Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire : Perfume Review

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What can one expect from a fragrance inspired by Billie Holiday’s gardenia, called Une Voix Noire (Black Voice) and created by the dream team of Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake? Heady, dark, convoluted, perhaps? Well, Une Voix Noire is none of these things. It has a surprising combination of softness and warmth. Its presence is generous, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s dramatic without being heady or dense. Une Voix Noire feels velvety the moment you put it on, and it gracefully moves from one stage to another. Frankly, if Lutens said that he was inspired by ballerina Maya Plisetskaya’s Black Swan, rather than by Lady Day, I would have believed him.

I admit that this Lutens wasn’t love at first inhale the way Bois de Violette or De Profundis have been for me.  I anticipated the heady, the dark and the bittersweet, and I missed them in this soft perfume.  Nevertheless, I’m glad that I went along for the ride, because Une Voix Noire forced me to take our courtship slowly and to fall in love with it one layer at a time.

And layers are what Une Voix Noire is all about. The first impression is of crushed strawberries and lots of green jasmine, but these accords are transparent enough to see the rich base notes of tobacco, vanilla and musk. The gardenia, which is creamy and mellow at first and later indolic and honeyed, is a constant backdrop. At one point, it’s laced with rose, but at another with violet. It ends up soaked with iris and sweet tobacco.

Une Voix Noire is not a heady big white floral like Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia or Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower. There is nothing of the dewy, fresh blossom about it, and although the gardenia impression is obvious, it’s a flower on the brink of turning brown. It smells caramelized and woody, with a lingering sweetness that makes me think of chestnut honey and gingerbread. In terms of its character and diffusion, Une Voix Noire reminds me of Rose de Nuit and El Attarine. It doesn’t smell like those perfumes, but it has a similar combination of richness and transparency. For men who like their fragrances with an unusual twist, Une Voix Noire is worth sampling.

Does Une Voix Noire make me think of Billie Holiday? Yes and no. When I hear her “Blue Moon,” I see myself in my tiny university apartment as I sit on the windowsill, toasting a brick wall across the street with a glass of wine. “And when I looked the moon had turned to gold,” sings Billie, and I feel as if I’m seeing that same moon turning gold. Billie Holiday’s voice captures her pain, her sorrow, her passion; its intensity is unsettling.

But Une Voix Noire is sweet-tempered and tender. It has moderate tenacity on my skin–I wish I could turn up the volume slightly! The perfume wraps me in its mellow embrace, and it feels comforting and relaxing. Then again, can there be anything more languid than Holiday singing “Easy Living”?

What sways me the most about Une Voix Noire is its ability to weave a story. It’s unpredictable, yes, but every element of this perfume is compelling and beautiful. It’s a blossom that spent most of its life on someone’s corsage, rather than on a branch in the garden. Press your nose to your skin in the late drydown, and you will notice a metallic note. Might it be coming from the pin that holds the flower in place? Inhale deeper, and you will discover a hint of salty, warm skin. “I looked for every loveliness; it all came true,” I want to repeat after Holiday.

Serge Lutens Une Voix Noire Eau de Parfum is part of a Paris exclusive collection. It is now available via sergelutens.com, 75ml is 130 euros.

Sample: my own acquisition

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66 Comments

  • Jack Sullivan: You are paying a beautiful tribute to the evocative power of SL perfumes, Victoria. Beyond the scents themselves (and what scents!) this is something I like in them, this ability to take us to another time and place.

    I wonder why so many tobacco-based perfumes are being released this Fall? There is Volutes, Une voix noire, Frapin’s Spekeasy, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard about several others. Some kind of compensation for the increasingly severe cigarette ban? September 24, 2012 at 8:06am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s an interesting observation. I also noticed that there were many new tobacco scents, but I assumed that it has to do with the warmer fall launches. Plus, the floral oriental genre is always growing in popularity. September 24, 2012 at 9:42am Reply

      • Jack Sullivan: Of course tobacco scents are perfect for the season, but there has to be more than that. Perhaps the nostalgia of the golden age of Hollywood with its glamorous smoking stars – you know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?… September 24, 2012 at 9:57am Reply

        • Victoria: I like your romantic-nostalgic explanation much better!
          It’s possible that it also goes hand in hand with the “noir” trend we’ve seen some much of. And the back story for Diptyque Volutes is very much about the glamour and nostalgic. September 24, 2012 at 10:04am Reply

  • Rachel: A beautiful review, V! Like Jack, I’m attracted to SLs for their evocative power: I feel transported to another universe when I wear them. Rose de Nuit is one of my enduring loves, wonder why it’s so rarely mentioned on blogs. September 24, 2012 at 8:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I like the way you put it, Rachel. These scents are like little stories. Quite fascinating.

      As for Rose de Nuit, I see it time to time. It’s mentioned often on Basenotes, for instance. September 24, 2012 at 9:50am Reply

  • smellslikeroses: Now I’ll be humming “My Man” all day long! :) September 24, 2012 at 8:27am Reply

    • Victoria: The most catchy one for me is “Crazy He Calls Me.” :) September 24, 2012 at 9:51am Reply

      • smellslikeroses: Ah, there is no voice like Billie’s! September 24, 2012 at 1:39pm Reply

        • Victoria: I’m playing her CD right now, feeling very nostalgic for my university days (although not missing the tiny shoebox apartment and its view of a brick wall). :) September 24, 2012 at 3:58pm Reply

  • Marc: I sampled it a week ago at Les Salons du Palais Royal and I was like you in my thoughts. At first I didn’t like it that much because it wasn’t enough tobacco and smoke for me. But I was intrigued by it and kept coming back to the boutique to try it many times. Now I purchased a full bottle!

    I’m a guy and it doesn’t smell feminine on me. I get lots of compliments on it. September 24, 2012 at 9:08am Reply

    • Victoria: It does sound like my experience too. I don’t really know what I expected, but definitely not what Une Voix Noire turned out to be! I do like it very much. I just wish that it lasted better on me. September 24, 2012 at 9:52am Reply

  • Zazie: Lovely review – I particularly enjoyed the visual you chose to accompany this post!
    As a fan of white flowers in general and of tubereuse crimnelle in particular, I couldn’t wait for the first review of une voix noire.
    (for a real skin test, I fear I will have to wait much more)
    I love serge lutens’ line, he is really a storyteller and a poet, and his fragrances make me dream, though admittedly I love and own just a few of his pefumes. I like most of them, but as my tastes lean towards classic symphonic compositions, I always feel that SL fragrances are not “real” perfumes…
    Intriguing, exotic, witty smells yes… somtimes that’s ok with me, but…
    How does UNVN compare to a la nuit or tubereuse criminelle? You describe it as nuanced and layered, but I fear the uber-linearity of SL’ florals… I am so curious about it!!! September 24, 2012 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: The color of the liquid in the bottle–grey-lavender, not rich brown as in the photo–made me think of this Lady Day album cover. :)

      Une Voix Noire is less of a floral than either A La Nuit or Tubereuse Criminelle. It’s really more of an oriental, and the tobacco notes are prominent. You won’t think “a gardenia soliflore” when you smell it. But as far as linearity, it is like most Lutens. There are lots of different twists and turns, but you see all layers at once. On the other hand, because there is much more to this blossom than just petals, it feels interesting and complex. September 24, 2012 at 9:56am Reply

      • Maowel: Dear Victoria,

        This is exactly where you nail it, may I say! You do see all layers at once and, in fact, all the way through (which is really wonderful I feel, as the florals never yield to the oriental accord nor do they overwhelm it). Just like you, I didn’t fall for it at first sniff, but it’s been sitting on my bedside table for a week and I’m now realizing what a beauty it is. The best Lutens in years to my nose ! It’s literally taken me hours to review it, by the way… ;) September 24, 2012 at 2:41pm Reply

        • Victoria: Isn’t it just fascinating how Une Voix Noire develops? I love seeing all of the facets at once, but they seem to be ever-changing. Almost like rotating a kaleidoscope. September 24, 2012 at 4:00pm Reply

  • Emma: What struck me was how sweet it was in the opening, I get the strawberries, actually berries in general, like blueberries and more candied than crushed, that combined to honeyed notes. I believe the metallic note is a rendition of a narcotic effect like cocaine, I do smell a line or two or cocaine in there. I don’t get the tobacco note, but will pay attention to it, in a way this is a perfume hard to describe, it’s definitely not a straight gardenia, and I’m glad it’s not, it’d be disappointing for a Lutens. September 24, 2012 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: Emma, the kind of tobacco I get is a freshly cure tobacco leaf. Not the pipe tobacco and definitely nothing like a cigarette. It’s not smoky, but mellow, woody, honeyed. Usually tobacco is laced with plenty of tonka bean/coumarin to get the effect across, but here it feels very different.

      The strawberries really took me by surprise! September 24, 2012 at 10:58am Reply

  • OperaFan: I don’t know of any specific tuberose-tobacco combination scents out there, but it really does seem like a logical pairing. This is a lovely review and really makes me want to try the perfume. I’ve not found many SL fragrances that work for me, but maybe this will be among the few. Certainly – at least based on your impressions, there does not seem to be as much of the usual quirkiness that are found in many of his scents. September 24, 2012 at 10:45am Reply

    • Victoria: I think that one is expecting a big, bold thing like Chergui or Tubereuse Criminelle, one would be disappointed. Or if one is expecting a gardenia petal shower like Tom Ford Velvet Gardenia. Nothing of a sort here. There is a compelling elegance to this perfume, which feels on skin more like Boxeuses and De Profundis, rather than other thicker, heavier Lutensian blends (Ambre Sultan!) I’m curious if others find the same moderate tenacity as I do. September 24, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

      • Maowel: Definitely a sibling to Boxeuses, standing close to one’s skin but with a pretty long-lasting power. September 24, 2012 at 2:42pm Reply

        • Victoria: The close to the skin, intimate aura of Une Voix Noire is so alluring. I have to say that it does elicit compliments though. I wore it today and a friend commented that I smelled very good. September 24, 2012 at 4:01pm Reply

    • L.: Re: tuberose-tobacco combination scents, Histoires de Parfums Tubereuse 3 – Animal. September 24, 2012 at 11:07am Reply

      • Victoria: I just remembered Cocoa Tuberose by Providence Perfume, which has a nice tobacco note. I don’t remember if Nuit de Tubereuse has tobacco or not, but something in it reminds me of a tobacco leaf. September 24, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

        • smellslikeroses: I was going to mention Nuit de Tubereuse too. I grew up near the tobacco plantations and it reminds me how the leaves smelled. September 24, 2012 at 1:38pm Reply

          • Victoria: That must have been a fascinating memory. I have a few dried tobacco leaves that a friend who visited a plantation gave me, and they have such a wonderful mellow scent. September 24, 2012 at 3:57pm Reply

        • OperaFan: Sounds like I’ll have to give Nuit de Tubereuse another go around. It didn’t appeal to me initially, but then I’ve found out from others that it took them several tries and then they became hooked. September 26, 2012 at 9:51am Reply

  • L.: This is a compelling review and I love that this scent is tender. It would perhaps have been easier to make a moody dramatic Billie Holiday gardenia, and perhaps nuance takes more courage?

    As a personal request, could you tell me if there is amber in this – I can’t wear SLs with amber, so a potential lemming is depending on this info! September 24, 2012 at 11:11am Reply

    • Victoria: There is definitely something unexpected about the way it develops and the images it evokes. If it’s a Billie Holiday perfume, then it speaks about Billie’s happier moments.

      There isn’t much amber here, so don’t worry. It has a fairly transparent drydown, which is again unexpected given the rich notes. September 24, 2012 at 3:54pm Reply

      • L.: I like the idea of a happier memory of Billie Holiday rather than a tragic one.

        There was too much amber in Bas de Soie for me (!), there’s something abt the type used in Lutens. But I’ll definitely look for this to try. September 24, 2012 at 4:25pm Reply

        • Victoria: Hmm, you might find it similar then. Either way, it’s definitely not a perfume for blind buys! September 25, 2012 at 6:36am Reply

  • Nicola: What a compelling review Victoria! Gardenia is a difficult one isn’t it as I understand it is next to impossible to gather its essence so most, if not all, gardenia notes are compositions in themselves. So then I suppose that gives perfumers some licence. I am deeply fond of Velvet Gardenia and was expecting this to be in similar vein but rather wonderfully it seems not. I admit to preferring M. Luten’s less dense fragrances; it’s not as if complexity or interest is sacrificed! And it sounds the perfect scent for Autumn with the suggestion of the flower browning. I’m just going to have to acquire samples of this and De Profundis pronto! Nicola September 24, 2012 at 12:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: De Profundis won me over completely, but Une Voix Noire was a slower burn. Recently I’ve neglected all of my other favorites to wear it. You know, I’m discovering that I also prefer Lutens’s less thick perfumes. There is definitely enough complexity in Une Voix Noire or De Profundis for that matter. September 24, 2012 at 3:56pm Reply

  • marsi: It totally doesn’t sound like me but I love your review anyway. Especially love “When I hear her “Blue Moon,” I see myself in my tiny university apartment as I sit on the windowsill, toasting a brick wall across the street with a glass of wine. ” I’ve done the same thing listening to my mixtapes of blues and jazz. :) September 24, 2012 at 1:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: :) The student days! Thank you, Marsi. September 24, 2012 at 3:59pm Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: OOOOH, SWOON, Victoria! You manage to name check not only one of my favorite simgers of all time, the glorious Lady Day (and for those who have only seen the movie- Diana Ross gave a wonderful, startling performance, but her voice is much thinner and lighter than the real Billie Holliday, so when you hear the real thing, it’s like being wrapped in velvet), but also Maya Pliesetskaya, a dancer who always fascinated me although I never saw her perform- there is a film version of her “Anna Karennia”with the Bolshoi that I saw at a museum a long time ago, but other than that, I only know her from photos and what other people have written. An extraordinary, unusual beauty and a dancer of enormous power and grace. You make this perfume sound like a complete must have- who do I know who is going to Paris soon? My favorite Lutens is A la Nuit, so I lean towards the heady and intoxicating, but the idea of a gardenia inspired by Billie Holliday is too divine to resist. I want to put “Good Morning Heartache” on repeat, strip naked and drench myself in it…. sorry TMI. September 24, 2012 at 5:20pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, Lynn, you must watch a movie about Maya Pliesetskaya called Maya. There are interviews and beautiful clips of her dancing in it. I especially loved her explanation of how she danced Carmen (“Bolero was so repetitive, I couldn’t remember the steps!”)

      Une Voix Noire is a very different animal from A La Nuit, but if you like your florals dusky and on the verge of decay, it’s worth exploring. September 25, 2012 at 6:38am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: PS- Didn’t that bastard Tom Ford discontinue Velvet Gardenia? He should be horse whipped. September 24, 2012 at 5:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: He did! The best perfume in his collection, as far as I’m concerned. :( September 25, 2012 at 6:38am Reply

  • Amer: what’s with all the gardenias all of a sudden? Coincidence or espionage? September 24, 2012 at 6:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: White florals rule! :) September 25, 2012 at 7:03am Reply

  • Undina: Usually I try not to read reviews of the perfumes that I plan to test soon but I was curious to see how many stars you gave to this one… and then I was curious to read why… ;) Beautiful review and, of course, now I want to try it even more! September 24, 2012 at 8:41pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Undina. I hope that it wasn’t too much of a spoiler, and I look forward to reading your thoughts about this perfume. September 25, 2012 at 7:04am Reply

  • Alyssa: *SIGH*

    This is a non-export, isn’t it.

    Oh wait! Will it be part of the new bell jar line up at Barney’s? Well at least I’ll get to smell it even if I can’t buy it. September 24, 2012 at 9:30pm Reply

    • Alyssa: Adore the feel and aura of Boxeuses. This sounds just as lovely. Go Serge. September 24, 2012 at 9:31pm Reply

      • Victoria: Me too! Boxeuses has gotten lots of the prime real estate on my dressing table as of late. They are different in terms of their scent, but they have a similar elegant, mellow character. September 25, 2012 at 7:06am Reply

    • Victoria: It is a non-export, alas. But yes, I bet that it will make it over to Barneys, as they seem to have most of the collection there. September 25, 2012 at 7:05am Reply

  • Edward: Hello Victoria,

    Your review makes me want to try this. And it’s been sometime since I enjoyed my last SL bottle (Douce Amere). “Caramelized flower” you say? Then this is definitely a must try for me. Thanks for reviewing.

    Regards,
    Edward September 25, 2012 at 3:43am Reply

    • Victoria: Edward, you know how gardenia or tuberose smells when it’s about to be tinged brown? It still smells beautiful (not at all rotten or musty), but there is now that hint of brown sugar and leather to its scent. That’s what Une Voix Noire makes me think of.

      Douce Amere is another of my favorites from Lutens. It has such a great combination of bitterness and sweetness. September 25, 2012 at 7:08am Reply

      • Edward: This stage of flower (not rotten but about to be tinged down) is a phase I would like to smell. I have an automatic negative response to any fragrance which smells like a bouquet of “fresh” flowers. It reminds me of a funeral parlour. Sorry if this is gross but it is the image I associate white flowers with.
        :-( September 25, 2012 at 7:43am Reply

        • Victoria: Lilies do that to me. I suppose that’s because they are commonly used in churches to begin with. September 25, 2012 at 10:30am Reply

  • solanace: What a lovely review. Your comment about “wanting to turn up the volume” was brilliant! Now I am ordering a sample of this, along with De Profundis, Bois de Violette and Boxeuses. So many Lutens to try, so little time… September 25, 2012 at 4:32am Reply

    • Victoria: I guess, I just wanted it to project a bit more, but all in all, it’s intimate aura is very beautiful.

      BTW, you’ve selected all of my Lutens’s favorites. If you added Iris Silver Mist to those, you would have a quarter that invariably makes me happy. :) September 25, 2012 at 7:10am Reply

  • kathleen: I’m glad I went in on a split. After reading your review, I’d be kicking myself if I hadn’t September 25, 2012 at 8:24am Reply

    • Victoria: I hope that you will enjoy it! Just don’t make my initial mistake with it and don’t rush to judgement. It’s a perfume that requires several trials to reveal all of its facets. September 25, 2012 at 10:31am Reply

  • mysterious_scent: I recently tested Une Voix Noire. It strikes me as a sweet, honeyed flower (mainly white flower such as gardenia and jasmine), in the same vibe as Annick Goutal Songes and Isabey Fleur Nocturne. It definitly clicked my button but since I already have the other two, I doubt I’ll buy it. September 26, 2012 at 3:52am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: “Dusky floral on the verge of decay”! Sounds like everything I ever wanted in life, not just perfume! September 27, 2012 at 6:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Then it is worth trying, Lynn! :) September 28, 2012 at 6:28am Reply

  • Ninamar: Hallo, I’m new to write but am an old fan of yours… I just wanted to signal another perfume inspired by BH: it’s one of the latest relaeses from the Italian perfumer Maria Candida Gentile, it’s called Lady Day and it is, as expected, around the gardenia theme, this time green and balsamic. I haven’t smell it yet, but I can highly recommend all previous perfumes from this splendid line (Sideris, Exultat, Cinabre…). Anyway, I’ve heard new releases are as beautiful as the previous ones. Look forward to trying them! October 1, 2012 at 10:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Ninamar! I’m definitely going to check it out. October 8, 2012 at 11:34am Reply

  • Julz: Your review is absolutely spot-on V’, and pretty much exactly what I too got on sniffing UVN. (Even down to the “wasn’t love at first inhale”, which it too was not for me.) :) … I was actually getting somewhat worried, as reading all the other reviews so far, none sounded like what I was sniffing. Glad to hear that my nose is not on the fritz, and that at least someone else perceived UVN exactly as I did. ~ Thanx for the lovely review.
    ~ As for that gorgeous pic of Ms.Day, if those are supposed to be gardenias (& not just ‘gardenia-esque-feathers’) then they are positively gargantuan gardenias. ;) October 7, 2012 at 10:31pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such an intriguing perfume, isn’t it? I didn’t know what to make of it at first, but now I can’t wait till I can get a full bottle.

      :) Those look more like feathers to me too! But I love the picture anyway. October 8, 2012 at 11:35am Reply

      • Julz: Nope, I totally agree, I think the pic fits the ‘fume perfectly.(Even more so than had they just been plain gardenias methinks.) – As to me the ‘fume almost has the texture of feathers on the skin. It’s so much softer than I expected. (So my flippant comment was in no way meant as a criticism) :)

        And yep, UVN has certainly been growing on me, altho’ if I’m honest I’m not quite at ‘FB craving’ yet. It’s still very different from what I was expecting. So as much as I’m now starting to enjoy it, I’ve yet to get my head all the way around it. :) October 8, 2012 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Maureen: V–Finally got my hands on a small decant of this one-I’ve been jonesing for one since I read your review. This will likely sound like sacrilege, but the opening to me smacks of grape popsicle. It’s so very, very sweet. The first time I tried it I completely wrote it off as one that I just ‘didn’t get’. I’m trying again today and am really enjoying the layers that are revealing themselves. I particularly like the smoke/tobacco I’m getting as I approach dry down. In fact I like it very much–but can I get past the opening? I don’t know. Perhaps just a ‘rental’ for me, not a FB. Thanks very much for your review! November 8, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re spot on about the grape top note (which reads as wild strawberry to me). It is sweet, but it grew on me. I love how it introduces all of those rich, smoky layers later. I don’t know if the velvety and luscious effect would be possible without it. But it’s definitely an acquired taste. November 8, 2012 at 11:29am Reply

  • June Coates: Beautiful review Victoria. I adore this perfume, it is so enveloping. I have a few times thought I smelled a faint cannabis note late in the dry down, which I think is extremely knowing. January 30, 2013 at 9:50am Reply

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