I was in Fenwicks, one of my local department stores yesterday, when lo and behold, on the shelf I saw Serge Luten's Tubereuse Criminelle. I knew that this is the time of year when one of the good uncle's non-export perfumes is made available as a limited edition to the general public outside of Paris, but I didn't realise that this year is the turn of this wonder.
Now, I should mention upfront that I struggle with Tuberose as a note. I find it very often to be too feminine and floral for me to pull off successfully and I feel self conscious. Nevertheless, I decided to take a risk at lunchtime, knowing full well that I had to return to the office, not an environment for sillage-crazy tuberose. Well, I was amazed. The opening of Tubereuse Criminelle astounded me. I can honestly say that I have never smelled anything like it. I was not prepared for the pungent, intense shock of a note that smells so strongly medicinal. To me this note smells like TCP, an antiseptic that I knew from my childhood. Others have described the opening as smelling like diesel, gasoline, winter green, Deep Heat and camphor. I can understand how this perfume could evoke all those aromas.
Tubereuse Criminelle smells quite sinister to start with. Just underneath that medicinal note is something fleshy,almost decaying. It is almost the perfume equivalent of minty mouth freshener just, barely just, covering up the smell of bad breath. Of course, I am not suggesting for a moment that this is what Tubereuse Criminelle actually smells like. If this seems gross, its not. It's brilliant, possibly the most compelling opening I've ever experienced in a perfume,.
The tuberose gradually comes to the fore, tinged with orange blossom, but it never gets too sweet, luscious and overwhelming. It stays quite spicy and dry, probably from the cloves and what I think might be a touch of coriander. Luckily for me Tubereuse Criminelle never becomes too feminine and I didn't become self conscious about wearing it.
This is a slightly abstract concept of tuberose, one that I am enchanted with, rendered almost, but not quite, sexless, which is saying a lot when tuberose is involved. If there is another tuberose perfume that does this for me too, it is Nuit de Tuberose, by L'Artisan.
As much as I am blown away by the underlying beauty and subtlety of Tuberose Criminelle, I am most spellbound by its ugly duckling opening. I would happily buy a bottle just for that.