The perfume world is fickle. Though some perfume notes are perennial favorites — bergamot, sandalwood, and petitgrain come to mind — other ingredients become “problematic” over time. Once, Calone was all the rage…then, one day, perhaps due to overuse or a style shift in perfumery, Calone smelled dated. Not that long ago, rose-rich perfumes were considered passé. (Alongside antiquated rose were the scents of oak moss and carnation — suffering not only from associations with old times and ‘old folks,’ but difficult to work with, or re-create, due to IFRA restrictions.) Then, rose had a renaissance, a facelift, an attitude adjustment, and became “young” again, and is used in all manner of mainstream and niche perfumes, including men’s fragrances. Oak moss and carnation are still waiting for their rejuvenation treatments.
So, how do you “update” a dated aroma? How do you transform old-fashioned carnation, that much-maligned flower, associated with death, bad luck and bad taste, into something modern, edgy and desirable? One way would be to make carnation brazen: accent every facet of its scent, amplify its impact with newer, unusual perfume materials, make it bloom in a new way. Another tactic is familiar from the world of food: the (now ubiquitous) method of deconstruction whereby you “dissect” a culinary dish (its ingredients/flavors) and arrange them in a new way on the plate, and thus, the palate. Serge Lutens asked perfumer Christopher Sheldrake to “dis-figure” carnation.1
To me, Vitriol d’Oeillet (made to show an ‘angry’ carnation with “teeth”2) relies more on deconstruction (dis-figuration) than amplification. When I smell a fresh carnation (Dianthus) in the garden, I detect the scents of clove, cinnamon (sometimes), and rose, with perhaps a hint of nutmeg and pepper. All those ingredients are in Vitriol d’Oeillet (along with some musk and “woods” and Lord knows what else) but they never coalesce to form the aroma of a carnation.
Vitriol d’Oeillet starts off floral-aldehydic with added dry clove “powder” and a strong, but smooth, pepper accord (three “peppers” are listed in the notes — cayenne, black and pink). I enjoy Vitriol d’Oeillet’s opening best. As the fragrance develops (quickly), I smell a note that reminds me of fragrant stocks, a syrupy-fruity “pink” rose aroma…and more clove. This mid-development phase comes closest to producing a “carnation-like” scent. Right before the base notes appear, Vitriol d’Oeillet’s fragrance reminds me of rosewater soap. As the perfume enters its final phase, it goes from a slightly “wet” rose scent to a powdery-sweet, rather prim rose aroma mixed with transparent (generic) wood and barely-there fruity musk notes.
Angry carnation, you say? If so, this is anger Eskimo style: quiet, still and chilly. Vitriol d’Oeillet’s “teeth”? They’re dentures, soaking in a glass on a lace-covered nightstand.
Vitriol d’Oeillet is an old fashioned spicy-rosy fragrance; as you wear it, I doubt anyone will suspect you have on a ‘carnation’ perfume. The mention of carnation must be a marketing strategy — to hype an “angry” carnation with “teeth.” As often happens with me and Lutens perfumes, the end result of exciting, innovative-sounding ideas (presented in cryptic/confused/guffaw-inducing PR releases) is a big: “Whatever!” (followed by a feeling of disappointment at a missed opportunity).
But…apparently…I’m still a sucker for Lutens PR. I’m anxious for a sniff of De Profundis with its alleged “chrysanthemum” note and intimations of the graveyard!
Serge Lutens Vitriol d’Oeillet has decent lasting power and minimal sillage; I find it feminine in character. It is available in 50 ml Eau de Parfum, $140.
Note: top carnation images [cropped and altered] via Wikimedia Commons.
2. “…the carnation, alias the clove pink...this fragrance fraught with anger is my riposte. Its petals, lacedwith tiny teeth, hold out the solution: a burst of fragrant spikes….” via Serge Lutens news release.