Tuberose Series 8: Tubéreuse Criminelle

Famous, or perhaps infamous, for its difficult opening, TC has nevertheless a devoted fan club among perfumistas: Beauty armed with a Really Big Knife.

Perfume Review: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle
Date released: 1999
Perfumer: Christopher Sheldrake
Sample provenance: purchased from TPC in 2009

Subcategory: Atypical (scary) green tuberose soliflore

After all the reviews I’d read, I was expecting the difficult opening. It did not disappoint in its terrifying awfulness. So how awful was it? Pretty darn bad: Vicks’ Vapo-Rub plus raw chicken (why, yes, I had recently cleaned out the fridge, how did you know?) plus chlorine. Or maybe kerosene.  Eek.

However, I have been known to suffer through some difficult openings before now, particularly with vintage scents. For example, my vintage Victoria parfum (the first Victoria’s Secret perfume, released back when the outfit had at least a vestige of class) smells almost as horrid for half an hour – think swimming pool plus maple syrup – and then settles into a very lovely fresh-floral chypre. I’ve now smelled Victoria from three different bottles, and they all have damaged topnotes, which has got to be one reason it was discontinued. The other reasons probably have to do with hot pink thongs and the proliferation of sugary-fruity smells, but I digress.

Here’s Tania Sanchez’ review of TC in PTG:
           **** Menthol Tuberose. If Ethel Merman were a floral, this would be it – loud, proud. Tuberose absolute usually contains, especially at the start, disturbing aspects of rubber and rotting meat. While most fragrances disguise or eliminate these potentially unpleasant effects, this one amplifies them: an icy blast of camphor, a salty, bloody smell, and a white floral bouquet so indolic you think it must be a mistake, getting stronger by the minute. Terrific.

And let me encourage you again to go pick up a copy of Perfumes: The Guide, or the new edition, Perfumes from A to Z. Even if you disagree with every review (you won’t), it’s a fun read, and a bargain at less than $15. It’s even fun to argue out loud with the authors when they’re wrong, despite the fact that people around you will think you’ve lost your marbles.

(Ahem. End digression number two.) Anyway, TC is this Freddy Krueger of a smell for about ten minutes, maybe fifteen, and then it develops a very, very sweet candied-floral note reminding me of Chanel No. 22 for a few minutes before the tuberose takes over. From here on out, it’s pretty much a lovely tuberose, with tiny occasional whiffs of orange blossom and cool hyacinth, until the drydown. And there’s another problem: four tests, an exhausted sample, and I have yet to actually smell the drydown. The scent development, on my skin, goes like this: a) horror movie b) tuberose floral c) GONE. The base contains styrax (benzoin), musk and vanilla, so you’d think I’d get at least a whiff of them, but nope. Nothin’. I never smell any of the spices, either, and I love spice notes. Wonder if I’m anosmic to the musk? I don’t know. Usually vanilla sticks around for ever on my skin, but not here.

In one of the review links I’ve provided below – it’s the first one, by Marina at Perfume-Smellin’-Things – the experiences of the commenters range from “all tuberose, no nasty green” to “the nasty green never went away” to “all sweetness on me.” Seems that YMMV (your mileage may vary) is especially applicable to TC, so please be aware that this fragrance may interact with your skin in unexpected ways!

Notes for TC:
Eucalyptus, camphor, jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, hyacinth, nutmeg, clove, styrax, musk, vanilla.

I admit defeat. I get it, okay – this is Velma Kelly as Killer Babe Tuberose, all voluptuous in her green dress, packing heat and refusing to let you get too close. But all I want to know is, why? What’s the purpose of the evil opening? Thorns on a rose? Or is it more like the cowboy who always bought his boots two sizes too small, because it felt so good when he took them off?

I suppose I just don’t find Tubéreuse Criminelle all that compelling, given that there are so many alternative tuberose scents. Yes, it’s a beautiful tuberose fragrance. But if I wanted the experience of a difficult opening, since that is occasionally fun, I’d pick up something really vintage. And if I wanted a straight-up tuberose, I’d wear Fracas or Beyond Love. TC is well-made, it’s interesting, you could do a lot worse. It just strikes me as being difficult simply for the sake of being difficult, and that annoys me. (I don’t drink my coffee black, either, make of that what you will.)

The Bottom Line:
Quality           B    Clearly good-quality materials. Thematic. I can’t smell the drydown, otherwise I’d have given it an A.
Grab-scale score   3
Short description   Malicious stiletto-wielding tuberose.
Cost   $$$
Earns compliments: I don’t know. My family, at least, is pretty traumatized.
Scent presence  Slightly less than average (2 spritzes last 3-4 hours), moderate sillage.
Review Report: Marina at PST, Robin at NST, Donna at PST, Tom at PST, Bois de Jasmin, Pere de Pierre, Chicken Freak’s Obsessions.

Image of TC from fragrantica.  Center image is Tuberose Buds by Dev-Happy at flickr.  Image of Catherine Zeta-Jones as Velma Kelly in the film version of Chicago from 


9 thoughts on “Tuberose Series 8: Tubéreuse Criminelle”

  1. Oh, how funny! "Difficult for the sake of being difficult" – I don't like that in a perfume either. Just as Shirley Conran famously said:" Life's too short to stuff a mushroom", I don't have time for gratuitous pain barriers to otherwise agreeable scents.Given the traumatised state of your family, and Mr Bonkers' aversion to anything less soaplike than SJP Lovely, I may test my wax sample when he next goes to Switzerland.

  2. Wow. Wow, wow, wow. I have this on order because I'm doing a tuberose review coming up, but, from what you've just described ("Freddy Krueger of a smell"?!?!?!?!) I am so afraid!!Somehow I did survive "Carnal Flower," however, so maybe I'm ready for this one…

  3. LCN, I really, really liked Carnal Flower – its mentholated opening is mostly cool green/florist case, not… um, Freddy Krueger. Flitter, yeah, you might want to save your TC sample for when he's out of town. ("Too short to stuff a mushroom" is pretty funny. I guess it depends on whether you like stuffed mushrooms or not… I do still wear my Victoria parfum, when I've got half an hour before I have to be where people can smell me.)

  4. Re: "c) GONE"Oh, nooo! I love the opening, but even so, I wouldn't put up with it without the drydown. How rude of it!I loved this; I'm sad that it misbehaved (even more than the usual opening misbehavior) for you.

  5. CF, I'm so glad YOU love TCrim… more for you, right?I really did smell something like raw meat in there. Menthol I can handle, kerosene is a bit iffier – but raw meat, no.TC seems to just be one of those that varies so much from one skin to the next.

  6. There are traces of this on my arm from yesterday. It smells great now. After the industrial menthol blast, it cooled down to make a brusque icy green tuberose. Needless to say, the lasting power has proved itself impressive, and although it isn’t my style, I can appreciate the genius of it. This is the only cold tuberose I know of.

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