La Fille de Berlin is the most recent perfume launched by Serge Lutens, and is described rather wonderfully by Luten himself as follows: “Beauty is the moment in which you rise up … It is the moment when you pick up your head, stride through your own ruins and climb the mountain.”(1)
I really connect with this idea, that one of the things that imparts personal beauty is the ability to ignore our own shit long enough to get on with more important things. Elsewhere, Lutens has stated that the direct inspiration was the “perseverance … with strength and humor” of women subjected to violence in Soviet Russia.(2)
That might leave you expecting a tragic beauty type of perfume. But that would only be if you had happened to forget that La Fille de Berlin is made by Serge Lutens, who loves to show us the futility and irony of nostalgia and romanticism. Victoria at EauMG has already pointed out that the subtext of the company’s film about the perfume is much darker than Lutens suggested. And personally, I feel the perfume is also about complicity. It’s a great wallop of Jolly Rancher, a gourmand rose that quickly transforms to berry jam. Under it lurks the medicinal smell of cough syrup. The result is childish and poisonous, sort of maniacally cheerful. Like Lolita, it suggests both complicity and exploitation, and requires us to sort them out. And yet, it’s wearable. Easy to reach for on an average Monday.
For me, the fact that it has such strange connotations and is also wearable makes La Fille de Berlin especially interesting. It challenges my definition of perfume. I am not inclined to think that perfume is an art. Art has the prerogative to explore difficult topics and present uncomfortable truths; it can cross some lines in its aim to provoke us to think. For me, beauty products don’t have that prerogative. I don’t want to wear a product that has a misogynistic or sexist connotation (which La Fille de Berlin arguably could), just as I wouldn’t buy or wear a lipstick if its color name was “Date Rape.” But there is no question that Serge Lutens and perfumer Christopher Sheldrake make perfumes that explore discomfiting stories and invite us to interact with them like art, not just provocative products. And I’m glad they do, even if I haven’t reached a conclusion on whether I will wear this one.
See my earlier post on Borneo 1834 for another example of Serge Lutens telling an uncomfortable story. In addition to EauMG’s review, see Bois de Jasmin for a review of La Fille de Berlin the covers how it actually smells.
(1)Via The New York Times
(2)Via Now Smell This. I haven’t been able to confirm Lutens’ comments in Women’s Wear Daily.