Serge Lutens De Profundis : Perfume Review

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

“Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his moving essay “De Profundis,” which inspired Serge Lutens’s wistful and delicate creation. De Profundis, which also refers to Psalm 130, means “from the depth” in Latin, and it is from the depths of sadness and despair that Wilde wrote his epistle during his imprisonment. Knowing the background story can easily color one’s perception of a perfume, and this is especially true in the case of Lutens  who is fond of complex and eclectic imagery. So, having learned of the origins of De Profundis, one might expect a somber composition of funereal darkness. Nothing could be further from the truth—De Profundis is a soaring, ethereal vignette of green flowers, full of surprises and such magic twists that I once again have to take off my hat to Lutens and his perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.

On skin, the vivid violet juice of De Profundis (a brighter and lighter shade than that of Sarrasins) explodes into a mass of green petals and delicate tendrils. The floral accord has a springtime delicacy reminiscent of bluebells and hyacinths. A bitter green note that oscillates between the freshness of rose buds and the spiciness of carnations anchors the initial dewy impression. The filigree effect of floral notes and the cool, polished character of the early stages are reminiscent of Bas de Soie, but the flowers of De Profundis lack the detached, metallic artificiality of the latter. Embellished with subtle indolic accents, the floral notes assume a lush, nature-like quality.

Descriptors like “crisp” and “rich” exist on opposite sides of the olfactory spectrum, but De Profundis manages to bring them together. In fact, the genius of the composition for me lies in its marriage of surprising elements. On the one hand, De Profundis has a classical woody oriental structure where the incense and woods create a mysterious, sonorous effect; on the other, its crisp green floral accord has a radiance and freshness of Balmain Vent Vert, Jean Patou Vacances, or perhaps even more so, Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps.  As the composition develops, the velvety richness of incense fills the spaces in between the leaves and petals, while the dewy bluebell impression that I found so captivating persists into the late dry down.

I find De Profundis exquisitely beautiful and serene, rather than overly cerebral and dark. It is also elegant in the effortless style of Miss Dior and Chanel Cristalle (although I would hasten to add that it shares none of their olfactory profiles.) Its lack of drama might disappoint those who love Lutens in his darkest phases like Cuir Mauresque, Bornéo 1834 or Fumerie Turque. The magic of De Profundis is much more subtle, but I find it spellbinding from the very first inhale. Gossamer, yet long lasting and possessing a great sillage, De Profundis is a floral composition for those who like their blossoms more abstract and complex. As I have been wearing this fragrance over the past month and thinking of its sources of inspiration, it occurred to me that if sorrow and death are a necessary part of our allotment, then the other side of the coin is that beauty and love are equally as crucial.

Serge Lutens De Profundis is available as part of the exclusive line, which is sold only at Les Salons du Palais Royal, 142, rue de Valois, www.salons-shiseido.com. 120 euro, 75ml.

Adding as an aftertought: as

Sample: my own acquisition

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50 Comments

  • Ann C.: Beautiful review, and one of the few positive ones that I’ve read about this fragrance. Thank you for the interpretation of the name of the fragrance; I think it will help us understand SL’s thinking.

    I think I’ll have to give this a sniff after all! October 28, 2011 at 7:19am Reply

  • Victoria: I fell in love with it from the first time I've tried it. It has such an exquisite, graceful aura. That crisp, dark green floral accord is fantastic, and juxtaposed with soft incense, it assumes a richer, more complex character. It touches me, which happens so rarely with fragrances these days for me.

    That being said, I can see how the fans of dark fragrances will find it not dark and Lutensian enough.  October 28, 2011 at 7:58am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: I second Ann’s comment. What a beautiful review of something which appears so far to be unloved by most.

    I adore chrysanthamums which I believe also feature as an inspiration and green scents are amongst my favourites. As I’m not a fully paid up member of the Lutens fan club (I tend to admire rather than love)I’m happy to hear it is not so dark and brooding. This north european may find it easier on the skin and I will now seek some out. October 28, 2011 at 9:13am Reply

  • Victoria: Marsi, thank you very much for your kind words! It might sound strange, but I am glad that I took a break (even though it was necessary due to the personal circumstances at the time,) because it made me realize how much I love writing on these pages and how much I value the interaction here. It all makes the fragrance exploration so much more rewarding! October 28, 2011 at 9:24am Reply

  • Victoria: The first time I smelled De Profundis, it made me think of L’Air du Temps–that same verve and springtime brightness, tempered by a bittersweet, slightly melancholy impression. Plus, I find that a good green floral is difficult to find, which is an odd thing, considering that it is one of the most popular feminine families today.
    And as I have been smelling new “exclusive” launches, I have been struck by how pedestrian most of them are (come back next week for my Chanel Jersey rant!) SL once again offers something that stands head and shoulders above the rest. October 28, 2011 at 9:28am Reply

  • Nikki: Wonderful review, Victoria! Oscar Wilde was a genius and therefore, still touches contemporaries…who has not felt profound worry and despair at what we are facing in the world right now…to know that this feeling is not only human but superbly humane, is a consolation. In regards to the perfume, to paraphrase Henry IV, this perfume may be worth a trip to Paris! I adore the idea of having a name like De Profundis but to use a vibrant color for the perfume itself, brilliant. Since he spends most of his time in Marrakesh, SL started using color in his perfumes and I find it great. The same happened to YSL actually, after buying the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakesh and living there as much as his time allowed, he found color! Before that time, he used mainly black but after Marrakesh, he started using purple, the same royal purple as the perfume, as well as hot pink and other colors, including the famous Majorelle blue, for his couture and jewelry. Combining color with fragrance is perfect. October 28, 2011 at 10:31am Reply

  • Raluca: Thanks for the review! 🙂 I read about it on the SL web-site. Too bad it’s not available at Barney’s. I wonder if I should just take a chance and buy it on-line without smelling it first. October 28, 2011 at 10:32am Reply

  • Chi Nguyen: I commented on your link post on facebook but I’m gonna comment again.
    This review is one of the best perfume reviews you’ve ever written (I’m sure you’ll have great great reviews in the future but this piece will always among the best!)
    I admit that after finishing reading the whole article, I found myself smiling ‘n feeling a little bit ~high~ (even though I don’t know how De Profundis is like since haven’t been able to get a sample of it. But it seems to happen when I have a chance anyway!)

    Thank you for such a beautiful, intellectual and passionate review! 🙂 October 28, 2011 at 10:56am Reply

  • Kym: I’m feeling sad that since I live in the US, I’ll never have the opportunity to smell this one… October 28, 2011 at 11:35am Reply

  • Annette r: To let you know, http://www.theperfumedcourt.com has samples of this fragrance. And Victoria, your prose is simply soaring. Beautiful review to read. I may splurge and buy a sample of this one! October 28, 2011 at 12:37pm Reply

  • Marsi: Fascinating. Must sample this one.

    I have always loved your evocative way with words, Victoria. You were the first perfume blog I ever started to read way back in the day, and as far as I’m concerned, are yet the last word in perfume. I was so glad when you began writing it again! October 28, 2011 at 9:06am Reply

  • Victoria: Nikki, thank you for sharing this bit about YSL. I had no idea that Morocco was the source of inspiration for him as well. You know, after spending some time in India, I can understand this–in that part of the world, the use of color is so wide spread and so essential that I realize that I wear colors much more often than I used to. It also makes some fashion sense, because in the dazzling tropical sun pastels and nudes would wash you out, but the bright jewel-like shades look just right. October 28, 2011 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: Hmmm, I never ever recommend unsniffed purchases for anything over $10! 🙂 Maybe, request a wax sample first? October 28, 2011 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for such a nice compliment! I am blushing. The truth is that it is very easy to write about something beautiful. It touches you, it unlocks something within you. Writing those 3 star reviews is often the most difficult thing! October 28, 2011 at 1:54pm Reply

  • Victoria: Kym, you never know, it might even become a part of the export range like many other exclusive fragrances. Also, do try requesting a wax sample from the website. I have done it in the past, and they would send them to me. Of course, the wax gives a somewhat different representation than an alcoholic solution, but still it can give you some idea. October 28, 2011 at 1:55pm Reply

  • Victoria: Annette, good call! TPC does have it, and I completely forgot that it does.
    Thank you, so glad that you liked the review! October 28, 2011 at 1:56pm Reply

  • Parfumista: I must say I’m relieved over your beautiful review of De Profundis as I fell head over heals of this fragance despite some really negative reviews from reaible sources :-). De Profundis is so beautiful, with so many fascinating twists and I enjoy it’s developement during the whole day, D P is never boring. Unfortunately I get the same association as SL wish, the picture of a funeral in all its parts. Therefore D P to me is a severe perfume, to be used for still and completative days. D P touches me and thats not happening very often, sniffing lots of perfumes. According to my nose one of the very best realeases for some year. October 28, 2011 at 4:28pm Reply

  • Victoria: Everyone has their own preferences, and that is ok! I also find it easily one of the best launches so far. Very elegant, with an interesting juxtaposition of effects. I love its crunchy bluebell impression that comes right over the bitter green note (chrysanthemum, dalia, bitter greens…) October 29, 2011 at 9:04am Reply

  • Le critique de parfum: Great review Victoria ❀ ❀ ❀

    I love this fragrance even if I don’t understand it well (yet).

    Definitely a cold flower bouquet with a rather cold incense, hence the name and association I guess. But nothing death-related to me, De Profundis is a very elegant and beautifully distant floral piece.

    Many of his fragrances are hot/warm maybe that’s why die-hard fans don’t like it. But De Profundis, just like Vitriol d’Oeillet, shows that there still may be some surprises in store for us. October 29, 2011 at 6:13pm Reply

  • sunsetsong: Great review, I have to ask does the fragrance induce a sombre and reflective mood? October 29, 2011 at 7:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: It doesn't to me. I find its mood wistful and tender, rather than somber. Perhaps, because these bitter green floral, slightly autumnal notes have very pleasant connotations to me. The image it induces for me is something akin to talk a walk through a rainy park, rather than a funeral. October 29, 2011 at 7:27pm Reply

  • Nikki: Colors are so important. The ancien civilizations such as Greek and Egyptian as well as Roman used colors in profusion; it is only now that the colors have faded and one only knows about the colorful life ancient people lived by looking at tombs…the acroplois was painted in vivid colors, so was everything in Rome. Purple, similar to the one used in the above perfume, was the most expensive color. I love the Indian pink which is similar to the YSL pink he used extensively in his later years. When I studied in Berlin before the wall came down, everybody dressed in black. It was so depressing, both black and beige are just too depressing and boring. October 29, 2011 at 7:53pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also find it very elegant, not at all dark and sordid. Perhaps, that’s why it is not loved by the die-hard fans. That being said, I am one of the die-hard fans of Serge Lutens’s dark fragrances, and yet, DP appeals very much to me. It still has the qualities that make SL line unique. October 29, 2011 at 9:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: One friend says that she cannot wear black, because it depresses her. I wear lots of black, I admit, but I’ve learned to use a splash of color to add some interest to the outfit. All-black ensembles can easily become boring and sad. October 29, 2011 at 9:15pm Reply

  • Eric Brandon: I don’t avidly track down Luten’s exclusive fragrances (though I often wish to), but this one sounds amazing. I love green florals–needless to say, mentioning L’air du Temps, Cristalle, and Miss Dior (of which I am fortunate to have found in ample supply vintage EdT) in the same article make me eager to try it. Of course it isn’t a chypre, but I seem to have enough of those for now.

    Also, Sarrasins’s hue was really its only grasp for my affection so it is nice to see the purple juice again. October 30, 2011 at 1:20am Reply

  • Marion: Oh yes! You really have captured what it is about this! I tore open my decant package, all the way to Australia from a wonderful enabler, and was struck by how strangely soft – and – haunting, this is! Unlike my beloveds from like Criminelle and ISM, which require such a gothic attitude, I can just happily spray this gentle sweet ghostly thing, almost like a sigh of past loves and distant springtimes. And Vitriol struck me as having a similar quality; I picked up the decant on the way out past my letterbox (ripping and spraying immediately as you do!) and then the same sweet wan-ness captured me every time I got back in the car. They are different but lovely from our artists at SL!! October 30, 2011 at 3:16am Reply

  • Memoryofscent.wordpress.com: It is so refreshing to read such a positive review for this one. It seems Serge Lutens is the house everybody loves to hate these days. Everybody hates their ethereal florals which in my opinion are by far the most beautiful florals I have ever smelled. October 30, 2011 at 10:50am Reply

  • Bevfred: What a lyrical, beautiful review. Not too much Serge in TO but I will search this out.
    Thank you! October 30, 2011 at 12:10pm Reply

  • Carla: I found this too subtle when I tried it at the Palais Royal. (The day it was introduced!) It sounds like I might grow to love it; a purchase may not have been a mistake. I do know the first ten minutes were beautiful, but then it disappeared. The SA put such a small amount on my arm. Also, I found the wax sample entirely different from the juice. October 30, 2011 at 11:03pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love these kind of colored juices, especially when they are this vibrant. Of course, one has to be careful when applying, because they stain. October 31, 2011 at 9:04am Reply

  • Victoria: I am not a big fan of V d’O, but I like Lutens’s take on florals. Sa Majeste de la Rose, which did not get good reviews, is, IMO, one of the best rose renditions–airy, luminous, yet with a strong character. October 31, 2011 at 9:06am Reply

  • Victoria: I also think that. Sometimes in niche, the pendulum swings in the opposite direction–heavy, dark, opaque, unwieldy incense-amber compositions that lack any nuance. It is much more difficult to create an airy, but distinctive fragrance. October 31, 2011 at 9:07am Reply

  • Victoria: Glad that you liked it! Hope that you can find a sample someplace, it is worth smelling. October 31, 2011 at 9:08am Reply

  • Victoria: I have a wax sample someplace, but I have not smelled it, since I just ended up buying a bottle. I decanted it into a spray vial, and it is much better this way. Plus, I do not like using the stopper to apply perfume–I worry that this might contaminate it. October 31, 2011 at 9:09am Reply

  • Marla: What a beautiful review! I don’t care for Lutens in general, but I love green florals, so this one might be just right for me. October 31, 2011 at 9:55am Reply

  • Carla: I found the wax sample smelled of mint and leather. I think the parts of the perfume are more separate and dissonant (is that the word) in the wax samples. I use my fingertips to apply bell jars of Lutens, but I’m not happy with how quickly I use them up that way. This is another reason I did not buy De Profundis. October 31, 2011 at 11:56am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Marla! I like green florals too, the greener the better. October 31, 2011 at 12:51pm Reply

  • Victoria: I agree, that’s a very uneconomical way. I keep spilling the perfume, so these days I just keep decants on hand. October 31, 2011 at 12:52pm Reply

  • Alice C: Your review was lovely. It certainly makes me want to try the perfume. November 1, 2011 at 8:39am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Alice! Please let me know what you think of it when you try it. November 1, 2011 at 8:42am Reply

  • Jamie: I adore L’Air du Temps. My De Profundis is coming tomorrow in the mail. I can’t wait! November 1, 2011 at 9:09pm Reply

  • Victoria: I do too, love that bitter chrysanthemum note in it. November 2, 2011 at 2:04pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Brava, Victoria! As always, an exquisitely written, thoughtful review.I must confess, though, given the name De Profundis and the provenance, Lutens, I was hoping for a dark, swoony, Gothic scent…. De Profundis was one of the most eloquent and fearless (some might say melodramatic and self-indulgent) documents of failed Romanticsm ever written, and it was written by a man who was truly a martyr to Beauty,so I was hoping for more of a wilted lily, Ophelia drowing, pre-Raphaelite vibe, touched with cold stones, windy moors and… ohm well. You get the idea. Lutens is never afarid of extravagant emotion in his scents- I thinkthat’s why people react to them so passionately-but this does sound intriguing, even if it is not my personal idea of De Profundis. I am just a English Lit major trying to make her way in the world. I’ll have to give De Profundis a sniff (do they have it at Barneys?) and see if it conjures the ghosts of Oscar and Lord Alfred. November 3, 2011 at 6:18pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Lynn! I completely understand your idea, and it sounds perfect to me. I wish I could find such a fragrance. In some ways, De Profundis does fit it–the cool stones and windy moors aspect, for instance. Definitely give it a try! November 6, 2011 at 11:08pm Reply

  • Erry: I really want to try this. Could someone tell me where can I find sample of this?

    Thank you in advance. November 13, 2014 at 5:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s from the exclusive line, so either the boutique in Paris, Barneys in NYC or one of the decanting sites (surrendertochance.com). November 13, 2014 at 6:46pm Reply

  • katie1119: I sampled de Profundis last week and it is Glorious!! It opens with a sharp white waxy floral blast which is cool and clear and it morphs into a beautiful elegant sharply floral perfume which is exquisite and grown-up! Serge Lutens will change the way you perceive perfume but its a bit of a journey….I tried to like his frangrances years ago but didn’t “get it” – but now I do. And I will never ever go back to sweet hairspray type perfume! As for his Iris Silver Mist – ahhhh now THAT is genius!! Both are full bottle worthy for me – regardless of the cost. February 26, 2015 at 6:15am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s definitely a journey, and the more you smell, the more your tastes change. De Profundis is not the easiest among Lutens’s perfumes to like, but it’s such a complex and interesting blend that it’s worth giving it another chance. I’m glad that you did. February 26, 2015 at 6:50am Reply

  • Carla: Went back to your review because I have been wearing this lately. It is so beautiful. I think Lutens florals are my favorite, rather than his orientals! I thought with the birth of our son three months ago I would take to wearing something light yet gourmand like l’Eau d’Hiver or 100% Love but rather it has been beautiful abstract florals like De Profundis. I’m trying to wear the same thing for him and I don’t mind it. Since I don’t wear perfume every day now with the baby, when I do wear it I really notice it even if it the same one July 4, 2016 at 1:30pm Reply

    • Notturno7: Hi Carla, I read your posts and now wonder what other bell jar SL you have. Looks like we might have a similar taste.
      Lovely review!! I’ll have to check DP now, can’t wait.
      How we mourn the loss of the amazing, complicated greats from the past and how much character they lost being reformulated 😐
      And here we have Lutens creating his masterpieces. It balances things out a bit, thank heavens LOL 😍 July 17, 2016 at 3:07pm Reply

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