A look into the strange and mysterious world of Serge Lutens – Wallpaper* | Ad On Picture

“A home fragrance must serve your home,” he says. “I don’t like smells that feel like they’ve been added to the house. For example, I think it’s a nightmare when people use lavender to mask the smell of onions, or use paraffin candles to scent a house—it’s dirty, it stinks, it distorts perfume, it kills perfume. For me, a house has an identity and I’m interested in its character, not something else.”

The Serge Lutens Foundation

Lutens creates all of his fragrances in a laboratory within the Serge Lutens Foundation, the more than 3,000 square meter complex he built in Marrakech. Perhaps more than any other Lutens creation, this is the most exquisite crystallization of his unique vision, a dreamscape simultaneously reminiscent of Borges’ labyrinths, Dracula’s Gothic palace and the opulence of Huysmans’ À Rebours.

The foundation is in the heart of the city, on an old narrow street, past donkey-drawn carts and cars deftly maneuvering tight curves formed by washed-stone buildings and vendors behind open archways selling everything from products to carpets. Its black door looks unassuming enough, but step behind it and the sensual flow of the outside world is instantly and dramatically quelled.

Serge Lutens in one of the narrow corridors of the Serge Lutens Foundation. Photo credit: courtesy of Serge Lutens

A dark atrium doesn’t let in natural light, but dim lighting from diamond-sized lights or narrow stained-glass windows reveals that every inch of the space is decorated with patterns and textured materials. It’s a labyrinth of endless spaces and narrow corridors that feels intimate and mysterious, like the sombre melancholy of an empty cathedral.

Lutens designed everything in the space, from the abstract patterns that adorn the walls to the furniture that fills the spaces. Everything corresponds to his style of exuberant uncanniness. There are black chairs with backs resembling cathedral windows; Red velvet sofas embossed with intricate geometric designs that are reflected on the ceiling; and bold black tables covered with curios like a dried elephant’s foot and wooden masks.

It feels like stepping into a kaleidoscope, with each rotation revealing a prismatic array of textures, patterns, and objects. The effect is hallucinatory in that after an hour of walking around I look down at the black and white floor and swear it levitates for a brief moment.

One of the gardens of the Serge Lutens Foundation. Photo credit: courtesy of Serge Lutens

Ushered into one of the house’s cloister gardens for lunch (and still only seen a fraction of the foundation), the natural light comes with a jolt. No doubt Lutens designed it to create the feeling of leaving the womb-like interior to be born into the light. As I sip a bubbly brown liquid served from a horn-shaped decanter, I’m shocked to discover it’s Coca-Cola. At this point, anything so normal feels like an anomaly, a relic of a place we’ve long since left behind.

There’s a multi-room hammam with bathtubs and faucets, as well as tea and silverware sets, also designed by Lutens. Yet nothing is ever used and few people ever see it.

“This house is a story of my childhood, a story of my life,” he says. “I bought it in 1974 when I was having a nervous breakdown. When you’re in bad shape, you need to set a single goal, and then stick to it. Otherwise you would just collapse. So I thought, I’ll buy a house – that’s it. I have visited many, many houses… [When] I only had three days before I went back to Paris, an old man on the street, dressed all in white, grabbed my arm and said, ‘I know what you’re looking for, come with me.’

Lutens was taken to a house in ruins, but he “immediately felt something… and thought, that’s it. This is the place.” He moved in briefly, but soon felt the house “reject me, push me away.” But he didn’t give up. What was planned as a four-month renovation of a single home has instead turned into a 58-year multi-home project, and with the recent purchase of ten new riads to expand the complex, there is no sign of completion anytime soon.

One of the Serge Lutens Foundation libraries illuminated and photographed. Photo credit: courtesy of Serge Lutens

Lutens admits he doesn’t really have a definitive plan for this remarkable, fanatical project. He created the foundation solely for himself, which is one of the reasons he kept it so secret. However, he also believes that “it belongs to Morocco and no one else”, and suggests that after his death he will bequeath it to the country. Death seems to be something that occupies Lutens. As our conversation progresses, I get the impression of a man who spends a lot of time looking back.

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