oriental perfumes: 4 posts

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?


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

Thierry Mugler Oriental Express : Perfume Review


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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Winter Fantasy : 10 Favorite Perfumes

Elisa plays Scheherazade with her 10 favorite oriental perfumes.

Come winter, you will find me in orientals almost exclusively. An oriental is a fragrance with an emphasis on amber, that fantasy accord of resins and vanilla, often accented with spices, woods, soft florals, or candy-like gourmand notes. Both the phrase and the fragrances remind me of an oriental rug: dark and rich, ornate, intricately patterned, dense but soft.


Orientals tend to be heavy with long-lasting base notes, so they’re perfect in winter, when you want a scent to envelop you all day with comforting sweetness and warmth. Here are my ten favorite oriental perfumes that get me through the cold, dark days of winter.

Flower by Kenzo

The name suggests “floral,” but under the violet and rose lurks this perfume’s true character: a powdery vanilla musk with opoponax that feels plush and white, and seems to sparkle especially when it snows.

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