Let all of me seethe: Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens (2011)

‘Vitriol d’Oeillet – the carnation, alias the clove pink. The fragrance fraught with anger. It’s petals, laced with tiny teeth, hold out the solution; a burst of fragrant spikes…’



























Thus, in 20II,  Serge Lutens’ entered his curious foray into the fragrant obscurity of the carnation: a much maligned flower, long out of fashion for its bland, mumsy, truck-stop associations; its banal intimations of death; cheap mother’s day bouquets; and the wreath.



Carnations and pinks: who really loves these floral run-of-the-mills now?



Once, however, many moons ago, these flowers were considered the height of elegant fashion.  By ladies, gentlemen, dandies, and fops; worn ostentatiously in the buttonhole, or on hats at the end of the nineteenth century. But what might once have been considered decadent, (Oscar Wilde famously dyed his carnations green to wear on his lapel, as well as sporting Floris’ carnation perfume, Malmaison), has, unfortunately, become disdained.



Still, there are many carnation and clove lovers out there (myself included), and the concept of a Lutensian vitriolic pink had many in a frenzy of anticipation upon its release. What would the provocateur do this time?  Would there be a scandalous, reinvented floral along the lines of his legendary Tubereuse Criminelle? How angry would these carnations actually be?



Not enough, it would seem. The perfume’s reception was a collective sigh of disappointment, as it was not the flurry of eye-blinding cloves we were perhaps expecting: somehow, by the majority it is seen as too tame, insufficiently vicious, given its fiery, provocative title.


I must say that am personally rather drawn to this scent, however, and have recently really enjoyed wearing it (particularly when layered with the vintage extrait of Feminite du Bois to rather elegant effect, though I say it myself). But to some extent I can understand its detractors: we always expect grand theatrical flourishes from Monsieur Serge, and Vitriol d’Oeillet has a subdued, almost melancholic air to it – aeons away, for instance, from the carnationy spiced joy that is Santa Maria Novella’s Garofano (by far the best carnation in my view) – a plushly, burningly exuberant Italian creation that fangs forth from the flesh, piercing the air all around it with its St. Sebastian pinkness. If Garofano is the feel-good king of carnations, hyperreal and fresh ( I feel like John Travolta wearing it with an open-necked shirt of a Saturday summer evening ), then Vitriol is his dour, imperious queen.


The scent is a two-faced Janus –  Lutens also refers to it in the press release as a Jekyll & Hyde –  with two competing facets: a pretty, even somewhat prim, rose/lily/wallflower accord (with none of the creamy, clovey ylang we associate with the traditional carnation soliflore); and then an acerbic, almost corrosive cold/heat accord that favors pepper and red spices over the expected warming buds of clove (which are there, but in a background role). The peppers (black, pink and Cayenne, along with an unexpected note of pimento) adorn the flowers like a claw-sharp, iron-spiked petticoat. Further beneath is a quiet, gnarling murk of nutmeg and woods that on me smells very much like a light Japanese incense.


At first, while I found it difficult to reconcile the two sides ( I received my bottle as a Christmas present from my sister, who likes to give me a surprise Lutens each year – I love it when you are given a scent you might not have chosen yourself but have the luxury of getting to know it anyway, having the impetus to try….) and felt, initially, that somehow something was missing (a heart?) .  Gradually, though, I have come to appreciate this perfume’s unique qualities.  I wore it constantly during the New Year period, sprayed it inside the house during those cold winter months on blankets and curtains, loving its frosted, supercilious air; living with it daily until it became part of my memories ( I still get a shiver of pleasure now every time I smell it from the bottle).

The tingling, graphite-grey peppers; the pale, quietly seething, cayenne-tinted flowers in those watery, minor chords, all, for me, despite the perfume’s  slight conservatism, add up to a delicate, hard-hearted chic. Vitriol d’Oeillet might be thought of, then, not as the failed carnation soliflore that it is often perceived to be, but ultimately, more a curiously beautiful, and fractious, floral spice. Alone, cold and remote.




Notes: black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne pepper, pimento, nutmeg, clove, carnation, wallflower, lily, woods.


Filed under Carnation, Flowers, Perfume Reviews

23 responses to “Let all of me seethe: Vitriol d’Oeillet by Serge Lutens (2011)

  1. Pingback: Serge Lutens Gris Clair Review: Pimp My Lavender | Smellitivity.com

  2. OH FINE FINE. I will give the darn thing another shot. “Loving its frosted, supercilious air” has convinced me to try again, with a blank and open mind.

    I adore carnation scents and especially adore the fresh flowers; my favorite carnation scents are Malmaison, DSH Oeillets Rouges, and the long-discontinued Molinard Oeillet as well as Prince Matchabelli Potpourri.

    There is something in me that seems to resist really falling hard for a Serge creation, with the exception of La Myrrhe, which is unlike any other fragrance. Perhaps. My first opinion of Vitriol d’Oeillet was that it was, yes, dull. I’ll try one more time.

    • It IS dull in a way, but I myself found beauty in it.

      Nice to find a fellow carnation lover: have you tried the Santa Maria Novella I mentioned? It might be too harsh for you, perhaps, but on me it is glorious. So ALIVE.

  3. Katy

    I am ashamed to admit I have not smelled a single creation of Uncle Serge’s. Here in the perfume vacuum of South Eastern Virginia, they are not to be found. I love carnations. I associate them with my Grandmother, who wore Caron Bellodgia, when it still smelled like a carnation. She had a screen test with Clark Gable when she was sixteen years old, wore beautiful jewelry and caftans, exercised regularly and drank rye and water on ice. I lost her to Alzheimer’s and time many years ago. Her name was Maureen…..

    • How sad, but how beautiful. A woman who could wear Bellodgia well……I have a bottle of the vintage extrait, but could never personally wear it (too bosomed and musky for me, but I would LOVE to smell it worn well on a woman).

      I mean regarding Serge Lutens I used to think it was all hype and that the admiration for his scents was overblown, but I don’t anymore. The perfumes are at once opaque and mysterious but also direct and full of integrity. I love quite a few of them, and while Vitriol is a teensy bit too polite and rosy, it is still actually kind of beautiful. As it develops it becomes woodier and spicier, and more melancholic. I thought it deserved another mention.

      Also I hope you get to smell and wear some Lutens some day.

      • I completely agree with you. I adore a lot of Uncle Serge’s creations and eve the ones I am not in love with I admire and appreciate. His fragrances are still innovative and set apart from among the many mundane scents around these days.

      • Most definitely. I can’t explain it, they are just not as ‘thin’ as many niche things smell to me, although I must say that they are being reformulated in horrific ways. Un Bois Vanille, Ambre Sultan…they just aren’t quite as gorgeous. Vanille gutted me when I got the newer version. No longer a fluffy coconut macaroon but a sawdust mill with vanillic underlings….just not the same.
        Even so……always interesting.

    • Rafael

      I agree Katy. Caron’s Bellodgia is the textbook carnation. Look for the extrait on Ebay.Good stuff!

  4. After writing the above response, I sprayed a little Vitriol d’Oellet on myself and am wondering why I don’t use it more often. It is a beautiful SL creation.

    • Well I don’t use mine all that much either, so despite that beauty, there must be something holding us back. For me, it was always that slight, and I mean slight, reminiscence of Lancome Miracle, which I think is one of the most foul perfumes ever made; that Tea Party rose fakeness, so ‘bright’ and ‘happy’: I HAAAAATTTE that perfume, and though Vitriol is nothing like it, there is something of that modern rosiness at certain times during its lifespan on the skin. Fortunately, the incense and woods and the spices make it veer off on a different course, and I think it is this tension, a female Jekyll and Hyde, that makes it quite intriguing.

  5. jtd

    I’ve never quite known what to make of Vitriol d’Oiellet. I’ve been drawn to the name for the sheer camp of it, yet wished, despite finding the perfume appealingly ambiguous, for more of the Wicked Uncle Serge monster-floral treatment. I don’t know the history of the carnation in perfumery, nor do I know the contemporary genre at all, so your primer is very helpful. I have a sample of Vd’O that’s been gathering dust and can’t wait to dig it out. Thanks! (And thanks to your sister!)

    • Oh I ultimately wish it were wickeder as well, of course, it was just that I actually had a whole bottle and it slowly revealed its secrets to me. Perhaps if I had a whole bottle of every perfume I reviewed they would come out differently….

  6. I have a bottle o9f this that rarely gets the attention it deserves. I love it but can always find something that I prefer to wear for every spritz event. I will grab it out and give it a real chance to remind me why I own the bottle.
    Portia xx

    • I hardly ever wear mine either, indicating that there is, ultimately, something wrong with the perfume. And yet…….it has a prim mystery that can suit certain more thoughtful, subdued moods. One cannot be flaming in vanilla all the time. Incidentally, do you think I would smell ridiculous in a work suit and a touch of Tresor? I found the parfum at a flea market the other day and am strangely drawn to the idea of wearing it.

  7. fleurdelys

    Black pepper, pink pepper, cayenne pepper, pimento, nutmeg, clove, carnation, wallflower, lily, woods. Gee, with those notes, you’d think it would actually smell like a carnation! No such luck. To my nose, this fragrance is made up of disparate parts that never come together satisfactorily. The one thing it did call to mind was cough syrup. (Full disclosure here: I’m not a Lutens fan However, to my surprise, I do like Tubereuse Criminelle).

    I’m another carnation lover who is always looking for the Holy Grail. Liked the original Bellodgia, and SMN’s Garofano. Will carnation have a Renaissance and become the next oud? I hope so! At least perfumers will be trying.

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