Guerlain Restores My Faith Once Again


By March

I strolled into my local Saks on a whim. I haven’t been there in quite some time and I wasn’t exactly dressed for its splendor, so I was curious whether that, combined with a recent store refurbishment, would end up feeling wildly intimidating (good news: no). To be fair to the SAs, whatever they thought of my cowboy boots and messy bun, they were charming and helpful. The weather was bad, and for a time I was literally the only customer on the ground floor.  I can say for sure that I no longer have to imagine what it would be like to have the attention of a dozen Saks employees with nothing else to do but tidy their displays.

Each major cosmetic/fragrance house (Chanel, Guerlain, YSL, etc.) now has its own makeup/fragrance niche on the first floor, with the few remaining fragrances jumbled together and consigned to Siberia along the wall by the escalators. Stepping into the Guerlain area makes me cringe a little, I can’t help thinking about what all that heat and light are doing to their drawers full of stock. Cristina the gracious SA spotted me browsing and tried to reel me in with their $400 bee bottle of pink stuff, something so rare there’s only two hundred made blah blahdeeblah… I heard “L’Instant” and my eyes glazed over… sorry, where were we?

Oh. Well, behind that fancy bee bottle and next to L’art et la Matière were three tall bottles I didn’t recognize. Hey, part of the joy of life as somewhat less of a frag hag is I get to go out and discover that there are new fragrances (two alone at Chanel!) I’d not seen before. Anyway, those Guerlains. She said they were “part of the Middle Eastern line” and kind of strong, and I threw out the words rose and oud trying to suss out what the hell she was getting at, since she looked worried. I reassured her that I’m a Guerlain fangirl and love me some skanky Mitsouko, so whatever was in there wasn’t going to make me faint, and so off we went… into…

Les Déserts d’Orient

I’ll pause now to admit I had no idea what they were, and she suggested they’re wildly exclusive. Anyway, here are my impressions, jotted without looking up a single useful fact beforehand, because I was afraid if I paused to read someone else’s insights my writer’s block would appear and I’d never scratch another word out. Sorry. Better than nothing! That’s what I’m telling myself!

From the Guerlain website: “At the heart of this sensual desert landscape hides water that dreams of gold… like a smouldering essence by Guerlain.” LOL what does that even mean. Moving on to…

Songe d’un Bois d’Été — well, that translates into English as “buttload of smoky, acrid woods ‘n spices.” Honestly, it’s super smoooooth once it settles, which is quick. It’s got some pretty intense sillage, and a half life of forever on paper. The most stereotypically masculine of the trio. Nice, but it isn’t love, and it seems too familiar. I think I could have grabbed somewhat similar things off the shelf from Tom Ford, Kilian and Clive Christian. (Via Guerlain: “Leather. Bold, unique, audacious.” Top notes: bay leaf, neroli. Heart notes: patchouli, saffron note, jasmine, cedar wood. Base notes: leather, myrrh.) Huh. Leather? It smells very dense and oud-y to me. Definitely catching the myrrh, though.

Rose Nacree du Desert – the rose one, and therefore by definition my least favorite. At first bite it’s not even that rose-y. More earthy, as in actual earth – that first minute or three is passing strange. I stood there thinking of the unfurling of Black March, or possibly a dank touch of Messe de Minuit. Anyhoodle, the second I let down my guard the rose woke up and clawed its way out of its dank crypt and HOO BOY. That is, as they say, A Lot Of Look. Rose Nacree (literally, “Zombie Rose,”) is one of those dark, patch-y bramble monsters. It’s everything a current, trendy fragrance is not – it’s not candied, not edible, not particularly approachable. It’s got a sharp-elbowed elan I admire very much, but I don’t want to wear it. (“Woody Floral. Rare, reassuring, rich.” Top notes: saffron note, Persian rose, patchouli. Heart notes: cardamom, curcuma, cedar wood, oud accord. Base notes: myrrh, benzoin.)

Encens Mythique d’Orient – Of the three, this made the least initial impression. (“Musky Oriental. Precious, enveloping, endearing.” Top notes: rose, aldehyde, saffron. Heart notes: pink pepper, vetiver, patchouli. Base notes: forest floor notes, ambergris, frankincense.) I adore this. My goodness.  It’s one of those rare and wonderful background scents – an atmosphere of saffron, hot radiators, leather binding, church pew and sunshine. The rose is barely perceptible, lost in the creamy top. It’s not weak, just diffuse — it’s apt to hover gently for most of the day, an aura of subtle but detectable scent.  I ordered up a decant posthaste, but I want a bottle.

Speaking of which – the bottle is pretty, but less magical than it looks in the photos, and it’s got that tall, thin shape that evokes painful thoughts of all my Serge Lutens attempting to fall over constantly.

It’s a huge shame they held these back from normal distribution when they were released in 2012, because this trio is the best, most interesting thing Guerlain’s done in years, in my opinion. The sillage alone is magnificent. They become more muted, but they don’t become boring – just their interesting selves in miniature. They’re exactly the kind of scent experience that reminds me why I fell in love with perfume in the first place.

For another, more informative take on the Encens Mythique, here’s Victoria’s review, and Ann mentioned it a couple of days ago, great minds etc.!  Someone asked in comments – it was Chevy Chase Saks (DC), I put their contact info down there, IIRC the bottles are $275.

  • Lisa D says:

    Oh my gods, March, “all my Serge Lutens bottles attempting to fall over constantly.” I thought I was alone in my love for the line and absolute frustration with the bottles. It’s not that I dislike the visual aspects of the bottle design. It’s simple, it’s lean, it’s reasonably elegant. But. The fracking things will fall over – usually causing a major cascade – if you do nothing but look at them sideways. I’ve had thoughts of gluing them to wooden bases for added structural integrity, building them their very own special SL box, wrapping them together with a giant rubber band…….

  • Dina C. says:

    March! It’s great to hear your voice once again here on the Posse! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your views on these Guerlain limited releases. I haven’t sniffed any of them yet. The Encens Mythique d’Orient sounds glorious! I like your taste in scents, so now I’m curious to sniff this one for myself. So glad that your sniffer found a new pretty to love. 🙂 Also, I agree that SL bottles are tippy.

  • Well, these don’t really sound like my kind of thing at all, but I noticed that you were in Chevy Chase! I’ve been to the Bloomies there several times but not the Saks. I should check it out and get my sniffs on! 🙂

  • poodle says:

    I liked these perfumes especially in comparison to some of the other garbage out there. I think they at least show some effort on Guerlain’s part. I’m not sure if I like them enough to buy a bottle (I’d need to test them a bit more) but if a bottle fell in my lap I’d wear it.

    • March says:

      I love your avatar! My poodle is sleeping right next to me as I type this… I wish a bottle would fall into my lap. They definitely show some effort on Guerlain’s part.

  • AnnieA says:

    This post helped with the Morning Perfume Decision – wearing Encens Mythique d’Orient today, my Rich Lady scent. Sniffed it in the Guerlain boutique in Toronto a couple of summers ago, and then had them mail me a bottle. The bottle is a little more ordinaire in person, but it doesn’t seem to be very tippy at least.

    • March says:

      I stand corrected – I’m glad to know it’s not tippy. It’s certainly more substantial in size than the Serges (those bottles…. I feel like they should have a special rack to hold them upright.) And I think the decorative details on the outside are very pretty.

  • Tara C says:

    When I tried these three, I immediately dismissed the rose (too sour on me), loved the Songe, and was meh about the Encens. But after I wore Encens for a whole day, the drydown was AMAZING and I fell in love. So I now own the Songe and the Encens. Wish they had more distribution as they are definitely the best Guerlains to come out in many years.

    • March says:

      You own two?! Lucky lady… I’m going to try to hold myself to the decant, although that’s not worked out in the past. I loved the Songe too — it’s still scenting the interior of my handbag, about which I have no complaints whatsoever.

  • elisa p says:

    I tried these a couple months back at Saks NYC and also loved EMdO most of the 3. I found it more cozy than exotic: dusty old books and tea with a faint incense note. I thought it the most unique of the 3. Was my first decant purchase from STC. In my excitement or clumsiness, I spilled most of the sample on my unfinished-wood dresser and reflexively mopped it up with my sleeve and went to work. My dresser and coat sleeve still smell. Tenacious little bugger! I think I got oversaturated with this fragrance 🙁

    • March says:

      A story very similar to mine! Your description is spot on, Encens Mythique is the most unique, by far (not that the others aren’t lovely). It was such a surprise; it was also the first decant I’ve bought in AGES because (nobody’s reading the comments, right?) I decided I couldn’t quite bring myself to make a fourth trip to Saks just for a spray of it. And it IS tenacious — I can still smell the touche I sprayed it on from a couple of feet away when I walk by my dresser. I threw away the Rose Nacree strip for just that reason!

  • malsnano86 says:

    Lovely to see you again, March! I confess, I saw the word “Orient” for this collection and immediately dismissed them from consideration… very much Not My Thing. But the Encens is sounding nicer and nicer all the time. (I Blame Anita. You know how that goes. 🙂 )

    Sending well-wishes.

    • March says:

      It’s great to be on here! LOL changes have been made, apparently these go out as tweets? No idea. I’m sure someone will tell me if I need to know… yes, many things are Anita’s fault.

  • eldarwen22 says:

    I think that I did try one at Saks a couple years ago before they had any in the store. I kind of liked the rose one but it reminded me of Nahema and Rose de Nuit. I’m not at Saks save for maybe every couple years or so and I do love the perfume department at mine.

    • March says:

      Those are good rose comparisons for this one. And I’m very fond of Saks. I’m not sure why, but I enjoy a visit much more than I do to N-M.

  • Ann says:

    Yay, March!! So, so lovely to see you on here today! That Encens Mythique is also the one that Musette is wild about, too, so it’s got an instant fan base right here alone. It’s so funny, when I first started reading, I thought it was her writing about going into her Chicago Saks, and I thought, “Yes! They’ve finally got that jumbled, crazy mess of a cosmetics department straightened out,” but then I realized you were writing. Hope your Saks wasn’t as cuckoo as the Chi-town was. Our store had a makeover a little while back and heaven help me if I can find anything anymore, ha! Big hugs to you and the kids!

    • March says:

      Ann so great to see you too! Anita’s on a trip, I volunteered. She reminded me how much she loved this, they just were not on my radar, I’m sure because at least initially they were in, what, Paris and Belgium? Something ridiculous. Anyway, if they have them in DC I bet they have them in Chicago, and I think they are somewhere out west — LA? Portland?

      • SallyM says:

        Saks is no longer in Portland – they moved to Bridgeport Village in Tigard were they’re known as Saks Off 5th Ave. I’ve not been so I cant say if they have a good perfume dept – looks like a mission is on my calendar! Great article March 🙂

        • March says:

          Thanks for the report – tbh I couldn’t remember if they had Saks on the West Coast, although I swear somebody said these were in a store out there…

          • Ann says:

            Maybe L.A. or San Francisco? Although the Neiman’s in SF usually has a pretty comprehensive Guerlain counter and seems to have a lock on anything new and unusual in that line. Is there a Saks in San Diego?

          • odonata9 says:

            Not anymore. Used to be one and they closed 4 or 5 years ago.

  • Julie L says:

    I’m gonna have to go over to our Saks immediately and see if these are at our store. The Encens Mythiquue has had my attention for a long time but it’s just, too wayyy too expensive for me. Thank you for giving your impressions! That’s Very important to me and I trust your judgement. 🙂

    • March says:

      Definitely worth checking — I’ve heard they’re in NY and elsewhere — Chicago? LA? Someone mentioned smelling them in a store.

  • Portia says:

    Woo Hoo! I am glad you got to try these March. Songe d’un Bois d’Été is the bottle in my collection but I’d be happy to have them all.
    Great to see you back on the Posse too.
    Portia xx

  • Sabrina says:

    Could u tell me which saks u went to… I would like to order this perfume and the cost as well

    • March says:

      Saks at Chevy Chase on Wisconsin Avenue, 301-657-9000, ask for Cristina at Guerlain (I might as well give her credit, although I’m sure anyone can help you if she’s not there.) IIRC it was $275 per bottle.