Guerlain Cuir Beluga



A cashmere cloud of cream and pink, with the soothing comfort of Mary Poppins telling you take a spoonful of sugar at bedtime. There is no medicine to go with that sweetness in this case, only marzipan treats, powdered meringues, and vanilla milk. It’s an absolutely addictive spoonful of deliciousness that, alas, fades away to a lingering whisper all too quickly.



Cuir Beluga from Guerlain reminds me of Mary Poppins, the comfort of the nursery at bedtime with softened lights adding a warm glow, and endless plates of almondy confections with marzipan, all accompanied by vanilla cream. I have never been so enchanted by the opening of one of Guerlain’s modern, niche perfumes, or more crushed when it evaporated to a silken wisp less than 20 minutes in. It remained there for many more hours, but the true glory was gone astonishingly quickly, and that is a serious problem for me.


Cuir Beluga is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière Collection which was launched in 2005. The name of the line means “Art and (raw) Materials,” and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.” As for the “Beluga” part of the perfume’s name, I’ve read that it refers to one of two things: either the word for “white” in Russian, or to the whiteness of a Beluga whale (which is also sometimes called a “white whale”). In either case, the point is whiteness, with a pun on the luxurious of caviar, but the scent has absolutely nothing to do with fishiness whatsoever.

Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that was released in 2005, and was created by Olivier Polge, the son of Chanel‘s famous in-house perfumer, Jacques Polge. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “velvety oriental” and writes:

Light and shade meet on the skin.

With Cuir Beluga, the Guerlain perfumer chose to interpret the softness of white suede in an absolutely luxurious and addictive version. Like an intense, warm light on the skin, the fragrance opens with an aldehyde mandarin accord drawn out into an everlasting flower note and then wrapped in a voluptuous cloud of amber, heliotrope and vanilla. An intense and totally unexpected sensorial experience.

In a different part of the same Cuir Beluga entry, Guerlain adds that the leather is “a white suede for women and men, as enveloping as cashmere,” and also says the fragrance is:

Luminous, rare, enveloping.
Top notes: aldehydes, mandarin.
Heart notes: patchouli, everlasting flower [Immortelle].
Base notes: vanilla, amber, heliotrope, white suede note.

Photo: Crystal Venters via

Photo: Crystal Venters via

It is impossible to analyse Cuir Beluga without discussing heliotrope, so a brief description of the note may be useful for those unfamiliar with the name. Fragrantica has a great explanation of both its aroma, and how it appears in the other, well-known, heliotrope-centered fragrances:

The odour profile is powdery, like vanilla meringue with a helping of almond. The characteristic comforting scent of heliotrope has been proven to induce feelings of relaxation and comfort, a pampering atmosphere that finds itself very suited to languorous oriental fragrances and delicious “gourmands”.

In Kenzo Amour the heliotropin take is on the vanillic side, boosted by milky notes. In Love, Chloe we encounter the retro-smelling pairing of heliotropin and violet notes producing a powdery effect, reminiscent of makeup products. […] In Lolita Lempicka eau de parfum heliotropin takes a anisic mantle and becomes a full-blown gourmand, while in the older Cacharel Loulou it’s the comforting billowy background alongside tonka bean (with which it shares an almond and hay facet) and orris, producing a true floriental. In L’Eau d’Hiver (F.Malle) heliotropin is almost reduced to its pure state: fluffy, like a late afternoon cloud. [Emphasis to names added by me.]



In the past, Guerlain has loved using heliotrope in conjunction with other elements, but one of the goals of the L’Art et La Matiere collection is to highlight a single raw material. Cuir Beluga may have leather in its name, but, in my opinion, the material being highlighted here is actually the Heliotropin of so many old Guerlain masterpieces. As that Fragrantica page explains:

classic scents have also greatly benefited from heliotropin, notably the nostalgic L’Heure Bleue by Guerlain which pairs the vanillic facet of heliotropin with anise on top, soft flowers in the heart (violet and carnation) and benzoin, iris and Tonka bean in the base to compliment the floral-oriental character of this iconic composition. Or the more ethereal Guerlain Apres L’Ondee which is mainly the pairing of warm heliotropin with cool and shy violets. [Emphasis to names added by me.]

Meringues via

Meringues via

Cuir Beluga opens on my skin with a brief touch of light boozy sweetness, followed by heliotrope and a hint of honeyed floral Immortelle, all wrapped in a soft, rich, deep, amber embrace. The heliotrope smells simultaneously like delicate flowers, almond paste, meringues, powder, and sweetened Play-Doh. It’s an incredibly soothing, comforting mix, and instantly made me think of Mary Poppins wrapping someone up in a warm, pink flannel, while telling them to have a spoonful of sugar. The boozy touch quickly vanishes, as does the immortelle. The latter never smells of any of its usual manifestations on my skin. It’s not dry, dusty, green, curry-like, or heavy maple syrup. Instead, it was merely a brief touch of warm flowers, that accentuated the delicate floralacy of the heliotrope.

Marzipan almond paste. Source:

Marzipan almond paste. Source:

Within minutes, Cuir Beluga turns into a deliciously pillowy, fluffy blend of Play-Doh (one of heliotrope’s main characteristics) with almond-y marzipan and a whiff of flowers in a vanilla cocoon that is just barely flecked with amber. I have a massive soft spot for heliotrope when it’s done well, and it most certainly is in this instance. Marzipan is also one of my favorite confectionary sweets, which pretty much makes me a goner for Cuir Beluga’s opening minutes. I’ve tried the perfume a few times over the last few months, and the beautifully balanced sweetness of the marzipan, almond vanilla grows more addictive with each wearing. It’s never cloying, heavily sugared, cheap, or artificial in nature.

Carnation condensced, sweetened milk. Sourc:

Carnation condensed, sweetened milk. Source:

Instead, the perfume takes a mere 15 minutes to turn into the epitome of creaminess. Every note in Cuir Beluga is streaked through with something that, alternatively, makes me think of Carnation condensed milk, sweetened milk, ice-cream, or pure cream infused with vanilla and almonds. It’s perfectly balanced, luxuriously rich, but incredibly airy all at once. As the almond meringue and Play-Doh aspects of the heliotrope grow stronger, along with the subtle whiff of sweetened powder, I think back to Fragrantica’s description of heliotrope as an aroma that induces relaxation. I would love to wear Cuir Beluga to sleep and sprayed on my sheets, because it’s so incredibly comforting.

If only that gloriousness lasted…. Cuir Beluga starts as a very soft scent that hovers 2 inches above the skin, at best, in its most concentrated, opening minutes. With the equivalent of 2 sprays, it takes a mere 30 minutes for the perfume to drop to something that lies right above the skin. It slowly begins to soften even more, losing minute by minute what ever richness and weight that it had. My skin has problems with longevity but almost never with sillage, so I was taken aback by the speed with which Cuir Beluga started to vanish from the aether.

A mere 75 minutes in, Cuir Beluga is a complete skin scent on me, and I’ve tested it a few times. I suppose you can push that time frame more if you apply a lot, but I doubt even a massive amount could give you more than 2.5 hours at most before the perfume slips away into a gauzy whisper. Plus, given the cost of the perfume, do you really want to be dousing yourself with 5 or 6 (or more) sprays each time? Of course, there is a chance that it might merely be my skin, but given other reports elsewhere (that we will discuss in a minute), I doubt the problem is unique to me.



Despite the unobtrusiveness of the scent, Cuir Beluga is still very pretty. At the end of the second hour, the notes all blur into each other, leaving a general impression of creamy Play-Doh, sweetened almonds, milk, and Tonka vanilla powder. You may notice that I have not mentioned the word “leather” even once in my descriptions thus far. Well, for me, and on my skin, Cuir Beluga is a “leather” scent the way Queen Latifah is the Queen of England. The mere use of a word has absolutely nothing to do with reality. Near the end of the second hour, for a fleeting moment, I had the impression of sweetened, white, leathered suede, but honestly, I’m pretty sure it was merely a figment of my imagination. In any event, that tiny whiff of “suede” vanished within minutes.



Cuir Beluga is a very simple, uncomplicated, linear scent on my skin. It never changes in any substantial way, except to become even more discreet and harder to detect. About 3.5 hours into its development, it is the merest gauziest trace of heliotrope Play-Doh and vanilla on my skin. It’s far too thin and translucent to be creamy in the same way that it once was. In the same way, it’s too sheer to even come across as heavily powdered in the usual Guerlain way. Both elements are there in the most muted, muffled way imaginable, but Cuir Beluga is largely a vanilla and heliotrope scent on my skin, then just vanilla with some powder. In its final moments, the perfume was merely a blur of sweetened powder. All in all, Cuir Beluga lasted just over 9.25 hours with two sprays, and just under 8 hours with one.

The most important of all perfume critics, Luca Turin, doesn’t seem to think much of Cuir Beluga. In Perfumes: The A-Z Guide, he categorizes Cuir Beluga as a “powdery amber,” and spends a good portion of his three-star review talking about how Guerlain used the L’Art et La Matiere collection to finally acknowledge the impact of niche perfumery — primarily and specifically of Serge Lutens. (He more or less implies that Guerlain flat-out copied Lutens “in the structure of the fragrances, their cod-poetic names, and the tall rectangular bottle.”) When he does talk about the actual fragrance, Luca Turin doesn’t seem very enthused, and he certainly didn’t consider Cuir Beluga to be a leather scent:

Cuir Beluga’s name, with its suggestion of large sofas and small portions of caviar, is no doubt intended to flatter a French fondness for naff luxury. The fragrance is basically a light, heliotropin vanillic amber with a touch of floral green notes in the heart and a smidgeon of suede. It has a pleasant color and texture, and no discernible shape at all.

Almond marzipan treats via

Almond marzipan treats via

I agree with him on almost all of it, but I like the scent significantly more than he does. At least, I do until I remember the price. $250 for an uncomplicated, linear, simplistic Play-Doh, vanilla scent that becomes incredibly hard to detect in a short amount of time seems a bit like Rolls Royce prices for the most souped-up, luxurious, opulent Honda around.

I’m not the only person who had some problems with Cuir Beluga’s sillage. On Fragrantica, one person writes:

I love this pretty scent, but it is the quietest of skin scents on me. I’d have to douse myself in it to be able to smell it, which is a disappointment.

Quite a few others talk about something similar. Of course, there are people who adore discreet, wholly unobtrusive fragrances, but I think the majority of them would like to be able to smell their perfume even moderately if they are paying as much as $250 for it.

Putting aside the wispiness of Cuir Beluga, it seems much beloved by those who have tried it, though the majority of its fans seem to be women. There are some critics, however, and a number of men seem to struggle with the fragrance’s sweetness, lack of leather, or its simplicity. Here are a range of opinions:

  • Cuir Beluga is not a leather perfume; nor is it particularly sexy or exciting. It smells to me of tapioca custard, i.e. a fairly simple, cozy scent. There are plenty of other, far less pricey, cozy fragrances out there.
  • Extremely sweet. A vanilla invasion for the nose. Powdery, and floral as well. Don’t see my self wearing this alone, maybe mixed. This to me will fit a woman better. Great quality.
  • I love leather perfumes, that slightly animal and sensual vibe a good leather perfume has, but this is much more soft and in the line of Daim Blond and Cuir de Lancome. Not leather but suede. It’s so elegant, and for a vanilla perfume not really gourmand or extremely sweet. Very wearable for many occasions. [¶] Sadly, sillage was very weak on me and therefor I’d think I’d prefer the more daring SDV or the powderpuffy Tonka Imperial over this. But she’s really interesting and really something to try if you like understated chique yet comforting scents.
  • I feel a velvety aurea, comfortable, looks leather with caramel, amber acts that way, blended with vanilla, I feel in a Rolls Royce in the streets of Monaco, eating a caramel trifle. [¶] Rich, important and compelling for all these aspects, Guerlain as always sensational.
  • This is my Shalimar! It is classic, refined and rich in every sense of the word. A decadent feast of powdery vanilla with the subtle essence of leather in the background. I find myself craving this scent. It is almost intimidating how elegant it is to begin with, but then it softens and becomes a beautiful comforting smell that I liken to someone of distinguished esteem. It smells wealthy without the pretentiousness.
  •  I agree that this has a wonderful vintage feel and where Shalimar for me is unwearable (Oh the horror!!!), this works. As soon as I sprayed it I immediately thought even if my bottle didn’t have a label this is so absolutely recognizable as Guerlain you would know what house created this scent. For me, as with some other Guerlain scents, this one needed 15 minutes to relax a bit. As is typical with Guerlain, this scent is all about powdery vanilla leather. If you love Guerlain and its beloved Shalimar this is sure to move you. I know I always rave about Guerlain (what can I say…I’m a fan) but this scent is blended so beautifully resulting in this rich powdery soft vanilla.

I found Cuir Beluga to be too gourmand, simplistic, and sweet to really be akin to Shalimar, at least vintage Shalimar with all its complexity and its strong backbone of leather and smoke. However, The Non-Blonde found a similarity in the classical feel or style of the two scents. In a 2010 review, she writes:

Guerlain and perfumer Olivier Polge didn’t take much of a risk in creating Cuir Beluga, but I’m not complaining. Compared to so many of the other Guerlain releases of the last five or ten years, Cuir Beluga is as close to the classics as one can get nowadays. More Shalimar than Mitsouko, this is not a difficult perfume in any way, and the large doses of very sweet vanilla make it go down easily for just about anyone (other than vanilla haters, but if you’re one, chances are that Guerlain is not really your thing to begin with).

What little drama we get in this perfume comes from the smooth leather. Some smell suede and compare Cuir Beluga to Daim Blond, but I don’t agree. To my nose it’s the finest most luxurious leather you can find. I have a pair of tall Jimmy Choo boots that feels this soft and timeless. It’s something that could have existed 50 years ago and has both an air of mystery and a determined backbone, despite the softness and the obvious sex appeal. I love touching and smelling my boots (us scentheads tend to shove our schnozes into the weirdest things and places) as it gives me a similar thrill to experiencing Cuir Beluga. I just wish the leather note in the perfume would have lasted longer before it becomes all vanilla, all the time.

Even if the leather note didn’t last long on her skin, she obviously experienced a lot more of it than I did. On me, the leather was nonexistent, and I suspect the suede was a figment of my imagination. I didn’t mind, though, because I loved my marzipan-almond meringue and vanilla cream, and found it delectable while it lasted. I would absolutely wear Cuir Beluga to bed, if I didn’t have to spend $250 for about 30 minutes of true, undiluted gloriousness.

Obviously, skin chemistry is going to make a difference in terms of how Cuir Beluga’s sillage, sweetness, “leather,” and powder manifest themselves on your skin. Given the perfume’s cost, I would recommend more than ever for you to test it first or order a sample. However, I must emphasize that, if you go into Cuir Beluga expecting a true leather scent, you will probably be disappointed. This is a primarily a gourmand fragrance with sweetness, powder, and vanilla. It also skews quite feminine in my opinion.

I think Cuir Beluga is very over-priced for what it is, but cost is a subjective determination and, in the case of this particular Guerlain at least, there is the quality and luxuriousness to back it up. In short, to paraphrase Mary Poppins, you may want to take a spoonful of sugar to make the price easier to swallow, as you wrap yourself in the pillowy, cashmere softness of Play-Doh, almond marzipan, and powdered vanilla.

Cost & Availability: Cuir Beluga is an eau de parfum that costs $250 or €185 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its U.S. and International website, but Guerlain doesn’t sell the fragrance online except on its French Guerlain website where it is priced at €185. I don’t know if they ship to the rest of Europe. In the U.S.: Cuir Beluga is available on the NordstromNeiman MarcusSaks Fifth Avenue, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is actually available in the other shops themselves as a general rule.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Cuir Beluga at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for the U.K. price, I read that, back in 2011, this Guerlain collection retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now, but it must be much more. In France, Cuir Beluga is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Cuir Beluga a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Chypre Fatal (Les Elixirs Charnels)

A pretty, very sweet, fruity, unoriginal, and very over-priced little trifle in a lovely shade of purple. That’s Chypre Fatal from Guerlain, an eau de parfum that is part of the Les Elixirs Charnels (The Carnal Elixirs) prestige collection. The line was created by perfumer Christine Nagel in cooperation with Sylvaine Delacourte, and was released in 2008.

Guerlain Chypre FatalOn its website, Guerlain describes the perfume as an “aphrodisiac for a femme fatal,” and adds:

Both chic and sexy, Chypre Fatal brings to mind a rebellious woman with extreme elegance, an icon with devastating seduction. It’s a fruity chypre with an intense aura. An imperial rose with hints of woody patchouli is heightened by vanilla and white peach, which sensually soften the accord.
The fragrance dresses up in a bottle with pure lines, adorned with a metallic silver label inspired by the intimate ambience of the boudoir.

The notes are simple:

White peach, spicy rose, patchouli, and vanilla.



Chypre Fatal opens on my skin with delicately sweet, dainty, white peach nectar, followed by a spicy red rose, purple patchouli, and a light, sweet musk. It feels as though the watery delicacy of the pale peach quickly turns to the same shade as Chypre Fatal’s liquid once the patchouli hits it.

This is the modern type of patchouli (or fruit-chouli), with its syrupy, sweet characteristics of jammy, grape-y, fruited molasses, not the black kind of patchouli from the hippie days of the ’70s. It’s potent, and quickly overwhelms the lovely peach note. Within minutes, Chypre Fatal turns into the sweetest of summer roses infused with fruit. As regular readers of the blog know, I’m not a fan of purple patchouli, and I really regret how it squashes my favorite part of the perfume like a bulldozer. 



For all Chypre Fatal’s concentrated grape-y blast, the fragrance feels oddly translucent, almost like an Impressionist watercolour painting. It’s initially very strong in smell, but gauzy, wispy, and incredibly sheer in weight. I had applied about 3 big smears of Chypre Fatal, but it feels almost as though the fragrance were evaporating off my skin. So, I applied 3 more — and even with that astronomical quantity, Chypre Fatal still seems to lose body and depth. The peach, in particular, seems to disappear, no matter much I applied, though it occasionally pops up like a ghost later in the opening phase. What’s left in the first hour is primarily a very sweet ruby rose, gleaming with the purple hues of a grape fruit-chouli and just lightly flecked by a subtle, sweet musk. Thirty minutes later, the smallest rumblings of vanilla stir in the base, adding a soft warmth.



At the end of the first hour, Chypre Fatal is a soft, gauzy blur of rose with just whispers of a spicy edge, the vaguest hint of peach swirled in, and a lot of very syrupy sweetness. The soft musk and a thin layer of vanilla finish it off in the base. It remains that way for a few hours, though it turns into a complete skin scent around the 2.5 hour mark. In case you hadn’t noticed, I really am not keen on the purple patchouli, so it’s quite a relief when its extremely sweet fruitiness starts to slowly recede around the middle of the third hour. Finally, and at last, Chypre Fatal seems a bit better balanced and modulated.

The end of the fruit-chouli’s bullying dominance also lets some of the other elements come out to play. First are the green touches in the perfume’s base. Regardless of its actual name, “Chypre” Fatal isn’t actually a chypre fragrance by technical standards as it contains no oakmoss in it. Nonetheless, there are lurking glimmers of something softly plush and green in the base which begin to occasionally pop up at this stage.



The peach also has the chance to come out of the shadows. While it waxes and wanes in prominence, it really is much more noticeable now as compared to the opening phase, and adds a pretty touch to the scent. By the end of the fourth hour, Chypre Fatal is a sweet, peachy-rose scent with a lovely sliver of warm vanilla in the base. An hour later, the perfume is mostly just peach with the tonka Guerlainade note that is the house’s signature. Here, it’s not powdery the way it can often be, but simply a warm, slightly fluffy, very sheer vanilla.

In its final moments, Chypre Fatal is a nebulous, abstract blur of fruited sweetness with just a sliver of vanilla. All in all, the fragrance lasted 10 hours on me with a walloping 6 big smears, but a mere 6.75 hours with a more normal, regular dosage of 2 large smears. In other words, the longevity was not particular great unless you applied a lot, and the sillage was consistently weak after the first forty minutes.

Chypre Fatal is a pretty little thing, but it also seems like a very well-done version of mainstream, department store fragrances. It’s neither complicated nor nuanced, and certainly not very original. It’s like a higher end version of any number of fruity, jammy rose scents with patchouli. Parts of it even remind me of Chanel‘s more recent (and much cheaper) variation of this twist: Coco Noir. The only difference is the translucence of the Guerlain scent, that subtle whisper of peach that isn’t hugely common to a lot of perfumes today, and the fact that Coco Noir is a much more complex scent. If the peach part of Chypre Fatal dominates on your skin, then you may even find it to be extremely similar to Gucci‘s Gucci Rush, a fragrance with a very dominant peach-patchouli-floral accord.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

Midnight Bakula via Fragrantica.

In Chypre Fatal’s Fragrantica entry, seven people think the perfume is a lot like The Body Shop‘s Midnight Bakula. I know nothing about the fragrance, and I doubt it could have the same high-quality ingredients or a lack of synthetics. Still, it’s certainly something worth noting! Midnight Bakula’s Fragrantica listing shows that it, too, is a “chypre floral” whose notes are patchouli, rose and nectarine (in that order). I don’t know if the fragrance is discontinued as one Fragrantica commentator states, but I found it on Amazon for $23 (plus $5.49 shipping) for a 50 ml/1.7 oz bottle. It is currently available for an even cheaper price on eBay for $15.99! Now, I repeat, I don’t know the scent, and I doubt it would smell quite as high-end as the Guerlain. That is not my point, however.

My point is the Guerlain’s Chypre Fatal seems extremely over-priced, to put it mildly, for what it is. This very simple, uncomplicated, overly sweet, 4-note perfume dominated by very inexpensive purple patchouli costs $260. Even apart from the issue of a supposed Body Shop dupe, Chypre Fatal is simply not interesting or different enough for $260! Presumably, one spends money on Guerlain’s higher-end, prestige lines to get something different from the masses of department store fragrances out there with their generic, somewhat predictable profile. The fact that many of those actually have more notes, and more complexity, than Chypre Fatal isn’t exactly a plus.

It’s not just my opinion, either. Commentators on various perfume sites feel largely the same way. A number offer other perfume comparisons, ranging from commercial fragrances to mid-range niche ones. Since I try to avoid that revoltingly sweet, cloying, purple, grape-y fruit-chouli wherever and whenever possible, I’m not familiar with all of them, but those that I have tried are substantially more nuanced or richer than Chypre Fatal.

Let’s start with Basenotes, where the Chypre Fatal entry has four reviews with two being neutral, one positive, and one negative. We’ll split the difference and go with the “neutral” assessments which read as follows:

  • I think that maybe was a mistake when they created this fragrance. I imagine that someone heard Chypre Banal instead of Chypre Fatal, and then they produced it. Chypre Fatal is your standard modern chypre fragrance, and it does achieve every single point that other more affordable chypres does, like shiseido zen and guccy by gucci. It starts fruity, then it`s dominated by a sweet, almost camphorated, patchouli, supported by a luminous musky base similar to the one found in narciso rodriguez. […] If it`s a more exclusive fruity chypre that you want, i suggest you trying Mon Parfum by M. Micallef, that for now you can find for a better price at ebay and it`s more lovely and less facelless than Chypre Fatal.
  • I”m a fan of Guerlain’s exclusives, but I do have high standards for them and am more harsh in my reviews. This is a good perfume, in the $100-$140 range, but at the price point sold I have to wonder what they were thinking. [¶] This is a basic patchouli/rose chypre, which I’m comparing to Sublime Balkiss, Lady Vengeance and Kurkdjian‘s Lumiere pour femme. This is most expensive of the four, and in my opinion, hte least interesting. What I”m wanting is some ‘OOH!!!’, like Kurkdjian’s spicy rose, Balkiss’ blueberry note or Lady Vengeance’ edge. [¶] But peach and vanilla are just too safe. I”m wondering who the intended audience is for this line, because I don’t think it’s those who want something unique and trend-setting. [Emphasis to names with bold font added by me for ease of reading.]

On Makeupalley, the 5 entries are somewhat more positive, but also include two comments like Chypre Fatal is a lot like department store fragrances. For example: “As the fragrance settles down to its basenotes, it acquires a non-descript “perfumey” smell that is just kind of average, department-storeish, etc… Ho hum.”

Gucci Rush. Photo via

Gucci Rush. Photo via

Fragrantica commentators are largely torn, with even the fans finding the price hard to swallow or preferring other department store perfumes. Some examples, with the comparative names highlighted by me:

  • Opens with a delectable, floralized, sweet peach but quickly dries down on my skin to a semi-sour fruity rose patchouli. I’d take Gucci Rush over this any day if I want peach and patchouli. There’s nothing new or interesting or different to help this stand out in a crowd of fruitchoulis. Not worth the price in my opinion.
  •  I got a sample and was looking for some proper chypre. All i got was something between Shalimar parfum Initial and Euphoria, jimmy Choo and so on. Sweet, chemical, cloying. It`s not chypre and definitely not fatal 😀 Can`t believe it`s Guerlain!
  • This goes on like cough syrup, that’s what i detect, the red cough syrup LOL. However , once it dries, it reminds me of a more sophisticated Gucci Rush which I do love .
  • Nice Guerlain scent but still does not reach that grade of a really special perfume. This one is sickly sweet and headache inducing, though pleasant at first. Not worth the price.
  • Chypre Fail. It reminds me of Tom Ford‘s White Patchouli, so I suppose that’s how they arrive at calling it a chypre. However it isn’t a real patchouli, perhaps there is some attenuated aromachemical that mimics a facet of patchouli. [¶] The drydown – seriously Guerlain? Yves Rocher has many better perfumes than this. […][¶] It is an insult to the consumer to put such a cheap juice in an overpriced “exclusive” bottle. It fails as a sales tactic since the only plausible consumer of a pricey exclusive is a perfumista, who will most likely detect the fraud.

I think some of those commentators may be harsher than I am. I do think that Chypre Fatal improves once that tidal wave of ghastly, cloying, purple patchouli lets some of the other notes come out, but it’s all highly relative. And it certainly doesn’t change the perfume’s largely unoriginal, simplistic profile. As one of the Basenotes’ commentators said, “Chypre Banal,” not Chypre Fatal. And that’s a problem at this price. For $60, I’d recommend it, but for $260? There are far better perfumes out there. 

Cost & Availability: Chypre Fatal is an eau de parfum that costs $260 or €180 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its US website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Chypre Fatal is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In Europe, you can order Chypre Fatal from Guerlain’s European website where the fragrance retails for €180. In the U.K, you can find Chypre Fatal at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores, as well as at select Paris Sephora shops. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Chypre Fatal a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Guerlain Tonka Imperiale

There is a house in the suburbs, virtually indistinguishable from its neighbors, and merely one more in a line of perfectly square, pretty boxes with perfectly trimmed lawns on a perfectly pleasant, quiet street. It’s not large enough to be a true McMansion, but it certainly bears all the characteristics of that generic sameness. If you look closely, you can see that it’s made of the very finest building blocks, the very best that money can buy. Inside and out, however, it’s a sea of bland beigeness with interiors that are awash with taupe, egg-shell, and cream as far as the eye can see. There is nary a whiff of anything strong in contrast; no pops of colour, no thick veins of black. The lack of edge or individual character carries through even to the house’s carpeting: thick, plush shag rugs in which you can sink your bare feet. It’s easy comfort without particular style, and always in unremarkable, unrelieved, suburban taupe.



Tonka Imperiale from Guerlain is a beige house in the suburbs for me. It’s well-appointed and well-made, but a sea of bland, characterless, generic taupe as far as the eye can see. And I despise taupe with a violent passion. I’m sure it’s a colour that can be elegant in some interior decorating, and there are probably people on whom the colour looks good in clothing, but, personally, I would like to stab taupe in the eye with a large chef’s knife. And, for me, when I wear Tonka Imperiale, all I see is that bland colour. I know a lot of my friends will undoubtedly be upset with this review as they love the fragrance. To them, I can only apologise. I know Tonka Imperiale is a luxuriously made creation that probably encapsulates elegant comfort. I’m sure it’s wonderful on all of you. Unfortunately, it’s not something that I think is particularly special for its high price.   

Guerlain Tonka ImperialeTonka Imperiale is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also “a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners.”

Tonka Imperiale is the seventh fragrance in the collection, and was released in 2010. Like all its siblings, it was created by Guerlain’s in-house perfumery, Thierry Wasser. On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as a “woody oriental” and write:


With Tonka Impériale, Thierry Wasser has created a woody oriental composed around one of Guerlain’s star ingredients,the tonka bean. It has to be said that this precious seed, one of the cult components of the Guerlinade, is particularly dear to the House.

Tonka Impériale is well-named: a subtle blend of balmy scents, rich in contrasting facets, with accents of honey, gingerbread, almond, hay and tobacco. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

Tonka Beans

Tonka Beans

The notes for the perfume, as compiled from Guerlain and Fragrantica, are:

Top notes: bergamot, butter almond, white honey, and rosemary.

Heart notes: jasmine, tonka beans and light tobacco. Bottom notes: incense, cedar wood, pine.

Depending on treatment, tonka beans can smell of vanilla, hay (coumarin), or even bittersweet almonds. And it is the latter which dominates the opening of Tonka Imperiale on my skin, thanks to the supplemental effects of the almond butter. The perfume begins with a burst of the white nuts, first bitter and raw, then quickly infused with sweetness. There is a honeyed quality underlying the note, but it’s light, not thick, yellow, or molten. It suits the description of “white honey” given by Fragrantica, because this feels quite translucent. Quickly, a subtle herbal element breezes through, followed by an amorphous woody note that isn’t immediately distinguishable. Tobacco lurks underneath, feeling pale, blonde and sweet, like leaves sitting in the sun. Traces of sweetened hay and the faintest speck of bergamot are the final touches that dot the landscape.

Source: donnamarie113 on

Source: donnamarie113 on

The primary bouquet, however, is of almonds and vanilla. The almond note is so concentrated, it’s more akin to the distilled essence that one uses in baking. The vanilla is rich and sweet, but it’s airy instead of custardy, more pale and white in visual hue. It’s also subtly backed by sweetened vanillic powder. It’s the famous Guerlainade, Guerlain’s signature note, which is placed front and center, right at the top, rather than appearing, as it traditionally does, at the very end in the perfume’s drydown. Tonka Imperiale is a very simple fragrance at its core: bitter, honeyed, sweet almonds with vanilla. It feels a lot like crème anglaise, only this one includes almond concentrate.    

Eventually, other notes appear to dance at the edges. In the first hour, there are minute, minuscule traces of woodiness. It’s generic, beige and abstract in large part, though if you really, really focus, you can perhaps persuade yourself that you can detect the hazy, faint edges of cedar. The real dryness in the scent comes from the tobacco which has quietly filled the base, seeping up to subtly impact the vanilla-almond combination at the top. Slowly, the bergamot becomes a little more noticeable, but like a number of things in this scent, it is restrained, and muted. By the end of the second hour, jasmine and incense suddenly pop up on the periphery. Both are flickers that are barely imperceptible initially. In fact, on my skin, it takes almost six hours for the incense to be noticeable in any substantial way.

Until that point, Tonka Imperiale is primarily an almond-vanilla scent atop an abstract, amorphous woody base that is lightly infused with tobacco and smoke. The Guerlainade powder, the jasmine and the other notes register in pale, light, subtle hues. It’s all effortless, easy, extremely well-blended, and swirls around you like a very expensive, soft, airy cloud. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s perfectly pleasant. To me, it seems simplistic and dull, but I can see how it might be a comfortable, easy, cozy scent for some, especially those who love a gourmand sweetnes in their fragrances.



Still, I can’t help but visual a house in the suburbs, though not one excessive or large enough to be a true McMansion. Tonka Imperiale is not chic, cool, or hip enough to be an apartment in the city; it’s certainly not a loft in Soho or a penthouse decorated in sleek black, silver, and modern edges. It’s also not large, opulent, or over-the-top enough like an Amouage Ubar to be a massive estate with a palatial mansion out in the country. It’s merely a comfortable, unremarkable, pretty, well-built house in the suburbs awash in taupe and beige.

The unrelieved blandness never changes. At the 4.5 hour mark, the sillage drops, and Tonka Imperiale is now a skin scent. The almond has now fallen behind the honey, jasmine and vanilla, though it still precedes the woody notes that are in the base. It’s the same story with the tobacco. As a whole, and if I’m being charitable, Tonka Imperiale is an interesting mix of sweetness with dryness, I suppose. By the start of the seventh hour, the fragrance is Guerlainade vanillic powder with a faint whisper of almonds and honey, and sits atop with some smoky incense, though the latter is so sheer, gauzy, and thin, it’s hardly a robust foundation. In its final hours, Tonka Imperiale is merely Guerlainade with some dryness. All in all, the fragrance lasted just short of 11 hours, with moderate to soft sillage throughout.

Taupe shag carpeting. Source:

Taupe shag carpeting. Source:

Tonka Imperiale is intentionally meant to pay homage to a particular note, so I can’t fault it for focusing so heavily on the tonka, right down to its occasional almond-like facets. The fragrance does what it sets out to do, and does so in the typical Guerlain way. I’m not blaming it for that. I do blame it, however, for being such unrelieved blandness for $250. For that amount, it would be nice to have some character, some contrasting edge to counter the dull monotony of a sea of taupe and beige. Supposedly, the incense is meant to be that edge. If they say so. Perhaps I’m merely unlucky with my skin.

Or, perhaps, Tonka Imperiale is exactly the way it’s supposed to be: a plush, simple, comforting, gourmand scent dominated by vanillic tonka, almonds and Guerlainade, with an incredibly restrained dose of tobacco and incense. So restrained, in fact, that neither of those minor supporting players can possibly counter the two main, gourmand players on center stage. Fine. But Guerlain’s headlong descent into simplistic and/or gourmand scents at an extremely high price tag continues to alienate me. Tonka Imperiale would be a great comfort scent at about $100, though I personally still wouldn’t go near it due to all that taupe beigeness. But $250? For a plush, beige shag rug? No, thank you. Not for me.

Others, however, don’t share my issues. As noted earlier, I have a number of friends who love Tonka Imperiale so much, they’ve bought full bottles of it. On Fragrantica, there are raves about how wonderful the fragrance is, and how it is a luxurious “masterpiece.” To wit, one comment calling it “[F]rench romantic ART,” and saying: “Oh my god …..what is this scent…luxury…elegant…charismatic…sweet…sensual…very sexy for me.” Others, however, think Tonka Imperiale is vastly over-priced, with a number finding the fragrance’s opening to be extremely similar to Mugler‘s Pure Havane. One person had an issue with Tonka Imperiale’s drydown, comparing it to Calvin Klein‘s Obsession, her “worst nightmare.” On my skin, Tonka Imperiale’s drydown wasn’t similar to Obsession at all, and I can’t compare it to Pure Havane’s opening, as I’ve never tried it. All I can say is that those of you who have problems with Guerlainade, and who continuously have it turn into sour baby powder on your skin may want to stay away from a fragrance that showcases the brand’s tonka signature.

The bottom line is this: if you love modern Guerlain fragrances — with all that that entails, for good or for bad — and if you adore cozy gourmands, then you may want to give Tonka Imperiale a sniff. You will have plenty of company in Tonka Imperiale’s vast fan club. If, however, you’re looking for a fragrance with some edge, character, or distinctive flair for your $250, you may want to look elsewhere. It’s an unrelieved sea of beige and taupe in the suburbs. 

Cost & Availability: Tonka Imperiale is an eau de parfum that costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and is listed on its website, but Guerlain doesn’t seem to sell the fragrance via an e-shop of sorts. (There is no shopping cart, for example, in which to put the fragrance for purchase.)In the U.S.: Tonka Imperiale is available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman websites. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) Outside the U.S.: In the U.K, you can find Tonka Imperiale at Harrods and, apparently, London’s Selfridges, but neither store offers the fragrance online. As for price, I read that, back in 2011, Tonka Imperiale retailed for £175. I don’t know how much it is now. In France, the fragrance is obviously available at Guerlain stores. For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. Samples: If you’d like to give Tonka Imperiale a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1/2 ml vial.

Perfume Review: Guerlain Encens Mythique d’Orient (Les Déserts d’Orient Collection)

The treasures of the Middle East done in Guerlain’s incomparable style — that is the goal of Guerlain‘s exclusive Les Deserts d’Orient collection. Featuring a trio of perfumes created by Thierry Wasser (Guerlain’s in-house perfumer and creative director), perfumes consist of: Rose Nacrée du DésertEncens Mythique d’Orient, and Songe d’un Bois d’Été. The line was released in mid-2012, exclusively for the Middle Eastern market, before subsequently making its way to a few select Guerlain stores and retailers in Europe and America. I’ve now tested two of the three, and while I like Encens Mythique slightly more than Rose Nacrée, I’m still not won over.

Guerlain Les Desert d'Oriente collection

Fragrantica‘s description of the perfumes is enticing:

Straddling the line between contemporaneous sensibilities and antique exotic traditions, the newest collection Les Déserts d’Orient by Guerlain has the patina of aged woods and bronze artifacts hiding in some cave in the desert, yet its Frenchiness is undeniably there too.

Upon reading the description, I was sure I would finally find a modern Guerlain to love passionately and obsessively. I’ve barely concealed my enormous disappointment over many of Guerlain’s recent perfumes with their endless (often excessive) sweetness, their occasional thinness, and their lack of great nuance. In my opinion, if one were to compare the vintage versions of the legendary Guerlain classics with their sultry richness, incomparable sophistication, endless nuances and stunning layers to much of the current crop, the difference would be as wide as a chasm. But I was convinced that Les Déserts d’Orients collection would change that feeling. Well, not so far….

Encens Mythique. Source: Fragrantica.

Encens Mythique. Source: Fragrantica.

Like its sibling Rose Nacrée du Désert, Encens Mythique d’Orient (hereinafter just “Encens Mythique” or “Encens”) is centered on a dark, dusty rose. It is probably the same sort of unusual Persian damask rose which Thierry Wasser used in Rose Nacrée, sourced directly from Iran, but it is not the sole driving force in the fragrance. Aldehydes are just as significant, as is frankincense. Compiling the notes from both Fragrantica, The Non-Blonde, and Surrender to Chance, the full list of Encens Mythique’s ingredients seems to be:

aldehydes, Persian rose, frankincense, ambergris, saffron, orange blossom, neroli, patchouli, vetiver, musk and moss.

"Rose de Rescht," a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source:

“Rose de Rescht,” a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source:

The very first note of Encens Mythique on my skin is rose: dark, dense, dusky, very purple, almost beefy and very fleshy. The second is of aldehydes: a little soapy, but also quite fizzy and sparkling. Underneath the aldehydic rose is a mossy undercurrent, along with patchouli and what feels like the smallest pinch of citrus. If it weren’t for the moss-patchouli base, Encens Mythique would almost seem like a sparkling rose champagne, albeit one filled with soap bubbles. It is too weighed down, however, by that plush, potent, bright (but also, just a little bit dry) foundation to be anything quite so light as champagne. Adding to the velvety nature of the undertones is a subtle flickering of a rooty, earthy, dark vetiver which adds further depth and weight. There is almost a discordant juxtaposition between the frothy lightness of the fizzy soap bubbles and the darkness of that beefy rose and mossy base. It’s interesting and unexpected, though I should confess that I’m not a huge fan of aldehydes in general.

Source: Stockfresh.

Source: Stockfresh.

Five minutes in, the frankincense rises to the surface, turning the rose much more arid, dark, and almost a bit leathery in its smoky richness. The incense note is never separate or distinct, so much as it is an integral part of the rose. It imbues it with much character and darkness, ensuring that Encens Mythique’s rose is no simple rose; it’s not syrupy, fruited or merely jammy, especially given those aldehydes. To be honest, I’m having a few problems wrapping my head around the dichotomy of the white aldehydes and the black frankincense, though they’re both well-blended here and create a very different take on the traditional rose fragrance. Perhaps I just need to actually like aldehydes.

Around the twenty-minute mark, there is also the start of a light muskiness and hints of ambergris. The latter feels grey, complex, tinged with a wonderfully salty tone, and very much like the real (extremely expensive) stuff. The quality of the ingredients in Encens Mythique is without question, and few things demonstrate it more than the genuine ambergris with its rich, sensuous, slightly animalic facets.

Source: Royalty Free stock photos

Source: Royalty Free stock photos

Alas, on my skin, Encens Mythique is primarily soap bubbles and a smoked rose coated with more aldehydes, then followed by ambergris atop a powerful mossy-patchouli base. There is a hint of orange blossom, but it is extremely minimal and muted. I don’t detect the saffron in any significant, noticeable way. At all. The dash of subtle vetiver at the start is also gone. The main trajectory of the perfume remains generally unchanged for much of Encens Mythique’s development on my skin. True, the salty, musky ambergris grows in strength to a small degree, while the aldehydes recede a fraction by the start of second hour. But, it’s only a question of degree; for the most part, Encens Mythique is a predominantly an aldehydic rose touched by frankincense smoke.

Four hours in, close to the end of the drydown, Encens Mythique is a muted, musky, rather amorphous rose scent with tiny flickers of aldehydes, amber and smoke. In its last, dying moments, right around the 5 hour mark, it is just an abstract musky scent. At all times, the sillage was low on my skin. The opening projection was decent, but Encens Mythique became a skin scent on me around the two-hour mark. And its longevity wasn’t great. Granted, I have perfume-consuming skin — but I wasn’t the only one to have problems. (On Fragrantica, someone called it a “4 hour frag.”)

In fact, my experiences seemed slightly similar to that of The Non-Blonde who wrote:

Encens Mythique d’Orient on my skin is mostly an incense/rose perfume. The strong shot of aldehydes in the opening is the first surprise, as does the strong boozy element (more refined than in Guerlain’s Spiritueuse Double Vanille, but still strong) . There’s spice and sweetness, honey and saffron, wonderful richness and a powdery rose. There are stages in the development of Encens Mythique d’Orient that it almost created arabesques of sillage around me. But most of the plushness disappears too early. What’s left on my skin after two hours is an abstract woody rose. The husband says it’s nice and floral, I think it’s powdery and ambery. In any case, the longevity of Encens Mythique d’Orient is not the most impressive in this collection, but it might be the easiest one to wear.

I think I actually had better longevity than she did! I didn’t experience the saffron, booziness or powder that she did, but I agree that much of its plushness disappears very quickly. I also agree with her overall conclusion regarding the fragrance: “I expected Encens Mythique d’Orient to smell very exotic and enchanting in an Arabian Night way. While the fragrance definitely has those elements woven into its fabric, the overall result is actually very French, even if not necessarily a typical Guerlain perfume.” It’s quite true. (I actually I think Encens Mythique is perhaps much more of a chypre-oriental hybrid than a pure “Arabian Night” oriental.)

Fragrantica‘s own review for Encens Mythique was interesting:

The opening of Encens Mythique is reminiscent of retro shaving foam, part retro fern-like and mossy, part musky sweet, with a very decadent, rich feel to it that stems from an oriental Damask rose. The rosiness is allied to saffron, a classical combination that exalts the bittersweet facets of the spice into a warm embrace. But it is the coalescence of ambergris and sweet musks which “makes” the perfume a true Guerlain and at the same time a reverie into the Middle East.



I can definitely see why there would be a sense of “retro shaving foam” — it’s all those aldehyde bubbles! I definitely don’t agree that the perfume is a reverie into the Middle East judging by my own time there, but I do concur on her assessment of the ambergris as smelling “like a real tincture of the rare greyish matter, with all its nutty, buttery, smoky and salty intimate nuances intact.” Had the note been stronger on my skin, I might have more enthusiasm for Encens Mythique.

Commentators on Fragrantica are generally positive in their assessments of the scent. A sampling of some of their views:

  • A rich elegant perfume with a heart of rose/saffron accord (somewhat reminding me of Rose Barbare). It smells very “natural”, slightly green in the opening. I don’t find it smells of incense. There is really a vintage quality, it’s like something you would have smelled in the past. Like one of those “grande dame” aldehydics of the 1950s or 1960s. “Never-smelled-before” it is not, but who cares when quality is this good.
  • A distinct fragrance built around saffron, ‘real’ musk (neither animalic nor clean), rose (fresh and warm, not pungent), moss and a sultry, mellow neroli caught like exotic butterflies in a luxurious aldehyde glass house. It is the mix of individual colors – vibrant, velveteen and tender – that enthralls and then the touch of moss, that adds a dimension of earthiness and maturity and eccentricity
  • This is a lovely perfume but I can’t smell any incense or smoke, in fact it just needs something else to make it a bit more interesting.I gave myself a good spray last night and can still smell the divine amber lingering on me this morning. It is a very sweet perfume and this is what will probably put me off getting a fb.
  • A short burst of incense; spices, herbs, a gentle sweetness. Then, a distinct honey accord, which rounds out the fragrance. The dry down is warm, sensual and keeps the delicate spicy sweetness, with an undercurrent of woody notes. Very nice, but at the price, perhaps not FB worthy. (3/5)
  • If you are expecting incense such as that in the Comme des Garcons series or Messe de Minuit, think again. The incense in this perfume, if present at all, appears only as a wisp of smoked rose. The moss listed in the notes is not there; oakmoss usually lends a note of bitterness and there is nothing bitter here. Overall this is really a simple floral, and does not live up to its name. It’s pretty though, but not pretty or different enough for the price.

As you can see, there seems to be a big split on the issue of the incense and its dominance. On my skin, as noted early, it was infused into the rose, ensuring that it wasn’t just a simple, jammy or fruited rose, but it was never a wholly distinct, rich feature in its own right.

Some Fragrantica members also seemed to have issues with Encens Mythique’s price — and it’s a very valid consideration at $275 a bottle or €190 (though it may have gone up since that original Euro price). Ultimately, I think price is subjective, and all depends on someone’s love for the fragrance in question. I, personally, would not buy Encens Mythique — even at a significantly lower price. It is not my cup of tea and, in my opinion, not very special or hugely interesting. Plus, longevity is an issue. But it definitely has its fans. I suspect it would have many more fans were it easier to obtain. Though it is available with a bit of effort, Encens Mythique is not listed on Guerlain’s own website – which is rare even for their niche, prestige lines! It is, however, available via select stores which you would have to call in order to buy the perfume. (The details are below.)

All in all, if you’re a die-hard Guerlain fan and love rose scents of any variety, I’d encourage you to give Encens Mythique a sniff. It’s wearable, refined, has a slight twist, and is well-blended with high-quality ingredients. However, if you’re looking for something truly oriental or different, you may not find it to be a stand-out that is worth the price.

Cost & Availability: Encens Mythique d’Orient is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 75 ml / 2.5 oz bottle and costs $275 or €190. (I think that may be the Euro rate. See below.) In the U.S., it is available at Guerlain’s Las Vegas boutique at The Palazzo (702-732-7008) with free shipping and no tax. It is also available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York; you can call (212) 872-2734 and ask for Alina. However, she informs me that there is shipping costs an additional $12.75, so you’d get a better deal ordering from Las Vegas if you test out the perfume and want to buy a full bottle. In New York, the Désert d’Orient collection is also available at Saks. If you’re outside of New York, you may try calling a Saks Fifth Avenue near you to see if they carry the line as well.
In Europe, I’ve read that the original European price was €190, but I don’t know if it remains at that price and can’t find the perfume listed on any online website to check. Encens Mythique is available at Guerlain’s flagship headquarters in Paris. Most of the exclusive Guerlains are also available at Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Belgium (which ships internationally), but I don’t see the Désert d’Orient collection on their list, so I would definitely give them a call if you’re in Europe and interested. In the UK, I’ve read that the collection is supposedly available at London’s Harrods and Selfridges boutiques. However, it is not listed on the latter two stores’ websites.
In the Middle East & Asia: The perfume is obviously available in the Middle East, since the entire collection was originally created for that market to begin with, so your starting point might be the Paris Gallery perfume retailer which sells Encens Mythique for AED 990. They have stores at a huge number of UAE malls and locations which you can find using their Store Locator. In Asia, I know a lot of rare, expensive Guerlain fragrances are carried by Hong Kong’s Harvey Nichols boutique, so they may have this one too. If you’d like to check for locations of Harvey Nichols from Hong Kong to Istanbul, Riyadh and Kuwait, try here. I did see that Guerlain has a Japanese website, but I’m afraid I can’t read it to see what fragrances it carries (even using a Google translator). Outside of those regions, I would check with any Guerlain boutique or luxury department store in your country on the rare off-chance that they may carry it.
Samples: Surrender to Chance sells Encens Mythique starting at $4.59 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also do what I did and opt for the whole Desert d’Orient trio in a sample set that begins at $12.99.

Perfume Review: Guerlain Rose Nacrée du Désert (Les Déserts d’Orient Collection)

The treasures of the Middle East, opulent orientals, and Guerlain’s incomparable style — it’s hardly surprising that I was over the moon to try Guerlain‘s exclusive Les Deserts d’Orient collection. Featuring a trio of perfumes created by Thierry Wasser (Guerlain’s in-house perfumer and creative director), the line was released in mid-2012 exclusively for the Middle Eastern market before subsequently making its way to a few select Guerlain stores and retailers in Europe and America.

Guerlain Les Desert d'Oriente collection

I was even more excited when I read Fragrantica‘s description of the perfumes:

Straddling the line between contemporaneous sensibilities and antique exotic traditions, the newest collection Les Déserts d’Orient by Guerlain has the patina of aged woods and bronze artifacts hiding in some cave in the desert, yet its Frenchiness is undeniably there too.

Rose Nacrée du Desert.

Rose Nacrée du Desert.

Clearly, this was a trio that I had to try. I’ve barely concealed my enormous disappointment over many of Guerlain’s modern perfumes with their endless sweetness, their occasional thinness, and their lack of great nuance. In my opinion, if one were to compare the vintage versions of the legendary Guerlain classics with their sultry richness, incomparable sophistication, endless nuances and stunning layers to much of the current crop, the difference would be as wide as a chasm. But I was convinced that Les Deserts d’Orients collection would change that feeling.

I started with Rose Nacré du Desert (Pearly Rose of the Desert) and was thrilled at the opening. There was hope! Then, alas, began the now-usual descent into enormous sweetness, with heaping mounds of sugar that verged on the gourmand. Rosé Nacré du Desert turned out to be the bastard child of an Oriental and a Gourmand which makes it far from my cup of tea — though it is a pleasant perfume and a very tame, neutered oriental which will be perfect for gourmands who fear any sort of spice.

"Rose de Rescht," a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source:

“Rose de Rescht,” a type of Persian damask rose which originated from Rascht, Iran. Source:

Almost all descriptions of the perfume’s notes begin with some variation on the words “a lush, dewy Persian rose.” According to a review of Rose Nacrée by Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like, Thierry Wasser “personally sourced a Damask rose from Iran and it is seen here for the first time in a Guerlain perfume.” Elsewhere, Thierry Wasser is quoted as saying that the rose was “savage” and dark. But there is more to Rose Nacrée than just the Persian flower. The most complete set of notes that I could find came from Surrender to Chance, which also includes:

smoke, amber, saffron, cardamom, agarwood/oud, benzoin, patchouli and myrrh.

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

Spirit of a Dying Rose by Vincent Knaus via

The opening for Rose Nacrée was lovely. It was a dirty, darkened, black rose, tinged with smoke. There was also oud which, initially, had a medicinal touch before softening, within seconds, to something smoother and milder. Cardamom covered the petals, along with saffron. At first, the saffron was not sweet, dessert-like and yellow-orange the way it often is; instead, it was fiery and chili-pepper red in hue, adding a wonderfully spicy touch. There was a wonderfully nutty, almost toffee-like richness to the notes in those opening minutes. After a brief while, the rose becomes a little sweeter, a little more honeyed and much less black. It’s still gorgeously dirty, but sugar, vermilion and beefy red start to infuse the petals. It reminds me of the dark talons of Chinese empresses that you would see in the movies.

Black Magic Rose Wallpaper__yvt2As the minutes pass, more and more red infuses that black, smoked rose which now starts to gleam like a blood ruby in the light, reflecting different facets of sweetness, spice, woody oud, amber and smoke. Rose Nacrée du Desert is a bit like reverse animation where the dying, wizened, blackened rose trails wisps of smoke before starting to spring back to life, straightening up, plumping up, turning more and more red by the minute. As it starts to re-awaken and bloom, it first oozes drops of darkened black-red, then treacly, thickly sweetened red, before finally, golden amber. Its dark thorns reflect brown wood, cardamom, and almost a suggestion of leather; the smoke dissipates; and all that remains is a candied, pearly, iced rose on a base of golden brown.

It sounds lovely and, for those who love gourmand perfumes, it most certainly will be a huge hit. But this “pearly” rose gets its sheen through icing and endless globs of sugar. Rose Nacrée’s sweetness intensifies in as little as twenty minutes, taking on a very gourmand feel. The saffron completely changes from spicy to something reminiscent of desserts.

Usbu Al-Zainab via (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

Usbu Al-Zainab via (recipe & link within. Click on the photo.)

In conjunction with the cardamom and the slightly nutty amber, the result evokes Middle Eastern sweets drenched in thick honey or syrup and filled with nuts. The whole thing sits upon a rich, burnished leather base, tinged with smoke and a soft oud, but none of those can really alter the fundamentally sweet nature of this heavily sugared rose. For my personal preferences, I far preferred it when it was a dirty, blackened rose with lovely smoke.

An hour in the Rose Nacrée’s development, the patchouli starts to make itself noticeable. It’s neither the black, slightly dirty, smoky patchouli of the ’70s nor the very purple patchouli common to many mainstream fragrances today. Instead, it almost feels mossy, as if a symbolic touch of green much like a rose’s stem. Taking the analogy further, the slow start of the myrrh resin, along with the cardamom and quiet hint of wood, would constitute the thorns. At the 90 minute mark, the perfume is fundamentally a very (very) sweet rose and saffron scent over a dusky wood foundation with almost a hint of light musk.

There was a candied note to the perfume that I could not place and which I struggled to identify from the start. It wasn’t exactly nutty toffee, it definitely wasn’t caramel, but it was something dessert-like. Then, I read Bois de Jasmin‘s review for Rose Nacrée du Desert where she said that the mossy drydown of the perfume was “reminiscent more of Caron Nuit de Noël with its dark undercurrent” than of the classic Guerlainade found in things like Shalimar or L’Heure Bleue.

Marrons Glacés.

Marrons Glacés.

That reference to the famous Nuit de Noel was genius and brilliant. It instantly clarified that note in Rose Nacrée which I could not immediately place: it was marron glacé or candied, iced chestnuts. As Wikipedia will tell you, marron glacé is a chestnut candied in sugar syrup and then glazed. As a child living in France, it was (and always will be) a huge guilty pleasure of mine. (And, frankly, blog references to marron glacé are the sole reason why I blindly purchased a bottle of Nuit de Noel, only to find that the non-vintage version was a sad cry from that I had expected.) In Rose Nacrée, the base has a definite note of marron glacé, but it is far stronger than in Nuit de Noel and verges almost on a candied, nutty, chestnut syrup.

As time passes, the perfume’s inflections wax and wane, with certain notes gaining in individual strength for a few moments before again receding. Clearly, this is a beautifully blended perfume. As the dry-down phase begins, sometimes the oud shines forth, sometimes it is the amber, or the plush, velvety patchouli — but all the notes lie in the shadow of that candied, syrupy rose with iced chestnuts. In Rose Nacrée’s final hours, it turns into a chestnut-y amber with benzoin, a wisp of oud, and a faint trace of powder.

The perfume is pretty, but I found it underwhelming. It is, ultimately, a very simple perfume at heart: highly sweetened rose with oud and saffron. I’ll spare you my increasingly cantankerous views of Guerlain’s headlong descent into overly sweet, sugary perfumes and just tell you that, in my opinion, there are far better perfumes that use the rose, oud, saffron, cardamom and amber combination. At the top of that list would be the spectacular, infinitely more complicated, and complex Trayee by Neela Vermeire Créations. It is not only a “spicy oriental” in the true sense of that term, but it uses those same notes to much greater effect to create an utterly ravishing, sophisticated, highly nuanced perfume. (It probably helps that Trayee has about 11 more notes as well.)

Even if we set aside the more complex Trayee, there are an endless number of perfumes with some combination of Rose Nacrée’s notes. Whether it’s Montale‘s Aoud Safran (which also has rose), By Kilian‘s Rose Oud, L’Artisan‘s Safran Troublant, Dior‘s Oud Isphahan, or Amouage‘s Epic For Women (to which Rose Nacrée has sometimes been compared) — the point is, this ground has been hoed before. While I think Guerlain’s interpretation is richer, heavier and more nuanced than both Kilian’s lighter, more anemic, interpretation or the Montale, Rose Nacrée is still neither a particularly original perfume nor, in my opinion, a brilliant one.

I will be the first to admit that my dislike for gourmand fragrances and my love for true, spicy Orientals are influencing my assessment. But I am not alone in how I see the perfume. Fragrantica itself in its early assessment of the trio called Rose Nacrée “[a]rguably the less ‘original’ in the trio” before writing

[t]he sweetness is pervading, even more than the previous Deserts d’Orient examples, with nuances of loukhoum rosewater and copra powder enrobing the yummy delicacy. The mouth-watering gourmand quality is very Guerlain; rose and sugar are eager bedfellows with passionate results.

Commentators on Fragrantica range from some enthusiasts, to those who give a nonchalant, “been there, smelled that” shrug. Some examples of the latter:

  • another very similar Rose-oud-saffron, like some other niche ones; seems like they just copy-paste the same composition!
  • this is not bad at all, quite elegant and not too strong Rose Oud, reminds me a bit also By Kilian’s one on the same theme… nothing too original I’d say, pleasant, well balanced, the patchouly note is quite present, the rose is soft, but there, the safron is very mild, barely there… not sure it’s worth the price tag
  • this is a sweet and sticky candy rose. to my nose it does not at all smell arab. i cannot sense oud in this creation. to me its the rose and the patchouly making a sweetish scent for the day. definitely more for women. i have to say i am somewhat disappointed as i expected a full bukhoor kind of incency perfume more like the oud ispahan.
  • Rose Nacree du Desert is the sweetest floral oriental I’ve come across. It’s not Hypnotic Poison type of sugary sweetness – no fruit or vanilla, it’s a warm musky, incense sweet. […] The longer I wear the perfume the sweeter it becomes, is there such a thing as too sweet? I seriously can’t imagine this as a unisex fragrance. [My Note: that person ended up loving it.]

How you feel about Rose Nacrée will all depend on how you feel about syrup. I strongly recommend it for those who want an incredibly neutered oriental, who adore gourmand fragrances, and/or those who love their flowers enormously sweetened. By those standards, Rose Nacrée will be a wonderfully rich, safe, tame, non-spicy, luxurious choice. It is also ideal for those who fear the power and potency of (true) Orientals since the perfume turns into a skin scent at the 90 minute mark. For the remainder of its development, it is a very soft, unobtrusive fragrance without enormous projection. It has decent longevity, too, lasting about just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin.

I should add that Rose Nacrée du Desert is not cheap at $275, and that it is also not the easiest thing to get your hands on. It is actually not listed on Guerlain’s own website – which is rare even for their niche, prestige lines. It is, however, available via select stores which you would have to call in order to buy the perfume. (The details are below.)

If you love very sweet, dark roses and desserts, give Rose Nacrée a try. 

Cost & Availability: Rose Nacrée du Désert is an eau de parfum that comes only in a 75 ml / 2.5 oz bottle and costs $275. In the U.S., it is available at Guerlain’s Las Vegas boutique at The Palazzo (702-732-7008) with free shipping and no tax. It is also available at Bergdorf Goodman in New York; you can call (212) 872-2734 and ask for Alina. However, she informs me that there is shipping costs an additional $12.75, so you’d have a better deal ordering from Las Vegas if you test out the perfume and want to buy a full bottle. In Europe, Rose Nacrée is available at: Guerlain’s flagship headquarters in Paris; at Haute Parfumerie Place Vendôme in Belgium (which ships internationally); and at London’s Harrods and Selfridges boutiques. However, it is not listed on their websites. I’ve read that the European price is €190, but I don’t know if it remains at that price. The perfume is also available in the Middle East since the whole collection was originally created for that market, and your starting point would be the Paris Gallery perfume retailer. Outside of those regions, I would check with any Guerlain boutique in your country on the rare off-chance that they may carry it. As for samples, Surrender to Chance sells it for $4.59 for a 1/2 ml vial. You can also do what I did and opt for the whole Desert d’Orient trio in a sample set that begins at $12.99.

Perfume Review – Guerlain Angelique Noire: A House of Mirrors

Angelique Noire from Guerlain is unusual. It takes the classic Guerlain signature, up-ends it, and then sticks it in a house of mirrors. You see constant reflections of past Guerlain perfumes beckoning to you through a long hallway, but the reflections are changed, faintly distorted, sweetened, and modernized.

House of Mirrors.Source: The Consumerist Blog.

House of Mirrors.
Source: The Consumerist Blog.

It’s not only that Angelique Noire takes a gourmand approach to past classics, but also the fact that the famous Guerlain signature at the base end of the fragrance — the Guerlainade — has been brought out at the very start of the fragrance. Furthermore, it has been twisted around. It’s been made more concentrated, more herbal, bitter and green. It’s as though Guerlain decided to play with its usual pyramid of notes with a bit of a wink and a tongue-in-cheek grin. That cheeky sense of humour also extends to the name since Angelique Noire is the furthest thing possible from a “noir” perfume! (If anything, it evokes creamy vanilla and beige, with dashes of green and brown.) At all times, however, it is an extremely rich, elevated take on the modern fad for gourmand scents.

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of the Guerlain's flagship Paris boutique. Source: Interior

Gold-beaded chandelier encircling the fragrance display in the 2005 renovation of Guerlain’s flagship Paris boutique.
Source: Interior

Angelique Noire is part of Guerlain’s exclusive L’Art et La Matière collection which was launched in 2005 to celebrate the opening of Guerlain’s renovated headquarters in Paris. The collection’s name means Art and (raw) Materials, and represents Guerlain’s goal of creating olfactory Art through the use of the finest raw materials in perfumery. As Fragrantica further explains, “L’Art et la Matière” is also:

a pun after the French expression L’Art et la Manière – the art and manners. Three famous noses were invited to work on the perfumes using the highest quality materials. The perfumes were launched in 2005.

Angelique NoireAngélique Noire is the third fragrance of the series, created by Daniela Andrièr. It was an attempt to reproduce the famous compositions of the house. Sweet and strong beginning with spices and piquant freshness of bergamot is mixing with milky bitterness of almond and vanilla notes. Unusual harmony of the fresh bergamot and sweet vanilla is a trademark of classical compositions of Guerlain. Spicy harshness of the beginning is contrasting creamy and sweet base which includes mildly spicy and sugary notes of angelica.

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent as follows:


Notwithstanding the humble appearance of its clusters of small flowers, angelica is thought to be an elixir promoting longevity. Guerlain elevates this understated raw material to noble rank. In Angélique Noire, the sincerity and freshness of the angelica find a luminous echo in the bergamot, before coming to fruition in the smooth, feminine sweetness of the vanilla. The fragrance comes in a spray bottle with sleek, contemporary lines. One side is ornamented with a gold plate like a talisman.

The notes for the perfume are as follows:

Top : Angelica seeds, pink berries, pear. 
Heart : jasmine sambac, caraway. 
Base : vanilla, angelica roots, cedar.
Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

Source: MedicinalHerbInfo.Org

To understand the perfume, you have to understand angelica itself. It’s a green plant with big white or yellow flowers, and is cultivated for its sweetly scented edible stems and roots. I’ve read that angelica is also known as “Wild Celery” because it shares a similar aroma to the vegetable. But other accounts describe no such thing. Some call its aroma sweetly spiced and honeyed, while others describe it as bitter and green. Wikipedia says that angelica has “a pervading aromatic odour” that differs from the rest of its cousins in the same plant family (fennel, parsley, anise, caraway or chervil). “One old writer compares it to musk, others liken it to juniper.” In short, it’s pungent, green, brown, spicy, sweet, bitter and a whole host of contradictory things that make it extremely hard to describe to someone who hasn’t smelled it!

Angelica is the key to Angelique Noire because its different aspects run throughout every stage of the perfume. At times, it can be positively dizzying and overwhelming. In its opening seconds, I smell pear, bitter green, powdered vanilla, some sort of root-y woody note and then pink-peppered florals. The florals are hard to pinpoint at this stage and they are very subtle, as is the hint of cedar dancing around the edges. And then, the angelica arrives on the scene. The note is huge, monstrously big, bitter, green and yet, faintly earthy and woody brown at the same time. It well-nigh blows my head off and I keep my arm at a distance. Waves of angelica pulsate out at me, along with that famous Guerlain signature, the Guerlainade, that underlies all their fragrances at the very base and final hours. Only here, it’s Guerlainade on steroids and amped up a thousand degrees.

Source: US Forest Service

Source: US Forest Service

I recoil faintly from the combined intensity of the super-saturated powdered vanilla and the bitter, pungent, almost medicinal herb-y green of the angelica. It’s an incredibly odd twist to make the Guerlainade front and center, not to mention the added element of the angelica. I have an impression of an English meadow in Spring — all white (vanilla and angelica blossoms) and green (sweet, ripe Anjou pears and fruits). But, looming in the corner, its shadow getting larger and larger, is the dark green of bitter angelica stems and the brown of the more earthy root.



As the minutes progress, the scent becomes more powdery and sweet. And, to my disbelief, the angelica seems become even stronger! The combination as a whole feels like King Kong on the Empire State Building, swiping away planes in the sky as if they were gnats. As someone on Fragrantica noted, it “comes at you like a knife blade.” The whole thing is one enormous dichotomy and I will be frank, it was a bloody difficult thirty minutes the very first time I tried it! The second and third time, however, I was prepared for the brutal onslaught — and I think that made all the difference. I could appreciate the unusual, original twist on both the Guerlainade and on vanilla itself. I could smell the layers and the complexity, and I found them somewhat intriguing.

It’s an opening which seems to result in very split opinions: many adore it and its uniqueness, lamenting when it fades into something more manageable; others feel utterly blown away by it (and not in a good way). But one thing is certain: it’s unusual, different, creative and a bit provocative. You merely have to brace yourself for that very initial exposure, and give it more than one shot!

Vanilla Custard.Source: Sacchef's Blog.

Vanilla Custard.
Source: Sacchef’s Blog.

Once you’re over that initial hurdle, Angelique Noire mellows into a very different fragrance. The angelica recedes, and is no longer bitter or bullying but, instead, almost candied. The vanilla note starts to become much more prominent, as does that of sweet, ripe Anjou pears. But it is the vanilla which is interesting. At times in the first 90 minutes, it almost replicates a herbed vanilla cupcake! For the most part, however, it’s much creamier than any cupcake. It’s more like a smooth, rich vanilla custard, or like sweetened Carnation condensed milk.

Bergamot soap.Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Source: The Soap Seduction blog, July 2011.

Then, the truly lovely part begins. Angelique Noire takes on notes of bergamot (as in Early Grey tea) and almonds. I love almond scents, and find them endlessly comforting and soothing. Here, it is rich, not faint or milky — but it’s not strong or constant enough for my liking. It waltzes with the much stronger Earl Grey, sometimes apparent, sometimes flickering just out of sight. It’s a bit frustrating for one who adores both notes, and I wish they were stronger to alleviate the increasing sweetness of the perfume.

Soon, Jasmine Sambac joins the party. It is a muskier, richer, almost earthier version of the flower. The combination of the jasmine sambac, the musk undertones, and the very honeyed, custard-like vanilla now emanating from Angelique Noire strongly evokes the base of Guerlain’s L’Instant. I have a bottle of the eau de parfum from 2006, and the similarities are striking at times. But, like a long hall of mirrors, the evocation of other Guerlain perfumes does not stop there. Shalimar Eau Légère is another perfume that people think it resembles, though Angelique Noire is richer, in my opinion. And, then, there are those who wonder if Angelique Noire will become the new Shalimar, or a Shalimar for the modern era with its leanings towards greater sweetness and simplicity. I think that goes too far! (Nothing so gourmand can, or should, ever overtake a great, complex classic like Shalimar.)

In its final hours, Angelique Noire turns into spiced sugar, bergamot and vanilla. There really isn’t a lot to say beyond that. It’s not powdery like the usual Guerlainade accord, probably because all the powder was loaded upfront. There are traces of the angelica in a candied form in the sugar, but they are subtle. There are also minute traces of the musk that continue to linger on the skin.

All in all, Angelique Noire lasted just under 7 hours on my perfume-consuming skin. On Fragrantica, many report it lasting the entire day. The sillage was enormous in the first hour — at times, a too enormous for my liking, given that opening. Afterwards, it had heavy to good projection, becoming close to the skin only about four hours in.

I was lucky to obtain my sample from a lovely, very generous friend who went to the Guerlain boutique, sniffed everything, became mesmerized by Angelique Noire, and couldn’t help buying a bottle right there and then! Given that it costs $250, that is real love indeed. But, ultimately, Angelique Noire is not for me. For one thing, I’m starting to wonder if angelica may be one of my no-no ingredients. For another, I am not generally drawn to gourmand perfumes. When I fall for a very sweet scent, it comes with so much spice and dryness that it isn’t a true dessert fragrance. For me, Angelique Noire is far too sweet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its well-blended, high quality, unusual aspects.

Others appreciate it, too. The “seductive” scent is much-loved on Fragrantica and elsewhere. If you’re tempted, but also a bit alarmed by my descriptions of the angelica, then you may want to pay heed to the comments of “Alfiecronin” who wrote on Fragrantica:

Give this fragrance a second (or third) chance! It is worth it. The first whiff brings a blast of angelica flower–very strong. Admittedly, this is not the best part of the composition. Wait 20 minutes and you will discover a delicious vanilla, delicately mixed with floral notes that lasts and lasts. Many times I have watched others spray, whiff, jump back and declare, “I don’t like this!” And then come back an hour later and say that this is just wonderful, what is it called? In my opinion, one of only 2 in the L ‘Art et la Matière collection worth buying for a woman, the other being Cruel Gardenia.

There is no doubt that Angelique Noire is a very sophisticated interpretation of vanilla. It is infinitely wearable, rich, very unisex, and a very creative entry in the highly saturated gourmand field. If you like sweet vanilla scents, you may want to give Angelique Noire a try. Or two. Or three….

Cost & Availability: Angelique Noire costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIn the US, it is also available on the NordstromSaks Fifth AvenueNeiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman website. (With the exception of Bergdorf Goodman which definitely carries the more exclusive line of Guerlain fragrances in-store, I don’t know if it is available within the other shops themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give Angelique Noir a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.

Review En Bref: Guerlain Spiritueuse Double Vanille

As always with my Reviews En Bref, I’ll give you a summary of my impressions of a perfume that — for whatever reason — didn’t seem to warrant a full, exhaustive review.

Guerlain SDVSpiritueuse Double Vanille (“SDV”) from Guerlain is a lovely, cozy fragrance. Created by Jean-Paul Guerlain and released in 2007, it was once part of Guerlain’s “Exclusive” range but is now available outside of Guerlain stores. It is an extremely unisex fragrance, despite being labeled as a perfume “for women.”  

On its website, Guerlain describes the scent through a quote from Jean-Paul Guerlain:

If a colour or fragrance were to be associated with each day, like the planets were in ancient times, sandalwood would be the Sun, saffron would be Jupiter, and without doubt vanilla would be Venus.

Guerlain SDV 2The notes in the perfume are:

  • Head: Pink Peppercorn, Bergamot, Incense

  • Heart: Cedar, Bulgarian Rose, Ylang-Ylang

  • Base: Vanilla Bean, Benzoin

Spiritueuse Double Vanille opens on me in a way that is really true to its notes. There is an immediate burst of rose, bergamot and incense, followed quickly by pink peppercorn. The bergamot isn’t like Earl Grey tea but, rather, more like petitgrain: the woody-citric distillation of twigs from a citrus tree. The rose is heady, sweet, rich and dark. A definite damask rose.

There is obvious vanilla throughout, strongly evoking long, freshly sliced Madagascar beans or concentrated vanilla extract. It leads to a very boozy smell, tinged with florals and some incense notes. The latter is particularly lovely, as the smoke is not bitter or smoky. Rather, it’s sweet and rounded. It’s a perfect counterbalance to the rose.

Ten minutes in, the rose fades just a little, leaving a definite impression of an apple pie soaked in vanilla ice-cream with rum sauce. Twenty minutes in, a subtle, quiet cedar note emerges. It’s not camphorous, but fresh and dry, like a new cedar chest of drawers. Despite the subtle wood note, the overwhelming impression is of apple pie and hookahs (or water pipes).

And that is why this is such a short review. I feel as though I’ve been down this road before: Spiritueuse Double Vanille reminds me almost exactly of Hermès‘ 2004 Ambre Narguilé. There are a few, very small, extremely minor differences but, all in all, I feel as though I could essentially just repeat large chunks of my review of Ambre Narguilé here, and be done with it. They are both incredibly boozy, rich scents with fruity tobacco and swirling incense, smoke notes that evoke a hookah. I’m hardly the only one who has noted the incredibly strong similarity. Birgit from Olfactoria’s Travels said the same thing, and there are numerous Basenotes threads comparing the two (along with Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille).

There are some differences, though they are subtle. The Guerlain is slightly denser and richer, and a tiny bit less airy than the Jean-Claude Ellena concoction for Hermès. The latter has faintly more fruity undertones, especially to the tobacco, while the Guerlain is more fruity-floral. Also, the tobacco in the Guerlain fragrance turns from that of sweet pipe tobacco into something a bit dryer, earthier, in its dry-down, more akin to actual tobacco leaves. The Hermès perfume screams out “rum, rum raisin, rum, more rum, and amber,” while the Guerlain’s chant might be “rum, vanilla, rum raisin, vanilla, rum and vanilla, and vanilla.” Honestly, though, those nuances are not strong enough to warrant buying bottles of both. If you have one, you don’t really need the other. (That said, when has actual “need” ever figured into perfume purchases?)

As noted up above, Spiritueuse Double Vanille is often compared to Tom Ford‘s Tobacco Vanille. I have not yet tried the latter (though it is becoming increasingly apparent that I need to move my sample up on my list of things to review), but, again, there are supposed to be differences. This time, however, the differences are said to be quite stark. From what I’ve read on Basenotes and elsewhere, Tom Ford’s perfume is supposed to be brash and assertive — Spiritueuse Double Vanille on steroids, if you will. Guerlain’s perfume is said to be perfect for those who find the Tom Ford to be too much. As a side note, I’ve also read of a third perfume to which the Guerlain can be compared: Bond No. 9‘s New Haarlem. I have no familiarity with that one, either, but, if you’re interested, you can read a discussion comparing all four scents on Basenotes.

Luca Turin gave Spiritueuse Double Vanille a less than stellar review in Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Calling it “bad vanilla,” his snarling two-star review is as follows:

Anyone who has bought vanilla in pods knows that they do not smell very good up close, with dissonant fruity, rum-like notes that make you feel like skipping lunch. Guerlain obligingly magnifies all the negative traits of vanilla in this pointless, loud, and misconceived confection.

(As a point of comparison, Luca Turin gives Ambre Narguilé a three-star review that is slightly more flattering and positive.)

On Fragrantica, the criticisms of Spiritueuse Double Vanille seem to fall into two, related camps. First, that it is a linear scent of simple, boozy, vanilla extract. Second, that it is too expensive for what it is. Spiritueuse Double Vanille comes in only one size (2.5 oz/75 ml) and costs $250. I think price is, ultimately, a very subjective, personal thing, so I won’t comment on that. With regard to the other criticism, I don’t think SDV is a one-note scent and, on me, it’s certainly more than just plain vanilla extract. But, even if it were, I believe linearity is only a bad thing if you absolutely hate the note(s) in question.

The sillage and longevity of Spiritueuse Double Vanille is impressive. There was a scent bubble for about four hours, after which it became closer to the skin. All in all, it lasted about 8.5 hours on me. On others, it is said to last all day, though it is not the “beast” that is Tobacco Vanille.

If you like comforting, warm, sweet and boozy scents, I think you should give Spiritueuse Double Vanille a try. It’s not earth-shattering, but it is very cozy and I suspect some may find it wholly addictive.

Cost & Availability: Spiritueuse Double Vanille costs $250 for 2.5 fl. oz/75 ml. It is available at Guerlain boutiques, and on its websiteIt is also available on the Nordstrom website and, apparently, in the store. It is shown on the Neiman Marcus website (where it is priced at $225), but there is a note saying that it is not available; the same story applies to Bergdorf Goodman. (I don’t know if it is available within the stores themselves.) For all other countries, you can use Guerlain’s Store Locator on its website. If you’d like to give SDV a test sniff, you can get a sample from Surrender to Chance where prices start at $4.99 for half of a 1 ml vial.