New Perfume Review Stephane Humbert Lucas Mortal Skin- The Art of Provocation

There is a maxim that art should provoke a reaction. Some artists think provocation equates to confrontation. Some artists will work with materials not thought of as beautiful and somehow find grace within. Other artists will seek to provoke, like a long con, by working their way into your consciousness and refusing to leave. The very best will attempt to do all of this. When it comes to perfume there are very few artists that pull this trifecta off repeatedly. One of them is Stephane Humbert Lucas. His latest release is called Mortal Skin which manages to confront, confound, and compel.

Mortal Skin is not being released under the Stephane Humbert Lucas 777 brand. When speaking with him at Esxence he told me he wanted to distinguish the two lines from each other. Mortal Skin does not feel like a 777 fragrance. It reminds me most of his previous work for Nez a Nez. In those perfumes M. Lucas helped compose olfactory stories layered and nuanced that rewarded repeat wearings with new discoveries. I have found Mortal Skin to have the same effect. I have had a sample since Esxence and it has been one of my favorite perfumes to wear of 2015. One of the reasons for that is I still don’t think I’ve discovered all there is to enjoy and I’ve worn this a lot. In a career of very imaginative creations Mortal Skin might be the best.

stephane humbert lucas photo robert greco

Stephane Humbert Lucas (Photo: Robert Greco)

Mortal Skin is meant to evoke a snake slowly drawing you into its gaze before striking. The top notes are mesmerizing as M. Lucas starts with a black ink accord which is coupled with smoky frankincense. It takes the acrid slightly unpleasant ink smell and by wrapping it in resinous fumes transforms it from unpleasant into an incense accord which smells like few others. The ink accentuates those hard metallic edges found in fine frankincense. The smoke floats over it all. The frankincense and ink give way to a breeze of cardamom which carries into the heart. Myrrh provides resinous warmth to contrast the chill of iris. Opoponax and davana provide depth and texture. This all leads to a base which speaks of the decay of death and the fragility of life. A woody triptych of birch, sandalwood, and cedar provide a strong framework within which M. Lucas adds in ambergris and labdanum. This is the smell of the ocean and the soaring sentinel trees. It is joined by civet and musk in high concentration so that the ambergris and labdanum are struggling at all times to be noticed over the animalic decay. This final stage is what is so compelling to me. There are times life wins as the woods and ambergris manage to make themselves more apparent. There are days entropy wins and the civet and musk rise up to remind me everything falls apart.

Mortal Skin has 14-16 hour longevity and average sillage.

I imagine it is apparent that Mortal Skin is one of my favorite perfumes of 2015. I would say it is the most artistic perfume M. Lucas has ever released. This is not the kind of perfume meant to wear easily while running errands. This is a perfume to wear with a friend with whom you want to have a meaningful encounter. The answer to “What are you wearing?” might lead to some interesting places. If you are a fan of the 777 perfumes allow M. Lucas to take you to a different mind space I think you’ll enjoy the new direction. I know it is a place I plan on returning to often because it is at its most basic, great olfactory art.

Disclosure: this review was based on a sample I received at Esxence 2015.

Mark Behnke

Header photo by Robert Greco via Sagma Corp. Facebook Page.

Colognoisseur Esxence 2015 Final Wrap-Up Part 2- The Top 10 New Fragrances I Tried


This year’s Esxence was bigger than ever with 150 brands displaying their perfumes. That made it even more challenging to cover everything that was there. Honestly even with three days I am sure there is a new brand or new release I missed. I was able to try 76 new perfumes over my time in Milan. The following are the ten I am having the hardest time forgetting after returning home, in alphabetical order.

Aedes de Venustas Palissandre D’Or by Alberto Morillas- The Aedes de Venustas line of perfumes, creatively overseen by Robert Gerstner and Karl Bradl, has been on a winning streak since their debut three years ago. With this fifth entry M. Morillas turns in, perhaps, the most translucent of the collection. It is a fascinating study of woods that never get heavy. Once you get past the floral top it is a dance of three kinds of cedar and Sri Lankan sandalwood which lingers in my memory.

Jardins D’Ecrivains Marlowe by Anais Biguine– Mme Biguine has returned to the classics after last year’s modern Junky. Inspired by Shakespeare contemporary Christopher Marlowe, Mme Biguine turns in a floral soliloquy around tuberose and osmanthus.

Jul et Mad Garuda by Luca Maffei– Creative Directors Julien Blanchard and Madalina Stoica tapped Sig. Maffei to do two of the three new releases in the Les White collection, Nea is the other. Garuda was meant to exude the warmth of burnished gold in the sunlight. Cambodian oud along with saffron and rum provide the warm glow desired. I just closed my eyes and let it envelop me.

Le Galion Aesthete by Vanina MurracioleNicolas Chabot has finished re-inventing the past with Le Galion and now he sets sail for the future with new releases. One of those new releases by Mme Murraciole feels like it belongs to a previous era. Aesthete is the scent of animalic leather and oud combined. It imparts a give and take between these two powerful notes and this tug-of-war is what makes Aesthete so much fun to wear.

nvc esxence 2015 booth

Neela Vermeire Creations Pichola by Bertrand Duchaufour– This team of Neela Vermeire and M. Duchaufour have been exploring the deeper waters of perfumery. As one who loves the exuberance of Bombay Bling I was pleased to see that sense of playfulness return in Pichola. Don’t be fooled by the opening because two-fisted handfuls of flowers burst through the tight green start and break into a Bollywood dance number.

Olfactive Studio Panorama by Clement Gavarry– When creative director Celine Verleure told me a few months ago that Panorama featured a wasabi accord I can’t say I was overly excited. As I approached the stand to try it I was still a bit apprehensive. Once I smelled it all of that concern evaporated. M. Gavarry balances the unusual wasabi inside a veritable green brigade of fig leaf, violet leaf, and galbanum. It adds modernity and creates something beautifully unique.

Orlov Paris Star of the Season by Dominique Ropion– All five of the perfumes from this new line are based on famous diamonds. M. Ropion is really stretching across the entire line but in Star of the Season he takes the duet of rose and iris and places them on a vanilla tinted bed of sandalwood. This is perfumery as classic as the diamond it is named after.

rubini fundamental

Rubini Fundamental by Cristiano Canali– My favorite new discovery of the entire fair. Founder and creative director Andrea Rubini along with his team of Sig. Canali, Ermano Picco and Francesca Gotti delivered a real team effort. From the ultra-sleek look of the recycled Fiberglas packaging to the mix of new aromachemicals with classic ingredients this is the complete package.

Stephane Humbert Lucas Mortal Skin by Stephane Humbert Lucas– M. Lucas said Mortal Skin was meant to be a brightly colored snake with incandescent eyes drawing me in. Most often that kind of rhetoric falls flat. In Mortal Skin it rings true with beauty and decay featuring in equal measure. I think I will be spending a lot of time with this one trying to tease out its secrets.  

X-Ray Profumo Amnesia by Ralf Schwieger– As I was flying to Esxence I posted about my favorite new aquatics. Once I met creative director Ray Burns and he showed me Amnesia, named after an Ibiza nightclub, I now have another new aquatic to wear. Hr. Schwieger uses a seaweed and sea salt accord as the nucleus of a night of beachside abandon come to life. Around that very pungent accord floats waterlily, fruit, and cloves. The night is slowly giving way to the dawn but the party never ends.

That’s the end of my Esxence reports for 2015. My very grateful thanks to Silvio Levi and Caterina Gianoli for having me back. See you all next year.

Mark Behnke