June 16, 2012
When it comes to the oud craze Guerlain is one of the last perfume houses I expected to jump onto the bandwagon. Upon further thought I realized Guerlain wasn’t going to join the lemming-like rush to add it to their perfume. Particularly over the last few months we have seen a number of very good releases which have really explored the ambiguities and depth of oud instead of just including it in a fragrance to add something exotic. It often seemed like the Arabian Pony was always being asked to do the same one-trick. Thierry Wasser, the in-house perfumer at Guerlain, is someone who wanted to put oud through some different paces.
M. Wasser truly does use oud differently as it is much more a member of the ensemble in all three of the fragrances in the Les Deserts d’Orient collection. Think of an A-list star working as part of an independent movie. Instead of overwhelming the other notes it defers to them adding its unique quality to illuminate the usual with the unusual. My colleague Jasia Julia Nielson was completely transported by Songe d’un Bois d’Ete and her review will appear soon. That leaves me to take on the other two; Encens Mythique d’Orient and Rose Nacree du Desert.
Encens Mythique d’Orient is the fragrance advertised in its name. If you’re expecting arid frankincense and resinous oud you get that but unlike any other fragrance which has used these notes. Encens Mythique d’Orient could’ve been a smoky resin festival but M. Wasser has more up his sleeve. The frankincense is tempered by the inclusion of neroli and saffron. These two notes keep the frankincense from turning too desiccated and actually tilt the early stages into something more easily approachable. The oud arrives along with a beautiful rose. Here is where M. Wasser takes this perfume on a very different path as only the neroli from the top notes fades. The frankincense and saffron create an atmosphere for the rose and oud to rise into. Once all four notes are in place Encens Mythique d’Orient achieves a precarious balance that would be lesser for any one of these notes being missing but together they are almost mythological. The base notes are ambergris, musk, and moss and while these are nice they almost feel more like an epilogue to the fragrant climax which came previously.
Reclining Nude Delphin Enjolras
If there is any oud combination due for a reinterpretation it is rose and oud. It was this combination that is probably most perfumista’s introduction to oud for the first time. They do seem like natural partners but until recently their routine has been, well, routine. M. Wasser uses a very simple set of notes and by letting the other three notes predominate he makes the rose and oud into something far beyond routine. Unlike Encens Mythique d’Orient M. Wasser places saffron front and center at the beginning of Rose Nacree du Desert. It is quickly joined by the same rose as in Encens Mthique d’Orient but the saffron is ratcheted up in intensity to hold its ground. The oud then carries the middle but this is a fleeting part of Rose Nacree du Desert. The base notes of benzoin and patchouli blow in like a desert sandstorm rolling over everything in their way right until they run into the rose and oud wall. The patchouli and benzoin take over Rose Nacree du Desert in a sweetly herbal rush as the rose complements the benzoin while the oud supports the patchouli.
Encens Mythique d’Orient and Rose Nacree du Desert have excellent longevity and above average sillage.
It may have taken a couple of years for Guerlain and M. Wasser to add oud to their palette but the result shows what that patience can realize.
Disclosure: This review was based on decants purchased from Surrender to Chance.
–Mark Behnke, Managing Editor
Art Direction: Michelyn Camen, EIC
Editor’s Note: The Les Deserts d’Orient collection was created for the Arabian market and is exclusively available at Guerlain vendors in the Middle East and, of course, the Paris flagship. According to Guerlain PR USA there are no plans for these to be available in the US.