Thierry Mugler Oriental Express : Perfume Review

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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.

Thierry Mugler

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.

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51 Comments

  • Michaela: Sounds very good! I love Shalimar (despite right now I have hard times to decide which one should I buy, EDC, EDT or EDP, to mention the available forms here) and I love iris. Logically I should like it a lot. I’ll give it a try for sure, thank you for this review. December 23, 2014 at 7:24am Reply

    • Michaela: Not important, but I like the elegant simple bottle and the name. December 23, 2014 at 7:25am Reply

      • Victoria: I was thinking of Agatha Christie’s novel, one of my favorites. December 23, 2014 at 10:24am Reply

    • Victoria: The EDC of Shalimar is the most citrusy and floral version of them all, while the EDT has more vanilla and powder. The EDT is kind of the in the middle. It’s hard to pick only one. And oh, the parfum is another marvel. December 23, 2014 at 10:22am Reply

  • Ajda: Oooooh, I need to try this! December 23, 2014 at 8:03am Reply

    • Victoria: If you like Shalimar or these kind of rich, enveloping, “cashmere wrap” perfumes, then it’s worth trying. December 23, 2014 at 10:25am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: I appreciate the contrast between iris and softer, powdery notes in Dior Homme and Homme Intense, even the bottle reminds me of Dior Homme. But because you compare it to Shalimar, this perfume must be more outspoken, I guess.
    I hope the Orient Express will make it to Amsterdam. December 23, 2014 at 8:32am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s much more outspoken than Dior Homme and it’s much sweeter too. I’m now curious about the other perfumes from the collection. December 23, 2014 at 10:26am Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for this Victoria – I’m impressed that you and Elisa are still churching out fantastic posts this close to Christmas!

    The perfumeounds interesting. I do love Volutes, and though Shalimar is just a touch too powdery/civetty for my tastes I do admire it immensely. Also, like Cornelia, I adore Dior Homme and oriental irises in general, so if I do happen to see this I will certainly test. Is it not quite expensive though? December 23, 2014 at 9:06am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you so much. The end of the year was so hectic for me that once I finished my work for 2014 and started my vacation, I couldn’t be bothered to stress over the holiday preparations. So, taking some time to write and relax.

      Originally, when I tried Orient Express at the counter, the SA quoted a much more affordable price, and I decided that after I give it a long wear, I will return for a full bottle. But when I double-checked the price later, my enthusiasm waned a bit. Not to say that it’s not worth it, since it’s an excellent, well-crafted, good quality perfume, but it’s undeniably on the expensive side for me. December 23, 2014 at 10:35am Reply

      • Figuier: You’re welcome! We do all very much appreciate your hard work on-site. Best wishes for Christmas and the new year (& p.s.: that was ‘churning’ not ‘churching’, in my first comment!). December 23, 2014 at 11:01am Reply

        • Victoria: Same to you! Hope that you’re having fun plans for the holidays. December 23, 2014 at 11:35am Reply

      • Tara C: Surprisingly, at the soft launch in Canada, they were selling it for $185 Cdn, which is quite a bit cheaper than $225 Usd. I loved it and bought it immediately. I love that it is refillable too! December 23, 2014 at 11:09pm Reply

        • Victoria: The perfume boutique SA also quoted a lower price, but I don’t remember exactly what it was. Online, I see $225 for 80ml. December 24, 2014 at 9:57am Reply

  • briony hey: Thanks for the post Victoria. Iris is my all-time favourite note and Shalimar one of my all-time favourite perfumes. So I’ve really got to try this. December 23, 2014 at 10:08am Reply

    • Victoria: I loved the combination. In the press release, they weave a tale of some sort of “carrot tree,” but whatever ingredient they used, it smells like iris to me. At any rate, iris and carrots share at least one aroma-molecule in common. December 23, 2014 at 10:37am Reply

      • Ariadne: Iris and carrots…cousins, that is very fascinating to me. I agree this bottle is marvelous. I have been missing the sun a lot too and am fighting gloom with Patou 1000 (purchased based on the BdJ review) for the same skin close comforting envelope of scent described above. Wishing Peace and health to all. December 23, 2014 at 10:52am Reply

        • Victoria: 1000 would be more grand and ornate, but yes, it’s perfect for these grey days. Are you wearing the parfum or the EDT/EDP? December 23, 2014 at 11:33am Reply

          • Ariadne: EDP :+) December 23, 2014 at 4:06pm Reply

            • Victoria: It has such a nice osmanthus accent. December 24, 2014 at 9:50am Reply

  • Jaime: Iris and Shalimar…this sounds amazing.

    Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, and all the connections/references that this perfume brings up for you. I’ll definitely put it on my to-sample list.

    Have a relaxing winter vacation! December 23, 2014 at 11:08am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you! Wish you and everyone else a great holiday!

      I love Shalimar and all of its variations. It’s such a great fragrance theme to inspire new perfumes. December 23, 2014 at 11:37am Reply

  • Elisa: Ah, this sounds so great! I must get my hands on some — I’ve been very curious about this collection. December 23, 2014 at 11:16am Reply

    • Victoria: I will return to sample the rest one of these days, especially their take on chypre. December 23, 2014 at 11:38am Reply

  • solanace: Yay! Shalimar being my favorite perfume and iris my favorite note, I absolutely have to try this.

    Wishing you sweet Christimas, Victoria. Thank you for offering us so much beauty all year long. December 23, 2014 at 11:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Merry Christmas! Thank you all for sharing many laughs, serious and not so serious chats together. 🙂

      The iris like note made prominent is a great touch. December 24, 2014 at 9:37am Reply

  • Andy: This sounds fantastic! The idea of a calm, cool iris wrapped up in this rich, oriental treatment you’ve described has me intrigued.

    And sending out my warmest holiday wishes to all! 🙂 December 23, 2014 at 11:46am Reply

    • Victoria: There is, of course, Iris Ganache from Guerlain and Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial, but both have been discontinued. Parfum Initial is much more lighthearted (and much more gourmand) than Orient Express.

      Happy holidays, Andy! December 24, 2014 at 9:44am Reply

  • monsieur: What a gorgeous bottle and excellent review! As soon as possible I have to try it and I’m very exciting about the collection now. I also love Shalimar by Guerlain and Tolu by Ormonde Jayne (I love to wear it in the winter time). Probably I’ll fall in love with this! December 23, 2014 at 12:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: Tolu is such a great perfume on days when you want something rich, cuddly, but still with a bit of spice. It’s also one of my favorites. December 24, 2014 at 9:45am Reply

  • Annette Reynolds: Since I grew up loving/wearing Shalimar, but I don’t know much about Iris, I’m thinking I should get a sample of this.

    This post was quite on-track for me today, as I’m wearing Les Nereides’ Opoponax as I type this.

    Thank you, Victoria! December 23, 2014 at 1:27pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, Opoponax is another member of a large Shalimar family, so yes, you might enjoy Oriental Express too. December 24, 2014 at 9:46am Reply

  • Elena: What an intriguing review! I am in search of a “winter” scent, and this sounds like it might be just the thing. I tend to fall in love with green scents, or almost anything with iris, but sometimes I just want something cuddly and warming. I have a decant of Fils de Dieu which I have been flying through, but this sounds like it might have a bit more oomph. I’m with you. This is a bit more than I like to spend, but that’s what splits are for! I have a feeling I’m going to love this. Glad to hear it’s at Nordstrom, too, so I can actually try it! Merry Christmas! December 23, 2014 at 1:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: Fils de Dieu is much more citrusy, fresher and brighter, but it also has more kick. Oriental Express is more of a full-bodied, curvier scent. If you’re missing more sweetness, richness and warmth in Fils de Dieu, you might find it here. The original Shalimar, of course, is a must try, but you’re probably familiar with it already. December 24, 2014 at 9:48am Reply

  • michaela: me, too:) December 23, 2014 at 2:31pm Reply

  • Aurora: It sounds very intriguing this duality iris/oriental; you certainly make it compelling with this tempting review. Like many others I adore Shalimar and will look for Orient Express sooner rather than later thanks to you. I adore the related list you now add at the end of a review it makes me want to try them all! December 23, 2014 at 3:15pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like some more than others on that list (Volutes is lovely, but I wouldn’t buy a full bottle), but it’s always fun to think how perfumes are related. After all, very few perfumes are completely unrelated to anything else that came before. December 24, 2014 at 9:50am Reply

  • annemarie: I recall Paul & Joe Bleu being Shalimar on a budget, but it may be d/c now; I don’t see it mentioned much. These days you can get Shalimar itself on a budget because online prices can be very good.

    Thanks for the review. I’m unlikely to get a chance to try Orient Express but you’ve encouraged me to give Shalimar yet another go. From your remark above, maybe the EDC would suit me best, if it has the most citrus and floral notes. December 23, 2014 at 5:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bleu was a very nice Shalimar version, but I don’t remember the last time I’ve seen it. And you’re right, you can find Shalimar inexpensively. For instance, my local perfume boutique ran a very affordable deal on Shalimar sets. December 24, 2014 at 9:52am Reply

  • kaori: It sounds great! I will try it 🙂
    Have a wonderful holiday to all ! December 23, 2014 at 8:48pm Reply

    • Victoria: Happy holidays, Kaori! 🙂 December 24, 2014 at 9:56am Reply

  • Judith: It never occurred to me that Etat Libre d’Orange Fils de Dieu is an oriental in the sweet/smoky/spicy way. I love it, it was my birthday present in 2014 and I see it as a gourmand. For budget Shalimar I wear Paul and Joe Bleu. Lovely bottle too. I shall graduate to the real thing one of these days. December 24, 2014 at 5:24pm Reply

    • Victoria: Shalimar is actually a cross between a cologne and an oriental, so Fils de Dieu takes after its cologne part (and it has lots of vanilla and accents of classical oriental notes too). It’s a really fascinating perfume, and I love wearing it and seeing how it evolves during the day.

      Another vote for Bleu! Yes, it’s a great perfume, inexpensive but really well-crafted. December 25, 2014 at 7:17am Reply

  • Tijana: Great review, thanks Victoria!

    This one is my favourite from the line. I don’t think I will buy a full bottle as it reminds me a bit too much of Diptyques Eau Lente (a bit more than Volutes although I must admit I only smelled Volutes once), but if I didn’t have that one in my collection, I would consider it as TM fragrances are such good quality and very long lasting on me! December 29, 2014 at 7:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: I see what you mean, because Eau Lente is another Shalimar inspired perfume at Diptyque. Oriental Express is plusher, and I love its iris notes, so I’m tempted by it. December 30, 2014 at 7:05am Reply

      • Tijana: I agree, it is definitely plusher than Eau Lente.

        Go for it 🙂

        Seriously, I really think TM fragrances are worth it. I am so impressed with their quality. January 1, 2015 at 10:02am Reply

  • Kat: Spot on, Victoria. I just received a decant of this gem and you really nailed its description. I can’t wear Shalimar because it just wears ‘me’ to the point my nose soon tires of it.

    But this beauty with its cool iris note turns Shalimar into something I can enjoy. January 20, 2015 at 4:14pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s really a touch of genius to use a generous touch of violet/iris in that context. Such an enjoyable perfume. January 21, 2015 at 8:13am Reply

  • Kelly: I love any kind of perfume that has vanilla in it. But now being mixed with other sents to make it sweet, smoky and dark really makes me want this perfume more. A perfume with layers sounds interesting! September 15, 2015 at 1:11am Reply

    • Victoria: I think it’s still available in stores. It’s a very good fragrance. September 15, 2015 at 11:01am Reply

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