Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.
“Prosperity, pleasure and success, may be rough of grain and common in fibre, but sorrow is the most sensitive of all created things,” wrote Oscar Wilde in his moving essay “De Profundis,” which inspired Serge Lutens’s wistful and delicate creation. De Profundis, which also refers to Psalm 130, means “from the depth” in Latin, and it is from the depths of sadness and despair that Wilde wrote his epistle during his imprisonment. Knowing the background story can easily color one's perception of a perfume, and this is especially true in the case of Lutens who is fond of complex and eclectic imagery. So, having learned of the origins of De Profundis, one might expect a somber composition of funereal darkness. Nothing could be further from the truth—De Profundis is a soaring, ethereal vignette of green flowers, full of surprises and such magic twists that I once again have to take off my hat to Lutens and his perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.
On skin, the vivid violet juice of De Profundis (a brighter and lighter shade than that of Sarrasins) explodes into a mass of green petals and delicate tendrils. The floral accord has a springtime delicacy reminiscent of bluebells and hyacinths. A bitter green note that oscillates between the freshness of rose buds and the spiciness of carnations anchors the initial dewy impression. The filigree effect of floral notes and the cool, polished character of the early stages are reminiscent of Bas de Soie, but the flowers of De Profundis lack the detached, metallic artificiality of the latter. Embellished with subtle indolic accents, the floral notes assume a lush, nature-like quality.
Descriptors like “crisp” and “rich” exist on opposite sides of the olfactory spectrum, but De Profundis manages to bring them together. In fact, the genius of the composition for me lies in its marriage of surprising elements. On the one hand, De Profundis has a classical woody oriental structure where the incense and woods create a mysterious, sonorous effect; on the other, its crisp green floral accord has a radiance and freshness of Balmain Vent Vert, Jean Patou Vacances, or perhaps even more so, Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps. As the composition develops, the velvety richness of incense fills the spaces in between the leaves and petals, while the dewy bluebell impression that I found so captivating persists into the late dry down.
I find De Profundis exquisitely beautiful and serene, rather than overly cerebral and dark. It is also elegant in the effortless style of Miss Dior and Chanel Cristalle (although I would hasten to add that it shares none of their olfactory profiles.) Its lack of drama might disappoint those who love Lutens in his darkest phases like Cuir Mauresque, Bornéo 1834 or Fumerie Turque. The magic of De Profundis is much more subtle, but I find it spellbinding from the very first inhale. Gossamer, yet long lasting and possessing a great sillage, De Profundis is a floral composition for those who like their blossoms more abstract and complex. As I have been wearing this fragrance over the past month and thinking of its sources of inspiration, it occurred to me that if sorrow and death are a necessary part of our allotment, then the other side of the coin is that beauty and love are equally as crucial.
Serge Lutens De Profundis is available as part of the exclusive line, which is sold only at Les Salons du Palais Royal, 142, rue de Valois, www.salons-shiseido.com. 120 euro, 75ml.
Adding as an aftertought: as
Sample: my own acquisition