Fleurs de Citronnier Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens Review
I have a major gripe with the fruit blossom perfume genre.
It’s one I’ve aired before. Most notably at Jo Malone’s innocent and syrupy-sweet Nectarine Blossom & Honey. And also at Pacifica’s now-discontinued Malibu Lemon Blossom. (Which, to be fair, I think was an extraordinarily poorly-named take on the relatively unknown litsea cubeba flower.) And at anything with a so-called peach blossom note in it.
(You should be glad there isn’t an actual pear blossom note in that one. Pear blossoms smell like death. No, really, it’s the vilest floral I’ve ever encountered. If you ever come across a pear tree in bloom, smell it. Or don’t. Your call. Anyway.)
And now I’m doing it to Fleurs de Citronnier.
My problem with these perfumes is a certain biological fallacy. The noses and marketing departments behind these scents seem to be under the impression that the blossoms of any fruiting tree simply smell like the fruit itself, perhaps with a touch of nondescript floral window dressing.
That, or they think the public at large believes this. Which they honestly might. Most people don’t get to smell a lot of fruit trees these days.
So what we get are nectarine blossom perfumes that simply smell like nectarines and black locust flowers, and peach blossom accords that smell like generic pink fruity-floral aromachemicals, and peach blossom notes that don’t smell like death, and lemon blossom perfumes that smell like lemons and whatever flowers the nose felt like throwing in that day.
And so it is with Christopher Sheldrake’s intriguing and befuddling Fleurs de Citronnier.
I’ll admit that this is a particular sore spot of mine with lemon blossom perfumes. All my life I’ve been on the hunt for a true lemon blossom perfume. One that actually smells like the gorgeous blooming lemon tree I grew up with.
I want something big and loud and photorealistic and intoxicating. I want the Pacifica French Lilac of lemon blossom notes. Even Serge Lutens’ own Bois de Joie is a phenomenal example of that rare photorealistic floral bigness I ache to see presented in my floral perfumes. I want that in lemon blossom.
Honestly, at this point, I’d settle for a really solid orange blossom that’s masquerading as lemon blossom. I’m not picky.
And I thought that’s what I might get in Serge Lutens’ Fleurs de Citronnier. But alas. Instead, what I got instead was yet another “Blossoms from fruit trees smell like fruit, right?” disappointment bundled in a dense gray cloud of synthetic clean musk.
You know what annoys me most about this perfume trend? It’s insulting. You’re really gonna throw a bright yellow citrusy lemon accord at me and then try to tell me this is a lemon blossom scent? A perfume based entirely on lemon blossoms, so much that it’s named “lemon blossoms” in French? A note pyramid with nary a citrus fruit note supposedly in sight?
I can smell the lemon. We all can smell the lemon.
I feel a little like I’m playing hide and seek with Serge Lutens’ marketing department.
“I know you’re in there,” I say as I duck under my bed to find a cowering little sentient humanoid lemon covering his eyes in shame. “I can smell you.”
“If I can’t see you, you can’t see me!” the poor little lemon man responds as he continues desperately to pretend he does not exist.
Fleurs de Citronnier is not a lemon blossom perfume. At least, not on my skin. Not even close. This is a clean, greenish burst of synthetic-but-not-unpleasant lemon that dries down to a similarly clean and synthetic yet inoffensive musk.
In between, things are briefly colored in by a fascinating nutmeg note that’s sharp and clean and almost-peppery one moment and cozy and cinnamonesque and blended in soft sweet styrax the next. That nutmeg note is, to me, the most interesting part of Fleurs de Citronnier.
Are there flowers in here at all? Supposedly. Supposedly, a bouquet of lemon blossom, neroli or orange blossom, and tuberose make up the white floral heart of Fleurs de Citronnier. This bouquet does come out on my skin, but only as a bashful secondary character behind the burst of lemon, and only for the first hour or so.
For one glorious moment, ten or so minutes in, I could smell a floral note that could concievably be a white floral from an orange or lemon blossom tree. And then the lemon came back in full force and I lost it again.
Maybe my skin chemistry is just really eating the floral notes in this one, but I’m not getting them.
That flash of white florals is just about all I get of fleurs through most of Fleurs de Citronnier. It makes me think I was a bit spoiled to carp and cavil about the modest lemon blossom note in Serge Lutens’ own Datura Noir. At least I could definitively recognize something like lemon blossom there. At least the perfume at large felt like a sunny white floral number on me rather than a chilly mix of lemons and musk.
The lemon note that defines Fleurs de Citronnier on my skin is bright and clean and harmless. It’s not natural in the least, and certainly feels like a laundry or cleaning product sort of clean fragrance, but it’s inoffensive.
The note is artfully edged by green. A well-blended spot of petitgrain makes it feel as if this odd synthetic lemon is still ripening on the bowing branch of the fake plastic tree. It’s a detail I really appreciate, a touch of lemon tree leaves and stems. Perhaps it’s the closest Fleurs de Citronnier gets to delivering my nostalgic lemon blossom fantasy.
The lemon is clean and sparkly, but it’s unfeeling and utterly devoid of personality. It’s crisp white sheets and hotel air freshener, not anything lived in you could ever call home. The touch of crisp green adds to this coldness. This is a lemon note that’s stringent about professional boundaries, makes you call him Professor even if you’re no longer a student, and never smiles.
Supposedly, there’s a honey note in the heart of Fleurs de Citronnier. This, too, does not appear on my skin. Perhaps it lends the faint dash of sweetness that occasionally shines through that shape-shifting nutmeg note. At times the nutmeg reminds me of sweet cinnamon baked treats, and maybe the honey has to do with that.
But for the most part this is a diet sparkling citrus soda of a scent, crisp and clean and largely devoid of sweetness. It isn’t at all like Diptyque’s Oyedo — that, too, is a fizzy citrus soda, but that one is ridiculously saccharine and candylike. Oyedo is a bright orange Jarrito and Fleurs de Citronnier is a Sprite.
And now, dear reader, we get to the musk.
I’d say at least two thirds of Fleurs de Citronnier is musk. Not a fierce, sexy animalic musk, or a woody musk, or a musk that reminds you of dust and clothing. No, this is a dense gray blanket of heterogeneous aromachemical I can only describe as a plain ol’ synthetic white musk.
Like the lemon, it’s clean and inoffensive and cold. This is no cuddly musk that warms you up. Rather, it imparts the sort of effect that leaves most people vaguely aware you’re wearing perfume yet unable to name exactly what they’re smelling. It has that my-skin-but-better effect people love, and provides it in a particularly clean, fresh, office-safe way.
The development of Fleurs de Citronnier is largely linear. The first hour or two are all underripe green lemon, and after that things get progressively muskier as they fade away.
There’s nothing in this that stands out as particularly powdery to me. Iris is listed among the base notes, but it only slightly shapes the musk into a dustier and more finely-sifted direction.
Fleurs de Citronnier is utterly professional. This would make a fantastic office scent for lovers of citrus. It gives you a little something something without being too in anyone’s face. It’s crisp and clean and formal and a touch cold. The lemon note is so thoroughly adhesed to the musk drydown that you can keep getting whiffs of crisp-white-folded-shirt citrus all day. Its tenacity is impressive. The musk and soft styrax round out the edges of the perfume, giving it a performative sort of softness, like the work of lemon-scented dryer sheets.
This perfume won’t make you come off as stuffy or inaccessible. It’s not as cold a number as Serge Lutens’ own De Profundis or La Religieuse. It’s not some unwearable art piece. Not even close. This is a perfume that’s as easy to wear as a crisply-ironed button-down shirt. I can see it working well on both men and women dressed with an air of clean, sophisticated reliability and rectitude.
I gave my sample of Fleurs de Citronnier to my mother, lover of crisp, fresh, cool and clean fragrances. Usually, citrusy scents aren’t really her thing, but she loves this one. It’s her new favorite. And I can see why. It’s perfectly clean and fresh with a green edge and an underlying coverlet of musk.
Though not soapy in the least, this is one of the cleanest perfumes I’ve ever smelled. It smells like a person who has their shit together, who has a neatly organized list for everything, who always washes and presses all their silks and linens exactly right and has a schedule of what’s for dinner in the coming week.
My mom just read David Allen’s Getting Things Done and has been moderately radicalized by it. She makes lists for everything now. She’s been asking everyone non-stop what they want for their birthday so she can write it down, even if your birthday is more than six months away. Fleurs de Citronnier fits perfectly into the persona she’s trying to embody.
It’s crisp and clean and yet soft and musky in texture. Nothing in Fleurs de Citronnier really speaks to me as if it has a soul, but I can see it being a functional piece of a put-together professional ensemble.
Is Fleurs de Citronnier a bad perfume? Not at all. It’s pleasant and soft and entirely unabrasive. It sticks around all day at a relatively soft but adequate volume. It doesn’t match what I thought and hoped it might be, but I shouldn’t discount what it is: a quirky and unique clean white musk perfume with a fresh-citrus-cologne twist.
It’s weird and new and unlike anything else, and somehow it’s simultaneously extremely safe and wearable. It isn’t my sort of thing and it isn’t what I’d dreamed of, but I did enjoy wearing it. Especially when those hints of cozy styrax-nutmeg warmth shone through the otherwise cold and crisp composition.
Still, I feel like I’m allowed to be disappointed for hardly smelling any fleurs de citronnier in a fragrance called Fleurs de Citronnier. But then, maybe it’s my skin chemistry.
Eight hours in, as Fleurs de Citronnier is almost gone from my skin, an odd thing happens.
Suddenly I realize I’m left with a faint aroma on my skin that reminds me of salt and sunscreen and warm summer sun, as floral notes sometimes do. I can smell the comforting cinnamon-like sweetness of the styrax mixed with nutmeg. But best of all, I can smell a general impression of white flowers, sun-kissed and shot through with a delicate drizzle of honey.
At last, at last, I can smell some fleurs in Fleurs de Citronnier. I can sense their delicate nature and their powerful indolic punch. I can see their pretty white dresses flouncing as they slather on sunscreen and walk along the beach. I can hear them giggling as they wade into the water.
But they’re gone. I only smell their shadow, their pale white floral ghost.
It’s like they were here without me and left me a note. “Sorry we missed you,” read the letters scrawled in the sand. The sun is setting as the ocean washes them away, and suddenly everything lit up in orange and and purple and gold. Somewhere far away, a single tuberose laughs.
I’m sorry I missed them, too.
Where to Find Fleurs de Citronnier Eau de Parfum by Serge Lutens
You can find samples and decants of Fleurs de Citronnier EdP at Scent Split.
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