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.