Uncle Serge is playing the trickster again. When he released the first of his Eaux (L'Eau De Serge Lutens, 2010) you could almost picture the wry smile on his face as fans expressed outrage at his apparent embrace of the 'clean' scent, a genre which is arguably the polar opposite of the established Lutens aesthetic. Then came L'Eau Froide which was a touch odder and prompted a somewhat less shrill, but no less bewildered, reaction. And now, as if to prove that he ignores the critical response to his output, Marrakesh's most enigmatic resident has added a third entry to the series: Laine De Verre.
Run a Google Image search on the name and you'll soon find out what it means. Yup, it's loft insulation. I may be wrong, but I suspect this venerable material hasn't been as inspirational to perfumers as, say, the oils pricked out of the zest of Calabrian bergamot or the thick juices squeezed out of Madagascan vanilla pods. So its evocation on the label of a Lutens bottle is rather incongruous. But then, dear Uncle Serge has always enjoyed teasing us with his names, and this particular one finds him on fine form, not least because it's so very apt.
Laine De Verre is fuzzy. Somehow, the sum total of the unashamedly synthetic burst of its opening - strawberries, raspberries, medicine cabinet, metal and starchy scouring powder - evokes a texture. It creates the perfume equivalent of a Brillo pad: soapy and familiar, but mildly distressing to touch. It simultaneously creates the impression that it's been chiselled out of a mineral rock face (an effect usually achieved by aldehydes) and that it's emerged from the secret vault of a pharmaceutical company.
So with all this decidedly non-liquid stuff going on, why is it in the Eaux series? Well, in keeping with the first two scents in the range - neither of which has really been about water - Laine De Verre makes prominent use of incense and, more importantly, it maintains an almost sterile, ferrous spotlessness throughout its development. Its well-scrubbed soul insists on hygiene so forcefully, it's almost impossible not to give in to its demands and shun even the slightest hint of debauchery. In some ways, the scent is the culmination of the attempts made by the first two releases to create a new olfactory language of 'clean'. It doesn't rely on the super-fruity shampoo codes of hygienic, American scents and it doesn't opt for the super-musk approach of Mugler's Cologne and all its clones. Instead, it locates cleanliness in a new territory, somewhere at the intersection of icy florals (there's the lightest whiff of frozen lily of the valley facets here), smoke-free incense, fizzy minerals and fruit dipped in liquid nitrogen.
Its longevity perhaps leaves a little bit to be desired, but whilst it lasts, Laine De Verre impresses with its ability to remain hyper-clean without becoming hyper-obvious or hyper-legible. It's intriguing. It's playful. And it even has a voice. Wear it... and you can hear Uncle Serge chuckling in the background... which is more than you can say about the stuff in your roof!
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Serge Lutens in 2014.]