Review: Chergui by Serge Lutens

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The scent of summer happiness.

CherguiChergui is a fragrance by Christopher Sheldrake and Serge Lutens for the eponymous Serge Lutens label and is famously based on hay absolute, along with spices, honey, tobacco and leather. 

Hay absolute, says Tania Sanchez, author of The Perfume Guide, is so good that it’s a wonder no-one has produced a perfume based on nothing else. And hay is certainly the first blast you get when you open a bottle of Chergui – that melanged, ultra-warm smell of timothy grass and wildflowers and perhaps the whiff of cooling tack hanging up in the stable yard. 

When I was a child, we kids dug a massive pit in our local woodland. Then, prising open the bars of the local crematorium, we stole our way into a nearby farmer’s field and pinched loads of his cut hay. We dived into and rolled into all that lovely hay for weeks at a time in late summer, jumping from trees, running at it from a distance, burying ourselves in it in sheer joy. Well, that will never come again, but in smelling Chergui, at least I have the memory. 

We need not trouble ourselves pretending that Chergui is a new fragrance. I’m reviewing it now because I only just got it. The firm sent me a 1.2ml spray sample before my trip to Paris to interview Serge Lutens earlier this year, and having initially ‘quite liked’ it, I soon became obsessed with it.

Now that I have a full 50ml spray bottle, I can splash it on more liberally and it quickly becomes apparent that there is a more soapy note than I at first detected. It smells immensely clean and warm – like, as TS says, a clean 1950s pipe-smoking daddy. This would be the daddy of my imagination, as my own father thought fragrances were ‘for poofs’ and never used, fragrance or deodorant- or even soap other than coal tar.

Some people find Chergui spicy and abrasive (it is, after all, named for a searing Moroccan wind) but on my skin it is nothing but warm. Warm milk, warm honey, warm hay, warm tobacco – the scent of the Bewlay’s shop where I bought my father’s pipe tobacco as a child. There is also – though I can’t find in any reviews on the subject – a distinct dash of salty butter caramel, and I assume that Serge, like every French child, was raised on this stuff, which is now starting to make an appearance in all manner of artisan French soaps and toiletries as well as on every restaurant menu. 

The jus is dark brown, and comes in the usual 50ml spray bottle (Europe only) or the 75ml belljar (Palais Royal, and Europe delivery only). The glass on the 50ml bottle is very robust, which is a good thing, given that I almost immediately dropped my new bottle directly onto terracotta tile, thankfully without any damage. 

Sadly for him, the DH can’t really smell this fragrance, other than when it first goes on, but it smells very good on him and at least I get to enjoy his sillage. Nor, on myself, can I stop sniffing it – I love myself in it.

This is just as well, because Chergui has considerable staying power. Yesterday, I applied it at noon, showered at 6.00, scrubbing my wrists with liquid soap, swam 20 lengths in a chlorinated pool, spent 20 minutes in a jacuzzi, showered again (again with liquid soap), and it was still discernable at midnight. If you apply it, you’re in for the long haul, but it’s worth it.

Chergui costs 79 euros for 50ml or 110 euros for 75ml from Serge Lutens.  

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