It came to my attention a few weeks ago that I’d never reviewed one of my heavy-rotation favorites, Guerlain’s Encens Mythique d’Orient, an oversight I’m correcting today. And this review is also about the experience of discovering a fragrance you love so much, when you least expect it.
Encens Mythique was released in 2012 as part of a fancy trio of tall bottles called Les Deserts d’Orient, set out on counter in the Guerlain boutique in my local Saks next to the tall L’Art et la Matiere bottles. All three were done by Thierry Wasser: Rose Nacrée du Désert, Encens Mythique d’Orient, and Songe d’un Bois d’Été.
I’m pretty sure they were initially for the Middle Eastern boutiques and eventually made their way to Europe and the U.S. I’m near a big Saks in the D.C. area that seems unusually well stocked, and I don’t think I had to wait as long as some folks. I’d heard about the scents, but I was coming off a jag of overly sweet or wan Guerlain disappointments and nothing about what I’d read of Les Deserts excited me.
The Rose Nacrée was the Saks SA’s favorite, but I’m a horrible philistine and not a huge fan of rose as the dominant note in fragrances. Anyway, she sprayed it for me first and I sniffed and shrugged. I mean, sure, it’s pretty. The Bois d’Ete was more interesting (saffron! cardamom!) and the most “masculine” of the three, but I can’t get past the oud and a start that I find vaguely like burning rubber. It’s weird, and not in a way I like. Anyway, my mind started to wander at that point and my feet were about to follow when the SA sprayed a bit of the Encens for me as an afterthought. I should point out that I love incense perfumes, but the SA said it was built around (and a riff on) the rose in Nacrée, so I was destined for disappointment.
This list of notes seems plausible: Persian rose, aldehydes, saffron, neroli, vetiver, patchouli, ambergris, frankincense, woods.
Separate from its beauty, the first thing I find remarkable about Encens Mythique is that I don’t experience it as a typical development of top notes fading into heart and base notes. Instead, it emerges from the bottle and blooms, polished and smooth and complete and radiant, one beautiful glowing orb of smell. It’s mesmerizing. I can pick out the individual notes if I really work at it – particularly the aldehydes, the saffron, the incense, even (yes) the rose, but it doesn’t wear like that.
I need to talk about the sillage, which is also remarkable. It’s one of those “aura” fragrances that surrounds you, so to speak, rather than following along behind you like a trail. It lasts a full day on my skin and, as far as I can tell, forever on clothing. (A significant part of my wardrobe smells faintly of Encens Mythique at this point.) It’s not particularly heavy, but it’s clearly noticeable to bystanders — I get endless compliments when I wear it. It’s the single most complimented fragrance I wear, but let that be a heads up if you’re trying it on — one spray will do, and it tends to permeate the space ten feet around you. As the hours wear on it’s got a vague whiff of snuffed-out candle I adore, and I’m sorry I can’t explain it better – not so much the smoke, but while the wax is still warm.
I couldn’t pay for that bottle fast enough (I think I forgot to ask! good thing it wasn’t $1,000), and I ran out of the store with it like I was afraid they’d realize what they’d done and make me give it back.
Bois de Jasmin loved it too (you can read Victoria’s informed review here) although she experiences it, I think, more as a conventional sequence of notes, albeit just as compelling. I don’t know what sorcery Thierry Wasser was up to with this, but it’s an experience I like to repeat as often as possible.
Encens Mythique can be found at various Guerlain counters and online, 2.5 ounces for $275ish. It’s tippy like the Serge Lutens bottles (I live in terror of one of my obnoxious SLs like Miel de Bois hitting the floor and shattering.) I generally don’t care that much about the bottles but the design detail on these Guerlains, with that gold cascade and Arabic on the side, is strikingly attractive.