L’Eau Froide by Serge Lutens

Get a whiff of this:

It’s a bright, white day in the mountains and the sun is blasting dappled diamonds into the pristinely-laid blankets of snow surrounding the ski tracks that lie before you. Your lungs are a little sore from the cold and heavy breathing, but judging from the echos of squealing delight from friends ahead on the cross-country path, a down-sloping hill is forthcoming, which will allow you time to catch your breath. And here it is now, and you bend forward and relax into the ride down. You smile as you breathe in through your nose the scent of fresh spruce needles wafting in the cold air that slaps you in the face while gliding down the hill. It’s so crisp and clean you almost feel like you are sucking in marine air, but it’s too peppery, gingery fresh and biting to be Mediterranean. Besides, it’s snowing. The falling snow flakes prick the skin on your face in the wind created by your motion, and on impact they ooze out a mineral, slightly metallic taste on your lips. You feel exhilarated and refreshed.

L’Eau Froide was launched in 2011. When I found, surprisingly, a small Serge Lutens perfume section in one of the duty free shops in Singapore’s Changi Airport last summer, on the way home from a wonderfully relaxing stay at friend’s based in Thailand, I was so glad I’d not gone crazy with the duty free offerings in Bangkok. The ground staff in Thailand had confided to me that duty free perfume offerings in Singapore were better in quality, quantity, and price, and I can now confirm this. I knew right away I was going to invest in a bottle from Sergy baby, but I did not expect it would be L’Eau Froide. No, I thought for sure it would be a number from his selective distribution line, such as Féminité du Bois, Ambre Sultan, Chergui, or Jeux de Peau. I was sure I’d be a complete mess deciding which deep, dark, and spicy concoction I would best like before running to get to my gate and onto the plane, but much to my confusion, I ended up with a bottle from his much cleaner, more reserved and lighter line, Les Eaux. And I purchased the thing with plenty of reading time to spare.

This newer line is clear departure from the established, quintessential Serge Lutens esthetic after which raving fans continue to chase. His other gourmand oriental scents are filled with Rusty Nails, fancied-up Manhattans, and spiked eggnogs, while the new line is more like simple Vodka Martinis and Gin Tonics. The current two scents in the tamer Les Eaux bundle are so different from his other perfumes that it is no wonder many of his loyal collectors are disgruntled, but perhaps because until now I’d never committed to a classic Serge Lutens scent, my views are not as ingrained.

The first fragrance in this line, launched in 2010, was simply called L’Eau, and her younger brother, L’Eau Froide, translated of course as cold water, is the one I got, created a year later. I really like it, obviously, but this is admittedly what I’d define as a weird choice for me. Actually, the perfumer is not Serge, but rather one Christopher Sheldrake. L’Eau Froide does not have the best sillage and it lives much closer to the skin than most offerings from the Luten line.

How did I end up with this bottle as opposed to one of his heftier, louder bombshells? Well, it was summer and I was indeed hot, and I wanted to cool down. What better way to do so than to smell of winter? Also, I love the smell of black pepper. LOVE it – especially when it’s contained in scent and doesn’t make me sneeze! Black pepper is typically not the very first note that many other fume heads might get out of this fragrance, but it is for me, and that black pepper – combined with the ginger and that fresh sea water vibe – completely sold me. I didn’t make it to the frosty incense and musk, which turned out to be lovely if very faint, before taking it to the counter. It was quite simply what I was in the mood for.

Yes, perhaps it was an impulse buy, but I used my bottle it up quickly one fall season in Japan – more like summer from my perspective, being a Canadian. I later learned that L’Eau Froide has mint in it, which is likely why the perfume seems so cooling, but rather than a blast of mint, it’s the aquatic and almost citrus elements (presumably from the frankincense) in the scent that freshen my nostrils.

I perceive L’Eau Froide as a more masculine fragrance. It is a great casual summer day scent, very well-constructed, but the spices in here might allow it to do well all year around. The scent does remind me of my childhood, skiing down a hill in the dead of winter in Mont St-Hilaire, near where I grew up south of Montreal. L’Eau Froide really does smell like beautifully crisp, cold, snowy white, dry water. Yes, I did say dry water. It has an exquisite, ghostly evanescent esthetic that makes you want to sniff for more. Aside from the fact that L’Eau Froide is not a projection monster, one other downside to this scent would be the price. Although you won’t find a similarly beautifully built composition, you could probably find some men’s citrus-y designer sports flanker that carries a similar vibe to L’Eau Froide, but for a fraction of the cost. I have not found one yet, but I’m sure there is one out there.

I try not to let the packaging and bottling of a fragrance influence my view of any perfume too much, but I have to say that the crisp black and white lettering with digital water dots conveys the scent pretty well. The box, as with presumably all SL fragrances, comes with a spray atomizer you can – and should, lest this baby spill over while the cap is off! – exchange for the silver round cap to which the bottle comes attached.

Here’s what Serge has to say about this creation:

“People are always using expressions like: “The situation was too hot for me to handle.” or “A chill ran down my spine.” I simply applied a similar concept to an Eau. The hero of this story is a tree during the dog days of summer. If an incision is made in its trunk, ‘tears of glass’ come out. Without air conditioning, the heat would kill it. Frankincense helps this scent preserve an icy cool.”

From Fragrantica:

  • OLFACTORY GROUP: oriental woody or aromatic spicy
  • MAIN ACCORDS: aromatic, green, balsamic, fresh spicy, smoky, aquatic
  • TOP NOTES: olibanum (frankincense), mint, vetiver
  • MIDDLE NOTES: black pepper, ginger, sea water
  • BASE NOTES: Somalian incense, musk

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