Monday Question – Serge Lutens or Frédéric Malle: You Must Choose!

We had a lot of fun with the previous showdowns Chanel vs. Guerlain and By Kilian vs. Parfumerie Générale, so I thought it was time for another one.

I chose to set Serge Lutens against Frédéric Malle since both their houses are lead by charismatic men who work closely with perfumers to fulfill their fragrant visions. Both houses have a great variety of high quality perfumes that stand out from the crowd.

So who is your favorite? Are you a Malle fan or a Lutens groupie?

Whose perfumes grab you more? Which line dominates in your collection?

Remember: You MUST choose!

Okay, let’s do it!

question-markMy Answer:

Both of these lines have played a major role in my becoming a Perfumista. They were the first I explored and who drew me inexorably down the rabbit hole. My very first bottle of niche perfume came from Frédéric Malle – En Passant – my second was a Lutens – Chergui.

frederic_malle_paris

In the years since, I have had a pretty constant and smooth-going relationship with Malle. My favorites are the ravishing Carnal Flower and the amazing Iris Poudre. But I like many more, the only one I can’t still come to grips with is Un Fleur de Cassie and sadly Portrait of a Lady gives me a major headache (almost when I merely think of it) even though I find it extremely beautiful.

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Reviews

serge-lutens-05Serge Lutens and I on the other hand: now that has been a wild ride. It is either love or hate, but unfortunately never contentment. My opinions and my tolerance of his fragrances veer wildely back and forth between adoration and animosity. To my utter shame, I have to admit that I bought and sold bottles of his perfumes like a small department store. I loved it, I had to have it right this instant. I hated it, it had to go, and fast!

From a sizable chunk of his oeuvre I once had in my possession, only a few bottles have remained. One is Ambre Sultan, which is striclty speaking no longer mine, as my husband has adopted it and regularly wears it. I like it more on him than myself nowadays. Another is Jeux de Peau, where I enjoy the opening very much, but seldom wear it because it wears me out after a couple of hours. The one I wear most often is the one that started Lutens’s empire: Feminité du Bois.

So who do I choose?

It is pretty clear that Malle is my choice, since emotions don’t fly as high in either direction with his perfumes and it is better in the long run to stay with the good and dependable friend than the wild love affair, isn’t it? Great love and bottomless hate are wearying and tiring us out, contentment and safety are much more conductive to longterm happiness.

That might be true for more than just perfume…

Image source: paris.com, theparisblog.com
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125 Responses to Monday Question – Serge Lutens or Frédéric Malle: You Must Choose!

  1. Lavanya says:

    tough!! Serge Lutens as a house was my first love (Tubereuse Criminelle!!), so I might go with SL..Suprisingly my faves from SL are all the white floral ones (FdO, Un Lys etc)..I need to explore the Bois series a bit more. I do think I have sniffed a sample of the FdB though..

    It’s weird- our tastes aren’t always in sync but my Frederic Malle tastes are exactly like yours. Love CF and IP. My mom wears Un Fleur cassie beautifully but it is so not me and I don’t think I can wear it.

    Serge Lutens is a ‘madder’ line (which is more me), however Frederic Malle line is more perfumey and a different sort of elegant that makes their perfumes seem luxurious and therefore exciting to me.

  2. Jane EP says:

    Yes, very difficult as, like you Birgit, I have loves and hates in each house. I, too, have bought and sold many SLs as they rose and then fell out of favour with me. That said, I will never part with Borneo 1834, Chergui and Arabie. Cuir Mauresque and Tubereuse Criminalle (sorry to the lovers) are bitter, linear drones on my skin. Malle: I absolutely adore Carnal Flower and MR, but Iris Poudre and a few others leave me cold. Can’t bear En Passant which is just camphor on my skin. Un Fleur Cassie is lovely to my nose. It is interesting as I find other houses much more consistent, e.g. Parfumerie Generale that does not have one fragrance that I do not love. Whether it is in the bases, I don’t know.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Hello Jane EP,
      I think the Malle line seems more inconsistent because it is created by so many different perfumers. PG is one nose and therefore the line is more coherent (also less varied though).
      Since our lovely Undina is doing the stats, I must ask: Which house do you choose? :)

  3. Lady Jane Grey says:

    Oh, clear for me : Frederic ! While I very much respect the work of Lutens, F.M. & his collection is right in the middle of my heart (in spite of some strange opinions of him).

  4. Dubaiscents says:

    Great discussion and oh, so difficult!! I will have to go with Uncle Serge since his scents were some of my first loves and like you, I end up buying them like candy (although I can’t make myself part with any yet). They are exclusive but, still relatively easy to find here in Dubai and I love that there are so many to choose from. There are none that I absolutely hate, I even like Miel des Bois which I know is an extremely controversial one, and I find that as time goes on I like the stranger ones even more (Musc Khoublai Khan was a recent purchase). We even have a store here that has a bunch of the ones that are non-export now so, I try to snatch those up whenever I can. I am still trying to figure out which bell jar I am going to splurge on since this such a must have for any perfumista!

    However, I certainly have lots of love for Malle as well (as my full bottles will attest to). His work is amazing and pushes a lot of boundaries but, SL still comes out ahead in my book.

    I hope Undina will grace us with her wonderful statistical analysis of this soon….no pressure :-)

    • Olfactoria says:

      The lovely Undina offered to do the stats again, I cant wait what beautiful graphs she wil come up with this time! (the pressure is on now! ;) )

      So you are a Serge girl, huh? How is it going with MKK? Great that you have access to some non-export perfumes too.

  5. I love them and hate them both also, depending on the particular juice in question but a head count of full bottles has Serge Lutens well ahead, almost double. Decants though turn out pretty equal.
    I love these Monday questions Birgit.
    Portia xx

  6. Madeleine says:

    Gosh!

    Very difficult as these are my two favorite houses by far. Heart goes with Malle, but head goes with Serge. The winner on a purely statistical view has to be Serge as on an FB count I have more of them, so, like Portia, that’s my choice….

    Madeleine

  7. Vanessa says:

    I was on the fence with this one till you went and knocked me off! Couple of years ago I would’ve said Frederick mile that guy leaning more to save U-turns (as Siri has them!). Okay, as I was saying, I think that Serge Lutens has the edge now in my book. Not least because it is a bigger line.

    As to how many I own, it is 1:0 to SL, with Un Lys, so that settles it!

  8. Undina says:

    Even though I have many more bottles/decants/samples of Serge Lutens’ perfumes than of Frederic Malle’s ones, I have to choose the latter because from this house comes one of my don’t-want-ever-to-be-without bottles – Portrait of a Lady (Birgit, I’m sorry for mentioning it but I promise not to wear it in your presence ;)).

  9. Rose says:

    I do love both! Though i do like many my favorites from SL are Fleur D’oranger & Miel de bois. But….Must say…FM is the winner for me, Lipstick Rose is perfect for me, Une Rose, Carnal Flower, En Passant & Lys Med i love so much i would chose over SL anyday.

  10. Tara says:

    Fun, fun question. Thank goodness this is an easy one for me! Malle all the way. I love and own a number from the line and can’t wait to try the latest one for Dries Van Noten.

    I always get excited and think I’ll want the latest SL release, but it never happens. A triumph of hope over experience, for sure. I admire his work so much but I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it can wear you out.

    I’m afraid I’ll take contentment over intensity any day :)

  11. Asali says:

    Birgit, for me there is no shadow of a doubt that it’s SERGE who wins this one. But I haven’t tried Iris Poudre properly, which I’d really like to, and the same goes for En Passant (too long ago). It doesn’t help, that I didn’t feel particularly welcome in the Paris Malle shops, though, as opposed to the excellent service at SL.
    PS Go Undina! ;-)

  12. Safran says:

    Easy, although I love both, I’d choose Frederic Malle. I find the variety bigger in his Edition and with his whole concept he changed the perception of who a nose is and what she/he does. Could put that in better words in my mother tongue, sorry. I owned quite a few scents from both houses during the years, which moved in and moved out again. But Bigarade Concentree stayed and Carnal Flower will stay as well. Can’t mention it often enough, FM was also the first (at least of my knowledge) who offered a sample set of all scents in 5ml bottles (got mine in 2003) and travel sizes, both ideas are brilliant in my book!

    Cheers
    Safran

    • Olfactoria says:

      The variety in Malle’s line is indeed wonderful, SL can be a wee bit repetitive, but then a gain the objectives are very different.
      The sample sets are perfect, I didn’t know he had ones before those released last year, thnaks for the info!

      (P.S.: Safran, f your mother tongue is German, as I suspect it might be, feel free to comment in German if you’d like to and I will translate.)

      • Safran says:

        The Test Kit I have, is filled with 5ml glass spray bottles (same as today) from each of the back then available 12 scents, for 95 Euros, if I remember correctly. Thank you for your offer, Birgit – it’s German indeed and I will definetely do that. I often hesitate to comment, because I feel, that I don’t find the right words in english.

        • Olfactoria says:

          That’s perfect, 5ml take you so much farther than a normal sample.
          Your English is excellent, but please feel free to use either language to join the conversation!

  13. Catherine says:

    Oh SL for me. To be honest I haven’t honestly sampled nearly as many of the FM line as I have of the Lutens but I don’t think I kept any of the decants, and even just spraying at the Barneys counter none of them have grabbed me and appealed to me so much as the SLs do. I don’t love all the SLs, but there are a lot of loves in there. :)

  14. Figuier says:

    That’s a tough one. Both are houses that I admire immensely but I don’t own FBs from either (I did have the beautiful UFdC, but sold it as it rarely got worn). Basically: Lutens white florals leave me cold – they strike me as synthetic and they share strong family resemblances (in the heart/base, at least, Fd’O, FdC, Un Lys and Tub Crim seem almost identical). In the Malle line it’s the non-rose florals I love.

    If I had to choose, I’d go with Malle, simply because there are several fragrances by him that I’d buy if they weren’t so dear: Le Parfum de Therese and Lys Med being the main contenders. From Serge I’d love to own Chergui and Filles en Aiguilles, but although they’re relatively reasonable, they never quite make it to the top of my purchase list.

  15. Ines says:

    Oh, this one is easy. :) Serge Lutens no doubt.
    It’s practically the line from which I have most bottles (if I count all my Shalimars as one perfume). ;)
    I enjoy some perfumes from the FM line but generally, I tend to fall more for the Lutensian type of perfume universe. And loving Parfum de Therese isn’t enough to sway me to the line.

  16. Sandra says:

    Malle all the way! Simply cannot live without Carnal Flower, Lipstick Rose and Dans tes Bras.

  17. Alexandra says:

    My immediate reaction to this was – OH NO! But after a little thought it’s actually quite easy…

    If I were forced (heaven forbid) to stick with one line for the rest of my life it might well be Frederic Malle, I love the concept behind a curated line of fragrances from the world’s best noses and the variety this provides. Plus my first rabbit hole fragrance was Lipstick Rose. BUT my heart belongs to Serge. I own more SL’s scents than any other and both Chergui & Ambre Sultan make my hyperthetical top 5. I may not love all his work (Arabie – bleurk) but I am rarely bored and never disinterested.

    Another one for Serge!

  18. cookie queen says:

    Serge. Full stop.

  19. With M. Serge you have a distinct qualitative difference that I smell between the export and non-export perfumes. Among the bell jars there’s so much that’s beautiful, I love Rose de Nuit, really loved De Profundis, and La Myrrhe, and am intrigued by Iris Silver Mist.
    The Malles just never grab me, although I’ll keep trying.
    Serge for me then.

  20. shellyw says:

    There will be a local perfume “sniff” here soon (San Francisco). I am planning my first Malle purchase for that day. L’eau hiver(sp?) or En Passant, but leaning toward the latter. The Barney’s here carries both lines and being in a group helps me to smell more than I would on my own. I have never been very caught by SL so far, although others in the group rave about him. I did wear a sample of Amber Sultan one day to work and the students told me I smelled like brownies. That may be effecting my thoughts a little on the subject.

  21. Farouche says:

    I’m going to have to go with SL, simply on bottle count. I have two SL’s, Daim Blond and Un Bois Vanille and only one Malle travel bottle, L’Eau d’Hiver (though I dearly love it!). Samples are probably about equal.

  22. Tora says:

    Oh I only wish I had more experience with Malle! I have only tried a sample of Musc Ravageur, which I do like, but I was not drawn to purchase a full bottle. But in my perfume cabinet is the very Beloved Borneo 1834 and Ambre Sultan. I am awaiting decants of MKK and Cuir Mauresque. So I will vote for Serge Lutens!!!

  23. acstrommen says:

    Interesting question for me. I would think Serge, because I own Femininite. But almost everything else of his line that I’ve tried, I haven’t loved enough to buy. I do need to test a few more that intrigue me, like Chergui and Sarassins. Malle, on the other hand, has me entranced. I don’t actually own any of his, but lust after and plan to buy a few – Iris Poudre, Carnal Flower, and Lipstick Rose.

  24. hemlocksillage says:

    If forced to choose, I could not be without M. Malle’s line. There are too many beauties in my collection from FM. I would deeply miss MKK, Chergui, Boxeuses, Sarassins and Fleur d’Oranger in their varied beautiful strangeness. In terms of what I wear in heavy rotation, and sheer number of scents from a single house, Malle is the clear choice for me.

    Thankfully, your Monday musings are academic, and I can keep them both. There’s certainly room in my heart (and collection) for both :) Be well.

    • Olfactoria says:

      It is a relief that the decision is only theoretically and we all get to keep our favorites. But it sure is fun! ;)

      Malle is slightly in the lead, I believe!

  25. masha7 says:

    Well, I’m wearing Chergui today, and wore Bas de Soie yesterday, so I guess that answers the question! I have tried most of the Malles, and love several (Parfum de Therese, En Passant, and Noir Epices are my faves), but Serge is just so…out there, I love his work! Some I find unwearable (Arabie is dreadful on me), and some of his least popular are favorites of mine (I went through a whole bottle of Rousse in a flash, now it’s d/c’d and I’m crying). I even liked Eau Froide. Some of the recent ones have been a bit Meh for me (Pissed Off Carnation and Santale Majascule), but overall, love love love.

  26. Nina says:

    I read this all the time but this is my first post. Malle, Malle. I really want to like Lutens and have tried diligently, but except for one or two, they leave me cold. Whereas I can pretty much find a scent to match any mood in my embarrassingly large Malle collection.

  27. Oh if we must choose.. as you, hard taskmaster insist we do… then the Dandy plumps for Monsieur Malle.
    He has returned the complex floral to centre stage in perfumery, challenged the idea of masculine and feminine and created more scents that I actually enjoy wearing.
    Plus I think I would be correct in thinking his collaborators more numerous than Monsieur Lutens – so in fact one is not choosing a perfumer but a cabinet or noses – much the better for it.
    Thank you for tickling our little grey cells again.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

  28. FeralJasmine says:

    Love them both, but if I had to choose, would certainly choose M. Lutens. I find that I own 7 FBs of Lutens, not because I wear every one of them a lot, but because they fascinate me. If I had to sum it up, I would say that they are less elegant and polished than the FMs but more exploratory, and I do love to explore. That said, I don’t think I could ever give up my precious decant of Carnal Flower…

  29. Suzanne says:

    Whoa … this is your toughest question, ever. If I went by bottle count, I would have to say Serge, and I hate the thought of ever having to part with Muscs Koublai Khan or Vetiver Oriental (plus I keep my two sisters supplied with Chergui, as that’s all they ever ask me for at birthdays and Christmas). But largely, I have more of his fragrances simply because they are more affordable. So I’m going to vote Frederic Malle, because even though I don’t own as many full bottles, more of his perfumes send me over the moon: Carnal Flower, Noir Epices, Le Parfum de Therese, Iris Poudre, Lipstick Rose, Bigarade Concentree, Portrait of a Lady …. oh heck, almost every single Malle I’ve tried I’ve loved, and I would own them all if I could.

  30. andreawilko says:

    Wow, this question has had a big response, I started to read all the comments but then ended up skipping through them as there were so many so I am unsure of who is in the lead now.
    My Answer,
    Serge Lutens was the reason I fell down the rabbit hole with Datura noir which I still enjoy but rarely wear, I was introduced quite early on to some Frederic Malles (thanks to Tara the lovely enabler) and admit that I didn’t think they were for me (Musc Raveugeur and Carnal flower) those samples eventually came out of my sample box to be re tested and then full bottles aquired, I don’t even want to think how many Frederic Malle’s I own now but they far outweigh the SL’s so my long winded answer is Frederic Malle.:-)

  31. lucasai says:

    If I could I wouldn’t give my vote to any of them but if I MUST chose then I think Frederic Malle. Many Lutenses don’t work for me and I find them in category of “good olfactory lessons, much less good to wear”

  32. Nancysg says:

    There are several Lutens that I find beautiful and I wear Chergui regularly. Plus there is no getting away from my longing for a bell jar. But my immediate reaction was to say Frederic Malle. The range of the line and the beauty of so many of them keeps me thinking of a trip to Barneys in NYC just to smell them again and make another purchase. Put me down as a Malle vote.

  33. Bhama says:

    This is a tough one Ms. B. I have to go with Malle as I have sampled more from his line. Like you, I adore carnal flower and iris poudre, but my one true love is PoaL. Ropion is a genius! I feel there is more variety in Malle’s line. The only love in uncle Serge’s line as of now is Santal majuscule, but to be fair I have only tried a few! My FB wish list from Malle are PoaL, Carnal flower, Iris poudre, Angelique sous la pluie, Une rose, Musc ravageur etc….. Oh how I wish I can win the lottery!

  34. Lila says:

    SL is my choice! Lutens is the Picasso of the perfume world. He is capable of executing a beautiful, classical, crowd pleasing work (I’m thinking of his soliflore perfumes) as well as the wild-riding, fantastical crowd splitting works. He is a genius at manipulating ingredients and notes that are capable of transporting a person to exotic places. I do enjoy FM, though. FM fragrances are safe and less likely to surprise, but lovely nonetheless.

    • Olfactoria says:

      Wow, that is a very convincing endorsement, Lila! Although I’m a Malle fan, I find myself agreeing with your opinion and your Picasso analogy is quite fitting.

  35. behemot says:

    This is an easy one for me. Serge Lutens is my choice, no doubt. As much as I appreciate FM, I do not love any of the Editions fragrance. Except Parfum de Therese maybe…

  36. I have more hits than misses with Malle and more misses than hits with Lutens.
    That said, I find Sa Majesté la Rose, Fleurs d’Oranger, the ultrasweet Louve and Fille en Aiguilles quite easy to wear.
    xo,

    Caro

  37. Bee says:

    guess I’m biased today, because I’m trying out Lys Med in winter (normally a summer staple, but yes, it works well in winter too, as I read somewhere), so my vote goes to Malle (who knows what would have happened if today’s choice would have been Tub crim oder MKK)

  38. ClaudiaRae says:

    I’m going to go with Serge Lutens, only because I actually own one bottle from that house. (Bas de Soie – I was glad to see that someone else likes it too, Masha7). I have a bag full of Malle samples I haven’t tried yet, so next time you ask I might have another answer.

  39. Oh gosh! I really can’t choose! I love FM’s fragrances for their elegance, intelligence, and wit! And I love SL’s fragrances for their drama, their emotion, and their crazy juxtapositions that shouldn’t work but do!

    God. Are you really going to make me choose???

    Fine. FM. Because I met the man at an event in New York and he charmed the daylights out of me.

  40. This entry is actually super-helpful to me! I’ve only begun to embark upon an exploration of niche perfumes, and it’s such an expansive universe that I always click out of the sample sites with growing terror at the sheer selection available. I have a bunch of FM and SL that I want to try but I never know where to start. Reading these opinions will help me narrow down my list considerably!

  41. laniersmith says:

    Nooo! Please don’t make me choose! I can’t … I want both!

  42. Wow, calling the tough shots here : ) I am going to be a nerd and say I will go with Frederic Malle because he can draw the talent of any perfumer to the brand, so chances are, long term, there is going to be more diversity than Lutens who works almost exclusively with Christopher Sheldrake. But then again, where would I be without Cuir Mauresque….tough, very tough!

  43. brie says:

    Wow ! I am late to this party! sadly I cannot choose because I can count on one hand how many Lutens and Malles I have sampled (yes…that few :(!!!) this is what happens when you live in the boonies :) !! No one here even knows who those iconic perfumers are-lol!

  44. Meg says:

    So far, Malle evokes an “Ah!” from me, but Serge makes me exclaim “AAAAaaaaah!!”

  45. cj says:

    Malle! Mostly because I don’t think I could live without Carnal Flower. Also, it was the line that sent me down the rabbit hole, thanks to a lovely and generous SA at the FM counter here. Bigarade Concentree was my first niche bottle. I love several others in the line as well, and appreciate most of the rest. A collection of only FM could satisfy just about any craving and suit any mood for me, I think. Also, I can’t wait for the new Dries Van Noten.

    To be fair, I’ve had samples of the full FM collection for a while, but I’ve only recently started seriously sampling the Serge Lutens range. I’ve only found a few so far that I might love, although I’ve liked a lot of them. Like you, I find Ambre Sultan and Feminite du Bois to be favourites. I also really like Santal Majuscule. There might be full bottles of these in my future. I’m sure the SL line will gain more favour with me as I become more familiar with it, but FM will always be the sentimental favourite.

  46. Tatiana says:

    This is a tough one. I own bottles from both of these lines. I find many of the SL’s to be too sweet for my taste. It’s that stewed fruit element that appears in quite a few of his creations. My first niche purchase was En Passant. Then there’s L’eau d’Hiver. I love vetiver in many variations and Vetiver Extraordinaire is probably my favorite. Portrait of a Lady is as close to a winter signature scent for as I will get. After sniffing the new Van Noten/Malle collaboration once, I quickly bought a bottle when the sales associate called to tell me it was in stock. I would miss my SL if they were gone, but I would practically die if my Malle’s were gone. So for me the answer is Malle over SL.

  47. Alice says:

    Oh, such a hard question.. these are 2 of my top 3 houses. My 1st niche purchase was feminite de bois, and my 2nd en passant. Although the lutens are less wearable they have many memories for me so I think that, like you Birgit, I will go with my first love!

  48. dremybluz says:

    I love Carnal Flower, but unfortunately it is the only Malle fragrance I enjoy wearing. Uncle Serge was the mad hatter that brought me down to Perfume Wonderland, My collection stands at 15 full bottles. I got my bottle of his newest-La Fille de Berlin 2 weeks ago. I would definitely have to go with SL over Malle.

  49. Cristine says:

    I hope it’s not too late to comment– tick another box for Serge Lutens. FdO was the sweet, sweet pill than sent me down the rabbit hole into perfume wonderland– and to your blog and many others. I have nine bottles and will probably own more eventually. However, I love and own a few Malles, too! Carnal Flower is just, so wonderful….

  50. Persolaise says:

    A great question, B, but for me the answer’s fairly simple. I quite like many Lutens scents, but I also find that too many of them don’t soar. The FM portfolio is consistently wonderful, in my view. I go with Freddie!

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