When we hear the word 'perfume' it’s likely that a great many of us will visualise a fragrance of the Oriental type: a soft, sweet spicy shimmering cloud of loveliness. Like most perfume families, Orientals have long since expanded from their classic prototype. This is usually said to be Guerlain’s Shalimar of nearly a century ago; though a very good case could be made for a much earlier scent, the mauve and silvery-powdery Shem-el-Nessim which always draws the crowds at Les Senteurs. Orientals have developed in many directions and they remain the most sensual, adventurous and colourful of all the scents.
Oriental fragrances are inspired by everything gorgeous and exotic that the East symbolises for Occidentals. The art, creation and use of perfume began in Asia thousands of years ago. Consequently, when we choose to wear a masterpiece like Ambre Sultan or Anubis we are referencing a whole olfactory encyclopaedia of plants, oils, superstitions, vast ruined temples, deities, amulets and ancient rulers. Orientals are exciting! Think of the wonderfully named Tapis Volant: every perfume when you think of it is a flying carpet - beautiful, stimulating and stirring, appealing to the romantic and flamboyant cravings in all of us.
Orientals satisfy our cramped Western cravings for luxury and excess. We like to imagine the silken sails of Cleopatra’s gilded barge once more drenched in oils of incense, spice, aromatic woods, flowers and fruit. Patchouli, sandalwood, cinnamon, oud, amber, vanilla, frankincense, opoponax and labdanum are all characteristic ingredients of this style of scent.
Rose and jasmine have traditionally played a part too; and as Orientals evolved during the last century other voluptuous blooms were incorporated into the heart of the bouquet. Tuberose, gardenia and ylang ylang were woven into the so-called ‘florientals’. Soft luscious fruits - peaches, apricots, pears, dates, plums - were then introduced to exude their juicy fleshiness in the fruity florientals.
Lately we’ve seen, smelled and loved a whole new subsection of Orientals: the desert song! These exciting innovative perfumes are inspired by the sandy stony wastes of North Africa and Asia: Desert Suave, Au Coeur du Desert, Musc des Sables, Chergui, Fleur de Sable, Santal Nabatea....
These magical perfumes do the apparently impossible: they draw a well of divine fragrance from the dry wilderness. They catch the fragrant breath of the wind as in the beautiful Chergui; the hot mineralic rocks and spices of Santal Nabatea; the golden silky drifting sands of Musc Des Sables - hypnotic but deadly; the dry earth and cool night-time air of Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Oud.
These new Orientals are less extroverted than their predecessors; they are more thoughtful, more abstract. More reflective perhaps of our troubled times; but no less sensuous and even more rewarding to wear.
“Why not try the desert? There, in the Face of the Infinite, your grief will lessen..."
In addition to the dozen or so perfumes mentioned above, you might also care to try the following Orientals - each one a pearl beyond price and with something original and fascinating to say:
The Pearl in the Crown! The classic innovative 21st century oriental: night winds scented with jasmine, sand and spice.
A perfume all about silky fur and sex: scarlet satin and the cult of the Cat Goddess.
A flowery traditional Oriental, delicately imagined by Thai perfumer Pissarra Umavijani.
One of our greatest hits. An intense but Westernised oud blended with rose. Dramatic, dark but perfectly balanced.
The icon of our Age! A throbbing passionate spicy woody oriental-chypre, packed with Turkish rose and chutzpah.
A subtle but extremely tenacious powdery musky scent which envelops the wearer like a veil spangled with sequinned stars.
A traditional heady oriental: hot seductive and spicy - dark and voluptuous.
An ancient cedar wood chest, crammed with rich fabrics preserved in flowers and spices.
A sumptuous modern oriental, with a youthful feel: a perfume on fire with gleaming spices, fragrant woods and exotic flowers. A jewelled scent for a pearl among women!