One Thousand Scents

Monday, July 16, 2007

Bee Mine: Serge Lutens Miel de Bois


Four posts in one week, and then nothing for three weeks. I have really got to get my act together.

Part of the problem is that I was trying and trying to write about Azzaro Homme, which, for some reason, simply eludes me. But I received a staggering 46 scents last week (a shipment of half-ounce miniatures from Demeter and a whole bunch of little decants from a swapper--Kevin, yer awesome!), and in the process of making up a bunch of my own decants to swap unearthed some things I forgot I even had, so now there's just no excuse, is there?

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I was prepared to not like Serge Lutens' Miel de Bois ("Wood Honey"). A great many people simply hate it; a great many of the reviews on MakeupAlley are exclamations of unbridled disgust. "Chokingly sweet." "Immediate pain." "A latrine." "Dried up, bitter & rancid."

The truth is, I was afraid to try it after reading so many bad things about it. I took Kevin's vial of the stuff and, with more trepidation than I am used to exhibiting (because I have sprayed Paris Hilton's creations on my skin, so you know I'm not afraid of much), dabbed a little on the back of my just-showered hand. And took a sniff. And laughed in delight. Sniffed a little more, grinning like an idiot. Let it sit for a few minutes, just to be sure, and then tipped more onto my hand so I knew I wasn't smelling just a fraction of the scent but the whole thing, opened up. And I am in love.

I have often referred to the smell of oakmoss, which I adore, as "honeylike". Occasionally I wondered if it was just me, if I had some sort of warped nasal receptors, and I still occasionally do, but honeylike it nevertheless is. Miel de Bois opens with that exact same honey note: raw, earthy, sweet but not cloying. The smell of the beeswax is front and centre in the opening notes. This is not processed honey, not something from a jar: it smells like a fresh honeycomb just torn from the frame, with even a hint of the smoke that beekeepers use to subdue the bees. The latrine note that others complain bitterly about it not there, not to my nose. (I think I'm just lucky; the garlic undertone that can contaminate grapefruit scents is never present for me, either.)

The honey isn't just some generic honey, either: to my nose, it has the floral scent of acacia honey, which might be the hawthorn and iris notes. As the honey note slowly recedes, the floral notes take on more importance: the scent isn't a flower garden, but a tribute to the fact that honey is made of flowers.

That polleny honeycomb is resting on a pile of woods: the official notes list ebony, guaiacwood and oak, but I can't tell the one from the other--only that as the honey seeps away, a strong, uncompromising wood note takes over. It's not pretty: it's ferocious and splintery. The overall effect of the scent is that of the entire universe of honey: the flowers that are its source, the honeycomb, the tree from which it hangs, and the honey itself.

I had always read that Serge Lutens was an artist of scent, but I had never had a chance to really get to know any of his scents until now, and I can finally say that yes, this is the work of some extremely gifted people, geniuses, perhaps: Lutens, who I assume dreamed up the scent, and Christopher Sheldrake, the perfumer who made it happen. Miel de Bois is astounding: fiercely original, strange, daring. It is daring: it dares you to try it, dares you to love it. I do.

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