De Profundis (Serge Lutens)

In E. M. Forster's Howards End, Margaret Schlegel brings "a sheaf of tawny chrysanthemums" to her friend Ruth Wilcox's funeral. They didn't ought to have coloured flowers at buryings, a young cemetery worker muses. But he can't help it: he feels compelled to pluck a blossom and take it home to his lady love.

The chrysanthemums trigger a similar ambivalence for the the grieving Wilcox children. By custom of the country, only white flowers may bedeck a grave; hence Miss Schlegel's colorful Trauerstrauß offends British propriety and pride. Surprisingly, their newly widowed father defends Miss Schlegel: The flowers-- certainly we should not have sent such flowers, but they may have seemed the right thing to her...

This minute shift of Mr. Wilcox's sympathy outside the tribe proves the thin edge of the wedge. Within a year, he will marry Margaret. Like it or not, life goes on. Margaret in particular is sensitive to this fact:
A funeral is not death, any more than baptism is birth or marriage union... (Ruth Wilcox) had gone out of life vividly, her own way, and no dust was so truly dust as the contents of that heavy coffin, lowered with ceremonial until it rested on the dust of the earth, no flowers so utterly wasted as the chrysanthemums that the frost must have withered before morning... (Margaret) saw a little more clearly than hitherto what a human being is, and to what he may aspire. Truer relationships gleamed. Perhaps the last word would be hope--hope even on this side of the grave.
True-- and this is why I choose a riotously colorful mental image of chrysanthemums to represent Serge Lutens' De Profundis. The name of this perfume derives from Psalm 130 (From the depths I have cried out to you, O Lord) but also hearkens to Oscar Wilde's prison missive of the same title (A pillory is a terrific reality... and to mock at a soul in pain is a dreadful thing). The choice of notes -- chrysanthemums, incense, earth -- are meant to evoke mourning. Yet the perfume, in its finished form, does not. It says, Vita mutatur, non tollitur-- life is changed, not taken away. Flowers still grow, even atop a grave.

I own a full bottle of Arabie, and that's all; up to now, no other Lutens/Sheldrake creation ever tempted me to "go big". I've idly toyed with the idea of buying a large decant -- say fifteen milliliters -- of Un Bois Vanille or Fille en Aiguilles, but I've never acted on this impulse, so it can't be serious. But De Profundis gripped me so quickly, so completely, as to force my hand. I've worn it three days in a row, growing to love it more and more with each sunset that passes. I spray repeatedly to reexperience that one-two punch of bitter chrysanthemum flowers and freshly-broken green stems; then I go to bed and pillow my cheek on warm hair that smells of frankincense and flouve.

A "bell jar" flacon of De Profundis costs $300, which places it well out of my reach. It's ample cause for mourning... but every time I think De Profundis has breathed its last sigh, the idea of that decant resurrects itself. It reminds me that heaven is here on earth, not in some far-off afterlife where one's credit card is no good.

Scent Elements: Chrysanthemum, violet, lily, chamomile, peony, greens, incense, earth accord, hay, woods