Thierry Mugler launched a prestige collection last year called Les Exceptions, created by Chanel‘s Olivier Polge with Jean-Christophe Hérault. The collection has five fragrances: Oriental Express, Supra Floral, Chyprissime, Fougère Furieuse, and Over the Musk. Modernistic techniques like IFF’s “Head Space” technology were used, according to what one of the perfumers told the blog, Grain de Musc, who found the fragrances to carry a “retro-futuristic” aesthetic. I tried two of the line and don’t think they’re as interesting or complex as that description, but one of them is very enjoyable.
The fragrances are an attempt to partake in the niche trend, so they bear a higher price tag than what is the norm for Mugler and are only available in limited fashion. Outside of Mugler’s U.S. and French websites, I’ve only seen the collection on the American Nordstrom website and Canada’s The Bay. Only a few Nordstrom shops are expected to carry it in-store. Oddly, the scents are not available for actual purchase on a number of Mugler’s sub-sites, like its Italian one, and the perfumes are not even listed on its U.K. page.
Though I generally try not to cover scents with very limited availability, two of the scents caught my eye. Oriental Express tempted me because of its notes and the name’s implicit reference to the legendary train. Supra Floral intrigued me because it is a hyacinth soliflore with incense. Hyacinth is one of my favorite flowers and one that is rarely highlighted in perfumery, let alone with incense. Finally, on a superficial note, the bottles look very chic, sleek, and expensive. So, here are reviews for Oriental Express and Supra Floral.
Oriental Express is an eau de parfum that was created by Jean-Christophe Hérault and Olivier Polge, and released in 2014. The U.S. Mugler website describes it as follows:
Creamy sandalwood and vanilla create an intensely sensual and addictive aroma. The first burst of crisp, green notes is strengthened by the vigor from the fresh spices, adding a bold contrast with unexpected character. This twist brings an original edginess to these classic oriental notes without losing its sumptuous opulence.
Edgy. Captivating. Warm.
I’ve had some difficulty finding the exact note list. Mugler doesn’t offer one, and Fragrantica has nothing at all. Grain de Musc is the best source, particularly as she obtained further details from one of the perfumers, Monsieur Héreult. She writes:
In it, the founding ingredients of the oriental family – vanilla, benzoin and labdanum – are jolted into a toughness more usually found in uncut patchouli. Oriental Express powers up its engine with a startlingly aromatic green rush of basil. The sweetness of its balsamic base is kept in check by a note intriguingly listed as “carrot wood”. “Don’t go looking for a forest of carrot trees”, jokes Hérault. “This is actually an olfactive concept designating a type of extraction of carrot seed, a molecular distillation which has the characteristic of revealing the woody-iris part of carrot. The note brings a genuinely novel power and verticality that shifts the oriental structure”, he adds.
So, putting together Mugler’s official description with the commentary at Grain de Musc, the full note list may possibly be something roughly like this:
The woody-iris part of a carrot, basil, patchouli, sandalwood, vanilla, benzoin, and labdanum.
Oriental Express opens on my skin with a mix of contrasting notes where, for a brief moment, cold and icy lie at sharp angles against warm and sweet. A woody iris lies at the heart of the picture with a frosty, slightly metallic veneer that briefly evoked images of shards of glass. Under it are wisps of cold carrots and a vetiver-like greenness. More woods are further sandwiched below, emitting tiny puffs of smokiness that makes me think guaiac has been used and, much later on, during the drydown, the guaiac vibe seems quite distinct indeed. The whole thing is lightly dusted with sweet, vanilla-ish powder before being ensconced within a slightly warm cocoon.
It’s a study of contrasts, both in the notes and in the fragrance genres. First and foremost, Oriental Express seems like a woody floral musk, a point accentuated by the tiny streaks of a clean white musk lurking in the background. At the same time, the definite curls of incense-like smoke from the suspected guaiac wood combine with a clear benzoin sweetness to create the sense of an oriental. Benzoin is one of the core components of an “amber” accord, along with labdanum and vanilla. While the labdanum is not noticeable in any of its usual ways, the vanilla is very evident, curling around the iris to counter its innate cold and stony qualities with a gourmand character that only becomes stronger as time goes on.
What is interesting is that quantity really seems to make a difference in the notes which are manifested in the opening phase and to their degree. Using only a small amount of Oriental Express, a few small smears equal to 1 spray from an actual bottle, the perfume felt primarily gourmand at the start, with merely a light “woody floral musk” quality, very little guaiac or metallic coolness, even less smokiness, and only an indecipherable wisp of greenness in the base. In essence, Oriental Express was a sugar and vanilla iced iris scent with powderiness and carefully modulated sweetness.
It’s both lovely and strongly reminiscent of SHL 777‘s Khol de Bahrein, the one iris scent I really like. Yet, there are definite differences. Oriental Express feels like quite an airy scent, regardless of how much you apply, but the sheerness was much more noticeable at a lower dosage. The perfume’s opening lacks the fluffy marshmallow powder of Khol de Bahrein’s heliotrope, a significant player in that scent, but Oriental Express has benzoin and vanilla to create much the same effect. However, the amber feels thinner and weaker, while the woodiness is much stronger. As a whole, though, Oriental Express’ opening felt like a thinner, softer, quieter, less distinctive but more obviously gourmand baby sister to Khol de Bahrein.
At a higher dosage and quantity, however, Oriental Express demonstrates more nuances that set it apart from the SHL 777 scent. Using 3 generous smears equal to roughly 2 or 2.5 big sprays from an actual bottle, there is a surge in the perfume’s woodiness, as well as greater dryness, the carrots in the base, and the aforementioned curlicues of smoke and icy metallics. There is also a certain sharp and pointed quality to the bouquet during the first 2-3 hours. I haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact source or reason. There is definitely a trace of clean synthetics in the scent, as well as that metallic feel that is presumably intended to create Mugler’s avant-garde, “retro-classic” vibe referenced by the perfumer in the Grain de Musc interview. Perhaps it’s a side-effect of the IFF “head-space” technology used to draw out the iris but, since I’ve never smelled anything in isolation created by that method, I have no clue. Thankfully, though, the synthetic cleanness and the metallic vibe vanish by the end of the first hour, and the sense of icy shards of glass even sooner than that at the 30-minute mark.
Perhaps the greatest difference between both Khol de Bahrein and the two versions of Oriental Express that arise from different dosages is something else entirely: greenness. At a higher dosage, there are visible streaks of greenness that start in the base before rising up after 20 minutes to coat the top notes and lasts for a few hours. It bears zero resemblance on my skin to the “basil” mentioned in the perfume notes. From the very start, the note smelled purely like vetiver on me but, later, it also takes on additional nuances of fresh anise and tarragon, two related herbs with some overlap in odor profile. At no time, however, does the composite accord ever smell like basil, and I’ve tried Oriental Express three times now.
For those of you with carrot issues, let me say quickly that it is the least significant element in the entire fragrance. It never smells like boiled or cooked carrots, either, but like the freshly peeled kind. For the most part, it is clearest in the first 10 minutes, before fading to occasional, really tiny puffs that flit about the background during the first 90 minutes and then dying away completely.
Generally, Oriental Express seems to bear two main stages. The first hour is a simple bouquet that is centered primarily on a woody-iris flecked lightly with vanilla atop a woody base streaked by greenness and slight smokiness, then encased in a composite “amber” accord centered mostly on benzoin rather than labdanum.
The main stage begins at the start of the 2nd hour when the perfume moves away from the “floral woody musk” category and more towards a hybrid gourmand-oriental one. The notes turn sweeter and the scent warmer as a whole, thanks to the vanilla and the benzoin which surge to the forefront to wipe away all remaining traces of the iris’ stoniness and coolness, the tinge of Mugler futuristic metallic, and the cleanness. Even the guaiac’s smokiness feels muffled in the face of what is now a sugar-frosted, powdered iris that is toasty and warm.
Again and again, particularly at the start of the 3rd hour, what comes to mind is an iris-infused beignet lightly dusted by powdered sweetness that is both vanillic but also lightly ambered. It’s also got the tiniest suggestion of cinnamon about it, thanks to the benzoin. The greenness is a mere blip, the woodiness is muted and has sunk into the foundation where it increasingly smells like guaiac, though its smoky vestiges are only occasionally visible.
What’s left really reminds me of a beignet, one with a golden fluffiness that occasionally seems like a toasted marshmallow. Yet, I want to stress that Oriental Express never feels foodie, cloyingly sweet, gooey, painfully powdered, or unbalanced in any way. Actually, it’s impressive how carefully modulated all the notes are, because nothing ever shrieks out at you or feels excessive, including both the powder and the sweetness. As regular readers know, I’m neither a fan of gourmands nor of vanilla that oozes iced sugar, but Oriental Express has been treated so carefully that you’re left primarily with the sense of toasty, golden warmth that merely happens to include iris and a light sprinkling of powder in the mix.
There is little else to Oriental Express, no further twists or turns, no major changes and almost no minor ones either. This is a very linear, simplistic scent and I would have liked a little more to happen primarily because Oriental Express lasts a long, long time on the same, singular track. Nevertheless, as I often say, there is nothing wrong with linearity if you like the notes in question. In this case, I do. In fact, I find Oriental Express to be a rather addictive mix, and I’m not generally one for iris scents at all. The opening hour isn’t my ideal, due to the nuances that I’ve described, but I truly love how the fragrance smells after the 3rd hour begins. One reason why is that it feels like an iris-y cousin to MPG‘s Ambre Precieux, a scent I adore as my ideal sort of quasi-gourmand. Oriental Express has very different notes and there are none of the labdanum tonalties of Ambre Precieux (let alone its lavender or myrtle freshness), but both scents ooze a toasty warmth where the golden sweetness is shot through with the perfect amount of dry-ish vanilla.
Oriental Mix generally has soft projection after a moderate start, but superb longevity. Using 3 large smears equal to roughly 2.5 sprays from an actual bottle, the perfume opened with an airy but strong cloud that projected roughly 4 inches. That number dropped to about 0.5 after 75 minutes. Oriental Express turned into a skin scent after 3 hours, but it wasn’t difficult to detect if I brought my nose right to the skin until the end of the 6th hour. All in all, it lasted a very unexpected, surprising 14 hours and a bit longer than that in another test. I must say, I was quite astonished. However, when I used a smaller quantity equal to just 1 spray, Oriental Express opened with 2 inches of projection and dropped to about 0.5 inches in 30 minutes, and became a skin scent at the 2.5 mark. Yet, it still lasted quite a while, just under 11.75 hours, though I did have to put my nose right on the skin to detect it after the 5th hour.
For all that I really like Oriental Express and would thoroughly enjoy wearing it, I would never buy a bottle because I think it’s over-priced for what it is. It costs $225, CAD$185, or €170 for an 80 ml/2.7 oz size. For me, personally, that is too high for such a basic, simplistic scent with generally discreet sillage, and rather airy sheerness. Plus, I’m not hugely enamoured by parts of the opening hour; I have Khol de Bahrein for a deeper, richer, more plushly ambered iris gourmand; and I could always layer it with Ambre Precieux to get Oriental Express’ lovely drydown. Nevertheless, price is a personal, subjective matter, and Oriental Express is a very lovely, cozy scent. Plus, a Canadian reader, “Cazaubon,” has stated on a few sites that the bottle “is refillable just like Angel and Alien, for about $60 less than the full bottle price,” so that helps if you’re interested and think you might finish off the first 80 ml.
I’m not the only one to both enjoy Oriental Express but have issues with its price. On Now Smell This, Robin found it to be her favorite of the Les Exceptions collection, and “beautifully done.” Her review reads, in part, as follows:
Oriental Express was my immediate favorite of the Les Exceptions collection from Thierry Mugler[.][…] it’s a unisex woody iris-y carrot (or a woody carrot-y iris, take your pick), somewhere in between Honoré des Prés I Love Les Carottes and Van Cleef & Arpels Bois d’Iris. [¶] It starts, as advertised, with a green herbal cast over some bright citrus. I would not have guessed basil, but it’s obvious if you go looking for it early on, and it makes for an interesting mix with the iris and carrot notes, which are likewise present from the outset. It’s not as overtly carrot-y as I Love Les Carottes (or as the opening of Hermès Hiris), and it’s warmer and drier, with mild hints of spice. As it dries down, it’s woodier, and slightly sweeter, although it never gets as sweet and vanillic as the Van Cleef & Arpels (or the original Dior Homme, also by Polge). I would call it middling-powdery, and middling-dark, and it has a kind of sober elegance — it’s not a loud, heavy oriental in the traditional sense, and it’s certainly more discreet than you might expect from Mugler’s prestige line[.]
Verdict: Beautifully done, and if you don’t already own a perfect powdery woody iris, very much worth a try. I really like Oriental Express; if I could have one free bottle from the collection, this would be my pick, and I do think I’d reach for it often. My main quibble with the description is with the “original edginess” — I have so many similar perfumes in my collection that I’m no more than slightly tempted to buy, and of course, the price is an additional (and effective) deterrent. [Emphasis to names added by me.]
For others, as for me, Oriental Express does not seem to have manifested much or any carrots at all. In the comments at At Now Smell This, “Cazaubon” wrote: “I do not get any carrot. It is a powdery, woody iris with a gourmandy sweet touch… Reminds me of Iris Ganache in feel.” Grain de Musc doesn’t mention experiencing it on her own skin, and merely quotes the carrot description given by the perfumer. Yet, she loved Oriental Express, too, saying: “when I drained the 1.5ml vial of Oriental Express from my sample set of Les Exceptions in less than a day, I started experiencing withdrawal symptoms.”
On Fragrantica, there are less enthusiastic views of the scent. One person found it to be powdery, inoffensive, “lasts forever,” but with an “outrageous” price. Another was initially enthusiastic but was later disappointed by how much it resembled Dior Homme and by the fact that he felt it skewed overly feminine in nature. He too experienced excellent longevity but little projection, and the word “outrageous” comes up again to describes the price. A third commentator thought Oriental Express was primarily like baby powder, and his very negative review states:
These new exclusives by Thierry Mugler are all overpriced and not very interesting, imo. A real disappointment from Mugler. Their fragrances are usually so unique and easy to recognize. Oriental Express smells exactly like baby powder with a bit of a dirty musk hint underneath that intense, clean, white powder. I don’t think that this even smells a bit like vanilla. It’s certainly not a sweet vanilla. If you want to smell like baby powder and pay a high price tag for the honor, this is worth a look.
Others talk about the powdery quality as well, while a few debate the resemblance to Dior Homme. Personally, I think they’re different, as Oriental Express is a woody floral musk only at the start and is primarily a gourmand-oriental on my skin. Clearly, whether it’s excessively powdery or has the carrot issue discussed by Now Smell This, skin chemistry is going to make a difference. Given that fact, the soft projection, and the perfume’s price, I don’t think Oriental Express is a scent to buy blindly, though I realise that the limited availability makes testing hard. Still, out of the two fragrances that I tried from the line, this one was the winner because the next one is not going to be a rave review.
Supra Floral is an eau de parfum and with very simple notes, according to the press materials quoted by Now Smell This:
The soliflore, reinvented around a remarkable flower, rare in perfume making, the hyacinth. A fluid, profound and richly-faceted flower, velvety, green and crisp, quickened by an unexpected ingredient with a fiery temperament, incense. The spicy aromas of a great perfume in a paroxysm of pure sensuality. Unsuspected mystery and depth.
«By blending notes of incense and an amber base, I imagined a hyacinth with a bold temperament, far from the idea of the emblematic, romantic flower. Supra Floral signals a seductive perfume for women and temptation for men.» Olivier POLGE
I happen to adore hyacinth passionately, and have 4 different sets or pots in my house right now. There is something about the sweet aroma of the flowers that I find wholly addictive, a nectared liquidity that rings as clear as bell with Alpine-like coolness, a pastel sweetness, undertones of greenness, and whiffs of dark, wet soil on a Spring day.
That is not the scent of Supra Floral on my skin. No, no, no. The perfume opens with crisp, metallic, and watery hyacinth lashed with intensely bitter greenness that feels as though galbanum had been used. It skews green-black, but also very white in its icy coolness. Very little of it smells like flowers blooming in the 4 pots of hyacinth currently in my kitchen. Instead, what it smells like is the bitter, oily sap oozing from hyacinth stems that have been crushed in icy water, along with the rather fetid, murky greenness of vase water that has stagnated for 5 days but then been stuck into an icy fridge. Have I mentioned the words “bitter” or “icy” yet?
I’m not at all keen on the mix. The liquidity bears little of the flowers’ dewy nectar, though there is a tiny trace of floral sweetness at the start. There is no smoke or incense in any traditional, normal manner, let alone a strongly delineated, clear note. While there is blackness, it is both the faintest of touches and really the sort generated by galbanum. In any event, like several other parts of Supra Floral, it feels nebulous. It certainly is outweighed by the blanket of metallic, icy, and bitter greenness that cover the hyacinth in the opening moments.
The floralcy itself is abstract. Much to my surprise, it takes less than 10 minutes to turn into some sort of hazy mixed bouquet that could include any number of indistinct plants. Actually, with every passing moment, the “floral” note smells more like a composite accord where a very bitter, green rose (!!) has been mixed with white lilies, a dash of freesia, a lot of galbanum, the bitter oil from crushed hyacinth stems, green grass, and only small drops of the actual hyacinth flowers.
Supra Floral devolves quickly. A mere 15 minutes into its development, it loses its black, icy, and metallic nuances, and takes on a slight powderiness. The perfume feels greener and more shapeless than ever. For a very brief period of time, there is a whiff of staleness about the top notes that is almost (but not quite) woody in nature, while the murky green vase water takes on a fetid quality. Thankfully, both things start to fade 45 minutes into the perfume’s evolution, replaced by a quiet sweetness that helps to offset the bitterness of the crushed hyacinth stems. At the same time, something creamy stirs in the base. It’s too shapeless and nebulous to identify; it’s not tonka, not vanilla, not benzoin amber, but it’s something that hints at vanilla more than the rest. Whatever it is, it improves Supra Floral, and makes it somewhat more enjoyable by the time the first hour draws to a close.
What happens after that is the entire rest of the fragrance: a creamy floral that is sweet, vaguely hyacinth-like at times, more frequently like a composite bouquet of florals, and continues to have a bitter, liquidy quality to the notes. It skews very green-white; bears a touch of grass and powder; and has absolutely no blackness, incense, or woodiness on my skin. Instead, at the end of the 3rd hour, Supra Floral starts to radiate a streak of the cheap, white synthetic musk that I loathe so much. It only grows stronger with time, cuts through the creamy sweetness, and creates a commercial cleanness that further amplifies the perfume’s very mainstream vibe.
That’s essentially it for Supra Floral. In its final hours, it’s nothing more than an abstract floral mix with clean white musk, some sweetness, and some greenness. It generally lasts 8 hours if I use 3 big smears equal to 2 very generous sprays, but the projection is low. With that amount, Supra Floral opened with 2 inches of projection that became 1 inch after a mere 10 minutes. The perfume became a skin scent on me after 1.25 hours, though it was still easy to detect until the end of the 3rd hour if I brought my nose to my arm. After the 5th hour, though, Supra Flora was a wisp that felt as though it would die at any moment. When I applied a smaller amount of Supra Floral, roughly equal to one spray, the projection numbers were generally the same but Supra Floral only lasted 6.75 hours.
Supra Floral irritates me enormously, perhaps because I feel cheated of the true, hardcore hyacinth floralcy that I had so longed for, but Robin from Now Smell This is much more positive and charitable in her review of it. While she confesses she’s not “bowled over” by Supra Floral (and continues to think the Exceptions line is overpriced), she likes the scent and did seem to experience some hyacinth:
Supra Floral opens sharply green, somewhere between freshly cut grass and the more bitter smell of crushed plant stems. It’s crisp and airy, and it stays quite green for a good long time — if you don’t like green, I don’t think you’ll like Supra Floral — but the effect softens as the hyacinth comes to the fore. As Polge has already (accurately) warned, it’s “far from the idea of the emblematic, romantic flower”. Instead, what we have is a modern sort of hyacinth soliflore: it does smell like hyacinth, but it’s likewise crisp and airy, almost like an abstract but recognizable conception of hyacinth. For anyone who has smelled Jacinthe des Bois, or stuck their nose into a bouquet of hyacinths in early spring, Supra Floral smells cleaner, with less floral depth and richness. The early stages, though, have the nicely spicy bite of a just-picked hyacinth. [¶] The base is pale-ish, with a very light incense (I would hardly have noticed it if it wasn’t mentioned in the notes) and a likewise light woody amber. […] while a man could probably pull it off, it’s easily the most feminine of the five Exceptions.
Verdict: I’m not bowled over, but I do like Supra Floral. Admittedly I would probably find the “emblematic, romantic flower” more to my taste, but Supra Floral has a kind of radiance and casual elegance that is attractive in its own right, and that will almost certainly be more appealing to modern tastes. Personally, I’d call it radiant and modern, and of course I’ll vouch for crisp and green, but not bold, sensual, fiery, mysterious, seductive, or anything much else in the official description.
Other descriptions are minimal or brief. On Fragrantica, only one person actually writes about the perfume’s smell, saying it is “grassy and green,” reminiscent of Sisley’s Campagne, and more chypre-like than floral on their skin. Grain de Musc merely says:
Reviving a floral note that seldom gets a starring role in contemporary compositions, Supra Floral uproots the hyacinth from N°19, plants it in incense and shows it up for the bitch it really is, oozing venomous green sap from the stems of its turgid, curly purple sprays.
Well, I certainly agree with “venomous” green sap. It’s not the part of the hyacinth that I love so much, so I suppose I should be thankful it doesn’t last forever on my skin, but what replaces that bitterness and galbanum-like darkness is far too generic, abstract, and simplistic to be interesting. It’s definitely not worth $225 in my eyes, particularly given the discreet sillage, the prominence of the clean musk in the drydown, and the generally nondescript (though occasionally pretty) green floral haze that ensues for the vast majority of Supra Floral’s time on my skin. $225 for this? Bah, not for this hyacinth lover. In all honesty, I wouldn’t even wear Supra Floral if a bottle were given to me for free.