5/25/14

Chergui (Serge Lutens)



So much has been written about Chergui, the Tunisian island and the perfume, so my disclaimer is that this isn't really a review, as much as a recategorization. Broadly, this fragrance is considered a typical Lutensian oriental, loaded with sweet, resinous, ambery accords. Luca Turin (or was it Tania Sanchez?) claimed the perfume was inspired by Turin's suggestion to Serge that he explore hay absolute. I don't doubt that such a thing occurred, but it isn't hay at the heart of Chergui. This perfume is all about coumarin, good 'ol coumarin.

Chergui is in no uncertain terms a classical fougère after Paul Parquet's 1884 original. Many articles on Fougère Royale mention its odd, hay-like sweetness, which is none other than coumarin, and the reboot possesses a very similar note. Lutens took the same idea and used a massive honey/lavender accord in a more au courant nod to eighties powerhouses like Boss Cologne and Lapidus Pour Homme. When I smell Chergui, I recognize a classical form dressed in late twentieth century clothing. Yet there's a uniqueness here, the richness of tobacco and luxurious smoothness of sandalwood, both of which spell in large Helvetica letters: MAN.

Remember the 1950s? I don't either, I wasn't around then. I have it on good authority that men in the '50s were intentionally archetypical, staid, traditional, family-oriented, sexually insecure to misogynistic levels, routine-oriented, and always willing to impart the false sense of security coveted by their kitchen-dwelling, totally dependent housewives. I've never been told this, but I think it's a safe bet to suppose that most men, especially American men, didn't wear cologne or fragrance of any kind, opting instead for their secretary's perfume rubbing off on their collars, and whatever after-smell a few packs of unfiltered cigarettes baked into the rest of their shirts.

Every so often though their wives (or mothers in law) went to a department store and tried to make these poor guys into better men by buying them grooming kits of aftershave and cologne, which they wore only to church and weddings. These were warm, rich, simple smells, like English Leather, Caron Pour un Homme, Arden Sandalwood, Preferred Stock, and Fougère Royale. Well, Chergui would have been right at home in medicine cabinets back then. Serge's creation is the olfactory equivalent of a Buick with 150,000 miles on it. It imparts a solid message with its soft, enveloping lavender/honey/coumarin sweetness: "I'm with my family now. Your shit can wait until Monday."







4 comments:

  1. I like this review, but it makes me wonder... recently, I was at a Lutens counter, and was eager to try Chergui; it's a scent that doesn't irritate me or bring on any kind of allergic reaction as far as I can tell (this puts it in a minority, I regret to add). I was wearing a pretty heavy dose of Caron Pour un Homme at the time, however, and I hate putting two things on my skin at the same time as I just get confused about both, so I had to content myself with spraying down a card. The funny thing was that the Chergui was reminding me a little of PuH... its opening was fresher than I'd expected, and the honey heart and slightly powdery drydown felt comfortably familiar. Am I just losing my mind? I had smelled d a lot of stuff that day, so it might have just been olfactory hallucination...

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    1. Your description vaguely matches my experience with it. Chergui reminds me of Boss No 1, sharing the same "fresh" sweet lavender with hints of animalic notes over powdery amber. PuH doesn't smell like Chergui, but the treatment of lavender is pretty direct and natural, and it's quite similar in Chergui.

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  2. Thanks for that feedback --it does help to give some shape to my impression. I have heard the Boss comparison made before, too, but haven't come across that one in my travels just yet...

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    1. The encouraging thing about Boss 1 is that it's one of the few Reagan era fragrances that hasn't undergone a significant reformulation. It has a modified name (no longer Boss Cologne) and surely has been retooled in the 33 years it's been on the market, but overall the fragrance is still quite rich, quite fresh, quite good. Given a choice between Chergui and Boss, I'd go with the latter, if only because it's $90 less.

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