Anyone who has stood in front of a display of perfumes soon becomes aware that a number of those bottles are going to contain the name “tuberose” on the label. Even if they don’t, as in the case of say, Fracas, they soon announce their tuberose intentions to the world. Even a perfume novice learns to recognize tuberose early on. Tuberose is hard to miss, and once you’ve smelled it, you never forget it.
It’s a winner, that much is certain. Of all the floral notes out there, tuberose is the one that never seems to go “out of print” (or let us say, “out of bottle”). This is not the case with many other florals. There have been long stretches of time when there were relatively few rose perfumes on the market, and times when neither carnation nor lilac was plentifully represented – now, for instance.
Tuberose, however, is a perennial. Most people who have smelled tuberose know it from such recent costumes as Carnal Flower, or By Killian’s Beyond Love, or its current bubblegum get-up, Juicy Couture.
Then there have been tuberose ensembles, usually involving vanilla; Annick Goutal’s Passion was one of the first, and probably inspired the big Maurice Roucel tuberose in her 80’s pouf outfit, 24 Faubourg (surely the only certifiably vulgar perfume* ever to come out of the impeccably tasteful House of Hermes). But I’d contend that no other note would ever have tempted the management of Hermes over that line in the first place.
There have been silly attempts to corset tuberose into ridiculous outfits, all sequins and carmine satin, bringing her out in a pink fleshed sweat, things like Fragile, with no pretensions to being lady-like. I liked Fragile when it came out. It was unashamedly camp, a fragrance for a drag queen, something to wear with your six inch heels and leopard nail gels.
The question that periodically interests me is, can tuberose actually show some restraint? It’s a slightly more vexed question than you might imagine. Different materials lend themselves to different treatments. Tuberose, like pink satin, doesn’t lend itself to strict tailoring.
In this context I have to mention Caron’s soliflore Tubereuse. This is a fragrance I never hear mentioned on perfume forums, and my guess is because it is a little obscure and also because Tania Sanchez gave it such a poor review in The Guide. Her review was way off point, I thought. It was a bit like berating Lanvin for designing a simple dress when you were expecting some kooky Vivienne Westwood couture.
Tubereuse uses a bit of freesia, and some peach, but otherwise leaves the tuberose unembellished. Sometimes simplicity is misinterpreted as blandness, and here the perfumer Andre Fraysse knew he was working with something that customarily went over the top, like some over-embroidered Lesage bustier, but something that would sell in US and Latin American markets whether or not it sold in Europe. (Caron, by the way, has always made some perfumes exclusively for the US market, Narcisse Blanc and French Can Can, for instance. Tubereuse was probably the latest in what you might call the Caron Export line.)
It remains one of the driest treatments of tuberose I’ve ever come across and the only one I’d consider wearing. But then it’s an achievement of sorts. This is a perfume that manages to get tuberose to shave her legs, wear undergarments, and to don a tailleur. That’s pretty good going for a note accustomed to wearing Betsey Johnson.
Besides, she can always take it all off again by Friday night.
* With white florals, most of the time, you go big or go home.