This summer I came across the entire Serge Lutens Collection Noir in a boutique where I could smell them at my own pace and in peace. In this repackaged collection reside many of my favorite Lutens' fragrances; I'll name just two: Ambre Sultan and Chergui. As I sniffed, something was wrong. First, I felt the bottles; they were not hot to the touch. Next, I gauged their placement; no way the sun could reach them. Then I inspected the packaging closely: were these knock-offs? (Didn't seem to be; the store I was in is respected.) I realized the bad perfume I was experiencing was likely due to recent reformulations and I'm guessing we can't blame IFRA this time around but, perhaps, a cynical, budget-cutting philosophy at Shiseido. Who knows?
Ambre Sultan has lost all its glory; what is now Ambre Sultan is shallow (its lively, gutsy character excised), miserly (the formula seems watered down, thin) and cheap (no rich, expensive ingredients here). Chergui was even more forlorn: I felt ashamed for noticing his mutilated juice...a sorry, nose-clogging, blob of a scent. I won't go on. Collection Noir. The name "black collection" is apt for those of us mourning "dead" perfumes that are now filled with stuffing and harsh chemicals, and covered in bad make-up.
Le Participe Passé is the newest member of the Collection Noir. Lots of bloggers and online perfume commenters have praised it, saying it's a return to form for a brand that's faltered over the last years with a series of shudders in bottles: Dent de Lait, Laine de Verre, La Religieuse, L'Eau de Paille, Serge Noir (a scary Halloween concoction...or was).
I won't quote what Serge Lutens, the man, says about Le Participe Passé because it's gibberish (as usual), but my experience with Le Participle Passé over the last week was positive, if not ecstatic. It smells like the small, amber-colored vials of perfume you'll find in apothecaries that stock prayer flags, incense and tiny Hindu and Buddhist statues of divinities: the scents have names like Lord Vishnu Musk, Green Tara's Elixir, or Holy Boon. These scents can be pleasant, if "thick." Le Participe Passé smells like sugars: sometimes like brown sugar, other times like jaggery or molasses. It's a dense stew of caramelized sweetness with some orange blossom on top, and a hefty dose of immortelle on the bottom. If you don't like immortelle, forget Le Participle Passé.
I enjoy immortelle but my perfume cup runneth over in fragrances rich in that note. Le Participle Passé reminds me of two perfumes I own (and like more than Le Participle Passé): Arquiste Anima Dulcis (its base smells uncannily like Le Participle Passé) and L'Occitane Immortelle de Corse.
Le Participe Passé has little development from start to finish (except its "sugar" begins to burn at one point). It has great lasting power and moderate sillage. I like Le Participle Passé better than most of the Lutens releases of the last decade (and it does have the feel of an old-style Lutens scent). One question I often ask myself about a perfume as I write about it: if someone gave me a bottle would I wear it? The answer, in Le Participe Passé's case, is "yes."
As I wrapped up this review, my only thought was: "Why didn't I stock up on a few more bottles of Ambre Sultan YEARS ago?"
Serge Lutens Le Participe Passé is available in 50 ($150) and 100 ($230) ml Eau de Parfum.