Perfume genius: An interview with Serge Lutens
Many may only be familiar with Serge Lutens through his eponymous perfume house that was launched in 2000. But delve a bit deeper and you'll catch a glimpse of his rich history in the fields of photography, filmmaking and art directing. Working with Vogue and houses like Dior, it was in the 1980s, that the French-born Lutens put his artistry in hair, makeup and art direction to perfect use by creating iconic imagery, for Japanese cosmetics house Shiseido. The bold images were so sensational and singular that they influenced a generation of makeup artists and photographers.
Today, Lutens still works with Shiseido via his fragrance line. Like all things Lutens, don't expect the usual smell-a-like scents and obfuscating bottles. His fragrances are as elegant and unexpected as they come and include game-changing classics like Féminité du Bois and Ambre Sultan. Lutens spoke to us about the revamped Black Collection, the moment the brand's newest scent 'Dent de Lait' — which intriguingly translates to milk teeth — is suposed to capture, and answers the question as to why he never wears perfume.
You have been in the perfumery business for decades and created your own line in 2000. How has the world of perfumery changed since then and why do you think this is so?
I have influenced, you could even say revolutionised, the perfume and makeup industries. This, the work I wanted, and had to do, has today been rendered meaningless by marketing. It produces a sort of death of which, if I wasn't careful, I'd become the honourable corpse.
What is your vision for Serge Lutens perfumery in 2017 and beyond, and why did you decide to create a new look for the bottles in the relaunched Black Collection?
The Serge Lutens brand has paved the way and will continue to do so. The new Black Collection and the Section d'or line will no doubt shortly be joined by a third line. Each is the unique representation of a type of perfume, a choice, a creation.
With Serge Lutens, the scents are unique and also iconic compared to the mass fragrances we smell today. How did you decide on the look of your perfumes and what is your inspiration for each new scent that you create like the new Dent de Lait?
It is my own story that I bottle, include in stories, and, in some way, yours too... 'Dent de lait' or how we make our choices at the age of reason (around the age of 7 when you lose your first teeth). That child may become an artist, an intellectual, a fool, a dictator, a criminal, a high class dancer, etc. It's the lottery of heredity!
From all the different mediums that you have expressed your art, do you have a favourite? Why?
Image was always the principle behind all these activities. I needed to visualise, through the hairstyle first and then makeup, photography, perfumes, words, etc. I was trying to get an answer to the question I was asking myself.
When you created the iconic makeup look for Shiseido in 1980, it was something the world had never seen before. What inspired you to create that look and that campaign and were you surprised at the lasting impact that it has had?
That image, that style, developed through the brands I was working for. It began officially in 1967. At that time, it was Christian Dior and that very distinctive eye makeup. It continued with Shiseido from 1980, and matured. It was never a dialogue about fashion but rather a message for the subconscious. This is perhaps why it is etched so deeply in people's memories.
What is the fragrance that Mr Serge Lutens himself wears? Do you change your scents according to the seasons or the time of day, or do you stick to a signature scent?
I never wear any. For me, perfume bridges the gap between image and words, between the past and the, hopefully not vain, hope of a future other than as an embalmer. Signed, the deceased!
Serge Lutens perfumes are available at Escentials