Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer is proof that to know what something smells like, the perfume’s name, description, and marketing materials often aren't enough. Serge Lutens’s references to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, medieval torture devices, and the “essential nature” of lilies probably won’t help you pin down La Vierge de Fer’s nature. Years of sampling such Lutens favorites as Ambre Sultan and Chergui aren’t going to get you very far, either.
I’m going to gin up a new Vierge de Fer marketing campaign to give you a better idea of what the fragrance actually smells like. First, let’s rename it. Vierge de Fer is too harsh and enigmatic for such a gentle, romantic perfume. I know Serge would kill me, but let’s twist the title a bit and call the fragrance Maiden’s Dream. (I hear the groans already.)
For our marketing campaign, we’ll toss out the cubist painting of prostitutes and substitute a summer-dappled Berthe Morisot. I don’t want to make this too “July afternoon,” because the fragrance does carry a hint of metal and musk. So let’s move the Morisot to a country house the morning after a dinner party. The house’s inhabitants doze in their bedrooms while the maid clears away lipstick-rimmed coffee cups and dirty ashtrays. She has pushed the windows open to the garden to illuminate the warm, easy day.
Although Maiden’s Dream — ahem, Vierge de Fer — is based on lilies, many who smell it might not think of lilies right away. Unlike Serge Lutens Un Lys, which screams hothouse Casablancas, Vierge de Fer is more pink and soft and smells like part of a subtly blended damp jasmine-ylang-rose bouquet. The fragrance doesn’t buzz or shimmer, though. Its texture is fine and smooth.
A hint of metal — or blood? — touches the fragrance’s edge, sort of like putting your tongue to the back of a spoon. Although metal evokes something cold and smooth, Vierge de Fer is a warm fragrance. As its dries down, amber, vanilla and sandalwood step up and sweeten it, but only as another thread in the fragrance’s tapestry and not as a central motif as in some of Lutens's fragrances.
That said, to me Vierge de Fer’s most prominent quality isn’t so much how it smells, but how it wears. It’s a soft, intimate floral that clings closely to skin but persists all day. Like Frédéric Malle Dans Tes Bras or Hermès Jour d’Hermès, it’s the sort of perfume that creates an ambiance rather than drawing attention to itself. It’s hard to imagine spraying too much on.
Despite its name, I see Vierge de Fer as a “straight,” almost innocent fragrance. If you miss the Lutens kink of, say, Tubéreuse Criminelle, you can do as I did one day and wear it under a stack of Bakelite bangles, and enjoy the accidental mingling of the perfume and phenolic resins as your skin warms. Or, you can simply breathe in Vierge de Fer’s close, soft floral aura on its own.
Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer comes in a 75 ml bell jar for $310. For information on where to buy it, see Serge Lutens under Perfume Houses.