jtd's Review of La Vierge de Fer by Serge Lutens

In their roles as artistic director and perfumer, Lutens and Sheldrake have explored their central woody accord many times, taking it in a syrupy-spiced direction with Arabie, Miel de Bois and Daim Blond and in a more overtly gourmand direction with Un Bois Vanille and Five O'Clock au Gingembre. Overall, there's been a tendency to hold close their to their signature wood/fruit compositional style but with their soli-floral perfumes Sheldrake and Lutens range much further afield. The perfumes run from pretty and tame (Sa Majesté la Rose & Un Lys) to ferocious (Tubereuse Criminelle & Iris Silver Mist*). La Vierge de Fer falls in line with two other perfumes the brand, A La Nuit (2000) and Datura Noir (2001). Let's call them the Crass Florals.

All three of the Crass Florals share an over-the-topness that defuses any solemnity the Lutens line might have accrued over the years. Lutens himself has seen enough fashion over the years that he seems to know to pepper ‘serious' design with camp. La Vierge de Fer's depiction of lily is less olfacto-realistic than A La Nuit's jasmine but only slightly so. The unexpected lily-pear pairing takes a moment to come into focus clearly but once it does, it makes perfect sense. The two aromas, the flower and the fruit, share a musky connection that might not be obvious but is smartly manipulated by Sheldrake, who makes the unexpected pairing fit together perfectly. The prickly mouth feel of a bite of pear is recreated with a shellac-like musky tone that cuts sweetness and allows flavor to shine through just as it does in a pear on the cusp of ripeness. La Vierge de Fer's lily is green and expansive, quite different than the wafting vanillic lily Sheldrake composed for Lutens Un Lys. The pairing of flower and fruit is angular but not jarring and has less sting than the lost pear–florals Jean-Michel Duriez created for Jean Patou.

La Vierge de Fer lacks Datura Noir syrup but shares the luminosity and billowing projection suggestive of tropical climes. Also like Datura Noir, La Vierge maintains super-sized proportions into the hearnotes but finds a more tenable scale by dry-down. The lily remains coherent throughout and the perfume neither loses its shape nor collapses into a ‘skin scent' and demonstrates Sheldrake's particular talent for coherent, satisfying drydowns.

La Vierge de Fer provided a welcome break in the grey drift of Lutens's recent Oedipal florals. 2013's La Vierge de Fer was preceded by the receding-carnation of 2011's Vitriol d'Oeillet and followed by the bleak white-out of 2014's l'Orpheline and grey skies of 2015's La Religieuse. The muffled, blanketing tones of these woody florals seem at odds with the specificity of many of the line's earlier florals. They were framed by cryptic allusions by Lutens to revisited childhood memories and distant female authority figures. I believe they were intended to convey a sort of meditative sense of distance and isolation but as a collection they don't build on each other to express anything but an uncomfortable listlessness.

Vierge de Fer started in the Palais Royal Exclusive line (the bell jars) and eventually found its way to the export line (the rectangular spray bottles.) I came to The Iron Maiden out of sequence, well after The Caustic Carnation, The Orphan and The Nun. The name and the general trend in the Lutens line led me to expect a dirge of a perfume but La Vierge de Fer is neither torturous, as the name implies, nor grim like the other latter-day Lutens florals.

* Yeah, iris is a root but is described qualitatively as a floral scent.

from scenthurdle.com

  1. jtd

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