What kind of a world would it be now without M. Serge? Before he came along with Feminite du Bois, followed by his host of Moroccan inspired scents, the microcosm of French perfume was hermetically sealed in its fortress. Its influences were internal, its masterpieces were Parisian, and no one could really unseat Guerlain or Caron or for that matter Chanel, in a joust of elegance. They were the champions, and everyone else just prayed not to fall off the horse.
Everyone except for Serge. He waged his own campaign from the get go, in the idiosyncratic manner of all geniuses and world conquerors. Serge loved Morocco with an apparently deathless affection and so all his fragrances reflected this love of place in one way or another, whether it was Moroccan sweets as in Rahat Loukhoum or the smell of the souk as in Arabie, or the pine needle filtered air blown off the Atlas Mountains as in Fille en Aiguilles.
Did he make the world a safer place for brands like Montale and Amouage and AbdesSalaam Attar after his conquest of Paris? In all probability, he did. He also introduced fleet competition, just at the time when IFRA & Co began shooting the toes off European fine perfumery’s feet one by one, thereby rendering them pretty useless in a race and easily outrun in a rout. Soon there will be no point in trying to find premium perfume in Europe, unless, of course, it is bespoke perfume or Swiss.
The UAE, however, will be another matter, just how much their resident perfumers care about IFRA and its restrictions is debatable. Presumably such regulations affect their exports to Europe, but then, who really cares about an impoverished European market heading into a second recession?
As for Serge and his Golden Horde, his parent company is Japanese, after all. This fact gives him and his backers at Shiseido more strategic options. Serge perfumes are richer and denser and more interesting than their competitors’, and this seems to be true almost across the board. I would really rather wear Douce Amere than Lolita Lempicka, or Rose de Nuit than Guerlain’s Rose Barbare. As to his florals, they can be wonderful in a moonlit Moroccan garden style, and there is almost no jasmine perfume that competes with Sarrasins.
There are some clever compositions out there, Jasmin et Cigarette for instance, but the formulas smell comparatively thin. This, set in tiny type, is the problem with most of M. Serge’s competition, they cannot swirl the same oversized calligraphy of scent across the air as Serge. His real competition is probably AbdesSalaam Attar and other independent perfumers. All his western corporate competitors do not possess the necessary flair or pliancy; their business models, like their ways, are set.
As for me, I am reveling in blasts of Chergui and swathes of Sarrasins (courtesy of the lovely Sigrun at Ryktig Parfym) and of course the smell of the saddle across which all the subjugated scents get hauled: Muscs Khublai Khan.
Hey, sometimes the invaders aren’t all barbaric all the time. Serge isn’t.