Monday, July 6, 2009

Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle: fragrance review

It is difficult to speak of that which cannot be detained within the cage of words. The ether-like essence of certain beings escapes elucidation, their legerdemain lies into something almost divine in origin. One can only feel it in one's bones, like grim silhouettes walking over one's grave.

Perfumes only rarely reproduce that otherworldy effect, a hubrid of aberrant chill and aching beauty: There is Messe de Minuit by Etro (more of which later) and there is Tubéreuse Criminelle by Serge Lutens. Two otherwordly vampires of piercing eyes which draw blood inveigling us into submitting willingly to their almost sacral fangs. The olfactory embodiment of Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, there is a thread between Eros and Thanatos in the dangerous alliance which this fragrance proposes, spun in purple and acid-green phosphorus.

Tubéreuse Criminelle (Criminal Tuberose), issued in 1999 by Serge Lutens Les Salons de Palais Royal (under the aegis of Shiseido) is truly felonious in that it makes one yearn for the sting it produces through its most unwarranted beginning: its acetophenon top notes arrest the senses with the disinfectant emissions of long-forgotten attic chests. Yet the effect is nothing short of extremely calculated and ingenious, like a Surrealist painting seen from an angle or the pleasure that comes from drawing a long inhale of a Kool menthol-aromatized cigarette. The sharp and kinky wintergreen/eucalyptus-mint aroma of Tubéreuse Criminelle (usually this is due to methyl salicylate) replicates the menthol blast that the natural blossoms of this devious plant emit when freshly-picked; a technique also employed with a lighter touch in Carnal Flower chez Frédéric Malle. It was exacerbated by Lutens, willing to generously give the fragrance the bend it seemed to take during its creation. Nature in its infinite wisdom has invested the rubbery, bloodlike essence of tuberose with a nose-tingling green glow which balances the intoxicating effect; it was the latter which was accused of producing spontaneous orgasms and thus young maidens in the Victorian era were forbidden from smelling the trumpety little blossoms! Perhaps fittingly Lutens took a popular sensual game of "fire and ice" into investing the composition with aspects of chill and warmth interjecting one another, making Tubéreuse Criminelle panseasonal.

Although Christopher Sheldrake, the perfumer working alongside maestro Serge Lutens, has taken the floral path as the itenerary for his composition, the finished effect reminds me of the subtler bouquet of a Riesling wine with its goût petrol more than a vase of flowers; its effarvescent effect augmenting when the first taste has dissipated from the palate. After the initial phase soft indefiniable flowers emerge, not with the piercingly sweet nature of floral fragrances, but with the creaminess of some white blooms, buttery and silky, lightly reminiscent of kid's glue, folded in a polished musky-sweet base with the merest fruity tonalities; a sensual, whispered drydown that is most unexpected after the initial blast and effortlessly androgynous in character. Like Marlen Dietrich’s name according to Jean Cocteau, but in reverse, Tubéreuse Criminelle starts with a whip stroke, ends with a caress. For sadomasochists and people appreciative of The Agony and The Ecstasy. A masterpiece!!

Notes for Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle : jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, tuberose, nutmeg, clove, styrax, musk and vanilla.

Tubéreuse Criminelle forms part of the Serge Lutens Paris Exclusives, available at Les Salons de Palais Royal as Eau de Parfum in bell jars of 75ml.

A small decant from my botle will be given to a lucky reader!

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Serge Lutens scents, Salicylates

Clip of P.I.Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty suite op.66 act III pas de caractere, originally uploaded by imusiciki on Youtube
Top pic via, bottle pic taken by Elena Vosnaki ©PerfumeShrine


  1. Anonymous14:27

    Dearest E,

    Please count me in the draw. Just wondering if this intriguing fragrance could help me appreciate jasmine in the way AT's Incense Rose helped me learn to like rosey notes.

    Thank you,


  2. I love to envelope myself in Messe de Minuit so I look forward to your future comments. I have loved every Etro that I have tried so far.

    Pleeease include me in this draw!


  3. Nina Z.15:57

    Beautiful, beautiful writing! It is inspiring to read such words at the beginning of my day (I am a writer). And, now, of course, I would love to smell this fragrance, so please include me in the draw.

  4. Helg, love the self taken picture. After years of trying to understand white florals, I have come to one conclusion, I actually really enjoy Tuberose, it's Gardenia that gives me the headache.

  5. Me too for the draw! I hover around Serge Lutens, sometimes loving them and sometimes hating them, but NEVER indifferent. I tried Etro Messe De Minuit - I found it actually very very gingerbready - definitely midnight mass (Christmas Eve) rather than black mass! Possibly the most gothic scent I've ever encountered was Passage D'Enfer by Artisan Parfumeur ... all spooky church incense. Very dark.

  6. Wonderful review of TC, Helg! No need to include me in the drawing, as I already have a decant...and if the weather stays sunny here this week, I'm going to pull this out and wear it. Your review just got me thinking about how utterly gorgeous TC smells in the deep heat of summer!

  7. E., this is a beautiful review of Tubereuse Criminelle. TC is my favorite Lutens fragrance.
    I love its menthol narcotic opening, howevever on my skin and by hot humid weather TC turns rapidly into a passion fruit floral, very wearable. TC is the opposite of creamy and buttery, it's the silkiest and most polished tuberose.
    Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct II comes to my mind...
    I hope Tubereuse Crimimelle never changes via reformulation.

  8. Reading your wonderful review I am in a "I must sample this right now, no matter what" mood, you make it sound so singular. Too bad, it is only available in Paris. Please include me drawing, I'll try my luck there. If not, I'll have to procure a sample through some other means, no rest until I try this.
    I am familiar with Carnal Flower and for some reason it did not move me at all. I guess that's one reason why I didn't go the trouble of sampling TC. What a mistake!

  9. no need to count me in for the draw: But I wanted to compliment you on the picture you made. Lovely. and very inspiring.
    Cheers to you!

  10. I am so intrigued...Please count me in to the drawing for a decant of
    Tubéreuse Criminelle. And thank you for the Tchiakowsky excerpt.

  11. Elizabeth20:32

    Please include me! I swapped away most of a decant and now, unsurprisingly, have swapper's remorse. :-P Thank you for the chance!

  12. Fernando22:59

    Please include me in the draw. And thanks for the review. I've always been fond of Tuberose in its various strange incarnations, and was curious about this one. Your description certainly makes it sound interesting!

  13. A favorite flower of mine, I grow several kinds...
    I would love to try this!

  14. I have never liked tuberose-heavy scents, and yet you have such a way of making this sound intoxicating and unmissable....

    The one thing you can pretty much always bet on with a Serge Lutens scent is that it will not be like anyone else's.

  15. Hello E

    Love the review. It has been ages since I drained the only sample of TC that I have had the pleasure of owning. And since early spring I have craved tuberose scents. So please enter me in the draw!

  16. What a review! I haven't yet had the opportunity to try this yet, but after that review, I'm dying to try, so please, E, if you could, enter me in the draw!

  17. please may I enter the draw?
    I live in Canada though...

  18. Anonymous04:42

    I would love to be in the drawing, this frag sounds haunting and dangerous!

  19. maitreyi197811:38

    Please include me in the draw.

  20. I love reading your blog :)
    Anyone who can connect a Serge Lutens perfume to the concept of Eros/Thanatos and include Tchaikovsky and sadomasochism gets my vote!

    I would love to be included in the draw!

  21. Natalia,

    it's definitely tuberose, yet unlike any other tuberose out there. I don't detect too much jasmine.

    you're in!

  22. mark,

    Hopefully I will have something on Messe soon! :-) It's completely different in the heat.

    You're in the draw!

  23. Nina,

    aww, from a fellow writer I take this compliment with much enjoyement, thank you!

    Good luck!

  24. Jenn,

    thanks honey, it's just the perennial plant in my jardiniere (don't even know its name) which seemed so fitted to the concept!I had to take that pic!!

    It sounds logical, since gardenia is reproduced via other essences (statistically many chances something might irk)

  25. Lucy,

    oh I agree Messe isn't so cool and chilly as they make it out to be. But PdE I find magnificently soapy and cooly gothic (love it for the summer months, it's refreshing)

  26. Suzanne,

    thanks so much for your kind words!!
    Yes, it wears beautifully in the heat, it's very silky.

  27. alexp13:40

    Your review made mad about TC. It is the great tuberose that I did not had the chance to smell it live yet(my only opportunity to start knowing TC was a blotter which arrived to me 48h after from Paris). I am a big fan of tuberose and I started to build up my "tuberose garden" : Fracas, Carnal Flower, Narcotic Venus, PG No.17 Tuberose Couture, Creed's Indian Tuberose, Caron's Tuberose, Vierges&Torreros from ELdO,EL's Private Collection Tuberose & Gardenia. TC is still missing, I'm quit far away from Paris(SE Europe)so please include me in the draw . Thank you!

  28. Alexandra15:12

    I`ve never tried TC nor any other nonexport Lutens, so please iclude me in a draw. I have a problem with tuberose, at least with a hostile one like Fracas, Blonde, C. Herrera... Carnal Flower was acceptable and very natural like, just like Un Lys, but for some reason I get bored of soliflores very quickly.
    I love strong and dense perfumes, but Etro`s fragrances are so ethereal and elvish, transperent, and wonderful compisitions. Musk and Magot are also beautiful.

  29. JAntoinette15:52

    Perfect, perfect music for your review! You have piqued my interest, why have I always skipped over this scent when I have had the opportunity to sample? I must rectify...

  30. Rappleyea22:33

    Very beautiful review accompanied by an interesting and original picture. Brava!

  31. O, I love this one too. I find it difficult to love a soliflore/total-floral without reservation, but I hoard my precious bell jar and am on the constant lookout for a more viable alternative—but there's just nothing like it.

    It also makes me think of Dietrich.

  32. SdP,

    Thanks! I do know how much you love this one! What's not to love? It's exquisite and unique. There's simply nothing like it anywhere. How interesting you get a passion fruit note, I do get a little fruity tone as well, but I haven't identified it as that (yet?). It reminds me of the fruitiness that is exhibited in Fleurs d'Oranger, but not quite, if that makes sense.
    As to creamy, I think I use that term sometimes with less "fatty" connotations than most; I mean it's smooth, unctuous...

    Interesting character you chose for it, she looked razor sharp there!

  33. COD,

    you're in! Thanks for the kind words, it's a MUST TRY for sure, and I am not one to exaggerate usually. There is simply nothing else like it on the market. (even Carnal Flower which is equally fabulous is a different animal, greener, more tropical, with a slight coconut tonality)

  34. Andy,

    you're such a good sport to say so! From someone taking such great pics, it's a wonderful compliment.
    The plant just happens to be one of the very few things that doesn't die out from the heat here(and my incapacity to garden, I might add...) and its pointy mauve leaves just begged to "embrace" this criminal juice :-)

  35. Queen Cupcake,

    you're most welcome and thanks for mentioning the music piece. I love to combine these things and Tchaikovsky happens to be among my top favourite composers.
    Good luck!

  36. Elizabeth,

    no swapper's remorse hopefully in the future, I hope you win!

  37. F,

    this is a unique take to be sure, very individual. Tuberose is interesting anyway, even more so when given such a masterful and imnaginative treatment. Good luck!

  38. Datura,

    you must be a great gardener then! You're included.

  39. R,

    oh, thanks, it IS unmissable and I know it's so hard to get, so it's a PS if you will to spread the love. And of course, yes, Serge produces strong emotions. Good luck!

  40. Natalie,

    I am so glad you got the OJ samples! You have to thank the OJ people for that, who were so kind to my request to host this.
    Good luck on this draw, it's a great scent!

  41. Melissa darling,

    thank you! I believe TC is great for summer as it is so silken, never suffocating. You're in!!

  42. Tarleisio,

    awww, you're too kind. Best of luck! It's very interesting to sample this one, I can tell you!

  43. Georgia,

    of course! All the contests are international for me anyway, as I am in Europe in a small exotic country... ;-)

  44. Fountaingirl,

    oh it is! You're in!

  45. Maitreyi,

    best of luck!

  46. Prox,

    thank you for your compliment and for your loyalty to my site. Well, I might be a bit weird in my associations, but it makes for fun, eh?
    Good luck!!

  47. Alex,

    you already have a great collection of tuberoses, but I think this one has a place to fill in there too! So I've included you of course.
    And what a coincidence I'm in the region as well ;-)

  48. Alexandra,

    trust me TC has no relation to Fracas (which much as I admire have difficulty with wearing lots of as well, it's so potent). So you're in!
    I also like several Etros, I have been wearing a lot of Royal Pavillion lately, Musk is also great.

  49. JAntoinette,

    I liked the music very much for this, so glad people say it fits so well.
    You should try it, so I am including you and wishing you best of luck! :-)

  50. Donna,

    thanks so much darling for being so kind. :-)

  51. D,

    thanks for chimming in as another lover of this. It is singular and there is just no other alternative, not even close. Which is a bummer for US folks I guess, but there you have it...
    Dietrich has the perfect androgynous mien to fit this contradictory fragrance, doesn't she?

  52. Anonymous16:28

    Oooooh, I'd love to try this one! I'm still a Serge nooob. Thanks so much for the insights.
    Laura M

  53. Laura, you're most welcome and good luck!
    I will be counting votes entered till Friday midnight.

  54. please enter me in the draw, I can't believe I've never tried this being an avid tuberose lover :)

  55. Chris G13:26

    I've read so much about this fragrance - please enter me in the draw. Thanks!!

    Chris G

  56. What a great review of a great juice and concept. LOVE that self-taken pic!
    No need to count me in into the draw.

  57. Anonymous00:16

    What a great review-it actually made me delurk here :) *waves*
    And of course I'd love to be included in the draw. Though it might be unwise to risk falling in love with it, considering it's not part of the export line (but hey, I like to live on the edge ;) )


  58. I'm not sure by what timezone you're counting midnight, but if I still qualify, please do enter me. I've been wanting to try this tuberose for quite awhile as well. Just two days ago finally received a sample of Fracas.

  59. Kristy,

    you're in. It's a must smell!

  60. Chris,

    certainly it produces strong feelings, it's no wallflower! Good luck!

  61. N,

    thanks so much for your kind words on word and pic! Much appreciated.
    Hugs to you, darling!

  62. Katarina,

    I am so happy you delurked because of my prose! Thank you for commenting and for your wonderful compliment too.
    Of course you're included and hope you get to test this! :-)

  63. Joe,

    don't worry, I keep the US Pacific timezones for draws, otherwise it would be unfair, wouldn't it?
    You;re in! Be warned this is nothing like Fracas (which is majestic in its own right, but completely different)

  64. Anonymous13:56

    What an addictive fragrance?! It takes some masochistic courage to wear it...Each time I apply it, I get disturbed by the cool fumes. But, I love the fact that they go away pretty quickly and reveal this beauty!! It's like the Listerine rush - I hate the stage of mouthwash, but when it's over, bliss and peace reigns in my mouth :)

    However, I feel that winter / cold is the wrong weather to wear it. I bought it recently and summer is very far... Only a fireplace can tame it now. I believe in hot summer the cool fumes will evaporate quicker and the elegant floral perfume will be lush and more sensual on hot skin.


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