Sadly, Serge Lutens’s dark beauty Sarrasins is hard to come by. A scant three or four stores in the US carry it, and while it may be easily scooped online, actually smelling it is out of reach for most people. Even among the Lutens collection it’s a bit of an outlier. Its wearability and abstraction recall Chanel, which uncoincidentally is where its composer Christopher Sheldrake spent the mid 00s hard at work launching the Exclusifs collection. Incidentally, that initial launch of 31 Rue Cambon, Coromandel, 28 La Pausa, Eau de Cologne, Bel Respiro, and No. 18 occurred in the same year as Sarrasins, a slew of work which could respectably comprise an entire CV.
Based on the internet consensus, diminished distribution isn’t needed to ensure the scarcity of Sarrasins: very few people actually admit to liking the stuff. Generally, even the aficion seem to prefer Lutens’s A La Nuit, which Luca Turin rightly dubs “death by jasmine.” Far be it from me to tell you that the juice you love is crap, but far be it from you to tell me that Sarrasins, one of the most gobsmackingly beautiful, inventive, and thought-provoking perfumes I’ve ever smelled is anything short of genius. (And if you are one of those unfortunate people who laments the overuse of the word genius, I apologize. I think you people should use it more.)
Sarrasins opens with an explosive jasmine, certainly lifelike, but also powerfully evocative. I even imagine a fresh dusting of sparks as the opening settles. The scent eventually morphs into a slightly sweet leather with tangy balsamic facets. Indeed, even the woody notes in Sarrasins are powerfully suggestive, aching and keening like the smell of a freshly cut tree. It is important to note that while some (even Luca Turin) describe it as a “floral leather,” that descriptor is misleading. Sarrasins is decidedly not the obvious floral with a leather base. Instead, it progresses from floral to leather, suggesting some kind of transformation. The effect is like watching jasmine undergo a metamorphosis, from flower into a leathery skin.
Here the simple idea of jasmine into skin begins to take on a poetic resonance. Metamorphosis is a provocative theme, and Lutens uses it to show a surprising connection between two materials which on the surface could not be more different. This kind of didactic trick was accomplished at least once before by Lutens and Sheldrake. Their La Myrrhe moves seamlessly from choking aldehyde fireworks to crisp, sweet myrrh: a perfect marriage of the chemical and the mystical.
However, in Sarrasins Lutens’s poetic message is even sharper, more coherent, and more insistent. The composition feels streamlined and incredibly refined, with all arrows leading in one clear direction. In the words of Stephanie Zacharek (speaking about Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth), Lutens “pulled off the difficult feat of using pure sensation to make us think.” Consider me converted.