The Trouble with Tuberose


10th September, 2018

A bitchslap in a bottle, the kind of scent a Hitchcock blonde in clicky heels would wear, how I have longed to love tuberose. And to be blonde, in fact. But just as I fear the peroxide would make me look more Myra Hindley than Monroe, so too do I worry that - on me - tuberose becomes brassy, strident, a kind of fragrant strangulation for me and everyone in my vicinity. I've often seen people swoon over perfumes with tuberose as a dominant note, and assumed it's something I'd reluctantly but inevitably grow in to, like doing tax returns and turning up to a smear test on time. So far, this has not proved to be the case (though I do do tax and smears, and regard them as much the same thing). And yet, I remain undaunted. I'm fully aware that some scents just don't suit everyone, and long may that be the case! Otherwise we'd be fully immersed in a world where panel testing reigns supreme - some may say we're already there, of course, that mass market fragrances are already watered down through such processes, until nothing interesting whatsoever remains, all character and idiosyncrasy annihilated to render them inoffensive (and therefore instantly forgettable) to all.

Unusually for me, I'm not quite that cynical, on this subject anyway. I do believe niche houses have led the way for some bravery to return, but mass market is beginning to follow - Sarah Jessica Parker's Stash being a case for truly fascinating 'celebrity perfumes' actually existing and even Guerlain's Lui waving the 'genderless' banner and forging the way for the fragrant giants to take some tentative risks. But I'm straying from the subject rather, and my particular aim for this is to force myself to take risks, and explore tuberose in its many guises; for if ever there were a risky note for me, this is it. The Victorians, gawd bless 'em, apparently believed that tuberose should be avoided by ladies of virtue, because wearing it might cause involuntary orgasms. My my. Sadly thus far, tuberose has only caused me involuntary headaches, a feeling akin to being shot through the head with a silver bullet.

However: nothing ventured nothing gained, as they say. And I never was that virtuous anyway... For this experiment I shall be wearing a differing tuberose perfume every day for a week - some considered classics of the genre, some more freshly off the shelf. If I survive to tell the tale without flaying off my own skin or causing a public incident, I'll record my thoughts and see if my mind can yet be changed.

Release the tuberose!

Day the First: Robert Piguet Fracas Eau de Parfum


Fracas by Piguet
Go big or go home is my motto - I could have built up to this infamous whopper, but I suppose I wanted to dive in to the deep end of the perfume pool and see if I float or drown. As I reach for the bottle I wonder, in this particular test, if I do end up liking it this will prove I'm a witch. I do hope so.

I'm expecting the fragrance equivalent of a facehugger from Alien to leap from the bottle, but first impressions are of cloudy lemonade dosed with cough linctus. Peculiar. By the pricking of my thumbs, something tuberose this way comes, and here it is. Less than a minute in and, for me, the screechiness emerges. That's the only way I can describe the visceral reaction I have. A kind of high-pitched semi-scream. Perhaps I am screaming, but only dogs and youths can hear it. Certainly I'm uncomfortable - it makes me feel jittery, slightly panicked, and wondering whether this was a good idea. The sensation mercifully ceases about two hours after spraying and a rich, buttery aroma replaces it. I actually quite like this stage! It genuinely smells as though someone has sprinkled me with jasmine and gardenia flowers then slathered them in salted butter (something to explain to the launderette, I'd imagine), and it's sort of almost... delicious. Almost. There's still a tinge of that static-electricity beneath it all, the hum of a faulty dimmer switch that means I can never quite relax. Fracas is often called the 'diva' of the perfume world, HOW can it not suit me?! I know it smells glorious on others (my mother included) and I could weep. Oh well.

Day the Second: Gucci Bloom Eau de Toilette


Gucci Bloom
One of the most beautiful campaigns of last year, I think, with bohemian bright young things frolicking in an overgrown garden (and one of them transgender model Hari Nef - go Gucci!) so although I should be objective, I already kind of want to love this. The packaging is pleasingly vintage-esque too, with a wallpaper pattern seemingly torn from a storybook cottage, a contrast to the 'millennial pink' and minimalist bottle.


Promo for Gucci Bloom
The first spray suggests clean sheets and a bouquet of lilies (beds being covered with flowers seems to be a feature of tuberose perfumes for me, so far), and there's a wisp of soft muskiness that definitely appeals. As the day goes on I begin to settle in, it's definitely not screechy, though there is a telltale high-pitched sweetness - a tremble of tuberose that's been very lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Not bad, and I'm not screaming. There's a buoyancy about Gucci Bloom, a sparkle suggesting sunlight on soap bubbles, and this continues throughout. I like it. I'm not sure it's quite punchy enough for what I personally tend to look for in a fragrance, but there's no doubt it's devastatingly pretty. Hmmm.

Day the Third: Kilian Beyond Love Eau de Parfum


Kilian Beyond Love
Now this one is punchy and plunges me back to a childhood memory of the honeysuckle that clung to the wall outside the front of our house, and how, on hot summer days with the window open, the smell of it would fill the living room until it felt like the honeysuckle had thrown out shoots and was now inside your head, desperately clinging to you. Beautiful but deadly. And I say honeysuckle rather than tuberose, not because that's one of the listed notes (it isn't ) but because there is a definite honeyed, stickily narcotic sweetness to this. I think it's going to be a bit... too much. I also think this is why I have a problem with tuberose. I never usually fret that big fragrances are too much on me, I relish the room-fillers and the entire concept of sometimes wearing scent as secret weapon or suit of armour to repel lesser mortals, on occasion. Perhaps my quailing attitude to tuberose means I'm not as bold as I paint myself to be? Perish the thought.

About an hour in, among the white flowers (there's an army of them in here) I find an almost aniseed-y note, a hint of something darker and with a peppery base, and I long for the earthiness it promises but never quite appears for me. It feels like a chase sequence in a fever dream. I think this would be an incredible perfume on the right person, but look... it's not you, Beyond Love, it's me. We're just not made for each other.

Day the Fourth: Boucheron Tubéreuse de Madras Eau de Parfum

Straight away a fizzing ensues, not the frenzy of an Alka Seltzer (with which I have more than a passing familiarity), but without wanting to seem even more pretentious than I've already revealed myself to be, I'd liken this opening to a semi-sparkling German Perlwein (sampled pre Alka-Seltzer). Smooth hazel-nuttiness adds an almost savoury touch and everything here is balminess abounding, nary a hint of the brutal spikes I usually associate with tuberose fragrances.

Don't let this put you off, but there's a bit of Mr. Sheen to this after roughly half an hour. For the easily offended, let's say it's a superior beeswax polish and imagine a large wooden table, freshly buffed and glowing, with a bowl of citrus fruit atop and off to one side, an open window with gauzy white curtains billowing in the breeze. Better now? I'm pleasantly surprised at how Tubéreuse de Madras settles, there's a warmth to this I find lacking in most others. Maybe that's what I crave?

Day the Fifth: Giovanna Antonelli 611 Extremo Eau de Parfum


Giovanna Antonelli 611 Extremo
Book a bikini wax, because we're off to somewhere exotic with this one. I'm not sure where the coconut/ylang ylang comes from, because it's not in the listed notes, but for a while that's all I can smell. Suntan lotion and cool, minty mojitos are next on the menu, which help further obscure the reality of a dreary, grey January morning. I'm already feeling quite positive.

Apparently there's rhubarb and pear in here, and I suppose that accounts for a slight sharpness preventing sickliness, but what I'm mainly getting is copper ladles full of cream, a metallic glint amidst the silkiness, with jasmine predominant to the tuberose, and an otherworldly preponderance of white blossoms. It feels like being smothered in a shower of petals, and I'm totally up for that, now. Hawthorn is another note listed, which is sometimes described as smelling like rotting flesh (though not by PRs, as a rule) but I'm thankful to report there's zero sense of zombie wafting from my bosom.

Day the Sixth: Miller Harris Perfumers Library Tuberosa Eau de Parfum


Miller Harris Perfumers Library Tuberosa
Milky sap charged with ozone - a fleeting sensation of fleshy, vegetal greenness is my introduction this morning, the sense of a steely cold knife slicing a sun-warmed peach; and my feeling that Miller Harris tend to take more risks with their Perfumers Library collection is solidified. Its enough to make you pause in your day and consider awhile what you're smelling, and the scene shifts suddenly to keep you interested, because suddenly I'm somewhere steamy, a hothouse with a microclimate that clings to your skin and frizzes your hair.

Voluptuousness engulfs the heart with ripe fruit swollen to bursting, but again it's a phantom scent impression because no fruits are present. Perhaps this is the way tuberose and jasmine's notorious indoles work on me in many compositions, drawing out the utter filth, and what some report as indulgent beauty on me becomes a bit Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I'm all for filth, as a rule, so I don't think that's the full explanation - it's when put alongside an almost cruel purity of blank whiteness that I start to metaphorically claw at my skin. Luckily, in Tuberosa, these two schizophrenic profiles are never shoved in the same cage and the green of the top notes is a whip crack signifying the arrival of a bawdy circus troupe I'd quite like to join. Fetch my spangles and a trapeze.

Day the Seventh: Ramon Monegal Kiss My Name Eau de Parfum


Kiss My Name by Ramon Monegal
Deep joy, straight away, oh god maybe I've 'turned'. Maybe my tolerance for tuberose has been micro-dosed from recoiling to revelling? Or, I suppose, maybe this is just more immediately 'me' - that alchemical thing that happens when you spray something and, instead of smelling like you're wearing a perfume, it kind of seems to emanate from you, if you know what I mean? Now I'm not suggesting that the smells emanating from within me smell like this (otherwise I could bottle them and make a fortune - albeit in a particularly niche market), but it melds, it settles down, content as a cat stretching in a patch of sunshine.

I must confess I can't really detect the tuberose yet, or at least I'm not experiencing it the same way as those of the fragrances I've found more challenging. I get white flowers, jasmine, a hint of indole and honeyed wood, but mainly it's armfuls of orange blossom, a cool, silvered, watery cleanliness underlying a shimmering warmth. Well well, and here comes the tuberose, but it's hyperrealistic and I think that's what I like - it smells like an actual tuberose. Oh I haven't mentioned that, yet, have I? In fact, I adore smelling real stems of tuberose - I can't get enough of them. The effect of wearing this is the same, I keep pulling at the neck of my dress to experience fresh wafts of almost camphorous floralcy. Hoist the bunting because this could be it, guys: a tuberose I love.


 

I once demanded to taste some wine as a child and, being granted my wish, declared it "disgusting!" Imagine if I'd never revisited that first impression, or of blue cheese, or olives or any other more challenging taste. Oh god, imagine! What a drab affair life would be. I cannot urge you enough to pick a fragrance note you think you loathe - or just a particular scent you've always shied away from - and steel yourself to put it to the test again. You might kick and scream all the way, you could well loathe it still, but the journey of discovering what you dislike and why is interesting, too - exploring the olfactory warning signals being fired up in your brain and from whence they stem - to appreciate the way a fragrance wears beyond the cosseted confines of your own taste. We enjoy seeing art exhibitions to expand our knowledge, but we might not choose to hang them on our own walls. Conversely, you may discover your tastes have changed, that wearing It (whatever It means to you) drastically alters depending on the weather, your mood or what you ate three days previous to trying it that first time (and all of these things, in my experience, do indeed have a dramatic effect on my perception of a fragrance).

Though I cannot claim myself to be a complete convert to this hoyden among fragrance notes, I must admit that such enforced proximity to tuberose has left a bit of a snag in the stocking of my preconceptions. Whilst I hardly think I'll be seeking it out to the exclusion all others, I might yet worry at that thread and pull a bit harder, see if it snakes further down like a ladder to eternal damnation (well that's what those prim Victorian moralists would have predicted of a lady wearing tuberose, anyway). I might even buy a blonde wig. Having survived and, Hell, even enjoyed some of my tuberose experiences; I'm willing to believe that anything could happen.

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About the author: Suzy Nightingale

A freelance fragrance and beauty writer, Suzy divides her time between being Senior Writer for The Perfume Society’s magazine, The Scented Letter; hosting How to Improve Your Sense of Smell events in London; trend-forecasting for Stylus and writing a monthly column for Esprit. When not writing, she can be found exploring niche boutiques and gin palaces with equal rigour, or looking up rude phrases in Victorian slang.

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    Comments

      • HouseOfPhlegethon | 10th September 2018 10:53

        It took some time for me to appreciate tuberose. I found it rather noxious for years. As I began to take perfume [somewhat] seriously I have learned to enjoy it - at times love it. It can be very overpowering to me, in some perfumes. I just tried By Kilian's Beyond Love yesterday. I found it has one of the best uses of tuberose I've sampled, in recent months. So, it can be done - creating a scent with the mighty "tubey", as not to knock one over with its aggressive nature.

      • teardrop | 10th September 2018 11:54

        lnteresting article Suzy, but you really need to try Carnal Flower!

      • hednic | 10th September 2018 12:13

        Tuberose and I simply don't seem to get along, at least a strong tuberose.

      • Diamondflame | 10th September 2018 16:13

        Somehow I got along fine with tuberose since Day 1.

      • Bonnette | 10th September 2018 16:36

        I can see how tuberose might be an acquired taste, though - like Diamondflame - I cottoned to it from the start. There are so many iterations to try, and one of them could be the "gateway fragrance" that opens up appreciation for the others.

      • jujy54 | 11th September 2018 04:32

        Fun read, but, where's Lutens? Tubereuse Criminelle socks you upside the head with Pepto-Bismol, then settles into luxury.

      • Bavard | 11th September 2018 05:49

        I like tuberose. It can be too much sometimes in some compositions, but it’s a strong, exciting note, and tuberose fragrances can be memorable. A lot can still be done, I think, with masculine tuberoses, using it slightly muted.

      • Nightingale | 11th September 2018 09:24

        Yes, I so hoped it would work for me. I take perfume very seriously, and tuberose was the only note I really found myself staying away from, so wanted to challenge myself properly. I’m so happy Beyond Love works for you, though!

      • Nightingale | 11th September 2018 09:27

        Thank you! And I’ve tried Carnal Flower fairly recently, it is extremely interesting (and not at all as I imagine tuberose) but it wasn’t part of my seven day experirment.

      • Nightingale | 11th September 2018 09:30

        Thanks! Yes there are lots of others I could have tried, but as I wanted to give each one an entire day for a week, I chose differing types of tuberose (or rather, used in differing ways) to test my varying reactions. And I’d already started with a sucker-punch one! I could have gone on for two months, each time trying a new one, but that’s more of a book rather than an online article ;-)

      • Nightingale | 11th September 2018 09:33

        Yes I totally agree, and think there’s a lot more that could be done. I suppose for me tuberose only really works on my skin when it’s contained and soothes by something else. I also think more ‘masculine’ interpretations would be really interesting.

      • teardrop | 11th September 2018 09:48

        That's good to know! For me it's a reference tuberose, along with Fracas & Beyond Love.

        For a "masculine" tuberose, l recommend Tubereuse 3 L'Animale by Histoires des Parfums, & Tubereuse Couture by Parfumerie Generale.

      • Starblind | 17th September 2018 19:02

        What a lovely, lively article!

        I was tuberose-averse, until I tried Vero Profumo's Rozy, which somehow leavens and defangs that particular floral.

      • sophi | 19th September 2018 13:12

        Lovely article as always dear Suzy!

        I really appreciate the aroma of tuberose in perfumes! One of my favorites actually, deep, thick and carnal! Fracas still stands the epitomy of the tuberose note for me!!!

        ps: It's not only Starch by SJP the new Hollywood trend for the tuberose note in perfumes...it was Madonna's Truth or Dare one of the first approaches for tuberose!

      • Tigerseye | 24th September 2018 01:46

        I love tuberose. :)

        It's my favourite fragrance ingredient.

        I don't love all tuberose fragrances, though.

        I'm fair skinned (not sure if that is at all relevant, or not, but seeing as you mentioned blondes) and was naturally blonde as a child (kind of Nordic looking) and always struggle to find fragrances that suit me. :/

        The current, overly sweet, totally synthetic ones are obviously OK on me, as they smell the same on everyone.

        Problem is, I don't like them.

        I like the more idiosynchratic, unstable, natural (or less synthetic, anyway) fragrances that smell different on everyone and change over time.

        Problem with them is, most tend to turn sour on me.

        Fracas, for example, is absolutely horrible on me.

        I think my grandmother had some, when I was a child and it smells (oddly enough!) of tombstones, to my nose.

        Hardly of tuberose, at all.

        Maybe of a single tuberose, in a dismal, wilting violet bouquet, leant up against a wet gravestone...?

        Not good at all.

        I have a feeling much older relatives wore it to funerals, when I was little.

        Then there is Carnal Flower - which, again, hardly smells of tuberose, at all, on my skin.

        The eucalyptus is overwhelming and totally masculine, in my opinion and then it more-or-less disappears, with barely even a hint of tuberose appearing.

        Smells good on my darker skinned (half Asian) boyfriend, though.

        Still too much eucalyptus, in my opinion - but, at least he's male, so it smells more appropriate and the tuberose does develop nicely on him.

        There are various other tuberose fragrances that are neither good, nor totally bad, in my opinion.

        Bland and overly girly would probably be the best description of most of them.

        Then there are the really good ones (on me, at least):

        Giorgio Beverly Hills - yep, if all else fails, there's always Giorgio!

        Forget the associations you may have, or may have been told about.

        If it suits your body chemistry, just use in moderation and enjoy it for what it is; a sexy, creamy, peachy/apricot, slightly woody/smoky, white floral tuberose.

        Then there's Michael Kors by Michael Kors - a delicious, sophisticated, smoky, creamy, rubbery and (sometimes) bananary tuberose.

        Will have to try some of the newer ones, when I can get around to it.

        Problem is, I am so often disappointed by fragrances, that it tends to put me off even trying to find something new.

      • Zilpha | 24th September 2018 01:52

        Welcome to Basenotes, Tigerseye!