Sarrasins (Serge Lutens)

For anyone suffering indigestion from the surfeit of "hot young bloodsuckers" currently overrunning pop lit, it's a mercy to know that there's still such a thing as goth for grownups. Today, I'm wearing Serge Lutens' Sarrasins while reading Suckers, British author Anne Billson's hilarious yuppie take on the vampire genre.

Set in London during the avaricious late eighties, Suckers presents Violet, a 300-year-old Moldavian Lilith who discovers that high-fashion magazine editorship is the modern vamp's path to power.  Rechristening herself 'Rose Murasaki', this crisply carnivorous Anna Wintour wannabe utilizes her position at the helm of a high-end glamor rag to plan a global vampire apocalypse. (Call your agent, Emily Blunt.)

Every vampire has its own Van Helsing. Violet's is Dora, a freelance "creative consultant" à la Edina Monsoon, only with sharper cheekbones and a more spiteful tongue. (Call your agent, Keira Knightley.) Dora's one of the few mortals privy to Violet's true identity who has still been allowed to live. Keeping tabs on her glamor-puss nemesis is one of Dora's favorite hobbies, along with sponging party invites off her friends and prank-calling her enemies. But when she discovers Violet's plot to seize control of all Britain, Dora's vampire-hunting instincts kick into overdrive. She accessorizes accordingly. (Thanks to Madonna, enormous bejeweled crucifix pendants are IN!)

What tips Dora off to Violet's schemes? Well, there's the launch of her prestige fragrance, Kuroi by Murasaki (Tagline:  "They'll die for the woman who wears it"). And there's a string of disturbingly avant-garde fashion spreads, starring waxen-skinned, fanged models in various states of haute couture undeath. These, more than any other bloody evidence, convince Dora that Violet & Co. intend to go mainstream in a major way.

In Billson's novel, the photographer who orchestrates this visual assault is a pathethic egotist named Dino. In real life, who else would Violet have chosen to promote her vision but the sublime Serge Lutens?

A look through two coffee-table retrospectives -- L'Esprit Serge Lutens: The Spirit of Beauty (1996) and the simply-titled Serge Lutens (1998, both by Éditions Assouline) -- reveals a stark, modernist aesthetic that would suit the vampire New World Order to a tee. If you have associated the Lutens name solely with Orientalist romance up to this point, these images will either alienate or fascinate you-- or both, as they did me. Page after page offers stylized portraits of mannequin-like females-- their masklike, cruelly denuded faces plastered with inscrutable crimson smiles. Like life-sized harlequin puppets, they project both the amorality of Weimar-era Berlin and the deathly-cold menace of a corpse in rigor mortis. These are pinup models of a deep-space alien nature, poster girls for necrophilia.  They radiate neither life nor love-- whimsy, yes; elegance, yes; but not warmth. They force two questions: What kind of sick puppy is Serge Lutens? What kind of sick puppy am I?

Likewise, Serge Lutens' Sarrasins could double as "Kuroi by Murasaki"-- kuroi (黮) translating as "dark, opaque, secretive", and murasaki (紫) translating as "the color purple" (AKA Violet).  This potion of intense amethyst hue (perfect!) simultaneously extends a caress and a backhanded blow to the wearer, both encapsulated in a jasmine note of extraordinary potency. But like an ancient entity who need not stoop to undignified force to make its authority felt, Sarrasins' jasmine catches the wearer in a deceptively light and frightening grip. One could be forgiven for feeling as though one were trapped in the paws of a giant, silent cat bent on toying with its prey before delivering the killing bite.

Though the volume never increases, the tension does, as a smoky creosote-and-carnations note asserts its hold. (If Andy Tauer ever decides to do jasmine*, imagine the legion of addicts that will inspire!) Even toward the end, when a civilized musk takes over, Sarrasins' restraint (rather than its might) leaves the most lasting impression. You walk away with the distinct feeling that you've gotten off easy, all due to a will (or whim) bigger than your own.

Scent Elements: Jasmine, carnation, musk, coumarin, woods