Serge Lutens Cracheuse de Flammes

Source: Premiere Avenue. [Photo cropped by me.]

Source: Premiere Avenue. [Photo cropped by me.]

I’ve already shared my overall thoughts regarding the new Serge Lutens’ Section d’Or fragrances, so I’ll skip any introduction for Cracheuse de Flammes, and get straight to the review.

Like the others in the line, Cracheuse de Flammes is an extrait de parfum. The name is an unfortunate one, in my opinion, when translated. “Cracher” is the French verb for spitting, so the name essentially means “Female Spitter of Flames.” Spitting is not exactly what I like to think about when wearing an incredibly expensive perfume.

For once, Serge Lutens’ official description actually does mention a note and something specific about the scent, namely the fact that it includes roses:

Seduction is a weapon, the flames a language. I breathe the fire which ignites her passion! And in this war of fire, all that remains of the woman, the rose in this instance, is a burning passion.

The Otto damascena rose. Source:

The Otto damascena rose. Source:

The rose is the reason why “Female Spitter of Flames” is priced even higher than the rest of its siblings in this very expensive line. According to the Lutens sales assistant to whom I spoke at Barney’s in New York, this one is priced at $700 or €600 for a small 50 ml bottle, because it is filled with expensive Otto rose (also known as Bulgarian Damascena rose). On Cracheuse de Flammes’ Fragrantica page, a poster called “High Maintenance” wrote that Serge Lutens gave an interview to Le Figaro in which he said the fragrance was originally assessed to be around €1000 but they decided to sell it below cost. I don’t even know where to begin with that. No matter how expensive Rose Otto may be, and no matter how rich the note is at one stage, what I smelt on my skin did not appear like a €1000 scent when you take Cracheuse de Flammes as a whole and from start to finish.

Source: stock photo

Source: Dreamstime stock photo.

The note list provided by Barney’s does not seem to warrant that, either, in my opinion. They say the fragrance contains:

Rose Otto, apricot, pear, amber.

I think that’s rather incomplete. Based on what appeared on my skin and to my nose, several of which others experienced as well, my guess for the note list would be:

Rose Otto, peach, other fruits, tuberose, carnation, amber, something woody, styrax, and clean musk.

In essence, Cracheuse de Flammes can be summed up as a rose soliflore for the first half of its life, a rose that quickly cycles through various different mini-stages or profiles, thanks to the accompanying notes. It’s first wild and woody like a briar rose, then fruity, liqueured, and woody, before gaining an additional, mossy green note via the tuberose, before ending up as a woody rose and carnation duet atop a vaguely leathery, resinous base. In the second half of its life, it’s primarily an intensely clean, floral musk with a lingering vestige of roses.

Wild roses in the forest. Photo: Charis Psallo via the Charis Psallo blog spot. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Wild roses in the forest. Photo: Charis Psallo via the Charis Psallo blog spot. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Cracheuse de Flammes opens on my skin with a rose that, for a moment, is deep, full-blooded, dark, meaty and lightly spiced. It is coated with a thin veneer of amber, then veiled with soapy cleanness. Moments later, a subtle greenness and a hint of woodiness follow suit, almost as if a stem and a tiny leaf have sprouted from the flower. The rose itself suddenly loses its body, becoming delicate and fragile, like a tiny wild briar rose that’s been enveloped in soap bubbles. It’s a very insubstantial, gauzy bouquet at first, so much so that I actually did break my usual rule in terms of baselines quantities, and applied more of the scent for fear that I wouldn’t be able to detect the fragrance’s nuances and finer points.

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Source: RGPeixoto on Flickr. (Website link embedded within photo.)

Within minutes, Cracheuse de Flammes shifts. The woodiness and soapiness grow stronger, while the spiciness weakens, folding into the rose. A hint of lemon appears, a natural facet to the rose, but it’s quickly overshadowed by a panoply of fruits that arrive on scene 10 minutes into the fragrance’s development. There is something that smells like a ripe, juicy peach, followed by a few notes that are far too nebulous or indistinct for me to place. One is definitely green, while another is faintly liqueured and sweet, but they’re too subtle and muted for me to tell anything more than that. Regardless, they transform the rose from a delicate, pale, wild briar rose back into a full-bodied, meaty one, dripping with fruits and sweetness. At the same time, the glimmers of woodiness have suddenly expanded into a sizeable force, like a forest sprouting up around the flower. The soap bubbles have lessened, but a certain cleanness remains.

It’s a nice scent. Putting aside the soapy cleanness, the damascena rose is genuinely beautiful with a deep, lush, opulent, and fragrant aroma that is nicely accented by the liqueured peach. However, the fragrance as a whole is still really nothing more than a simple, basic, uncomplicated, fruity-woody rose. At least, Cracheuse de Flammes develops in body and strength. About 25 minutes into its development, the sillage suddenly balloons from a low 3 inches to about 6-8 inches. It’s a strong bouquet, but also one that gives me a headache when I smell my arm up close for too long during the first 90 minutes.



The fruity-woody rose develops additional facets at the end of the first hour. The soapiness vanishes, while a mossy greenness appears in the background and slowly makes its way to center stage. It’s tuberose, but it doesn’t smell floral on my skin so much as a chypre-ish plushness that is extremely similar to the way the tuberose in Bogue‘s MAAI manifested itself on my skin.

Styrax resin via

Styrax resin via

At the same time, something strongly resembling styrax resin begins to emit puffs of smoke from the sidelines, in addition to a streak of a certain leathery darkness in the base. Usually, the scent of “leather” is recreated in perfumery from birch tar, isobutyl quinoline, or cade. Styrax bears a very different quality to me. Its “leather” is really an approximation or abstraction from something that is primarily a sticky, black, treacly resin with a subtle smokiness about it. It’s a completely different vibe than the genuinely tarry birch leather that you find in Serge Lutens’ Boxeuses or the animalic Taureg leather of his Cuir Mauresque.

The styrax slowly transforms Cracheuse de Flammes, turning it drier, weakening the fruity accords, and cutting through much of the rose’s syrupy sweetness. The result is a scent that, 75 minutes in, is primarily a dark, woody rose, smudged at the edges with tuberose mossy greenness and smoke above a leathery, resinous base. A soft haze of ambered warmth hangs over the whole thing, never a powerful or clearly delineated, individual presence in its own right, but merely a cocoon within which everything else flourishes. The character and feel of the scent is summed up entirely by this photo:



Cracheuse de Flammes continues to shift in tiny degrees. Not long after, from the 90-minute mark and continuing on throughout much of the 2nd hour, the fruity, smoky, leathery, and tuberose-ish mossy elements all coalesce into one, swallowed up by the rose. The fruity accords are barely noticeable, largely because a strong muskiness now blankets the flower. At times, particularly when smelt from a distance, Cracheuse de Flammes seems like nothing more than a dark, musky, ambered rose laced with some woodiness atop an amorphously dark base. It continuously reminds me of Papillon‘s rose, rose, rose soliflore, Tobacco Rose, which, contrary to its name, actually contains no tobacco at all. It does, however, have a number of dark elements (even if they show up more clearly on other people than me), along with the musks and ambered warmth that Liz Moores includes in a number of her creations. The two fragrances are dissimilar when taken as a whole, but something about them very much bears the same vibe and aesthetic to me during Cracheuse de Flammes’ second hour.

"Abstract Spin Painting 23" by Mark Chadwick on Deviant Art. (Direct website link embedded within.)

“Abstract Spin Painting 23” by Mark Chadwick on Deviant Art. (Direct website link embedded within.)

Things change when the 3rd hour begins and a new stage begins. Now, a soft, spicy carnation arrives and becomes the rose’s main companion, while the woods and amber retreat to become a mere backdrop. Sometimes, the rose’s petals bear drops of the peach liqueur, sometimes it’s a smudge of tuberose-ish mossy greenness, but usually both things are subsumed within the rose itself. The styrax’s smoky and leathery sides become diffuse, weaving around the sidelines, but rarely feel like distinct, clearly delineated notes on my skin. For the most part, Cracheuse de Flammes is now primarily a musky rose streaked with carnation against a woody, ambered background.



Cracheuse de Flammes continues this way until the start of the 6th hour when the fragrance alters course again. The first sign of clean, white musk pops up on the sidelines; the carnation and woods begin to weaken; the styrax grows more prominent; and the fragrance loses a lot of its fruity and ambered muskiness. The fragrance is now mostly a clean musk rose with waning amounts of carnation, wrapping up with thin tendrils of leathery styrax against a diaphanous, vaguely woody, vaguely fruity background.



When the 7th hour rolls around, the rose has become not only extremely clean, but has lost much of its body, substance, and power. The fragrance is gradually becoming more of a generalised floral musk than a hardcore, distinct rose scent. It’s often threaded by a nebulous leatheriness, but the strength of the white musk occasionally obliterates the styrax completely. It’s the same story for the glimmers of fruitiness in the background.

By the middle of the 9th hour, Cracheuse de Flammes is a simple, rosy-ish floral musk with shrinking sliver of leatheriness and an occasional hint of something vaguely fruity sweet in the background. As time passes, the fragrance continues to dissolve. The 12th hour heralds a clean floral musk with the main emphasis being on the “clean” part. A few hours later, all that’s left is white musk with a ghostly whisper of fruity-floral sweetness lurking deep down.

Cracheuse de Flammes had excellent longevity, soft projection, and initially strong sillage that slowly grew softer. Using several small spritzes from my mini-atomiser equal to about 2.5 good sprays from an actual bottle, the fragrance initially opened with about 2-3 inches of projection and 3 inches of sillage. The latter grew after 25-30 minutes to a powerful cloud that extended 6-8 inches. The numbers dropped at the end of 2 hours to between 1 to 1.5 inches of projection, and about 4 inches for the scent trail. Cracheuse de Flammes hovered just above the skin by the end of the 3rd hour and the sillage was soft, but the fragrance didn’t become a true skin scent until 7.25 hours into its evolution. From the 11th hour onwards, I had to put my nose right on my arm to detect it, but the fragrance lasted just under 18 hours in total. In my first test for Cracheuse de Flammes, I used the equivalent of 1 good spray, the numbers were lower, it became a skin scent after 4.75 hours, and lasted around 15 hours.

On Fragrantica, Cracheuse de Flammes receives mixed reviews. “High Maintenance” loved it, writing in part:

Magnificent silky, slightly powdery, radiant, luminous from within Bulgarian rose of the highest quality, in parfum concentration, paired to subtle hints of liquored fruitiness, but very restrainedly so, and dark, dry, dusty leather. Perfect combination!
Beautifully formulated, quintessential timeless classic, quietly elegant […][¶] Cracheuse de flammes is a sophisticated New York woman going to the Met opera for a Wagnerian performance or out to a dinner date at The Modern in Haider Ackermann or Hedi Slimane for Saint Laurent “le smoking” blazer.

“Deadidol,” however, was utterly scathing, dismissing this one even more than Renard Constrictor. His eviscerating review reads as follows:

An olfactory platitude, this is little more than a plumped-up rose perfume over a light vanilla and tuberose base. It’s huge and migraine-inducing, smelling like a cross between some ‘80s power-dresser fragrance and something from a tween-celeb line. Although I’m sure it’s loaded with top-shelf materials (well, not so sure actually), it delivers very little given its brazen price tag. I can’t see any need for something like this to exist.

Midway between the two positions is “Meama” who writes:

The quality is high enough without doubt, do we smell the difference with all the other Lutens? not really. They would have made great additions to the normal collection and we can not help thinking that this price is a profitability operation of little elegance.
Cracheuse de Flammes is a pretty rose-oud, fresh at first and that powdered as and when it evolves with carnation, tubereuse and iris. The background remains very woody but it is reminiscent of some old Guerlain, a grandmother style in the best sense. [¶] Very classic.

On Colognoisseur, Mark Behnke found nothing special about Cracheuse de Flammes, feeling that its tired themes had been done far better before. He writes:

When I reviewed the first Section D’Or L’Incendiaire I said this was perfume where it had been done before and done better by another brand. Cracheuses de Flammes is an amber rose which has been done by many before and I would say most of them are better. This is simple Turkish rose and warm amber. There is nothing special about this perfume.

I think parts of Cracheuse de Flammes are very pretty in its first 90 minutes, namely the richness of the Otto rose, but there is little in the fragrance when considered from start to finish that warrants $700, €600, or £500 for 50 ml, in my opinion. For the most part, it is a fruity rose that is first woody and ambered, then slightly leathery, then clean, before it devolves into a synthetically clean, generalised floral musk for 7-9 hours. So many of the notes I describe are secondary accents, mere nuances, or parts of micro-phases. As Mark Behnke said, its core essence has been done a thousand times before.

Guerlain's rose-centric Desert d'Orient trio.

Guerlain’s rose-centric Desert d’Orient trio.

So, does the quality make Cracheuse de Flammes stand out? Not to me. For one thing, there simply isn’t the complexity that characterizes Roja Dove’s stuffed-to-the-brim, super-luxury fragrances. The fact that it strongly reminded me at one point of Papillon‘s Tobacco Rose — a $160 or €135 fragrance — should tell you something. On Fragrantica, Meama brought up Guerlain and, yes, the quality here is comparable to the rich damascena roses in Guerlain’s high-end Desert D’Orient Collection, like the sweet, spicy, woody, smoky rose in Rose Nacrée du Desert or the leathery, smoky rose in Encens Mythique — both of which are priced at about $275 for 75 ml.

Fourreau Noir. Source: Fragrantica

Fourreau Noir. Source: Fragrantica

For me, one of the big problems with Cracheuse de Flammes is that it doesn’t bear that special Lutens magic. There is something ineffable and hard to describe about the best of Oncle Serge, a mystery, a sleight of hand transformative twist, a certain… well, magic is the only way I can describe it. So many of his early masterpieces went Star Trek-style where no man had gone before, combining notes in a way that would seem so bizarre at first thought but, upon smelling them, made you think “Of course, these are utterly perfect together, why did no-one think of this before?!” In an original and visionary way, he made myrrh transform into anise Pastis; juxtaposed dewy, delicate violets next to earthy cumin (!) and darkly plummy woods; mixed chilly pine sap with incense and warm gingerbread plums; turned the traditionally fougère or cologne-ish lavender into a mysterious oriental through incense, patchouli, and amber; and created the haunting, ethereal, silvered embodiment of Spring at twilight with De Profundis (before its recent reformulation).

You’ll have to forgive me if a rich Otto rose with either woods or leathery resins doesn’t blow me off my feet with awe in comparison. There is a difference between a nice, enjoyable fragrance with richness and a complex, original masterpiece — and, at $700 for a mere 50 ml, I fully expect the latter. So, while I’m sure some people will love the depth of the rose or think this is a wonderful fragrance, the key question in my opinion is whether Cracheuse de Flammes is so uniquely special that the price is irrelevant and you simply have to have it, so much so that you’ll pay or save up $700/€600 to actually buy it? I doubt it, not for the vast majority of people.

Putting aside the issue of price, Cracheuse de Flammes doesn’t feel wildly distinctive, innovative, or intriguing to me. Parts of it are pleasant, even enjoyable at times, but they are never so spellbinding that I couldn’t stop sniffing my arm, or so compelling that I yearned for the scent. In the early hours, it was “nice,” mostly because of the depth of the rose oil and the streaks of tuberose-ish mossiness. Later, I simply shrugged. Once the clean musk showed up for the long drydown phase, I kept thinking to myself, “it would be better to buy a very expensive grade of Bulgarian rose essential oil, and simply wear that because that was the best part.” I can’t recall ever thinking such a thing when wearing a Lutens fragrance because none of them ever seemed like something whose “good parts” I could recreate myself. They were complex, unique marvels whose magic bore the hand of a visionary master. Cracheuse de Flammes… eh. It’s “nice.”

Cost & Availability: Cracheuse de Flammes is a pure parfum that only comes in a 50 ml bottle for $700 or €600. At the time of this review, the only place I’ve found that sells it online is Premiere Avenue. The page says: “Only by distance selling,” followed by a French phone number, so you probably have to order it by phone. You can also reserve by email. In terms of other vendors, I have the impression that Section d’Or is exclusive to a particular store in each country. In the U.S., that is Barney’s, but the Section d’Or fragrances are not listed online at the time of this review, though they are in the New York store. In the U.K., I believe Harrods is the exclusive retailer, but they don’t show any of the fragrances on their Serge Lutens page either. I haven’t found the fragrances anywhere else. The Lutens websites only list L’Incendiaire on their Section d’Or pages at this time, but they may turn up on the French, American, or International sites later. Samples: nothing is available online at this time.

20 thoughts on “Serge Lutens Cracheuse de Flammes

    • I feel rather the same way. I had great difficulty not snorting at the Barney’s sales assistant when I was told the reason for the price. And I don’t even know where to begin with the purported €1000 valuation.

  1. You’re so right about the name. I just read the first word and it conjures up something vile. Maybe they should reconsider; meanwhile, I’ll just stick with the lovely Tobacco Rose.

    • Heh, I’m glad to see someone else struggles with the mental images triggered by the word, “Cracheuse.” 😀

      • I think the English equivalent might be “spitfire,” which is sometimes said admiringly of a feisty woman. IIRC, Katharine Hepburn starred in a movie of that name.

        • Good point, it would be more like spitfire. But the French version is still an unfortunate name, imo. On Twitter, one person just remarked that she accidentally read the name at first as “Crackhouse in Flames.” And I still think of the act of spitting above all else. “Spitfire” would have been a much easier, happier route, if you ask me.

  2. I think it’s time to abandon my uncle Serges. He reformulates my “loved ones” and I can’t imagine myself bying his overpriced mediocrity creations. What has happend ?
    Is this the work of a greedy Japanese company ?
    Oh god, now I have to find another go to perfume when my “old” Lutens are empty.

  3. To start with, if I could afford $700 for perfume, I would be buying Roja Dove or Clive Christian No 1 or 3 or 4 or 5 bottles of other loved perfumes! I believe saying Cracheuse de Flammes is selling below cost is a blatant and ridiculous lie. I feel like a heretic but I have tried 7, possibly 8 or 9 Lutens fragrances and don’t like any. I do feel for you, Kafka, and others who love the house 🙂 Do you think that the increase in prices and the change in perfumes/style has come about from the sale of Serge Lutens? The timeline seems to fit.

    • No, I don’t think Shiseido is responsible for the nature of the actual scents, only the pricing of the Section d’Or collection. Shiseido was Serge Lutens’ backer and supporter in creating the house to begin with back in the early 1990s, and Serge Lutens has worked for Shiseido since the late 1970s or early 1980s. The two have always been intertwined, with Serge Lutens exerting sole artistic control.

      The change in the nature of the fragrances really began around 2008 with the Eaux Collection, then the new aesthetic escalated and seeped into the main line of fragrances as well, though there were still a few lovely exceptions in the next few years like the 2011 De Profundis. I think that was the last great one, though some people would probably point to 2012’s Une Voix Noire which is a very controversial, polarizing Love it/Loathe it fragrance. By 2013 or 2014, though, the differences were becoming starker and more dramatic, imo, particularly when La Vierge de Fer and Laine de Verre were released. It was suddenly a completely new Lutens style, and I don’t think fragrances like L’Orpheline or La Religieuse did much to change the decline. (Particularly not La Religieuse!!)

      So, basically, it’s been a gradual thing that has recently snowballed and picked up speed. The reformulation of the old classics hasn’t helped much, while the Section d’Or collection has solidified or further amplified the hardcore Lutens fans’ distance from the brand. So many of the true fans I see or read no longer feel engaged by the brand, don’t care as passionately as before, or simply aren’t enthused, period. It’s really a shame.

      • I didn’t know that there was such a relationship with Shiseido. That makes everything more puzzling to me. I have only been sampling Serge Lutens for the past year. Now I’m wondering if perhaps I would have liked his pre-refomulation fragrances. These new ones don’t sound good at all.

        • Some of the reformulations have been utterly awful. For example, the version of Gris Clair that I tried was brutally synthetic with abrasive “incense” and clean musk. It was a complete scrubber for me, no matter how many times I tried it, but the Gris Clair of old sounds like it was a very different fragrance. I think a lot of the reformulated Lutens bear a really unpleasant degree of synthetics and/or white musks, while the core element (or elements) that made them so appealing have been gutted. For example, Un Bois Vanille has become a shrill, unpleasant, scratchy, excessively sugared thing with unbalanced (fake) “smokiness” but little of the coconut milkiness and other things that once made it so appealing.

          Bottom-line, if you’ve only been trying Lutens fragrances over the last year, you’re bound to have tried a reformulated version and I’m not surprised at all that you found the fragrances either uninteresting, unappealing, or much ado about nothing.

  4. The paragraph section that begins with “So many of his early masterpieces went Star Trek-style where no man had gone before” and the following prose is great writing, and I think an example of your ability to give fair reviews where the good and the bad of either a scent or a body of work are highlighted.
    Teutonic toys: yes. I’m in. How do I go about sending you an eventual package?

    • You can send me an email, and I’ll give you the best contact address. The email is: AKafkaesqueLife at gmail dot com. (All one word, naturally.)

  5. I’d have a much easier time with certain houses if I only knew French but I must say my brain’s autocorrect to English of some French words is quite amusing at times.
    Anyway, that price! Good lord! I don’t care what kind of roses are in it. It just doesn’t sound all that wonderful to justify the price. It’s a little saddening to hear these perfumes just aren’t that wonderful. I do like a lot of the line but it’s not hard to find perfumes that are far better than some of these recent releases for a whole lot less money.

  6. Well, that’s that, then.

    I was reading along and thinking, “Hmm. Probably would like this one. . .” But, the price! AND, I might add, even if I had the money, the name hurts me. Cracheuse? French is a beautiful language but this word is not. And to this English speaker, it’s evocative of too much that is decidedly not lovely, and not just the obvious. At the holiday season, I couldn’t help think of Bob Cratchit, Ebenezer Scrooge’s underpaid clerk. Not the best image for such an expensive fragrance!

    By the way, I always read Deadidol’s reviews. I think they’re generally 100% accurate.

    Great, GREAT review, Kafka!!

    PS. I hadn’t hit “post comment” yet but kept thinking about the name: my grandmother used to say “It makes me want to spit,” when something bothered her. And so (and my French is rustier than an old nail). . .je veux cracher!! I understand high prices and luxury, but for things that aren’t worth it? Nope. Monsieur Lucas’ fragrances. Oui. These new Lutens? Non.

  7. Somehow as I read these last few Lutens’ reviews, I heard Chopin’s Funeral March playing somewhere….

    • lol Don. Your one liner comments crack me up. I also wonder about the role C Sheldrake does or doesn’t play in these developments. Hope you’re doing well these days

      • I never know how far to go with my one liners! I don’t want to offend anyone. I can’t get the one about “crack house on fire” out of my head…I’m glad I was alone reading that because I literally cackled out loud. :/
        And I’m doing better, thanks. I’ve wanted to send you an email Paskale, if that’s ok?

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