I don’t know why I expected a perfume called La Vierge de Fer (The Iron Maiden) to be the olfactory equivalent of punk rock*. Serge Lutens is as enigmatic as ever in his description and sources of inspiration. The fragrance was inspired by Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. It references a lily, a flower traditionally associated with the Virgin Mary. The website blurb also mentions instruments of torture. Oddly enough, this kind of eclectic mix appeals to me, and I was curious to see what scented shape it would take.
I dabbed the pale, grey tinted liquid on my skin and took a deep breath. I inhaled jasmine; its green twigs, yellow pollen and crinkly petals unfolded one by one as I stood with my nose pressed to the pulse point on my wrist. Every time I’ve worn La Vierge de Fer since then, I’ve noticed other elements–the fizzy, silvery sparkle, the waxy lily petals, the warm musky sweetness, but I still can’t shake off my initial impression of being wrapped in a soft jasmine veil.
La Vierge de Fer is neither punk nor bizarre. It’s not particularly dark either. I would put it as one of the more approachable and easy to like florals from Lutens’s impressive collection. It’s quite demure and delicate next to the bombshells like Tubéreuse Criminelle or Fleurs d’Oranger. The tender sweetness of jasmine is contrasted with the champagne of aldehydes in the top notes, and this beautiful contrast between softness and sparkle is carried on into the drydown.
The lily becomes obvious later, once you’re drunk on jasmine. It’s a glossy, cool petal, but under the freshness of the lily there is an inky stain of dark notes (indoles). The touch is subtle, but it’s enough to give life to the flowers. Over time the perfume becomes spicier and warmer. When my mother and I tried La Vierge de Fer for the first time at the boutique, on her it was bright and fresh all the way through. On my skin–sweet in the later stages, as if the flowers took a bath in sugar syrup.
“As itchy as a hair shirt on the skin,” says a description by Lutens, but for better or worse, I find none of this. La Vierge de Fer is velvety and mellow, with a soft glow to all of its white flowers. In comparison to Un Lys, it’s more complex and less vanilla heavy. In contrast to Une Voix Noire, another big white floral from Lutens, La Vierge de Fer is more shimmering and lighthearted. While Tom Ford Shanghai Lily is a sexy vixen, Lutens’s lily is a soft-spoken, rosy cheeked beauty.
Jasmine and lily fireworks notwithstanding, La Vierge de Fer was not love at first inhale for me. I found it too simple and not challenging enough. But as I continued to dip into my sample, I found it more and more compelling. It’s simultaneously comforting and sophisticated, which makes it versatile enough to wear for just about any occasion. You simply have to love being showered with white flowers.
Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer is available at the Palais Royal boutique, and it’s part of the exclusive collection. 75ml/140 euros.
Image: Sandro Botticelli, The Madonna of the Magnificat (detail), 1480-81, Tempera on panel, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
*The heavy metal reference of the English translation notwithstanding!