Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Serge Lutens Vitriol d'Oeillet: fragrance review & draw

"Sometimes he frets his instrument with the back of a kitchen knife or even a metal lipstick holder, giving it the clangy virility of the primitive country blues men".  This descriptor for Bob Dylan's style fits the newest Serge Lutens creation to a T: clangy, virile in a rugged way, disruptive, angry and unusual are all characteristics of Vitriol d'Oeillet (meaning vitriol of carnation); an uncharacteristic carnation fragrance which breaks the mould of old fashioned powdery florals of the start of the 20th century, offering a futurist angry woody floral. In Vitriol d'Oeillet Lutens alludes to carnation via intense, corosive pepper and lily and invites us to think of carnations of red, feisty under the intense sun of Provence, and at the same time of the London fog hiding a gentleman killer à la Jack the Ripper, who sports a carnation in his buttonhole.

There's something to be said about 19th century and its fixation with death & violence, a kind of violence beyond the funereal association so many people have with carnations. The ethereally romantic image of the era gets shattered when we read Honoré de Balzac for instance: Madame Cibot is a widow twice-over, when her husband Rémonencq accidentally consumes the chalice of vitriol he was intending for his wife (in Cousin Pons)...Oil of vitriol features in many a 19th novella, not just Balzac.
Two especially memorable scenes have the caustic sulphuric acid unceremoniously thrown on a face (the acid works by releasing acids from their salts, i.e.sulphides); namely in George Gissing's The Nether World (1889) and Robert Louis Stevenson's The Ebb-Tide (1894). Perhaps what inspired those writers into using vitriol in fiction scene stealers as an aussault (an aussault to injustice, poverty and degradation), as well as a metonym for realism (a late 19th century claim to the explosive!), is what inspired Lutens himself; a desire to break loose with preconceptions about how a carnation fragrance should be: pretty, prim, feminine, dainty? Vitriol d'Oeillet is nothing of the sort!
But there's something to be said about Vitriol being in tune with Moorish sensibilities too, of which Lutens has long been an accolyte. Blue vitriol is copper (Cu), green vitriol is iron (Fe), and white vitriol is zinc (Zn), all Hermetic references for the initiated. Sulphuric acid (historically known as 'oil of vitriol') was formerly prepared from green vitriol in a ritual that crossed into the alchemical. The Moors sold vitriol preparations as an antiseptic panaceia. There's this thing in Shi'ism called ta'wil, it's this idea where "you take anything back to its root significance, its original self". A cleanse going for the bone!

On the other hand, in late 19th century carnations were innocent, popular buttonhole flowers; Oscar Wilde was said to sport one and companies producing such fragrances were a dime a dozen, rendering the carnation soliflore a dominating fragrance trend of the Victorian era. The dandified character of carnation scents has persisted: from old-image Floris Malmaison to Roger &Gallet's ever popular ~but ultimately discontinued~ Blue Carnation all the way to modern-day retro Dianthus by Etro.

The opening of Serge Lutens Vitriol d'Oeillet is sharp, caustic as befits the name though not smelling of sulphur, without the dense powdery note that surrounds the rich floral heart of retro carnations such as Caron's Bellodgia. After all, clove, the main spicy component in creating a carnation accord in perfumery, is called clou de girofle in French, same as a pointy "nail". But despite the disruptive nails on a chalkboard of the opening of the new Lutens fragrance, the progression of Vitriol d'Oeillet softens gradually; much like Tubéreuse Criminelle hides a silken polished floral embrace beneath the mentholated stage fright. In Vitriol d'Oeillet's case Serge hides the heart of a lush lily inside the spicy mantle. Indeed it is more of a lily than a carnation fragrance, as per the usual interpretation of carnation in perfumery.

The spices almost strangle the lily notes under cruel fingers: black pepper, pimento, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, pink pepper with its rosy hue, paprika and clove; in Serge Noire and Louve the spices serve as a panoramic "lift" to the other notes, here they reinforce what was a hint in the flower. The woody backdrop of cedar is softening the base, but lovers of Serge's and Sheldrake's candied-fruit-compote-in-a-cedar-bowl will not find the sweet oriental they have grown to expect. Vitriol d'Oeillet is resolutely spicy, rendered in woody floral tonalities that only slightly turn powdery towards the very end.

To give perfume comparisons: If you have always found Secret Mélange, from Les Caprices du Dandy collection by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier (a fragrance which dared to mix cold spices and flowers and harmonize the accord with warm woods) quite intriguing, you have good chances of liking the jarring nature of Vitriol d'Oeillet. So might lovers of Caron's Poivre (which is vastly superior nevertheless) or of the dark, suffused imagescape of Garofano by Lorenzo Villoresi and E.Lauder's intense Spellbound. If you were looking for a classic, dense, feminine carnation floral or a minimal contemporary treatment oif the note such as in Oeillet Sauvage by L'Artisan Parfumeur, you might be scared by this violent yet diaphanous offering.

Oddly for the actual formula, since it's chartreuse liqueur which is infused with carnation petals and alchemically it is green vitriol which hides the greatest power, Vitriol d'Oeillet if of a greyish-lilac tint which looks someplace between funereal and alluringly gothic-romantic. The sillage is well-behaved, indeed subtle, perhaps because vitriol derives from the Latin vitrium, meaning glass, therefore denoting a certain transparency and lightness. Vitriol d'Oeillet is androgynous with great lasting power that seems to grow in depth, becoming a little bit sweeter and woodier as time passes.

Serge Lutens Vitriol d'Oeillet belongs to the export line, available at select stockists around the world and at the official Lutens site, 95euros for 50ml of Eau de Parfum. The limited edition engraved bottles depicted cost much more.

A generous-sized decant is available for one lucky reader. Draw is now closed, thank you!

What is it you find intriguing about the concept?


  1. I really like the name, but then again, I like most of the SL names.
    What I find intriguing is that even though I've read several reviews and they all sound interesting, I can't imagine whait it must smell like. Because from my SL experience so far, I just know that anything I come up with in my head won't come close to the real thing. And the real thing sounds dangerous...

  2. Anonymous15:20

    A love of carnations is my dirty little secret. Their spicy scent and longevity make them great flowers for cuttings, particularly when they're clustered together into a tight snowball of blooms in a vase. I know they're cheap and they remind people of funerals, but for me, they're the flower of my childhood because my mother loved them. I used to wear Caron Bellogia as a teenager because I so loved the scent. So, naturally I'm keen on trying this new Lutens. Isn't that engraved bottle just beyond??

  3. Maureen15:38

    I am intrigued and a little scared by your description of this fragrance. I'm not really sure if I have ever smelled a carnation fragrance, unless it is in something Chanel makes, because that is what I am most familiar with. I have never tried any of Serge Lutens perfumes. I think I might like to be scared a little. Please enter me in the draw.

  4. I never smelled a carnation perfume before, and I dislike their smell in general. So what's intriguing to me is, according to your review, how I might actually like this one! Pepper, violence and barely any powder? I want to try it!

  5. Sointu16:17

    I was intrigued by the "description" of Vitriol d'Oeillet on Lutens' site, "What is it, Doctor Jekyll?". This fragrance must be really something!

  6. To me, "transparency + lightness does not equal carnation; so I am very intrigued to see how Lutens pulled this off. Comme des Garcons Red: Carnation is my favorite of this genre, but I have to admit I have not tried many of the ones you listed in your review. Hooray! Another olfactory quest. I would love to be entered in the drawing!

  7. Anonymous16:41

    a continuation of the macabre maybe? very much of the moment without being derivative--no amber, no musk, no retro hippie-ness going on. interesting.

  8. dleep16:49

    I love the smell of carnations, however, the ones you get these days from a florist don't have any smell. I am always intrigued by Serge's creations and the names. I would love to try a sample of this.

  9. Fernando16:50

    I haven't smelled a single one of the perfumes you list as possible comparisons! That's enough to make me interested in trying this. Plus, I've been looking for a Lutens my wife might like...

  10. KimL17:05

    I grow carnations in a pot in the back yard and love their spicy scent. But, I'm all about the underdog. A flower unloved and even dismissed by perfumers and the public is a flower I want to get behind! Please enter me in the draw!

  11. Serge Lutens is the master of the intriguing concept in parfumery, judging from the prose accompanying each new launch, and I've come to expect each of them with trepidation. In this case, the idea of a poisoned/poisonous flower I find attractive, echoing as you noted his Tubereuse Criminelle. Still too often, flowers are the material and symbol of choice of "nice" feminine perfumes so there is still room for more of these provocatively named concoctions.

  12. I just love how Serge Lutens makes criminals out of flowers =). And I think a carnation is a perfect candidate for it (as it is widely associated with funerals and death). It fits the "SL spirit" like a glove and will be a worthy adversary of "Tubereuse Criminelle". I could imagine them being in the same gang: "Tubereuse Criminelle", a black widow, highly skilled in dealing with with knifes and scalpels and "Vitriol d'Oeillet", a dandy in the shadows, using poison to kill his victims, just like a villain in Agatha Christie's novels.

  13. Stephan17:28

    Intriguing - well the vitriol concept rings some alarm bells in my mind to better beware of a poisoneous, life-threatening substance. Maybe it would be dangerous to win this decant!?

  14. I love the idea that there is a new, and modern, take on carnation because it's a note that I adore and crave, and one that I feel is underrated. (For some time, I've been on the hunt for the perfect carnation--haven't found it yet.)

  15. Anonymous18:49

    Perhaps since I am too young to remember a time when carnation was worn (by anyone), I do not associate it at all with "old ladies," or as smeling dated or old. Caron Bellodgia is one of my favorite scents, and I love the timelessness of the spicy-floral theme.

    What intrigues me about this new scent is a carnation not from the tender perspective of Bellodgia, but from a sharp, aggressive perspective---which I have never experienced before! :) And hope to soon!

  16. Maybe this is silly, but, I'm most intrigued, simply, by the association between vitriol & flowers - I am instantly reminded of the flowers Alice meets in Through the Looking Glass. (Or Disney's animated version of Alice in Wonderland). They're just so mean! And regarding this perfume, I wonder about the interplay between cruelty and sweetness. Your description, especially about the presence of danger, is interesting; I am especially curious about how this perfume might exhibit cruelty, like the criticisms of the flowers Alice meets, even as it invites comfort (to me, the scent of carnations is comforting!).

    Thank you for the opportunity to win a decant!! I hope to be lucky enough to try this fragrance soon

  17. Bevfred18:53

    It might be more accurate for me to say, "What don't I find intriguing?" I do like carnation, both the flower and the fragrance.
    As I was reading my mind's eye conjured up images of Phantom of the Opera. But then I swiftly went to Sweeny Todd and happily stayed there.
    When I read the bit about Green Cartreuse I was a gonner.
    Please enter me in the draw.

  18. The concept of the "nail" which I did not know was the translation of carnation, btw. WOW. It appears the "nail" hold it all together, fastens the subtlety of its character. And the color is different...Please enter me to win this delight.

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  20. Shallow as it may be, the thing that has held my interest about this release from the beginning is the name. Vitriol is just such a powerful word, and the choice to use it as part of a perfume's name is absolutely fascinating.

    Then there is the sort of dandy element to it courtesy of the carnation.

    The mix of those two elements makes me think of something quite corrupt, twisted, two-faced even. A dandy with a dark side. Dorian Gray as imagined by Wilde himself, polished beauty hiding a corrupt, angry, murderous core.

    I'm kind of going overboard with that, but that's where my head goes. Plus, carnation just isn't all that common in contemporary releases, which just ups the curiosity factor.

    Please enter me in the draw!

  21. Anonymous21:39

    I have a sentimental attachment to carnations, as they are my birth flower (January). When I was a kid they actually smelled like something, unlike today when they are grown commercially for lasting power, not fragrance. I always loved that spicy smell; it has become a Holy Grail fragrance for me. The dianthus I once smelled at a garden center is the closest to my childhood memories. I like the sound of Vitriol d'Oeillet because it is edgy; many carnation scents turn too sweet and cloying, and the Lutens seems to try to avoid this.

  22. Carnations are some of my favorite flowers. I love their smell and everything about them. I think this exploration of the darker side of carnation is exciting.
    Thanks for entering me in the draw.

  23. Anonymous22:23

    I truthfully haven't liked a Lutens export since Fille en Aiguilles but this one sounds verypromising. Also since I don't do powdery. Kindly enter me in this draw!

    This sounds conceptually like a fragrance project in line with the best of Lutens. I'm glad to see you mention lily since the clove reference in the original release notes had me thinking of lilies even though they were not mentioned before.

    Also, the engraved bottle is killer.

    -- Nikki

  24. Everything intrigues me about this fragrance! Which is why I am dying to try it!

    I'm actually very interested in how masculine this turns out to be on me. Plus, as you know, I am just intrigued to smell the rare fragrance built around carnation alone these days.

    Pleasepleaseplease enter me in the draw.

  25. I love carnations, I love carnation scents, and I love Serge Lutens, so as soon as I heard about Vitriol d'Oeillet I was certain I would love it, too. (I just bought Jeux de Peau a month ago but it's never too soon for another new Lutens.) If I don't win the sample in your generous draw, I suppose I will probably order a bottle, unsniffed. I can't wait!

  26. annemariec03:40

    What in trigues me with this that, as with so many niche offerings, the perfumer seems to be playing with the idea of what beauty is. Beauty used to be the main gola of art. But for much of the c.20 practitioners in music, art, literature etc questioned that. So: flowers are beautiful aren't they? Well, no maybe not. They can suggest cruelty and menace.

    Can you tell me the name of the Balzac novel to which you refer? I'm intrigued by that too. I have never read any Balzac; have never known where to start.


  27. Natgalia04:43

    intrigued by the fragrance description and expecting anyhting and everything from uncle Serge :)

  28. Calvados04:43

    Carnations scent is one of my favorites. Intrigued by a new fragrance that features it in its name!

  29. I find the use of carnation in a modern perfume intriguing, reinventing the old and making it new and fresh and a new experience sounds delicious.

  30. Katrina K.05:42

    An unusual carnation fragrance with vitriol in the name has me wondering how it would translate on skin. Would it be dangerous?!
    Carnations are forgotten in contemporary fragrances, so the chance to discover something totally new and dangerously exciting is very intriguing to me.

  31. Anonymous07:11

    What I find extremely interesting in VdO is that at some point towards the middle all notes focus to one point and this point is a fresh carnation flower. I dreaded that it would be buried under mountains of clove but fortunately this didn't happen.

    I think that the duo of Lutens/Sheldrake (if that is still who the perfumer is) has shown us many times that they can do orientals but with this one I believe they are once again producing a marvelous diaphanous floral with power (and perhaps even claws) like Sarrasins, Un Lys, Tubereuese Criminelle.

    I agree that it doesn't come as feminine at all and lasting power, especially on clothes, is surprising.

  32. I love carnations and I love clove
    I hope so much to love this one..

  33. Anonymous11:09

    i love the fusion of evil and elegance, and - did someone say carnation?

  34. I love that there is so much spice: nutmeg, clove, pepper... I'm not a floral lover but carnation mixed with spices sounds delicious!

  35. Spicy in the first 1-2 hours, then settled down into an almost tame floral with hint clove all the way til it fades completely.

    More masculine than feminine, although both gender can share it.

    Nick name. Dr Jeckyl? Yes, it is quite compatible. 2 sides/split personality. Good vs evil. Powdery nice floral vs sharp spicy.

  36. I just can't get my head around this one, and that's just what intrigues me about it.

  37. Ah, the psychological allure of dualism-good/bad spicy/sweet sharp/smooth-Jekyll/Hyde being the shorthand for all that. The evil carnation? I'm in.

  38. I'm intrigued by a "different" sort of carnation scent. I got one too many carnation scents earlier in my perfume days and got sick of them all so may just have nary a carnation scent on hand now. I'd love to be shown something different and start to enjoy carnations again...

  39. I've never found carnations to be prim - sure they 'look' prim but the clove that hides within the floral heart is a bit like hiding a shiv in a satin garter. That is rarely done in carnation-based perfumery, imo

    If SL has captured that essence in his new fragrance, then I definitely want to try it!

  40. I am a fan of carnations, lilies, and spice. I would love to experience a heart of lily caged by cruel spices. Not your mama's carnation scent! Please enter me into the draw - I am all anticipation.

  41. snowcrocus18:06

    I find their current death theme really interesting. Death certainly has a distinct fragrance (I'm an internal medicine doctor) although I haven't really run across it in perfumery yet. Can't say that I want to!

  42. The first thing that comes to mind when I ponder this story is the wonderful, lush, and horrifying tale The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille. It is a surrealist classic in which Bataille tantalizes with the symbolic slippage between the eye, the egg, and the testes, sometimes to erotic and sometimes to gruesome effect. Like Bataille, Lutens' Vitriol d'Oeillet performs the same dangerous flirtation between the violent, the vulgar, and the exquisite; it is a fascinating concept for a perfume. I would love to be entered into the draw!

  43. Anonymous20:25

    The composition is more than intriguing. It reminds me of few other SL: TC and SN that I love. And on top of that it is not a sweet oriental ( finally a fragrance that is not sweet) and the " cedar note is used to soften the base" . Really, if cedar is a soft note... what should I expect from the rest? :) I have a feeling I might need a FB.


  44. ElizabethC21:19

    Carnation and lush lilies being overwhelmed by spices. Sounds amazing, especially to a big Serge Lutens fan! Please enter me in your drawing.

  45. I have a fondness for several other Serge Lutens fragrances...they have a subtlety of composition even when they are lush, a hint of the "left of center" which I especially appreciate as there are plenty of more pedestrian, perhaps less challenging, scents out there. This one piques my interest due to the described melding of a distinctly floral note---a quite traditional one---with a darker, more brittle sensibility. To do this and specifically, to do it well, so that the result is complex, compelling, wearable, and yes, beautiful, is a task many other perfumers have failed at...but a task that Lutens should be equal to if anyone is. I shiver with anticipation...

  46. Oh, everything about this scent sounds so intriguing and I love the victorian "dr Jekyll and mr Hyde" and OscarWilde associations. And I really can't imagine what this will smell like!
    Eva S Sweden

  47. What I find intriguing carnation and Serge Lutens. I hope that the fragrance is as interesting as the name

  48. I'd have to sniff it to make something out of the whole thing. I don't remember if sulphuric acid has a smell per se, but the, well, acidic smell of organic acids pushes its way to my brain. Top that with carnations, or any other vegetable matter and I get pickles. Which is where my plain, simple and idiotic imagination goes. To edible things, which are not always something one would want to smell on oneself (or other people for that matter, but I use perfume for my own pleasure).

    So, what does Serge Lutens make out of pickles?

    Toss me in the draw, gotta find out:D

  49. Carnation is intriguing because I have never found a perfume which smells like real carnations.
    It was my granpa's favorite flower, and I know what carnation smells like, and I have tried some carnation perfumes and they always smell too "winey" to me. Only Alvarez Gomez Clavel reminds me of the real flower.

    A carnation by Serge Lutens is intriguing, just because all his perfumes are. I'm looking forward to knowing what is Serge's interpretation of this note.

    Thanks for the drawing!

  50. I really like the concept in general behind this one... there is real unity between the name, the pic (on the decorative bottle), and the color of the juice. Cool!

  51. Anonymous23:00

    Serge Lutens always stands above the pack, he is the most independant, creative and visionnaire extraordinaire perfumer. I bet you if for some reason this fragrance sells good, soon or later you'll see the Tom Ford, By Kilian and Armani Prive release their own carnation.
    You posted an article on Marc Jabcos, have you seen those Louis Vuitton ghetto-chic handbags that classeless trashy nouveau-riche women will buy not because they're tasteful but showy?
    What appeals me the most from this concept's modern yet classy take on carnation is the influence of Oscar Wilde/dandism. I love the ad's art work!


    I have a sample already ;-))

  52. I am intrigued by the thought of carnation as done by SL. It no doubt will be an interesting scent to me but secretly I am hoping I will love it as much as I love carnations.

  53. Ceci03:27

    The fascinating post on Grain de Musc about the etymology and symbolism of the carnation made me interested in this fragrance. I am also intrigued by its challenging nature, the vitriol and also the fact that I usually dislike carnation/clove in perfumes!

  54. gautami16:05

    I am quite fond of carnations: I like their peppery facet and also the sharp musty one like in Caron fragrances.

  55. When I realized SL haven't done a carnation yet, I was surprised. Seems like it would be right up their alley!

  56. I've never smelled a carnation scent before, and this sounds wonderful.
    moonstonepagan @ yahoo dot com

  57. Peggy13:57

    Carnations!It's a love...
    I usually wear essential oils(diluted to a vodka) combination of carnation and geranium together as in the summer they bring out a peppery fresh note...
    When I wear carnation alone I feel like the mysterious woman with the black kohl on an arab market next to mysterious goodies and spices...But then It comes to mind the old greek yard where every pot had of a nice carnation in that smelled pepper and flowers altogether. Hope that I will be entered to the draw!

  58. Indeed, my earliest impression of carnations was from attending my grandmother's funeral as a child. Fortunately, this does not interfere with my enjoyment of carnations, clove and similar fragrances. I am a Lutens fan. I don't think this one is available here (in Japan) yet.

  59. You're all included so far, don't worry. :-)


    I have added the name of the Balzac novelette: it's "Cousin Pons" from his Comedie Humaine series. Hope that helps! Balzac is a study in almost misanthropy rendered through scalpel precision; you have to give it to him, he's drawing flawed characters that you can't but follow closely.

  60. Joseph,

    I like your line "very much of the moment without being derivative". It makes sense!

  61. Peggy,

    you have to tell me the sources of those essences you pick for carnation and pepper!! Mail me please :-)

  62. Emma,

    I love the ad artwork as well. Hope you caught the videos for Inoui?

    You probably know full well I'd never in a million years hold (never mind buy) those ghetto-blaster gansta bags! Apologies to those who like them, I find them tacky. I do own some old Louis Vuitton bags, but they're the discreet style (mostly Epi, Damier, that sort of thing). Just don't feel nice carrying a bag louder than myself as if the bag should serve as some sort of "passeport" or "calling card". I find this concept vulgar and un-luxurious.

    There's a funny anecdote about LV bags and the monograms, maybe I should recount it sometime ;-)

  63. To the one who asked about the cedar being soft; in comparison to the other elements, it's softer. :-)


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