Guerlain Encens Mythique d’Orient : Fragrance Review

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During my last trip to the Middle East almost three years ago, my camera broke down, and I couldn’t take a single photo. At first, the missed opportunity to capture the blazing whiteness of marble buildings, the majestic and scary beauty of the desert, and the dazzle of gold displays made me wince with regret each time I came upon another beautiful scene. But after a while, I realized that maybe my camera wouldn’t be necessary after all; the scents surrounding me were so strong and vivid that today I have no trouble recalling either the aroma of ripe dates–caramel and honey!–or the heady fragrance of cardamom and rosewater flavored coffee. And of course, the perfumes! Both the men and women I encountered were exquisitely perfumed. Smoky roses, honeyed oud mixed with patchouli, sandalwood roughed up by smoky leather… I had to fight the urge to ask every other person in the street what they were wearing.

But out of their hot desert context, some of these perfumes felt heavy and one-dimensional when I tried wearing them back home. They were still beautiful, but they required a certain mood or an occasion, and for this reason I wore them much less often than I anticipated. Similarly, Middle Eastern inspired fragrances like Montale and SoOud were compelling in theory, but in practice I rarely craved them. When Guerlain announced its Les Déserts d’Orient collection, comprised of Rose Nacrée du Désert, Songe d’Un Bois d’Été, and Encens Mythique d’Orient, I was worried that it might be overly glitzy and flamboyant for me.

The most flamboyant element of Encens Mythique d’Orient is its name–Oriental Mythical Incense, but the perfume itself is refined and polished. Even a hefty dose of raunchy animalic notes, which smell like soft suede and salty skin, doesn’t disturb the glamorous aura. On the contrary, it adds a sensual, teasing element, like a brief glimpse of cleavage under a crisp white shirt. Those who are looking for the dramatic elan of classical Middle Eastern perfumes might be disappointed, but as Gaia noted in her review, Guerlain brings its own French idea of glamour to this collection.

The first whiff of Encens Mythique d’Orient was puzzling. A metallic fizz of aldehydes over the peppery roses was unexpectedly retro. It reminded of vintage perfumes I used to collect with passion–Chanel No 22, Caron Or et Noir, Jean Patou Ma Collection. As the perfume settled, it became sweet and warmer. The jasmine wrapped its tendrils over the dark rose petals; the incense tempered the creamy richness of musk. A raspy woody note further cuts through the heft of the animalic notes.

Another surprising thing about Encens Mythique d’Orient is its incense note. A delicate swirl appears here and there, among rose petals and sandalwood shavings, but it’s a fresh, sparkling accent that smells more like crushed peppercorns than dark church incense. When the perfume settles into its buttery animalic drydown, the incense merely lights up the heavy layers.

Encens Mythique d’Orient shares a bloodline with Nahéma, that bombshell rose ornamented heavily with ylang-ylang, sandalwood and plums. Encens Mythique d’Orient has much less rose than Nahéma, and the musk, ambergris and leather play a more important role.  Nahéma feels like brocade, while Encens Mythique d’Orient wears like a soft suede jacket. It’s a gorgeous perfume, luxurious in the sense of older classics. You can wear it to daydream and to fantasize about being in some other time or place, but it won’t feel like a period costume.

Guerlain Encens Mythique d’Orient is available at the Paris Guerlain flagship storeHaute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Belgium as well as Harrods and Selfridges in London. Since Les Déserts d’Orient perfumes were originally created for the Middle Eastern market, the fragrances are also sold in the United Arab Emirates, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and other Middle Eastern locations. 75ml, 190 euros.

Sample: my own acquisition (many thanks to my kind reader David)

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42 Comments

  • Sara: Gorgeous review! Encens Mythique is my favorite. At first I liked Songe d’Un Bois d’Été, but as I wore it more, it started giving me a headache. August 13, 2012 at 7:50am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Sara. I noticed when I reviewed Rose Nacree that several people mentioned that they preferred Encens Mythique. It’s a beautifully made perfume. August 13, 2012 at 8:25am Reply

  • Alyssa: Your reviews made me break down and order a sampler of these, V. I look forward to trying all three. August 13, 2012 at 8:23am Reply

    • Victoria: I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these. And be sure to give them a proper courtship. Like the classical grand parfums, these are complex enough that they change quite a bit on your skin. August 13, 2012 at 8:29am Reply

      • Sara: 2nd that. I almost dismissed Encens at first. Be patient with it! August 13, 2012 at 8:59am Reply

        • Victoria: Rose Nacree definitely tested my patience, because the opening accords weren’t particularly different. I got hooked only later, and it has held my attention ever since. ;) August 13, 2012 at 9:30am Reply

  • Cristina: I’m so looking forward to trying this. Thank you for a lovely Monday review. I’ve only tried Songe d’un bois d’ete and I was somewhat disappointed. Lovely but familiar. Then again I don’t like Wasser so maybe my opinion would have been different if I didn’t know what it was. August 13, 2012 at 9:03am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t care for Songe, mostly because it’s not that distinctive. A nice fragrance, to be sure, but as I wore it, I felt that I could find something similar among the less expensive niche lines. Rose and Encens, however, are excellent. August 13, 2012 at 9:31am Reply

  • Lucas: I, a not an incense lover want to try it. Sounds like a mild incense which may work for me. August 13, 2012 at 9:47am Reply

    • Victoria: You would enjoy it then, Lucas. The incense is really subtle. August 13, 2012 at 11:00am Reply

      • L.: This is the first perfume in which I’ve found that subtle (versus peppery-church-type) incense sans an overdose of sweetness. It is used very compellingly. August 13, 2012 at 12:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: Frankincense is really fascinating in that depending on what you use, you can make it either dark and churchy and fresh and crisp. It’s often used to boost lemony and citrusy notes, but it’s not mentioned in the note listings. If you smell Hermes Gentiane Blanche, you can see what I mean. Incense is used with green leafy notes for a crunchy effect. August 13, 2012 at 12:28pm Reply

  • solanace: Lovely review. “You can wear it to daydream and to fantasize about being in some other time or place, but it won’t feel like a period costume.” That’s it. I’m getting a big decant of this gem. August 13, 2012 at 10:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Sometimes a period costume is just the right thing, but in this case, I’m glad that Encens Mythique doesn’t require too much out of me. It has enough subtlety to work for almost all occasions. August 13, 2012 at 11:01am Reply

      • solanace: And still transport us to another time and place, like some immaterial and invisible gown! August 13, 2012 at 5:50pm Reply

        • Victoria: Exactly! One of the reasons why I love perfume in the first place. August 14, 2012 at 5:27am Reply

  • Nikki: Lovely review, Victoria. I am always amazed at the capacity to dream an Orientalist fantasy a la Delacroix, especially in view of the challenges posed by the influx of Arab immigrants in Europe. Somehow it seems possible to imagine a noble desert with harems and gold and jewels despite women’s lib and the not so enticing reality. It is quite a feat for the art of perfumery to ignore the present and make one dream of a nonexistant past, based solely on imagery and other artists’ dreams which become enough of a reality to go forward with the purchase of a piece of that dream. Fascinating. August 13, 2012 at 10:45am Reply

    • Victoria: There is definitely a stereotypical Orientalist fantasy going on with some of these launches, but the Middle East inspired perfumes aren’t meant for the European market. First and foremost, they are aimed at the Middle Eastern consumers. I don’t know how those consumers react to these fantasies, but I would be curious to learn. August 13, 2012 at 11:06am Reply

  • Barbara: The bottles look great! I wonder if they are as nice in person. August 13, 2012 at 11:44am Reply

    • Victoria: I saw them at the boutique here in Belgium. I think that they are beautiful and similar to the Art et la Matiere range packaging–rectangular, heavy, lots of gold. August 13, 2012 at 12:17pm Reply

      • Rowanhill: Thank you for your lovely review. Which shop in Brussels carries these Guerlains? Senteurs d’Ailleurs? August 14, 2012 at 4:05am Reply

        • Victoria: Only Place Vendome in Wevelgem! I think that you can order samples from them, but we were actually in the area, so we stopped by the store. They had a beautiful display. Not sure if you’ve visited this boutique, but it’s absolutely worth the trip from Brussels. August 14, 2012 at 5:37am Reply

          • Rowanhill: Thank you. Trip is now planned. :-) August 20, 2012 at 12:18pm Reply

  • Rachel: Do you know if any of these are available at stores in NYC? I will have to look!

    On my trip to the Middle East I was not allowed to take pictures most places because of the fear that I would get indecent pictures of women… August 13, 2012 at 11:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Rachel, I don’t think so, but until recently there were no plans to introduce this line to the UK, and now it is at Harrod’s. Perhaps, it will make it to the States also.

      Yes, it’s tricky to take photos in some parts of the Middle East. I usually judge whether it’s ok to do based on my surroundings. When appropriate, I ask permission. August 13, 2012 at 12:25pm Reply

  • Lisa: Now, *this* particular Les Déserts d’Orient fragrance does intrigue me (the other two don’t sound like my cuppa). Guerlain seems to love-love-love my skin, so this one definitely seems like the one to check out.

    (I do so know what you mean about Middle Eastern perfumes; I brought home a slew of oils — various ambers, mostly — from a shop in Cairo, and they didn’t have the same appeal.) August 13, 2012 at 2:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: I still like these Middle Eastern perfumes, and I’ve always brought them with me when we moved. I just like to smell them but not to wear them.

      If Guerlain loves your skin, I think that you will enjoy Encens. It definitely has that classical Guerlain spirit. August 13, 2012 at 3:02pm Reply

      • Barbara: I wish I had skin for Guerlain. I have good luck with Mitsouko and Parure, but Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue and Apres L’Ondee are like baby powder on me. August 13, 2012 at 4:15pm Reply

        • Victoria: Some people are definitely more sensitive to powdery notes. But sometimes with repeated exposure, you stop noticing the offending notes and enjoy other beautiful facets–the tartness of Shalimar or the lush orange blossom of L’Heure Bleue. August 14, 2012 at 5:27am Reply

  • maggiecat: This is going on my sample list right away (though I’m waiting till our 100 degree days settle down to something reasonable before placing another sample order.) Thank you for the lovely review! August 13, 2012 at 2:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: You’re welcome! I really enjoyed this collection, smelling, writing, thinking, and now talking about it. :) August 13, 2012 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Undina: Beautiful review, Victoria! Encens Mythique d’Orient is my favorite from the trio. The only downside is that after my small decant is gone I’ll have to go for more. August 14, 2012 at 2:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! I already finished my sample. It’s such an elegant and addictive fragrance. August 14, 2012 at 5:35am Reply

  • Edward: “Refined and polished”; “sensual and teasing”; “a glimpse of cleavage under a crisp white shirt”. I could not agree more! Thank you for reviewing this, Victoria. August 14, 2012 at 3:52am Reply

    • Victoria: I really enjoyed writing about it, Edward! It’s such a beautiful perfume, with so many interesting twists, and every time I wear it I discover something new. August 14, 2012 at 5:36am Reply

  • Henrique Brito: This one leaves a wonderful aroma on fabrics over the time. A little of my sample spilled inside my backpack and i could smell it for a week, with a soft and warm and slightly sweet aroma.
    At first i didn’t like it, but then i noticed how beautiful and well-crafted it is.
    I just don’t think it’s as clean or as basic as you say. It seems to me much like a classic fragrance, with a three tie evolution and enough different details on its smell. August 14, 2012 at 1:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: It isn’t clean or basic at all for me, considering that it has a big dollop of animalic notes. August 14, 2012 at 3:37pm Reply

      • Henrique Brito: I guess i got the white shirt part wrong so… August 14, 2012 at 7:06pm Reply

  • Natalie: I really enjoyed your review and description. It was this line that pushed me to think about ordering samples of these: “You can wear it to daydream and to fantasize about being in some other time or place, but it won’t feel like a period costume.” Sounds just the thing! August 14, 2012 at 10:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Natalie. I cannot wait to hear what you think of this collection as a whole and which perfume will end up your favorite. August 15, 2012 at 11:16am Reply

  • Ida: I never drink coffee without cardamom! I’d fit right in, lol. Do they drink coffee with both cardamom and rose water? I must try! I’m on the next plane to Doha, both the coffee and the people apparently smell delicious. August 15, 2012 at 9:37am Reply

    • Victoria: Always with cardamom and sometimes with cardamom and rosewater. Have a great visit to Doha! Be sure to sample dates, which will be a revelation. I have never tasted such delicious dates as I’ve tried there. August 15, 2012 at 11:24am Reply

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