A Trinity of Tuberose

-  reviews of Serge Lutens’ ‘Tubereuse Criminelle’, Èditions Frédéric Malle ‘Carnal Flower’ & Exotic Island Perfumes ‘Flor Azteca’.

And the Jessamine faint, and the sweet tuberose, the sweetest flower for scent that blows.

- Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘The Sensitive Plant

I’ve been arguing with Shelley’s ghost for hours now. He really needs to lay off that laudanum simply for calling tuberose ‘the sweetest flower’.

There is nothing – I’d like to repeat that for emphasis – nothing in the slightest bit sweet about tuberose. It is a most dangerous, perditious bloom, given to induce an urge for all sensuous pleasures, usually the kind that will end in tears the next morning and maybe smiles in forty years if you’re very, very lucky.

It was once said of prim Victorian matrons in the British Raj era of India that they forbade their marriageable daughters to even sniff tuberose lest they get ideas, ideas of a kind where the glories of the British empire would be the last thing on their impressionable minds. Likewise, at the opulent court of Louis XIV, tuberose hedges were planted alongside the colonnade of the Grand Trianon at the behest of his mistress Madame de Montespan. So powerful, so heady were these rows of innocent white flowers when they bloomed even hardened, cynical courtiers would swoon in defeat. In India, tuberose garlands are used to adorn brides in all their finery, presumably – and in sharp contrast to those proper Victorian matrons – to give the brides a few…ideas! You don’t mess with a flower the canny Indians dubbed Rajnigandha in Hindi, or… ‘night blooming’. Many, many wonders only happen after dark…

Tuberose. Love it or hate it, it is a note and a flower unlike any other. Polianthes tuberosa, which originated in Mexico, has been used in perfumery as a middle note for a very long time, with more or less restraint, for something about this audacious flower and its bold, erotic, otherworldly beauty tends to throw restraint by the wayside and to hell with all consequences. It blends well with a few of its headier ladies-in-waiting, jasmine and orange blossom not least, but something magical – and nearly fatal – happens when the tuberose is placed in a lead role front and center in a perfume, something that elevates it far beyond a heart note and deep into territory Louis XIV’s courtiers were surely familiar with. Call it…

Knock them dead and wipe them up!

Arguably the most famous tuberose-centric perfume ever created is Robert Piguet’s Fracas by Germaine Cellier, a staple of divas everywhere since its creation in 1947. So famous is Fracas, it has become almost a reference point for any tuberose perfume, usually to the detriment of anything it’s compared to. I’ll come right out and say it – I adore Fracas. I will also say that the reason I adore it now is less for being a tuberose perfume and more for the artistry of its construction. Fracas is Tuberose with an Entourage, an entourage of equally fabulous florals who each shine their Klieg lights on Her Serene Empress of Tuberose. Beyond beautiful, oh yes. But not my favorite tuberose.

For since a little more than a year ago, I have since discovered three more tuberoses – and these have for different reasons purloined that knock-them-dead heart I didn’t even know I had.

You may beg to disagree. You may – as even I once did – hate, detest and loathe tuberose. Or else – I’ve heard this happens, too – be frightened if not intimidated by the wonders that lurk in those moonlight petals. Tuberose makes no excuses. Wear wisely!

This trinity of tuberose – all different and all unique expressions of a single flower – is my testament to a flower that gives even this cynic all sorts of…ideas!

The Lethal Jolie Laide

Serge Lutens’ ‘Tubéreuse Criminelle’ (Lutens/Sheldrake)

Tubéreuse Criminelle, one of the most celebrated of tuberose perfumes in the past twenty years, was – and still is – a most divisive perfume. There can be no middle ground, no compromises with this Madame, you are with her or against her, but you will not be indifferent to her!

I hated it when I first tried it, hated it with a fury I usually reserve for run-of-the-mill department store scents, hated it so passionately, there was surely some kind of debauched love letter lurking underneath the vitriol. For M. Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake chose a uniquely alternate route in creating their ode to tuberose…they chose to take it apart and shine a spotlight on all that makes tuberose so compelling and even, dare I write it, repulsive. Yes. I did say repulsive.

Depending on your frame of reference, it will begin with a shocking blast of…gasoline? Camphor? Thick, scorched rubber? Mentholated mothballs, as one character describes it in my novel ‘Quantum Demonology’, and that’s as apt a description as any. Eucalyptus, spearmint or wintergreen…Madame Tubéreuse is all of these in the bloom itself, and all its sparkling, malevolent facets reach out to grab you by the nose and…throttle you. I was so utterly shocked the first time I tried it, I had to sit down. I then proceeded to turn green. I ran to scrub it off. It took five tries, five hysterical fits of pique and five minuscule sprays before everything changed, the world tilted on its axis and I was forever lost, lost in a dream of tuberose, taken apart by the seams by these two master couturiers of perfumery and made entirely new.

For right when you are about to give it up, surrender to this vegetal, veritable monster, the miracle happens. Slowly, like fireworks fading in the sky, the gasoline/burnt rubber/wintergreen/camphor recede to a dim memory of something unpleasant, you just can’t quite remember what it was.

You have forgotten, because now, Madame reveals her moonlit, peerless beauty one petal, one veil, one secret at a time, opening up and up and up until the angels sing and the flower sparkles like a peerless, fragrant diamond. The ‘criminelle’ is only that Madame hides her beauty so well in the èlan of her opening, yet once she blooms, she never fades.

Her lethal allure means that once is one time too many, and twice is never enough. Such is my tubéreuse debauchery now, I have been known to apply again and again, simply for that wintergreen, addictive, electric jolt to my senses. And for that unearthly, ghostly flowery carpet that awaits behind it to enfold me in her embrace.

The California Girl

Editions Frederic Malle ‘Carnal Flower’ (Dominique Ropion)

Carnal Flower, another justly celebrated tuberose, is an altogether more …benign tuberose. I say that knowing full well that so far as tuberose is concerned, there really is no such thing as ‘benign’, yet nevertheless, although it is a happy, beachy, breezy, tropical tuberose, it is still…a heady, intoxicating, man-eating femme fatale of a perfume. But it is oh, so nice about its wicked ways, so sweetly accented with ylang ylang and coconut, so carefree with its hints of orange blossom and a whisper of animal musk, you might as well have Beulah peel you another grape and give up your gripes. Meanwhile, you are as happy-go-lucky as any flawless California blonde ever kissed by a sunbeam and weaned on good vibrations, reeling in all sorts of Big Kahunas marine and otherwise with no trouble and less effort than it takes to swing that gleaming mane of yours and marvel that life really can be perfect and even be a beach, too, in Hawaii or Malibu…or an overlooked spot near the far chillier Baltic. Palm trees are optional. The tropical, sunshine dreams are included in the bottle for a price, but don’t all perfect fantasies have those?

The Feral Jungle Bloom

‘Flor Azteca’, by The Exotic Island Perfumer (Juan M. Perez)

Here’s one of the greatest discoveries I’ve made since first beginning this blog – and the totally tubular <cough> part is…you have likely never heard of him! The fabled wonders of Juan M. Perez, a perfumer based in Puerto Rico, were unknown to me until recently, when I received a package as part of my participation in the Primordial Scents project. (More on that coming very soon!) By rights, I should have reserved my review until I wrote about the project, but this wonder is such a stunner, I can’t keep it secret any longer. Rooting through that box of epic perfumed marvels, I came across a beautifully presented little box, and lo and behold…it contained a tuberose perfume unlike anything – or anyone’s – I had ever encountered before.

Flor Azteca – a tribute to the original tuberose of the Aztec, who called it the marvelously euphonious ‘omixochitl’, or ‘bone flower’ for its pure white blooms – is what I can only describe as a feral tuberose, as wild at heart as the jungle it perfumes.

This tuberose is not tamed, not orderly, neither coiffed nor manicured into tuberose submission, if there even were such a thing, and we all know there isn’t. It’s much as I imagine a tuberose might have been one fatal night some poor conquistador got lost in the jungle, more than a little terrified of all the strange noises and ominous slithers in the dark, when suddenly, he came across a flower like no other, a perfume like the breath of an angel – or a demon waiting to pounce – gleaming in a pool of moonlight reflected in a jaguar’s eyes. You may read this as hyperbole pure and simple. Yet I tell you, I who have sniffed many things and many great – it isn’t.

Juan M. Perez took tuberose and swathed it in its native jungle ambience, with notes of chocolate and massoia bark, ginger and pepper, vanilla and benzoin and more who-cares-this-is-genius notes and let it bloom as it pleased one moonbeam night, as wild, as breathtaking, as free and as feral as a jaguar on the prowl. I realized recently that for all my love of tuberose as a note, I’ve never had a chance to smell the flower itself (one local florist said he wouldn’t order any for me when I asked, because they stank up the whole shop!), but if there really is divinity on Earth, and if angels really do breathe, then I beseech the grace of Oxomoco, the Aztec Goddess of night, please, let the tuberose smell like this!

It’s just…that kind of flower, both perfume and passion, both earthy and divine and not entirely of this world. It can be frightening and flawless, but it will never, ever leave you indifferent to its wonders!

Notes for Tubéreuse Criminelle: Tuberose, orange blossom, jasmine, musk, styrax, nutmeg, clove, hyacinth

Notes for Carnal Flower: Bergamot, melon, eucalyptus, ylang ylang, tuberose, jasmine, salicylates, coconut, musk, orange blossom absolute

Notes for Flor Azteca: Mexican tuberose, massoia bark, chocolatl (sic), tuberose absolute, magnolia, datura, fresh ginger, pepper, Mexican vanilla, benzoin, tonka bean, copal negro, smoky woods, mineral notes.

With profound thanks to Christos of Memory of Scent, to Ruth for graciously assisting this thoroughly damned perfumoholic pauper in her perdition, and to Monica Miller, who knows the great stuff when she sniffs it!

Serge Lutens’ Tubéreuse Criminelle’ is available from the Serge Lutens website (for European customers) and from Luckyscent.

Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle ‘Carnal Flower’ is available from the website.

Discover the marvels of Juan M. Perez’ magical making here.

Afloat in a Chocolate Sea

-       a review of Aftelier Perfumes’ ‘Cacao’

Close your eyes and think of all the wonders Europe never knew until Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztecs.

Tomatoes, chiles, peppers. These are all fine, all good, but more marvels waited to slay the unsuspecting in the verdant jungles of the Yucatàn, and of them all, two in particular would have a lasting impact on the European culinary landscape. These nearly five hundred years later, both are so ubiquitous by now they’ve become bywords for opposite ends of a spectrum…one unassuming if pretty pale green orchid, whose fermented seed pods fired all our imaginations and that is vanilla, and the seeds of a small jungle tree that ignited passions, restored the mind, gave strength and stamina and was used as both currency and luxury tax. Say the word, and I can guarantee a whole onslaught of images in your mind…silky, smooth, sweet, sinful, and nearly impossible to resist…

Chocolate.

Where would we be without this delicious marvel of the mouth? One story of the conquest of the Aztec declares that Moctezuma drank fifty cups of xocoatl – a bitter, frothy drink of cacao, chiles and vanilla – a day, but then again, he also had 300 concubines. Surely, they drank xocoatl, too?

Here’s what I know – botanist Carl von Linné was surely giving himself away when he invented the name for the cacao tree. He called it Theobroma. The food of the Gods. Von Linné was (also) a lifelong, dedicated chocoholic.

Some of us are addicted to chocolate in its many forms – or simply chocolate in any form.

But to wear in perfume? Once upon a time, I would have said…not so much.

Nothing against dessert, it’s just I’d rather eat it than wear it, and when I’ve worn it, I’ve found myself wanting to eat it.

So it was until friend and fellow perfume blogger Carrie of Eyeliner On A Cat sent me a decant of Guerlain’s magnificent Spiritueuse Double Vanille. Arguably one of the greatest vanilla perfumes ever created.

When next she murmured…iris and white chocolate, I had to own that one, too. Since then I’ve adored chocolate notes in perfumes, so long as they’re a) not combined with patchouli overdoses (Angel, here’s looking at you) or b) and done with all respect to the divine cocoa bean.

Carrie’s nudge sent this perfumoholic over the edge!

Chocolate is never just…chocolate. It can be amazingly complex, floral, fruity, and densely aromatic – if not outright narcotic in a way that no other food item quite is, yet if anyone at all could turn that complexity of aroma into perfume, it would be Mandy Aftel, who has a spectacular talent for defining ‘aroma’ in new, daringly delicious ways.

Cacao is nothing if not…delicious. For the alcohol base for this perfume, she macerated cocoa beans specially selected by master chocolate maker Steve DeVries with a floral Tahitian vanilla for a full year.

Just the alcohol base for this perfume, and already this chocoholic is drooling on her keyboard.

Cacao is a marvel of a perfume, not only for the dedication to craftsmanship and the concept of chocolate that waiting a full year for an alcohol base implies, but also for the way it opens with a bright, trumpeting, clarion call of citrus – blood orange and pink grapefruit, say the notes – which isn’t what I expected from something called ‘Cacao’.

I expected a full, dark, silky chocolate kiss, and what I got was a wake-up call. Hello!

Citrus and chocolate are old, familiar friends, but Cacao has yet more surprises in store, because some time later, the real surprise – and the real genius of Cacao – kicks in for reasons I shall presently explain.

I don’t know precisely what kind of cocoa beans were used for that alcohol base. The three varieties of cocoa bean, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario, which is a hybrid of the first two, have very different flavor profiles. Most of the chocolate consumed today is Forastero cocoa, but truly dedicated chocoholics have a preference for Criollo chocolate for its ethereal, flowery nuances, and these are precisely what Mandy chose to highlight with the inspired addition of jasmine sambac and grandiflorum, elevating an already lush and sensual  blend into the plush and downright decadent stratosphere of chocoholic gourmand heaven, and if that’s not genius, I don’t know what is. For all I know about jasmine (which is quite a bit by now), this combination of jasmine + chocolate was invented in some alternate universe where Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas sang into the blend in flawless harmony…‘What an inspired idea that is!’

As those glorious blooms fade into the twilight, the coup de foudre comes forward to take my breath away… the opulent, flowery wonder of Tahitian vanilla, those fatal, fragrant cocoa beans and somewhere along the way, my definition of ‘chocolate’ and my concept of ‘gourmand’ has once again been rattled to bedrock in all the best ways, and by Golly, I would so wear this to unnerve a fellow chocoholic, and by Golly, the guy wouldn’t stand an almond’s chance in a chocolate bath!

Cacao brought out the voodoo of Carrie’s inner child, and it brought out that gluttonous chocolate-loving side I usually try to forget. “All you need is love,” said Charles M. Schulz, before he went on “But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Thanks to Mandy Aftel’s ‘Cacao’, it hurts even less, when this former gourmand-averse perfume writer wants nothing more than to swim this perfectly executed marvel and float in a fruity, flowery Xocoatl sea, where all the most delicious, decadent dreams always come true!

Aftelier’s ‘Cacao’ is available in parfum and eau de parfum from the Aftelier website. Steve DeVries chocolate wonders can be explored here.

Disclaimer: A sample of Cacao eau de parfum was provided for review by Mandy Aftel.

The Winners Were…

First things first…My sincere and most profound apologies for being so late to post the winners of my two recent giveaways. I have been buried in job hunting, novel writing, motherhood, the impending return of the School Year and querying literary agents, which explains my delay in posting.

Randon.org has spoken, and determined…

The winner of the Edible Dev giveaway is: Sharon.

The winner of the Blogoversary Giveaway is: RVB

For both of you – please email me at tarleisio [at]gmail[dot]com with your addresses so I can send these on their merry way!

To all of you who participated in both draws – Thank you all from the bottom of my heart!!! Stay tuned – more wonders are yet ahead!

Rubj, Baby!

-       a review of vero profumo’s Rubj in parfum and eau de parfum

The List. Every perfume writer or blogger has it. That list of the ones you’re dying to try, the list of the lines you somehow missed in your endless curiosity of Things That Must Be Sniffed, Perfumes To Experience, olfactory epiphanies that beg to be discovered, because you never know where the next love may find you, grab you and dip you to the floor in a tango swoon.

Even I have that list, and well before I even began to write about perfume, I had my own little dirty secret, a habit of mine I’d indulge when no one was looking. I’d sneak off into cyberspace and on to the websites of those wonders that intrigued me most, the ones I had this intuition about, the ones I somehow knew in that locked, private drawer of my heart would be another kind of love in waiting, and once there, I would dream of the day when I could breathe in their beauties whenever I liked, dream of the day I would own those marvels, to love, cherish and adore forevermore.

To be fair, it was an exercise in a refined kind of torture. Yet nothing kept me away. Every so often, I’d have to fall down that rabbit hole of my imagination and dream those impossible dreams…of gardens and flowers and transport to elsewhere and otherwise, of fraught emotion glowing in the space above my skin and through its own unique alchemy breathing that new, improved more beautiful me into being, exuding those new possibilities I can dare to believe in and believe I have the power to manifest.

In my personal top three Dirty Perfume Browsing Secrets was Swiss perfumer Vero Kern’s website vero profumo, and at the very top of her work and my wish list was…Rubj. Even then, even before my own perfume journey began, I had a hunch that told me…Rubj would be special, would be magical, would be one to steal my heart away and never, ever give it back!

My perdition wasn’t helped at all when my friend Lucy of Indieperfumes wrote me to say that Rubj would get me in so much trouble, that it was the quintessence of everything that spelled my perfume doom and quite a lot that described my own personality, that it really, truly did have my soul stamped all over it.

Lo and behold, a little luck and outrageous fortune landed me samples of Rubj in extrait and eau de parfum, and lo and behold…I’m really in trouble now!

Any reader of this blog will know my love of orange blossom. It is without a doubt the most represented flower in my ever-growing collection of florals, and many of my greatest perfume loves are orange blossoms. Something about their heady, opulent aura and unapologetic sensuality connects with this writer’s soul in ways I can scarcely articulate except to say that if I were a flower, I would surely bloom on an orange tree.

Even so, even with what I now know, love and have experienced, nothing could quite have prepared me for Rubj – or indeed what makes Vero Kern so unique as a perfumer. I first discovered her through her new launch ‘Mito’, but I quickly discovered that personal touch, that ribbon of soul that runs through all her creations, even though they are otherwise not at all alike.

The territory is as familiar as a well-beloved face…Moroccan orange blossom, Egyptian jasmine, a delicate, clever touch of tuberose. But Rubj is nothing like those other orange blossom gals, and sings her siren song in a different key. I can tell all those heartbreaker chords are there, but surely this is a song I’ve never heard before?

Lush, luscious, lascivious orange blossom…something about this calls for synonyms and similes beginning with the letter L…or should that be P for Pure Peerless Pleasure?

Pleasure proven by that diaphanous, silky veil of jasmine and tuberose, but don’t be fooled – neither of those two divas are at all obvious and merely add their own sweet soprano harmonies to Rubj’s star of the show. It would have been too easy, too apparent to turn up their volume in the mix, and to a mind that has been fantasizing about this very perfume for a very long time, this lifts Rubj into the stratosphere of As Good As It Ever, Ever Gets.

Don’t be fooled. Rubj will cocoon you in its incandescent pleasures, but as she blooms and you bloom right along with her, she makes no attempt to hide that other secret folded into her charming laugh and those pearl white flowers, and that is her sensuous, seductive side, the one not you nor anyone audacious enough to get closer will be able to resist. The sexy allure of musk breathes its intimations of promises and passions she may even want to show or keep, but from the joyous opening to the starlit aura of the far drydown many hours later, the orange blossom beats its floral heartbeat throughout.

Rubj in eau de parfum – contrary to what you might expect in an eau de parfum, which is usually simply a lesser concentration – is different enough to be another perfume. In eau de parfum, Rubj is greener, brighter and much more diffusive. I’m not sure whether the tangy petitgrain is added or it is the passionfruit that makes it sharper and fruitier, but even this Rubj is far, far removed from ‘fruity-floral’ clichés. This Rubj is every bit as luscious – and even more playful than her sister, daring you to define her in that laugh she leaves behind on your skin.

Heaven help you, you can’t. All you can do is surrender to her many charms and whims, and that’s all you need to do.

Other reviews have called Rubj a diva, a filmstar perfume who stops everyone in their tracks and calls attention to herself. I don’t see her that way at all.

Divas to my mind have too much to prove, too much to declare, are all too busy tooting their virtues (or vices!) to listen to anything or anyone else. They’re too predictable by their very diva status, and Rubj to me (and let me say it – it is indeed, very much…me!) is far too intelligent and much too mischievous to be that apparent.

She is a lilting, laughing, love affair of a perfume in either version and a laughing, not at all conventional woman. She doesn’t need to rewrite the rules for herself, has no need to prove anything at all except the marvel of that laugh and that definite echo of mischief and sumptuous allure she leaves in her wake in either version. Much like the timelessly beautiful Evelyn Tripp in the image I’ve chosen for my review. Look closely, and you’ll surely discover that laughing imp in her eyes…

As for me, I’m doomed. All I can do is to sing along with this particular song (that she surely inspired?) and dream my perfumed dreams of that fatal, flawless, perfect day…

Rubj, baby, when will you be mine?

Notes for Rubj: (in parfum): Moroccan orange blossom, Egyptian jasmine, musk.

In eau de parfum: Passionfruit, and likely a few more wonders Vero chooses not to reveal! ;-)

Rubj in extrait and eau de parfum is available from Luckyscent, Jovoy Paris, the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie of Harrods,  First in Fragrance and Campomarzio70. A full list of retailers is available from the vero profumo website, or by contacting Campomarzio70. 

With thanks to Campomarzio70, and to the always inspiring Vero Kern.

Original image of Evelyn Tripp from myvintagevogue. Photoshop: my own.