White Floral Queen Part Three: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle
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 filmsnoir.net