Tubéreuse Criminelle is to my mind one of the all-time great tuberose fragrances. It was released by Serge Lutens in 1999, and like most of the line, was created by perfumer Chris Sheldrake. The notes include tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, nutmeg, clove, styrax, musk, vanilla, but even more so than with most, the notes do little to prepare you for the magic of the fragrance.
I well remember my first sniff of Tubéreuse Criminelle: I was quite literally horrified, and immediately headed for the liquid Tide so as to commence removal proceedings. It is difficult to find the right words to describe the initial blast of the top notes, but I have seen the odor compared to everything from sewer gas to moth balls to Vick's Vapo-rub, and they are ALL accurate. There are any number of wonderful fragrances with bizarre or unpleasant openings (Bvlgari Black and L'Artisan Dzing come to mind), but none of them can beat Tubéreuse Criminelle.
Happily, other things intervened and I never did remove Tubéreuse Criminelle that first day. And well it was so, because the dry down, trust me, is heaven, especially if you love tuberose. The top notes fade slowly, leaving behind a subtle wintergreen-ish undertone, which along with the spices give the tuberose a nice kick. If you think of tuberose as the lush, creamy tropical flower of Robert Piguet Fracas, you are in for a surprise, for it is something entirely different in Tubéreuse Criminelle: soft, silky, neither creamy nor sweet, and very, very cold.
Fracas is uber feminine but not particularly mysterious; Tubéreuse Criminelle is its opposite. In keeping with its name, it is entirely mysterious, maybe even a little dangerous. It probably tips the scales towards feminine, but I should think the right man could pull it off. It possibly qualifies as "love it or hate it" kind of fragrance; those of us who love it can be a little fanatical about it. Like Fracas, it is very, very sexy, and like Fracas, I don't wear it often but would hate not to have any in the house. Eventually I even came to adore the top notes.
Most unfortunately for those of us who don't live in Paris, Tubéreuse Criminelle is in the exclusive range. For buying information, see the listing for Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.
Tomorrow: more tuberose possibilities.
Update: this article (originally posted on 2/19/2005) was originally a brief review of Fracas & Tubéreuse Criminelle, and was reworked and reposted in January 2007.