Serge Does Tuberose: Cedre v. Tubereuse Criminelle, originally posted on katiepuckriksmells.com

serge does tuberose

I know of two tuberoses in the Lutens line: the nominal Tubereuse Criminelle (1998, perfumer Christopher Sheldrake), and the possibly mis-named Cedre (2005, also Christopher Sheldrake). Thanks to my enabler Steve at ScentBar, now that Tubereuse Criminelle has come to the States, I’ve been hitting my sample pretty hard.

Tubereuse Criminelle’s powerful start leads to a bit of sleight of hand. There’s warm, salty rubber. There’s a chilly, mothball/medicinal edge. The topnotes amplify these sordid aspects of tuberose.  It’s jarring.  You’ve probably encountered something beautiful-ugly in your life, where the line just blurs before your eyes.  ‘Jolie laide’ isn’t conventionally pretty, it’s compelling and Tubereuse Criminelle is nothing if not compelling.  Camphor, rubber, indoles are what make you think dirty tuberose, but the more classically ‘white’ parts of the fragrance come into focus as jasmine and orange blossom once the headnotes fade.  Representation is the key issues in a soliflor.  How closely should a solifor actually smell like the flower itself?  Should imitation be the goal?  I tend to fall on the side of not hoping for realism.  I’d prefer a broader interpretation, with the flower itself as a starting place.  Tubereuse Criminelle takes this tack, and tuberose is just the foot in the door to the rest of the perfume.

Fortunately, jasmine and orange blossom wear their seamy sides openly too. Once the outlawed tuberose note fades, the leading heartnote of sweaty dough comes front and center.  Tubereuse Criminelle quiets down fairly quickly to 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, Tubereuse Criminelle either pairs down to sensual basics or transforms from a fetching floral to a homely one.  If you’re looking for Tubereuse Criminelle to be an orthodox, pretty, sing-songy floral perfume, you’ll either be disappointed or surprised.  Either way, I’d still recommend trying Tubereuse Criminelle if you have the chance.  At a minimum it’s educational.

Which name is more misleading?  Others have said that Cedre doesn’t really have any cedar to it, but I believe it does. It just isn’t the signature Lutens transparent cedar that you find paired with a plumy crystalline musk in the Bois fragrances. It’s an oily, almost tart scent like cedar wood essential oil. The oil gets emulsified in the sweetness and makes a syrup.  Tubereuse Criminelle is the more misleading name, actiually.  Camphoric, rubbery topnotes aside, I think Sweaty Dough is a more appropriate name.

Which is more misunderstood?  Since people seem drawn to Tubereuse Criminelle and Cedre gets either the tentative ‘meh’ or outright disapproval from most fume-heads, I’d have to say Cedre.  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.  Cedre is a bit heavy and thick at the outset, but the basenotes give the impression of a balanced woody-floral with a resinous quality.  Even if Tubereuse Criminelle comes off as dirty, it is a definitive floral when seen next to Cedre’s floriental.  Serge Lutens is noted for having reinvented the oriental genre with Serge Lutens Feminite du Bois.  Cedre seems to be an 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 one really has another sibling in the Lutens line. Serge Lutens a la Nuit, seemingly a jasmine soliflor, gives me the same doughy vibe as Tubereuse Criminelle. Cedre and Serge Lutens Arabie both share a syrupy sweetness that unfolds from top to base at a leisurely pace. The ‘siblings’ share an overall sensibility, one pair’s close-quarters sweaty floral, the other’s woody treacle.  They make the tuberose connection between Tubereuse Criminelle and Cedre seem more conceptual than actual.

The Bois perfumes (Musc, Fruit, Violette) demonstrate Lutens’s earlier strategy of theme and variation, with multiple iterations of the same fruity/musky/woody concept first revealed in Feminite du Bois.  Tubereuse Criminelle and Cedre are ostensibly both tuberoses, yet each is completely distinct from the other. No repetition, no overlap.