Guerlain Oud Sensuel and Garden Sensuel : Perfume Oils Review


Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.

Fill the tent with a variety of different perfumes: ambergris, musk and all sorts of scents, such as rose, orange flowers, jonquils, jasmine, hyacinth, carnation and other plants. This done, have placed there several gold censers filled with green aloes, ambergris, naddah and such like.”
from the 15th century Arab book The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight.*

The house of Guerlain has been enchanted with the East for much of its history, from Persian Bouquet (1840), Shalimar (1925) to Samsara (1989). In this light, it is not surprising to discover that Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel Huiles de Parfum released this spring are inspired by the perfume oil tradition of the Middle and Far East. The writings of Herodotus, Theophrastus, Pliny as well as the Arabian Nights Tales attest to the opulence and sophistication of Middle Eastern perfumery. If the 18th court of Louis XV was known as le cour parfumée (perfumed court), then that of Baghdad’s Abbasid Caliphs deserved this title more than 10 centuries earlier. …

Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel Huiles de Parfum were created by perfumer Randa Hammami under the creative direction of Sylvaine Delacourte. The modern oriental fragrance family to which many of Guerlain’s fragrances belong is in many ways inspired by the sumptuous qualities of the musk, rose, spice and sandalwood blends loved in the Arab world. Therefore, I was curious to see how the perfume oils might explore this tradition further. I imagined vignettes from the Arabian Nights Tales, plush and luxurious blends that cling to the skin like heavy silks.

If my qualm with Iris Ganache was its opaqueness and heft, in the case of Garden Sensuel and Oud Sensuel, the situation is reversed. While the luxurious quality of the oils is obvious, their lightness and subtlety are simply not satisfying. They are soft like swan down and quite fleeting. My favorite of the two, Oud Sensuel , is an elegant woody fragrance, without the characteristic pungency of oud. Iris, the trademark of Guerlain, lends a cool character, while a delicate sparkle of citrus in the top notes uplifts the composition. The perfume stays close to the skin and does not have much sillage. However, whatever I can smell when I press my nose to my wrist is appealing.

Garden Sensuel is floral and peachy supported by a pretty powdery base of vanilla and woods. Much more potent than Oud Sensuel, Garden Sensuel is creamy and pretty, reminiscent of the scent that expensive soap leaves behind on the skin. Yet, nothing about it is distinctive or memorable.  I find it hard to see the link to the traditional Middle Eastern attars I have smelled, which have a certain alluring opulence and richness. I keep returning to my samples only to lose the olfactory image the next day. Opinions may be divided on Insolence, but one has to admit that it has character and presence. For a perfume that is priced at $350 for 20ml, pretty is not enough.

Garden Sensuel for women includes notes of neroli, rose, ylang ylang, gardenia, peach, tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood. Oud Sensuel for men contains neroli, cardamom, oud wood, cedar, geranium, iris and tonka bean. Huiles de Parfum are available from 68, Champs Elysées Guerlain flagship store in Paris as well as Bergdorf Goodman.

*The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight, Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Nafzawi, translated by Jim Coville, 1999, Kegan Paul International, ISBN 0-7103-0644-X.



  • pierre obsidienne: I doubt oud can be a subtle material, the best is YSL M7 but the Montale oud series is rather raw and unrefined. Oud is reminds me of vanilla, can straight-up vanilla scents be considered great perfumes? April 11, 2007 at 1:25am Reply

  • pierre obsidienne: I forgot to mention I have the same feeling with Rose Barbare, at $200 a bottle it ‘s too conventionally pretty and generic, no depth and susbtance. April 11, 2007 at 1:29am Reply

  • Christopher: I love it when you are so straightforward, which SCARES me. lol April 11, 2007 at 4:09am Reply

  • Tigs: I like it when you just lay it all on the line, V. I guess I don’t have to feel bad about not being able to afford these… April 11, 2007 at 12:38am Reply

  • flacon007: Dear Victoria, I was surprised about the simple appearance of these oils, which in my mind doesn’t correspond to the price. Now I learnt from your post that the content is also below customer’s expectations.
    Thank you as ever for your excellent reviews. April 11, 2007 at 4:38am Reply

  • March: Thank you, thank you! I have been quietly, desperately coveting these things since I first read about them. This is very sad, though. I don’t understand the business, and I don’t understand what Guerlain is doing. I think these could have been great, but why not really go for something interesting at that price point? I finally smelled Nuits de Amour (I think that’s the name) at Bergdorf and was disappointed yet again; it was pretty, sure, but just sort of … lame. I love those bottles, though. April 11, 2007 at 7:17am Reply

  • Elle: Light, subtle oud? Surely that’s an oxymoron. How disappointing! I know I shouldn’t be disappointed given the price point, but I’d started hoping for some truly opulent,superbly done, Guerlainesque ouds. I need to get over this and just be glad for having dodged another financial bullet. My budget thanks you. 🙂 April 11, 2007 at 7:28am Reply

  • Judith: This is SO disappointing! Like Elle, I was really hoping (despite the price) for a wonderful, sophisticated take on oud (which I often love). But my practical side (which I usually keep firmly under control) is, I guess, happy. April 11, 2007 at 8:31am Reply

  • Marina: What a disappointment. Pretty for that price is definitely not good enough. My wallet rejoices! 🙂 April 11, 2007 at 8:23am Reply

  • k-amber: I did not know many mens fragrances have oud notes. I have to try some of them! Burning Jinkho/Kyara/oud wood pieces reminds me my grandmother’s kimonos that were stored with Jinkho/Kyara/oud sachets. It is very sad to hear that great Guerlan produce such nonsence oils.

    Kaori April 11, 2007 at 8:23am Reply

  • carmencanada: I’m certainly going to sample these but if you’re underwhelmed, V., I’m not entertaining high hopes, which is just as well for the price. My only experience with scented oils is the ones I bought from Al Quraishi in Beirut and I found them, though fairly tenacious on the skin, to have next to no sillage. The principles of composition are quite different to French perfumery as well. I feel I don’t have enough criteria to judge. April 11, 2007 at 2:28pm Reply

  • Anya: V, I think what turns you off about these perfumes would turn me on. I don’t like to have a lot of sillage, I like sheerness, especially where Oud is concerned, and they both sound very appealing to me. Carmencanada also summed up the differences between trad. French composition criteria and that of the Eastern perfumes, so perhaps Guerlain was giving more than a slight acknowledgement to that form of the art. I like that. April 11, 2007 at 4:53pm Reply

  • Patty: I’m pretty happy to hear this, it will save one drain on the wallet. Thanks for the review, V! April 11, 2007 at 8:06pm Reply

What do you think?

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