Building Perfume Wardrobe Guide Part 6 : Orientals

Offering

Part 1: Florals ~ Rose
Part 2: Florals ~ Jasmine and White Florals
Part 3: Florals ~ Lily of the Valley and Violet
Part 4: Florals ~ Blends
Part 5: Essentials

My Perfume Wardrobe is back from its winter break with a new installment on oriental fragrances. This perfume genre is so called because it is the Western fantasy of the East. Oriental perfumes evoked the same mysterious and sensual world that French artists such as Eugène Delacroix and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres captured in their paintings of lounging odalisques, tiger hunts and harem scenes. French perfumers translated such exotic, if stereotypical, visions through rich notes of vanilla, amber, patchouli, sandalwood and musk. Oriental ideas have been explored in many 19th century fragrances, but Guerlain Jicky is widely considered to be the first modern fragrance with an oriental twist. Then perfume visionary François Coty made a splash with his innovative  L’Origan (1905), Ambre Antique (1910) and Émeraude (1921). These fragrances paved the way to the dazzling array of orientals available today.

Floral Oriental

The floral oriental genre was my gateway to dark perfumes. I’ve always loved the suave quality of jasmine and orange blossom, but I soon started to crave more opulence. Floral oriental compositions fit the bill perfectly—they have both the softness of florals and the warmth of true orientals. Coty L’Origan is a forebear of this large and interesting family. While it no longer exists, Guerlain L’Heure Bleue and Après l’Ondée give an idea of its rich and voluptuous aura.

Or I might try the luminous Rochas Tocade which layers roses and vanilla. Serge Lutens Datura Noir is a heady vignette of tuberose and osmanthus folded around vanilla and musk. Givenchy Organza was inspired by candied almonds and it is the least floral of all fragrances mentioned here. Still, a whisper of green gardenia offsets the richness of its luscious woody accord.

Must-know classic: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue (orange blossom and iris), Guerlain Chamade (hyacinth and rose), Caron Parfum Sacré (rose), Christian Dior Poison (tuberose and orange blossom).

Soft Oriental (Incense)

If I yearn for an even darker and warmer composition than anything I’ve mentioned above, then I know to look for the incense embellished perfumes. According to Michael Edwards’ classification of fragrances, they are called soft orientals. Such blends are less balsamic and animalic than true classical orientals, but they still are undeniably sensual. Cacharel Loulou blends incense with vanilla and tiare flowers, while Diptyque L’Eau infuses effervescent citrus into the spicy incense accord.

One of the most exquisitely crafted oriental perfumes is Chanel Coco. It is a rich tapestry of jasmine, rose, spice, musk and sandalwood. Kenzo Jungle L’Éléphant is another distinctive perfume which adds a savory touch of cumin to play up its languid oriental accord. If one is willing to forget what Yves Saint Laurent Opium used to be like, the newly relaunched version is a pretty mélange of jasmine, carnation and amber. Unfortunately, I am too deep in mourning for the original to enjoy its successor.

Must-know classic: Estee Lauder Youth Dew, Jean Patou Sublime, Chanel Coco, Serge Lutens Ambre Sultan.

Classical Oriental

As I move along the spectrum of oriental fragrance and arrive at classical orientals, I certainly feel the heat! Everything suddenly darkens, the animalic notes become more pronounced, and the florals headier. Guerlain Shalimar embodies the classical oriental genre with its contrast between cool citrusy notes and warm amber and vanilla. Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur captures Shalimar’s dramatic, smoldering stance. In this modern interpretation, the accent is placed on musk and leather, and the perfume feels seductive and indulgent Some sweet, heavy ambers like Annick Goutal Ambre Fétiche and L’Artisan L’Eau d’Ambre have the opulence of classical orientals, while the sheer Prada Candy renders the classical plush oriental accord light as chiffon.

Must-know classic: Guerlain Shalimar, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Calvin Klein Obsession, Must de Cartier.

Woody Oriental

Out of the whole oriental family, woody oriental fragrances are my favorites. It is because the accents of patchouli, sandalwood, and other rich woods give an unexpected luminous effect. The woods also temper the sweetness of vanilla, tonka beans, amber and balsamic notes. Some great examples include Guerlain Vol de Nuit, Hermès Eau de Merveilles, Donna Karan Chaos and Bulgari Omnia. Also, there are some virile and handsome blends in this group: Comme des Garçons White, Caron Yatagan, Joop! Homme, Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male and Thierry Mugler A*Men/Angel.

Must-know classic: Molinard Habanita, Caron Nuit de Noël, Chanel Bois des Iles, Guerlain Samsara, Chanel Égoïste, Christian Dior Dune.

Photography of a temple offering by Vera 

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29 Comments

  • Victoria: A whole bottle in two weeks?? I cannot imagine wearing this much perfume. A one dram sample can last me a few times.

    I am sad to see Coty classics bite the dust. In the words of one department store manager, "we are not a museum, we need to sell." I guess, Coty thinks the same thing. January 30, 2012 at 9:43am Reply

  • nstephens@beachcroft.com: Love these articles! Some orientals are a bit Cecil B DeMille for me though I note some favourites listed here as in all the woody variety plus Chamade and I do love to sniff my Coco parfum bottle every now and then. Nicola January 30, 2012 at 9:45am Reply

  • Jan Moran: Victoria, thanks for such beautiful coverage of Oriental fragrances, which are, to me, the aroma of wintry evenings and fireside interludes. Many of my faves. Nuit de Noel, Opium, Must de Cartier, Coco…each an insprired creation…and the L’Origan story–tragic! January 30, 2012 at 10:39am Reply

  • Victoria: The warm, plush fragrances like many classical orientals are stunning, but for me they still require a certain mood. So, I tried to pick a variety of scents. I personally find rich scents very distracting. I cannot, for instance, douse myself in Shalimar and then try to get some work done. No way! I would either be sniffing my wrists or feel irritated by its huge presence. And that's the beauty of these fragrances. They are dramatic. If I want to stand out, an oriental perfume is what I wear.

    Since I work with perfume raw materials, I cannot wear perfume during the day anyway, not even scented lotion. So, my enjoyment of orientals is restricted to the weekends and nights. A couple of drops of Nuit de Noel parfum on a cold winter evening–now, that's my idea of paradise! :) January 30, 2012 at 10:44am Reply

  • Victoria: Jan, I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I actually regret not having much snow this winter, because I miss sitting in front of our little fireplace. It has been chilly, but too wet to make much use of it. Now, I want to go and find my bottle of Coco! A perfect cold day perfume. January 30, 2012 at 10:48am Reply

  • Musette: Well, they’d sell a whole lot more if they stopped churning out so much dreck. I would love to market the revival of Coty Classics – obviously they couldn’t be exactly like the originals but…there is a way to stay true to the original thought behind those scents. I have a bottle of vintage l’Origan (with the baketlite top) and while it’s not ‘original’ original it’s a good representation of the mid-era of that scent. It’s just glorious!!!

    I love these posts, btw. They are wonderfully written!

    xoxoxoA January 30, 2012 at 11:07am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you!
    I remember Luca writing that Coty did a revival of their classics, but the project got scraped or something like that.
    Some things are hard to reformulate if they use a large proportion of banned materials or if they contain a lot of floral absolutes. But with some effort it is possible. January 30, 2012 at 12:06pm Reply

  • The Siren: Whenever I read about L’Origan I think of Luca Turin’s heartbreaking story of the woman he gave a precious bottle of the original formula to. She used it up in something like two weeks–can you imagine? Was she DRINKING it? Asked him for more and he told her that she had just used up possible the only bottle of original L’Origan left in captivity. I always think I don’t like orientals, but there’s a lot of my most beloved perfumes here. I adore Egoiste on my husband and Vol de Nuit and Nuit de Noel in parfum are incredible; also a big fan of L’Heure Bleue and Apres L’Ondee and in certain go-to-hell moods, SL Ambre Sultan. January 30, 2012 at 8:43am Reply

  • carmencanada: Actually, the classics were recreated by Daphné Bugey for Coty’s 100th anniversary, which was celebrated with the launch of a book by Editions Assouline. When I did a book for Assouline the editor gave me her bottle of La Rose Jacqueminot: they were given out to guests but never commercialized. I don’t think that was the intention at any point. January 30, 2012 at 2:32pm Reply

    • Lynev: carmencanada: Can you tell me what the bottle looked like & how the reconstructed La Rose smelled ? June 10, 2014 at 7:44am Reply

  • Rose D: I never thoght I was much of an orientals fan until I read this! I found myself checking the ones I own or like (Organza, Dune, Coco, Youth Dew) and the ones I have to try (Musc Ravageur and Ambre Fetiche are musts).

    I also love the new look for Bois de Jasmin; great way to start the new year! January 30, 2012 at 2:33pm Reply

  • Vishishta: I always love your column and have used many of your suggestions in my winter reading, cooking and of course perfume. I happily bought 3 small bottles of vintage L’origan on EBAY just now! Thanks for your inspiration. January 30, 2012 at 4:21pm Reply

  • Terry Edwards Futrelle: Your writing is so very lovely, V. Your descriptions tell me everything I need to know, before a purchase. The descriptions are so true and your subscribers add extra thoughtful comment. I only wanted to say, “Thank you, everyone!” A special, “Thank you!” to V, for making one of my favorite subjects, a beautiful conversation among friends… January 30, 2012 at 5:04pm Reply

  • Victoria: That's too bad! It would have been great to smell these classics. Plus, Daphne Bugey is so talented. January 30, 2012 at 8:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, sounds like you are a fan! :) By making lists of favorites organized by a family I discovered that I'm a big fan of woods! And I always thought of myself as a floral girl.
    Thank you, trying something new. :) January 30, 2012 at 8:43pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, wonderful! Congratulations on such a great find. I hope that you will enjoy L'Origan. Please let me know what you think. January 30, 2012 at 8:43pm Reply

  • bulldoggirl: I see so many favorites in your list, many of which I own and many of which remain beautiful. With the exception of Sublime. What HAPPENED to that one? Such a shadow of its former self.

    At any rate, you are spot on about orientals being “distracting.” Nick Hornby, writing about popular music, once said that our tendency to play a favorite song over and over and over again stems from our brain’s need to “figure” out what makes a particular song so compelling. That’s how I feel about orientals and florientals. Even though they make up the vast majority of my collection, I don’t usually take them out during the day. I much prefer to save them for evening–either out, where their sillage and complexity can intermingle with the celebration, or snuggled up on the sofa where I can really dig into their “meaning.” January 30, 2012 at 8:45pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you for your kind words, Terry. I also share your feelings–we learn from each other. This makes it so much fun too! :) January 30, 2012 at 9:11pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, no! I haven't smelled Sublime recently. My bottle is not that old, so I'm disheartened to hear that it has been altered too much.

    That's a great analogy. For me, it is also similar to eating something special. A bar of chocolate on the go just doesn't taste as good as a piece savored slowly. Many orientals are in that category for me. They deserve a moment to indulge in their richness. Mmmm, tonight I think I will do just that–Coco and chocolate. Why stop at one indulgence, right? :) January 30, 2012 at 9:22pm Reply

  • sweetlife: Laughing because this post pretty much described 2/3 of my collection. And I thought I was so varied! After all, there is a long way to go from Coco in parfum to Eau de Merveilles. But not as a far as I thought, apparently. I am a hopeless Orientalist. ;)

    Lovely as usual, V. January 30, 2012 at 11:08pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is like going to Persia to Japan! :)
    You were right though, journeying around different oriental perfumes takes a while. Rich woody blends are so much easier for me to wear than light orientals.
    I don’t think that one needs to know much about the families to like and wear perfume. But they are helpful to map out one’s preferences. Then searching for a new perfume becomes easier.
    Have you ventured into woods (aha, I still manage a silly pun after a whole day on my feet)? If you love orientals, then it is probably the next destination. January 30, 2012 at 11:34pm Reply

  • Wrenaissance Art: Hi,
    Long-time lurker here. I’m delurking just to say how much I like the new site layout.
    It’s so much cleaner and easier on the eyes.
    Your writing style and research make this a fun place to stop and browse! January 31, 2012 at 7:02am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you very much! I’m glad that it is easier to browse. It was due for an update for a long time. Hope that I’ve fixed most bugs too. January 31, 2012 at 10:51am Reply

  • alyssa: Oh yes. Lots and lots of wood in my closet. (I see your silly pun and raise you an even sillier one!) Then chypres. Then florals. And then just a few very special green lovelies…

    P.S. Is it just my screen or has the format of the blog completely changed? I’m not getting your pretty banner anymore, and everything is re-arranged. But no one else seems to be commenting on it… January 31, 2012 at 6:16pm Reply

  • alyssa: Whoops. Except for this guy right here. So it is new! Well, I will reconcile myself to the loss of the banner then. xo January 31, 2012 at 6:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: Yes, I’ve changed it. :) I’m making other changes these days, so the blog has to move along too. Hope that it is all for the better, but I know that it takes some time to adjust to changes. Plus, typepad blogs are impossible to change offline, so I kind of have to experiment as I run the blog.
    So, I welcome feedback and if something doesn’t work, please let me know. January 31, 2012 at 6:23pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, maybe, it will come back as something else! :) January 31, 2012 at 6:26pm Reply

  • Ellen: My mother had some perfume in the 40’s and possibly early 50’s called Oriental; came in red laquer bottles and also–I think—powder and little containers of the salve. Does any parfumer have the formula and is anyone making anything like it? It was truly memorable, as you can tell after all these years! April 11, 2012 at 8:55pm Reply

  • GeM: Hi Victoria, great reccomendtions for Wardrobes!

    I think a new ‘classical oriental’ -would fit the bill?- is born and that’s Alien Essence Absolue by Dominique Ropion (Thierry Mugler), which makes me so happy because at last they’ve done it! It’s been a long time -about twenty years ago- since that day when I smelled ANGEL for the very first time and I saw the future of perfumery haha! I even remember the blouse I was wearing that day I found ANGEL a *f…ing* stand out, but ANGEL sadly wasn’t me. I couldn’t stop smelling my wrists for a couple of hours, and as a result it made me feel sick like having chocolate overdose… (Since I couldn’t wear the blouse again, I wonder if it still smells of Angel, maybe? XD)

    I love jasmines-tuberoses/white/tropical vanilla florals as well as other categories as almondy heliotropes and violets…, so then came the ‘more Me’ but ‘way too much’, great Alien… still not the thing. Womanity was another failure, since I have a nonsense aversion to figs in perfume. You see I’ve always been a totally frustrated Thierry Mugler’s wannabe.

    Now finally they’ve launched one that has won my heart: Alien Essence Absolue.
    And Oh my… In two words:
    ‘Gorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr’
    ‘Geousssssssss’ !!!!

    ok, less avant-garde here, but really: it’s heaven, and a truly perfect oriental.

    I hope you’d love it! ;) November 15, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

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