Elisa plays Scheherazade with her 10 favorite oriental perfumes.
Come winter, you will find me in orientals almost exclusively. An oriental is a fragrance with an emphasis on amber, that fantasy accord of resins and vanilla, often accented with spices, woods, soft florals, or candy-like gourmand notes. Both the phrase and the fragrances remind me of an oriental rug: dark and rich, ornate, intricately patterned, dense but soft.
Orientals tend to be heavy with long-lasting base notes, so they’re perfect in winter, when you want a scent to envelop you all day with comforting sweetness and warmth. Here are my ten favorite oriental perfumes that get me through the cold, dark days of winter.
The name suggests “floral,” but under the violet and rose lurks this perfume’s true character: a powdery vanilla musk with opoponax that feels plush and white, and seems to sparkle especially when it snows.
Sonia Rykiel Belle en Rykiel
Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule
The newest of Lutens’s three sandalwood offerings, Santal Majuscule was one of my most craved perfumes this winter. Recent sandalwood-based releases can feel thin and headache-y due to a reliance on synthetics, but this one is full and round as liqueur swirling in a glass. It’s tinted with rose, rather than smelling directly rosy, with a hint of a roasty dark chocolate note (patchouli and orris, perhaps) and a big slug of Amaretto-like tonka bean. I’ll be smelling this on my coat sleeves and scarves for months.
Teo Cabanel Alahine
Alahine is the closest to a classic amber on my list, opening with a burst of bergamot and a dash of sparkling aldehydes, then moving into a lush, honeyed floral section (again, the classics: rose, jasmine, and creamy ylang-ylang) with a bit of powder and glamorous, billowing sillage. The base sits in the middle of the Venn diagram between pure amber, woods, and incense. This is a sweeter amber than those done in the dry, herbal style (like Ambre Sultan), but when you’re in the mood for sweetness, it’s intensely beautiful.
Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille
By far my favorite straight vanilla, Spiritueuse Double Vanille smells like really good vanilla extract, but better. Like Santal Majuscule, it’s pleasantly boozy and rosy, with just a hint of a smoky incense note. I wish I could drink this stuff.
NYC perfume lover Daisy of the blog Cool Cook Style introduced me to this rich perfume – a men’s scent in a rare parfum concentration – and gave me a generous sample. It feels like a cross between vintage Chanel Égoïste and Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän – spicy up top with a gorgeous, dirty sandalwood and leather drydown.
Les Senteurs Gourmandes Tendre Madeleine
This cheapie (you can find a 100 ml bottle for under $40) is a delicious combination of almond, vanilla, citrus, and cinnamon. If you like Maurice Roucel’s L de Lolita Lempicka as much as I do, you’ll almost certainly like this too, but the more pronounced citrus and musk in L make me prefer it as a (surprisingly sexy) summer gourmand, while Tendre Madeleine is a winter comfort scent.
1000 Flowers Reglisse Noire
I hate black licorice, but I love licorice in perfume. Go figure. Reglisse Noire has the most aggressive, true-to-life licorice accord I’ve found, accented by a bold top note of black pepper (which is accentuated when sprayed). Rather than amber, it takes its base idea from Angel and Lolita Lempicka: an exceptionally good vanilla-sweetened patchouli with musk.
Parfumerie Generale Coze
My mother accidentally bought me a decant of this for Christmas, after hearing me mention another C-perfume from this line (Cadjmere). Luckily, I love it. Coze is a smooth, masculine, not-too-sweet gourmand based on the idea of Mexican cocoa (spiced with cinnamon and chile pepper) plus lots of patchouli for edge.
Another happy accident: I sent my purse spray of Mahjoun eau de parfum to a friend by mistake. I mentioned the error to my husband, planning to stop by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s shop in Boulder at some point to buy a replacement, but he gifted me with a small bottle of the extrait for Christmas. This is probably the sweetest gourmand in my collection, but saved from cupcake-banality by its exoticism: dates, honey, figs, cardamom, myrrh, and more blended into a fantasy of Middle Eastern delicacies.
Extra: Victoria’s article on building your perfume wardrobe around Orientals.
What are your favorite orientals? Are there other genres that you love to wear during the coldest months?
Painting : Carl Blechen, German, 1798-1840, The Interior of the Palm House on the Pfaueninsel Near Potsdam, 1834, The Art Institute of Chicago. Photography by Bois de Jasmin