What happens if you take iris, a note from the cool spectrum of a perfumer’s palette, and make it dark, smoky and sweet? The result is a new take on the oriental fragrance family, with lots of surprises. This is exactly what Thierry Mugler’s Oriental Express accomplishes. A part of Thierry Mugler’s Les Exceptions collection, which also includes Chyprissime, Supra Floral, Fougère Furieuse, and Over The Musk, Oriental Express is a twist on the traditional theme. The idea behind the collection is to offer modern, novel interpretations of classical fragrance families.
Easier said than done, especially in the case of the so-called oriental family. Loaded with balsams, sandalwood, vanilla, and incense, the oriental compositions have a very strong character, and to offer something new and different, yet still classical, requires unconventional choices. To solve this dilemma, perfumers Jean-Christophe Hérault and Olivier Polge took the direction of Shalimar.
The grandmother of contemporary oriental fragrances, Guerlain’s Shalimar is one of the few perfume I’d urge anyone to try to see how loads of citrus and loads of vanilla can result in the most marvelous olfactory effect. It’s fresh and rich, crisp and creamy, sensual and impeccably elegant. Playing on a similar bold contrast, Oriental Express blends an icy accord of iris-like notes and bergamot (another nod to Shalimar, which contains more than 50 % bergamot essence) with the crème brulée of benzoin and sandalwood. (Benzoin resin smells like spicy, cinnamon-spiked vanilla liquor.)
The gaps between the cool and warm in Oriental Express are filled with soft musk and sweet powdery notes, so as it develops on skin, it has a smooth progression from one rich layer to the next. It’s an opulent perfume, but it’s far from a heavy fur stole that many orientals resemble. Its sillage is memorable, but it’s tempered by citrus, and later by woods, to create a soft, inviting aura.
This delicious aura is the reason why I have been reaching for Oriental Express on these grey, cold days. It clings to skin like cashmere and pleases with its different nuances. Its sweetness is lush, but it doesn’t call to mind a pastry shop. The amber and patchouli are dark, but the accents of iris keep up the cool sparkle. It has plenty of surprises, but it also doesn’t stray too far from Shalimar territory. All in all, a well-made, clever perfume.
I recommend trying it if you love Shalimar and fragrances like Diptyque Volutes, Frédéric Malle Musc Ravageur, Ormonde Jayne Tolu, and Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille. If you want an even more unconventional take on Shalimar, Etat Libre d’Orange Fils de Dieu is excellent. For Shalimar on a budget, consider Fragonard Rêve Indien.
Thierry Mugler Oriental Express Eau de Parfum comes in a refillable bottle, 80ml/$225. In the US, it was launched exclusively at Nordstrom, but it should now be more widely available. I’ve been too infatuated with Oriental Express to explore the rest of the collection, but Denyse has tried it, and you can read her reviews here.