The name ‘La Religieuse’ brings to mind three things; nuns in pristine black and white habits, with equally as spotlessly clean souls, the delicious French pastry that resembles the aforementioned ladies in their formal dress, and now, Serge Lutens’ latest fragrance, ‘La Religieuse’. Speaking of ‘threes’, La Religieuse also marks Lutens’ third foray into the world of jasmine – nature’s most hypnotic, heady and hedonistic white flower. Just think about that for a second. How many perfume lines do you know that are extensive enough to include three separate essays on the same material? The list is short, I tell you.
La Religieuse joins A La Nuit and Sarrasins (a Parisian boutique exclusive), the photorealistic and snake-like jasmines respectively, in Lutens’ flower garden as his third experiment with jasmine. But how does this one differ, and what does it aim to say? Well, as Lutens likes to speak in riddles, the only description of La Religious that is offered up is thus; “Deliver us from Good! Jasmine petals are as white as snow. Black is my religion”. This hints at a dark, and potentially disturbing composition that speaks of dabbling in the black arts and making offerings to the Devil, but that could not be further from the truth.
In reality, La Religieuse isn’t really an ode to nuns or religion. It’s not an olfactory take on Whoopi Goldberg’s character in Sister Act, unfortunately (now that’s an idea – ‘Eau de Dolores Van Cartier’ – could someone make that for me please?), instead it is something entirely more low-key and sweet. La Religieuse is best described as an ethereal jasmine fragrance with sweet gourmand nuances, that place it somewhere between a delicate floral and a heavenly treat. As always, Serge Lutens likes to leave us guessing and in that sense, La Religieuse is very much in keeping with the rest of his collection.
Jasmine, Civet and Incense
How Does it Smell?
In the opening, La Religieuse hints at the gourmand sensibilities of the Ladurée pastry, with which it shares its name. The fruitier aspects of jasmine are showcased first, tumbling out the sprayer in a haze of jasmine-flavoured sherbet. I’d liken the overall effect to a dollop of jasmine jam, stewed with plum and liquorice facets to give the whole thing a suitable purple-coloured juiciness, that truly feels like a decadent sweet treat served in some exotic café. Not exactly the image of stone-faced nuns in stark black habits that you were expecting, huh? Well, if I know one thing about our dear Uncle Serge, it’s that he doesn’t like to do anything that remotely resembles ‘the expected’, and that is is exactly why us perfume nerds love him.
The jasmine at La Religieuse’s heart is creamy and hot, without being particularly lush. There’s a paired-back feeling to it that is quite surprising for a Lutens fragrance, which so often are no holds barred orientals thick with exotic materials and brimming with spice. La Religieuse is the opposite of all of that, and instead courts with a quiet introspection that doesn’t feel out of place with the idea of religious meditation. The jasmine is soft and supple, like silk and for once, it doesn’t demand attention and opts to draw one in through a delicate floral trail that is quietly addictive.
As La Religieuse dries down, things soften to nothing more than a whisper. To my nose, there are three components that make up the base; musk, vanilla and incense. The vanilla maintains the sweetness, which is, and remains relatively subtle in the dry down, whereas the musk and incense create an airy feel that is slightly animalic, giving the impression of warm skin that isn’t exactly clean. This is the only time at which the fragrance could be described as ‘fleshy’, but the effect is so quiet and subtle that it doesn’t feel carnal or sexy. After a few hours, La Religieuse trails off to nothing more than a delicate hint of purple jasmine air.
La Religieuse isn’t exactly what I expected when I read that Lutens was going to create a jasmine fragrance supported by civet and incense, and inspired by the habit of a nun. I expected a gothic jasmine, as cold as church stone and as black as night. This is the polar opposite of what La Religieuse delivers, and I would describe it as beautifully tender fragrance that is more of a cuddle than a curse. Perhaps all of that darkness was a red herring and Lutens has a soft spot for the devotion of nuns? Whatever the reasoning behind it, I must say that La Religieuse strikes an interesting chord, and it is beautiful in the most subtle of ways.