- a review of Guerlain’s Encens Mythique d’Orient
Dear M. Wasser,
Before I incriminate myself to such an alarming degree, I’d like to start by declaring myself an empahtic fan of your work, especially your astonishing work continuing the great heritage of Guerlain. Guerlain and all its perfumed wonders have a special place in my heart – for one, the very first perfume I ever chose for myself was a Guerlain – Jicky extrait, quite an audacious choice for an ingénue fourteen-year-old.
I fell for your own inarguable talents far too many years later thanks to a friend and distinguished perfume blogger named Carrie, who knew just what buttons to push in order to get me to invest my paltry fortune in a family – gourmands – I had formerly overlooked if not derided, and also to part with an exorbitant amount of money for a perfume I had never sniffed, and that was Iris Ganache. It was a purchase I have never had cause to regret unless to bewail its discontinuation.
So understand this pains me a great deal – more than you know. In my over two years as a perfume writer of ill repute and less esteem, I have broadened my horizons and expanded my limits to a degree never imagined before I began this perilous and ruinous descent into the odiferous maelstrom that is…perfume.
You could argue that I am perhaps a philistine, that I have no appreciation or knowledge of the terrors or delights of perfume artistry. To which I counter with the many exemplars in my cabinet from a diabolical competitor based in the Palais Royal. I rest my case.
In being one of your countless admirers, it follows that my devotion is such I’m prepared to forgive you a great deal and always give your work a second, or third, or even seventh chance as the occasion merits. Therefore, any new release from the house of Guerlain is cause for great anticipation if not excitement – a new Guerlain! How will dear Thierry Wasser astonish us now?
Such was my eager train of thought when yet another and seemingly unattainable series was released to much edification on Planet Perfume, and although my acquisition of these marvels was delayed by other factors known as “real” and “life”, eventually, Fortune deemed it timely that I, too – buried nose-deep in the Perfume Empty Quarter of Europe – should have the opportunity to sniff and to wonder at these new creations by your hand.
Lo and behold – the peerless majesty invoked in the collection known as ‘Les Deserts d’Orient’, and the one that called to me louder than any lonely djinn in a water gourd – Encens Mythique d’Orient.
I’m quite aware of the challenges inherent in a trio marketed towards an audience with somewhat different fragrant sensibilities than we milquetoast, spineless strawberry blondes languishing in the dimmest, bleakest outreaches of Northern Europe’s left armpit. I’m no stranger to ouds, mukhallats or attars, nor even to those heinous, screechy jasmines which ostracize you so deftly from all polite society. But I have a definite weakness for the many wonders of frankincense, whether Omani, Somali or Indian, so when a full set of Les Deserts arrived thanks to an enterprising friend, I wasted no breath and less time to head straight for the eponymous mythical incense of the Orient.
M. Wasser – my kudos to you. It begins in such a glorious fashion, all gold-embroidered damask and a slithering, silver-smoky undercurrent of L’Animale Fatale…less frank about the frankincense unless as an ideal of what incense could be. I regret to say I am transported…not to some elevated passage of the Rubai’yat or that eloquent turn of phrase Rumi was justly celebrated for, but rather…to one of those licentious, nay – salacious descriptions that run rampant throughout Sheikh Nefzaoui’s ‘Perfumed Garden’ which so delighted Sir Richard Burton and so dismayed the Victorian mind. I am neither deterred or dismayed – my own disposition is many thousands of leagues removed from the Victorian.
Then, some time later, you do shock me. For after that glorious, gold damask opening comes…not visions of the chic of Arabie, not the romance of a limitless desert sky nor even the sensuous secrets revealed by a hakim to an all-too willing pupil…but something so utterly unnerving, my words fail to quite convey the degree or extent of my dismay.
As I stated above, I’m no stranger to shock. But to quote the amusing American idiom…
For what follows is best described by the image below:
Yes. Wet dog. Not just any dog, but a hunting hound abandoned for hours in the driving, icy rain as its fellows bounded on with the horses elsewhere while it located a scent trail far more to its liking than any fox could muster.
To be fair, this sorry canine comes with an impeccable pedigree and a hundred generations of perfect temperament and training at the least. This is no mere back-alley dog. This is a Guerlain dog, and so more refined, more elegantly delineated than lesser-esteemed hounds, nevertheless, a wet dog is a wet dog, and a wet, cold and hungry dog – as surely this poor, unfortunate creature must be – is the sorriest, wettest, most miserable and thoroughly wretched creature of all.
At this juncture, I despairingly consult my notes as well as other, far more discerning noses of other, far more refined perfume bloggers, and all to no avail – the wet and wretched creature remains perched in the air above my skin with its reproachful brown eyes and its distressing, apologetic stance, and this irritates me no end.
You see, M. Wasser, I am a dedicated lover of cats – indeed, I’m owned by two – and by this time, more peeved than you can possibly imagine that this conjuration of a very luxurious perfume orchestrated by your magical hands and nose has incurred some cataclysmic shift in my perceptions, and with a creature I could appreciate quite fondly had the circumstances been rather better. Say, in real life, bounding through the meadows throwing sticks to catch, not wafting out of an opulently decorated and very hard to obtain perfume bottle, never mind perched on my wrist, dripping its melancholy, well-bred raindrops all over a priceless Ikea rug.
I refused to believe the obvious. It couldn’t be you. It had by necessity to be me, and my own pathetic limited, unsophisticated nose playing its tricks and practical jokes on my mind. So I gave it seven more tries on seven other nights that grew longer as time passed.
Now, I had eight wet dogs dripping all over the carpet. My cats…well, I’m sure you can imagine the unfortunate consequences. I had to draw the only conclusion I could. It wasn’t me. It was you.
Or else it was simply that this milquetoast wan exemplar of Scandinavian design not in flat packaging and ’d'un certain age’ didn’t have the pedigree, the breeding, the politesse to appreciate either the perfume – or that sorry dog in the bottle.
So I shall do my best to perservere as well as I can – through the remainder of Les Deserts d’Orient. I shall forgive you – for now. I shall even forgive you to such an extent, the friend who sent me this doomed dog has tempted me with something blue, brand-new and altogether more to my liking, and yes, M. Wasser, you made this one, too.
As for this malodorous endurance test, I shall attempt my own worst impersonation of the Gallic shrug you so excel at, and quote your own august self – again, with yet another fitting American term of opprobrium tinged with a little black humor unrelated to any the dogs might have brought in…
Tarleisio, the Alembicated Genie
Notes for Encens Mythique d’Orient: Aldehydes, neroli, moss, saffron, Persian rose, ambergris, musk and frankincense
The Les Deserts d’ Orient line is available from the Guerlain flagship store in Paris, the Place Vendôme Haute Parfumerie, Harrods and Selfridges in London, and in many locations throughout the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
With thanks to that perfumed friend – and an apology to the ghost of Edith Wharton.
Image of wet dog: Alex Romanov.