love it (it feels very french to me, and smells like it has the “sex” note in it), so maybe it’s just one of those thangs. December 16, 2010 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Olfactoria, it sure did for me… December 16, 2010 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: March, I love how luminous he made myrrh in that fragrance. It is such a dense and heavy raw material! As far as I know, La Myrrhe contains more myrrh than any other fragrance on the market. December 16, 2010 at 3:46pm Reply

  • Victoria: Minette, there are plenty of fragrances I do not get, but it is ok with me. Considering how many I like and want, it is sometimes a good thing! :) December 16, 2010 at 3:50pm Reply

  • minette: amen, sister! December 16, 2010 at 6:15pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Ah, V. Life does go on, but not *quite* as before… You make me want to buy another back up bottle. ;) This one is a default for me, something I know will always work. Bois de Violette does not quite work on me in the same way. Minette, I did not get it either for a long time. And then, somehow, I did, and have never looked back. I think other wood heavy frags may have trained my nose to distinguish the violet and spices more clearly. December 16, 2010 at 9:27pm Reply

  • Geordan: The original was my “gateway drug”. I won’t even try the new one. I’m almost at the end of one of my bottles, and have a back-up. Probably should find one more before they become extinct. December 17, 2010 at 7:53am Reply

  • Victoria: @minette
    We just have to look at the bright side, right? ;) December 17, 2010 at 9:18am Reply

  • Victoria: @sweetlife
    A, then you might want to search for one. I also miss the heft of the woods, they are so sheer in the new version. Maybe, it was intentional, but to me, it rather destroys the character of the original, which made such a statement. December 17, 2010 at 9:19am Reply

  • Victoria: @Geordan
    I love this phrase “gateway drug” in relation to perfume. I think that the only fragrance that I feel this way is Frederic Malle Carnal Flower. It is very special to me. December 17, 2010 at 9:21am Reply

  • T.Chi: I own a bottle of the new version of Feminité du Bois, which I much enjoy, even though I do get disappointed that the juice feels water-downed. I never have a chance to try the original formula but I guess it’d be a lot darker and more allure (I get a tiny hint of that spirit from the modern version, so, I guess that’s what I had expected when I first try FdB at the store).
    But all in all, FdB (the bottle that I own) is my favorite scent, period. February 2, 2011 at 10:56am Reply

  • Victoria: It is definitely a very special and beautiful fragrance. In general, with reformulations, I find that it is the knowledge that it is no longer different that upsets. Sometimes the new versions are quite good. Enjoy it, as I am sure that it smells very alluring on you! :) February 2, 2011 at 11:27am Reply

  • Vaufrey Claire: Hi Dearest Victoria ! I’m French and I love your site and its french name “bois de Jasmin”, sound like a Lutens’s name . I like perfumes and adore Feminite du Bois. Reformulations happened (all brands) because some forbidden elements in formula (allergy) so, brands like Lutens, Guerlain, Chanel and the others are pushed to reformulate and delete these products like castoreum, civette, natural musks etc. I hope my english is understandable !!! When I discovered Feminite du Bois, it was so warm. Now I’m feelinif it contains water ! I love Cedre (cedar) by Serge Lutens, similar fragrance without rose note and Bois et Fruits, bois de violette. Have a good week end ! September 12, 2013 at 3:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! You’ve pointed out the difference between the two versions with a nice image. Yes, I also find the new Feminite du Bois more watery than it used to be. I still wear it (alternating with the Shiseido original) and enjoy it, but I miss the warmth and richness it had.

      (And your English is great!) September 12, 2013 at 4:49am Reply

  • Claire: Thank you very much, Victoria ! I have to buy absolutly Bois et Fruits by Lutens. I like your comments about it and the image of Autumn (fall season) red leafs (leaves ?). Serge Lutens is a magician of smells. I am going to improve my english thanks your site and I enjoy to read You and all the comments. It’s interesting to read english opinions compared to Frenchies. And from others countries too. Have a good afternoon (in France, it’s’freezing ! Need to find a warm perfume) September 12, 2013 at 6:02am Reply

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