Serge Lutens Vitriol d’Oeillet : Perfume Review

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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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32 Comments

  • Ines: Ha!
    If it’s possible, now I’m even more eager to try it. 🙂
    Although everything I read makes me think I’ll like it a lot.
    Can’t wait for my sample to arrive. July 6, 2011 at 4:05am Reply

  • Victoria: I am sure that it will have its fans. Cannot wait to hear what others think about it.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 6, 2011 at 6:55am Reply

  • Andy: I had never smelled carnation before because all the carnations I had ever come across had had the scent bred out; then a few months ago, I was walking in a nearby botanical garden (which actually had a whole exhibit on fragrance and fragrant plants last year) when I came across a fragrant carnation. But to my nose, it smelled very much like just cloves with a touch of ylang ylang. Is this what a “classic carnation” is supposed to smell like? With all the way people talk about carnations smelling so good, and how they wish they could smell some again, I was a bit dissapointed to find that they (or at least the one I came across) smelled almost exclusively of cloves. I feel as if a trip to the spice cabinet is all it takes to basically smell carnations (from clove buds). Is this what a carnation accord in a perfume would smell like? July 6, 2011 at 9:08am Reply

  • Victoria: Andy, you are exactly right–the classical perfumery carnation accord starts from eugenol (chief clove component,) rose and ylang ylang. Real carnations do smell strongly of clove, but some varieties have interesting floral nuances, from rose to peony.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 6, 2011 at 9:19am Reply

  • sara: I had been curious about this one—thanks for the review. Sounds like another miss from SL–putting the Oy! in oeillet, so to speak 🙂 July 6, 2011 at 10:10am Reply

  • sweetlife: Wait–there’s a trend for chic and whimsical hats? Pictures please!

    Oh yes, we were talking about perfume… Darn. Was sort of hoping it would be the Ghost of Vintage Poivre via Morocco. July 6, 2011 at 10:48am Reply

  • Victoria: I think that there are just too many releases from SL. It has been a hit and miss for me too. I liked Jeux de Peau and Boxeuses though.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 6, 2011 at 10:50am Reply

  • Victoria: I see so many, esp in Europe! I even got two hats this summer. One is a straw hat from a men's hat store. Another is a voilette, a tiny hat-clip with a veil. So much fun to wear them. I will try to look for photos.

    I like your idea of what a carnation should be! V d'O is far too medicinal for my tastes. Not unpleasant, but not special enough.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 6, 2011 at 10:53am Reply

  • Suzanna: Ah, well. I was waiting for this one for a few months. In the interim, I picked up and almost immediately rejected Villoresi Garofano, which had a flat earthiness and too much cinnamon. And now this lukewarm, non-angry carnation.

    My fave carnation is Metalys, but we all know how hard that is to come by.

    Thanks for this review, Victoria! (Puts Barneys card back into wallet.) July 6, 2011 at 10:57am Reply

  • Victoria: Garofano was pretty, but as you say, too flat and too sweet. Almost like a cinnamon dusted melon!
    I love Metalys too.
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile July 6, 2011 at 11:06am Reply

  • KilimCrazy: Whenever I want to smell carnation, I give myself a spray of Etro’s Dianthus. It is a bit rosey sweet, but somehow reminds me of pinks – those tiny, simple carnations – that my grandfather had in his garden. July 6, 2011 at 11:33am Reply

  • Victoria: I also associate Dianthus with carnations in the garden. There is something very fresh and vibrant about it. July 6, 2011 at 12:20pm Reply

  • HemlockSillage: Thanks for the review, Victoria. I’m like Ines, excited to try this one. If it has that rose/carnation/clove mixture, I will like it. I’ve not had that scent in years.

    Perhaps I’m a perfume contrarian–I like things others say, meh, about. I’ve disliked some of the recent blogosphere loves like Masion Martin Margiela Untitled. I completely agree with your SL Boxeuses love. I just have to plan a trip to Paris to pick up a bell jar. Thanks again for your thoughtful reviews, even on things you don’t like. Be well. July 6, 2011 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Carrie Meredith: I’ve been really looking forward to trying this– I have a sample on the way. I’m disappointed to hear your take on it, but will keep my mind open. I love carnation in perfume, and there aren’t too many good ones. By the way, I love it when you spell out the correct pronunciation for names, it’s helpful! July 6, 2011 at 3:01pm Reply

  • Mals86: A-HA! (Scribbles note to self: Try Etro Dianthus.)

    I love love adore love carnations, and am always up for a new one. Metallica (the original one) is wonderful, but I fell really hard for a tiny split of Malmaison. Gorgeous stuff. The CDG Carnation was too… something… hard-edged, maybe. Not floral enough. So far the front-runner is DSH Oeillets Rouges, which is gorgeous. I also like Guerlain’s Terracotta Voile d’Ete and Fragonard Billet Doux.

    But there’s always room for another carnation scent, right? RIght??

    And you say this one isn’t worth it. Dang. I’ll probably try to get my hands on a sample at some point, but I expected more from Uncle Serge. July 6, 2011 at 4:49pm Reply

  • Jenny: Ah, pity. I always think of carnations as very fresh-smelling. Probably from some Crabtree and Evelyn soap that I had as a kid. I have some older Poivre that’s still pretty good and vintage Bellodgia, but that’s about it. Like Malmaison pretty well too. Sounds like this one won’t be my thing. Hopefully I won’t feel too vitriolic about it. (I did spring for a bell jar of Boxeuses, just edging out La Myrrhe based on which I’d wear more frequently). Thanks for the helpful review! July 6, 2011 at 5:08pm Reply

  • Lavanya: Really? I have to admit- I felt a mixture of relief and disappointment when I saw the two stars..:D.SO, the fiery clov-ey spices are nothing like in Caron Poivre? I would have been much more disappointed if I hadn’t discovered Noir Epices which has the same peppery/clovey bite that I remembered Poivre having..
    You were right (yet again)- I love Noir Epices- it satisfies my craving/longing for Poivre that I thought (before reading your review) that Vitriol d’oeillet might satisfy..
    I’m still curious to try this scent though, but won’t sample it expecting a ‘fiery carnation’..lol July 6, 2011 at 5:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your nice comment! Certainly, those who like carnation notes should try it. It is an interesting fragrance on some level, and I bet that others will not mind its medicinal quality.

    Plus, it is good to be a contrarian time to time! July 6, 2011 at 8:35pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am glad that it is helpful! Actually, this is one perfume name that is much easier to pronounce than what it looks like. 🙂 July 6, 2011 at 8:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: You should definitely sample it, especially if you love carnations. What bothers me is that it somehow does not have a very memorable character. And also it smells really medicinal. July 6, 2011 at 8:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: I loved Malmaison! Too bad that the regulations on the use of the spicy materials like eugenol have made carnation accords very difficult to construct. July 6, 2011 at 8:39pm Reply

  • Victoria: Ah, thank you for reminding me of Noir Epices–it has an excellent fiery spice facet. It certainly is not as floral as Vitriol d’Oeillet, but it satisfies any of my cravings for vivid spices. July 6, 2011 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Cooper: I wonder if anyone has ever tried Prada #1 Oeillet. I bought it a couple of years ago from Bergdorfs from the Prada boutique there. I don’t know if it’s still in production, but I never ever see it mentioned in any discussion of carnation fragrances. I like it a lot. It’s spicy, but soft. July 6, 2011 at 9:23pm Reply

  • dee: Noooooooo!!! I’m shutting my eyes to reality, and holding on to the dream… and maybe will wear Bellodgia today to lift my spirits 😉

    My sample hasn’t arrived yet, and now I am filled with even more anticipation, LOL.

    Thank you for the review V! July 7, 2011 at 11:27am Reply

  • Emma: I understand your disappointment, VdO is not a hardcore carnation modern take on vintage Poivre or Bellodgia but more a deconstruction of Lutens own idea and interpretation of carnation. It reminds me of how Bas de Soie confused people bc everyone expected a literal rendition. That being said IFRA regulations on eugenol don’t help, I smelled Poivre extrait again last winter at the Caron boutique, it smelled like a mild spicy soapy rose, nothing like the wonderful Poivre I used to wear in the 90’s. Sadly, eugenol-based scents don’t seem to bonify with time. I bought two vintage bottles of Poivre, both had turned beyond recognition.

    I enjoyed my sample of VdO, yes I could live without it but I think I’d like to get a bottle. To me it is one of those pretty soft florals such as Nuit de Cellophane that I need in my collection because I cannot wear vintage Mitsouko or Tubereuse Criminelle everyday. Personally, I would give it more a 3 than a 2, I agree it’s not a masterpiece but I think it’s a better choice than most if not all mainstream fragrances on the market. July 7, 2011 at 1:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Cooper, thank you for mentioning it. I do not remember trying it, but your mention makes me want to visit the nearest Prada boutique. I will definitely check it out. I am always ready to explore more carnation perfumes. They are so few and far between. July 7, 2011 at 3:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: Dee, you should definitely try it! Perhaps, you will enjoy it much more than I did. Bellodgia still suffices for me though. 🙂 July 7, 2011 at 3:13pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your thoughtful, as always, comment! I also had a very negative experience with the new version of Poivre recently. You are right, it smelled like a spicy rose at most. That fiery, sizzling darkness is gone… July 7, 2011 at 3:15pm Reply

  • Memoryofscent.wordpress.com: I have just tried VdO and although it isn’t groundbreaking in its note list it is extremely interesting in the way it develops. Hardly the classic top, middle, base notes. It feels more like abstract notes focusing on a carnation illusion at some point and then open up again to something more complex. And it has the fresh floral quality of other Serge Lutens creations. I was really impressed by the development. July 13, 2011 at 2:22am Reply

  • Victoria: The freshness of the floral accord is interesting. I find that most of SL do not develop according to the classical manner, which is why some perfumers call them “bases.” To me, they are much more complex than this though. July 16, 2011 at 6:21pm Reply

  • Carnation Lover: I thought your review was spot on. I was really disappointed by this when it came out as I love carnation and it’s so hard to track a good one down. Sometimes I wonder why perfume houses just keep cranking out more and more mediocre things…. stop already, if it’s not a masterpiece, why bother?
    Am going to track down some of those listed above, in the hope of finding something carnation-y and lovely. September 10, 2011 at 5:46pm Reply

  • Khulan: Gorgeous name, sophisticated design. can’t wait to try it February 27, 2012 at 7:45pm Reply

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