Serge Lutens : À La Nuit

Created by : Christopher Sheldrake

Date : 2000

Genre : Jasmine soliflore

Concentration : Eau de parfum

“This is not perfume,” I said to a friend about À La Nuit.  It was an off-handed comment made for effect but as I said those words I had a flashback to 1979… way back to a lecture on Modern Art and Concepts by the late Professor W. Judkins at McGill University.  Professor Judkins was a Harvard-trained art historian who had taught at Harvard and Radcliffe and who almost single-handedly started up the Art History Department at the University.

“Next slide please,” Professor Judkins said with a gravelly voice to his assistant in the projection room.  A Canaletto painting of Venice flashed up on the screen.  I leaned over to whisper to a classmate, “So beautiful… this is great art.”

“THIS IS NOT ART,” Professor Judkins emphasized word by word.  “It’s nothing but a lovely postcard meant to be purchased by the rich during their Grand Tour of Europe.  Where is the interpretation?  Where is the abstraction?  The art part of painting lies in its abstraction.”  I was horrified.  But more than 30 years later while testing À La Nuit, I understood what he was saying.

À La Nuit is a soliflore which means it attempts to reproduce the scent of one flower… jasmine, in this case.  It doesn’t develop much over time and, in that sense, it is not unlike an essential oil.  It smells flat and uninspired but for what it’s meant to do, it does it well.  If you absolutely love the smell of jasmine and you don’t want to go to a headshop to pick up some jasmine essential oil (at a fraction of the cost), well then you’ll love it.  I’m not a fan because I prefer my perfumes to be more complex and to evolve over time.  All this reminds me of Edmond Roudnitska and what he did with Diorissimo.  He did not give us a straight up lily of the valley.  He interpreted and embellished it.  And that is why Diorissimo is infinitely more interesting than say, Yardley’s Lily of the Valley.  But for those on a limited budget who like the smell of muguet… well, the latter is still pretty good.

So if À La Nuit is so boring why is it part of my collection?  I wanted it as a reference scent to calibrate my nose when I’m looking for jasmine notes in other perfumes… but I’ll never wear it.

And so my flippant comment was exactly that… not very well thought out and a little unfair.  Of course À La Nuit is a perfume.  But, is it art?  I don’t know.  Probably not.

By the way, if anyone out there has any Canaletto “postcards” cluttering up your walls, please feel free to send them my way.  I’ll gladly pay for the shipping.

Have a nice week everyone!

Image : The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute (1730) by Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto)

Leave a comment


  1. Agreed…a nice smell, but nothing more.

    • It’s topless and bottomless. I think it would appeal to a very small group of people. And as for layering, I’ve tried it but it seems to overpower everything. It’s not unlike a lavender oil I used to wear… one note from beginning to bitter end. 😉

  2. I agree with your professor, art is not portrayal. I have my doubts as to whether perfume is art as well…
    I have a fear of white flowers in perfume, they can be annoying. A la Nuit is what I do not like about white flowers. Sarrasins is what I love.

    • We can’t get Sarassins here, unfortunately. I don’t think it is part of the Serge Lutens export line. But I’ve heard great things about it.

  3. Si Tran

     /  December 16, 2011

    i completely disagree with you…..a la nuit takes you on a journey from the blooming of the bud to the decaying flower. one of my fav. floral.

  4. Anonymous

     /  April 3, 2012

    “The art part of painting lies in its abstraction.” Art is destroyed when envious and benighted professors try to find abstract interpretations in order to justify their job in universities. It’s known that those who cannot produce/do sth (like art for example), they just teach it, or even judge it..
    However, I really liked your review on this perfume. Very informative.

    • Thanks for your comment! Were he still alive, I wonder what would be Professor Judkins’ thoughts on colour photography… 😉

  5. I love it! It is a signature scent for me.

    • Thanks for the comment. You know, I love it on other people. The occasional whiff now and then is really spectacular. Good for you for wearing it!


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