The benchmark for all tuberose scents was set by the legendary Fracas, but the modern contender and favorite for the throne may be a creation by Frederic Malle: Carnal Flower. It is an accessible, easy, very fresh and, therefore, very modern take on white floral powerhouses. I’m generally not one for floral scents, but I make a particular exception for the fleshiest of white, narcotic, indolic flowers. I’m an absolute sucker for a white powerhouses, and tuberose is my favorite flower in the world. So, I should positively adore Carnal Flower, right? Hm.
The luxury fragrance house Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle is one of the most respected niche perfume lines in the world. It was founded in 2000 by Frederic Malle, a man who has expensive perfume in his blood. His grandfather started Christian Dior Perfumes, and his mother later worked as an Art Director for the same perfume house. In 2005, Malle teamed up with legendary perfumer, Dominique Ropion, to create Carnal Flower. It is an eau de parfum inspired by Malle’s aunt, the actress Candice Bergen, and her role in the 1971 film, Carnal Knowledge.
Malle’s website describes Carnal Flower as follows:
If nature offers olfactive clashes, tuberose is probably the best example of it. These pretty flowers exude an almost carnal smell, superimposing in a quasi-miraculous way flower shop freshness, camphorous violence – spicy and animalic – and milky sweetness. This mysterious equilibrium has always fascinated perfumers. 18 months were necessary for Dominique Ropion to forward a modern version of that theme, an “olfactive Everest” that only the most talented perfumers were capable of reaching.
Fragrantica lists its notes as follows:
The top notes contain: bergamot, melon and eucalyptus. The middle notes include: ylang-ylang, jasmine, tuberose, Salicylates (natural, toxic product of herbal origin, a sort of a herbal feromone which is used by plants as a warning). The base encompasses: tuberose absolute, orange blossom absolute, coconut and musk.
Carnal Flower opens on my skin with a tinge of bergamot and green honeydew melon, then a loud bang of tuberose and eucalyptus. The fleshy, white flower is rendered icy with the mentholated notes, but there is also a definite milky quality to the scent. It stems from the tiniest flicker of the coconut in the base. The nicest part of Carnal Flower is the cool, green vibe. From the start, almost to the finish, there is a watery quality to the scent, not just from the dewy melon, but from a sense of the tuberose stem having been cut and dripping out its green liquid into the vase water that surrounds it.
The eucalyptus adds a chilly camphorated note that cuts like a knife through the flower’s usual sweetness. In other tuberose scents, that sweetness that can sometimes verge on either bubble gum or Welch’s grape jelly, due to the salicylates. Not here. At the same time, the eucalyptus ensures a freshness that pre-empts any indolic fleshiness, over-ripe voluptuousness, and heaviness. Indoles can create an over-blown ripeness in a floral scent which, on some skin, can end up turning fecal, urinous, plastic-y or reminiscent of a cat’s litter box. That is never the case here, for Carnal Flower’s indolic richness is kept firmly in check by the freshness of the icy eucalyptus and that subtle touch of green melon.
Carnal Flower’s initial blast of eucalyptus softens in less than five minutes. The briefly camphorated undertone turns into a simple greenness that is cool and crisp. The touch of citric freshness vanishes, and its place is taken by the first stirrings of the other white flowers. The orange blossom and jasmine lurk in the base for the most part, along with the coconut, but they start to throw up a translucent white arm to wave hello once in a while before sinking back to the depths like a shy mermaid. For now, Carnal Flower is all about the tuberose, singing a solo on center stage with the eucalyptus standing a few feet behind.
The greenness in Carnal Flower is quite multi-faceted. Besides the chilliness imparted by the eucalyptus, there is an aroma that feels as though the tuberose’s green leaves, stem, and unripe buds have been crushed into a slightly bitter oil. Later, the note takes on the distinct aroma of vase water that has been left untouched for a few days. There is a murkiness to the leafy, green note, though it never really rises to the level of fetid. Still, every time I’ve worn Carnal Flower, there is always a subtle flicker of dark, watery greenness that calls to mind stale, stagnant vase water.
It takes 20 minutes for the jasmine to arrive, fusing with the tuberose to become the focal point of the scent. The eucalyptus’ icy chilliness slowly begins to fade away, though the green freshness remains as a strong constant throughout the life of Carnal Flower. As the mentholated undertone becomes a mere flicker, Carnal Flower turns warmer, sweeter, and deeper, less fresh and cool. Ten minutes later, the orange blossom joins the parade of white flowers, creating quite a layered lushness.
The sillage, however, is moderate on my skin. Three small sprays from my small decant gives me a soft, airy cloud that wafts a maximum of 3 inches, at most. The thin, airy weight and restrained projection are a surprise for a scent that is so strong when smelled up close for the first two hours. Interpretations of airiness and sillage will obviously depend on one’s personal yardstick, but for me, none of Malle’s fragrances have much heft. He seems to ascribe to the modern French definition of “strong,” which seems to be significantly different than that of some American and Middle Eastern fragrance houses. Or perhaps it’s just me, for I’m continually unimpressed by what Malle considers to be intense or rich, let alone “Oriental.”
I think it’s only fair to explain that feeling, as it bears a lot on this review and my response to Carnal Flower. When I visited one of Malle’s Paris boutiques, I went through the range of Malle fragrances which were laid out in what seemed to be a progression of strength and richness from left to right. At the far end of the scale was Musc Ravageur whose placement seemed to be presented as the most opulently oriental, extreme, heavy or rich scent that they had. It bore home to me that my definition of things varies enormously from that of Monsieur Malle. I kept asking the rather constipated, prune-mouthed sales assistant for something “stronger, heavier, richer,” because half the scents seemed to be watery, thin, translucent, or restrained to the point of aloofness.
The point of all this is that I am obviously not Malle’s target customer. Not in a million years. And I think that is especially true when it comes to his florals. If I’m going to wear tuberose, I want a sonic boom like the Fracas that I grew up with, or like an Amouage scent. I want concentrated heft, richness, and body. For me, personally, I don’t see the point otherwise. I’m not wearing an all-natural fragrance with its inherent limitations.
The problem seems to be that my benchmark for white florals was set by Fracas when I was 7 years old. Vintage Fracas is one of two perfumes that forever shaped both me and my perfume tastes. (The other being the benchmark scent for Orientals, vintage Opium.) When you are imprinted with vintage Fracas as your idea of the perfect tuberose, and then you’re faced by a very pretty, albeit watery and green, tuberose that has a fraction of its richness and little of its indolic, narcotic, heady fleshiness, you’re bound to be somewhat underwhelmed.
Carnal Flower definitely leaves me at a bit of a loss, especially after the end of the first hour. It becomes this translucent, diaphanous, gauzy blur of whiteness with some greenness and some creaminess. The prominence and power of certain notes vary over the next few hours, but the core essence never changes one iota. The orange blossom fluctuates in strength, but it is always in third place behind the jasmine and tuberose on my skin. In any event, it fades away about 2.75 hours into Carnal Flower’s development. The jasmine often seems to overtake the tuberose on my skin as the main note, but it’s sometimes hard to single out the specific floral components as Carnal Flower becomes an increasingly abstract veil of white flowers with some freshness. The creamy quality never translates as coconut on my skin, and is much more of a textural quality. As a whole, it’s nice, but …. eh.
While the coconut leaves me underwhelmed, I’m wholly unenthused by the white musk that pops up about 4.75 hours in. It’s a synthetic touch that consistently gives me a headache if I sniff Carnal Flower up close for too long. I don’t even see the purpose of it. It doesn’t smell fresh or clean. It’s simply… there. Eventually, Carnal Flower devolves into a vaguely musky jasmine scent with some occasional touches of tuberose and greenness. It remains that way until its end. All in all, Carnal Flower lasted 11.25 hours on me, perhaps thanks to the white musk which my skin clings onto like mad.
It is all very pretty, with enjoyable greenness and a refined handling of the tuberose, but Carnal Flower really fails to do much for me. Every single time I’ve worn Carnal Flower over the last two years, the trajectory of my reaction is always the same:
Opening: “Oh, eucalyptus. Ugh,”
10 minutes later: “Huh, this is so incredibly pretty, why don’t I wear this more often??!”
An hour after that: “Oh. Right. Now I remember why. Hm. Maybe I should put some vintage Fracas over it?”
I’ve spent so much time trying to explain my reaction to Carnal Flower for a few different reasons. First, I’m fully aware that saying Carnal Flower is insufficiently potent, indolic, rich, and full-bodied makes me sound insane to the average perfumista. For almost everyone else, it is the epitome of an indolic, opulent, white floral powerhouse. Well, maybe you had to grow up with Fracas in the 1970s, and have a taste for super-charged, bold, or Middle Eastern perfumery in general. Second, Carnal Flower is one of those legendary scents that most people have already tried and have an opinion on, so there isn’t much point in quoting other reviews. At this point, it’s merely a case of comparing experiences, and providing a context for one’s perspective.
What may be more useful is to compare Carnal Flower to other tuberose-centered fragrances in this genre. As noted above, Fracas is the reference and gold standard, but it is a very different fragrance as a whole. It’s more fleshly, heavy, opaque, and voluptuous. Alas, the new modern eau de parfum is also syrupy, sweet, and somewhat synthetic in feel. Carnal Flower’s essence is slightly closer to Le Labo‘s 2013 Lys 41 which is a similarly fresh white floral cocktail, but again there are differences. Lys 41 has the dewy, faintly metallic coolness of lily, not the green freshness from eucalyptus. It is also substantially creamier and more vanillic, thanks to the buttery notes provided by the Tahitian gardenia or tiaré. On my skin, Carnal Flower’s coconut was neither particularly noticeable in an individual, distinct way nor tropical in nature, but Un Lys definitely had that undertone.
Serge Lutens‘ Tubereuse Criminelle is much more significant, as Malle and Ropion were clearly influenced by the Lutens version which preceded Carnal Flower by six years. The 1999 Tubereuse Criminelle has a heavily mentholated, rubbery, almost diesel-like and leathered blackness to its opening eucalyptus notes. It is more masculine, bold, intense, and forceful (in both body and projection), before softening and eventually turning into something very golden and warm with vanilla and styrax. It never feels green and fresh, let alone watery, and it is also a much more difficult fragrance than the easier, more accessible Carnal Flower. I suspect that is why Malle’s tuberose scent edges out the Lutens as the favorite modern tuberose.
The Perfume Shrine has a fantastic rundown of Carnal Flower’s place on the tuberose spectrum, beginning with the reference benchmark, Fracas:
The history of tuberose in perfumery passes through that parfum phare as the French say (a “lighthouse perfume”, a landmark more like it): Fracas, conceived by the fauvist Germaine Cellier for Robert Piguet, with its fleshy, lush contradicting qualities edged upon the two extremes: creamy, candy-ish beauty and violent hystrionics leading to decay. Blonde by Versace is its poorer , aspiring -and rather successful- imitator with a flamboyant style that is very Italian, a civet come-hither innuendo and quite pleasant in calculated moderation especially in extrait de parfum. Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle presents a peculiar problem : one has to wait for the crucial first 15 minutes, when the demonic camphor note subsides, giving reign to the glorious creaminess and silky softness of the flower. Caron’s Tubereuse is very radiant , yet perfume-y although lighter and not suited to today’s sensibilities, I find. Carolina Herrera (the original one by the famous designer) is a bit too operatic, being so much infused with another bombshell : jasmine. Some of the rest (Lauder’s Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and Do Son by Diptyque) are either more positioned towards gardenia or too light for carnal aspirations. Vamp a NY by Honore des Pres is more candied than that and with a generous helping of pink jasmine, although equally magnificent. Tuberose perfumes are a real continent: there are variations in the verdure to suit everyone. [Emphasis to names and bolding added by me.]
The Perfume Shrine helped me understand why Carnal Flower leaves me giving a Gallic shrug. It’s not “operatic.” I happen to love and own the Carolina Herrera scent that she mentions (I told you I loved tuberose), and its rich tuberose-jasmine duet is like Maria Callas in full aria. Though it’s increasingly hard to find now, it was once the signature fragrance of Angelina Jolie and the actress may be the perfect embodiment of the scent, while Carnal Flower fits the young Candice Bergen much better. She was lovely with fresh, golden, California girl looks, so the comparison is not intended to be an insult at all. It’s merely a difference in style.
Plus, as the Perfume Shrine says so well, Malle was clearly seeking to do something very different: “Carnal Flower was from the beginning a mission into offering something different.” He wanted not only the feel of Southern California, but Candace Bergen’s clean beauty with
a seemingly fresh scent, something that will titillate the nostrils and the mind. The camphor note, reminiscent of eycalyptus leaves, is a necessity: At once freeing the weight of the inherent indolic character of the blossom, which browns as it decays, and imitating the exhalation of tuberose in nature: greenish and somewhat mentholic from afar. Yet the mentholated note does not make a grand appearence in Carnal Flower like it does in Tubéreuse Criminelle: the composition is therefore less striking, arguably less thought-provoking, but more wearable by more people as a result. Not a jarring note in sight; even the fruitier notes, like coconut and melon, are interspersed through sleight of hand to evoke freshness and sensuousness. Like Candice Bergen, it’s beautiful, but then again, not without wits or substance, and although undeniably sensual and sexy, it is high class and a lady, not a slut, at all times.
I agree with her fully, even if I prefer more thought-provoking or operatic scents. Carnal Flower is indeed beautiful, elegant, and refined. It’s also incredibly easy to wear, though I’m probably the lone weirdo who thinks its restraint and simplicity makes it more of a daily scent than a special occasion one. I highly doubt anyone else would think Carnal Flower is the breezy thing to quickly spray on to run errands or to visit the vet. For me, if I were to opt for tuberoses on a date night or evening out, it would always be vintage Fracas or the eponymous Carolina Herrera scent.
In my admitted skewed and distorted opinion, the only thing that would put Carnal Flower into the more “special” category is its very high price. The smallest bottle costs $240 or €160, though there are more affordable travel-sized sprays that are also available. Is it worth it? If you love fresh, green, barely indolic tuberose, then most definitely yes! If you can’t stand big white flowers, or even moderately indolic scents, then obviously you should stay away. Carnal Flower may be greener than most tuberose scents, but it’s not that fresh.
All in all, Carnal Flower is gorgeous by the average person’s (white floral) standards, and a very modern take on the tuberose opulence of old. It has decent sillage and good longevity as well. I think it skews wholly feminine in nature, but I do know men who wear Carnal Flower. In fact, one of my best friends can’t live without his “Carnal Flora” which he confidently wears to the office without a second thought. Other men, however, seem to prefer the bolder, darker Lutens’ fragrance. And I prefer to stick to the even bolder, operatic, old-school versions. In all cases, and regardless of gender, I think it’s going to come down to the sort of white flowers that you like.
The last time I tried Carnal Flower I got an awful headache. It was a couple of years ago and since then I planned to test it again – just out of curiosity, though it doesn’t look like I can tolerate tuberose any better now than I could then, – but I keep postponing it out of fear that I’ll have that bad reaction again.
I am a little surprised that you didn’t like it but probably not as much because I thought it was of a kind you’d like but because I almost hated it so I assumed it should be more to your taste.
You have to keep in mind that I love tuberose above all other flowers, so I’m very different than you. When I lived in San Francisco, I used to buy several massive bunches of fresh tuberose every Friday evening after work from a kiosk before Bank of America. (I would sometimes toss in a big bunch of stargazer lilies for the ultimate in white floral overdose.) Those flowers were my favorite part of the week, and like a drug in their richness. If I could grow them here and if I didn’t have a black thumb, I would have nothing but tuberose around me all year round. So, for me, tuberose is a real-life love far outside of perfumery. I doubt you would ever feel the same way. 😉 (I also can’t particularly stand rose fragrances, which I know you love, so that is why our floral loves are very different.)
BUT…. even though I will take a tuberose fragrance above all other floral ones, that doesn’t mean that I will necessarily love all versions of it. And it’s not that I “didn’t like” or hated Carnal Flower; it’s simply that it’s not my sort of tuberose. Another big reason is the Malle aesthetic and style; they really leave me cold, no doubt due to his restraint. I simply don’t think much of Malle’s concept of “richness” or opulence — with any of his creations. Again, very subjective, personal standards.
As for your headache, I would bet that it’s the white musk. Carnal Flower has a definite synthetic element in that regard, and it often gives me a twinge in the head if I sniff it up close.
What?! You don’t like Carnal Flower?! 😉
Personally, I love it. I’m not an admirer of the FM line as a whole but there are some perfumes in there that I really love.
Carnal Flower being one of them.
I don’t wear it often as I do consider it a perfume that might give other people headaches and take over space. Funny you didn’t get much of a power house as I’m scared of it taking over too much space around me.
Then again, I sometimes wonder how differently we smell things (as I would never compare Carnal Flower to Lys 41).
I’d be more than happy to take what you have left of Carnal Flower off your hands… 😉
LOL — to all of it. 😀 In terms of powerhouse scents, I have two words: vintage Fracas. If you’ve been imprinted with that (or vintage Opium) from childhood, then there isn’t a Malle in sight that can seem opulent or strong. And, honestly, on me, it only has decent sillage for the first 60-90 minutes. Plus, it becomes so damn thin afterwards. I think the Perfume Shrine nailed it with the use of the word “operatic.” That’s what I like for my fragrances, but especially for my tuberose or florals. It’s simply not the Malle aesthetic, hence my big disconnect with the line.
With regard to Lys 41, on my skin, the lily that dominated the opening stage faded quite quickly and was replaced by tuberose-jasmine in large part for most of the fragrance’s overall life span. On some others as well, judging by a number of comments that I’ve read. In fact, I recently read one person on Fragrantica specifically compare Carnal Flower to Lys 41, which is partially why I brought it up. And, if you will note, I did not say they were the same at all, but different.
As for the rest of my decant, I think I’ll keep it. It’s a good scent to use to go to the supermarket… :p 😉 (Really, I’m not kidding. The last few times I wore Carnal Flower prior to testing it for this review, I wore it to the supermarket and to the vet. lol. It’s a lovely scent, but simply not all that special to me. I know, I know, I’m a weirdo and a freak. 🙂 )
I think if I had the capacity to write as well as you do, I’d basically have written all of this word for word. I feel like Carnal Flower has a wholly undeserved reputation as this monster, go-big-or-go-home scent and it really isn’t – not if you’ve smelled virtually any other vintage white floral. And it’s not that Carnal Flower isn’t pretty – it’s not my favorite, but it is pretty, perfectly serviceable, accessible, and all of those good things – but it’s hardly forceful by any definition of the word.
I think a big part of the reason my criticism for it is sort of heavy is because I had heard so much about it and it ended up being — at least in my opinion — nothing remotely as “big” as it had been described. It has the Frederic Malle signature of being anemic (which aside from Musc Ravageur which was simply too much of the dirty undies thing for me) which is truly the common thread in his, IMO, extraordinarily overpriced offerings.
You mentioned Lys 41 – I find Lys 41 truly beautiful, but perhaps even *more* anemic (not to mention overpriced!) than Frederic Malle’s scents. Shame, because it’s one of the more lovely modern florals I’ve smelled in recent memory. I am in 100% agreement, too, on Tubereuse Criminelle – it’s a much more interesting, much more complex, and much more memorable fragrance. It’s also so much less accessible, IMO.
I’m so verbose and afraid I’m saying much at all except being an echo chamber, but you so perfectly elucidated everything I feel about Carnal Flower. In the mean time, when I want a big white floral, I’ll reach for Diva or Ysatis. I’m thinking I might need to find some vintage Fracas. 😀
“Anemic” is another great way to describe the scents for people with our personal yardsticks or tastes. I would also add that I think some are almost sickly in their cloying sweetness (POAL) or synthetic nightmares (Lipstick Rose) as well. I would definitely look up vintage Fracas in the stronger EDP or the smoother, richer, deeper Extrait form. Gorgeous stuff.
BTW, I didn’t have much luck with Lys 41 lasting or projecting on my skin either. Definite shame, as I share your view on its loveliness.
i absolutely adore carnal flower (and a number of fragrances from the malle line), but i’m also a person who generally doesn’t enjoy intense white florals that much — i found fracas suffocating. i think carnal flower is toned down just enough for me to wear. 😉 so i can absolutely understand why a die-hard white floral lover wouldn’t be that enthralled with CF…
LOL at the Fracas description. I can totally see it as being both suffocating and overwhelming if one isn’t a die-hard fan of white flowers at a supersonic richness. It’s not a perfume that I recommend to many people, simply because its heaviness and forcefulness seems far outside most modern tastes. 🙂 Well, the vintage old version. The modern, current version also has the problem of being extremely sweet and a bit synthetic.
I was very interested to read this review Kafka as I struggle with Frederick Malle scents in general. Now I think we’ve established that you and I have vastly different standards when it comes to potency and sillage and our tastes are, for the most part, rather opposite. Your description of Carnal Flower would normally be all the things that I would love in a perfume. Watery? Lovely. Green? Yes please. Sheer pretty jasmine and tuberose? Sounds good!
Alas, with Carnal Flower I’m like Undina, it gives me a huge headache. So does Une Rose and Lipstick Rose and Portrait of a Lady. I’ve given up on the whole line because it’s just one unpleasant experience after another for me. I’m gutted about it because potentially I could love this line. The aesthetic is beautiful, the concept of the scents excites me but I just cannot get on with them.
I’m wildly jealous of those who can wear Carnal Flower without feeling sick and dizzy. It’s not so much the potency of it, if the scent is perfect I can handle a lot of power, there is something chemical that just frazzles my synapses and won’t let the scent reveal itself on my skin. I am sad about it 🙁
Yes, our tastes are polar opposites, particularly as you’re not an Orientalist and don’t like bold or intense fragrances. There’s nothing wrong with that; the world is more fun with different tastes. 🙂 I make my personal yardstick and definitional context very clear with each review, as I did here, in great detail. As a whole though, I’m undoubtedly not a blogger who will ever be much use to you.
As for the Malle line giving you a headache, I’ve found a number of them to have an extremely synthetic base. Lipstick Rose is the worst offender in that regard, as I wrote to you on your blog when you mentioned it there. It is white musk and powder synthetics in overdrive, though I’ve found that is as much Ralf Schweiger’s signature as anything else. Portrait of a Lady was cloyingly sweet with synthetics, and Carnal Flower has a synthetic white musk in the base that gives me a headache as well when smelled up close. So, it’s not just you.
You are a blogger who is very much of use to me! We may have different tastes and different approaches to writing but that doesn’t mean that I don’t learn from you with every review. You have very successfully filled a gap in the blogosphere with your in-depth analysis and strong voice and I think your stats speak for themselves. People love what you do, what’s not to admire in that?
It’s true that I don’t always share your opinions and I believe you to be overly harsh at times but in many ways that also builds a level of respect that wouldn’t be there if you were insipid and gushing about everything. You obviously work extremely hard to produce the level of writing that you do, you’ve set a fairly prolific benchmark and everyone recognises your blog. It would be extremely narrow minded of me not to read your opinions just because I don’t always agree with you. Mostly I don’t read your reviews for the opinions anyway (although they are always interesting) I read them to listen to your voice and follow your process.
So I will always read your blog, I know that our opinions differ but I like to stay well informed. How I choose scents to review on my own blog is a different thing (with the exception of De Profundis, you were bang on with that!)
As for Frederick Malle, you’re right. It’s just not me 😉 🙂
This is a great description of how Carnal Flower progresses. I love the visual image of the ‘translucent white arm’ of the jasmine and orange blossom waving hello every once in a while. That made me giggle. For some reason, I find the combination of exotic tropical flowers with any form of eucalyptus, or wintergreen or mint to be very off putting. (I am really talking about you: Tuberose Criminelle). I agree that Carnal Flower is a big floral with a short reach. It did not last on me either. Though I love real tuberose, and my precious small amount of tuberose absolute oil, I have yet to find a perfume that captures the freshness of the real deal. Very good, and informative review, Kafka!
I’m not keen on the wintergreen note either, but it seems to be a natural side-effect of the indoles or of the flower when deconstructed. At least they generally aren’t taken to the extreme that they are in Tubereuse Criminelle, though I do think that the latter is utterly brilliant and fantastically done. Still, I prefer my tuberose more fleshy and sweet, than minty. lol.
Tis not for me with all of it’s tuberoseness (is that a word??!!). Interesting, until now I had not even thought of any connection between Frederic Malle and the Louis Malle/Candice Bergen marriage!
I wouldn’t recommend Carnal Flower for you, my dear Houndy. Not creamy, warm, or opulent enough. Plus, I know how you struggle with tuberose! (Does it rank above or below Lily of the Valley in the scale of notes you dread?)
Here we must agree to disagree because I am quite the Frédéric Malle girl! I think I love just about the entire line and would gladly own and wear each and everyone. But all his scents play very well with my skin, so I guess I’m lucky. It helps that the staff at the boutique in NYC is ridiculously generous (so generous that I think they defeat the purpose of samples) and kind, which makes me have a soft spot for the line.
As for Carnal Flower, I gave me mom a travel spray (she loves the fragrance) and she used it to hose down a Chinatown bus seat that she said smelled really bad.
You can imagine the look on my face. Carnal Flower used like Febreze!
I think it’s wonderful that you’ve found a line that you love almost in its entirety! Lucky devil. I don’t have any line that I would gladly own and wear almost every single one. Yay for you and Malle. 🙂
As for the thought of a perfume as expensive as Carnal Flower being used as disinfectant and Febreeze, hilarious! Your mother is hoot.
Oh the dream of buying armfuls of fresh tuberose every week!I’ m afraid is quite the impossible thing here in dreary Dublin.I like tuberose fragrances,but don’t go crazy for them,so I must confess I don’t seek them out especially.I’ve very superficially smelled the Frederic Malle line and I have to say,as first impressions go,that I thought was quite good.Une Fleur de Cassis and Le Parfum de Therese struck me as the most interesting ones,but none of them went on my skin as I didn’t have any left free for testing.I liked Music Ravageur and Noir Spices too.Also Une Rose,En Passant and L’Eau d’Hiver.I wouldn’t mind a more in depth testing of all of these.
Perhaps the next time you encounter or test the Malle line, you can give a hesitant, cautious sniff of Carnal Flower to see if it changes your mind on tuberose? 🙂
Hallelujah!!! This one is not going on my hmm, don’t USUALLY like … but Kafka has piqued my interest list.
I’m glad you’ve found one that has intrigued you, Holly.
Oh, I’ve found many that intrigue me! This one, however, does not. The mere mention of tuberose makes me wince, but I have the feeling I will eventually tiptoe towards something else with that note. You can be very convincing, my dear. 🙂
LOL, I’m so confused now. Did I misread: “Hallelujah!!! This one is not going on my hmm, don’t USUALLY like … but Kafka has piqued my interest list.” It sounded like you were saying that it was NOT going on your hesitant list, but the “piqued interest” positive list, thereby warranting a Hallelujah.
You know what it is? I need more sleep. Forgive my dazed confusion. I will to take a catnap. 🙂
I was trying to be brief but apparently I’m better at blathering than at being succinct. Although the second sentence, “This one is not…”) is long-winded and should be read that way, lol. What I meant was that I have a long wish list inspired by your reviews and hallelujah Carnal Flower won’t go on it. You have piqued my interest in so many things that I normally wouldn’t consider, and I have to be discerning at some point. Don’t I??? (Proceed immediately to Moon Bloom.)
Is it terrible to say I dont like Carnal Flower? It smells incredibly cheap on me. It truly smells like some Victoria’s Secret lotion. I dont get the same watered down white translucent flower you get though. On my skin is just not special, not sophisticated, not good enough. I dont own many tuberose perfumes. I recently tried Nasomatto’s Narcotic Venus and I can see how you will not like it either. It is quite soft and inoffensive, a watery, sweet tuberose.
ps: every time you talk about vintage Opium you make me want to cry. By far one of my first and best memory scents.
It’s not terrible to say at all! It’s your experience, which is just as worthy of consideration as mine or someone else’s. Plus, it’s hardly as though I’m jumping up and down with joy about Carnal Flower. lol. Besides, your skin seems to brought out a version that is truly bad, while mine was merely underwhelming. Victoria’s Secret lotion? Not good, especially at Malle’s prices.
Is Nasomatto’s Narcotic Venus really that way, “soft and inoffensive”? Oh dear. Doesn’t sound like my thing at ALL.
I am hot and cold with Frederic Malle…you know that Dries Van Noten suffocated me. I also think Lipstick Rose is one of the vilest perfumes on this planet (or maybe the universe), just one rung above Uncle Serge’s Tubereuse Criminelle. On the other hand, I find Carnal Flower very wearable in fall / winter and on me, it has this expansive but hallow coldness akin to the smell of an air-conditioned flower shop. I’ve also worn it in the heat of summer and it worked just as well.
The other Frederic Malles that I like/love are: Iris Poudre (oh my God, the dry down on this is GORGEOUS), L’eau d’Hiver and Portrait of a Lady.
Lipstick Rose is….. *bone deep shiver* Please, let’s not even talk about it, I can’t bear to relive the memories.
As for Carnal Flower, it is very wearable, I agree. I think your description of “an air-conditioned flower shop” is actually brilliant, as it really nails that chilled hollowness. Really perfect, and dead-on.
Tuberose flowers have an incredibly complex odour profile and I think TC deftly illustrates the jasmine, orange blossom and lily like facets. For me, the combination of coconuty lactones ( gamma nonalactone etc) and strong green notes actually go some way in conjuring a kind of unripe fig accord which gives it a rather tropical feel (helped along by further fruity nuances).
Evidently it’s not to everyone’s taste, though.
oops- I meant, of course, CF not TC !
Ah, okay, that helps, because I certainly didn’t experience a fig-like milkiness with the Serge Lutens. LOL. I’m glad Carnal Flower works so well on you. As I said, I think it all depends on the way one likes one’s tuberose, and perhaps with one’s preferences in terms of richness or body. Happily, Carnal Flower seems to have the perfect version for your tastes.
Hello Leon, welcome to the blog.
I don’t think Tubereuse Criminelle is the easiest take on tuberose, but I do think it’s genius. It certainly seems to have manifested itself in a lovely way on your skin. I wish I had experienced the creamy, lactonic element that you encountered.
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My shoulders are burnished by sun (Southern Hemisphere here) and I smothered them with a Sanctuary Body Butter after my shower. What perfume to wear? The perfect mate was ‘Songes’
and I was in heaven. Tomorrow the tropical kick will be over and I will crave Eau du Sud instead.
Dorothy Parker ( I smoke and drink and say things ladies shouldn’t say out of bed) wore tuberose, was it Fracas?
No, really, did Dorothy Parker wear Fracas??! The mere possibility of that has me intrigued. I shall definitely make a point of digging further to see what perfume she wore. Thank you for the tantalizing image of Dorothy Parker (!!) in Fracas!
BTW, Songes may be the Annick Goutal that I’ve tried that I really, really liked. 🙂
From a biography I read Dorothy Parker definitely wore tuberose as her signature scent, but I don’t know if it was Fracas. I have the 2 gram solid perfume of Fracas and I have just applied some over the au revoir of Songes. It’s good, so good and rich I definitely will be sick of it tomorrow. You just keep those cards and letters rolling in to my mailbox Kafka…I love all the images too!
Thank you, my dear. 🙂
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(I thought Dorothy Parker wore Coty Chypre. Hmm. Now will have to go a-Google-searching.)
I love Carnal Flower, but I could wish for it to be more bombshelly. I especially love that chilly green thing at the open, and I wish it stayed that loud all the way through… fresh, juicy, sweet but not in a candy sense. (This is jasmine I can love, btw.) However, an hour or so in, it goes very quiet, sinking into my skin as white flowers often seem to do, and it nearly disappears. Seems to have much better staying power on my clothes. It is decidedly uncarnal.
I like Fracas, but it is *like* – there is SO much orange blossom in there that it goes very much Dove-soap on me, all cold-cream-like. I sometimes wish to shed my teenage baggage with the old KL Chloe, which I wore for more than a decade; that was a lovely tuberose+kitchen sink fragrance and I miss it. Tubby Criminal, though, SWEET JESUS TAKE ME NOW… because the first time I tried it, I had been cleaning out my refrigerator, and came across a neglected pair of raw chicken breasts. All I could smell out of TC, after the initial camphorated blast (which I admit to rather liking), was rotting raw chicken. Of death. Tuberose raw chicken, of DEATH. Death, I say. Eventually it worked its way around to a lovely calm sweet tuberose but by then the damage had been done. I have not yet recovered. Beyond Love was wonderful, i thought, but I found myself reaching for the decant of CF far more often, so I found the decant of BL a new home.
As for Malles… I adore Iris Poudre (that drydown, that soft fluffy downy drydown!). I liked Lys Mediterranee very much, I liked En Passant but it lasted all of 39.6 seconds on me, I liked Musc Ravageur particularly in the oil, even though it wasn’t my usual thing, I liked L’eau d’Hiver. Une Rose was gorgeous for fifteen minutes, after which I literally felt as if someone were chasing me around my house with a machete. GAH. Lipstick Rose meh, Fleur de Cassie really stinky, Dans tes Bras unbearably earthy/mildewy (look, I don’t DO mushrooms other than eating them, I just don’t. so sue me). I thought Portrait of a Lady was very nice except that it went all Youth Dew on me in the drydown, which I haaaaate.
I can see you shuddering away from Iris Poudre even now.
LOL on your reaction to Tubereuse Criminelle. I’m rather surprised to hear you liked Musc Ravageur! That doesn’t seem very you. As for Lipstick Rose, that one essentially traumatized me. No, really, it did. So damn synthetic. (And “synthetic” seems to be the dominant signature of that particular perfumer, judging by other things of his that I have seen.)
Portrait of a Lady…. don’t even get me started. I despise fruity, purple patchouli and rose combinations. I will never, ever, share the love for POAL which I think is one of the most ridiculously over-hyped fragrances around. I better shut up on the subject, as I have extremely strong feelings about POAL.
I’m a french man, living in Paris, and I have no shareactions or whatsoever in the Editions de Parfum House ! But my favorite perfumes are all from this perfume house : 1) Portrait of a lady (which is indeed quite feminine in the first hour, but so beautifull that it has some aromatherapeutic action on me, before the more – and also amazing – “unisex” drydown…) ; 2) Noir Épices (which I find quite “avant-garde” and calming too, sublime, unisex, perhaps a little bit “feminine” due to the aldehydic presence but I don’t care, I love it) ; 3) Musc Ravageur (more a comfort or skin scent for me, always a pleasure ; no “ravage” at all…) and 4) this beautifull Carnal Flower, which is in fact “beyond gender” (but I spray only in the sunny days, and I LOVE it so much, and I don’t care other people’s reactions) !
I also love all the MKF Ouds, who are more “masculine”, especially the more abstract Oud Velvet Mood (I also love the more – but slightly – animalic Oud Cashmere Mood – and I find no cheese smell at all in it !). But as they are really too expensive (even in France !!), I only live with samples… and therefore use my favorite Malle more often. However, I have a full bottle of “Absolue pour le Soir”, which is one of Kafka’s love, but in fact it was (in some ways) quite a mistake buy for me, because I find it too “harsh”, and use it only some evenings…
And I dislike all the LM perfumes with no exception, especially “Hard leather” !
So I have complete opposite tastes to Kafka (but I like to read her reviews, because, as we say in french, “tous les goûts sont dans la nature” – all tastes are in Nature)
Haha, I love it! Bienvenue, Philippe, je suis contente que tu as partagé certaines de vos amours. I always appreciate someone who can express their differences with a sense of humour, and please know that you’re not alone in having tastes EXACTLY opposite to mine! LOL. 😀 In fact, I have quite a few friendly “Evil Scent Twins” as they call it in America, so you can pull up a chair next to them. Heh.
I have to tell you, I actually laughed out loud at your story with Absolue Pour Le Soir. Heh. You know, even with my Evil Scent Twins, there is usually at least ONE (rarely more than two) fragrances which we have in common and love. Perhaps, one day, with you, we can find something that we both love as well.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and laugh in a corner at how much you hate my absolute favorite, modern fragrance, Hard Leather. 😀 So, so funny. 😉 Again, welcome, Philippe. I’m so glad you stopped by.
I don’t hate it, but for me nothing special or amazing and therefore no buying action 😉 I also don’t like Nasomatto Black Afgano, which is for me – I like your expression – a “ridiculously over-hyped fragrance” !
With Absolue pour le Soir (I still have 67 or 68 ml in my 70 ml bottle !), I find it really good, but a bit too “in your face” at the beginning and then a little bit sirupy for me (spices/cumin and honey, honey, honey, honey !!!) ; but sometimes I use it, but I must be in the right mood…
Glad to have made you laughed 🙂
Heh at the Black Afgano. Absolue can definitely be almost TOO rich and honeyed at times. I almost never go by weather or seasons when it comes to my personal perfume choices, but Absolue is one exception. The slightest bit of warmth makes it far too honeyed and sweet on my skin. And the honey can turn a little bit urinous in the heat too. So, I agree, definitely a mood (and weather) fragrance.
What do you think of the Lutens line? I’m guessing that Malle trumps and wins out for you. 😉
I like Ambre Sultan and Chêne ; I have also used Feminite du Bois in the past, but wouldn’t today. I’m not very fond of the very well known and praised ISM and MKK… I don’t like (enough or totally) most of the others (Chergui, Arabie, Rose de Berlin, Vitriol d’oeillet, ….) or I don’t know them (La Myrrhe, …).
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Thanks so much for your detailed and insightful review of this fragrance; as always I love your in-depth, lengthy, and honest reviews! I felt like I had to comment on this one in particular, as I pretty much had the exact same reactions/experience with Carnal Flower as you did, and to be quite honest, I am pretty happy to find someone who also felt more or less underwhelmed by this scent which seems to be the ultimate “holy grail” tuberose scent for the majority of reviewers that I have encountered so far.
I am also someone that passionately loves the “big white florals” – the totally narcotic, heady, indolic, fleshy, etc. kind of white flowers. If it doesn’t make me absolutely dizzy with a rush of headiness and pleasure – for example, I love Lutens’s Tubereuse Criminelle, Fleurs d’Oranger, and A La Nuit – then I will probably pass on it. So, I suppose, that’s the reason why, despite trying Carnal Flower again and again (I really wanted to love it), I just always felt… “Meh” about it. After reading your review, I think you made me realize what it is about Carnal Flower that bothers me – It is probably that incessant “murky green” note and just that overall greenness that persists throughout the entire experience! Your description of that “dark watery greenness that calls to mind stale, stagnant vase water” resonated so much with me, because I think that’s exactly the reason why, at times, I even feel a little bit nauseous when wearing this scent… And I keep expecting the scent to develop into something amazing and unique and so on, but in the end the waiting is moot, and I am simply left with a sort of… unsatisfied, “is this it?” sort of feeling as it just becomes a thin veil of green-ish, pretty-ish, thing.
Your mention of and comparison with Tubereuse Criminelle was so interesting to me, because as far as tuberoses go, TC is my absolute favourite. I own an actual tuberose plant at home. I live in Canada, where real tuberoses are mostly unheard of (people I know usually have no idea what a tuberose is), and the only reason that I could have one is because I have the most darling Indian neighbor, who risked hefty fines to actually smuggle some tuberose bulbs through airport customs!! I am so grateful for his generosity in sparing a bulb to give to us, because I have never, and probably will never, smell anything as magical, intoxicating, and multi-faceted as a real, blooming tuberose flower. Even just one flower not only fills our entire first floor with fragrance, but I can even smell it in my room upstairs (and we have a decent size house)! Most importantly, what I noticed and loved, and what made the tuberose different to me than all the other flowers, was exactly that mentholated/medicinal/spicy?/Gingery?/Rubbery?/I don’t even know what, top note that tuberose has, that peculiar, wild, sharp scent that, in theory I should hate but now became hopelessly addicted to. To me, that is the scent that makes the tuberose so indescribable, so enduring. I could never get bored with that combination of narcotic white flower scent wrapped in that witchy top note.
Perhaps, this is why, Tubereuse Criminelle was never “difficult” for me. The top notes that make so many people cringe and run to scrub it off are actually what makes TC so special to me – I smell it and feel the rush of pleasure and think, “that’s it.” That is the smell of my tuberose plant. That is the startlingly addictive contrast between the menthol and the creamy white flower. To me, without that contrast, the tuberose scent pales and loses its character. With it, when the actual floral notes enter, the effect is made all the more memorable and narcotic. Perhaps, because I have fallen hard for my tuberose plant first, I will never find a tuberose scent as evocative and as “real” to me as TC. I am just so thankful that a scent such as TC actually exists! To date, I have tried many of the “reference” tuberose scents, even one that’s known for being “photorealistic” (By Kilian Beyond Love), and I still think that none captures the effect and impression of smelling a real tuberose blossom as well as TC.
However, you’ve really tempted me to try out Moon Bloom, which I understand is one of your favourite tuberose scents. It sounds really promising! As much as I love TC, I would also love to find another tuberose scent that I can truly appreciate. 🙂
Thanks so much again for your amazing reviews, and wow I am so sorry that this comment ended up being so long! 🙁
I love long comments, Sarah! It’s actually my need to apology for not replying immediately to your lovely note, but I tried to take some of the weekend off. First, welcome to the blog. Second, I think I’m even more pleased to find someone underwhelmed by Carnal Flower than you are! You’re right, there are very few of us (whether amongst bloggers or not), and everyone seems to think it is the Be All/End All tuberose powerhouse.
That always leaves me scratching my head with some confusion. Even if Fracas is not to modern tastes (poor Fracas, so under-appreciated or with such a bad reputation), it still bewilders me when people talk about Carnal Flower as a big tuberose powerhouse. And let’s not even start on its sheerness or wispiness. My baseline standards and definitions are clearly very different from others, and it seems yours are as well. (Thank God for that. LOL. It’s so nice not to be alone.)
My strongest reaction to your comment may have been envy. You can grow tuberose where you live!! You lucky, lucky thing. I would give anything to have fresh tuberose in a garden, but it simply can’t survive where I am. You’re so right about the smell, and just how amazing fresh tuberose can be. It truly is my favorite flower on earth.
Back to the perfumes, I was happy to hear that someone else detected that murky greenness and almost stagnant vase water quality that runs through Carnal Flower. I was even happier, though, to hear that you had found such a perfect, true, authentic replication of tuberose in the Lutens. It truly is a genius creation, in my opinion, and an avant-garde approach for the time that truly pioneered the now-common approach of having a mentholated, dark treatment of white flowers. Really brilliant and innovative! Best of all, though, it is your perfect tuberose love. 🙂
I do hope you will try Moon Bloom. It is very different than Tubereuse Criminelle, imo, primarily in terms of the degree of “witchy”, rubbery, black mentholated top notes. It is more like what I had thought Carnal Flower would be, only without that murky, fetid greenness that we’ve talked about. It has more purity, more clarity, and more body — the last of which is rather strange to say for an all-natural fragrance. It is also a surprisingly strong scent by that standard, even though it is no Fracas. I hope you’ll try it soon. I am pretty sure it will NOT replace your TC or be a Holy Grail, but I do think that it would be a tuberose that you’d appreciate enormously and perhaps even be TC’s second-in-command.
On a separate note, it was lovely to have you stop by and the length of your comment was even better. I hope you won’t hesitate to pop by again, to comment more often, and to stop lurking. We Tuberose/no-Carnal Flower people should stick together. 😉 lol.
I ordered it on a blind buy. It started off well, but never developed into a winner for me. So disappointing… I’ve heard about Carnal Flower for years and I imagined this monster sillage that everyone talks about. It must be amazing to some people, but for me it’s just a green tuberose that I’d only wear in the spring. I assumed that someone was off because Estee Lauder now owns the brand, but I guess it’s always been this way.
First, welcome to the blog, Lilasiris. Second, I personally think Carnal Flower’s alleged “powerhouse” reputation comes from people who have a distinctly different baseline definition for the word than I do. (And, it seems, you as well.) From what I’ve observed amongst people I know who love Carnal Flower, their general taste skews towards the lighter, airier end of the spectrum. They never wore original Fracas, to give you one example, and are used to very quiet, soft, intimate fragrances in general. (Like, for example, L’Artisan scents). So, for them and by their standards, Carnal Flower is a “powerhouse.” To someone with a habit of wearing louder things — a background in either vintage ’80s scents, Middle Eastern attars, certain Tom Fords or Amouages, or things of that nature — then the baseline definition will be quite different.
Personally, I don’t think any of the Malles are “powerhouses” as I define the word, because that is simply not his aesthetic or style. Plus, he has always tended towards the more modern French preference for discreet scents because I think that is how he defines elegance. It’s the same reason why his fragrances are all so airy in body, and rarely oriental in genre.
If you’re a true, hardcore tuberose lover, have you tried Hiram Green’s Moon Bloom? One of the best tuberose fragrances in years, imo. It’s not a “powerhouse” either, but it feels twice as strong and rich as Carnal Flower despite it being an all-natural fragrance, has more nuance, and is far less green. I think it’s truly worth getting a sample, if you can.
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I LOVE reading your reviews and your sense of humor. Even though my opinions are different at times, I always get a laugh, and can see your point. Thank you for this.
I’ve been trying Carnal flower at bedtime this week. Wish me luck! 😉