Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Serge Lutens Chergui eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, where a 50-ml bottle like the one pictured above is currently priced at $135. I have purchased many bottles of this scent over the years, particularly as gifts for my two sisters, who both have, more or less, made it their signature scent.

Serge Lutens Chergui is named for Morocco’s hot, dusty wind, the sharqi (sharki, chergui), which blows in from the Sahara in the south, usually arriving in April and lasting until early June, though it can return again between late September and November. According to several online references, this seasonal wind can sometimes be violent, with occasional gusts reaching fifty miles per hour, desiccating inland crops, closing down airports for short periods, and raising temperatures in Morocco’s normally cooler coastal cities to as high as 105 °F.  Fortunately, these more violent winds last only for a day or two, usually at the start and end of the season.

The Serge Lutens fragrance named for the chergui is equally commanding and stirring. It is smoky and dusty, but also woody, ambery, and sweet, and very concentrated, as if the wind collected all the sundry essences of Morocco—the spices of its cuisine, the sweet Moroccan cabbage roses that are distilled into rosewater, the warm sandalwood perfumes and slightly-acrid leather goods sold in its souks, and the endless glasses of hot tea drunk amid its cool clay walls—and whirled them all together in its powerful vortex, condensing and spinning them out into one deliciously sultry elixir.

It’s a perfume that, for me, is best worn in hot weather (it can smell harsh and sharp from the bottle or applied to cool skin). But add a little heat and humidity into the mix and the fragrance blooms, scenting the air around you so extravagantly that you might feel as if you are in an exotic walled city you don’t ever want to leave. Of course, if you are romantically bookish like me, you carry your exotic walled cities within you (these cities you’ve never been to) and remember the names of desert winds you have met in novels, such as these described in Michael Ondaatje’s mesmerizing novel, The English Patient:

The English Patient, copyright © 1992 by Michael Ondaatje (Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, 1992, pp. 16-17)

Desert Winds and Serge Lutens Chergui

There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which has at times reached into the city of Rome.  The alm, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia. The arifi, also christened aref or rifi, which scorches with numerous tongues. These are permanent winds that live in the present tense.

There are other, less constant winds that change direction, that can knock down horse and rider and realign themselves anticlockwise. The bist roz leaps into Afghanistan for 170 days—burying villages. There is the hot, dry ghibli from Tunis, which rolls and rolls and produces a nervous condition. The haboob—a Sudan dust storm that dresses in bright yellow walls a thousand metres high and is followed by rain. The harmattan, which blows and eventually drowns itself into the Atlantic. Imbat, a sea breeze in North Africa. Some winds that just sigh towards the sky.  Night dust storms that come with the cold. The khamsin, a dust in Egypt from March to May, named after the Arabic word for “fifty,” blooming for fifty days—the ninth plague of Egypt.  The datoo out of Gibraltar, which carries fragrance.

There is also the ——, the secret wind of the desert, whose name was erased by a king after his son died within it. And the nafhat—a blast out of Arabia. The mezzar-ifoullousen—a violent and cold southwesterly known to Berbers as “that which plucks the fowls.” The beshabar, a black and dry northeasterly out of the Caucasus, “black wind.” The Samiel from Turkey, “poison and wind,” used often in battle. As well as the other “poison winds,” the simoom, of North Africa, and the solano, whose dust plucks off rare petals, causing giddiness.

Other, private winds.

Travelling along the ground like a flood. Blasting off paint, throwing down telephone poles, transporting stones and statue heads. The harmattan blows across the Sahara filled with red dust, dust as fire, as flour, entering and coagulating in the locks of rifles. Mariners called this red wind the “sea of darkness.” Red sand fogs out of the Sahara were deposited as far north as Cornwall and Devon, producing showers of mud so great this was also mistaken for blood.  “Blood rains were widely reported in Portugal and Spain in 1901.”

There are always millions of tons of dust in the air, just as there are millions of cubes of air in the earth and more living flesh in the soil (worms, beetles, underground creatures) than there is grazing and existing on it. Herodotus records the death of various armies engulfed in the simoom who were never seen again. One nation was “so enraged by this evil wind that they declared war on it and marched out in full battle array, only to be rapidly and completely interred.”

Dust storms in three shapes. The whirl. The column. The sheet. In the first the horizon is lost. In the second you are surrounded by “waltzing Ginns.” The third, the sheet, is “copper-tinted.  Nature seems to be on fire.” 

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April 21, 2008: