I love perfumes that tell stories, make me see pictures and hear music, and yet keep eluding me, so that just when I thought I had it captured, it shows up another fascinating aspect. The new oriental trio from Guerlain (Mangaging Editor Mark Behnke reviews of Encens Mythique d’Orient and Rose Nacree du Desert )is such stuff as dreams are made on, in the case of Songe d’un Bois d’Éte, it is such stuff as dreams of an oriental summer forest are made on, and it is no secret that this perfume had me intrigued from the very first spray.
Guerlain’s three fragrances Les Déserts d’Orient manage to build a bridge between the oriental and classic French perfumery by essentially using typically oriental perfumery notes on the base of a very French structure. Like the literal and proverbial red thread, saffron is spun through all three fragrances, to masterfully unify this triumvirate of very diverse and distinct orientals.
Songe d’un Bois d’Éte opens up on an herbal note with an added aromatic green note of neroli, which makes for a strutting and proud entré. At this stage I feel its assertiveness as it growls ever so slightly at you, and is not bothered with trying to please anyone fast. There is an instant leathery feel to this fragrance; however, all the little twists just make this fragrance into so much more, and certainly the opening alone makes for a kind of leather which is at the same time well tanned and lived in, as well as alive and vibrant.
Already vying for attention from underneath, are the notes which to me make out the core of the fragrance. It’s like a trio of oud, saffron and myrrh create this tension with each other, they alternately make the fragrance quiver and relax, they blend smoothly, soft and they stick out- dry and sharp. And only slowly do they turn into something woodier and a perhaps just a touch animalic. From the sense of the fresh bark of the wood it goes ever more balsamic and resinous, and invites you into that magical oriental forest, until Songe d’un Bois d’Éte reaches its final stages.
Languidly, lazy smoke rings rise from below up through the layers of the perfume, getting ever denser until finally resting like a bed of honeyed dark smokiness on the skin which lasts forever, and keep drawing you in ever closer, in a sweet and mellow embrace.
The first days I wore Songe d’un Bois d’Éte, it was glorious sun shine, and the perfume was strutting and up to mischievous things, but later, back home with miserably low summer temperatures, it became more rounded, more seamlessly flowing. It was still a strong willed and dry fragrance, but there was now pensiveness and a retrospective-flair I hadn’t noticed before, and I could see how, come autumn and winter, the dreamy aspect of the name, would be enhanced and perhaps make you think back on a summer forest with a hint of melancholy rounded by a sleep.
Songe d’un Bois d’Éte has enough French school perfumery to always give an appearance or glimmer of the familiar Guerlain perfumery art, at the same time as there is enough Middle Eastern edge to keep you guessing and real oriental feats to make it more than just a nod in the direction of Sheherazade’s Arabian nights.
None the less, throughout writing this, I kept listening to a song by a Maurice Ravel from the cycle ‘Shéhérazade’, called Asie, text by Klingsor/ Leclère from around the turn of the (last) century when the Arabian 1001 Nights tales and Orientalism was all the rage. It ends like this:
I should like to see fine vestments made of velvet
And flowing robes with long, long fringes.
I'd like to see earthenware pipes stuck into pursed mouths
Wholly surrounded by white whiskers;
I'd like to see rough-edged merchants cast dirty glances,
And the qadis and the viziers,
Who with just the mere movement of their crooked finger
Can dispense life or death at their desire's whim.
I should like to pause in an enchanted palace
And, like any foreign traveller,
Contemplate at leisure those paintings of landscapes,
On finest fabrics in frames crafted out of fir,
Picturing someone in the middle of a grove;
I'd like to see cruel assassins smile as
An executioner lops a guiltless head
With his big Oriental scimitar.
I'd like to see base paupers and grand queens, too;
I'd like to see red roses and red blood;
I'd like to see death caused by love, or else by hatred.
And later then I'll return home
To share my adventure with curious young dreamers;
And I will raise–just like Sinbad–my old Arabian goblet
Up to my lips every now and then,
Interrupting the tale for artful effect …
–Jasia Julia Nielson,
–Jasia Julia Nielson,Contributor
All Art by Danish Illustrator Kay Nielson