I’m on a Serge Lutens kick at the moment, which is funny considering that I was considerably late to the Lutens party and it took me quite some time to ‘get’ the brand’s aesthetic. This is due in part to the fact that much of what Uncle Serge puts out is truly hedonistic and oriental, and can often feel thick and oppressive. This style is attractive to many but for years I failed to see the beauty amongst the spices, resins and balsams.
Unsurprisingly, it was the florals (specifically the incandescent Fleurs d’Oranger) within Lutens’ stable that served as a gateway to understanding perfume’s most highly respected, reclusive and artistic individual. But why the florals? What does Lutens do to nature’s blooms that others don’t? What does he see amongst the petals, the stems and the pollen that many perfumers and creative directors cannot?
The answer is simple – Serge Lutens sees the darker side of flowers and he’s not afraid to present the beautiful amongst the downright terrifying. Within his exclusive collection of fragrances housed inside his Palais Royal shop in Paris (a purple-tinted perfume Mecca), Lutens has three of the most deadly, carnivorous and fatal florals ever to have graced the noses of the human species, they are; the maniacal tuberose – Tubéreuse Criminelle, the viper jasmine – Sarrasins and the ghostly iris – Iris Silver Mist.
Tuberose, Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Hyacinth, Nutmeg, Clove, Styrax, Musk and Vanilla
How Does it Smell?
Tubéreuse Criminelle is infamous as far as tuberose fragrances go. Heck, it’s infamous as far as ALL fragrances go! This is due to its overdose of camphor and wintergreen that is weaved seamlessly with the mentholated facets of the hot, fleshy tuberose. Nothing can quite prepare one for the tour de force that is Tubéreuse Criminelle’s top notes and whether one find its it irresistible or not, it can be guaranteed that sniffing this tuberose will be an unforgettable experience.
Once the initial shock of the tuberose and mothballs/Vicks Vapor Rub combination has dissipated, Tubéreuse Criminelle actually becomes rather pretty. The coolness of the menthol doesn’t entirely disappear but it does subdue, lending herbal and green facets to the warm, creamy and rubbery tuberose and vanilla that hold strong within the base. This multi-faceted approach to the most narcotic of flowers makes for a thrill-ride of a scent that is both unpredictable and fascinating.
If Fracas is widely considered as the vamp of the tuberose-world then Tubéreuse Criminelle is the vampire. She’s Maleficent (‘MalefiScent’, perhaps?), the dark lady, lurking in the shadows and Cruella de Vil, the crazed mad woman, hiding in plain sight. This tuberose fragrances, and both Disney villains, are incredibly beautiful, but unconventionally so thanks to their hard edges and cruel lines, making them all the more formidable.
Floral Notes, Carnation, Jasmine and Musk
How Does it Smell?
Sarassins is a jasmine perfume, but it’s not a hyper-real interpretation of one of nature’s most fragrant flowers (for that see Lutens’ A La Nuit), instead serving as a dark, brooding and almost malevolent take on jasmine. But that’s not to say that it is deadly in the same way that Tubéreuse Criminelle is, far from it in fact, and where the tuberose is mad, bad and unpredictable, Sarrasins is quiet and calculating.
In the opening, Sarrasins presents thick, creamy and indolic jasmine and spiced fruits. There is a degree of cheesy (hinting at gardenia) and fecal funk but it is never overwhelming allowing for this indolic facet to sit perfectly alongside the animalic strips of leather. As it settles, the fragrance becomes sweeter and creamier with strong hints of stewed jasmine within the bed of gorgeous vanilla.
Sarrasins is the leathery skin of a serpent – the deadly black mamba sleeking through the grass and silently stalking its prey, prepared to strike at any second. It’s a fragrance that has considerable power and strength, yet there is also a fragility to it – a softness that speaks of the lonely and solitary life that is bestowed to a predator. It’s also one of the most transcendently beautiful fragrances ever made.
Vetiver, Musk, Iris, Sandalwood, Virginia Cedar, Galbanum, Clove, Incense and Benzoin
How Does it Smell?
Iris perfumes usually focus on the powdery, sweet and violet-esque facets of the flower’s roots, playing-up their more palatable aspects. Lutens’ ode to the iris – Iris Silver Mist – does not do this, instead it presents the cool mineral and vegetal nuances that make iris such a bewitching and intriguing note.
In the opening Iris Silver Mist smells of cold carrots and earthy roots. Incense adds to the grey, murky feel of cold water and vetiver gives tiny hints of something slightly green. For the most part things are relatively linear (meaning that there isn’t a whole heap of development) and as this iris slowly moves into the base it becomes less vegetal and slightly warmer with touches of powder and silky musks.
Iris Silver Mist is a fragrance that speaks of ghostly spectres and the cool earth of graves. It’s an ethereal veil worn by a funeral mourner and the silvery cobwebs found in an old abandoned room. Never has a more beguiling take on iris been made and much like the phantoms it is so evocative of, Iris Silver Mist feels bound to another world.
All three of Serge’s fatal flowers – Tubéreuse Criminelle, Sarassins and Iris Silver Mist – are part of the exclusive Palais Royal collection and only available in the Paris shop or online in Europe. Each is €140 for 75ml Eau de Parfum.
Image 1 Carnivorous Flower by M.Sh on pxleyes.com. Image 2 via swide.com & lollypopvintage.com. Image 3 us.sergelutens.com & styleshoutout.com. Image 3 us.sergelutens.com & thenonblonde.com. Notes via Fragrantica.