Monday, August 1, 2016


Tuberose; a divider of taste. Despite the name it has nothing to do with rose. Rose can be described as anything from soapy or pretty to dark and gothic but it's not likely to be described as fleshy, voluptuous, carnal, buttery, decadent, strident or narcotic, as tuberose is.

Such is its reputation that in Victorian times it was believed it had a corrupting effect on young women, like Elvis's hips in the 50s. It was even said it could induce spontaneous orgasm, which just makes me think those Victorian ladies needed to get out more!

It's instantly recognisable. If you think you don't know the scent, once you get a whiff you'll know it straight away - most recognisable in perfumes where its most strident qualities have been amped up, two of the most notorious being Piguet's Fracas and Dior's Poison. If you hate those don't let that put you off, since (as with all perfume notes) it depends which facets are highlighted and what's in the perfume composition.

Most tuberose in perfumery is synthetic, but there are natural extraction versions, perhaps the most well-known being tuberose steeped in natural coconut oil and used as sun tan lotion, especially popular in tropical islands such as Hawai.

In the west we obviously associate tuberose with the idea of the 'exotic', or tropical holidays, and it's why a lot of tuberose perfumes contain coconut notes. Natural tuberose flowers on their own though are not very sweet. Like most tropical flowers the scent varies throughout first opening of the flowers to their point of decay.

Newly opened tuberose has what most perfumers describe as camphoraceous notes. I.e. moth balls, or an almost gas-like menthol quality. Also green. I, and many others, find the menthol aspects also petrol or diessel-like, and with some perfumes there's a hint of fruity bubblegum or (weirdly) popcorn. These scent-exuding qualities make the flower a raging success in the jungle obviously, no doubt attracting pollinators for miles around. If you add these strident qualities, the buttery or creamy effect and pretty floral aspect to the idea that beautiful flowers echo feminine beauty, you can see why so many perfumers want to capture its intensity. Its wilting notes remind me of decaying fruit (some say it's more like rotting meat, but to me it's quite similar to the decaying notes of madonna lily, or the smell that emanates from the dustbin outside a grocer's shop in mid-summer - fruit rind on the turn).

It does have some qualities in common with orange blossom, lily and jasmine, but as someone who's sensitive to tuberose (similarly to patchouli) I immediately recognise it in perfume; the difference is in that diesel/petrol butteriness - a certain cool, waxy, gassy solidity. Texture-wise I'd describe is as rounded, fleshy, with a quality I'd associate with womanly-ness as opposed to girliness. It has sophistication, but not necessarily elegance, since elegance is usually associated with a sort of 'less-is-more' contained poise, tuberose cannot be contained, hence its diva reputation!

I've written quite a bit about other perfume notes in this blog (see 'Perfume Reviews A- Z')  and if you're wondering why I've not covered the notorious tuberose it's because truth be told I find it a challenge. Many people do, and in perfume forums we're liable to be dismissed as perfume lightweights, perhaps even envious because we don't have the requisite confidence, style or sex appeal to carry off tuberose-rich perfumes. Ouch!

My excuse is that when it's strong I find it headache-inducing. I'm not into loud, strident perfumes, also my appearance and behaviour would never be compared to that of Marilyn Monroe or Madonna (both Fracas devotees!)

The most high-end, popular and contemporary tuberose perfume at the moment is Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower, which according to many perfume reviewers is sex on wheels, so I had to try a sample of course...

I did my best with it, but since a small squoosh to my left wrist was still making my eyes water and head ache after 4 hours, I gave up and washed it off just so I could get a decent night's sleep. As for its sexy reputation, well, headaches are historically a bit of a killer! I read of someone who doesn't like it but wears it on the back of her neck so she can't smell it but others can! I'm a strong believer in the fact that if you love the perfume, it loves you and vice versa. If you don't enjoy tuberose, it's never going to suit you in its more powerful forms.

Part of the effect of Carnal Flower is the menthol aspect which echoes the actual flower, it was this that made my eyes water, the tuberose (in this perfume the highest amount of tuberose absolute in perfumery) provided the inevitable headache.

Just google 'tuberose perfumes' and you'll soon discover that the population can be divided into swoon-iduced and migraine-induced reactions to tuberose. Never fear though, in the examples below I'll mention those that I find enjoyable, so if up to now you've loathed this fleshy floral with the man-eating
reputation, there are some you might enjoy ..

Powerful tuberose
Tuberose perfumes with huge heft and presence, statement perfume for glamorous events

Fracas by Piguet
Often described as the reference-point for strong tuberose perfumes, tuberose in Fracas is accompanied by a host of white florals, woody notes and musk. Tuberose dominates though and this is one of the most distinct perfumes you'll encounter. Its statement or message suggests someone who enjoys attention and it's no surprise that it's a favourite with Madonna, also Mariliyn Monroe. (Madonna lent her name to the contemporary perfume take on Fracas; Truth or Dare by Madonna

Other glamorously strident tuberose perfumes include Dior's Poison which darkens tuberose with intense purple-toned plum, also Armani's Giorgio and Amarige by Givency. 

Elegant Tuberose
Tuberose perfumes that tone down the strident effect,either through less tuberose in the composition, or with accompanying notes that soften it

Nicolai Parfumeur Createur Number One Sophisticated, slightly green yet buttery. This is a very elegant tuberose. Galbanum lends it bitter greenery while sandalwood does its thing of lending a soft velvety effect.It's less of a party tuberose, and could easily be worn in the daytime.

Amouage Honour Woman 
A pricy concoction and a silkier take on tuberose, with notes of frankincense, leather. It has the creamy aspects of tuberose and gardenia adds to this. Very elegant, if a bit conservative or reminiscent of coiffed haired Chanel suited women organising high-end charity events.

Oscar by Oscar de la Renta 
Softened with sandalwood, less 'fleshy' in tone with the addition of clove, this is velvety in texture and quite complex, slightly dated these days perhaps, due its complex bouquet, but very sophisticated in effect

Soft and pretty tuberose
These perfumes enhance the creamy aspects while toning down the headache, partly because tuberose doesn't entirely dominate in these, but also because the accompanying notes have a softening or lighter effect.

L'Artisan La Chasse Aux Papillon
Though the opening is a bit bright, with white florals and lime blossom, in dry down this reminds me of suede, the soft effect is largely thanks to a buttery tuberose, minus the petrol and menthol.

Noix de Tubereuse by Miller Harris
Softened considerably with the round, powdery notes of tonka bean, also iris (orris root) and mimosa, this retains tuberose's sultry aspects while being easy on the nose. Very pretty.

Do Son by Diptyque
One of my favourite perfume houses, inevitably their take on tuberose would be to my liking (though probably not to lovers of full-on tuberose). Do Son has subtle tuberose buttery roundness added to very pretty white florals - orange blossom, honeysuckle - alongside an easy-on-the nose white musk and woody warm benzoin resin. Perfect for summer and a very popular scent.

Unusual tuberose 
Niche versions, a little bit different

Serge Lutens Fleurs d'oranger
This, as the name suggests, has more to do with orange blossom than tuberose, nonetheless its fleshier floral effect is partly thanks to tuberose's abundance, the unusual aspect is thanks to cumin, which lends a spicy, slightly sweaty tingle. Very pleasing, as long as you're ok with cumin!

Serge Lutens's Tubereuse Criminelle - a love it or loathe it perfume, so given my ambivalence to tuberose I was surprised to find I enjoyed it. I realise now it's partly that it lacks the bubblegum/fruity aspect and instead focuses on tuberose buttery/waxy roundness. Even the menthol hit in the beginning doesn't trouble me, it's moth-ball-like but I don't mind that as a smell, in fact I like it, far more than eucaylptus, which in perfume is an absolute 'no' for me, since I find it medicinal and eye watering, and which features in...

Carnal Flower by Frederic Malle
For some people this should be up there in the elegant or pretty tuberose categories but that's probably for those who don't find the eucalyptus and melon notes so unappealing. Even with sweet creamy coconut as a subtle note here, and the large amount of high quality green-toned natural tuberose absolute (I normally love green florals) it doesn't work for me.  I find that the notes compete and clash, but for many thousands of others this is tuberose Nirvana.

Tropical tuberose

Isabey Panouage, Lys Noir
A 'darker' take on tuberose/lily, you'd imagine from the name, though I don;t get much lily from it. Folks who want a strong hit of tuberose may be disappointed, but it's definitely there. Fatty and fruity with soapy coconut,  the fruity hint for me echoes Dior's Poison. Coconut isn't listed in ingredients as far as I can see, but it's definitely there. There's some patchouli here too, but very light. It feels like a glam' summer party girl perfume - a simple, yet distinct effect. Not my scene but if you fancy the idea of a lighter summer-style tropical Poison, you'll like it!

Other popular tropical tuberoses include Killian's Beyond Love (sweet coconut, heady tuberose and pretty white florals) and Hiram Green's Moon Bloom, a fresh green, sweet take on tuberose, which uses high amounts of natural absolute.

For the authentic beachy feel of natural tuberose infused coconut cream try Aloha Tiare Eau de Parfum by Comptoir Sud Pacifique, or seek the cream itselfMonoi of Maui (Maui Tuberose) which can be found online and is considerably cheaper! I have a bottle of this and like to use it in summer, or for a relaxing face massage in the evening.

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