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July 06, 2011

Serge Lutens Vitriol d’Oeillet : Perfume Review


Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.

I find it easier to describe Vitriol d’Oeillet, the newest fragrances from Serge Lutens, by describing what it is not, rather than what it is. It is not a romantic perfume nor is it an austere perfume. It is not modern, yet it is not old-fashioned either. It is not femme fatale nor is it a wallflower. It oscillates between woods and spices, and only occasionally does Vitriol d’Oeillet veer into the floral domain. Sometimes it is a spicy carnation, but a moment later it turns into a prim English tea rose.

In modern perfumery, few accords are more maligned than the carnations. Not only are they difficult to maintain in classical compositions due to the IFRA restrictions on the use of the very notes that give carnation its character (ie, eugenol and certain types of warm spices like nutmeg and clove), but they are also seen as terribly old-fashioned. Show a fragrance brand manager a carnation based composition, and you know that the response that invariably follows will be something along the lines of, “it smells old.” Which is all true! Carnation bases were so popular in classical perfumery that they have the same retro associations as hats with veils and opera gloves. Vitriol d’Oeillet is an attempt to update the carnation note, to render it chic and whimsical à la the current hat trend in fashion.

From the first moment the fragrance is applied, one is conscious of the spicy, cooling sensation. It explodes into a mélange of peppercorns and cloves, where the caramelized sweetness of clove buds is made savory and salty. Almost immediately the spicy richness is offset by a caressing, smooth accord that is halfway between floral petals and cold cream. The creamy floral facet of Vitriol d’Oeillet becomes even more pronounced as the composition dries down. While the mentholated, medicinal pungency persists, it is only a mild presence in the late drydown. Neverthless, as I wear Vitriol d’Oeillet, it comes far too close to the smell of a sore muscle ointment, hardly a glamorous association.

For all the promises of angry carnations, Vitriol d’Oeillet is hardly a temperamental creature. In fact, my main qualm with it is its lack of distinction. Compared to Caron Bellodgia, even in its post-reformulated state, it is more a spicy rose rather than carnation. Next to my current carnation favorite, Le Labo Baie Rose 26, Vitriol d’Oeillet seems limpid and pale. While undoubtedly interesting and full of surprising twists, it never coheres into a memorable statement.

Vitriol d’Oeillet is pronounced as “vee tree ohl duh-ye (e being slightly long).”

Serge Lutens Vitriol d’Oeillet Eau de Parfum includes notes of clove, nutmeg, cayenne, black pepper, pink pepper, and woods. Sold in the export range. The export line fragrances are available from Aedes, Beautyhabit, Luckyscent, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, and from some Neiman Marcus locations. Vitriol d’Oeillet will be available in the US starting September. Meanwhile, it can be found at the Salons du Palais Royal Shiseido.

Sample: my own acquisition



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