Every so often, those who write prolifically about fragrances will mostly agree on a particular fragrance as ‘the reference standard’ for capturing the essence of a particular note, whether it’s Oud, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vetiver or — as is the case here — tobacco.
Since my personal favorite in this genre, Creed’s Vintage Tabarome (1875), has been retired from production as of 2008/2009 and is bloody difficult to come by at any price, the elusive search for a fragrance to fully capture the essence of the smoky tobacco note has become a subject of renewed debate. After searching and reading seemingly countless opinions on the topic, there is a constituency that feels very strongly that Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque holds title to that honor. Me? I preferred to judge that for myself, and the search for this particular scent was not an easy one.
Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque (2003): To begin, this was not a fragrance I would easily abide on a ‘blind-buy’ basis. My insistence was to ensure that I’d had a sample experience. Standing in my way was my own reluctance to chance a blind-buy on the Web, concerned that I might encounter a counterfeit or washed-out/over-alcoholed/barely there type of fragrance versus what should have been the genuine article. My search took quite some time, and my persistence paid off. Some key points about this as necessary background.
If you’re looking for this in Paris or anywhere in the EU, consider yourselves fortunate. You have the ‘men’s’ and ‘unisex’ versions of this available in various decanters, both in eau de parfum strength. In the US? Good luck and God speed. It’s simply not on offer, so I was asked recently if I knew anyone in the EU who could ship me a bottle?
“Not without violating several customs regulations and possibly having my name on a list for my next passenger flight,” I replied.
My friendly SA at Barneys New York was kind enough to explain the detail. It’s not on offer here, but as it happens, they have an full unboxed sample that could be placed on offer at retail cost. She was kind enough to retrieve it, along with the sampler bottle normally used for demonstrating the scent to people like me who’d rather not return an article as a damaged item to the retailer. So I sampled this on paper, and within moments I was convinced enough that I really needed to come back with an impression matched against skin to determine how this would respond to my body chemistry. Within mere minutes, I was convinced, and my kind and knowledgable SA was wrapping the article along with the partially used sample bottle for my troubles.
Since you now have the backstory, let’s move onto the details:
Notes: Fumerie Turque features honey, juniper berries, tonka bean, chamomile, patchouli, vanilla, turkish rose, red currant, tobacco, styrax and suede. Alright, this isn’t quite a “purist” tobacco, but in contrast to other attempts such as Tom Ford’s or even Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label (yes, that does contain an element of tobacco leaf/flower), it comes closer to the mark than any as the suede, turkish rose and honey lead to more of the smell you might find wafting from a hookah. By and large, the elements are deep and surround the heart and base of tobacco exceptionally. Those who write about and recommend these things were dead on with this choice. To the nose, once it warms on skin, it’s a very mellowed and subdued yet smoky tobacco. This is not the scent of a cigarette cloud wafting around the front door of an office building; rather, this is walking into a humidor and smelling the finest pipe and cigar tobacco available.
Granted, it’s an acquired taste, and I say that with the greatest dislike of cigarette smoke and a great hatred of lit pipe tobacco as it’s blown in a direction. Where you enjoy the aroma and the warmth projected by those elements but still want to breathe and not feel suffocated or a future oncology patient for lung cancer, this is the best impression I can lend.
So how does it react and feel? It’s warm in a non-cloying way. The dark berry elements protrude from the top but not in a way that overpowers the underlying purpose and key notes. There is a honey note that is reminiscent of Baklava. There are calming notes of chamomile to accompany the warm of tonka and vanilla, though unlike Tom Ford’s impression, this is a subtle hint of vanilla, barely there but for its effect. The patchouli and suede wrap around the dry-down making this something that continues to focus on the image of a cozy fire and calming aroma.
Overall Impressions: If you are seeking tobacco in a fragrance, there are few things that come close to capturing that essence and distilling it. Creed’s Tabarome Millesieme does a wonderful job, though it’s lightened from the impression given by its Heritage Creed Tabarome mate. In my view, Fumerie Turque is a much different and splendid rendition in its own right, and it succeeds at taking that rendition to a new level.
I would not recommend this to the under-40 crowd whatsoever — they won’t understand the embodied sophistication. For those who can locate it out of the typical retail channel from a reputable source and not of that age genre, I’d stop just short of recommending it as a blind buy (though I’d imagine a pent up demand on eBay for this if not to your liking). For me, it’s exquisite. Execution as a scent is nearly flawless — every element is discernible, though none detracts from the core tobacco purpose. Longevity is excellent (expect an entire day out of this, it’s very durable) and sillage is tempered but noticeable. People will know you’re wearing it, especially in a warm environment where it can open and project.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5. Highly recommended.
Bottom-line: This is a tobacco fragrance for those who want a tobacco fragrance, not a fragrance that simply suggests the element without evidence of its presence. Provided you can find it, consider yourself lucky if you can find it and you’re truly seeking a warm yet woody/smoky chypre-profiled fragrance. Truly a treasure.