The other day I was trying hard to figure out why exactly I disliked Serge Lutens’s L’Orpheline as much as I did. Because I didn’t simply not care for it; it made me recoil and I had difficulty wearing it multiple times in order to review it. With some fragrances, you need a longer courtship to learn their moods and see how they can match yours, but in the case of L’Orpheline, I liked it less and less with each wear.
On the face of it, L’Orpheline should be the right one for me. It’s an incense blend, and I love incense. It intriguingly promises to layer incense with cream, and I’m game for such surprises. It’s also the product of a collaboration between Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake, and I have so many perfumes created by them in my wardrobe that I can be easily called a fan. So, why does L’Orpheline fail so dramatically to entice me?
For one thing, from the moment I apply it, it reminds me of the smell inside a perfumery lab, where a variety of materials mix to a point that you don’t perceive them individually but as a fog of odor, dominated by something sharp and mineral. (It’s a marvel of the human nose that after a while you simply tune out this smell and don’t even notice it until someone draws your attention to it.) L’Orpheline, which starts on the cool, metallic notes of incense and aldehydes is too close to that smell, and since it doesn’t change much over its development, if you don’t like this kind of abstract, blurry effect, you’re out of luck.
Secondly, the plastic-like drydown of L’Orpheline turns me off further. Once it settles down, I get the promised cream and softness, but again, I can’t shake off the artificial, cold sensation, and the combination of peppery, resinous incense with milky, musky notes makes me queasy. I imagine myself inside a brightly lit, modern art installation made out of brand new plastic that still reeks of the factory.
On the plus side, L’Orpheline lasts really well, and despite its rich notes, it’s not at all heavy or dense. It can even be comforting, if you find the cool incense to be so, but you have to have more appetite for Serge Lutens doing odd things than I do. I will instead turn to my beloved but much neglected El Attarine, a woody violet topped with cumin. Unusual, intriguing, but still wearable.
Of course, if you love L’Orpheline, please comment!
Serge Lutens’s L’Orpheline is available at Serge Lutens’s boutique, Barneys and other retailers carrying the export collection. 50ml/€99