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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”