How I have been looking forward to introducing my nose to some Serge Lutens! As a beloved favourite over at Kafkaesque, this brand has had a lot of talented writing already dedicated to it. I have greatly enjoyed the reviews and had high expectations of the perfumes.
I am also hugely intrigued by Lutens himself. As a photographer, designer and visionary stylist, he has brought enormous success and a strong visual identity to brands such Shiseido and Doir. Photoshoots styled by Lutens appeared regularly in Vogue and Elle during the 60’s and 70’s and in 1982 he conceived his first perfume, ‘Nombre Noir’, for Shiseido. To quote the website;
“While his first perfume marked the 1980’s, it was through his creation of Féminité du bois and Les Salons du Palais Royal in 1992 with their dreamlike décor, that Serge Lutens led his first true olfactory revolution in the field of perfume.
Fragrances like Ambre sultan, Tubéreuse criminelle, Cuir mauresque… have since become indispensable, writing a new page in the History of Fragrances.”
Taking into consideration Monsieur Lutens incredible creative flair and talent for conceptual design, I was expectant that his fragrances would capture a multi-dimensional, olfactory rendering of this artistry. High hopes? Maybe, and without a huge back catalogue of comparisons at my disposal, I have approached Serge Lutens ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’ with the joyous naivety and passion of a student who has read much but experienced little. Hey ho, I have no problems admitting this, I’m learning as I go along and who knows, it might even make for a fresher review….
To set the scene, imagine a studio that is set up for a photo shoot. High ceilings, white walls and expensive lighting equipment rigged up everywhere. There is a backdrop of black silk, cascading into pools on a dark parquet floor. Before it stands an ornate chair with blood red velvet cushions and a laquered table with long, spindly legs. On the table is an oriental vase, decorated with intricate gold and red patterns on white. Carnations fill the vase, an explosive bouquet of variegated plum and white ragged petals.
A model, pale and graceful as a willow, her saffron hair styled into waves that fall over one shoulder, moves carefully to perch on the chair. Dressed in a gown of pure white with trailing skirts, she extends one leg elegantly to the side and tilts her head upwards. Stylists rush to touch up her flawless alabaster skin and re-paint her already ruby stained lips. Baskets heaped with more carnations, red and beheaded, are brought in and strewn all around her on the floor. The set is ready. The model raises a hand to her long, white throat and closes her eyes, the photographer is poised….
Saffron paint powder and red petals are flung in great handfuls from both sides and in the split second that the colour hits the whiteness of skin and silk, the photographer captures his moment. Perfect opulence defaced by violent beauty. Blood, ivory and black pearls. This is ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’.
The name translates from the french as ‘angry carnation’. I have read that people have been disappointed by ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’s’ lack of fury, finding it polite and slightly old fashioned. I did not find it in the least dated, even with the great lashings of carnation present. I love carnation in fragrance, it is as close as I come to enjoying spice on my skin. I appreciate the balance of floral and warm notes that this ragged edged bloom creates, but it is so often tipped over the precipice into powdery hell that when I come across a scent that avoids this I rejoice. For me this is a perfume of shifting dimensions and multiple veils, with a quiet but no less vitriolic presence.
My initial response was one of surprise, I wasn’t expecting ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’ to have such a coolness. The clove is not hot and spiced as I anticipated, it is more of an icy breath, followed by sharp kicks of pepper and cayenne. It is a very visual experience, black, orange, red and white. No heat at all, it is the cold anger of a woman scorned. Then I notice a creaminess developing. The fragrance becomes more smooth and woody, slightly sweeter with a lick of clove infused Creme Anglaise.
Then along comes glorious carnation and I pray that she keeps her powder compact stowed away. For a few minutes the carnation is very prevalent and everything else recedes to the back, I am reminded briefly of more classical interpretations of this flower and I begin to feel disappointed. But then ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’ re-invents herself as a thoroughly modern woman by shifting the iced veil of clove and nutmeg over her petals again.
I love how this perfume is seemingly multi-dimensional. It is like a revolving carousel of sheer screens, each portraying a different aspect of the fragrance, which can be glimpsed through each other. I do not use ‘sheer’ to describe a faded, subtle nuance, each screen is painted using vibrant colour. It is just so fascinating how the perfume continually shows different facets of itself whilst maintaining that cool, spiced venom at it’s core. ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’ shifts in this way for hours, hovering a little above the skin. I think that it would have a much more powerful presence when spritzed liberally, but that’s not my style.
The carnation, in my humble opinion, is triumphant. A perfect balance of petals and piquancy, never dated, always elegant. I struggle to enjoy very dramatic perfume because I just don’t feel as if it suits me, but ‘Vitriol d’ Oeillet’ has drama without causing a scene. I completely understand the anger. It is still, considered and positively terrifying. The slow and controlled rage of a perfectly poised woman, slighted and vengeful. She will never forgive you and you had better watch your back.
I will wear this perfume when I need to feel indestructible. It has beauty and elegance in spades, but it is also powerfully potent. I went to bed spritzed with it and woke up fragrant the next morning. For me ‘Vitriol d’Oeillet’ has just the right balance of drama and restraint, god forbid anyone who gets in my way when I’m wearing it!