Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens

Only Serge Lutens could do it.

Only Serge could bend the extreme into a fantasy of the even more extreme.

I remember my first experience with Tubéreuse Criminelle. I, a menthol virgin, was thrown into a whirl of indecisiveness. On wearing, one ponders how they should be feeling. As I smelt Tubéreuse Criminelles’ blatancy, and its overtly unapologetic behaviour on my skin, I was unsure how to feel. Should I feel offended and shamed that I smelled medicinal? Should the mentholated bite with honed fangs be sheltered away, never worn in the public realm?

The ability to immediately create awe and bewilderment is not only a very Lutens’ thing; but also a quality generally reserved for art. Criminelle is a grotesque artwork designed to shock in the most rewarding way possible – and with patience and perseverance, the shock mutates into a domain of perfumed intricacy; a beautiful and stark variation on the tuberose framework, an immediate call to scented cosiness. It is a leap away from a creamy white floral to begin with, with a slow and assured pace back into this paradigm. It is a scent rewarding of patience, as the wearer is introduced to the scent and the skin becomes an assured carrier for the work.

Tubereuse Criminelle Serge © 2015 Liam Sardea

© 2015 Liam Sardea


The composition unfurls – from bloody profiles and tortured ideas onto a huge white heart of plush velvet texture, maintaining a lingering idea of torment through residual spice and camphoraceous effects. Indeed, the opening is criminal (somewhere between petty and indictable), but assuredly friendly. Intense top notes of industrial rubber with a wavering wind of chill and deep warmth. Like rubbing the mouth with mint, at first Tubéreuse Criminelle has an acute feeling of coolness, melded with warming clove creating an intense wintergreen quality like numbing. What fascinates me is the duality present of warming effects. What is actually perceived as cool – the bracing mentholated effects compounded with crisp culinary spice – is actually rather warming; similar to the effects of Tiger Balm or Deep Heat cream.

When smelled initially, a brief glimpse of oily and sweet white florals serves as a prelude to the cool, sweeping away like fragile gossamer lace to a more sheer intensity. As a work of shock, by its very nature it builds intrigue. Above all else, Tubéreuse Criminelle is a fascinating and subversive work that loves to be perceived as worn and worn by others – because it lives. It openly changes.

If one makes mention of the tuberose flower, Fracas is most likely going to be mentioned. In fact, I have converted Fracas into an adjective through blog discussions of the flower, or at least have used the expression ‘à la Fracas‘. A fragrance à la Fracas is intensely heady, richly curvaceous and voluptuous. A tuberose flower’s most pleasing aspects are demonstrated; the buttery enveloping featuring. In Tubéreuse Criminelle, the generally washed over aspects are given the spotlight: the intoxicating methyl salicylate (wintergreen ester) in place of a creamy dairy-like lactone. It is a sharp spike; a staccato accent, instead of a wealthy collection of voice types.

In an act of innocent deceit, the quality of tuberose is not present at the outset, but moreish jasmine flower is the first floral to make an appearance. A sticky, sumptuous flower with intense potency – a Sarrasins in quiet. Hyacinth rings a vintage feel, with an oiliness complimenting the florals, and an astringent intensity supporting the tuberose in the scent. When the florals appear, the cool retracts as sunlight fills the space. The orange blossom hints at the spicy scent of Serge’s Fleurs d’Oranger, with the cumin swapped for nutmeg and clove. At the base, a cleansed musk and balsamic tinge from styrax.

Intensities swap in Criminelle. The icy camphor may begin to detract, but the rich floral indolics take over. It never relents. It just changes attitude. Aggressive in different ways and different styles.

A floral done in a Serge Luten’s and Christopher Sheldrake style maintains cohesiveness. They are linked. I catch glimpses of Sarrasins, Fleurs d’Oranger, and the non-floral Muscs Khoublai Khan throughout Tubéreuse Criminelle.

Ingenious yet simple brilliance. 

Subjective rating: 4/5

Objective rating: 4/5

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