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Serge Lutens is in Complete Harmony with His Perfume

02 May 2024

Serge Lutens sits down at the Ritz to answer a set of questions. Just as I expected, his responses were cryptic and insightful. As one of the most celebrated and innovative perfumers, make-up artists, hair stylists and designers of the last half century, Lutens reflects on his life and work with meticulous care.

Although some people might not be immediately familiar with his name, you will, at one point or another, have seen his advertisement campaigns for Shiseido or his painterly make-up and hair in editorials for American Vogue and Le Monde. On the occasion of this conversation, Serge Lutens released his new fragrance, La Fille Tour de Fer, which blooms with accents of berry, iris and rose. The scent is sharp and distinctive, just like Serge Lutens himself.

Rachel Weinberg How are you today, Mr Lutens?

Surge Lutens Not good nor bad; often floating between these two extremes.

RW Where are you right now? Could you describe what it is like there?

SL I am currently staying at the Ritz Hotel in Paris. I am in the Marcel Proust Salon, seated in a crimson velvet armchair, facing your questions, to which I am not sure I can respond adequately.

RW You started your career in Paris working for Haute Couture houses, Balenciaga and Dior, and then Shiseido in the 1980s. What motivated your decision to transition from a career in fashion to one in beauty?

SL Talking about a career in my case wouldn't be fair; I would rather describe it as a journey through life because it's more like a mental illness or at least a disturbing condition that has guided my path. I could have just as easily been a priest, a dancer, an actor, or a beggar, anything but career oriented. My journey begins at the age of 14 in Lille, my hometown, where I am apprenticed in a hair salon. There, I learn the ropes, and at the age of 20, in 1962, I move to Paris.

In Paris, I embark on a very fruitful period with the magazines and publications of the time, where I try to express my vision of femininity through jewellery, hairstyles, makeup, and fashion. I delve into the world of Haute Couture with Balenciaga, and later, I join the House of Christian Dior, where, in 1967, I am entrusted with creating their very first makeup line. I spent thirteen years there before joining Shiseido in 1980.

Having a desire to immerse myself in Japan, a country I had known since the early 1970s, I contact them and over the following years, I develop their advertising campaigns (photography, TV), packaging, and make-up colours. In 1980, I took my first steps into the world of perfumery with the creation of Nombre Noir. A decade later, I introduce a new approach to perfumery, making it more precious, more artisanal, leading to the creation of the Palais Royal Salons in Paris.

It can be said that what I have brought to the world of beauty over more than sixty years has forever transformed this industry. I have been imitated and even plundered, the ultimate form of flattery! The press has greatly aided in this recognition.

RW You began as the founder of your namesake perfume house. Which parts of the business are you now involved in?

SL I am the very essence of the brand, its driving force, its embodiment, if you will. Image, packaging, decor, fragrances, makeup, stores, communication... I am everywhere; it's quite consuming.

RW Can you describe your approach to tradition and innovation?

SL Creation is not approached in these terms. It’s a path to be taken based on what one has to say. If I isolated the image of women in my expressions, it was to preserve it, to make it inaccessible to the unliveable world in which we live. For this, I conceived settings and masses. I have never considered things in terms of tradition or modernity, but in terms of celebrating women. For me, it’s a sentence to my own death because she has taken up all the space. The woman is the flower of my suffering, she can only bloom through the gardener that I am.

RW How do you view the process of creation in relation to your work with perfume, and how does this interaction influence the final product?

SL Once again, creation is not seen as a choice (or else it's a deception). It is passive but it activates us. The perfume and I must be in complete harmony, like a dance with music.

RW Can you share the inspiration behind creating La Fille Tour de Fer, and what experiences do you hope customers will have?

SL The customer, as you call them, is not the end goal but the consequence. What I do is a response to something. People either connect with it (I won't say they love it) or they detest it, it's all the same. I might even enjoy being disliked for something I've achieved. There's a sense of pride in that. In any case, the person who receives what I've created must be carried away and irresistibly swept off their feet. I do things no other way than with total commitment; I am not a merchant.

RW What led you to direct your focus specifically towards women with La Fille Tour de Fer, especially considering that many of your perfumes are designed to be unisex?

SL I’m not interested in these stories of gender positioning through perfumes. Perfume is primarily a call. Willpower counts very little; obsession prevails. To speak of a woman, whether she's made of iron, wood, or flowers, is to speak of the obsession within me. The ironclad girl is about willpower and perhaps, deep down, it's about the last will, the ultimate will!

RW At 82 years old, what continues to motivate you?

SL Perfumery isn't a driving force; the driving force is expression, the expression of fleeing reality through the vision of a woman, or perhaps fleeing myself to reach the relative tranquillity of the moment.

Serge Lutens' La Fille Tour De Fer is now available to order

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SEE ISSUE #06 HERE. The theme for this issue, Revelations, delves into the unfiltered aspects of life. It’s an appreciation and exploration of raw beauty, where authenticity reigns supreme; the unconventional is not just accepted but celebrated. In a world of manufactured perfection, this issue chooses to validate our quirks and idiosyncrasies. After all, they are what make us inimitable.

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