What really is a Floriental or floral-oriental? It’s a fantastic sub-genre of perfumery, but I don’t think it’s as easy to define as it might initially seem. Simply classifying any oriental with floral notes as a “floral-oriental” is far too wide-reaching, in my opinion. Moreover, it ignores the balance of elements in most oriental compositions. It’s an issue I’ve been pondering after I realised how few were the number of fragrances that met the definition in my mind.
Now, I grant you, definitions in this context are fluid and are undoubtedly going to be rather subjective in nature. Sub-genres don’t really have an official set of structural rules the way there are for the overarching, main families like fougères or chypres. For the latter, it’s easy to classify because of the tripod format which requires the use of bergamot in the opening and oakmoss and patchouli in the base, with the floral element as the heart. And we all know a basic oriental when we see (or, rather sniff) one, too.
But sub-genres are where things get tricky. Fragrantica has several sub-sections for the fougère category, like oriental fougères, or aromatic ones. In fact, it has multiple sub-parts merely for the “aromatic” category as a whole. So what does Fragrantica say for Florientals or, as they put it, Oriental Floral?
Sweet, warm, powdery base typical of this group harmonizes with such flowers like gardenia, tuberose, tiare or with a spicy note of carnation. In our base the oriental floral group has 2060 for women, 13 for men and 463 shared fragrances.
That’s their entire definition. And I really disagree. First, I don’t think a “powdery” base is required. Second, their definition is so broad that any fragrance with labdanum amber or benzoin and even a small streak of carnation would qualify. 2060 scents? I’m surprised it’s not 9060, given the scope of their criteria. It simply can’t be as generic and basic as that, if you ask me — which brings us, full circle, back to the subjective nature of definitions. I certainly don’t claim to have the definitive one for Florientals and, again, I don’t think there actually is one. However, I do have some criteria of my own. They are delineations borne of testing and wearing a monumental number of orientals because, if this blog has any specialised area of focus, it’s orientals above all else.
So here are a few of my lines of demarcation. First, if a scent has too much amber, then I think that becomes the focal point, and the fragrance is really an oriental with the floral component as only one of many secondary elements. On the other hand, if there is too much flower, then I think the scent ends up in the floral, fruity-floral, or soliflore category, because the oriental flourishes are too small to make any significant difference. (And then there are all the great fragrances that don’t qualify because they are chypre-oriental hybrids, like Amouage‘s stunning Fate Woman, or full, solo chypres.)
More often than not, the flower in an oriental composition has to jostle next to a plethora of other notes. Like eyes behind a veil, it peeks out from behind amber, leather, fruit, incense, honey, spices, oud, cedar, or some complicated mix thereof. The elements may theoretically fit Fragrantica’s classification, but I think the reality is a bit different. If the flower’s voice doesn’t sing loudly or clearly, it’s merely part of a chorus, so the scent is more aptly categorized in my mind as a general “Oriental.” One example might be Tom Ford‘s Black Orchid where the orchid note is not only a bit abstract and amorphous, but it’s also thoroughly blanketed by waves of other elements. A better one would be Arabian Oud‘s Kalemat where the roses are secondary or maybe even tertiary (depending on your skin chemistry) to all the amber and woods.
Yet, if there are too few of those choral notes, then I consider the fragrance more of a soliflore that merely happens to have a dash of, say, oud, amber, or patchouli. Take, for example, Xerjoff‘s Al Khatt. There really are only two driving forces in Al Khatt: jasmine and honey. To me, that’s not a true Floriental, but a soliflore — which is why I put it on my list of floral fragrances categorized by flower. Complicating matters further is the role of balance in fragrances without a long list of notes. Consider Roja Dove‘s Amber Oud. The name tells you what are the main elements are supposed to be, but the reality is that Amber Oud is as much about roses as the other two notes. How would you classify that? As a Floriental? Perhaps, but I think the balance ultimately skews towards the amber, no matter how much spicy, saffron rose there may be (and it’s a lot more, by the way, than the “oud” which is ostensible the other star of the show). So, for me, Amber Oud is really a pure Oriental.
In short, it requires a delicate balance where the floral bouquet has to be showcased within an oriental frame, but I haven’t found a ton of fragrances that accomplish it. Perhaps my parameters are too difficult or narrow; perhaps I merely classify things differently or use sub-categories where others would not. Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I’m a little obsessive-compulsive about details and that I also tend to over-analyse things, so perhaps I’m simply over-complicating things as well. Be that as it may, I strongly and most heartily do not believe that one can go to the other extreme and over-simplify by lumping all floral-infused orientals into the Floriental category. Sub-genres exist for a specific reason, after all, and that reason is to narrow things down and to avoid blanket inclusions!
As I was pondering all this the other day, I tried to compile a list of my favorite floral-orientals and, specifically, the big, bold, opulent ones to which I am so drawn. It was very difficult. (It actually kept me up one night, and prevented me from sleeping.) I couldn’t think of a wide selection of existing, current fragrances that fit my definition, never mind ones that I liked and that were also boldly opulent on top of it all. Many things I loved were either discontinued or vintage in nature. (The fact that Amouage‘s attars are no longer available didn’t help.) There were a number of fragrances that had a great rose, jasmine, or mixed floral note, but the stage was so encumbered by other players that their voice didn’t feel like an aria and I had to exclude them.
I finally came up with ten names — all of them big, bold, and beautiful in their opulence. There is no particular order to the list, except for the fragrance which I’ve put in first place. I have to admit that I think one scent might really belong on the pure Oriental list, but I hear it’s rose-heavy on other people’s skin, so maybe it’s a grey area. At the end, there is an Honourable Mention section, starting with two fragrances that are too airy in feel or moderate in projection to truly qualify as “big” fragrances for the main list. The third perfume is one that I’ve really loved in early tests (and will write about later this week), but I haven’t fully made up my mind about the category in which it belongs. For those of you who have read a few of my prior lists, feel free to simply scan the names, as there will be a number of repeat entries and descriptions.
10 BIG, BOLD & BEAUTIFUL FLORIENTALS:
Téo Cabanel Alahine. I often call Alahine “my beloved,” and it’s true. It’s one of my absolute favorite fragrances, perhaps because it has the spicy, bold, floral and ambered qualities that mark my holy grail scent, vintage Opium. For Alahine, imagine a Moroccan souk filled with spices under a turquoise sky; a double layer of sumptuous, dark, red roses concentrated to their headiest essence; handmaidens of velvety ylang-ylang and heady jasmine; and ambered palaces made from rich, dark, toffee’d, caramel labdanum. The rose’s powerful start is incredibly boozy and spicy — often overpoweringly so — but the finish is soft, slightly powdered, golden warmth that’s as plush as a cashmere overcoat. You need to be patient with Alahine, though. She’s such a bold, spicy, incredibly complex, oriental monster that it seems to require a bit of Stockholm Syndrome to love. Spray on too much, she’ll blow out your nose, or traumatize you. Don’t give her enough time or tests, and you’ll be misled into thinking she is all booziness or Moroccan spices. It frequently seems to require four tests to understand Alahine, and to fall in love. (I’ve seen it happen so often, you can’t imagine, and, for some strange reason, it’s always 4 tests.) Several people I know who absolutely worship Alahine now actually didn’t love her at first, and simply shrugged their shoulders. It takes time to see that her real nature is not about spice markets, booziness, or incense, but the most sophisticated of slinky black dresses, cut low and deep, with a va-va-voom glamour that is opulent, French classicism at its best. And, gentlemen, don’t let the roses fool you; Alahine is very unisex. I know a number of very masculine men who love its boozy, spiced fieriness deeply.
LM PARFUMS SENSUAL ORCHID: Bold, heady, and lush, I always think of Sensual Orchid in terms of seduction and dressing up to be undressed by someone you love (or lust after). It’s not a raunchy, sexual, or dirty scent by any means, but I think it’s sexy as hell and on a diva-esque level to boot. Boozy cognac and silky smooth vanilla are juxtaposed next to delicate orchids that feel as pure, crystal clear, clean, bright and sparkling as a bell rung at the top of the Swiss alps. It smells of lilies, peonies, hyacinth, rose, jasmine, vanilla — all wrapped into one in a cool, clean, crystal floral liquidity. The cognac-covered orchid and smooth vanilla are joined by: velvety, rich, golden ylang-ylang; a hint of smoky woods; fresh almonds; a dash of muskiness; and fruited sweetness. The final result is incredibly narcotic, dramatic, opulent, and sensual, and I love every bit of it passionately. It is a scent that skews feminine in nature, though I know a number of men who love it as well.
AMOUAGE UBAR: Have you seen those photos of Arabian stallions in the desert? Ubar is like an Arab stallion in olfactory form, thanks to an floral-oriental bouquet that is delicate but also mighty, bold, and powerful. I also think of it as a yellow diamond, one that glows with golden jasmine under a frothing lemon chiffon mousse made of lily-of-the-valley and litsea. Yet, Ubar actually opens with a different flower, a richly decadent, blood-red, meaty rose that lies atop a mossy base mixed with dark resins and spicy patchouli, then laced with orange blossom and juicy orange fruits. But the lily of the valley soon arrives, and then the opulent jasmine, followed by creamy sandalwood, vanilla, soft amber, muskiness, vanilla and, finally, a touch of civet. It’s complex but also powerful enough for the perfume critic, Luca Turin, to call it “nuclear-tipped” in his Five Star Review. I think Ubar has been reformulated to become relatively lighter and airier since that time, but it remains a very rich, bold scent. It’s truly a magnificent floral-oriental that anyone who loves lily of the valley, roses, and jasmine should try because it showcases each of those elements in a way that fully meets my criteria.
NEELA VERMEIRE MOHUR EXTRAIT. Mohur Extrait is a gorgeous, va-va-voom queen in the rose genre, and I say that as someone who normally isn’t particularly keen on rose fragrances. The rich flowers are infused with delicate violets, iris, rich amounts of real Mysore sandalwood, oud, patchouli, cardamom and other spices, almond milk, a hint of carroty sweetness, elemi woods, amber, and soft vanilla. Yet, none of those elements ever detract from what is clearly the star of the show: the rose, nestled in an oriental embrace. All of it feels romantic, lush, complex, and luxurious. It’s really special
TAUER PERFUMES PHI – ROSE DE KANDAHAR: Andy Tauer’s PHI is the scent I mentioned up top as being one that may actually belong in the pure Oriental category instead. It is far from your usual rose scent and, on my skin, the deep, dark flower sometimes doesn’t feel like the main star of the show. (That’s one reason why this anti-rose person enjoys it so much.) PHI is a deep, spicy apricot-rose confection with rich vanilla mousse, dark green elements that almost feel mossy, and oriental flourishes ranging from tobacco to cinnamon and ambergris. The faint gourmand touches are particularly nice; I simply love the apricot tart which is lightly dusted with cinnamon and finished off with that lovely vanilla mousse. All of it is perfectly balanced in a rich blend that even those who don’t particularly like rose fragrances (like me) might enjoy. As a side note, PHI is generally a limited-edition, seasonal fragrance, due to its reliance on a particular crop of roses in Kandahar that are only harvested once a year, but PHI has become available again. This year’s supply seems to be a bigger one, because many stores continue to have it in stock, despite being PHI being one of Tauer’s most popular releases. So, I’ve updated my review with newer retail links where you can sample or buy it.
TOM FORD CHAMPACA ABSOLUTE: Champaca Absolute is a slightly polarizing Tom Ford scent, due to the intensity, boldness, and heaviness of its notes. It opens with a concentrated blast of fruited, plummy, liqueured wine and cognac brandy, followed by tropical champaca. The flower smells of: buttery magnolia; custardy, banana-like ylang-ylang; apricots; and heavy, syrupy, fruited sweetness. Lurking deep below the over-the-top, floral richness is an almost leathered, smoky nuance. Eventually, the boozy elements, touches of tea, and smoky darkness in the base all retreat, leaving a mix of lush, tropical, velvety flowers dominated by a magnolia-like richness and infused with vanilla. There are times when the scent reminds me of LM Parfums’ Sensual Orchid, though there are significant differences. I like Champaca Absolute quite a bit, but it is a fragrance that is best suited for those who like their fragrances to be very Big, Bold and Beautiful indeed.
SHL 777 ROSE DE PETRA. A spiced, rich, smoky, dusty rose fragrance that begins with similarities to Malle’s Portrait of a Lady (but far better) before transitioning to an Amouage-like Lyric–Epic combination. For me, it really feels like Sting’s “Desert Rose,” because it transports me to the ancient temple of Petra in a desert whose sands are stained pink and red with the blood of roses. The flowers are dusted with fiery spices, then nestled in a cocoon of green mosses and dry woods. A soft ambered hue hangs above them matching the gold-pink-red of the caves near the temple, while down below trickles a dark stream of smoky styrax, balsamic resins, and a touch of leather. I’m not one for rose-centric fragrances, but Rose de Petra caught my attention with its many nuances, evocative nature, and elegance.
AMOUAGE LYRIC (WOMAN): I’m one of the handful of really odd people for whom this famous rose floriental is actually not about the roses at all. On me, it is primarily about the ylang-ylang, with only a tiny, minuscule, very nebulous hint of spicy rose. I always thought I was the one person on earth for whom this was true, until another blogger said the exact same thing happened to her. So, now, there are two people on the planet, but that seems to be about it. For everyone else, Lyric is the ultimate spicy, floriental rose, but I love it for its beautiful, stunning, spicy, opulent ylang-ylang. Either way, this is one of those scents that every oriental lover should sniff just once in life, in my opinion, men and women alike, because it really is a beauty.
AMOUAGE EPIC WOMAN. Epic is a darker, drier, more oriental rose fragrance than its sister, thanks to a veil of black incense, rich spices, dusty oud, and velvety richness. Tea, smoky orris (iris), heady jasmine, spicy patchouli, geranium, and an increasingly prominent streak of vanilla custard are some of the other elements. Epic fits its name well, in my opinion, and is beautifully done. I should disclose, however, that it isn’t the scent for me, and it’s primarily due to my skin chemistry: the guaiac wood takes on the smell of pickles. It’s not powerful, but it’s noticeable and constant enough to ruin things for me in conjunction with some of the dustiness and the touch of soapiness at the end. None of those things suit my personal tastes, but I still find myself admiring the way Epic smolders with richness and complexity. Thankfully for you, most people do not experience pickles, so you should test it for yourself if you find the notes appealing. Plus, the profound spiciness, incense smokiness, and dryness make Epic very unisex in nature.
GROSSMITH SHEM-EL-NESSIM. If you love L’Heure Bleue, you’ll also love Shem-el-Nessim which was heavily influenced by the Guerlain scent and came out a few years later. There are differences, however, as Shem-el-Nessim is more overtly floral and slightly sweeter, but not peppery, woody, or melancholic in any way. Rich neroli orange blossoms swirl together with geranium, roses, deep bergamot, orris, and plush patchouli greenness to create an opulent, luxurious floriental worthy of a queen in a bygone era. I find it truly beautiful, carrying the full weight of its 108 year old history in its powdered floral start, but ending with a very timeless, perhaps even modern, finish of creamy neroli-vanilla mousse. Shem-el-Nessim is not for everyone, but for women who bemoan the loss of the vintage greats, it is a fragrance that they must try. Luca Turin loves it too, and awarded it Four Stars.
Three Honourable Mentions:
There are two names that I considered putting on my main list, but they are airier in nature and not particularly “BIG” fragrances. Still, they have a wonderful headiness, despite their slightly softer or lighter nature. The third name is a fragrance that I’ve worn in passing a couple of times, but haven’t yet subjected to a detailed analysis for the end stages. I like it so much thus far that I actually considered putting it on the main list (as I’ll probably end up buying a bottle), but, for now, I’ll just list it in this section.
ORMONDE JAYNE TOLU: Tolu is a perfume paradox because it is a scent that is airy and light, while also being narcotically heady and heavy. Often, especially at first, it almost feels more like a pure floral scent, one that is radiates golden sunshine with orange blossoms that are so natural smelling that they’re practically buoyant, fizzily fresh, and sweetly pure. At the same time, Tolu also has delicate lily of the valley (muguet), white orchid, the lavendery cleanness of clary sage, and the tiniest whiff of a delicate rose. It’s a dewy, fresh scent that feels like a pastel bouquet, one that somehow made me feel as though lilac and hyacinth had been tossed in there as well. Despite the airiness, Tolu is paradoxically rich at the same time; despite its strong floralcy, its flowers have oriental qualities as well. Tendrils of incense curl up to wrap around that bouquet like a ribbon; a rich vanilla mousse coats the petals; dark resins run through the base; and the whole thing is cocooned in an ambered glow that feels like the warmth of sunshine. It’s a beautiful scent that truly knocked me off my feet when I first smelled it. However, full disclosure requires me to tell you that I can no longer wear or go near Tolu. When I wrote my review, I had no issues with ISO E Super, and was even anosmic to the aromachemical on occasion. Unfortunately, I subsequently developed a terrible sensitivity to it, one that is due solely and entirely to another Ormonde Jayne scent, Montabacco. It has one of the highest percentages of ISO E Supercrappy on the market, and it triggered a permanent, extreme acuity to the synthetic, as well as a lasting hatred of it. In short, Ormonde Jayne broke me. If you have ISO E Super issues, then the line won’t be for you either, as the brand’s perfumer is famous for his obsessive love for it. However, since most people have no issues with ISO E, you should definitely check out Tolu if the notes sound appealing. I really loved it once upon a time.
VIKTORIA MINYA HEDONIST: Hedonist is a lush, golden, happy, but refined, sophisticated scent that sparkles and soothes at the same time. It opens with heady jasmine that is infused with Bourbon-rum, dark honeycombs, juicy peaches, a bit of fizzy citrus, and some orange blossom, all perfectly blended in a soft, golden cloud. It eventually turns into a honey, beeswax, and vanilla scent that soothes you in its soft sweetness. Whenever I wear it, I as relaxed as a cat stretching out in the warmth of the sun. Hedonist has the feel of classique haute perfumery, but it never feels dated or old-fashioned. It is elegant and opulent without being excessive, heady but perfectly balanced, and sparkles in a way that reminds me both of champagne and the sunniest of skies in the South of France. Truly beautiful.
HISTOIRES DE PARFUMS TUBEREUSE 3 – ANIMALE: Tubereuse 3 is drop dead sexy, if you ask me! Forget your Fracas or BWF (Big, White Flower) bombs. Don’t think of anything dewy, icy green, or overtly feminine. This is a different sort of tuberose scent, and a truly unisex (sometimes slightly masculine) one. The fleshy, white flower is at the center of a portrait painted with tobacco, coated in honeyed, golden warmth from immortelle, and then sprinkled with tiny dollops of kumquats and neroli. She lies atop a musky base infused with dark plums, dry hay, a subtle smokiness, and what feels like leather as well. Thanks to the immortelle, the tuberose has such a golden warmth to it that it might as well be ambered in colour. While there is nothing truly “Animale” about the scent, there is an overt lusty sensuality to Tubereuse 3 that is very different from the indolic sensuality that is usually manifested by the flower. At the same time, its golden orientalism sets it apart from other tuberose fragrances which, in my eyes, fall into the floral side. I include Serge Lutens‘ Tubereuse Criminelle in that assessment, though others might disagree. To me, Tubereuse 3 is the more floral counterpart to brand’s famous 1740 Marquis de Sade which is an animalic leather oriental with shared element of muskiness, immortelle, honeyed sweetness, and a touch of fruitiness. Unlike its brother, though, Tubereuse 3 isn’t raunchy or dirty, so its notes don’t scream “SEX!” in the same way that Marquis de Sade does. Yet, they definitely feel related, like mirrors of each other, with a similar vibe. Thanks to that kinship and the inclusion of tobacco, Tubereuse 3 ends up being one of the very few tuberose fragrances that men like to wear as well. As a whole, I think it is a hugely seductive scent that evokes warm, musky skin coated in tuberose and golden sweetness in a way that almost begs to be licked. (I keep mention “sex” for a reason, you know.)
I’m always on the look out for a BBB (Big, Bold, Beautiful) Floriental, and I would love to hear if you have any favorites that would meet my admittedly strict definitions and rather subjective criteria. But it may be harder than you think to come up with some names. A dose too much here, and a scent might be properly classified as a floral; too little there, and it’s probably more of a general Oriental. Plus, it also has to be a big, bold fragrance with opulence (or some lustiness). Can you think of any? It’s a fun exercise, even if it’s also a good way to drive yourself a little crazy in the process.