I'm familiar with two tuberoses in Serge Lutens' line: the nominal Tubéreuse Criminelle, and the possibly misnamed Cèdre. Tubéreuse Criminelle has now come to the States, and thanks to my enabler Steve at Scent Bar, I’ve been hitting my sample pretty hard.
When you encounter something beautiful-ugly, the line between jolie and laide typically blurs before your eyes. Beautiful-ugly isn’t conventionally pretty, it’s compelling -- and Tubéreuse Criminelle is a perfect example. There’s warm, salty rubber. There’s a chilly, mothball/medicinal edge. The topnotes amplify these sordid aspects of tuberose. It’s jarring. Huge notes of fleshy rubber and decay, odors that you might detect faintly from an actual tuberose flower (but certainly not at this volume), pull you into what seems like the very center of the flower.
|Actual tuberose: many readers trapped inside by jtd's description. More news at ten.|
However, Tubéreuse Criminelle's powerful start leads to a bit of sleight of hand. Come the heartnotes, the tuberose smells like more of an allusion than a flower, idealized or otherwise. You realize that the tuberose note is composed mostly of the 'non-floral' parts. Camphor, rubber and indoles are what make you think “dirty tuberose”, but once the opening assault fades, the more classically “white” parts of the fragrance sharpen into focus as jasmine and orange blossom.
In a soliflore, representation is the key issue. How closely should a soliflore actually smell like the flower itself? Should imitation be the goal? I tend to fall on the side of hoping not for realism, but for a broader interpretation, with the flower itself as a starting place. Tubéreuse Criminelle takes this tack, and tuberose is just the foot in the door to the rest of the perfume.
No strangers to the beautiful-ugly concept, jasmine and orange blossom have their seamy sides, too. Once the outlaw tuberose note fades, sweaty dough appears front and center. Tubéreuse Criminelle quiets down fairly quickly to a gorgeous half-armpit, half-floral feel. It’s lived-in and comfortable, but not lazy or slack. Depending on whether this close-quarters feel suits you, Tubéreuse Criminelle either pares down to sensual basics or transforms from a fetching floral to a homely one. If you’re looking for Tubéreuse Criminelle to be an orthodox pretty, sing-songy floral perfume, you’ll be disappointed -- or surprised. Either way, I’d recommend trying it if you have the chance. At a minimum, Tubéreuse Criminelle is educational.
Tubéreuse Criminelle or Cèdre: which name is more misleading? Some say that Cèdre doesn’t really contain cedar, but I believe it does. It's just not the signature Lutens transparent cedar paired with the plummy crystalline musk of his Bois fragrances (Féminité, Violette, Musc, Fruits). It's the oily, almost tart scent of cedar wood essential oil. Cèdre's oil emulsifies in the sweetness and makes a syrup. Tubéreuse Criminelle is the more misleading name, actually. Camphoric, rubbery topnotes aside, I'd submit "Sweaty Dough" as a more appropriate name.
|To make Tuberose Sweaty Dough, the proper ingredients are essential.|
Which is more misunderstood? Since people seem drawn to Tubéreuse Criminelle while Cèdre gets either the tentative 'meh' or outright disapproval from most fumeheads, I'd have to say Cèdre. It is undeniably sweet, but the sweetness is embedded in the syrup in such a way that the floral note itself doesn't actually smell sweet. Cèdre is a bit heavy and thick at the outset, but the basenotes smooth it down to a balanced woody floral with a resinous quality. And even if Tubéreuse Criminelle plays dirty, it is a definitive floral when set against Cèdre's floriental. Serge Lutens is noted for having reinvented the oriental genre with Féminité du Bois. Cèdre seems to be his attempt to reinvent the floral oriental, in this case with syrupy cedar in lieu of balsamic amber.
Although I'm focusing on the tuberose connection between the two perfumes, each has secret siblings in the Lutens line. À la Nuit, seemingly a jasmine soliflore, provides the same doughy vibe as Tubéreuse Criminelle. Cèdre and Arabie both inhabit a syrupy sweetness that unfolds from top to base at a leisurely pace. The two sets of siblings each share a sensibility, one pair's being close-quarters sweaty floral, the other’s woody treacle.
|Now, which one of you is Arabie again?|
In this framing, the tuberose connection between Tubéreuse Criminelle and Cèdre becomes more conceptual than actual. Tubéreuse Criminelle and Cèdre are ostensibly both tuberoses, yet each is distinct from the other. No repetition, no overlap.