Serge Lutens La Vierge de Fer : Perfume Review

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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.

botticelli-madonna

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.

vierge

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!

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59 Comments

  • Belle: Is it me or is SL turning to comfortable florals? Idk, a newbie here, so SL tends to conjure up images of expensive orientals. But although I do like orientals, I was never much of a lover if aggressive perfumes. A rosy- cheeked beauty sounds more like what I’d want to smell like. How’s the sillage by the way? September 9, 2013 at 7:22am Reply

    • Victoria: The sillage and tenacity are excellent. It lasts for the entire day on my skin, so no disappearing act here. And I think that your perception is right in that Serge Lutens’s collection has changed its shape lately. Moving away from the heavy orientals and exploring other genres is not a bad thing. September 9, 2013 at 8:16am Reply

  • george: As you are a reviewer that I trust, I am so disappointed by this review: how can anyone call a perfume La Vierge de Fer and turn out a serviceable floral? September 9, 2013 at 7:42am Reply

    • Victoria: I was of two minds about it at first too. A couple of weeks ago someone in the commments section compared it to J’Adore, and while I don’t think that it smells at all like J’Adore, the radiance is there (and the radiance of the original J’Adore was its most incredible feature). While I don’t think that Vierge de Fer will have the kind of “love or hate,” cult following like Tubereuse Criminelle or Muscs Koublai Khan, it’s a well-made, beautiful perfume. As for the references, everything is in the mind of the beholder. Perhaps, someone else more sensitive than I am will discover in it everything Lutens wanted to convey. September 9, 2013 at 8:20am Reply

      • george: Hmmm, having read lots of reviews of La Fille de Berlin, which just said it was a violet-rose- and yours which was a lot more detailed and picked up a lot more of the nuances of the fragrances, I’m pretty sure your ability to pick apart this new Lutens is amongst the very best. I was hoping for what was reported by others as going to be a mineralic, flinty, ironlike, incensey aspect to this (in particular with reference to Terre D’hermes, whose mineralic aspect is amongst my favourite notes in the whole of perfume). Is there not a whiff of any of this? (Although- of course- one must remember that a floral with a good dose of iron is a good description of Secretion Magnifiques, so one must be careful what one wishes for as well) 🙂 September 9, 2013 at 5:56pm Reply

        • Victoria: There is a metallic note from the aldehydes, which lingers for a while, but it’s more like the metallic whiff that you get from green mandarins or lime rather than iron or something like that. There are also the balsamic, resinous notes in the drydown, and they lend a subtle woody-smoky sensation. But none of these things dominate La Vierge for me, and searching for them is like looking at a Monet painting up close. At distance, on the other hand, I see a shimmering white flower in this perfume. Not sure if it helps.

          A funny story about the power of suggestion when it comes to scents. A friend distributed blotters during a perfume class he taught for what he thought was a spicy rose fragrance and described it as such. Everyone nodded their heads and agreed. Then, he took a whiff of his blotters and realized that he actually gave students Estee Lauder Tuberose Gardenia! September 10, 2013 at 7:10am Reply

          • Victoria: And here is a great article from The New Yorker related to my scent perception story:
            http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/08/19/020819fa_fact September 10, 2013 at 7:13am Reply

            • george: Really interesting. One of the things I love is when I have sprayed perfume and fallen asleep and then forgotten all about it and then woken up to it, because at that point my reaction feels at its most uninfluenced and I am not identifying the perfume before smelling it. With the tuberrose Gardenia story, as well as being about the power of suggestion, it also says something about what happens when people submit to an authority on a matter, and how pliant their minds become. It also underlines just how much our reaction to something is sometimes a creative act, whether we realise it or not. September 10, 2013 at 7:35am Reply

              • Victoria: I love doing that too. Or to spray a blotter and then forget about for a few hours. It’s like rediscovering it anew.

                When we don’t have any visual cues, we’re even more influenced. When we’re told “rose,” we might imagine it in our mind before we discover it. It’s fascinating, especially since people in the audience smelling Tuberose and thinking it a spicy rose were mostly the perfume industry professionals (though not perfumers).

                And I find your observation about the pliant mind interesting. True, when it comes to many art forms, letting go and allowing a creator to guide you along can be exciting. September 10, 2013 at 11:49am Reply

  • Aisha: Wow! Is that the bottle?! If so, based on that alone I’d expect something quite heavy rather than tender. Interesting…

    I do enjoy being showered in white florals, but I need to be careful, lest my goal is to give myself a huge headache. This one sounds safe enough to try. September 9, 2013 at 7:46am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a limited edition bottle, which is made to look like the armor. Very cool! I saw it at the boutique, and while I usually don’t care that much about the bottles, I even asked if I could touch it. 🙂

      This floral is a bit heady, and on some people it might turn out to be sweet. On my mother, it was absolutely perfect–a shimmering white floral. On me, it’s sweeter and warmer, but I still liked it. September 9, 2013 at 8:22am Reply

      • george: I think it might have been inspired by this-

        http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vierge_de_fer_Nuremberg.JPG

        The bottle is great. September 9, 2013 at 10:00am Reply

        • Maja: And maybe just a bit Lutenesquely spooky 🙂 September 9, 2013 at 10:20am Reply

          • george: Although I’m not thrilled by the idea of the juice alone, I love the idea of using the perfume from the bottle like a piece of performance art, and for that piece of art The Iron Maiden sounds like exactly the right name. It even makes me think I would love using this perfume because of that. How very unchandlerburr of me! Hahahaha! September 9, 2013 at 10:41am Reply

        • Aisha: LOL! Oh my word!

          The bottle would be a great conversation starter if displayed for guests to see, that’s for sure. September 9, 2013 at 11:36am Reply

        • Victoria: Brilliant! Thank you for finding it, George.

          All dark associations aside, I’ve been very curious about Nuremberg, in particular its gingerbread. Now, it’s so complex and rich, it should be made into a perfume. September 9, 2013 at 11:38am Reply

          • Anne of Green Gables: Very interesting bottle indeed! I enjoyed reading the review but I was more intrigued by the picture of the bottle. But somehow the description of the juice doesn’t seem to fit in with the concept of the Iron Maiden but then I should smell it for myself before making any judgement.

            Nürnberger Lebkuchen is amazing. I can’t wait till Christmas but actually, they’ve already started putting Christmas things (Spekulatius, Stollen, etc.) out in supermarkets here. I would also be interested in trying a perfume equivalent of Lebkuchen. BTW, you should visit the Christmas market in Nürnberg if you haven’t already. September 9, 2013 at 4:05pm Reply

            • Victoria: I haven’t visited, but I would love to. Last Christmas, we went to Achen, and their market was beautiful–lots of interesting stalls, beautiful decorations, great food. The Achen gingerbread is also amazing.

              As for perfume, no, the name and the scent don’t really fit for me, but I suppose that it’s subjective. In the end, I like it, whatever its name. September 10, 2013 at 6:49am Reply

          • Hannah: There’s a museum about Medieval torture in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is somewhat close to Nürnberg. I haven’t been there (or anywhere in the region), though. September 9, 2013 at 7:12pm Reply

            • Cornelia Blimber: There is also a torture museum in Amsterdam (Rokin). I don’t know wheter they have that Iron Maiden, I never went in. September 10, 2013 at 5:22am Reply

            • Victoria: I have a friend who studies medieval history, and I recall that he worked at that museum. But my interest in Nuremberg is much more peaceful–gingerbread! September 10, 2013 at 7:01am Reply

        • Bela: I was going to post that link. I’m sure it is inspired by that. September 9, 2013 at 5:38pm Reply

  • Annikky: Thank you for reviewing this, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this launch since it was announced. Based on your excellent review it looks like I need to adjust my expectations: I was hoping for La Vierge de Fer to do for lily what Iris Silver Mist did for iris. Ah, well, one can’t have everything and I’m still curious about this scent. Although I’m starting to think that Tom Ford’s take on lily will be more up my alley. September 9, 2013 at 8:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Annikky, have you tried Un Lys? It’s more of a lilac than a lily, but it’s another chameleon. September 9, 2013 at 8:23am Reply

      • Annikky: Only on paper and as a wax sample, unfortunately. I remember it being nice and I’m pretty sure I’d like it – I love lilac, too. But that one wouldn’t satisfy my craving for a cold and imperial lily either, would it? September 9, 2013 at 10:22am Reply

        • Victoria: Not really! It’s soft, warm and more cozy than imperial.

          Did you already ask about this cold and imperial lily in the Recommend me a Perfume thread? If not, it would be a good question to pose the next time we run it. (I say it with an ulterior motive, because I would love more lily recommendations myself!) September 9, 2013 at 11:39am Reply

          • Annikky: Not as such – I asked about white florals suitable for winter and while several good lilies were recommended, I doubt there was anything new for you. But I’ll gladly oblige and ask for more lilies next time 🙂 September 9, 2013 at 12:02pm Reply

            • Victoria: It’s a deal then! 🙂

              There is always the beautiful (but very discontinued) Donna Karan Gold, but again, it doesn’t smell all that cool to me. It’s gorgeous though. Hermes Vanille Galante tries to be a vanilla, but it’s a very sheer lily etched in gold. September 9, 2013 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Maja: Instruments of torture? That was an interesting intention. Wondering how that was supposed to be represented ingredients-wise. i am always curious about Lutens creations, hopefully I will try it some day. September 9, 2013 at 9:06am Reply

    • Victoria: I wonder! I was being facetious, of course, but yes, it’s so bizarre, it caught my attention. I don’t take these descriptions all that seriously though, and I don’t know if we’re meant to. In the end, all we have on our skin is scent. September 9, 2013 at 9:13am Reply

  • Lucas: Hi Victoria! Thanks for your review of La Vierge de Fer. I enjoyed reading it but I don’t think this is a fragrance I would feel good with.

    My relationship with Serge Lutens perfumes is a twisted one, among many I find just a few to be really for me. September 9, 2013 at 9:08am Reply

    • Victoria: I also don’t love everything in the collection, but it’s now so large, so it would be impossible (and detrimental to one’s stable financial situation) to love everything. 🙂 September 9, 2013 at 9:15am Reply

      • Lucas: I know it’s impossible to love them all but SL fans are fond of many scents in the line. I find there 2-3 for me. September 9, 2013 at 9:54am Reply

        • Victoria: 2-3 is plenty good, I think. September 9, 2013 at 11:36am Reply

  • Caroline: If this is a new direction for SL, sign me up! Was also interested to see your comment above about Un Lys’ lilac note. Looking forward to sampling both. September 9, 2013 at 9:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Un Lys seems very prim and pretty at first, and while it’s pretty, it’s far from prim. It was one of my first discoveries from Lutens, and it’s a favorite. September 9, 2013 at 11:33am Reply

  • Ari: Lemming slayed! I hate jasmine. Thank you for the very helpful review, Victoria! I’m actually glad that I won’t love it, because I would NEED that bottle. September 9, 2013 at 9:35am Reply

    • Victoria: Just as well, since the bottle is a limited edition. I didn’t even dare ask about its price. September 9, 2013 at 11:35am Reply

  • lou: Lovely review, thanks! This is NOT what I expected – except that you learn to expect the unexpected with Lutens, and as such maybe not too big a surprise. Moreover, as others have noted, he has been moving into a lighter, more floral direction for quite a while now. It’s not always particularly interesting, I was a bit bored with Voix (Tom Ford’s sadly discontinued Velvet Gardenia was far more compelling, imo). I wondered how this compares to his other jasmine-dominated scent, Sarassins? September 9, 2013 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m with you on Velvet Gardenia! Usually, I’ve learned just to let go when it comes to discontinued perfumes, but I can’t get over Velvet Gardenia. It adds an insult to injury that Ford kept some particularly boring blends and discontinued the one that was among his most unusual.

      Une Voix Noire is different from La Vierge de Fer (they don’t smell alike at all), but in terms of character–feminine, soft, lush–they’re not too different. As for Sarrasins, it’s really a jasmine theme, but La Vierge uses jasmine as a part of its floral melody. There is much more than jasmine going on in it. The lily is definitely there as well. September 9, 2013 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Amer: It sounds extremely beautiful. Can’t wait to try. Hope it does your description justice! 😉 September 9, 2013 at 1:11pm Reply

    • Victoria: I would be curious to hear your thoughts, Amer. I recall that you mentioned in the comments under my review of Shanghai Lily that you’re in search of a perfect lily perfume. Annikky below was wondering about that too. If you discovered anything that fit your ideal lily, please let us know. September 9, 2013 at 1:54pm Reply

      • Amer: it will take a while before I try it though. Not readily available and all.. September 11, 2013 at 4:02am Reply

  • Emma M: This sounds lovely, a definite must-try for me. Like Lou’s comment above, I’m also wondering how this compares to Sarrasins (one of my favourite SL’s) September 9, 2013 at 1:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sarrasins is one of my favorites too, and for a great jasmine perfume, I can’t think of anything better, except maybe A La Nuit. La Vierge has just one jasmine facet and then it moves into other motifs–ylang ylang, lily, vanilla, balsams, etc. It also feels more radiant than Sarrasins. All in all, they are not alike at all. September 9, 2013 at 1:56pm Reply

  • behemot: Definitely a must try for me. September 9, 2013 at 1:25pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hope that you can get to try it soon! September 9, 2013 at 1:54pm Reply

  • emma: I love the new direction by Serge Lutens with this pretty, polished, feminine white floral that smells more like a Chanel exclusive than a classic dark Lutens.
    I’m in Thailand right now wearing Lutens’ virgin, it couldn’t be more perfect 🙂 September 9, 2013 at 1:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s an interesting observation. Yes, there is definitely a new polish to these perfumes. I’m sure the fans of the classically dark Lutens will find them lacking, but one can’t survive on ambers and incense alone.

      And thank you for checking in from Thailand! Hope that you’re enjoying your visit. A friend described Thailand as one of his top favorite places to visit to discover new scents. So, hope that you’re having a full, exciting trip. September 9, 2013 at 1:58pm Reply

  • Madeleine: Hi Victoria,

    This is the only release of late I have really been looking forward to. Your beautiful review worried me at first because, sadly, jasmine doesn’t always work on me. It can sometimes go sharp and sour. However, when you ended on being showered in white flowers my heart skipped a beat once more because I’ll always adore that.

    Madeleine September 9, 2013 at 4:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Do you think that it’s jasmine proper or could it be something else in the perfumes you’ve tried? The reason I’m asking is because jasmine is used in perfumery in such numerous forms; it’s also present in most feminine fragrances in one way or another. Jasmine absolute is jammy, sweet, leathery, while benzyl acetate (another very common jasmine ingredient and a natural jasmine component) smells like green bananas. Anyway, Serge Lutens fragrances, even the most straightforward ones, are among the scents I always recommend testing thoroughly on skin. They can change a lot, which is part of their allure to me. September 10, 2013 at 6:57am Reply

  • Lavanya: ooh- this sounds like the white flower equivalent of La Fille de Berlin (expect darkness, receive deceptively simple prettiness etc)..I prefer deeper more complex roses but since white florals are my original love- I must sample this! September 9, 2013 at 10:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: Hmm, I can see that! I didn’t make the connection until you mentioned it, but in terms of character, there are some parallels (of course, they don’t smell anything alike). September 10, 2013 at 7:02am Reply

      • Lavanya: oh- of course I didn’t mean that they smelled similar..:) Looking forward to sampling this though- It has been a while since I’ve fallen for a white floral..(Carnal Flower in 2011 was the last) September 10, 2013 at 1:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t know if it can rival Carnal Flower, but it is very nice. 🙂 September 10, 2013 at 2:36pm Reply

  • Jennifer C: Taken on its own merits aside from the name, it does sound nice. I love jasmine. But the name was making me hope for something darker, that might have me hearing Bruce Dickinson’s voice in my head, perhaps..lol. I suspect it won’t, but that bottle! That LE bottle is gorgeous! September 10, 2013 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: A friend also mentioned the association with Bruce Dickinson, but I didn’t make it right away, since I didn’t translate the name into English until I started writing the review. And even then I kept thinking “Virgin,” rather than “Maiden.” 🙂 Anyway, the limited edition bottle is beautiful. It’s one of my favorites, I think, because it’s simple, but the attention to detail and the finish are amazing. Good thing that bottles alone aren’t enough to tempt me. September 11, 2013 at 6:41am Reply

  • Tara C: I have been wearing my small decant of this and plan to buy a full bottle. I love jasmine and really like the combination of florals and metallic vibe I get from this scent. It’s easy to wear yet very interesting. September 11, 2013 at 8:35am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s what I find so compelling about La Vierge–it’s definitely interesting to wear, it keeps my interest, but at the same time, it’s comforting and easy going. September 11, 2013 at 2:51pm Reply

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