Storytelling is not necessary to produce a great fragrance, yet there is a huge portion of perfumes that rely on narrative to transport the author’s intention into the consumer’s consciousness. Context plays an important role on perception and, more so, in the acknowledgement and interpretation of experience. In that sense, a good prologue can do wonders for the novel that a perfume often is.
Now, Serge Luten’s PR usually gives you a short set of ideas to loosely explain what the composition is all about, sometimes falling close to gibberish and other times successfully giving a very approximate picture of what the fragrance is. His olfactory essays usually deal with Orientalism, at times with glamorous heroines, and occasionally with either the most profound or trivial events in human life. In this case, the story is in principle about a German girl, and thorns, and not much else is said, so we will have to complete some of the pages.
Please note that even though the girl is from Berlin, nowhere it says that the tale unfolds in Germany, but for the purposes of better understanding this narrative, it is the most appropriated of scenarios. Let’s go back some ninety-something years in time to the late 1920s at the Weimar Republic. These were years of political and social tension after WWI hit everyone in Europe. There was great industrial development and an artistic scene in force, but even this was not enough to facilitate life to everyone.
Historical observations aside, this is the story of a young woman who learned how to move in the fascinating social circles of the city. There is something splendid about her, however, also a darkness that envelops her in a cold veil of mystery. She conducts herself as some sort of obscure socialite, a composed lobbyist, yet no one know with precision what she really does or what her background is. Her arresting looks make people gravitate towards her but from the moment you meet her you know that she is assertive, kinda vitriolic and also, that she know everything about everyone.
Let’s put a pause on the narrative and focus on the perfume itself to later see if and where both things intertwine. La Fille de Berlin is first and foremost a rose scent from beginning to end, and a great one at that. Roses are an instantly recognizable note in perfumery, but there are many types of roses and each has particular characteristics which make them highly versatile. A rose accord can be composed as powdery, jammy, sweet, sour, spicy, thick, transparent, opulent, warm, cold, and so on. Roses can be turned into many things.
As the great Victoria Frolova has noted, Lutens has taken, numerous times and rather ingeniously, one note or accord exaggerating its qualities to create something entirely bigger than the sum of its parts and, oftentimes, fabulous. In this particular case, the metallic aspect of the rose has been highlighted along with certain fruity, raspberry nuances asociated with expensive rose accords (as a side note, I would recommend Victoria’s blog, Bois de Jasmin as a must-read to anyone interested in perfumery).
This fragrance starts off cold and metallic, hinting at blood or the sensation of biting steel. This fades away after some minutes when geranium appears. It gives the impression of berries, ruby in color, like red wine as seen through a glass in front of an incandescent light. The raspberry overtone adds a certain tartness which is delectable. The palmarosa helps to keep the fruitiness in check with its rosy but vegetal aroma which never takes center stage, behaving more like a slight complement.
It stays this way for an extended period of time, while the sweet note of honey slowly grows bigger along with the earthy oakmoss and patchouli. Honey, whereas sweet, is also animalic because its smell can loosely recall that of urine. Here, that facet is also well controlled but not entirely suppressed, evading any off-putting tone but at the same time adding a faint carnality. The longevity of this fragrance is great, lasting some eight hours on skin, with a decent sillage, but somewhat linear. Changes are cleverly fine-tuned.
The honey in the composition may suggest that this girl has a secret propensity for debauchery, but I would like to direct your attention to other features that may be better sustained inside the story, and that is of endurance and resilience. This girl is beautiful and has evident charms, but her initial coldness and her underlying strength make some questions arise, such as if this is a spy and who she works for, or if she has been the victim of something in her past. Is she on an altruist mission or rather focused on selfish interests? It’s hard to decipher. But one thing is clear: she is courageous.
It’s impossible to know where this novel will take us without further study, and that takes time, but a quick glance at the epilogue lets us know that this is the story of a collected film noir heroin who has learned how to navigate through life with elegance and wit, and is into something that will surely take her into a remarkable path that will, inevitably, unfold into interesting events within the frigid and turbulent atmosphere that surrounds her. A beautiful and brave rose, for sure.
Name: La Fille de Berlin
House: Serge Lutens
Concentration: Eau de parfum
Nose: Christopher Sheldrake
Release Year: 2013
Category: Oriental floral
Reviewed Batch: circa 2016
From personal colletion.