oriental perfumes: 6 posts

Is It Time to Rename the Oriental Fragrance Family?

My original article on this topic was published in FT’s magazine, March 2016 issue, but the topic is as relevant as ever so I decided to continue the discussion here.

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—not an oil well in sight. There is even a fragrance family called “oriental.”

The term is misleading and vague. The Middle East and North Africa have old and sophisticated fragrance traditions, but the average oriental one might come across at Harrods has little to do with their classical forms. This family of French perfumery grew in tandem with other 19th-century developments in society, economy and art. As Ingres painted his erotic ideals in a harem setting, perfumers used heavy, rich notes like balsams, vanilla and musk to fashion their fantasies of the east. The fascination lingered well into the 20th century. Guerlain Shalimar was created in 1925, but it reprised all the hallmarks of the genre—opulence, warmth and an exotic backstory.

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Perfumes That Make You Feel Dressed Up

In the beginning of the lockdown, my friends and colleagues reveled in casual dress, especially those of us who have worked together for years and no longer felt embarrassed to take a Skype call in pajamas. Eventually, the Groundhog Day feeling of working from home settled in and whenever we would meet for a virtual happy hour, I’d see plenty of cocktail dresses and button-down shirts. Feeling dressed up is a terrific mood booster, and even if you lack an occasion to sport a beautiful outfit, why not put on a favorite dress to lounge around the house? My solution is different–and easier. I pick a perfume that makes me feel dressed up.

Certain fragrances make you feel like you need a ball gown to pull them off, but others feel like you’re dressed for a party, even if you’re wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt (my favorite outfit for working at home.) The choice of such fragrances is personal, linked more to your personal associations than with a specific scent, but the perfumes that make me feel dressed up have a few characteristics in common.

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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”.

The article is no longer online, but you can continue following the discussion via Is It Time to Rename Oriental Fragrance Family?

Image via FT

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.

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Opulence and Bollywood Through Perfume

I love Bollywood movies. The women are gorgeous, the men dashing, the good guys saintly, and the villains so evil that they make Thomas Barrow of Downton Abbey seem kindhearted. And everyone is ready to break out into a song on the spur of the moment. To an uninitiated audience, Bollywood films can seem odd, at best. The philosophy in costumes, makeup and special effects is “more is more.” The item numbers, song-and-dance sequences, are entirely unrelated to the plot. You have to completely suspend your disbelief on the most basic points. But once you’re used to the characteristic cocktail of songs, tears, love, and tinsel, Bollywood fairy tales can be the best escapist fun.

la chasse

So can perfumes. Recently, when I was enjoying the heady combination of Bollywood and Guerlain Nahéma after a stressful day,  I decided to explore my favorite Indian films through scents.  I selected 10 movies and linked them with fragrances that captured their themes or characters. If you want to get a taste of Bollywood, please read on. Needless to say, the perfumes on my list are as opulent as the Indian cinematic extravaganza.

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