Perfume and Orientalism

In my weekly FT column Scents of the East, I’m taking an oriental family to task. What makes perfumes “oriental”? What does this term mean? Is it any useful?

ft

The world of perfume press releases is one in which Edward Said never wrote Orientalism. Odalisques lounge in the incense-scented harems of marketers’ imaginations. The Mughals are still ruling India, and the Arabian Desert is a vast expanse of golden sands populated with handsome explorers – no oil wells in sight. There is even a fragrance family called “oriental”. Please continue here.

I also offer some of my favorite examples of fragrances classified as “oriental,” and I look forward to hearing about yours.

Image via FT

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113 Comments

  • Austenfan: Nice article, I especially enjoy your praise of Gold! Such an outstanding fragrance. May 2, 2016 at 7:37am Reply

    • Surbhi: Does gold smell powdery too someone else as well or is it just me ? May 2, 2016 at 9:40am Reply

      • Annie: Gold is a little powdery on me but not too much. I think.. it must be the aldehydes. I splurged on a bottle two years ago and I haven’t regretted it. May 2, 2016 at 9:52am Reply

      • Victoria: It’s not overly powdery on me, but like many classically minded perfume it has that kind of soft finish. Does it bother you? May 2, 2016 at 2:46pm Reply

    • Victoria: It really is! Stunning from all angles. May 2, 2016 at 2:35pm Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: great article as always. The Orient was in the air in the 19th century; you named already Ingres and Guerlain (and other perfumers). There was also the huge succes of Salambô, a bestseller.
    And now we have the term ”oriental perfumes”. An eye-opener from your article: the term is rather vague. Always good to think about your terminology, so thank you!
    My personal favourites:
    Bornéo 1834
    Patchouly Etro
    Shalimar (of course!)
    Ambre Sultan
    Byzance
    Sublime
    Bois d’Encens (austere and dry, see the article!) May 2, 2016 at 8:00am Reply

    • Tammy: Who makes Byzance? It’s such a pretty name. May 2, 2016 at 9:40am Reply

      • Laura Keller: Tammy: Rochas made Byzance – a beauty and sadly almost always priced beyond reason recently. And Coco is most definitely an Oriental! One of my all-time favorites in my all-time favorite fragrance category. =) May 2, 2016 at 10:21am Reply

        • Victoria: I’m also disappointed that it was discontinued. Such a gem. May 2, 2016 at 2:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: It always struck me when trying to classify “orientals” how many fit into that category and how little it means. But the fragrance industry is still stuck a few decades back.

      On the other hand, all of the perfumes you mentioned are gorgeous. May 2, 2016 at 2:42pm Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Don’t you think these perfumes are ”oriental”?
        Patchouli comes from Indonesia, so that’s oriental (?)
        Amber maybe is strictly speaking not ”oriental”..but is that rich, balsamic smell not ”oriental”? (Shalimar..).
        Incense (Bois d’Encens) is named in the Bible, so that one is ”oriental” (?).

        But, as I said, your article is useful for the right use of terminology. May 2, 2016 at 3:53pm Reply

        • Victoria: It gets more confusing. Patchouli is classified as a wood, and today many patchouli rich perfumes (especially if they contain moss) are classified as chypres, because it’s an essential ingredient for that family. Amber is a classical oriental note. Incense often is, but if the rest of the composition is most woods, then it would be in that family, Woods. May 3, 2016 at 2:11am Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: Confusing indeed! I saw and smelled Patchouli in the Hortus Botanicus, not wood, but leaves.
            And is Bornéo 1834 a chypre?
            Oh well, terminology is a necessary tool, but after all, what’s in a name! May 3, 2016 at 3:29am Reply

            • Victoria: Yes, patchouli is a leaf, but the smell is woody.
              Borneo 1834 is either woods or an oriental. I don’t remember how Michael Edwards classifies it, but it’s a type of perfume that combines both woods and sweet balsamic notes. May 3, 2016 at 4:19am Reply

              • Cornelia Blimber: Thank you for clarifying! May 3, 2016 at 4:43am Reply

          • spe: Interesting. I keep reading that patchouli is the new chypre. Chypres are what my Mom wore, so I know that category intuitively (citrus and oakmoss and labdanum). Patchouli smells nothing like that mixture. It’s all very confusing!

            On the other hand, patchouli does smell decidedly “oriental” to me, which to my nose requires amber, vanilla, woods, and spices in some combination.

            Surprisingly, this article made me realize that I do not find oriental fragrances appealing now. Almost every scent mentioned in the article and comments section feels like it’s too much. I used to wear Coco, but that was two decades ago. May 5, 2016 at 11:11am Reply

            • Victoria: I also don’t wear many classical orientals like Coco or Opium. But I like balsams and incense as accents, especially with floral and green notes. May 5, 2016 at 2:23pm Reply

  • Tammy: Is Coco Chanel considered oriental? If so, it’s my favorite. May 2, 2016 at 9:36am Reply

  • Tijana: Great article! Thank you!

    <3 May 2, 2016 at 10:00am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Tijana! May 2, 2016 at 2:45pm Reply

  • Jacob M: I found your column about a month ago, and I look forward to your new articles as much as to your posts here. Another great, thoughtful article. Thanks, Victoria.

    Favorites in this style: Angel Men, Pi, Chanel Antaeus, and a drum roll, YSL Kouros. I know, many call it fougere, but to me it’s more like an old school oriental. May 2, 2016 at 10:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Jacob! Love your choices, especially Antaeus. May 2, 2016 at 2:46pm Reply

  • Grey Gardens: OPIUM (original not current reformulation)
    Shalimar
    Rose de Nuit
    Arabie
    Ambre Sultan
    Samsara
    Nahema
    Borneo 1834
    Bysance
    En Avion
    Normandie (despite its name, is a fantastic oriental similar to Caron En Avion)
    Shocking
    TABU
    My Sin
    Obsession
    Aromatics Elixir
    COCO May 2, 2016 at 10:22am Reply

    • Victoria: What a great list! I love seeing Normandie (I assume you mean Jean Patou’s) on your list. May 2, 2016 at 2:48pm Reply

  • Stefanie: Thank you, Victoria, for a beautiful blog. I’m a total newbie. This brings me to my question of the day, what “oriental” perfume would you recommend to someone who likes florals? I’d like to try something new, but I fear that Opium and Coco might be too much for me at this stage. Thanks to all in advance! May 2, 2016 at 10:26am Reply

    • Victoria: You can start with something very delicate and not a traditional oriental. For instance, Jo Malone’s Mimosa and Cardamom or Caron Aimez Moi. Atelier Cologne Rose Anonyme is another great choice for a light rose with spicy accents. May 2, 2016 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Katy: I am so glad you brought this up. I think Oriental is ambiguous as a perfume category. I would like to see this terminology updated and more accurate. I don’t think of Papillon Anubis in this classification. I think of it as incense/leather, hence, the confusion. I think when one uses the term Oriental, it evokes images of the Far East and not the Middle East, for a large majority of us. So a term that honors the scented history of the Middle East, but does not merely evoke inaccurate Western fantasies? That is a challenging vocabulary to come up with. May 2, 2016 at 10:30am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s challenging, because it encompasses so many different styles–incense, leather, amber, balsams, vanilla. Even gourmands are classified as orientals! May 2, 2016 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Patricia: Like Tammy, my favorite oriental is Coco. Others that I like are Casmir by Chopard, Dior Mitzah, Kenzo L’Elephant, Histoires de Parfums
    Ambre 114, Parfumerie Generale Iris Oriental, and Serge Lutens Five o’Clock au Gingembre. May 2, 2016 at 10:32am Reply

    • Victoria: What do you think of Iris Oriental? It sounds interesting. May 2, 2016 at 2:51pm Reply

      • Patricia: It’s a spicy, woody incense with a bit of iris in the background. My favorite from those I’ve tried in the PG line. May 2, 2016 at 5:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. I’ll have to keep it in mind. May 3, 2016 at 2:11am Reply

  • Laura Keller: Awesome article. Without a doubt, Orientals are represented more than any other type of fragrance in my collection. Probably cliche but the two I’ve always had in my closet as an adult and can’t imagine living without are vintage Shalimar and Opium. Other favorites: Cinnabar, Youth Dew, Samsara, Coco, Tabu, Habanita, Obsession, Dior Addict, Hypnotic Poison, Mitzah, L’Aire du Desert Marocain, Dune, Byzance, Amouage Gold and Epic, MFK Absolue Pour le Soir, Lagerfeld KL, Houbigant Raffinee, Krizia Teatro Alla Scala, Jean Desprez Bal a Versailles & Sheherazade. I really love Orientals! =) May 2, 2016 at 10:48am Reply

    • Victoria: A great list! May 2, 2016 at 2:52pm Reply

    • Patricia: Love Krizia Teatro alla Scala! May 2, 2016 at 5:33pm Reply

    • C. Brown: Oh, gosh! I think I also wore Cinnabar in the 80s. I had totally forgotten until you mentioned it here.

      Is it the same formula? July 7, 2016 at 1:32am Reply

      • Laura Keller: Cinnabar has recently been overhauled – even the bottle has changed. I don’t dislike the new bottle but I can’t say the same for the watery juice in it. At this point it’s not very difficult to find the recognizable bottles at discounters or Ebay, and true vintage is fairly plentiful too; definitely the way I’d advise a friend to go. I’ve seen reviews from young ladies who do prefer the current version, so there’s that. July 7, 2016 at 6:42am Reply

  • Julie: Some of my favorites…Kenzo L’Elephant, Lalique Le Parfum (just tried recently), and Dune many years ago. May 2, 2016 at 11:10am Reply

    • Victoria: Those are some of my favorites too. May 2, 2016 at 2:52pm Reply

  • Annikky: Great article. I find that family difficult to pin down as well – Cuir de Russie, apparently, is also an oriental…

    I think it’s time for me to retry Gold: I gave my mini to a friend who loved it more than I did and haven’t smelled it in a while. I do love Lyric, though. And Neela Vermeire’s fragrances. May 2, 2016 at 11:16am Reply

    • Austenfan: It might be good from an educational point of view as it is pretty aldehydic 😉 May 2, 2016 at 11:18am Reply

      • Annikky: If only I was as determined to do some exercise as I am to make aldehydes work for me… May 2, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your aldehyde loving side might need a warm-up before Gold. 🙂 As Annie says, it does have a big dose. May 2, 2016 at 2:53pm Reply

      • Annikky: It does. But I’ve been practicing with No 22 🙂 May 3, 2016 at 7:33am Reply

        • Victoria: A fine way to exercise your nose. 🙂 May 3, 2016 at 2:29pm Reply

  • Raquel: I love Shalimar since I was like 4 years old and my beloved grandmother had it on his vanity table. I remember the first time I smelled it, It was love at first sniff so when I visited the Taj Mahal 2 years ago I used Shalimar but when I was there I felt it was “weak” compared to such a place…I don’t know, I’m not an expert in perfumes, I haven’t been able to smell perfumes like Amouage Gold or others you mention here but I guess a perfume like Coco, Al Haramain Attar Al Kaaba, Opium, Aromatique Elixir or even Kouros would have felt more like the place…I love Angel and Rochas Byzance (loved the ad!) SL Ambre Sultan and Kalemat. May 2, 2016 at 11:47am Reply

    • Victoria: Al Haramain perfumes are quite good, and for the traditional Omani or Bahraini ouds, I like Montale’s Black Oud. It’s surprisingly close to what I smelled in Muscat. May 2, 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

  • Raquel: I’d love to try Neela Vermeire’s fragrances, Amouage and Papillon Salome. May 2, 2016 at 11:50am Reply

    • Victoria: I definitely recommend Vermeire’s Mohur from her collection. It’s such a stunning perfume. May 2, 2016 at 2:55pm Reply

    • katherine x: Neela has a sampler set of 4 – 8ml each – for sale on her website. Agree with Victoria – Mohur is heartstopping and I like Trayee very much. It’s a joyful perfume with a taste of India (or what I imagine it to taste/smell like in my dreams). There are reviews of both – I think here on bdj. May 2, 2016 at 10:57pm Reply

      • Raquel: Thank you for the information! It’s time to try Vermeire’s fragrances! May 3, 2016 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Laura: Great article Victoria! In the late 80’s thru early 90’s, I felt certain in my understanding of the “oriental” classification. Now, I feel less certain. Do you know if Chanel described Coco, in its original form, as an oriental? Or is that how the west classified it? May 2, 2016 at 1:53pm Reply

    • Victoria: Coco is a traditional French perfume that the industry classifies as an “oriental”, but no, it has nothing to do with the Middle Eastern perfumes. May 2, 2016 at 2:56pm Reply

      • katherine x: Could never get a feel for the commonality among perfumes described as “oriental.” So glad you wrote this article – I don’t feel so alone anymore! May 2, 2016 at 11:01pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, you’re definitely not the only one! May 3, 2016 at 2:21am Reply

  • onWingsofSaffron: Profound thanks for a thought-provoking article. I am thrilled and don’t know where to start! I do not want to hog too much space so I would like to comment on two or three points only: First a “new name”, and secondly the greater issue of “sustainability”.
    I understand the lure to re-name the genres. “Oriental” — next to say, “chypres” and fougère” — isn’t exactly helpful. I had a very simplistic thought: why not colour the scent concepts: oriental = gold; fougère = green; chypres = ochre; leather = brown. But then, how profane! In the long run, maybe those ambiguous terms will be more evocative of magic, desire, exotism, nostalgia than precise definitions?
    To another point you brought up in your article: sustainability. How maddening that despite better knowledge mankind is wasting and depleting natural resources in flora and fauna as if there were no tomorrow! Mysore sandelwood was one example, bois de rose is another, and you explicitely mention the rapidly vanishing species of aquilaria trees for oud perfumes. The same is true the horrendous extermination of animals like rhinos, tigers, elephants, or indeed bees and butterflies. Only taking a political stance can change anything here!
    And lastly, a resounding bravo for your last sentance: “The day when perfume is considered a cultural treasure is yet to dawn.” Like animals and plants, our cultural heritage too is not something to be ditched or abandoned because there is no time, no will, no stamina or whatever to preserve it. I am not sure where to begin, but only action and not lamentation stands a chance of change.
    Please forgive this unforgiveably long response! May 2, 2016 at 2:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your interesting comment and these various points. I completely agree that most of the perfume terms are vague and unhelpful, but at least, you can define fougere and chypres, while “oriental” is all over the place. I mostly can’t figure out why the perfume press releases are as poorly written as they are. Surely, one should blush a little when writing things like “this perfume is the essence of odalisques and harems” or something along these lines.

      The related issue of sustainability is that in the current climate of “natural is better”, some don’t even consider that 1) it’s not true and 2) natural essences are not always sustainable. For instance, I don’t want natural musk in perfume or natural oud (unless a company can assure me that it sources its essence sustainably). To Kilian’s credit, he and Calice Becker stated outright that because they couldn’t find a reliable source, they decided to use a synthetic base. And his ouds are gorgeous. May 2, 2016 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Neva: Dear Victoria, this is again an interesting and intriguing question: what does oriental in perfumery mean? Now that I tried to answer it, I would say perfume that is rather sweet, a bit spicy perhaps and strong. It is very much the opposite of the perfume I’m wearing but the first that comes to my mind and would fit in this category would be Opium, then maybe Coco, some Amouages for sure (Opus III, Opus IX, Gold), Samsara, the old KL by Lagerfeld… May 2, 2016 at 3:36pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’d agree with you. I also think that there must be a degree of sweetness for a perfume to fall into this family. Samsara is one of my gold standards. May 3, 2016 at 2:10am Reply

  • Lynn Morgan: Brilliant post, Victoria! This is one of my favorite genres of perfumes, but I prefer to think of them simply as “dark” (it’s the Goth in me).

    I love Chanel’s Coco Noir, and Etro’s Messe Minuit, Givenchy’s now almost extinct Organza (such a luscious vanilla!), Hermes’ 24 Faubourg (lush, velvety and sexy to death), Must de Cartier, and the BEST perfume I have tried thus far is a niche scent by Rita Dove I’ll have to go back and fact-check that; bear with me) called Diaghelev. It made me swoon when I spritzed it at Neiman-Marcus, and not just because it was $1500! I got compliments on the scent all day long- from my mom, from strange men, from VERY strange men- and it lingered like a hallucinogenic dream on my handbag and scarf. Iron-clad sillage.

    Having written perfume press releases and ad copy, may I defend the indefensible?

    Not everybody who reads perfume press releases is as well-informed and passionate about the subject as a serious perfume writer-scholar like Victoria or Luca Turin or even the devoted readers of this blog. They are general assignment editors, style writers, etc. They may be whip-smart and highly educated (lots of Masters Degrees in journalism or English Lit floating around out there), but they are not necessarily perfume geeks, and, most importantly, neither are most of their readers! The idea is to engage with them quickly, viscerally and as powerfully as you can. You have to tap into something emotional, and preferably sexy (unless you have a celebrity angle to play).

    Perfume is all about emotion, fantasy and the individual and collective unconscious. Nobody ever has a completely rational, logical, empirical reason for buying it. The perfume a woman buys frequently expresses some hidden, secretive part of herself, the self that lives inside her head, not the one who packs her kids’ school lunches every day and/or goes into the office or waits tables. The scent she daubs on allows her to close her eyes and pretend she is somewhere else.

    Calling a perfume “Oriental” is just a quaint way of expressing a fantasy of someplace distant, unfamiliar, forbidden that really only existed in the over-heated imaginations of certain painters and poets, filtered through the biases of 19th century western Europe. Remember, there was no National Geographic Channel, not a lot of photography (none of it in color), no Conde-Nast Traveler. Before the mid-19th century, there were no major railroads- a journey of 100 miles was a massive, grueling exhausting undertaking, and the Grand Tour was something so expensive that only the upper classes could afford to make such a journey. So, for people in this time, books and memoirs of people who had traveled abroad, even to France or Italy, were eagerly devoured, and Lord Byron’s epic poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” with its settings in Greece, Turkey, etc. was as jaw-dropping as a James Cameron movie.

    The “East” “the Levant” “the Orient” as everything east of Italy was variously known was a source of enormous fascination, and trade with those countries were the source of enormous wealth for many in western Europe: the May 2, 2016 at 7:22pm Reply

    • Lynn Morgan: sorry- hit the wrong key mid-rant!

      As I was saying- Europeans could not get enough paisley shawls from India, tea from Ceylon, China, and India, silks, spices, antiquities, incense and perfumes, and yes; opium from China. The “Orient” was the mysterious well-spring of everything, exotic, luxurious, decadent and sexy.

      All of this was infused with a certain level of white supremacist incomprehension. You will notice that the voluptuous nudes in Orientalist paintings of “harems” or Cleopatra and her handmaidens, etc., don’t look even remotely Egyptian or Middle Eastern; they look like English brunettes, with pale skin and small, upturned noses. This may be because few of these painters actually visited the Middle East and saw the people and culture for themselves, but I can’t help thinking that there was something else at work.

      The point is (and I do have one), for almost 200 years, the Far East (far from what? It’s exactly where it needs to be) in the Western imagination was a place of mystery, Romance (in the Byronic sense), self-indulgence and even depravity: opium dens! concubines! belly dancers! Shaharazade! jewels beyond imagination! perfumed tents! harems…for westerners who had never been there and never would visit, it all seemed like the 19th century version of the Playboy mansion.

      To a degree, the impression still lingers in the imagination, but it is a cinematic version that has come down to us from Rudolph Valentino in “The Sheik” up to Omar Sharif’s breathtaking entrance on horseback across miles of empty, golden desert sands in ‘Lawrence of Arabia.” It bears absolutely no resemblance to the violent, oligarchical theocracies that are now central to most of the world’s cultural, religious, and economic conflicts and many of the world’s most egregious human rights violations. Not at all romantic.

      That’s not what you want people to think of when they read the press release on an “Oriental” perfume: you want them to think “Midnight at the Oasis”, Moroccan open air markets filled with spices, warm Mediterranean breezes, hand-woven rugs, mint and rose petal tea, gorgeous dark-eyed strangers, barges on the Nile, silk caftans, Talitha Getty, and the Alexandria Quartet, NOT suicide bombers, kidnapped Nigerian school girls, a 60 Minutes’ reporter being sexually assaulted by an angry mob while covering the “Arab Spring”, angry Hasidim spitting on secular Jewish school girls for not wearing “modest” (i.e. – uncomfortable and encumbering) clothing, and everybody in the world subjected to very long security lines in airports, removing our shoes and random invasive pat downs.

      When you’re making the pitch, you’re selling a dream, not the reality. Think about what a harem would have really smelled like: lots of unwashed bodies (desert climate; no indoor plumbing), dozens of women living together in close proximity (all menstruating in sync- what fun!), sweat, frustration, anger (you cannot make me believe that everybody enjoyed this arrangement equally!) no deodorant, and no hot showers….not something you’d pay $300 an ounce for!

      It’s a cheesy designation, but it still works. It sounds exotic, exciting, even a little dangerous, but it’s all in innocent, good fun. May 2, 2016 at 8:14pm Reply

      • katherine x: Makes sense to me and I think this type of ad copy is fine. I want to escape, to dream. Isn’t that what perfume’s about? Doesn’t it alter our reality? Taking us on a journey – emotional or mental – or both? May 2, 2016 at 11:13pm Reply

      • Karen A: One of the things BdJ gives me is a break from ranting and raving. There is plenty of that in the news, online and well, everywhere. I hesitated for several days before posting a response to your comment, actually I avoided BdJ thinking, jeez even my “sanctuary” for non ranting had been breached.

        There are all kinds of forums for broad statements on cultures (other’s of course), religion (other’s of course) and politics (again, other’s, of course!). What there is very little of online is a respite from all of that. May 5, 2016 at 7:56am Reply

    • Alicia: Are you sure that the Roja Dove fragrance you mention is not a chypre? Diaghilev had a passion for Mitsouko, to the point of impregnating the courtains of the Ballet Russe with it. I never smelled Diaghilev, but the name, and Roja Dove’s love of history seem to indicate a Mitsouko like chypre. May 2, 2016 at 11:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: But, Lynn, my main point is that this classification has little value precisely for the people who know little about perfume. What on earth does “oriental” mean to an average shopper? It’s a term that might mean something to a perfume geek, if it does.

      As for the whole subject of Orientalism, many books have been written on this. Yes, it means a fantasy, Arabian nights, etc, etc, and perfume is all about fantasy, but the images than an average press release paints are so trite and dull. There are, of course, good, talented writers such as yourself working on press releases, but in my experience they’re a minority.

      Finally, let’s not forget while we are in our rose and saffron scented fantasy that perfume industry is driven today by sales in the very countries you’ve described as tyrannical and oligarchical. The ouds churned out by every perfume house on the planet are meant to seduce not the Europeans but the people in Saudi Arabia. It’s the fastest growing market for perfume today. There, these perfumes are known not as “oriental” but “French”. May 3, 2016 at 2:09am Reply

  • mJ: Thanks for a great article. I’ve always enjoyed “oriental” frangrances, especially while wearing winter’s silks and furs. I fondly remember EL’s Cinabar. I feel Bond #9’s Chinatown is one of the great fragrances. May 2, 2016 at 11:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Chinatown is so interesting in its combination of spice, incense and ripe peach. It could be edible, but it isn’t. Very clever. May 3, 2016 at 2:22am Reply

  • Alicia: Your lucid article reveals that the olfactive art has fully entered into postmodernity. There all categories are blurred or destroyed. Once upon a time the chypres were quite distinctive since they were defined mostly by their ingredients. if such a neat category as chipre could be blurred as it has lately with the IFRA restrictions, orientals were always more opened to change and inclusion because of its initial very wide scope. If Lolita Lempicka is an oriental, then so is Angel, and all gourmands. As for my favorites… many, Victoria, too many. Just a few to remember, the original Opium and Ysatis. This autumn and winter I wore Coco, Byzance, Vol de Nuit, Samsara, Ambre Sultan, L’Air du Desert Marocain…Samsara makes me wonder, where do we put our beloved woods, such as Feminité du Bois, and the divine leather of Cuir de Russie??? I don’t longer know. Of what I am certain is that when I wear a traditional oriental I feel like wearing brocades, silk velvets and gold lamé. The best orientals have a golden opulence: the call of Shalimar. May 2, 2016 at 11:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Family in general are a little bit confusing, and they have always been, which is why people like Michael Edwards made their careers on classifying them. Your point about chypres is spot on. They have definitely changed in form and substance.

      I also agree that a degree of opulence is key. May 3, 2016 at 2:24am Reply

  • Alicia: With my excuses to Scherrer, I also wore plenty of his Nuits Indiennes. I think it used to be called Nuits de Scherrer. I am fond of the brand. He also produces one of my favorite chypres, Scherrer #1. May 2, 2016 at 11:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: Scherrer #1 (or as it’s called, just Scherrer) is a chypre treasure. May 3, 2016 at 2:24am Reply

      • Patricia: I love Scherrer 2 as well! May 3, 2016 at 12:03pm Reply

      • Mj: My favourite chypre and the scent I feel is most “me” May 3, 2016 at 3:29pm Reply

        • Victoria: Today it’s one of the best chypres available, even given the recent tweaks. May 4, 2016 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Nick: I would be happier with perfume advertisements describing compositions as chypre, fougère, or oriental with an additional line of explanation. Otherwise, it makes little sense to someone who is completely new. It feels like name dropping for prestige. After all, we do not see a lavender scented detergent described as ‘fougère’ do we?

    My small list of oriental perfumes that I would come back to again and again includes Habit Rouge EdT, Coromandel, and Bois des Îles. May 3, 2016 at 6:15am Reply

    • limegreen: Hey Nick — I’m a recent convert and now devotee of Coromandel and Bois des Iles. This has come as a surprise as I’ve had little luck with the Exclusifs line. My only true constant in the Chanel line has been no. 19, though I enjoy the zestiness of Cristalle in its various forms.

      Do you wear Bois des Iles in parfum or edt? I think I’m in the minority as I prefer the edt, as it is more leathery on me which I love. Just idle curiosity.
      And how does one describe Coromandel?! It eludes description for me and I can’t compare it to anything I have smelled, not even a so-called Chinese screen. May 3, 2016 at 10:56am Reply

      • Nick: Limegreen, why have you had little luck with the line? Is there something in the style that works against your liking?

        I came to know No.19 and Coromandel because of a passionate SA. I was a bit shy about approaching the pricey line, and she caught me sniffing from the caps and struck a conversation about what notes I liked, instead of trying to sell. It was benzoin, sandalwood, and vetiver, and I was curious about iris. Hence, No.19 and Coromandel.

        Coromandel is not as opulent as typical oriental perfumes. Rich yet grounded. Dry, resinous woods and incense mellowed by jasmine absolute? I would not translate the smell of Chinese screens literally 😀 Perhaps, the woods from which they are made, the patchouli and other incenses that came along with from the Coromandel coast in India, where the screens originally came to Europe?

        As for Bois des Îles, I knew it through Égoïste. I like the sharp aldehydic contrast in the EdT, but the richness of the parfum has recently won me over 🙂 May 3, 2016 at 8:51pm Reply

        • limegreen: Love your SA success story in finding these fragrances, Nick! These connections can make a difference in how one discovers a line. And no. 19 and Coromandel are not obvious pairings either so it’s neat that you found them. I enjoyed your description of Coromandel, the cross-cultural journey of the different woods and incense and patchouli, over an ocean as it trails jasmine. 🙂
          I think the Chinese screens are a visual metaphor for the fragrance, what with the ornate in-laid patterns and intricate engravings carved into the panels. May 3, 2016 at 10:58pm Reply

          • Nick: And, I have recently succumbed to a 7.5 ml refilllable vial of No.19’s extrait! The SA suggested that I didn’t have to buy the sprayer and gave me a spare one they had — she knew that I would enjoy the juice more than the packaging.

            Though not sure if I could pull it off wearing it outside, but I certainly will enjoy it at home. May 8, 2016 at 12:32pm Reply

            • limegreen: The extrait is beautiful, isn’t it? Why don’t you feel you can wear it outside? The extrait is a skin scent, at least on me.
              (“Succombed” is a great way to capture how one becomes hopelessly entranced by a fragrance!) May 15, 2016 at 10:39am Reply

              • Nick: Well, for now. As the heat of summer approaches, it gets a little difficult to wear a chypre without disturbing those around me. Of course, if I were on holiday, I would be tempted to sport a bit of No.19 attitude 😉 May 15, 2016 at 12:06pm Reply

                • limegreen: LOL, that’s a first for me to think of a no. 19 attitude. And I don’t think you mean it in the way Luca Turin did in Perfume Guide, as a cold heartless no. 19. Not sure I agreed with many of his assessments anyway.
                  I have to confess that I have been neglecting no. 19 edt as of late as my fallback iris for everyday has been Le Labo Iris 39. Talk about succumbing! (Lutens Iris Silver Mist is not for everyday.) May 15, 2016 at 12:44pm Reply

                  • Nick: The thing is I have never read Mr Turin’s books! Didn’t know that it is a ‘cold heartless’ one. Wow. It just reminds me of Aramis and Cabochard so much in the dry down. I have only just started to read his blogs and some of his analogies require me to do some research on the backstory. They are eye-opener, I think. For a clean marble iris, I go for Hiris. For a dirty one, 19 is my new favourite! May 15, 2016 at 1:43pm Reply

        • limegreen: Most of the Chanels have the overdose of the aldehyde note that they’re famous for, and it’s a dealbreaker for my skin and nose. I thought no. 22 was so super aldehydic I nearly passed out. But a good chunk of the Exclusifs just evaporate on my skin before I can really come to a conclusive feeling about them. I love the ephemeral opening of 28 La Pausa for the iris (love iris, hence no. 19) and enjoy Cuir de Russie for the leathery iris, and prefer Malle’s Lipstick Rose over Misia, but they all sort of poof away.
          Bois des Iles EdT was a surprise as the aldehydic opening was rather pleasant (and fleeting) and the projection on my skin was wonderful, and I found it irresistible. I initially experienced BdI in parfum actually and didn’t love it, so it was really the EdT that won me over, maybe because there is a smaller dosage of sandalwood. And it was a beautiful leathery effect. In fact when I first tested it, I was convinced that the Chanel SA had spritzed Cuir de Russie instead (the tester bottles are next to one another on the display counter). Well, he was very young and sort of hyper (he was pushing Beige and Misia on me), so I should be forgiven for doubting! 🙂 May 3, 2016 at 11:01pm Reply

          • Nick: That is true. Iris and aldehydic quality feel their signature. Their iris is so rooty dusty, and even buttery, and not so much on the violet side. It feels like a good investment for iris fragrances in Chanel. No.19 is not so aldehydic, that is probably why you enjoy it. 28 La Pausa is an apparition to me as well. I haven’t really experienced Lipstick Rose in full, but I can tell that it is going to last way longer than Misia. May 8, 2016 at 12:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: Exactly! Otherwise, it’s just meaningless jargon.

      Habit Rouge is one of my favorites too. And Bois des Iles and Coromandel. May 3, 2016 at 2:28pm Reply

  • limegreen: Thank you for bringing this up and clarifying how unclear a term it is, Victoria. What a fascinating thought-provoking idea, does the name get changed or does the type of classification continue to expand with all kinds of interpretations of oriental? Until I read it in your article, I never thought of Noir Epices, one of my favorites, as an oriental. And I had been confused by the classification anyway! I just enjoy a fragrance without regard to its classification, the notes or the perfumer are more helpful as indicators for me. Not perfect either.
    I may be wrong but the IFF Secret Smelling kit does not identify by family, just notes, the aroma chemical of interest and inspiration. It’s a more accessible narrative for me, as is your recommendation for some explanatory note. May 3, 2016 at 9:41am Reply

    • Victoria: Noir Epices is a tricky case, because it can also be chypre, but it has many spicy and woody elements. In the end, you’re right, it’s better just to smell and make up your mind this way. May 3, 2016 at 2:31pm Reply

      • limegreen: Chypre is another category I can’t keep straight! At least there are modifiers such as “green” chypre and “woody” chypre” and some others.
        But since I’m not going to “tested” on any of this before I am allowed to wear perfume, it is an intellectual puzzle that is fun to discuss (or not). 🙂 May 3, 2016 at 10:31pm Reply

        • Victoria: Yes, that’s like a family tree with many branches! The nice part is that few of us (including most perfumers) have to worry about classifying a perfume precisely. May 4, 2016 at 2:13pm Reply

  • Claire: Possibly my favorite scent category – but you are so correct to question what, exactly, it encompasses. Like so many here, Shalimar is absolutely a go-to fragrance for me. However, since I live in Texas, it is a go-to primarily in cooler months. I will absolutely live in Fragonard’s Reve Indien at any time during the year. I’ve seen several reviews that consider Reve Indien and Shalimar dupes; I find that they are more similar in tone than actual scent. I am enjoying hearing what the rest of you love wearing and associate with this category; now I have a real longing to try Iris Oriental! May 3, 2016 at 12:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I can see Reve Indien inspired by Shalimar, but I agree with you that they are similar more in character, rather than their scent. May 3, 2016 at 2:33pm Reply

  • Mj: I’m not very big on orientals, it’s a category a bit difficult for me. My favourite oriental is Kenzo Jungle (L’elephant). Also I like Coco (my wedding day perfume) and EL Spellbound (I know, I know…). I tend to lean to spicy orientals, maybe because I love chai tea and curries….
    Last summer I bought a bottle of Eau de Shalimar and wore it through the hot, clammy Mediterranean Spain summer. I loved it and plan to keep using it this coming summer, however the “real” Shalimar is, still, a difficult scent for me. May 3, 2016 at 3:28pm Reply

    • Victoria: Eau de Shalimar is a great variation, retaining the fresh and velvety parts of the original, but in a lighter hue. I also enjoyed it. May 4, 2016 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Lily: I am not sure I have a true oriental in my collection yet, since the ones I have fallen for are the floral-oriental blends. Parfum Sacre, YSL Cinema, Burberry London (Him). I might argue Ostara is a floriental – at least on me the vanilla is so prevalent. I guess Bvlgari Black is technically an Oriental, finally one with no flowers? But it seems so uniquely its own thing and not representative of the family. A black sheep, heh.

    My sense of the family is that the perfumes are based on amber, resins, incense, vanilla, or certain woods (like sandalwood or rosewood but not cedar), often infused with spices, and any fruit or floral components are accents/harmonies that are not distinguishable notes. And, in general, rich/opulent fragrances. The variety within the family is stunning; the current penchant for genre-blending (in all aspects of modern culture!) makes things even more confusing. Hence my list…are they even orientals, or are they florals?

    As to the name – I don’t mind it, bc I find oriental much easier to grasp than floral vs wood vs chypre when it seems most perfumes have a base not from each category included… May 4, 2016 at 1:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Bulgari Black is classified as a chypre, dry woods. Most families are quite diverse today, so it’s hard to classify perfumes. May 4, 2016 at 2:27pm Reply

      • Lily: Ha! So then no “pure” oriental in my library yet. 😉 May 4, 2016 at 9:26pm Reply

        • Victoria: 🙂 There is still time to get around to those. May 5, 2016 at 2:19pm Reply

  • marymary: I’m Chinese and after my mother died I found a small oriental enamelled jar of perfumed ointment. Smells of vanilla, benzoin, and maybe a little bit of patchouli. So I guess that’s oriental.
    Oriental to me is opium, spellbound, cornubia. I’m thinking spice, particularly cinnamon. I don’t see Shalimar as oriental but I’m sure it is.
    Remember the florientals a while back? Which ones were those again? May 4, 2016 at 2:35pm Reply

    • Victoria: Your mother’s ointment sounds wonderful!

      Coco Mademoiselle is a floriental, as well as a number of perfume Lily mentioned earlier. May 5, 2016 at 2:15pm Reply

  • Aurora: This great article made me think. The most recent scent which would qualify as an oriental for me is Sahara Noir. It is so dense and long lasting and of course the name too which follow that exotic tradition. I enjoyed your review of it very much and followed your example of applying it on my scarf, not on my skin. 2 spritzes last for days on end. I acquired it on eBay, lightly used, for such a good price and it is my first Tom Ford. May 4, 2016 at 2:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sahara Noir is best of all on fabric, I think. And it lasts forever this way, doesn’t it? Enjoy your find! May 5, 2016 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Kari: My favorite: Kenzo L’Elephant. It’s become my favorite perfume ever since I bought it after reading your review.

    I also love SL Jeux de Peau and Chergui; and FM Musc Ravageur.

    I am intrigued seeing you classify Jo Malone Mimosa and Cardamom as oriental. It is such an ambiguous category and I wouldn’t have thought of that one as oriental at all. Same thing with Hanae Mori Butterfly, which I was surprised to see classified as an oriental perfume. (I love both scents.) May 5, 2016 at 10:47am Reply

    • Kari: Two others that I didn’t associate as Oriental perfumes and are favorites:
      Serge Lutens 5 o’clock au gingembre and Un Bois Vanille May 5, 2016 at 10:57am Reply

    • Kari: Oh, AND: I forgot all about my new Oriental woody favorite: Smuggler’s Soul from Lush, which has been part of Europe’s Gorilla Perfume lineup for a while but just launched in the US. It’s a gorgeous creamy sandalwood. May 5, 2016 at 11:05am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a floral with an oriental accent. I wouldn’t classify it as a full oriental, though.

      I’m very happy to hear that you like Kenzo L’Elephant. Apparently, it’s being discontinued. May 5, 2016 at 2:22pm Reply

      • Kari: Oh, NUTS. I hate to hear that. Well… Time to buy backups, I guess. May 5, 2016 at 9:25pm Reply

        • Victoria: I myself found out recently, so I’m thinking of getting a backup bottle. May 6, 2016 at 6:19am Reply

  • Milton: I love the world of perfumery, actually I want to go to Grasse to take a course of it, but I don’t have nobody who can wait for me over there, and at the same time, I don’t have nobody that can help me out with everything in France, not even a friend, and I’m kind of afraid of all that because I’m from a very far country from France 🙁 May 5, 2016 at 4:35pm Reply

  • C. Brown: Your article on EDT, EDC, etc. had a link to this article, which I thought was very relevant to this discussion. http://howtospendit.ft.com/health-grooming/106113-can-you-bottle-bollywood?ref=REL_ART July 7, 2016 at 2:02am Reply

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