Uncle Serge and Christopher Sheldrake have been up to their old tricks again. Their latest release could easily be dismissed as an old-fashioned feminine, a woody floral stuck somewhere in the late 70s. With its lipstick reds, hospital greens and spice-rack browns, Vitriol d’Oeillet is akin to the sort of painting you might consider hanging in the waiting area of an efficient office. Although its eponymous carnation is not unappealing, there’s an intimidating, medicinal coldness in its background, not to mention what comes across as an excessive enjoyment of its own grimacing bitterness.
But in the same way that the aforementioned painting would take on an entirely different appearance if it were transferred to another setting (say, a sunny kitchen or a bedroom in a cramped student flat), Vitriol’s impact changes when you try to read it as a masculine. Suddenly, what first came across as fairly muted sillage appears just right. The clove-eucalyptus notes that were suppressing the floral heart now seem to be keeping its excesses in check. The frostiness turns into studied detachment. In short, the outmoded is transformed into the daring. Indeed, it’s when you begin to question the identity of Vitriol’s potential wearer that the scent makes most sense. The one-line blurb accompanying the perfume on SergeLutens.com reads “What is it, Dr Jekyll?” which is perhaps an indication that the very notion of a shifting personality is this particular creation’s raison d’etre.
Then again, maybe that’s taking kindness too far. Maybe Vitriol d’Oeillet is simply a bit of a muddle. Maybe all 'retro' feminines could currently be seen as bold masculines. I doubt it’ll go down as one of the year’s more memorable releases, but its attempt to present a spiky, stand-offish floral is commendable (and, incidentally, makes me think it’s what Guerlain should have aimed for when they put together Arsène Lupin Le Voyou). Hardly indispensable but well worth trying.
[Review based on a sample of eau de parfum provided by Serge Lutens in 2011; fragrance tested on skin.]