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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

White Floral Queen Part Three: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle

By Donna

This is a real cult fragrance; every perfume blog seemed to talking about it at one time or another a few years ago, and inevitably a comparison would be drawn to Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, with the general sense being that the 2005 Malle scent was somewhat of a “copycat” of the 1999 Lutens release. Due to a fortuitous swap, I have now tried both of these, and I find that they are as different as night and day.

Tubéreuse Criminelle is Night.

It is heavy and dark and up to absolutely no good. It is the ultimate Femme Fatale scent.

I love it.

Of course, in order to get to the love part I had to experience the famous weirdness that is its signature opening. Some say kerosene, or gasoline, or menthol; I got creosote. The thick, smelly goopy stuff that utility companies paint on wooden power poles to keep them from decaying or being attacked by insect pests. It was truly shocking to put on perfume from a pretty little bottle and immediately have my arm smell like a telephone pole on a hot summer day, oozing black goo that runs down the sides as it melts in the sun. But that’s exactly what it smelled like, and I never could stand the odor of creosote. So I waited it out, and sure enough in a few minutes it started to smell like something else – first, like velvet soaked in kerosene, just a bit softer than the first blast, and then finally I got it – the deep, dirty smell of the essential white flowers; tuberose, orange blossom and jasmine, and certainly the most indolic versions of any of them that I have ever experienced. Every flower in this composition seems to have lost its innocence. Dare I say it is decadent? Oh, yes! And I mean that in a good way.

As the scent warmed up on my skin it stayed fairly close; not a whole lot of sillage was apparent, but it remained thick and intense, never gaining any of the lightness or lilting quality of many floral compositions. This is a perfume for the boudoir, and for what happens behind closed doors. For once I am glad I did not buy this unsniffed, even though I was pretty sure I would love it, because I cannot imagine when or where I could wear it often enough to actually use up a whole bottle. It is entirely unsuitable for an office environment, or at least any office where I have ever worked. It is the kind of scent that only a mature woman can get away with, which makes me eligible, but as much as I adore it, I have the same “problem” with it that I do with another Serge Lutens fragrance, the jasmine-rich classic A La Nuit; it is so heavy and rich that extreme caution is needed when wearing it in public. Now I would gladly pour both of these on myself with wild abandon, but one must consider the sensibilities of others in the application of scent. It is so concentrated that you can still smell it on yourself the next day if you applied it the previous morning. I would put it right up there with another well-loved fragrance, Guerlain’s Nahéma, for its longevity on my skin. I know it’s not the same for everyone, but heavy white florals seems to “fuse” with my skin chemistry and remain until I make a real effort to remove them. Is it wrong of me to wish that Tubéreuse Criminelle and other Lutens scents (including A La Nuit, or course) would be released in Parfum strength? If you are going to go down this road with heavy, strong womanly perfumes you might as well go all the way, I say. Let the teenagers of the world have their fruity-florals and aquatics and ozonics; give me something I can sink my teeth into when I need to make a lasting impression. Especially when I have an ulterior motive…

Once the scent has settled down, it is mainly tuberose and jasmine with a side of musk on my skin, but there is nothing bright about it as might be expected of a tuberose perfume. It gives off no cheerful radiance like A La Nuit or Fracas, it is more of a dark star with its own gravity; it pulls you in to its orbit and refuses to let go. When I wear it I simply cannot resist pressing my nose into my skin to inhale the very depths of its mystery. I would guess that the use of styrax resin and hyacinth, and possibly the clove, results in the dramatic opening, and traces of the almost medicinal quality of these accords remain. There is a slightly rubbery feel as well, but not a natural latex smell like some flowers have. It is more of an industrial rubber, like the floor mats in a new car. (Doesn’t everyone love that new car smell?) In short, it is as addictive as any perfume I can think of. I would almost suspect that there is a “secret” unlisted ingredient, which creates both the strange top notes and the irresistible compulsion to sniff it over and over.

Naturally, such a cult classic is not easy to come by; it is in the Serge Lutens Exclusive range and is not available for purchase anywhere in North America. You must make a pilgrimage to Paris to buy it at the Palais Royale Shiseido, epicenter of the Serge Lutens empire. Or, if you are lucky, you might have a very good friend in Europe who can buy a bottle for you and ship it. Of course, if you want to try a decant, The Perfumed Court usually has it in stock, but you might want to start with a small one before committing to a larger amount. (I will say that if you are a true tuberose fanatic, go ahead and spring for the largest size they offer. You will not regret it)

Actual listings of Serge Lutens fragrance notes can be elusive, but according to their web site, the composition’s main notes are tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, musk, vanilla, styrax, nutmeg, clove and hyacinth.

Image credit: Still photo of a scheming Barbara Stanwyck and the hapless fall guy Fred MacMurray in the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity, from



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I worship this scent. It seems to merge with the skin and then emanate from it, despite it sultry and animalic private glamour which follows the screechy excess of its opening. I happily endure the headachy blurriness that the opening induces, almost a feeling of being drunk on the beauty that quickly follows the initial shock. The tuberose aspect is elegant and self-contained, delicate and substantial at the same time. I have only one problem with this scent and that is its lasting power - 2 hours at most on me, until it becomes a light, powdery, unrecognizable ghost of its former greatness..... Does anyone else have this problem?

9:45 PM EDT  
Blogger Vireo Perfumes said...

Styrax is a mystery. I have the actual resin and it can smell white flower-like one moment and switch to all kinds of leather or a love potion if you were in love with a dirty car mechanic.
I am making a perfume with styrax up for my male friends but woman will want to wear as if a Veronica Lake looking lady decided to cozied up to Marlon Brando's jacket in "the wild one".

I am so glad you brought up the"famous weirdness that is its signature opening".
I feel forwarned and wonder if there is a list for such great perfumes that open with initial "eekness"?

2:04 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

I absolutely adore the way you write about florals. And I love the White Floral Queen series :-)

9:25 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Donna, I have been following your White Floral series with fervor, and I hope you have many more to follow. You write of them so lyrically, showing me aspects of the scent I had not yet discovered. After wearing unisex/masculine fragrances for years, I now surprisingly find white florals to be my favorite genre. I cannot say that it has has anything to do with age or maturity, as these Queens of perfume become quite innocent and delicate on my skin. A la Nuit, Tubereuse Criminelle, Carnal Flower, Rubj, or even Fracas seem light and playful. In fact, they all remind me all childhood somehow, even though I grew up nowhere exotic with tuberose and jasmine in bloom. Before I could wear them with unabashed love, I had to get over the fact that they make me feel like a ten-year-old who wanted so bad to find a fairy.

Perhaps for that reason, the opening of Tubereuse Criminelle is my favorite part, and I am glad that I can smell the strangeness haunting the tuberose for a couple of hours. It keeps TC from becoming just pretty (although my husband says it is just that, pretty, nothing more--but what does he know, lol?!), because it is not indolic on me at all. Still, there is something very special, maybe truly addictive, about it--it is the one perfume that quickly drains. Whenever I get a new decant, three friends are lined up, grinning--and none of them are particularly interested in perfume. They love this. I hope for a bottle this summer (maybe even two!) so that all of us are never without--if only for a season.

10:51 AM EDT  
Blogger tmp00 said...


You can wear these and come sit by me anytime! :-)

11:43 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I stumbled upon this blog while researching SL Gris Clair, which I recently purchased. I'm a male, and Gris Clair has re-awakened my senses, I feel like I'm under some strange influence.

This world of fragrance blogging is such a poetic and language driven art, it is fascinating to explore someone else's sense, and your words have captured that so directly.

Your article on Tubéreuse Criminelle is gorgeously written. This kind of multi-leveled scent that I can recognize on a woman and know she is not the kind to just pick up the bottle and spray, is so appealing. Thank you for such a great source of inspiration!

5:20 PM EDT  
Blogger nikki c said...

Always love your reviews, Donna! I smelled this in Paris and loved it, but my mind was set on Bois de Violette, which I bought. I wish I'd spent more time with TC; I'm def. going to order a sample now that I've read your review! ;)
-Nikki C.

6:33 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks everyone, for your kind words!

Anonymous #1, it is a bit shocking, isn't it? It lasts well on me, so I am lucky that way.

Knidonovan, so I guess the styrax is part of the oddness then. What an interesting substance! And as for Veronica Lake - you can't get much more noirish than that!

Marina, thanks so much, I do so enjoy writing about them too!

Anonymous #2, I am so glad you like my series, and I am planning on several more - there is no end to my love of white floral scents.

Tom, you must be a man of great good taste, LOL. ;-)

David, welcome to PST and I hope you come back soon! Thank you very much. (And beware of trying any more SL scents - many of them will cast that kind of a spell on you.)

Nikki, I can't imagine what I would do if I had the chance to pick out just ONE of the Exclusive SL scents - how did you decide on that one?! It's on my list of "must trys" as well, of course!

10:24 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wonderful wonderful article.

TC is my magic trick scent to test on the scent curious. It always casts a spell, even if not one of love...

1:06 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leopoldo, thanks, and what a great idea! :-)

1:11 PM EDT  
Blogger risa said...

you are so lucky the sillage stayed close! when i tried this for the 3rd time today, i was out doing laundry and someone *outside the laundromat* came in and asked who was wearing perfume. they sniffed, and of course, it was me. *sigh*

11:26 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Risa, LOL I would not mind if it were that strong on me- and maybe it is after all, since I have not worn it to work at all, only at home and out to places where I would not be in a small space. Dare I ask a perfect stranger how I smell? :-)

2:35 AM EDT  

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