If Serge Lutens weren’t such an impressive multi-hyphenate (hair stylist/photographer/makeup artist/filmmaker/fashion designer/perfumer/makeup creator), we might take umbrage at some of his rather brazen, if not existential, responses to our questionnaire. But he’s SERGE LUTENS! The genius behind such fragrance gems as Datura Noir, Ambre Sultan, and Fleurs d’Oranger! One would be hard-pressed to find a fragrance zealot who could dispute that the man has a way with scent. So, as long as he keeps creating them, he can reply any way he wants to.
Born in northern France in 1942, Lutens was separated from his mother when he was less than a month old and raised by foster parents. At 14, he was given a job at a beauty salon “against his will,” according to his bio (he, apparently, had acting aspirations). Still, he’d cultivated his signature look by the time he was 16: eyeshadow, luminous skin, and short, plastered-down hair. He moved to Paris and added photography to his skill set, then makeup artistry, which landed him in the same studios as Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, doing shoots for Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and American Vogue, where Diana Vreeland famously proclaimed his work the “revolution of makeup.”
In 1967, the House of Christian Dior reached out to Lutens and asked him to create a makeup line. Lutens’s 12-year tenure there instilled a confidence that led him to approach Shiseido, where he became artistic director. It was at Shiseido where he first tried his hand at fragrance. His first two were the iconic Nombre Noir and Feminite du Bois. Not bad for a rookie.
In 2000, Lutens launched his own fragrance line (makeup followed five years later), which now has 75 scents in its stable, including the recent Politesse collection: six light, sheer fragrances with blends focused on rustic, raw ingredients.
Famously reclusive, Lutens — who, like many perfumers, does not wear scent himself — lives in a converted palace in Marrakech, where he remains, for the most part, unplugged. “I’m on neither internet nor mobile, and I avoid television,” he says, with a hint of pride.
He spoke with the Cut about his metaphysical comfort food, his disdain for travel, and why he never sets foot in his own kitchen.
What is your definition of beauty?
To define it would be to betray it. It is the only thing that can change my mind.
What is the opposite of “beautiful”?
The border or edge beyond which we no longer have access to beauty.
What is your grooming routine?
The water of a bath and the foam of a Marseille soap.
Favorite travel location?
I hate them. Too many controls, too many planes, too much of everything!
How do you like your bed?
As I would like my sleep. Deep as that of a river.
Casual shoe of choice?
Fashion item you would never wear?
The one that is indicated to me.
What is your classic uniform?
What comes out of the closet: black or white. Or black and white.
If you weren’t creating fragrance and cosmetics, what would you be doing?
I would read the Cut.
Do you have pets? Names?
A dog, a cat: One is called Snow White, it is a male obviously, and the cat is called Bad.
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?
The first one I saw: Snow White.
Favorite outdoor activity?
Getting out of the room.
What tests your patience?
Questions from the Cut.
Last great book you read?
They are of all sizes. The little ones are the biggest.
What would the name of your autobiography be?
Quand la Vie Se Trompe de Personne [In English: When Life Is Wrong for Anyone]
What do you wish more people knew about what you do?
The least possible.
What do you do or take when you can’t sleep?
Take it on the chin and sit tight.
That of the spirit.
Least favorite smell?
The smell of the kitchen after lunch.
Most-used item in your kitchen, appliance or otherwise?
I never step foot in there.
What do you wish you had invented?
The power to be what you want at least one minute in your life.
If you could have one ridiculous indulgence, what would it be?
Chocolates, from the most ordinary to the most refined.
Almost nothing because fasting suits me. My comfort food is spirituality.
Cosmique — Johann Sébastien Bach.
What product in your company’s domain is misunderstood and should be a best seller?
But is there a scent in your collection that you believe is a great one, but you don’t understand why it’s not more beloved?
Not really. It is a story between the public and the perfume.
What do you foresee as the top beauty trends in 2018?