Serge Lutens Interview : Stakes & Professions in Perfumery


Below are a couple of excerpts from an interview with Serge Lutens published in Stakes & Professions in Perfumery, a compilations of essays from perfume industry professionals published by Éditions d’Assalit in 2007. For those interested in the professions available in the perfume industry, this book would prove to be useful. More than a few dozen of essays in the volume were written by various industry journalists, researchers, creative directors and perfumers like Jean-Luc Ansel, Jean-Pierre Subrenat, Frédéric Malle, Christophe Laudamiel, Patricia de Nicolai and Thierry Wasser. The introduction is written by Michael Edwards.

You have a very special place in perfumery, probably unique. What is your background and what were your first steps in the wake of the perfume?

My life is twisted where my images, decors, perfumes, and options took shape. I have no real background and it could probably be said that I am a very curious autodidact. My first perfume is Nombre Noir in 1980, its name and its principle were stated by its colour: black on black, no gilding, a revolution in the field of packaging! The first big step ahead where I stamp my tastes starts with Féminité du Bois (creation date, 1990), a perfume with cedar, not used then in female perfumery and offering a refined vision, new, identity obsessed, leaving the sinuous roads of commercial marketing, “the first prize”. Route de Cèdre discovered in Marrakech, starting with Féminité du Bois and finishing like a character from Proust made up of lies which give my truth: Cèdre, Serge Lutens (launched in 2005).

We know that you live in Marrakech. When your creations are mentioned, and one smells them, one word is conjured up immediately: the Orient. Do you challenge this? If not, where do you find your sources?

I have only one idea: I am revealed by my truth. Marrakech is a choice; I chose it, it chose me. The Orient for me, is a sparkle. The sun rises in the East; it is the Orient! One says that a pearl, when perfect in its glitter and purity, is an orient. Morocco gave me the taste of perfume, of a sense which was only waiting to give its sense.

“Creation, a Source of Revelation: An Interview with Serge Lutens,” Stakes & Professions in Perfumery, p. 156, 2007. Image of Serge Lutens’s photography from Lumiere.



  • Bela: “One says that a pearl, when perfect in its glitter and purity, is an orient.” SL can’t possibly have said that: it’s incorrect. Pearls ‘have’ an orient (which means iridescence); they are not an orient. This translation is ghastly. Otherwise, it’s very interesting. Thanks for posting, V. 🙂 April 22, 2008 at 8:01pm Reply

  • QuinnCreative: I’ve read several interviews with Serge Lutens and have arrived at the following conclusion:
    1. Whoever translates the interviews doesn’t speak idiomatic English, OR
    2. Serge Lutens is too remote for me to understand OR
    3. I’ve had a stroke and no longer understand English

    I always feel like I’m participating in a bad version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.” People around me oooh and ahhh, and I think “Huh?” April 22, 2008 at 11:59pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: J, it does leave a lot to be desired, you are right. I am still hoping that someday you will do an interview with Serge Lutens. 🙂 April 23, 2008 at 8:21am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Quinn, I think that the manner in which he speaks is very poetic and full of symbols. It makes it difficult to translate. In essence, you have very literal translations which hardly make sense. Still, he is such a fascinating character that I do not mind. April 23, 2008 at 8:24am Reply

  • Existentialist: I have to concur with the above commenters, but I am also reminded of times when I’ve listened to interviews with musicians, who seem brilliant when playing, but like complete idiots when forced to communicate with words. It is not necessarily their medium. It’s not an absolute; I am sure there are musicians who are quite articulate speakers, but some do come across as floundering in the world of language. And Quinn, your list made me laugh out loud. April 23, 2008 at 3:12pm Reply

  • sweetlife: What makes me giggle about this is that it sounds exactly, but *exactly* like the incomprehensible copy for the perfumes themselves. I am dying to know — V? Benoit? — what it’s like in French. And I want to know more, much more, about his journey to Marrakesh. I am fascinated by the way he has reversed the journey of perfume’s history (beginning in the Middle East, and then being ‘translated into French’ via trade, war, etc.).

    I remember plowing through tons of French theory in grad school and finally realizing that much of what made it sound so brilliant and obscure was the leftover French syntax in English translation. I’m wondering how much of that is at work here. April 23, 2008 at 12:36pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: A,it is probably true that a lot would get lost in translation anyway, and yes, it does sound like those translations of perfume copies. The reason I still choose to post them is because I find Lutens fascinating. I also love to hear more about his experiences in Marrakesh. April 23, 2008 at 7:52pm Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Existentialist, I find that in French his interviews do not have this completely surreal quality, however they are still very philosophical and poetic. On the other hand, I cannot but agree with–Serge Lutens photography expresses far more than what is possible to express in words.So do his perfumes. April 23, 2008 at 7:57pm Reply

  • Pantera Lilly: I totally understand Serge Lutens and I love to read any and all conversations or non-conversations he has with interviewers because he seems to be playing hide and seek, which he does really well. He fascinates me also and his creations are awesome. April 25, 2008 at 2:42pm Reply

  • Bela: Thank you for the vote of confidence, V. I would obviously love to interview SL, but I doubt it will ever happen.

    Sweetlife, SL speaks beautiful, elegant French but, like Victoria, I have never found his interviews (in that language) to be in any way ‘obscure’. He is in fact someone who has a lot of common sense. He does not sound like the blurbs that are written about his perfumes so I’m not sure whether he is the one who writes them. QuinnCreative has got it right: the translator should be shot. April 25, 2008 at 8:18pm Reply

  • k-amber: Victoria, I have a booklet named 3days With Serge Lutens by Les Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in hand. That is about a glimpse of his life in Morocco with beautiful pictures. I will send it to you, the text is all Japanese yet, if you like.

    I bought Five O’Clock Au Gingembre 🙂

    Kaori April 25, 2008 at 10:03pm Reply

  • QuinnCreative: I think what’s making me nuts is that my mom was French and I spoke French before I spoke English. But my mom’s French was not riddled with symbols, unless her threat to parboil us if our rooms weren’t cleaned was symbolic. I always took it literally.
    A good interpreter will use the language shift and will, for example, translate “don’t pull my leg,” to suit the language, so it would be “don’t hang noodles from my ears” if translated into Russian. And that’s what’s missing. So we aren’t getting Serge’s magnificent subtleties and intricate symbolism, we are getting a word-for-word translation, which is mystifying. Too bad, though. April 28, 2008 at 12:13am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Pantera Lilly, you put really well what I often think of his interviews. April 28, 2008 at 9:10am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: J, I really hope so, because you would have captured the nuances, having your passion and love for his creations. Let’s keep fingers crossed that it might happen! April 28, 2008 at 9:12am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Kaori, thank you for a kind offer. I will write to you!

    What do think of Five O’Clock Au Gingembre? I still have not smelled it. April 28, 2008 at 9:27am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Kaori, I just realized that I do not have your email address. Please write to me at [email protected] . Thank you. April 28, 2008 at 9:45am Reply

  • Boisdejasmin: Quinn, thank you for making me smile with your comment. 🙂 All of you say is true, which is why good translators are few and far between. I prefer to read his interviews in French. And yes, the translator above did not do a good job at all with this interview, but other interviews in the book are fine. April 28, 2008 at 9:51am Reply

  • k-amber: Five O’Clock Au Gingembre is velvet smooth, less edgy, compared to many other Lutens scents. I found its notes, ginger, honey, bitter sweet liqueur and others are mingled together very well, IMO.

    Kaori April 29, 2008 at 10:12pm Reply

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