Serge Lutens à la Nuit, 2000

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Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake

A la Nuit, love it or hate it, is held out as one of the definitive jasmine soliflors. It conjures jasmine just come into bloom. It’s got indolic headiness but it also has the dewy greenness of a jasmine vine just starting to hit its stride. It smells rich but crisp like jasmine flowers, not as heady jasmine essential oil.

A still life painting is a genre, an exercise, and a treatise on the complexities of representation in art. A floral perfume is like a still life painting in that both aim at the depiction of an identifiable, ‘benchmark’ target. In a still life painting, representation, demonstrated by proportion, depth of field, light and shadow, is a part. But something more is needed, both in the still life and the soliflor: intention. It shows up as point of view, enhancement, surprise, commentary, misdirection…. Olfactory art at present lacks the easy vocabulary of visual work but perfume history holds Diorissimo as the ultimate soliflor and measures it by criteria similar to those used to judge a still life painting. A la Nuit is far more broad in the theatrical sense than Diorissimo but they share the similar ambition of depicting a specific flower. Both start by creating the recognizable scent of a flower, à la Nuit’s jasmine and Diorissimo’s lily of the valley, and then doing the real work. The flower might be the subject of the work, but it’s also just the start of the discussion in a well composed soliflor.

Perfumer Christopher Sheldrake presents his jasmine still life as a lean floriental. Combining floral and oriental categories can lead to large, rich but often bossy perfumes. A la Nuit with its ‘young’ jasmine and a musky, honeyed benzoin anchor gives a beautiful high/low balance. The opening notes are manic (and a blast!) but once they settle this à la Nuit is hardly bossy. It remains rich but lacks the smothering hearnotes of some florientals.


(image still life by Marian Drew) 

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