Serge Lutens about Ambre Sultan and Perfumes

Serge Lutens, what made you want to create Ambre sultan

The origin of its creation is lost in time, but let’s just say that it was during my first trip to Morocco, around March 1968, that I found a box containing an interesting, alluring wax in Marrakech’s souks. Soon, this scent became the very odor of the trip. Time has passed and still today I have that scented box somewhere that is the base of Ambre sultan… and I would even say, of everything that brands are now calling, neo-poetically, “Oriental perfumery”. For me, Ambre sultan is an Arabic perfume, and I’m proud of that!

How did you first imagine it? 

Ambre sultan belongs to the past, and that doesn’t interest me. It’s been almost 20 years since it was created, not for the finality of the product, but for the ambiance and the identity it conveys. Ambre sultan is to me just as it presents itself in the flask. I didn’t imagine it otherwise. The best is still to smell it and feel it.

What sort of beauty is characteristic of Ambre sultan

Beauty is so different according to each person that it’s difficult to bring it up in such a general way. I’ll talk about this perfume’s sensations rather, for at the time of its release, it truly provoked a shock wave in perfumery the likes of which no one was expecting! You have to remember that at that time, at the beginning of the 90s, perfume in general was a socio-cultural product: a bona fide marketing soup. Ambre sultan and Féminité du Bois proposed a return to the very essence of things, which was new. That being said, today we’ve unfortunately fallen into the opposite extreme where the originality of a creation only comes from the cost and the “nobility” of the primary materials used. We’re actually witnessing these TV competition shows with ridiculous fops and “learned women” where all that’s missing is a button you press to be the first to show off what you know in that domain.

Could Baudelaire’s poem “Perfume” explain Ambre sultan, from a point of view of the sensations sought after and conveyed by this fragrance – travel, memory, sensuality, intimacy, and temptation?

With Baudelaire, like with every writer, it’s the perfume of the work that interests me, not perfume in and of itself. Each Baudelaire poem delivers the following message: I like what you don’t like. I like what others hate… No, Baudelaire’s poems can’t be limited to perfumes, at the risk of falling – like I already said once – into perfumery’s Baudelairama. It’s too easy to use him to talk about a product. On the other hand, the spirit of the message: “I like what you hate” whether delivered by Baudelaire or Genet, is always present within me.

What does perfume mean to you? 

My identity at the time I’m making it; a bit like for the perfume La fille de Berlin where I made a declaration to anger, to its beauty. Every creation originates from a duplication within me.

Could it be said that your perfumes are at the crossroads of the arts you practice?

The expression of perfume is unique, felt in layers, unlike other crafts that I’ve practiced like cinema or photography. Perfume is something issued from intuition. It can’t be demonstrated otherwise. Each creation in that field announces a state within me; in a way, my color for the moment.

What is the best method of expression according to you?

The one that best leads you to what you want to say. This could happen through words, images, perfumes, but the best one in and of itself doesn’t exist. As proof, the writers that I like aren’t considered to be the greatest, but they are singular, and as such for me, incomparable. They invent a way of seeing for they can’t say it otherwise.

When one looks at your photographs, one can admire women that are distinguished, mysterious, lunar, and affirmed all at the same time. They’re fragile and strong, naked and adorned with a million colors. Is this play on ambivalence and female dichotomy your creative refrain?

If it was only a refrain, it would slow me down. These women, as Flaubert said of Madame Bovary, are “me”. They were the only way to placate what I had inside me. This duplication, thankfully, has not in any way allowed for my identification!


By Sebastien Girard.

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