Cultural Juxtaposition: Bois de Violette by Serge Lutens

The result of clashing temperaments, Bois de Violette combines a melancholic Victorian floral with a phlegmatic oriental stewed wood and fruit accord.

The high-waisted attitude of the melancholic Victorian floral focuses here on a single floral note of violet, with its ability to capture a mood of elegance and prim refinement strikingly. Usually driven by unadornment, it is unexpectedly met with rich adornment.

Looking at Bois de Violette allows me to reiterate an idea of contrast and tension in perfumery. The Serge Luten’s Eaux Boisée series play with a strong idea of balance within medley, a broad array of notes forming perfect accord. Féminité du Bois is the starting point, and each variant serves to highlight certain notes (fruit, musk, spiced amber). However, Bois de Violette offers a unique conceptual take on the Eaux Boisées in that it can detach itself from this category. Through Luten’s Les Eaux Boisées a very literal take on orientalism is demonstrated, and the tension arises on a categorical level where wood wants to be oriental, and fruit wants to be spice. There are a series of complimentary contrasts.

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© 2016 Liam Sardea


Bois de Violette places violet at the front, drawing away from an ode to orientalism into somewhere more familiar. The lacy poise of violet offers sobriety and classicism, linking itself with the origins of classical perfumery as the soft and muted powdery glow of violet offers subtle ideas of old perfumery: violet soliflores, violet sugar candies, and Wildean temperament.

This Victorian temperance is juxtaposed with the usual Morrocan Lutensian idea of a breathtaking and expansive picture of exotica – an endless cocktail of patiently sizzling spice, and assertive whispers of honey and fruit amongst taut woods and the soft echoes of cedarwood. Altogether, this is a textural, pleasingly chewy tapestry of exciting culture and seemingly infinite dimensions; the mille-feuille style I described in Bois Oriental.

This woody tapestry allows the violet flower to weave itself all over, and the full and rich base dips in the middle of the nasal palate. Violet flower immediately adds a sharp, upper tone to the composition at the expense of the mid-range, which begins to blur between itself and the top. Violet, as a floral, is best applied to this tapestry as it has woody complexities as an undertone, saccharine characteristics which meet with the stewed fruit, and the cool powderiness links to the blunt warm spices of the base. However, this can add dissonance if not applied carefully. In this instance, a tension is built between the softly sweet top and the dry cedar middle, where the mille-feuille base has its own set of resolved contrasts. This is a base of telescoping action, that kind of an almost abstract sort due to an overdosing of many different notes.

Demonstrating this point is as easy as smelling Bois de Violette next to Féminité du Bois. Féminité is equally telescoping, but there is a splendid singular flatness to the work, varied with a swirl of shadows maintaining a unique ceremonial noir. Bois de Violette applies violet flower in a way that removes this sullen artistry of shadow and noir, and juxtaposes that expectation with a lacy pastel tone of the exotic-yet-painfully-familiar sort. Not quite luminous, but rather sanguine.

In this fragrance, the undertones of a pivotal note are exploited and highlighted, in turn forming new structural and stylistic compliments. Bois de Violette is a study of how violet lends itself to wood, spice, and fruit all at once, managing to permeate itself over each note resulting in a totally legible accord beyond, and more than, its familiar constituents. Without a doubt a testament to technical know-how and a heap of creative brilliance.

Cultural juxtaposition.

Subjective rating : 3.5/5

Objective rating: 4 – 4.5/5

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