Deliver us from Good!
Jasmine petals are as white as snow.
Black is my religion.1
I will say this for Serge Lutens, he continues to tempt me. And if you find elaborate but cryptic back story appealing, he is obviously your man.2 But it's been some time since I've parted with my money for a new Serge Lutens fragrance, and my piggy bank is safe from La Religieuse.
La Religieuse, if you have been paying attention, is billed as the brand's latest take on jasmine, following A La Nuit ("This jasmine has only one thought in its head: paint the town white!") and Sarrasins ("I took white jasmine and contrived to make it as black as a panther, as black as night, which is embodied in this fragrance.").3 The name has obvious religious connotations, but also calls up the pastry, shown just below in a (likewise enticing) violet version from Ladurée. Add to this the few notes mentioned in the press besides jasmine — musk, civet and incense — and yes, you could say I was interested.
But alas. The opening is jasmine, yes, but the jasmine is mingling with other floral notes — it's not by any means a soliflore, nor is the jasmine even what I'd call front and center. La Religieuse is at first sharp and citrusy, then rich and deep and heavily floral, and it's simultaneously cold and sweet (read the review at Kafkaesque for a more detailed description of the early stages: hyacinth, lily and chrysanthemum are mentioned, among others). For a time, I thought it might not be the jasmine I'd hoped for but it might be something else that I could love anyway.
Then around the 30 minute mark, La Religieuse slowly wraps itself in gauzy layers of clean musk, and the florals become muted and vague. In terms of the conceptual framework, you could perhaps say it takes on the habit and veil, and retreats from the world? Except that nothing much really happens after that. The base is sweetish woods, a bit creamy, but nothing like so delicious as pastry, and the incense, if you can find it, is as subdued as the rest. Mostly, La Religieuse is just clean, teetering dangerously in the direction of bland. It's not quite dryer sheet, but it's close (Persolaise notes "an intimation of Johnson's baby shampoo, circa 1985").
Verdict: La Religieuse is not a scrubber (Laine de Verre!), but nor did I find it enjoyable to wear. Puzzling over the relationship of the juice to the back story was an engaging exercise for a short while, but I have neither the patience nor the interest to spend long on such matters in the absence of a compelling scent, and without the back story, La Religieuse is not what I'd call compelling. I used to think that Serge Lutens' customary reticence about his fragrances grew out of a desire to let the juice to speak for itself, but lately I am not so sure — it is almost like he wants us to take his word for it that they are grand statements, even when they smell suspiciously ordinary. I will give the last word to Victoria, who notes at Bois de Jasmin that there is "No need to go all the way to Palais Royal for this experience; your local department store will do".
Serge Lutens La Religieuse is available in 50 ml Eau de Parfum, $150. It was developed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.
1. Via Serge Lutens at Facebook.
2. As Angie said when she reviewed L'Orpheline, "I imagine members of some future cult bowing to a huge black-and-white portrait of Serge Lutens while chanting bits from leather-bound perfume box inserts."
3. Both descriptions via the Serge Lutens website.