Interviews Serge Lutens About The Latest Santal Majuscule

Serge Lutens About The Latest Santal Majuscule

07/17/12 20:03:55 (9 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

Winter, 1952.

That night, just before dawn, it snowed.

A boy, with his collar folded up to protect his neck, headed on his way to school. A thin white veil slipped beneath his feet and swirled around him, cloaking his mouth and the muffled words: “I’m going to be late!” First, he thought of quickening his pace, but then, as if the idea came from someone else, he rejected it and decided to make things worse.

From that moment, the North Pole inhabited him. He hugged the walls, barely keeping on course. Despite the mighty snowstorm, he overcame his alibi and stepped outside the frame of his own documentary. In the heart of the cold, he put down his book bag, placed the palms of his hands against his open mouth and thought. He waited. When he deemed enough time had passed and his fingers had warmed up, with his scenario finally worked out he headed on his way again. Once in the classroom, after politely accusing the day, the frost, the alarm clock and the slippery cobblestoned streets that “went out of their way to make him fall,” he excused himself for being 20 minutes late, put on his smock and took his seat.

The hands on the clock showed it was not time for recess yet.
When he was finally seated and the tension had died down, the heat of the wood stove calmed his spirit.

Mr. Vantienen was standing with his back to the pupils, holding—a piece of cheese —with a long ruler in his hand, its end pointing at an area on a map of France, he tried to call their attention to the peaks of Mont Gerbier des Joncs.

The boy, at first entertained, soon left the guided tour, and the Seine, to wander elsewhere.

Why, for what possible reason, still unknown to him, did he raise his eyes every day to stare at the skylight? What was it that attracted his eye to a trembling branch outside? How, through this image in the window pane, did his double take shape and come to life? Why did Mr. Vantienen have to bark out, “Lutens!” and yank him from his reverie?

―Lutens! Stand up!

The Moon could do nothing for him now.

―Why, oh why, all the capital letters, for no reason at all, at the start of, and I quote: Gold, Wolf, Fire, Tower, Flower...and so on!

He was commenting on a piece of writing yesterday, where the pupil, here and there according to his fancy, had added large capital letters, like an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. Silence filled the room. Mr. Vantienen insisted:

―I asked you a question. Now, answer me!

The boy counted the dots...

It is through experience that we—all of us—understand that mirrors reflect a reversed image. What we don’t always understand is that images can shape what we see in the mirror.

Thus the boy, this lump of clay, hesitated:

―I don’t know.

―That is no way to answer!

The word “that” hit a nerve. The boy wanted to capitalize it. So, as if it were obvious, he blurted out:

―Because it’s me!

Vantienen shot back:

―What’s you!? The sky? The snow, the wolf, the flower? Oh...and I forgot, the princess. Explain yourself!

The boy hammered out the syllables, like pieces of red hot iron on an anvil:

―Yes. It’s. Me.

“Quiet!” barked Vantienen, putting an end to the tittering in the back of the classroom and with a shrug of his shoulders the case was closed. There was nothing left to say.

Pride must be celebrated. Thus the boy, clad in armor and perched on his horse, along with a terrible princess in full mourning dress, pictured himself arriving at the Coronation Mass to the sound of thundering hooves, just at the moment of the transubstantiation, that very moment when the priest holds the host up to the cross, to the one agonizing on it.

                                                                                              Serge Lutens


"Do not obey my orders, obey my silence"

Elena Vosnaki: The new Santal Majuscule is purported to be a study in Indian sandalwood. With current restrictions on the use of the Mysore variety, how is this attainable? Does the new fragrance comprise a fantasy accord of sandalwood, like in Jeux de peau?

Serge Lutens: Perfumery Serge Lutens is inventive. It is, foremost, majestically, accords and not just raw materials. Can you imagine someone asking Picasso the colors he used in a painting?

As you know, there are a wide variety of sandalwoods. Mysore is one that has been subjected for some time to a hidden trafficking. I had used it in the mid 90s, during the creation of Santal de Mysore. Santal Blanc is another thing. Regarding Santal Majuscule, this is an Australian sandalwood, high quality, but with this release, I "sensationalized" it so much that in the end, it is impossible to tell if it comes from India, Australia or elsewhere. What interests me is what I can do with it. Moreover, using sandalwood for itself alone would be a little "Sandalwood of misery...."
However, it is obvious that all raw materials cannot be substituted and cannot be replaced, but one must avoid being handicapped by them. For example, if I had no oak, I could rebuild it, with scents of cedar, birch, sandalwood and cypress. Its quality may be amplified by me. I play the game of nature: water, wind, pollen and the land on which all these elements arise. That's it! The perfume—it is the creation, not learning a scholarly language based on species of trees.

Elena Vosnaki: Sandalwood and rose is a famous attar recipe. How is Santal Majuscule different with the addition of cocoa absolute? Does it lean into the gourmand category or is it a more traditional oriental?

Serge Lutens: The rose/sandalwood accord has indeed been too often used by perfumers.  For me, this is a dangerous habit because it settles people into repeating themselves, which they subsequently call "style." 

The cocoa accord hit me in the face one day, by chance, when I opened a can of cocoa powder. I had in mind the sandalwood,and the smell is so encased that I had the impression that these scents were affiliated, that nature had brought them together previously. This elegant bitterness, powdery tonka produced the accuracy and richness of Santal Majuscule
Is it classifiable in either of these paralyses called "gourmand" or "oriental?" All these labels get a frown of disapproval. I would like, over time, that the perfumes be loved for themselves and not for the category to which they are supposed to belong. Perfume should stimulate you, comfort you, affirm you, make you dangerous…all this is not the role of a fragrance category. You can find 50 perfumes in a fragrance category with none that are alike (just like family members).

Elena Vosnaki: The latin motto accompanying the launch of Santal Majuscule instructs us to heed to your silence. Is silence stronger than words? Is writing or talking about perfume ultimately futile?

Serge Lutens: It is a phrase attributed to Teresa of Avila. I used it to illustrate this fragrance because for me, literature is a major art that can accompany fragrance. They are comparable, but I had never allowed myself to say this ... This formula, I feel it well.  Obey what you smell, feel, love. Do not obey what you're told, and do not believe it too much!

Fragrantica is thankful to M Lutens for this interview!

Images by Serge Lutens

Author: Elena Vosnaki is a historian & perfume writer from Greece and a Writer to Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests. Her writing was recognised at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she has been contributing to publications around the world.



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Miss LaCreevy
Miss LaCreevy

I take the final curl for a "s'': imperiis. Than the translation Obey my silence is correct. Kind regards, Miss LaCreevy.

Miss LaCreevy
Miss LaCreevy

Very interesting. I have some difficulties with the Latin motto. If ''Do not obey my orders, obey my silence' is correct, then ''imperii'', being a genetivus, is not possible. That should be ''imperiis'' (dative, like silentiis). Oboedire goes never with genetive. So I considered another possibility: take "imperii" not as a substantive, but as a verb: first person singularis perfectum act.; oboedi not as imperativus, but also the same perft. form. In postclassical Latin, the ''v'' of ''oboedivi, imperavi'' disappears. It is possible that the final i of oboedii drops off, but ''imperii'' for imperai ? The pun on the contrast between oboedire (to obey) and imperare (to command, to make demands on, see the Oxf. Class. Dict.) is nice in the translation:''. I obeyed to my silences, I did not make demands on them''.
Look eagerly forward to another great Lutens perfume!


Thanks so much for this great interview.
Monsieur Lutens really is an artist.


Mr. Lutens really defines art in a bottle. Very inspiring the way he sees his fragrances and the way he presents them to us. It is truly a journey to smell any of his fragrances and it almost feels like wearing them is an statement that you don't follow the masses, that you don't care about any brand or any TV commercial. With Serge Lutens you make your own story.

BTW. Do you guys know if Christopher Sheldrake is still working with Serge? Who is the nose behind Santal Majuscule? I hope they will continue working together, they make the best team in perfumery.


It's very nice to find so many new fragrances associated to literature and books lately. If this is a new trend in perfume marketing, it's a very welcome one. Much better than models exhibiting their perfect bodies and empty face expressions. Fortunately Lutens has always been above all this stuff, and provides us with more and more interesting concepts with every new SL launch.

I'm very impressed with this beautiful text! How masterfully and easily does Lutens establish an (improbable) connection between this oriental fragrance (cocoa and sandalwood couldn't sound more oriental; sorry, Monsieur Lutens, but I had to categorize Santal Majuscule) and both the western/Christian Middle Ages and his defyingly independent style. I hope the scent is as fascinating and unique as the concept behind it. Can't wait to test it! I'm sure it's full of Art written with a capital A :)


Serge Lutens fascinates me to no end... I love the fact that he sees narratives behind each of his scents. It makes me think that perfume is to him like story telling. I think there is a poet there, and you've really captured that spirit in the interview. Great!


This was a great read! Thank you! I wish every creator could introduce his/her perfume as imaginative and intriguing as M Lutens ;o)


What an interesting read. Thanks so much, I really enjoyed it.


More deep thoughts and enigmas from Mr. Lutens. Love it! :-) Thanks, Elena!


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