Douce Amère by Serge Lutens: The Green Fairy

Douce Amère by Serge Lutens, 75ml Bell Jar

Notes: Absinthe, cinnamon, artemisia, anise, lily, jasmine, tiare, tagette, marigold, musk, cedar, and sugar

A new take on the demonic green fairy, “Douce-amère is a delightful reminder of the elaborate ceremony of the absinthe drinker. Through a perforated spoon balanced on the glass, the drinker will let the water from his carafe drip onto a cube of white sugar which will slowly dissolve and mix with the emerald blood of the absinthe. For unmitigated bitterness!

I first tried Douce Amère about 5 years ago. At the time, I assessed it as “Chergui’s more fun older sister,” and didn’t really think much about it again until a few months ago when I stumbled upon my old decant. 

The opening of Douce Amère is bright and for me, the word effervescent comes to mind. I can smell herbaceous notes, not unlike something you might find in a really good craft cocktail – like a Last Word, or a Corpse Reviver, or…absinthe. Mixed with the artemisia, I get subtle notes of fir, pepper, and anise (which I find more nuanced than say, licorice). So very quickly, we have The Green Fairy coming out to play. 

The Absinthe Drinker by Viktor Oliva

It’s all a bit boozy, a bit musky even. I begin to think of a fun-loving flapper having a ball in a speakeasy with some gentlemen friends. And then she lights a cigarette.

Myrna Loy 1934. Photographed by George Hurrell

This all begins to fade to the background within a few minutes, and suddenly I start to smell the sweet cinnamony tobacco leaf of Chergui! It takes over, but even so, it isn’t prominent for too long. Things start to dry down. Definitely something boozy, still peppery but creamy. And I feel less like I’m smelling tobacco leaves, but instead more smoke. To my nose, it becomes a truly beautiful, smokey, honeyed earl grey. 

Well, a spiked one. 

The sweetness dials back but the booziness never really leaves, the tobacco stays as well. But it’s much less linear than Chergui, flowing from leaf, to smoke, and back again. These, with the light creamy gourmand and fir and herbs from the beginning play together and dance together for the duration. I can see why I ultimately likened it to Chergui’s much more fun older sister. Maybe I’m just ready for her now!

My first personal meeting with The Green Fairy at Peche in Austin. Personally, I prefer Douce Amère

I find this one lasts a while. At least 6 hours, maybe 8. Like other Serge Lutens fragrances, I find this evokes strong feelings and conjures up fantastical places. It’s a much easier journey than some. Applying this one just tickles me – I immediately smile and giggle.

Douce Amère is a masterpiece, created by Serge Lutens and the legendary Christopher Sheldrake. And, according to Sheldrake, it was the most difficult to create. According to an interview, conducted by Basenotes:

“The idea of Douce Amère is back in the Twenties with the absinthe. Obviously it’s narcotic. It became an illegal product, and originally it was a medicine. But it didn’t just get you high drunk, it actually damaged the nervous system and in this fragrance I wanted to put as much absinthe as possible, which I did – well, as much as I could legally! And why Douce Amère? Because the idea was to pour absinthe on a cube of sugar before you eat it – so it was bitter and sweet. And I think it was a success. It’s not very well known but challenging and a great fragrance”

Douce Amère is available in the U.S. exclusively from It is a part of the Palais Royal collection and is priced $290 for 75ml.

In my personal opinion, I believe it is worth every penny.

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