Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.
“Fill the tent with a variety of different perfumes: ambergris, musk and all sorts of scents, such as rose, orange flowers, jonquils, jasmine, hyacinth, carnation and other plants. This done, have placed there several gold censers filled with green aloes, ambergris, naddah and such like.”
from the 15th century Arab book The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight.*
The house of Guerlain has been enchanted with the East for much of its history, from Persian Bouquet (1840), Shalimar (1925) to Samsara (1989). In this light, it is not surprising to discover that Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel Huiles de Parfum released this spring are inspired by the perfume oil tradition of the Middle and Far East. The writings of Herodotus, Theophrastus, Pliny as well as the Arabian Nights Tales attest to the opulence and sophistication of Middle Eastern perfumery. If the 18th court of Louis XV was known as le cour parfumée (perfumed court), then that of Baghdad’s Abbasid Caliphs deserved this title more than 10 centuries earlier. …
Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel Huiles de Parfum were created by perfumer Randa Hammami under the creative direction of Sylvaine Delacourte. The modern oriental fragrance family to which many of Guerlain’s fragrances belong is in many ways inspired by the sumptuous qualities of the musk, rose, spice and sandalwood blends loved in the Arab world. Therefore, I was curious to see how the perfume oils might explore this tradition further. I imagined vignettes from the Arabian Nights Tales, plush and luxurious blends that cling to the skin like heavy silks.
If my qualm with Iris Ganache was its opaqueness and heft, in the case of Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel, the situation is reversed. While the luxurious quality of the oils is obvious, their lightness and subtlety are simply not satisfying. They are soft like swan down and quite fleeting. My favorite of the two, Oud Sensuel , is an elegant woody fragrance, without the characteristic pungency of oud. Iris, the trademark of Guerlain, lends a cool character, while a delicate sparkle of citrus in the top notes uplifts the composition. The perfume stays close to the skin and does not have much sillage. However, whatever I can smell when I press my nose to my wrist is appealing.
Garden Sensuel is floral and peachy supported by a pretty powdery base of vanilla and woods. Much more potent than Oud Sensuel, Garden Sensuel is creamy and pretty, reminiscent of the scent that expensive soap leaves behind on the skin. Yet, nothing about it is distinctive or memorable. I find it hard to see the link to the traditional Middle Eastern attars I have smelled, which have a certain alluring opulence and richness. I keep returning to my samples only to lose the olfactory image the next day. Opinions may be divided on Insolence, but one has to admit that it has character and presence. For a perfume that is priced at $350 for 20ml, pretty is not enough.
Garden Sensuel for women includes notes of neroli, rose, ylang ylang, gardenia, peach, tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood. Oud Sensuel for men contains neroli, cardamom, oud wood, cedar, geranium, iris and tonka bean. Huiles de Parfum are available from 68, Champs Elysées Guerlain flagship store in Paris as well as Bergdorf Goodman.
*The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi, translated by Jim Coville, 1999, Kegan Paul International, ISBN 0-7103-0644-X.