Introverted Incense – Review: Serge Lutens L’Orpheline

By Tara

The recent Serge Lutens release L’Orpheline (the orphan) is the sort of airy fragrance I generally get on better with than the dense creations which make up a good proportion of the house’s output. It gives you a lot of room to breathe.

LuckyScent lists the following notes: aldehydes, cedar wood, fougere accord, coumarin, clouds of ambergris, patchouli, incense and cashmeran.

As usual, Lutens worked with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake.

lutens orpheline

For the most part L’Orpheline contrasts stark incense against soft aldehydes. A swirling mix of resins and soap which is light and dark, cool and warm, masculine and feminine. It’s like an olfactory Yin Yang symbol.

L’Orpheline is woodier than Kyoto and the antithesis of the powerful Avignon (both part of the Comme des Garcons Incense Series). Although it is quiet and vaporous it also feels grounded and this feeling intensifies over time. The aldehydes dissipate and the incense is much less pronounced in the drydown. It no longer has the flinty yet soapy feeling it did before. The overall effect is that of the dying embers of a campfire.

Lutens is burning everything down to the ground in order to rise again anew.

A circle of stones on bare soil surrounds ashy, charred pieces of crumbly wood. After starting out airborne, the fragrance becomes earthier. There are touches of spice and musty patchouli as well as a subdued ambery musk which gives relief to the dryness.

L’Orpheline is very spare and introspective in character. However, for such an inward-looking fragrance it projects outwards quite some way with a lot of throw in the first couple of hours. It has very good longevity.

It may not be complex or unique but I did find L’Orpheline wearable and contemplative.

I tend to use incense to clear my head and make me feel more centred. So although I don’t find L’Orpheline exactly comforting, I don’t find its lack of ornamentation isolating either. Sometimes I find relief in a perfume that has an aura of detachment. When everything is overwhelming me, a cosy fragrance can be too suffocating.

Although its mood is decidedly downbeat, occasionally you want company for your heartache, rather than to be shaken out of it. A kind of emotional communion which is often a necessary part of the therapeutic process.

If you’ve read anything Serge Lutens himself has to say about L’Orpheline you’ll know it’s very personal to him. It represents the healing of the wounded child within. I don’t pretend to follow everything he says on the subject but I can relate to the idea of something that in his own words is “fragile but whole”.

You can’t “un-break” something, but given time and effort you can put it back together again.


Photo by lambtroncorp


If you’ve tried L’Orpheline please let me know what you thought of it in the comments.
Otherwise, please do share your best loved incense fragrances.


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38 Responses to Introverted Incense – Review: Serge Lutens L’Orpheline

  1. Alice says:

    I’m pleased to see a thoughtful review of this one. I sprayed it on in a shop, and was very smitten. It seemed to occupy a slot between the ‘l’eau’ series (which I didn’t like), the dramatic orientals (love but don’t wear much) and the florals (which have never really appealed to me); it was quiet, meditative, but intriguing. Incense, but not too churchy or gothic. I’m on a buying ban, but came close to taking out my wallet! I then went back and did my usual internet trawl, and the reviews were poor. This quite put me off: just as well I didn’t get it, I thought. But really, I must learn to trust my own judgement! I am definitely going to re-test.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Alice

      You describe it very well yourself. It is easy to be put off by negative reviews. It’s closer to L’Eua Froide than the usual Lutens style so I can see why it might disappoint fans. If it helps though, The Non-Blonde did a post on a Tuesday about how she ended up buying a bottle.

  2. Sandra says:

    I have not tried this Tara but will when I come across it. I enjoy incense in my home especially during fall and winter. The one incense perfume I do wear is Kilian Incense Oud – and only in the summer. Strange huh? Xo

    • Tara says:

      Hi Sandra

      I’ve been enjoying burning Nag Champa lately.

      Ouds have been traditionally worn in the heat so why not waft Incense Oud in the summer?!

  3. vilikke says:

    On me, it’s a real shapeshifter. At first, I put it away as too simplistic and uninteresting, but then, with every time I tried it, I discovered something new, so I ended up buying a bottle with some discounts I had. I tend to like wood, incense and dryish, rather minimalistic fragrances, and I have a hard time with the more opulent SL offerings. I also love De Profundis, Vitriol d’œillet and also quite like Tubereuse Criminelle.

    • Tara says:

      Hi vilikke

      It is an easy one to dismiss quickly as being too simplistic and uninteresting but it does seem to be a grower for some people. I’m glad you got a discount on your bottle. It’s the perfect time of year to wear it too.

      Thanks for sharing your other SL loves. The florals do have a very different mood.

  4. cookie queen says:

    I get a wonderful incense from Coromandel. I have sample of L’Orpheline but have not tried it yet. I will go hunt for it now. As for what Alice says – why on earth to people write negative reviews? Makes me so mad. Go buy it Alice! xxx

  5. I need to try this again. It didn’t grab me the first time I tried it and I’ve never picked it up again. I don’t think I got much from it and I do love most Serge perfumes with a passion. I rate your reviews so I will give it another whirl and I do think there’s a place for a contemplative perfume. This might be one of the growers. Love the picture.

    • Tara says:

      I do think it’s understandable that it might not appeal to people who love the usual weird and wonderful Lutens perfumes because it is so simple and quiet. But if you are in the market for a contemplative, woody incense fragrance it may be worth giving it another try.

      Glad you love the picture!

  6. masha7 says:

    What a beautiful review, Tara! I wear L’Eau Froide when I am in the sort of mood you have described. But LeF is actually pretty powerful stuff. I will seek out a sample of what is perhaps LeF’s gentler sister, L’Orpheline.

  7. Asali says:

    You describe this so well Tara, particularly loved “Lutens is burning everything down to the ground in order to rise again anew.”
    Although we seem to agree on this one, it’s absolutely wearable and comtemplative, you also got more out of it that me I think. But then I sniffed it on a friend and it was definitely better on her than on me, You almost sound like you could buy it?

    • Tara says:

      Thanks, Asali. It’s certainly my kind of incense and my kind of Lutens but no, I wouldn’t buy a bottle. Passage d’Enfer fills this slot for me. A quiet incense but with a bit more femininity and interest.

  8. Mahesh says:

    Tara, could you tell me which incense fragrances do you like the most?
    I’ve yet to find something that is relaxing to wear.
    I burn a ‘dhoop’ incense stick made by my mother’s neighbour in India. It is divine.
    it is so comforting when it gets cold and grey in London.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Mahesh

      As I was just telling Asali above, Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur is my favourite incense. Some find it too quiet/fleeting but I find strong incense perfumes too harsh and it seems to last on me. I hope you like it too if you are able to try it. I also like Kyoto by Comme des Garcons

      It really is comforting to burn incense when it’s cold and grey out.

      • Mahesh says:

        Yes Tara I saw your note about Kyoto.was going to try tonight but they don’t have that in Selfridges in instead I tried Armani encense from prive range.but absolutely hated that and the salesman was telling me how that is Armani’s favourite. I also tried amouge jubilation which is good but heavy.
        I will visit liberty tomorrow.they ha’ve Kyoto, I didn’t fancy it much a few months ago.
        I want to try lartisan now 😃

  9. Lady Jane Grey says:

    Hm, I don’t know…
    (I’m starting to enjoy incense if it’s tame)

  10. Vanessa says:

    Well, I love incense and aldehydes, and your beautiful description of how they intertwine makes me think I should like this scent, even if the overall mood is a bit downbeat. As you say, sometimes you want to go with the perfume equivalent of pathetic fallacy rather than a chirpy scent to buck you up. The thing that puts me off is that I didn’t like l’Eau Froide one bit, and gave my samples away pronto…so I guess the jury is out till I try it.

    • Tara says:

      V, i’m guessing if you didn’t like L’Eau Froide then you won’t like this sadly.

      I love “pathetic fallacy”! I haven’t come across that phrase before and just looked it up. You are very much my Henrietta Higgins 🙂

  11. Sun Mi says:

    I have a really hard time with strong and suffocating scents (and an quite headache prone from sharp ones) so I wonder if iwould like this one. Your review is haunting and beautiful, Tara. Cheers!

  12. Ines says:

    It’s not for me but I can see men wearing it with ease. 🙂
    I’m not really an incense fan and it reminds me a bit of the L’Eau series with an incense twist. Good, just not for me.

    • Tara says:

      It does remind me of L’Eau Froide but I did quite like that one. L’Orpheline isn’t likely to rock anyone’s world but it can be nice to have a soft incense option. I think it would be great on a guy too.

  13. Lyubov says:

    Hallo, Tara,
    I am thrilled to find that we share the same thoughts, though not exactly the same feelings about L’Orpheline. Introvert, masculine and feminine, dying campfire, stones on bare soil, quiet incense – it’s all there, isn’t it?

  14. Undina says:

    I haven’t tried this one yet. My favorite incense perfumes are Guerlain Encens Mythique d’Orient, Amouage Memoir Woman and Neela Vermeire Creations Ashoka.

  15. Michael says:

    Great review Tara.
    I’m still working on L’Orpheline myself. It’s hugely powerful on my skin both in terms of projection and longevity. I find lavender is a little difficult at the best of times and it’s certainly a challenge here as are the Serge Noire like spices. We will see.

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