Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Once I pass through Tubereuse Criminelle’s frosty opening, the perfume ushers me forth into another place entirely: a secret garden, where the snow is melting fast, as if C.S. Lewis’s great lion king, Aslan, savior of Narnia, has just strode through and, by his golden presence, turned winter into spring. What once was snow is now white flowers in early bloom, the greatest of these being tuberose—a clustered flower, unassuming in size, but so expansive and exquisite in fragrance, it stops me in my tracks. A reminder of snow never fully leaves this garden—there’s a coolness that lingers here, clinging to every petal of the flowers—and perhaps that’s why the bloom of tuberose seems so preciously surreal: for what bloom could emerge from the thick of winter and sigh its perfume so extravagantly in the still chilly air?  Only the bloom borne of a perfume bottle and of the creative talents of artist Serge Lutens and his perfumer, Christopher Sheldrake. 

In Tubereuse Criminelle, two men created a masterful olfactory portrait of the tuberose flower—a flower that is not only heady and sweet but which possesses a complex array of scent components, including rubber, sweat, a hint of clove-like spice, and, yes, even camphor and wintergreen. Because they portrayed it so ingeniously, because they took the care to flesh it out so fully—what they imagined into the world is not just a simple soliflore perfume, but a compelling “tale” of the flower that seems destined to become a classic.

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Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle eau de parfum can be purchased from the official Serge Lutens website, as well as from Aedes de Venustas and Barneys.com, where a 75-ml bell jar is currently priced at $310.

Images top and middle of page are from The Narnia Chronicles film series and can be found various places on the Internet; photo of Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle bottle is from Aedes.com.

December 17, 2008:

A DOOR TO ANOTHER WORLD:
SERGE LUTENS TUBEREUSE CRIMINELLE

One of my favorite children’s books is the C.S. Lewis classic, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The story centers around the adventures that four school-age siblings have in the mysterious world of Narnia, a land where it is always winter (but never Christmas), its perpetual freeze being the curse of its ruler, the self-appointed Queen of Narnia, the White Witch. Narnia is a bit like one of those strange new worlds in Star Trek: time unfolds differently than it does in the real world, and getting there is somewhat akin to entering a wormhole. The children discover Narnia by accident one rainy day when, forced to play inside, they begin exploring the rambling, old house of the professor they’ve come to live with for a time in the countryside away from London. Their parents have sent them to the professor’s country house to protect them from the air raids—the story takes place during World War II—and so they begin exploring the house and soon come upon a room that is empty except for a wardrobe. The older kids believe there is nothing of interest in the room, so they leave; however, the youngest, Lucy, stays behind and opens the doors of the wardrobe, slipping inside when she discovers it contains several fur coats (“there was nothing Lucy liked so much as the smell and feel of fur”). The front of the wardrobe contains only coats and mothballs, but where Lucy expects to meet the wardrobe’s back panel, she instead stumbles into a snowy wood, with a lamp-post at its center, and a path upon which all manner of critters will eventually tread: a brave faun, a horrid wolf, a couple of kindly helpful beavers, and the White Witch herself, on her sleigh pulled by albino reindeer. 

I’ve been thinking about Narnia lately, as it's wintry here, and I’ve been wearing Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle on my walks through the woods and fields. The strange opening of this scent is like stepping into that fabled wardrobe—a chilly blast of camphor and wintergreen that might intimidate the perfume-newcomer who hasn’t done much exploring in the land of niche, though not likely those who are reading here. Even so, I suspect that perfumistas who have “smelled it all” still thrill to this perfume’s icy mix of top notes, if only because it’s a potent reminder that we inhabit a world that is uniquely beautiful and often wondrously strange—a place where we are free to indulge our senses and play make-believe while still conducting ourselves as grownups.