Tubéreuse Criminelle : Capturing the Intangible

As I have mentioned in several posts like this and this one, tuberose or rajnigandha is my favorite flower. There was something so sweet and elusive about the flower as I smelled it in the several drawing rooms that I inhabited growing up. To me the smell has always been the olfactory equivalent of letting a light silk scarf slide over my face, its touch cool yet not aloof. Because it is also my mother’s favorite flower, it would often find its place in our living room in Delhi (where I lived till I was 9 ).  Later the wet, cold sweetness of tuberoses would also hover in our living rooms in Madurai and Bangalore. When we moved to Bangalore, I started buying tuberoses for my mother for her birthday from a shop down the road. And my memory of the flower is most closely tied to smelling it in Bangalore, at night, with the balcony door opened. The air was always warmer than the smell of the flower, so the scent of tuberose  smelled cold to me as it drifted from the vase on top of the crockery cabinet to where I usually sat- on the divan near the balcony.


So, obviously when, for the first time I stepped into a Nordstorm in the U.S, wanting to buy my first perfume as an adult, I went around asking all the sales assistants for a tuberose perfume. Most of them looked at me as if I had made a very strange request. One or two SAs offered me a spritz of some perfumes based on my request , but which I dismissed as smelling ‘generically jasminey’. And that was my chief aim while smelling a tuberose perfume- I was looking for that particular cool, sweet white floral smell that distinguished tuberose from jasmine. And I didn’t find it then.

I didn’t find it, till my very first swap on makeup alley in early 2007. One swapper had a sample of Tubereuse Criminelle that she was willing to swap for a sample of Jo Malone’s French Lime Blossom. I had read a lot about Tubereuse Criminelle on the various perfume blogs, the warning about the shocking, awful beginning that one needed to wait out to discover the beauty of this perfume. So as you can imagine, I was curious. And more than a little hopeful that this may be what I had been looking for.

I remember being very excited when I first dabbed some TC onto my wrist. It started with the famed menthol/gasoline beginning, which actually made me smile. Probably because I had been warned about the top notes, I wasn’t overwhelmed and shocked by them. In fact I thought that the exaggerated wintergreen opening nailed the essence of why tuberose smelled different from other white flowers. I was just a little disappointed when that part started to fade. To me, this weird beginning wasn’t dissonant and separate from the beauty that followed. On the contrary, I though it provided the cool, silk scarf elegance that was lacking in perfumes that interpreted tuberoses as warm and tropical. This was especially apparent to me in that in-between stage when the loud beginning started to fade and the white sweetness appeared. During that in between stage I realized that the perfume smelled exquisite at this stage because it borrowed from the cold weirdness of that ugly-beautiful beginning, using it as an accent now.

[Mostly, Tubereuse Criminelle smells cold to me. But  sometimes when I wear TC, as it happened a few months ago, the top notes smelled hot. Almost like how something very cold can start to seem very hot after a while (cold and white, or white hot?). Like placing your hand in ice for too long. Or after rubbing eucalyptus oil on your temples for a long time. I don’t know if that impression had anything to do with my pregnancy hormones, because I didn’t get the heat when I wore it today.]

Nowadays when I spray some Tubereuse Criminelle on my wrist the top notes are also accompanied by that surging feeling of excitement that accompanied my first discovery of this scent. An Aside: This perfume, along with a few others (Like Andy Tauer’s Reverie Au Jardin and Jo Malone Pomegranate Noir) wears the imprint of that heady rush that I felt at the inception of my perfume obsession. Because I smelled it just when a whole new perfumed world was opening up before me, it automatically triggers the feelings of excitement and anticipation tied to that time.

After I found Tubereuse Criminelle, I did ocassionally seek out perfumes featuring the note. But I realized that I didn’t really enjoy the plastic roundness or the butteriness that characterized many tuberose soliflores. Unlike with other perfume notes,  I have found and accepted that this is perhaps one note that I can’t really keep an open mind about, because not only do I want a tuberose soliflore to capture the scent of the flower, I also want the perfume to make me feel the way the actual flower does. Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower is the only other tuberose soliflore that I think does this.

Have you noticed, how great fiction somehow manages to distill the truth in a way that non fiction often can’t? Tubereuse Criminelle is like that piece of fiction. And it manages to capture the essence  of tuberoses in a way that other perfumes that try to more accurately mimic the flower simply don’t. Not only does Tubereuse Criminelle smell like the flower, more importantly it also evokes the same feeling that smelling the flower does, which is what I think nudges  it into the realm of greatness, for me.

P.S. I have started to become better at trying to appreciate this note in other perfumes, without comparing them to the flower. I think I might just be ready to re-sniff Fracas.

Picture via We Heart It


  1. Oh, Lavanya. However sappy this sounds, it’s true: you made me misty-eyed with this poignant (quietly and elegantly so) tribute to TC. Somehow being able to glimpse into your girlhood and feel those moments when you fell in love with a flower – the connection to your mother and to your homes in India – and then see how that became a part of you as an adult – the part of India that followed you to America and led you on the search that brought you here – it felt so intimate. It made me feel like you went deep into the heart of the perfume lover and quietly excavated the purest form of love.

    • You are very sweet, Suzanne.
      Have you ever gotten a chance to smell the flower? [I ask because I never found any in State College, but did find them here in the farmer’s markets. ]

      • I remember my husband ordering some tuberoses for me when I was in State College. I think he ordered them from Michigan. Unfortunately,he doesn’t seem to remember exactly from where though.

  2. I just love your point about how fiction can distill truth to a greater degree than non-fiction and I completely understand how a perfume can do that for a flower, interpreting it in a broader sense than just “telling the facts straight up”. I haven’t worn Tubereuse Criminelle in a while but your review has made me determined to seek out my sample as soon as possible 🙂

  3. What a beautiful story! Even though tuberose, in general, is my nemesis – an extra iota of it in a perfume or a an extra spike in a bouquet can ruin either one of those for me – your review makes me want to try it.

    Have you tried By Kilian’s Beyond Love? Mr Hennessy claims that, unlike Fracas that uses all-synthetic tuberose, tuberose in Beyond Love is natural.
    How about Amouage Honour Woman? These both didn’t work for me because of tuberose but you might like them.

    • You’ll be forced to try it soon..haha..:)
      I have tried Beyond Love but can’t wear it- that’s the tuberose note that I find difficult to take. I had a sentence in this post about how Beyond Love is ‘tuberose without the magic’. I took it out because it didn’t fit into the review and seemed too mean- and I wanted to try it again before making such a harsh judgement…:)

      I am curious about Honour Woman- I haven’t tried it yet. I think there is a perfume store near where I live which supposedly carries the line. I will have to seek that out this weekend.

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  6. Gorgeous. And having smelled tuberoses for the first time this year in Java, I can now relate exactly to what you are talking about. They ARE cold, and your memories of the flower in the heat of the Indian air bring this fact to life most beautifully.

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