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Serge Lutens in his words

December 6 2014

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Each Serge Lutens perfume summarizes one or two chapters of his life. The whole of his olfactory work could be read as his biography. When he launched The Incendiary in 2014, which was a kind of autodafé, the creator agreed to leaf through the pages of his life. - Isabelle Cerboneschi


I've been interviewing him for years, admiring his photographs, wearing the perfumes he's the master builder, listening to his words, being on his trail, not really defining him because the line which would draw it is moving, it undulates. It is somewhere in his perfumes that are as much him as dreams of him. His truths are hidden in the names he has given to his fragrances, in the raw materials that compose them. It's a soap opera, my perfumery.I have 70 perfumes, but it's the same story I tell, otherwise every time, "he says.

When we play hide and seek, we always leave a trace of ourselves so that the other finds us. When Serge Lutens talks about the first fragrances that bore his name, he says: "I wanted to find the identity of the perfume. Mine too. Hypocritically, when I talk about perfume, I'm talking about myself. I am unable to detach myself from the things I do. " Skin Game, Redhead, Black Serge, Virgin Iron, The Orphan, The Wolf, The Berlin Girl ... Each opus is the chapter of a book. The book of his life. For a few hours we flipped through it together.

IC: When we wear The Incendiarywe have the feeling of being in a church of wood and leather that burned. Who was holding the match?
Serge Lutens: The Incendiary is me! I want to fire everywhere. I would like new ground. Set fire to anything that I do not like. And as if I like few things today ... We all have in us many characters: we are the abstract lover, the fragile, the man who can lose his balance at every moment - I talked about it in the perfume The Orphanbesides - the dictator, the incendiary, the criminal, all those, I evoke them in my perfumes, in my images anyway. If we manage to contain all these parts in itself, it's great. But there are moments in life when one inevitably drifts towards one or the other. I express these drifts with a scent that is the only way for me to tell a story, for the moment. The Incendiary is he who can not declare his flame. So he fires.

What would you like to fire?
I would immolate myself already. The idea of ​​burning something is to kill a part of oneself. I want to make a clean sweep. But can we burn the past, reduce it to ashes? All burn maybe? And then leave, save me with a small bag, notebooks ... Even save me from my house in Morocco, all that I built. Because basically, all this is imprisoning me. The Incendiary that's it. It's someone who wants to save himself, who can not stand it anymore, who stifles in what he has. I made fire attempts when I was little, you know? There is an arsonist in me (to laugh). I was very happy to fire: I found the first flames fascinating. But I was so frightened by the proportions it took, that I became the fireman. What interested me was just to declare my love. A bit like a love story: I wanted to stop it before it went too far. It's a bit of my story: that of someone who stayed very close to an image of childhood. Who accepts the woman, but in a performance only. And from the moment she escapes the imagination, she scares me.

Why this fear?
We must defend ourselves. We are not always in friendly grounds. They are sometimes hostile, dangerous, mineral, pungent, burning. Hence the fear. And there, the character of the dictator becomes necessary. It becomes important, but you have to be careful that it does not devour you. Above all, do not be devoured by a part of yourself! But that happened to me. By the one who can fall every minute, the fragile, the depressive.

What perfume embodies this fragile man?
The Orphan, Serge Noir. These are the same except that Serge Noir walk on the rope. And hold on, him! It has a plot: we are talking about the serge! It is woven crosswise, it does not deform, we can sit on it, we make cassocks, we make Serge Lutens (Laughter).

Fire is destruction, but it is also the phoenix rising from the ashes.
Yes, as in this book of which I have spoken to you several times The bird conference from Farid Al-Din Attar. He was a perfumer. It is a psychoanalysis before psychoanalysis, this book. The birds pass over hills that symbolize the trials that go through life. Many birds will stay in some places, unable to bear going further. The few who arrive at the end of the journey meet the phoenix who tells them that the treasure they came to seek, it is precisely to have crossed these hills.

The Incendiary inaugurates a new line of perfumes that you have named Golden Section. Why?
The perfumes of the Royal Palace were destined to remain at the Royal Palace. But since they are too much in demand, they will start to emerge. So I have to do something else more extreme. I was recently told that a perfume from the Golden Section line I proposed for 2015 will be extremely expensive. But as I do not do it depending on the price, it will be extremely expensive and that's it. There is a natural self-censorship in creation. We want to go as far as possible, but we always wonder if we will be understood. And so it stops us. But there, I do not care.

Why this price?
We used many Bulgarian roses, Turkish roses and the most beautiful materials of perfumery. Both the presentation and the fabric case, I make a kind of present. I use this term rather than a gift, because it's a way to make yourself present by offering something precious. I weigh the words I use. And perfume, for me, is the moment suspended between the image and the words. And this for twenty-four years. I do not search for rare expressions, rather ordinary ones. I'm interested in where they come from, where they come from, why, their birth. We meet better when I have them in this way. They allow me to better situate myself.

Where do you stand then facing this golden section?
To cut is to separate. This separation obsesses me. I am both porous and absorbed. But I would like to leave this oxymoron. Separate myself from my double, that other part of me that I considered as me for 72 years and look it in the face. Cutting is reborn too.

Your perfume is a story you've been writing for twenty-four years. Can we go back to some perfumes to better understand some chapters?
Actually this story lasts since 72 years, but I wrote it with different media. There was the picture first. I made the photographs speak. I did not need words. To formulate, to restore, to gather a woman's image, to make it my own: the first part of my life, since adolescence, was that.

Who is this woman?
An ideal. An image that denies a woman, while loving her, to do something else. She is me, so to speak. I saw a woman in me who does not allow me to love a woman. I am divided.

When you were taking pictures, there was a whole ceremony that preceded your shots. Your model had very white skin, like a paper you could write on.
I chose my model for certain qualities: its sensitivity, its face, a lot of things that are not always explained because I can not determine the beauty. She was coming to the studio and there was nothing. But from the moment she entered the cabin, she put on the bathrobe, had her hair combed, tied so that the face was isolated, and that it had gone to the white, this is where this woman was beginning to belong to me. She was mine. A woman without a body To change it to white was to make it readable, clearer, more obvious. A first reading state of the woman. To pass in that skin, for the girls, it was fabulous! As if they came out of a painting to greet the painter, or to dance with him. The gestures she made were very important. I was behind the camera and the music was a link between us, like an amniotic device. A breath. I showed the gestures. It was always a succession of gestures and at one point they stopped. There was no longer any woman, no man, just something that escapes the body, the sexuality, everything I hate, or what I refuse alas. This is the golden section, it is this lucidity of this loneliness and death that I imposed for too long.

To which Skin Game did you dream of giving yourself up?
This perfume Skin Game evoked bread in reality. Bread is the first help in solitude. To look for bread at the bakery was to compensate for an affection that did not exist. It was putting the bread against my cheek. It was a kiss, undoubtedly.

A kiss not given?
A kiss not given that I appropriate when going for bread. There was all the heat of the world in the bread, especially after the batch! There was the smell, that wonderful consolation that a kiss could give at the bottom. There is a painting of Balthus that I like a lot: we see a knife stuck in a loaf on a table and the loaf bleeds. This is my body.

There are many women in your perfume. Who is here Rousse of your life?
It is substituted by cinnamon in this story. The name I give to a perfume is terribly unconscious. He defends me, in both senses of the word: he protects me and he forbids me. The RousseI do not see her, I do not know her, she exists in my childhood. But she does not have a face. She has a very white skin. She's there. Among the women my mother knew. It exists in my mother's words, in her criticisms: my mother demolished and worshiped at once. Especially women. Men too. Everyone passed there.

You too?
People who are afraid defend themselves. I think my mother was a little crazy. I noticed it on some shots that I tore, like almost all his photographs, not to keep any other image than the one I made myself. I have almost nothing. The pictures annoy me, bother me. They prevent words. They stop something that is not true. They lie. Words do not lie.

Et The Berlin Girl, did you meet her?
Ah, The Berlin Girl! With her I confess everything! I think this is the first time that I'm highlighting things: what I'm saying this perfume is me! I was born in 1942, it was war. Berlin was a word we did not like to pronounce. My mother was adulterous. Petain's laws forbade adultery. We were separated. She had imposed on me as middle name that of my father who did not want to marry him: Lucien. Think about what it means for a child born out of wedlock: Read, his, read like his. As an accusation. The words were of enormous importance to me. They kill me and make me reborn at the same time.

In Lucien, I hear something else: luceo, shine ...
Perhaps there are both truths. But he, I hate him. Despite the years of depression, psychoanalysis, I still hate him. And at the same time, I do not regret anything of my life: I find it amazing. What would be terrible is to grow old in this story. I have to get out of this: I have to burn, refuse, cut. What I live is a main separation. I believe that the cord has never been cut. The Berlin Girlit is the consciousness of double and anger.

To maintain anger is to maintain a bond.
It's contained anger. The father, the man in general, has taken on the meaning of enemy. I did not feel like a man. At school, a friend who saw me eat sweets for my throat asked me what it was, and I do not know what took me, I replied: I take pills to change sex. (Laughter.) Since I had to have 12 years old, it was pretty amazing. He has of course spread this story everywhere.

Iris, found in Iris Silver Mistit was the perfume of Simonetta Vespucci, Botticelli's muse. When beauty has disappeared, what remains?
She must die. Simonetta Vespucci gives us the gift of disappearing at 23 years. She was beauty embodied and had married a Vespucci who was homosexual. Obviously this woman was very unhappy. She spent her time, for our great happiness, to be painted by the great painters of the time, Botticelli, Piero di Cosimo, with this hairstyle of braids and pearls intertwined, so magical. She faded her hair in the light of the moon to have a Venetian blond. She caught cold. She died phthisical.

At night. Are your nights more beautiful than your days?
No, because I sleep very little. You sleep? Yes? You're in luck! Me, I am insomniac alas, so my nights are nightmares. But the image of the night, since it is that of the shadow, I like very much. There are titles that I envy: Journey to the End of the Night. What a beautiful title! Since Céline, we can not use the expression Travel after ... Yet we could put a lot of things after… But that would be copying. That was the genius! A title is spontaneous. It does not even happen by reflection. Very often there is a story in me that is getting ready, that is incube, and the title arrives like that. He is rushing. And when he's here, I avoid him for a month, two months, four months, a year. After I realize that it exists and I wonder what I wanted to say. This is where things start to happen. The title is the alarm bell that explains what I'm going to have to say. He's talking about things I do not know yet. But when they are written, we say but yes!.

Sandal of Mysore, Myrrhe, Ambre Sultan, Musk Koublai Khan, so many evocations of raw materials used in sacred perfumes. What relationship do you have with the divine?
Churches, masses, I love! I love being on my knees. The idea of ​​putting myself at the service of something. I do not know how to explain it. I was destined for childhood to the priesthood, but as a teenager I became violently against. Against all that I had loved. As a child, I went to church. But it was necessary that it be painful: when I knelt on the marble in front of a representation of saint, it was necessary that the ground was iced, that I feel the cold to rise in me. Fervor must have felt: words were not enough. When I prayed, my hands were to become one. (He squeezes his hands together, Ed.) I was very attracted to the ecclesiastical world and God is present. But God's problem is his name: everyone is talking about it, asking for explanations. People believe it terribly and like all people who believe, they need to tell themselves that He does not exist ...

A version of this article was published in the Luxury Series of the Time 6 December 2014.