Fragrant Secrets and Magical Glamour of Serge Lutens

Serge Lutens (born 14 March 1942 in Lille, France) is a French photographer, filmmaker, hair stylist, perfume art-director and fashion designer.

Serge Lutens was born during the war, on March 14th, 1942 in Lille, in northern France.

Separated from his mother when he was just weeks old, his personality was indelibly marked by this original abandonment. Permanently torn between two families, he lived life at a distance and through his imagination. He was a dreamer. At the École Montesquieu, they said he was “on the moon”: he paid no attention, although his teachers recognised that he was a gifted storyteller.

In 1956, at the age of 14, he was given a job against his will – he would have preferred being an actor – in a beauty salon in his native city.

Two years later, he had already established the feminine hallmarks that he would make his own: eye shadow , ethereally beautiful skin, short hair plastered down. He also became known for the colour black, from which he never deviated. He confirmed his tastes and his choices with the female friends of his whom he photographed.

He was 18 when he was called up to serve in the army during the Algerian War. He was remoulded. This was an important break that led him to make his decision: to leave Lille and head for Paris. This was 1962.

Helped by a friend, Madeleine Levy, and bearing large prints of his photographs of his friends, Serge Lutens, experiencing his first years in Paris at a time of insecurity and want, contacted Vogue magazine. For him, this magazine represented the essence of beauty: a sort of convent that he mythologised. Three days later, he collaborated on the Christmas issue.

Serge Lutens

The creator of a vision through makeup, jewellery and extraordinary objets, Serge Lutens quickly became the person to call, and the fashion magazines were not mistaken: Elle, Jardin des Modes, Harper’s Bazaar were constantly after him: he worked with the greatest photographers of the time, all the while pursuing his own photographic work. During these years, his talent was fully acknowledged.

In 1967, Christian Dior, who was preparing to launch its makeup line, called upon him. For the House of Dior he would create colours, style and images. Finally, his vision was unified through photography.

In the early 1970’s, the famous editor-in-chief of US Vogue, Diana Vreeland, was unstinting in her enthusiasm: “Serge Lutens, Revolution of Make-up!” His success was resounding. Serge Lutens became the symbol of the freedom created through makeup, for a whole new generation.

In 1974, mirroring his taste for films and the legendary actresses in them, he made a short: “Les Stars.”

During this period, he travelled widely, exploring Morocco and later Japan. These two countries, with their rich and yet so different cultures, came together in him and confirmed his way of seeing and feeling.

He recalled them some years later, in 1980, when he signed on with Shiseido for a collaboration that was to enable the Japanese cosmetics group, until then unknown on the international scene, to establish such a powerful visual identity that it became one of the world’s leading market players in the 1980’s and ‘90’s.

Serge Lutens perfume collection

In 1982, for the same brand, he conceived Nombre Noir, his first perfume, dressed in lustrous black on matte black, a concept that foreshadowed the ubiquitous codes of the 1990’s. While his first perfume marked the 1980’s, it was through his creation of Féminité du bois and Les Salons du Palais Royal in 1992 with their dreamlike décor, that Serge Lutens led his first true olfactory revolution in the field of perfume.

Fragrances like Ambre sultan, Tubéreuse criminelle, Cuir mauresque… have since become indispensable, writing a new page in the History of Fragrances.

The logical culmination of this came in 2000 when Serge Lutens created the brand that today bears his name and establishes his uncompromising style. Perfumes and makeup (“Nécessaire de beauté”), his expressions in this area, are marketed through specialised and selective distribution and more confidentially at the Palais Royal-Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens in his new salon in Moscow

His innovations in this field have received many prestigious awards, including several FIFI awards from the Fragrance Foundation.

In 2004, at the invitation of “Lille, European Capital of Culture,” he designed an olfactory labyrinth around scents from his childhood: this installation met with great intergenerational success.

In 2007 Serge Lutens was awarded the distinction of Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters.

Starting in 2010, Serge Lutens established a connection between perfumes and literature and opened up a new path with what he calls an anti-perfume: “L’Eau Serge Lutens.

Serge Lutens working in his home in Marrakech
Serge Lutens working in his home in Marrakech

Shiseido

Shiseido signed for purchasing the trademark of Serge Lutens, a name synonymous with luxury fragrances and cosmetics. This brand was created in collaboration with Mr. Serge Lutens and Shiseido has been in the process of negotiation since March 2015.

The purchase of the trademark rights will enable Shiseido to invest more in the brand such as opening up directly managed boutiques in major cities worldwide, and gradually increase points of contact while keeping its prestigious image. As of 2015, the brand has expanded to around 2000 outlets in 35 countries.

Mr. Lutens will keep directing the brand to transmit the spirit and the style. In order to continue to promote the Serge Lutens brand in the future, Shiseido has concluded that it would be the best way to purchase the brand while maintaining its concept, “Rare and Lux”.

Shiseido’s partnership with Mr. Serge Lutens, a French creator acknowledged by the high-fashion and cosmetics industry for his unique visual creations, started in 1980. It was largely thanks to this collaboration that the Company was able to successfully break into European markets and accelerated its globalization. In 2000, confident of his own experience in perfumery and supported by the Shiseido group, Serge Lutens decided to create his own brand: Parfums Beauté Serge Lutens, later renamed as “Serge Lutens”.

Official website of Serge Lutens

See Serge Lutens works on Alafoto Gallery

Serge Lutens luxury palace in Marrakech

Riad Marrakesh – legendary perfumer Serge Lutens luxury palace in Marrakech
Serge Lutens at his home in Marrakech, 2012

This luxury property in Marrakech, which is actually made of several buildings and Serge Lutens  worked 35 years, at the same times with 500 artisans, is a unique place, comparable only with works of art like Marcel Duchamp’s last secret object “Etant donnés”, Marcel Proust’s “In In Search of Lost Time “or the artificial paradise, which the author Joris-Karl Huysmans ‘Des Esseintes for the dandy in his novelin Against the grain“.

Serge Lutens said to vogue: I got to know Marrakech 1968th, It was just adorable – the sky, the smiles of the people, this kindness, this beauty, everything. Actually I wanted to stay only ten days – it was three months. In 1974 I came here with a plan to buy a house. I found wonderful objects, but they were either too big or too small, or otherwise not what it was true. Three days before my departure I took an elderly man in white Djellabah the arm and said: “Come, I know what you are looking for!”. He led me to this amazing old house.

Serge Lutens luxury palace in Marrakech

Salons and Perfumes of Serge Lutens

See Serge Lutens works on Alafoto Gallery

Photography

In order to experiment with and practice photography, Lutens asked his friends to become his models and pose in front of the camera. Later, in 1962 he shifted to Paris and was hired by Vogue to do fashion jewelry, hair and makeup. Lutens was enchanted by the epitome of beauty represented in the magazine. He often mythologized of Vogue being something like a convent of fashion.

Throughout the 60s, he worked with photographers like Bob Richardson, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. In 1967, he was commissioned by Christian Dior to produce a line of makeup.

In 1973, Serge Lutens produced a photographic series which was inspired by the works of artists, such as Georges Pierre Seurat, Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso and Claude Monet. These photographs were displayed in New York’s Guggenheim Museum. In the mid-70s, Lutens was the director of art films, like Suaire, 1976; and Les Stars, 1974. These short films were presented at the Cannes Film Festival.

Some of the most prominent fashion publications had their eye on Lutens and were constantly calling him to work for them. These magazines include Jardin des Modes, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and many others.

The way Luten takes a picture is by first setting things right with the technicians of color, then he selects his models and designs their hairstyles and clothes. Once this is done, he does makeup on them and creates the right mood in his studio and then he clicks.

Serge Luten has also published photographic books, such as L’Espirit Serge Lutens: The Spirit of Beauty, 1992; and Serge Lutens, 1998.

See Serge Lutens works on Alafoto Gallery

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