lundi 26 mai 2008

The Corruption of White Flowers (II): Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens

When Serge Lutens, assisted by the perfumer Christopher Sheldrake, decided to tackle the tuberose, it wasn’t so much the unsurpassable Fracas he was taking on, as the complexity of the material he was confronted with. Tuberose extract has many non-floral facets: rubber, meat, salt, blood, butter, leather… But above all, the powerfully medicinal notes of camphor and mint (tuberose shares an odorant molecule with wintergreen).
As Christopher Sheldrake tried to tame them, Serge Lutens advised him, it seems, to reverse his approach by emphasizing them as much as possible.
The result is the olfactory equivalent an extreme close-up in the cinema: the features of tuberose are initially distorted to the point of being barely recognizable. In this respect, Tubéreuse Criminelle is the epitome of Lutens’ baroque aesthetics: it displays the unsettling, angular stylisation of his photographic work.

But although Sheldrake states that “the only criminal thing about this perfume is its top notes”, Tubéreuse Criminelle’s initial blast is the very opposite of poisonous – poison being written into the very DNA of perfumery since Catarina di Medici’s era, when fragrant compositions were thought to hide deadly venoms. What could be healthy, more salubrious, more reassuring than the smell of Vicks Vaporub or of a mint-flavoured toothpaste? For centuries, camphor and mint were believed to protect against the poisons carried in the air by corrupt miasmas, which were thought to carry epidemics. In this sense, the medicinal opening could very well be the antidote to the insidious effects of tuberose.

What’s criminal is the initial olfactory shock. When the nose expects a fragrant garden, it stumbles into a medicine cabinet, in a surrealistic trompe-l’oeil joke.

But when it melts on the skin, Lutens’ belle laide fleshes out into an intoxicating sillage (I recommend transferring some into a small atomizer: it expresses itself better when sprayed). I received countless compliments on it – even under the mask of a sombre Lutensian diva, tuberose is never discreet – even in fragrance-choked flower shop!
As for its “criminal” top notes, I must admit that, like many fans of the scent, I’ve become hooked on it: it has an addictive nature that may well justify its name.

Once it warms up on the skin, Tubéreuse Criminelle gives away its partners in crime: jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth for its green notes are underscored by Lutens’ ever-present spices (“cold” nutmeg and “hot” clove) on the musky vanilla base which softens some of his other white floral compositions, Un Lys and Fleurs d’Oranger (whose innocence is slightly and deliciously defiled by cumin).

Tubéreuse Criminelle is one of the scents I could never do without: a lover of mine thought it the sexiest perfume he had ever smelled. And I believe its effect on him – he shivered as he smelled – was not only due to the woman who wore it. The belle laide awakens sensations that a merely pretty girl could never hope to achieve. Is it a matter of (slight) perversion? On the right skin, this criminal draws in her claws, just like her sister, the panther of Muscs Koublaï Khan

Image: courtesy of the Sophie Dahl Gallery,

8 commentaires:

  1. Love the references to the 'belle-laide' aspect [ as it surpasses 'jolie-laide'] of TC.

    I'm a firm believer in the power of the paradox, myself.
    Beautifully put, D...

  2. Thank you dear I. Paradox is a delicate art in perfumery: push it a bit too far and you've got a schizophrenic fragrance. This one pushes the tension to the limit, and gets it just right.

  3. Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes... the stuff is addictive and I adore it. I always wear far too much of it, because I can't help going back to re-spritz and get that inital shock over & over.

  4. I know. Same here. Talk about perverse... ;-)

  5. I cannot wait to try Tubereuse Criminelle...I have a sample awaiting me but I am afraid to try it. I know from reviews that it is not a subtle fragrance.

  6. Report back when you do! Actually, it *is* very subtle once it's dried down on the skin -- subtle for a tuberose, not a whispering flower in the best of cases.

  7. my first comment did not come through...
    this is the best description of Tubéreuse Criminelle that i have ever read. it embodies everything that Tubéreuse is for me. although i only wear it evenings, when i go out, if i had to choose to keep only one perfume, this would be it. this perfume is in a league of its own, it does not resemble anything else.
    and you are right about the effect on men, it drives my boyfriend crazy :- )

    i don't usually like "regular" tubéreuse in perfumes except in "jardin blanc" that is quite the opposite to "tubéreuse criminelle", pure, delicate and "très sage". those two are like Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

    i sniffed Carnal Flower and Fracas, but i could not take to those and i have hoped to have the same coup de foudre i had for tubéreuse for other perfumes of the Lutens collection but so far, i have had no luck although "à la nuit" is nice but i will next try "jasmin full" because i love the "rose taif" in the Montale collection.

    hope this time the comment gets published :- )