Incense Masculine Resins Review Smoke Spice The Discard Pile

Serge Noire by Serge Lutens

20th May 2020

The topnotes of Serge Lutens Serge Noire‘s smoky, dried fruit incense draw me in every single Goddamn time, like a mermaid’s song. And then I am dashed cruelly against the rocks that are this scent’s downfall – the unmistakably oniony sweat of unwashed (male) armpits.

Ask me how I know. No, really. I first smelled this when I was visiting Mont San Michel with my family when I was seven. The children had sat down in a grumpy, sun-beaten heap on the doorstop of the nth church, refusing to indulge our parents any further in their unquenchable thirst for the various religious icons and tchotchkes of French medieval churches, which seemed to us to be identical to the ones we had back home, only a little older and grimier.

From our vantage point, we got to study the interiors of everyone’s nostrils, skirts, and armpits. People passed over us; we were ignored, perhaps not even seen. A middle-aged man stopped under the mantel and leaned against the cool wall for a moment to gather himself, and in that moment, I understood that dried sweat could smell like onions and black pepper and celery – the makings of a mirepoix, practically – when suspended in droplets in the thicket of a man’s armpit hair.

The onion sweat accord can be parsed out later as clove, cumin, black pepper, and incense. While I love clove in stuff like Eau Lente (Diptyque) and the Eau de Parfum by Commes des Garcons, I admit that it can come off as sweaty and metallic to an almost objectionable degree. But the operational word is almost. There’s always something in those fragrances to reign it in – herbaceous oppoponax, a bit of honey, some sandalwood. In Serge Noire, the clove business simply goes too far. It sidles up to the breaking point of human endurance and then waltzes brazenly past it, lurching unchecked into pure onion sweat territory whence it cannot be redeemed.

I keep trying it, hoping I am wrong or that my perception will loosen up, allowing me to glimpse the true beauty of this scent as others describe it. But as of May 2020, and upon my 14th attempt, I have to admit defeat.

Source of sample: Purchased over and over again from to no avail, because I do not and will never ‘get’ this scent.

Cover Photo By photographer Jens Karlsson, Creative Director at Your Majesty, NYC, available here via 

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  • Danny Constantinescu 20th May 2020 at 7:24 pm

    It's the single most bought and sold fragrance in my collection. When I melled it first time I was absolutely repulsed by it (the right raaction).
    Years later, I smelled it again and loved it, bought it on the spot. Thought my nose "grew up and matured ". Fast forward a few more years and you'll find me having sold and bought back the damn thing two more times. Finally sold it only last year, after making peace with my nose, and understood that despite my desire to "grow and mature and expand our horizons" (prove to fellow perfumistas that we "get' difficult perfumes and our nose is sophisticated as theirs), my nose will still be unconvinced and saying "naah, fuck off with that nasty shit, get it as far away from me as possible, you stubborn snob".

    • Danny Constantinescu 20th May 2020 at 8:08 pm

      "Smelled it"..

  • merlina_sil 20th May 2020 at 8:57 pm

    I love it and have 2 back ups! 🙂

    • Claire 1st June 2020 at 3:17 pm

      I know several people who love it to the point of two back-ups or more! It's a Marmite fragrance.

  • Claire 21st May 2020 at 9:47 am

    Ha ha! I love that you go the same thing. I have bought and sold (too many times to mention without blushing) Memoir Woman because, although it never smelled 'right' to me, every single review made me think that it was really down my alley and that my taste just hadn't evolved enough yet to appreciate its beauty. Every time I smell it, I think (like you), nah, but then I read the reviews for the umpteenth time, some of them by people whose taste I trust, and I start second guessing myself. Funnily enough, this Christmas I started to enjoy it….in small doses. Let me see, what else? That Montale Cafe Rose, or whatever it's called. My nose tells me it is gross, but since I love the combination of rose, amber, and coffee, I go through spurts of buying a decant or a sample and then regretting it bitterly. Why do we do this to ourselves? Vanessa Musson called it 'willing myself to like it' the other day, and I was a bit surprised (but gratified) to hear that other people do this too. Maybe none of us are entirely sure of our taste.

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