The ultra-stylised, look-don’t-touch eroticism of Serge Lutens was a dominant theme in fashion and beauty throughout the 1980s and 1990s. His arty, culturally informed androgynes led queer ideas into mainstream media and onto album covers – the scent brand we know today is only the tuberose-drenched tip of an amazingly influential iceberg. It’s an all-encompassing aesthetic of the kind that club kids and drag stars know all too well: hair, makeup, clothes, accessories, jewellery, scent, gesture, everything. A mash-up of art deco, Japanophile influences, Marrakesh, French perfumery, Dadaism, Picasso and Claude Cahun that ends up embodying pure pop.
Ay, get your mind off that sad sky-blue remnant in the gutter. Let us go high for mask inspo, to Saul Steinberg, Cindy Sherman, the Peking Opera, and the hieratic poise of the Serge Lutens woman. Lutens was a self-invented super-stylist whose vision would see us all don exquisite masks and move slowly through a dream of provocative “look but don’t touch” beauty. Distanced, indeed. Create, conceal, then be seen (and photographed).
It’s an all-encompassing aesthetic of the kind that club kids and drag stars know all too well: hair, makeup, clothes, accessories, jewellery, scent, gesture, everything. A mash-up of art deco, Japanophile influences, Marrakesh, French perfumery, Dadaism, Picasso and Claude Cahun that ends up embodying pure pop.
With due deference to the history (est. 1872) and heft of this brand, you have only heard of Shiseido because of Serge Lutens. He joined in 1980. Drawing on his sense of purist noir and flintily cool beauty, he created a visual identity for Shiseido that took it from Tokyo success story to international hugeness. Lutens, who started out in a Lille hairdressers at 14, created the makeup, designed the branding, even took the photographs, shot the commercials and effectively transformed the business. Oh, and then he got restless and became Shiseido’s master perfumer. OPT CUT: Previously, he’d been a photographer for Paris Vogue, Elle and the rest, and collaborated with Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, before he pioneered a makeup line for Christian Dior at the end of the 1960s.
top, trousers and brooch PHILOSOPHY DI LORENZO SERAFINI
top, trousers, belt LOUIS VUITTON
Black-on-matt-black packaging, and a scent classified by the celebrated “nose” Luca Turin as among the top five ever formulated, Nombre Noir (rose, bergamot, geranium, musk) came out in 1982, and is now an expensive rarity. Feminité du Bois (cedar, musk, vanilla, ylang ylang) came a decade later, a masculine/feminine classic. Lutens’ scents are not everyday, easy listening, rather avant-garde and occasionally austere or forbidding.
The master perfumer himself wears Cuir Mauresque (leather, jasmine, amber, cinnamon, clove), and describes his Bas de Soie or Silk Stocking as “mocking the widow and death”, while Boxeuses is a “fighting leather worn by a female boxer in silk stockings”. There’s a lot to obsess about in Lutens’ world, not least his enigmatic utterances, his hard-to-find Paris boutique (not that hard if you’re an habituée of Palais-Royal), and his not-at-all-humble retreat in Morocco. Even for a French perfumer and all-round aesthete, Lutens is all cerebral, Baudelaire-quoting brilliance. I mean, one of his scents (De Profundis) is presented as an olfactory riff on death, for goodness’ sakes!
dress ALEXIS MABILLE
SERGE LUTENS, QUI ETES VOUS?
Diana Vreeland put him on the cover of US Vogue; his photographs were shown at the Guggenheim in 1973; his shorts made it at Cannes. That photography linked back to the Impressionists and the languid eroticism of Modigliani, but his work has never stopped looking modern. There’s something of the Blitz kid about his total devotion to image, a seriousness that drag artists know all about. And it’s a universal femininity that lends itself to non-binary femininity – because when you conceptualise and idolise to this extent, flesh-and-blood women aren’t anywhere near the pedestal. Serge Lutens idealised and ideated woman, and there’s an unbroken thread between his formulaic, almost semaphored Pierrot ideal and the full. on. drag. that has now taken its place in the pantheon of girls on film.
Talking of steamy pop videos and escapism with bells on…
FANTASIA IN A KEY OF 2020
Look, we know… The meme showing Dr Emmett Brown exhorting Michael J Fox “Don’t go to 2020!” is genuinely, very, horribly sad. Which only gives our need for dream-like beauty more urgency and poignancy. Serge Lutens came from a hard place, not a happy place, and he created a world of pure creativity and aesthetic provocation across many disciplines. Where there’s beauty, there’s hope.
photography SHINI PARK
art direction CAMILO GONZALEZ
styling MARIAN NACHMIA
hair MASAYOSHI N FUJITA
makeup KATE TIGHE
writer SOPHIE DENING
fashion assistance MADALENA HERNANDEZ
fashion assistance ERICA YOU
production ANNA HOLMFELD via CUBE COLLECTIVE
production assistance ALEXANDRA COSTANZA
Lighting NATHAN SCOTT
Lighting Assist KANE MARTINDALE
retouch ALE JIMENEZ