The word perfume and its Latin root per fumum are filled with thoughts of the ancient world of humans and the rituals they enacted to celebrate life and the divine. Biblical incense made from precious resins and roses of the Middle East, referred to as the flower of prophet Muhammad hold a deeper meaning for men and women, their use in perfumery becoming more than simply the creation of something that smells good but a way of connecting to a spiritual realm. Earlier this year Guerlain launched a series of exclusive perfumes called Les Deserts d’Orient, which celebrate this mystical connection. The line is exclusive in the sense that the perfumes are only sold in select Guerlain boutiques in Europe, the U.K and the Middle East. The collection features oud or agarwood, a wood that has significant value in religious life throughout the Middle East and has now become a popular material used in western perfumery. Over the past two years oud has created a sensation in the niche perfume world to the point it now feels cliché. So why has Guerlain joined the party so late in the evening as the guests are beginning to leave? Guerlain’s Fragrance Creative Director, Sylvaine Delacourte describes the mood with which Thierry Wasser approached the project in her own personal blog, Esprit de Parfum. Wasser, perfumer for Guerlain deliberately took his time. He looked at all the significant launches designed specifically for the Middle East and sought opinions from clients, advisors and professionals before he began work on his own creations. His objective was to create a trio of perfumes that would appeal to men and women of all countries, particularly those in the Middle East, Russia and Europe. Like a party guest who arrives fashionable late to the event and turns heads as he or she enters, Guerlain have certainly done this with their offering of Les Deserts d’Orient. Just when I thought I did not want to see another oud perfume, news broke of this launch and it sat on my to-smell list until I had the chance to go to Paris in September. Although most niche houses proclaim they work with only the finest raw materials, with Guerlain, the statement is evidently true. Paired with Wasser’s undeniable talent you have a recipe for success. When I visited the Maison Guerlain at their historic address on the Champs-Elysees, my inclination was towards Rose Nacree du Desert, perhaps the most commercial of the three perfumes as most people find rose agreeable. When given the choice, I would normally search for something original and unique to add to my collection. Although Rose Nacree du Desert’s oud/rose/saffron combination is not original, the perfume’s uniqueness is its quality. Simply sublime!
Thierry Wasser personally sourced a Damask rose from Iran and it is seen here for the first time in a Guerlain perfume. This Persian rose lends itself well to the woody accents and complex smoked amber running throughout the base. The perfume begins with lush desert roses and orange coloured citrus notes. I don’t sense a bergamot or yellow Mediterranean citrus fruit on this desert landscape. Wasser’s pearlescent rose is a variety you would expect to see served with Turkish delight. Within minutes the rose turns spicy. Spices usually communicate heat but the temperature of this perfume is cooled by saffron, an exotic spice that pairs so beautifully with rose and oud. Further into the perfume, woods and resins begin to emerge. Notes of myrhh, patchouli and oud wood inspire a camelback ride along an erg of sand dunes. Rose Nacree du Desert provides an oasis of scent. This eau de parfum lasts extremely well owing to the designer’s skilful construction work.
It has to be said that if you are interested in the current oud trend and you like your oud tempered with roses, Guerlain’s Rose Nacree du Desert is an exceptional example and it is one of my favourites. I enjoy wearing it after dark to dinner or parties. I’ve had a number of women bury their faces in my neck asking me what fragrance I am wearing, further destroying the Western myth that roses are only for women’s perfume.
Perfumer: Thierry Wasser (in-house)
Bottle designer: Guerlain studio
Release date: 2012
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Rich woods