Sunday, April 15, 2007

Serge Lutens Chêne

For my previous brief review of this fragrance, read Les Eaux Boisées here.

Chêne was created in 2004 by Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake for the Palais Royal exclusives line. It contains oak-bark tannin, cedar crystals, birch, immortelle, saps, black thyme, beeswax, tonka bean, rum absolute and moss. From that list of notes, you might expect it to smell like wood, and, well... you would be right. Many reviewers write of shadowed, primeval forests, with undergrowth and fallen leaves and autumnal hush - but Chêne has always conjured cut or curing wood and sawdust for me, with that familiar blend of airy, bitter freshness and powdery warmth. The Serge Lutens website in English aptly describes it as "the comfort and magnitude of oak", while the French booklet substitutes ampleur (or "fullness") for the latter word: both terms convey the expansive, radiant quality of the scent. As Luca Turin writes in The Secret of Scent: "If you've spent any time in a covered timber yard, you will know that it is hard not to feel good when in one of these natural cathedrals." The smell of wood feels cleansing and Chêne is a perfume built around this feeling.

The opening seconds of the fragrance are sharp, with an astringent, almost apple-like smell that hovers between a rum drink, aged vinegar and turpentine. This quickly calms into a very lightly sweet and diffusive woodiness. The richness from the rum and wax comes without the bottom-heavy sensuality that often accompanies scents based on sandalwood - while deep, Chêne is an uplifting, rather than grounded scent. The cedar is handled with a very light touch, adding a freshness that is particularly evident in the middle stages. The scent overall is medicinal, but also soft. Oak tannins, like all tannins, are bitter and have that bracing quality found in quinine and other tinctures of barks, but like the tannins in tea, wine, chocolate and tonic, there is something soothing and round about them in dilution. Indeed, bitterness is often a sign of comfort to come, as is implied by our understanding of "medicinal". (Oak bark teas have been used for centuries as anti-diarrheatics and gargles for sore throats. I try not to wonder how our ancestors figured out such a treatment worked for both problems.) Oakmoss, too, is bitter, but with a powdery, skin-warm finish and the later stages of the perfume are cozily bedded on the moss and tonka. The sillage of Chêne is gentle, and it therefore comes as a surprise that the lasting power is excellent. It is a personal, contemplative fragrance, oddly abstract in the way of some Serge Lutens perfumes: the core quality of the natural scent is amplified until there is a weird, almost alien solidity to the fragrance.

For now, Chêne is only available at the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido in Paris for 100 Euro for a 75 ml bell jar. It is rumoured to be joining the export collection as a limited edition in the fall.

13 Comments:

At 9:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was gorgeous. I had no idea, I was expecting something fierce and maybe even ugly. It feels ... monumental to me.

-- March

 
At 9:51 AM, Anonymous AngelaS said...

Gosh, this sounds like a must-smell to me. I know exactly what it smells like to be in a timber yard, at least a yard of new cut fir and pine. And then a touch of rum? Very intriguing.

 
At 11:26 AM, Blogger Erin said...

March: "Monumental" is an excellent word for what Chene is. (I was writing the review rather late at night, and I've modified my last paragraph a little after reflecting on your very apt word. I've also added the purchasing info.) There is something about it that always reminds me of a Gothic cathedral: impossibly high ceilings, ancient, waxed wooden pews, and the penetrating odor of chilled stone, dust and incense. I think some people do find the linament-like quality somewhat ugly, but like you, I find it beautiful.

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Angela: I hope you *do* find it intriguing. I can understand disliking it, but I am a little baffled by all the MUA'ers who find it boring! The rum adds depth rather than outright booziness, and I have a feeling that some people would prefer more alcohol content, as in Frapin 1270.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Dusan said...

E, my email address is duxilian at yahoo dot com. Can't wait to hear from you! :-)
Sorry, gotta dash off to classes, moi being the teacher of course ;-)

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Erin said...

Dusan: Thanks for suggesting the review! It was fun - but hard! It's difficult to describe your favourites, isn't it?

 
At 5:13 PM, Blogger Dusan said...

Thank you for this lovely lyrical review! I believe it is the only one of Chene in blogosphere which is why I've been anxiously waiting for you to pen it. And of course you got me all shivering, it must be a beauty - can't decide what makes it sound more appealing, the soft rummy woodiness or the bitterness which I dig in perfume. Of course, saying 'contemplative', 'cozily bedded on the moss and tonka', 'a weird, almost alien solidity to the fragrance' and March's 'monumental' to a freak who reads these words in flashing bold capitals sure (doesn't) help :-) So unless you'd reeealy love to read about a bank-robbing English teacher gone bonkers because he could no longer finance his wierd hobby, I suggest a matter-of-fact approach to writing reviews in future :-)
I've also discovered that medicinal accords (M7, L'Homme Sage and the open of Chergui, to my nose anyway) feel bizarrely comforting to me. Why is that I wonder.
Anyhows, thanks again for fuelling my passion for Serge Lutens and Chene!
HUGS

 
At 10:10 AM, Anonymous AngelaS said...

O.K., now I've tried Chene, and it's really a work of art. It's hard for me to call it comforting, because it I can't ignore it. I have to keep smelling myself. Do you get a little cumin or something--something really, really gentle but a little dirty--in the dry down? Anyway, thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to smell this one!

 
At 10:42 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Dusan: Thank you so much for your kind words! I, too, noticed that there are few reviews of Chene out there. I know Patty did a brief one, and that Marina did a reconsidertaion of it recently, but even though it's a favourite of Victoria's (BdJ) and Ina likes it, I don't think either have written a full review. And, come to think of it, it seems like the sort of thing Robin (NST) might like, but I've never heard her mention it. Sounds like Angela and March are on board, though. I have only sampled M7 twice, but I loved it and Chergui is wonderful of course, so it sounds like we have several faves in common! Hope you love Chene...

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Angela: I'm so glad that you at least do not find it boring! I think I might call it contemplative, rather than comforting. Several people have mentioned the presence of cumin - I'm not sure I get it, but I'm terrible with spice differentiation, and there is *some* kind of spice in there. There is something vaguely raunchy certainly, I just can't tell what it is: it isn't exactly animalic, but more "dirty" (as in actual dirt) so cumin is probably right.

 
At 10:50 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Oh, and happy birthday, Angela - may it be a fragrant one!

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger tmp00 said...

I just discovered your blog through the wonders of Google- I'll be spending some time wandering through-Chene was my first review as a guest of Marinas blog: I love and adore this scent. I feel comforted and oddly invincible when wearing it.

Wierd, eh?

Beautifully written review, I can't wait to read more!

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous JennyJo said...

Thank you very much for this review. I find Chêne extremely comforting as well as moving and melancholy, because of the sense of timelessness it excudes - just like cathedrals do, and old books and forests and my husbands workplace - he restores antiques. You have exactlty captured the essence of this scent I think. Thank you again.

 

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