Guerlain Bois d’Armenie : Perfume Review

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Incense_smoke

Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

I confess that I approached Guerlain Bois d’Arménie with a fair deal of apprehension. Despite my initial expectations, I have not found myself as moved by the L’Art et la Matiere collection as by the other Guerlain fragrances, from the treasured vintages like Rue de la Paix and Fol Arôme, the timeless classics like Mitsouko and Chamade to the more recent gems like Attrape-Coeur. Certainly, L’Art et la Matiere, which includes Angélique Noire, Cuir Beluga, Rose Barbare, and now Bois d’Arménie, has the aura of opulence and elegance that marks some other Guerlain classics; however, the effect in case of Cuir Beluga and Angelique Noire is rather self-conscious. Rose Barbare was the only fragrance I found distinctive, although even in that case, I wished for an edgier interpretation. …

Created by Annick Ménardo, Bois d’Arménie (Armenian Wood) is based on the aroma of scented paper used as incense since the 16th century. Papier d’Arménie, which as the story goes, was created to enjoy the medicinal properties of benzoin, is still popular in France, and those familiar with its sweet woody powderiness will recognize the source of inspiration for Bois d’Arménie. It does not have the complexity of the Guerlain classics, nor does it offer the multifaceted transformations marking the fragrances that made the house famous. Instead, it is a panoramic take on the incense theme, which is executed in an elegant manner, combining transparency and softness. Given its graceful and harmonious composition, I would not hesitate to call Bois d’Arménie the best of the L’Art et la Matiere collection thus far.

The first impression is of the transparent cloud of smoke, tinged with the familiar Guerlain iris, which intensifies as the composition dries down. However, the floral notes are rather delicate, serving as the soft accents to what essentially is the smoky woody composition with pronounced balsamic sweetness. The rubbery rose of guaiac wood lends its rich smokiness to the woody accord. Despite the strongly accented wood and incense notes, the composition is remarkably soft, staying rather close to the skin. Yet, before the vanillic sweetness of benzoin laced with sheer smoke has a chance to attain a tame demeanor, the effervescent jolt of patchouli adds more interest to the arrangement. Its sweet fireworks against the soft vanillic backdrop persist into the drydown, which only subtly hints at the initial incense origins of the composition. Those who like their incense hot and smoldering will probably wish for more darkness; however, as an interesting woody composition, Bois d’Arménie offers much to enjoy.

Like Rose Barbare, Bois d’Arménie is the least Guerlain influenced composition from the L’Art et la Matiere collection, merely hinting at the house’s love affair with the powdery notes. Perhaps, it might prove that the most successful Guerlain fragrance in the spirit of the house is not the one bound by its traditions, but rather the one that finds an inspiration in them and creates a universe of its own.

Bois d’Arménie includes notes of “pink pepper, iris, rose, coriander, benzoin, Indonesian patchouli, incense, precious woods, musk and balsams.” For the time being, Bois d’Armenie is exclusive to 68, Champs Elysées store, however it can be ordered by calling 33 145 62 52 57 or writing to Francoise, who is responsible for overseas sales, at champs-elysees@guerlain.fr .

Photo of incense smoke from colorado.edu.

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28 Comments

  • chaya ruchama: Fascinating description, Victoria!
    As I enjoy both incense and woody-powdery,it sounds rather fetching.
    Happy Bastille Day to you! July 14, 2006 at 6:28am Reply

  • Judith: Like you, I have not been moved by the scents in this collection; they have all seemed a bit too soft and sweet for my tastes. And this sounds as though it might partake of some of those qualities. Neverthess, it sounds very interesting and definitely worth sniffing (though probably not worth–for me–sending to Paris for the opportunity). July 14, 2006 at 7:09am Reply

  • Elle: Beautiful review! I love Kurkdjian’s Rose Barbare (despite the lack of Barbare), so I have high hopes for this one. I do love my incense, as you put it, hot and smouldering, but I’m just going to ignore the name here in the same way I have ignored the Cuir in the shockingly leatherless (to my nose) Cuir Beluga, which I still enjoy. Who is naming the scents in this series?? July 14, 2006 at 7:13am Reply

  • debra: “Alons enfants de la patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivée!”
    Lovely review! I was so hoping for some really good iris in this – sounds like a winner! I only hope it is not *too* smooth and vanillic… Like you, I long for a little more ‘edge’ in Rose Barbare, wonderful though it is.
    Can’t wait to sample Bois d’Armenie! July 14, 2006 at 8:25am Reply

  • annE: V, thanks for the wonderful review of my #1 wishlist item! This line from Guerlain has proven to be more “timid” than I had hoped, and I think we’re in agreement here, although you expressed this much finely. 🙂
    However, I’m not one of those who want my incense “hot and smouldering” – I prefer mine to be more faint and mysterious, so maybe this one will be for me.
    Thanks again for the wonderful description! July 14, 2006 at 8:26am Reply

  • Marina: Sounds wonderful! I am really looking forward to trying this one. July 14, 2006 at 9:32am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Dear Victoria,
    Hi ! In follow-up to your recommendation for a ‘sexy summer scent” for romantic encounters—– Thank you so much for the Champica by Ormonde Jayne ! I ordered the $18.00 sample kit online. It was delivered 2 days later – free shipping. I loved the sample spray of Champaca – (tiny ,pale orange flower from India)- and ordered via phone a spray of the eau de parfum. it is a different version of the fruity -florals that are overabundant. This one has an immediate floral presence with a somewhat warm, woody dry down with a hint of spice. So nice ! I also want to tell you and your wonderful readers :yesterday’s Thursday, 13 July – had an excellent article on perfumery .
    Thank you Victoria for keeping me informed – i am now an Ormonde Jayne devotee !
    Happy Bastille Day —
    Madelyn E July 14, 2006 at 10:52am Reply

  • helg: Hi Vic!
    You got me, I am just about to get my sample, I was updating my Guerlain page with all the exclusives these past couple of days.

    I agree that Rose Barbare was the most interesting of the Matiere line with the contradictory names. But I love Kurkdjian’s work anyway. This one promises to be great! July 14, 2006 at 8:09am Reply

  • Robin: So, I’m curious, do you think it will be the most popular of the 3? Or just the best? And do you love it, or just think it is the best of them all?

    Questions, questions, LOL… July 14, 2006 at 1:02pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Chaya, Happy Bastille Day to you too! If you enjoy those qualities, then you will definitely like Bois d’Armenie. July 14, 2006 at 1:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, Bois d’Armenie is definitely on the softer side, but it is much more interesting than the others, so if you have a chance to try it, do not pass it up. July 14, 2006 at 1:53pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, I have no idea who is naming these fragrances, although Bois d’Armenie does smell like papier d’Armenie, so it is not a total stretch. I very much enjoy Francis Kurkdjian’s creations, and this one joins their ranks. I think that you will find it very beautiful. It starts out soft and grows darker. On the blotter, it is completely the opposite–the smoky, woody notes dominate first. July 14, 2006 at 1:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: “Contre nous de la tyrannie L’étendard sanglant est levé!” Happy Bastille Day to you too, Debra! It is not too vanillic and smooth, since patchouli remains dominant and it adds its characteristic sparkle. Very nicely done! July 14, 2006 at 2:33pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ann, I am with you on the incense preferences. Although I like the idea of hot and smouldering incense, I suppose that I find slighly more subtle versions to be more interesting and wearable. This one is perfect for me in that respect. July 14, 2006 at 2:37pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, it is wonderful. I think that you will like it. July 14, 2006 at 2:38pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Madelyn, I am very happy that you discovered Ormonde Jayne. The fragrances are very beautiful, and it is a joy to explore that line. I hope that you will find more interesting things among its selection. July 14, 2006 at 2:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I think that it might be the most popular of the three, because the L’Art et la Matiere collection is intended for the person who is more interested in niche fragrance offerings, therefore he/she is already open to something a bit more unconventional than soft, pretty vanilla. I also think that it is the best one in terms of harmonious composition. My problem with Cuir Beluga and Angelique Noire is the creamy, powdery base that is in the later Guerlain style, but somehow it does not work well with few ornamentations. Bois d’Armenie avoids this, and even if it is not Guerlain in terms of its olfactory image, it is Guerlain in spirit. July 14, 2006 at 2:43pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elena, thanks! Enjoy your Bois d’Armenie when it arrives. July 14, 2006 at 3:18pm Reply

  • k-amber: Thank you for a fantastic review. I also enjoy linked papier site 🙂 I did not know the incense originate so long time ago. Boisd’Armenie seems enchanting and misterious. I will try it absolutely. 😀

    Kaori July 14, 2006 at 11:03pm Reply

  • Prince Barry: Great review! I am really impressed with Bois d’Armenie. I actually managed to get hold of a sample of it, and of course, fell in love with it. I also got samples of Sous le Vent and No68. The Sous le Vent is to die for. The No68 is very nice, but very fleeting. I can understand why it’s in a 500ml bottle, you would go through it in a month. Very nice though. July 15, 2006 at 1:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, that site is great. Bela, the author of Slap of The Day blog, mentioned it in one of her comments, and I spent some time browsing through it. I am well familiar with its paper, which I usually buy whenever I go to France, and I highly recommend it. The scent is wonderful. Santa Maria Novella also makes great burning paper, but it is far more expensive. July 16, 2006 at 5:35pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Barry, I am glad to hear that you liked both Bois d’Armenie and Sous le Vent. I know that you were very excited to try them. I love the drydown of Bois d’Armenie, although all aspects of the composition are equally enjoyable. July 16, 2006 at 5:36pm Reply

  • Ina: Thanks, V.! Super anxious to try. Do you think I’ll like it? 🙂 July 17, 2006 at 3:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ina, I think that you might like it. It has components that you generally enjoy in perfume. July 17, 2006 at 5:39pm Reply

  • Tara: I tested this in Paris last week. Now, mind you, it was blisteringly hot and that may have affected my opinion of it – need to try again in cooler temps – but I ultimately decided not to buy it based on the drydown. The top notes were intoxicating and I was sure I was going to love it, but after about an hour, there was an unpleasant note that really put me off, and I have no idea what it was. July 26, 2006 at 6:23pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tara, it sounds like a good decision, since if you do not like the drydown, it is ultimately not going to please you. I must say that few fragrances appeal to me in the summer heat. July 27, 2006 at 12:15am Reply

  • Jeannemarie: Victoria,

    I have yet to find another site which gives these kinds of reviews! You and Bois de Jasmin are truly in a league of your own.

    Keep writing! February 24, 2007 at 10:50am Reply

  • r.: i just discovered that all of the fragrances from “L’Art et la Matiere” are available at neiman marcus in SF. the woman said they were available in only three locations worldwide, but i was so excited to find them there that i didn’t bother to find out what the third location was (after Paris of course). they also have the larger sizes of many of the perfumes, and other guerlain perfumes that are generally rare. the woman was lovely and gave me a sample of bois d’armenie…. i love it! November 2, 2007 at 1:00am Reply

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