Serge Noire: Rasputin’s Christmas

Serge Noire: Rasputin's Christmas

The holidays are here. Another year is preparing to make an exit. What better way to celebrate this time of the year than remembering and wearing my ultimate mood enhancers for the holidays.

Serge Noire holds a very special place in my Christmas wardrobe. It is a perfume that I wear a lot less than I would want to because it is an imposing one. I cannot imagine wearing it in warm weather. It opens with clove. In fact clove is everywhere in this one. In the great Sheldrake – Lutens tradition clove is not quite what one expects it to be. It does not show its metallic thorns, the way we know it from other clove prominent scents. This is much closer to the taste of chewing cloves. Sweet and hot at the same time. Cinnamon adds sweetness and polishes rough edges. A slightly floral note is briefly there in the opening, carnation probably. A few minutes into the wearing a pungent, extremely volatile note appears almost piercing the nostrils. The warmth of the spices is coupled with a cooling mentholated vapour. It isn’t mint, but the cool tickling in the nose sure feels like it. In the heart of the composition a note of artificial vanilla adds to the overall ethereal effect. This isn’t natural vanilla with its sweet, complicated undercurrent. It is pure peppery vanillin. Less complex but more effervescent than vanilla.  In fact vanillin is a phenolic aldehyde closely related to eugenol, the heart of the clove essence.

I can never decide whether I actually smell incense in this one or not. If I do it certainly isn’t the slightly floral, fruity smell of incense tears. This one is much closer to the sensual, narcotic smell of burning incense fumes inside an Orthodox church. Everything in this perfume levitates above the skin like a halo. It is as if this composition has no basenotes. It feels like you can actually see thin strings of fumes rising from the skin to the air. It is so energising that I cannot help reaching to sniff my wrists. Every breath of these mystical fumes is like sting of a sacred spear. And yet I cannot get enough of it.

Serge Noire for me a is a sacrilegious experience. It evokes the interior of an Orthodox church with thin rays of light cutting through the cold darkness of the austere temple. Thin strings of incense smoke rise inside the light columns. At the same time though the warmth of the spices make this such a wonderfully seductive fragrance. The absence of conventional basenotes keeps this scent on a mental level while the familiarity of spices  takes me back to cosy places. I cannot help thinking of all the old black and white photos of Rasputin, the Russian mystic with the mesmerizing eyes who used spirituality to influence the last family of Czars. The Royal family considered him a holy man and a healer while most of the rest of the nation thought he was a sexually uninhibited charlatan. Serge Noire is a dark figure chanting hymns and murmuring my name.

Notes from patchouli, cinnamon, amber, woods

Notes from my nose: clove, cinnamon, camphor, incense fumes, vanillin


About Christos

Scientifically minded but obsessed with the subjective aspect of things. Photos copyright of MemoryOfScent, with special thanks to Pantelis Makkas You are welcome to link to my blog but you are definitely not allowed to copy text or use the photos without my permission. All text and main photos are originals and property of MemoryOfScent All perfumes are from my collection unless stated otherwise.


  1. Wow, I need to try this. The title alone got me: “Rasputin’s Christmas” (my favorite beer is Old Rasputin), but I also love clove. Great review!

  2. Christos, your review is fantastic, as always, but I can tell by your description that this Serge is not for me. There are a few perfumes in which I genuinely love clove, but they are far and few between. (I enjoy what Olivia Giacobetti did with clove in Lubin Idole, btw, as well as her use of it in Vamp a NY.) 🙂

    Beer, though! That’s a different story, so I’ll be off now to Google the Old Rasputin beer that Joan mentioned in her comment. Must be a pretty kick-ass brew, judging by the name. 🙂

    • Clove is a deal breaker for me too Suzanne. But this one is different. Mind you clove isn’t even listed in the “official” note list but I have checked this with unsuspecting noses and they all say it smells like clove. Imagine burning cloves in an incense burner.
      Thanks for your kind words here and in your site. Your review of L’Air de Rien is a piece of literature. I couldn’t be happier to have shared this with you.

  3. Natalie

    I sniffed this briefly yesterday, but did not spend too much time with it. I am trying not to introduce “new” smells onto my list of things to think about and experience, as I have too many experiences and samplings undigested in my mind at the moment. But all of that is irrelevant to your post! 😉 What is relevant is that I like the way you describe this, and with all the sensory details you find in it, I wonder if it might be a pleasant fragrance for anosmics to experience? (I’ve been reading about the multi-sensory Eau Pear Tingle from Opus Oils.)

  4. This one often goes under the radar when Serge discussions come up, but IMO it’s one of the top 3 from that line. A total monster.

    • I agree with you Aaron. This is not a perfume, this is an experience. Some people think it resembles Heeley Esprit du Tigre and I think they are right. Only Serge Noire is a lot more refined.

  5. Natalie I know what you mean. Sometimes samples piling up feel like a burden an obligation. Too many scents, too little time.

    I am afraid I cannot tell which of those sensory details come from other senses and which come from synaesthesia. You ‘ve touched a subject I am very interested in. I believe the power of perfume is that it conjures all these parallel images and sensations that are inseparable from the olfactory stimulation and are the combination of the perfume’s ingredients and the wearer’s experiences.

  6. I also tried it briefly yesterday – on paper, not on skin. What is amazing for me – I also thought it smelled like Christmas. I enjoyed reading your review after I had that brief encounter with the perfume. I haven’t read any other reviews for it, so as of now it exists for me just in two forms – my brief but favorable impression of it and your beautiful review. I will be going back to this perfume at some point and try it on skin. Thank you for the inspiration!

    • It is sort of church-y and christmas-y at the same time. It is one of those Serge Lutens releases that have passed completely under the radar. Although it is full of spices it is a lot more high pitched then similar fragrances.

  7. Apointofsmell

    I had so much more expectations for this one but don’t blame solely me. Blame the damned “Black” word that haunts almost every perfume line in existance. It is very Serge and not at all black. If I was told to name it I ‘d say “Sueur Epice” matches it. Camphor and spices result in a very heavy sweat note in the opening (fortunately settles down later) that keeps me from loving it. If you give it 1-2 hours, it is so much better but still can’t solve the “when and where to wear it” puzzle. Beautiful oriental but not for everyone.

  8. smellythoughts

    Oh man! I really want to love this. I haven’t actually tried it but my nose is so sensitive to clove notes and I can’t stand it 😦 I love the sound of everything else that’s going on in this dark composition, but cloves, a big no no 😦
    A lovely read from someone who enjoys it though, I’ve rarely read positive reviews about this.

  9. Pingback: Pomegranate Noir: the joy of blind sniffing revisited « Memory of Scent

  10. Pingback: Etro Messe de Minuit: more First Communion than Midnight Mass « Memory of Scent

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: