Review: De Profundis by Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens’ Palais Royal release for autumn is based on chrysanthemums.

De ProfundisDe Profundis is the autumn release from niche perfumery house Serge Lutens. In the firm’s ‘exclusive’ line, it comes in a 75ml belljar at a cost of 120 euros.

The first thing that strikes you about the new release is undoubtedly the colour, which is the bright zinging purple of methylated spirits. Coupled with the belljar format, this gives one the distinct impression of putting on poison – it has a very apothecarial look.

The idea of the fragrance, says Lutens, is relatively simple – it’s based on chrysanthemum, and the text accompanying it conjures up an image of death and flowers – chrysanthemums being mourning flowers that French people place on graves every October for All Saints. To a Catholic, of course, De Profundis is also the cry from the wilderness – De Profundis clamavi – though to a literary Brit, it smacks more of Oscar Wilde and his plea from jail to Lord Alfred Douglas.

Tears of mourning belljarGiven that the perfume is true to its intentions and does indeed smell of chrysanthemums, it is unfortunate that I have a problem with the flower. Although I also associate them with many quiet hours of brass rubbing in Norfolk churches, the WI flower arrangements scenting the air, they are primarily the smell of my father’s funeral, and more particularly the 6ft-high grandfather clock-shaped wreath of rust-coloured chrysanths we children commissioned as our last tribute to him. Like many people, I suspect, I have avoided chrysanths for years and don’t grow them in my garden. One of my friends had an interesting reaction to De Profundis when I passed it around for testing, describing it as ‘the smell of fear’ – perhaps she has bad connotations with chrysanthemums as well.

For testing, I transferred the perfume to a 5ml spray bottle, as I usually do with the belljar perfumes – this, for me, works better as I can put more of the scent on.  I am no perfume expert and I haven’t a clue what is in this, but I would say that the top notes are sharp and floral, the middle notes are sweet and floral, and the base notes are woody and floral. The perfume retains throughout its rich drydown a purple, powdery quality more reminiscent of Bas de Soie than, say, Feminité du Bois, but it is far greener and sappier – and a lot less ladylike.

De Profundis is a more subtle and complex scent than Vitriol d’Oeillet – this summer’s release – and it sinks into the skin rather than sitting on top of it. Initially, (I’m now writing an update in December 2011) I marginally preferred the export perfume for its greater dissonance. However – as is often the case with Lutens perfumes – De Profundis grew on me with each successive application and until it entirely overtook Vitriol d’Oeillet. I have found it an intoxicating perfume to wear over the past few months, and so have also upgraded it from my initial 3.5 stars to 4.5.

Platinum belljarDe Profundis is also available in two limited-edition bottles, though they are well out of the price range of most of us. One version (above) is embossed with tears of mourning in gold, while the other has several coats of mirror-like platinum plating in the form of a flower. It was not yet finished when I saw it in Paris, and there will only be seven of each, but the plated one, which is very beautiful, was expected to cost over 1,000 euros. Luckily, one will be on permanent display at the Salons de Palais Royal de Shiseido in Paris, so you can always go and gawp at it there. 

De Profundis will be available in September from the Salons de Palais Royal de Shiseido in Paris, or online at for delivery to European addresses only.

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