I haven’t posted over the last few days, as some personal matters have occupied both my time and attention. A family member is in the hospital, and will remain there for a few days. It’s nothing dire, but the procedure wasn’t completely minor either, so I’m a bit distracted. In addition, I’m working on a big project for the blog that will see fruition in a few weeks, but is taking up a lot of my time now. So, I thought I would give two mini, very cursory reviews for Isabey‘s new Lys Noir and its polar opposite in colour, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier‘s Jardin Blanc. I probably won’t have time to respond to comments, though, and for that I apologise in advance.
What really is a Floriental or floral-oriental? It’s a fantastic sub-genre of perfumery, but I don’t think it’s as easy to define as it might initially seem. Simply classifying any oriental with floral notes as a “floral-oriental” is far too wide-reaching, in my opinion. Moreover, it ignores the balance of elements in most oriental compositions. It’s an issue I’ve been pondering after I realised how few were the number of fragrances that met the definition in my mind.
Now, I grant you, definitions in this context are fluid and are undoubtedly going to be rather subjective in nature. Sub-genres don’t really have an official set of structural rules the way there are for the overarching, main families like fougères or chypres. For the latter, it’s easy to classify because of the tripod format which requires the use of bergamot in the opening and oakmoss and patchouli in the base, with the floral element as the heart. And we all know a basic oriental when we see (or, rather sniff) one, too.
But sub-genres are where things get tricky. Fragrantica has several sub-sections for the fougère category, like oriental fougères, or aromatic ones. In fact, it has multiple sub-parts merely for the “aromatic” category as a whole. So what does Fragrantica say for Florientals or, as they put it, Oriental Floral?
Sweet, warm, powdery base typical of this group harmonizes with such flowers like gardenia, tuberose, tiare or with a spicy note of carnation. In our base the oriental floral group has 2060 for women, 13 for men and 463 shared fragrances.
That’s their entire definition. And I really disagree. First, I don’t think a “powdery” base is required. Second, their definition is so broad that any fragrance with labdanum amber or benzoin and even a small streak of carnation would qualify. 2060 scents? I’m surprised it’s not 9060, given the scope of their criteria. It simply can’t be as generic and basic as that, if you ask me — which brings us, full circle, back to the subjective nature of definitions. I certainly don’t claim to have the definitive one for Florientals and, again, I don’t think there actually is one. However, I do have some criteria of my own. They are delineations borne of testing and wearing a monumental number of orientals because, if this blog has any specialised area of focus, it’s orientals above all else.
Imagine yourself camping in a forest, sipping tea by the fire. Bright, green mint and a dollop of raspberries float in your mug of black Lapsang Souchong whose leaves you’ve toasted in a cast-iron skillet to release their smoky darkness and delicate nuttiness. The campfire billows out smoke from cade and birch logs, each coated with blackened tar that smells like butch leather as much as burnt, singed wood. Labdanum amber glows like coals amidst the flames, and release a meaty, musky warmth.
The smell of your tea rises in the air, sending out streamers of cool mint and juicy raspberry to counter the billowing campfire smoke. Bright freshness and fruited sweetness vie with multi-faceted smoke, leather, tar, and woods, all enveloped by the fire’s soft warmth. You take out a pipe, stuff it with dark tobacco, and light it as you sip your tea in the flickering light of the warm fire which serves as a beacon in the dark forest, casting shadows upon the desiccated remains of nearby trees, and creating a woody-ambered dryness. It would be a lovely picture were it not for a few issues, one of which is that you’re also being doused with arid, harshly acrid, and often antiseptic-smelling chemicals that pour down on you like heavy rain.
Unfortunately, that was not my only difficulty with Russian Tea, a popular fragrance released last year that I’ve absolutely dreaded covering for the last two months. It actually took me a few attempts to get through wearing the fragrance all the way through, instead of quickly scrubbing it off, but at least it eventually gets better after its very abrasive opening hours. Well, somewhat better. In general, Russian Tea has not been a joyous experience.
Strains of Guerlain’s heritage float like olfactory ghosts over a banker wearing pinstripes in a wood-paneled boardroom. As he sits in conservative elegance and restrained reserve, the Ghosts of Guerlain Past move over him via Jicky‘s aromatic lavender creaminess and Habit Rouge‘s citrus cologne opening that lies atop slightly leathered, balsamic resins. There is also the Ghost of Guerlain Future in the form of L’Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, as well as strains of a fragrance created years later by a Guerlain family member for another company entirely. This is Jean-Paul Guerlain‘s Heritage, both the name of the actual fragrance and an intentional, symbolic encapsulation of parts of Guerlain’s past.
Heritage (officially spelled with an accent as “Héritage“) is actually meant to feel familiar on some levels. The fragrance was created in 1992 by Jean-Paul Guerlain and, according to the unaffiliated website, Monsieur Guerlain, he intentionally sought to combine some of the most beloved parts of various Guerlain classics into one scent, but to push the limits even further,by “playing on the whole legendary Guerlain scent repertoire.” At the time, it was probably an inventive idea; there weren’t endless flankers back in 1992, and the call-backs to Guerlain’s Jicky and Habit Rouge subtly swirled in a sea of other notes that helped to make Heritage a singular character in its own right. I remember smelling the fragrance shortly after its release, and finding it elegant but also very interesting. People sometimes reference bankers when talking about Heritage, and it definitely gave off that vibe, but what a chic, pinstriped banker he was and how he dominated the room with his complex, powerful presence.