It’s the final moments before the band appears on stage. I’m right at the front and I can feel the tension in the air as the crowd pulsates restlessly behind me. We’ve all been waiting too long and now it feels like something is about to happen. I taste metal in my mouth. The air crackles with the peppery smell of dry ice. Through it all, I can smell the aftershave of the man next to me and I wonder if he’s wearing Insensé, because it’s sharp but also floral. I don’t know whether I feel threatened or excited.
This is what Baptême du Feu smells like to me.
Technically, my nose tells me it’s a curl of orange peel smoking on a Bunsen burner, overlaid with a dry, grey haze of gunpowder. But the atmosphere the perfume creates is more than the sum of its parts. There’s a dry, throat-catching quality to the pepper and ginger that feels like it might burn your lungs if you inhale too deeply. There is both ash and metal floating in this strange mixture, like the aftermath of an industrial accident.
The gunpowder calls to mind bonfires, fairgrounds, and dark clubs vibrating with sexual promise and danger. It’s a gun or a round of fireworks freshly discharged, and the tense moment right after when people don’t know how to react.
In a way, Bapteme du Feu reminds me a bit of 540 Baccarat Rouge, if only in its strange, sweet-peppery supersonic radiance that is actually very hard to define in words. 540 Baccarat Rouge is supposed to smell like crushed rubies, and successful or not (I say not), it does manage to put across something of that very abstract idea.
Bapteme du Feu is similarly abstract. Whether it succeeds or not depends less on its technical construction and more on the feeling it is able to summon up inside of each individual wearer. It’s a half of a perfume, then, just lying there waiting to be picked up and made into something whole by you supplying the other half of the equation: your imagination. In me, it conjures up a memory of a club or the excitement I felt when standing in the center of a press of bodies, dry ice flowing around me. This vision is half me, half the perfume.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere captured so vividly in the topnotes does not hold together for very long. The fragrance starts to fade out into a very sweet, almost candied note, exposing a standard chemical exoskeleton, the usual base I’d expect from a designer perfume, not a niche one (although I’m getting used to that too). On the upside, it’s nowhere near the level of Iso E Super or Ambroxan pain I suffer in stuff like Sauvage or even Lutens’ own L’Orpheline. It’s comfortably worked in, whatever it is. I just think that it’s too plain a material – this radiance-giving molecule – to carry a perfume like this all the way.
I’m not sure that Bapteme du Feu is quite the return to form that people were hoping for from Oncle Serge, but it’s as strange and as atmospheric as some of his earlier work such as Mandarin Mandarine and La Myrrhe. Running counter to what many people expect from a Lutens, it has no syrupy, dried-fruit sweetness at all. It is as bone dry as Chene or Gris Clair, with a side of burnt orange peel. Despite the ginger note, there is no relation to 5 O’ Clock Au Gingembre beyond a sharp, citrusy aftershave-like nuance I pick up in both.
I recommend at least a sample to see if your imagination provides the spark that lights this particular tube of gunpowder. I think it’s an interesting, slightly challenging perfume that doesn’t go out of its way to be sweet or playful or even particularly pleasing. And in the face of so many dull and commercially pretty fragrances out there, this makes Bapteme du Feu a Good Thing indeed.