Oriza L. Legrand‘s recent release, Empire des Indes, is an addictive delight with many faces: spicy floriental; gourmand amber; ambered vanilla; ambered opoponax incense; spicy woody amber; smoky, sweet, spicy resinousness; and a few more. There is even a stage where the fragrance smells like spicy vanilla infused with dark, smoky French Roast coffee on my skin. While Empire des Indes skews a little too sweet on occasion for my personal tastes, I would absolutely wear it for myself and I want to buy a bottle some day soon. I loved it.
Empire des Indes was initially released in 2021, though it only seems to have become widely available in March 2022. It is an eau de parfum that Oriza describes as follows:
Queen Victoria would often stay at the Excelsior Regina Palace in Nice-France, then owned by Oriza L. Legrand.
The House created this precious perfume in honor of her [its] loyal client, The Empress of India, to remind the glorious days of the Maharajas.
The notes are:
Ginger, Bergamot, Heliotrope, Nag Champa flower [Champaca], Tolu balsam, Benzoin, Sandalwood, & Opoponax [aka Sweet Myrrh incense].
OPOPONAX, TOLU BALSAM, & CHAMPACA – THEIR SCENT:
Opoponax or Sweet Myrrh (my preferred name for it) may not ring an olfactory bell for everyone, but the material is so prevalent during Empire des Indes‘ development that I think you’d benefit from a description of its scent profile and how it may differ from that of (regular) Myrrh. Both resins from a tree and both are geographically superior when sourced from Ethiopia or Somalia, but they do not smell completely identical.
To me and on my skin, regular myrrh skews green, brown, and black in my mind’s eye as it often opens with a somewhat astringent, bitter, and even slightly medicinal green-woody aroma before segueing to more of a rust-red-black palette of wood smoke, incense smoke, sticky resinousness, and even black licorice or anise nuances. It is a drier, less sweet, more forceful, woodier, and darker scent on my skin than sweet myrrh.
Opoponax/Sweet Myrrh is my favourite type of incense, and a large part of the reason why is because of its different scent profiles which can range from sweet to spicy, nutty, ambered, smoky, woody resinous, and other aromas. Both vintage Opium and vintage (pre-1980s) Shalimar had noticeable opoponax components. (I’d argue that the resin was one of the things which added to their nuanced, dark, base-side, smoky beauty.)
Opoponax’s scent can depend on source, distillation method, and concentration or format. Below are accounts from different perfumer or raw material sites regarding its often wide-ranging nuances.
Somalian opoponax essential oil, also known as sweet myrrh, exudes a toffee sweet, fruit spicy, sticky resinous warm, salty, leathery aroma with white wine and chocolate nuances and all of incredible tenacity.
Unlike the absolute we offer this material is of a very liquid and pourable viscosity, amber in colour and produced by steam distilling the resin. In natural perfumery opoponax is used in chypre, fougere, leather bases, oriental bouquets, heavy-floral perfumes and pairs beautifully with frankincense, amber and bergamot naturals.
Warm, balsamic, resinous, sweet, earthy, fruity
Opoponax offers a rich and earthy aroma with intoxicating woody nuances that can help us let go of stress and find stillness and calm.
Personally, and based on what typically happens on my skin, I would also add a few other aromas for myrrh. For example, I frequently experience nutty, sweet hazelnut, and/or sweet hazelnut chocolate nuance to some versions of sweet myrrh while others have a clove-like and/or a subtle cinnamon-like tonality. Still others can smell of sticky honey or smoke-singed woods.
All these different opoponax aromas show up at differing times during Empire des Indes’ many micro-stages on my skin, though the most dominant olfactory version is that outlined by Hermitage Oils wherein everything from caramel to vanilla to even ambered toffee’d or leathery qualities all coexist next to the traditional dark, smoky incense notes.
Moving on, Tolu balsam and its cousin Peru balsam are also tree-based resins and are also major olfactory favourites of mine. But they smell of vanilla, not incense. In fact, they have such a naturalistic, rich, never cloying vanilla aroma to my nose, across multiple fragrances, that I’ve never understood why they aren’t used more often in perfumery or in gourmands. (They’re also so, so much cheaper than real vanilla beans.)
I think it’s worth getting into Tolu balsam’s aromas because, in Empire des Indes, they are significant, almost constant, and long-lasting, even if they are not quite as dominant as the opoponax. The UK’s Perfume Society provides a short description and background details:
Tolu resin is tapped from the trunks of the tall Myroxylon toluiferum tree, which mostly grows in South America and the West Indies: small incisions are made in the bark, from which thick yellow-brown ‘drops’ are collected. Rich and naturally complex, there are soft, come-hither floral elements to the balsam, as well as sweet vanilla and spicy cinnamon notes; it’s often used in ambrées.
The Perfumer’s World description is equally instructive:
The odour and uses of Tolu Balsam Resinoid
Odour=> sweet balsamic vanilla spicy plum sweet-floral scent peppery-undertone. rich balsamic-floral scent
Perfume-Uses=> Oriental Balsam Spice
Prune Plum Raisin Vanilla
Blends-well-with=> l with mimosa, ylang ylang, sandalwood, labdanum, neroli, patchouli, cedarwood, and oriental, spicy and floral bases.
Not everyone knows what Champaca smells like, either, so let me provide an olfactory description of that as well in case it is a stronger, more long-lasting, and constant note on your skin than it is on mine. On me, it only lasts 20 minutes in a clearly delineated, crystal clear, distinct way but – theoretically and officially – Oriza L. Legrand describes Empire des Indes as a floral amber so, who knows, maybe your personal skin chemistry will make it a major factor on you?
Champaca has a variety of different undertones or facets, but its predominant bouquet to my nose is that of a lush, somewhat tropical, extremely heady white-yellow flower with fruity (including lychee and melon tonalities), syrupy, slightly vanillic, and jasmine-to-magnolia aromas, depending on varietal, distillation method, or concentration.
Perfumer and scent-instructor Ayala Moriel has a detailed discussion of the scent, the different varietals (the white magnolia alba kind can reportedly smell like magnolias), and also how they differ in olfaction from Nag Champa incense. I’ll let you read her full description on your own if you’re interested and only highlight a few short bits here:
Michelia Champaca, also known as “golden champaca” or “red champaca” is a flowering tree from the Magnoliceae family (magnolia alba is another species used for its essential oils in perfumery – from both the flowers and the leaves) [….]
Champaca is also related to Star Anise, and its scent in a way shares the spicy characteristics of star anise as well as the floral-fruitiness of magnolia. Unlike white magnolia, which is peach-like and very light, champaca has a penetrating, smooth and rich aroma that is reminiscent of tea, spices, and a floral note that is often compared to orange blossom. I personally think it is so unique it cannot truly be compared to orange blossom at all. [… big textual snip]
Those who are familiar with the Nag Champa incense may find champaca scent to be somewhat similar. The reason being that Nag Champa incense incorporates halmaddi, a grey, semi-liquid resin taken from the Alianthus tree, which smells very similar to champaca flower.
EMPIRE DES INDES:
Empire des Indes is an interesting fragrance for someone like me who studies in detail how a fragrance’s bouquet changes over time, particularly in its nuances. Instead of the typical trio of separate opening, middle, and drydown stages, Empire des Indes has numerous micro-stages, many of which recycle and come around again. Further, with the exception of the 20-minute floral-driven opening, almost all of these micro-stages center on four – sometimes five – core raw materials, primarily base notes, that perform akin to horses in a race where they jockey for precedence.
But what makes Empire des Indes so intriguing to me is that the Kentucky Derby of resins, woods, smoke/incense, and spices is constantly aligning, realigning, morphing, and eddying into unexpected aromas, changing every 10-15 minutes at one point, every hour later on. And these changing combinations jockeying for supremacy somehow end up replicating the aromas of completely different, unexpected things: Like, for example, in one instance, mimicking the aroma of coffee or, in another instance, rich, spicy, caramel-tinged vanilla. Mind you, there is no actual “coffee,” “caramel,” “chocolate,” or “vanilla” in Empire des Indes, but it sure as heck smells like it during different micro-stages.
Empire des Indes opens on my skin with lush champaca floral bouquet imbued with spicy, sweet, ambered, and softly smoky nuances. The slightly tropical, slightly fresh, and quietly fruity flower has spicy ginger spread over every one of its petals; then, the bouquet is generously spritzed with fresh, brisk bergamot before being placed on a sweet, smoky, golden base of resinous benzoin amber laced with sweet myrrh incense smokiness and dry, spicy sandalwood. 5 minutes in, the heliotrope arrives to add a dusting of sweet, vanillic floral powder over everything.
20 minutes in, Empire des Indes amps up its ambery sweetness and spiciness as the once floral-centric bouquet begins to transition into something else. The smoky, slightly woody, very resinous-smelling opoponax also increases, though not to the same degree. A good deal of the sweetness stems from the benzoin, an amber resin, which – as is its wont – smells like caramel on my skin. It’s supplemented by a new note of rich, perfectly balanced, sweet vanilla, compliments of the Tolu. There is also a new whiff of dark honey, undoubtedly from the opoponax, lurking deep within.
40 minutes in, Empire des Indes has a completely different focal point than it did at its start and a new micro-stage begins. The champaca has been banished to the background where it delicately and quietly flitters about as a generic, sweet, spicy, ambered floralcy. The driving force of the scent, and the bouquet in the forefront, is now centered on: heavily gingered spiciness, honeyed lemon, smoky sweet myrrh incense, spicy sandalwood and, above all else, a resinous, gourmand tidal wave of amber (the benzoin) that smells of caramel laced with vanilla (the Tolu balsam).
55 minutes in, Empire des Indes is almost entirely a sweet, spicy, ambered gourmand bouquet of ginger, honey, caramel, and vanilla laced together with thick chords of black incense and thin threads of sandalwood. It is set against a backdrop of golden, honeyed floralcy, but I’d estimate that the floral component is only 15%, roughly speaking, of the composition at this point.
Roughly 75 minutes in (or 15 minutes into the 2nd hour), Empire des Indes shifts again and yet another mini stage begins. Now, unexpectedly, the bouquet wafting off my arm is primarily spicy vanilla infused with a dark, sticky, balsamic resinousness that evokes the aroma of expensive, dark, smoky French Roast coffee.
The cumulative effect is delicious! And even though the scent is slightly too gourmand for my personal tastes and my extremely low tolerance for sweetness, I would happily make an exception for Empire des Indes. I find its mix of smoky, woody, spicy, resinous, gourmand and incense amber to be impossible to resist. In fact, thanks to my beloved Tolu balsam, this is exactly the sort of “vanilla” fragrance that appeals to me, one where the sweetness is not cloying because it is counterbalanced by contrasting dark elements, particularly spice and smoke.
1.5 hours in, all floralcy has disappeared, leaving behind a scent that is: 55% spicy, rich vanilla; 45% smoky, dark-roasted “coffee;” and 5% vanilla powder — just like something that you’d find at Starbucks to sprinkle on your latte. I’m guessing that the powder stems from the Tolu, though the heliotrope might perhaps play a small role here as well since it also has vanilla powder characteristics.
At the end of the 2nd hour and start of the 3rd, Empire des Indes continues to smell as described above, but the spicy “vanilla” is losing ground in this horse race as the benzoin’s caramel and the opoponax’s smoky, dark, resinous incense start to surge ahead, soon overshadowing the former leader and soon turning the overall scent darker.
From this point onwards, Empire des Indes is basically a three- (occasionally four-) horse race which switches back and forth in micro stages between related but different olfactory bouquets and different driving forces. The players are: Opoponax in all its various nuances or aromas; Tolu balsam vanilla; and Benzoin’s caramel and amber. Secondary players which are a constant presence throughout are: amorphous spiciness; and sandalwood – which smells smoky, spicy, but also rather like a generic ambered woodiness much of the time.
Let me give you different time/bouquet examples.
At the start of the 3rd hour or 2.05 hours in, Empire des Indes has moved away from spicy vanilla to focus instead of benzoin amber. The fragrance now smells like smoky caramel infused with lesser amounts of opopanax bitter espresso, santal woodiness, and a small amount of spicy, smoky, vanilla. There is no powder, citrus, floralcy, or clearly delineated, obvious ginger. 45 minutes later, however, the spicy vanilla returns to the forefront as the driving force. The difference, however, is that it’s laced with enough benzoin caramel, sweet myrrh incense smoke, and general smokiness (without a “coffee”-like echo) this time that it briefly, temporarily, evoke Guerlain‘s old, much-loved vanilla fragrance, Spiritueuse Double Vanille.
30 minutes later, however, amber takes the lead and it does not evoke caramel but, rather, a much drier, spicy, smoky, resinous, woody orb that shoots off minor gourmand facets of vanilla and caramel every so often, much like dark solar flares from the sun.
The horses in this long race continue to change places and aromas. In the 5th hour, the sweet myrrh takes over as a full-on incense bouquet devoid of any espresso aromas and with a much woodier bent. It evokes the smells of an old Ukrainian Russian Orthodox church I once visited in Vladimir where the incense had an unexpected whiff of cloves lurking under its blackness and its charred woods and occasional dustiness. The difference here, however, is that the benzoin continues to add a caramel-like sweetness, the tolu continues to waft vanilla, and the sandalwood lends the first traces of creaminess. They’re simply not as central as they once were.
The recycled micro-stages continue until Empire des Indes’ end. The Guerlain SDV echo returns for a brief while, then a caramel-vanilla macchiato latte in Starbucks infused with smoky santal, gingery-clove spices, hazelnuts, charred woods, and vanilla powder. It’s replaced about 8:10-hours in by a creamy woody softness infused with amorphous spices, resins, wood smoke, incense smoke, and ambered goldenness. The benzoin comes and goes as the horse race continues as does the sweet myrrh and vanilla. In the final hours, Empire des Indes veers between: 1) spicy, smoky woodiness coated with vanilla and caramel amber; and 2) creamy, silky wood-laced vanilla dusted with vanilla powder and emitting quiet, muted, occasional whiffs of everything from incense to cloves, chocolate, or caramel.
When taken as a whole from start to finish, Empire des Indes had low sillage that was initially moderately strong and very good to excellent longevity, depending on how you interpret ease of detection. I tested the fragrance using about 3 smears roughly equal to 2 big sprays from a bottle. With that amount, the opening sillage was about 7-8 inches. The scent cloud felt simultaneously light and airily strong. You might describe it as weightless in body but distinctly noticeable in aroma. The numbers incrementally dropped. At the 1.50-hour mark or the end of the 2nd hour, the sillage extended about 4-5 inches, though Empire des Indes left a faint, muted trail around me if I waved my arm around. About 2.5 hours in (or the middle of the 3rd hour), Empire des Indes hovered an inch above my forearm. I didn’t have to put my nose onto the skin of my arm to detect it until 7.25 to 7.5 hours in, or some time during the 8th hour.
I thought Empire des Indes was close to dying early during the 11th hour or about 10.25 hours in but, to my surprise, the fragrance had surprising longevity, even if it was merely the faintest coating on my arm that required effort and deep inhalation to detect. In total, I could detect muted, muffled traces of sweet-dry, spicy, smoky, woodiness, sweetness, and goldenness straight into the 15th hour.
There is nothing revolutionary or original about Empire des Indes, but I loved it. It brought me delight but was also a great, de-stressing comfort during a particularly stressful personal time. And I absolutely want to a bottle for myself.
How you feel about it is bound to depend on how you feel both about the genre of perfumery and about the key materials in question. If sweet myrrh doesn’t rock your boat neither will the fragrance. Ditto to resinous incense, or smoky or spicy takes on amber. And if you expect a fragrance that will skew towards champaca amber or a floral-dominated bouquet, or if you’re hoping for one that is continuously sweet or gourmand-skewing in nature, I think you’ll be sorely disappointed.
I also think that you are bound to think that Empire des Indes is quite a simple and linear scent – unless you make the effort to smell your arm to detect its continuous micro-cycles. As I frequently mention, however, there is absolutely nothing wrong with either simplicity or linearity if you love the bouquet in question AND if the price is commensurate with the scent.
Which brings me to one great positive about Empire des Indes in this day and age where fragrance prices are sky-rocketing: Oriza doesn’t have crazy annual price hikes; I’m pretty sure that its prices are identical to what they were the last time I reviewed them 5-7 years ago (!!); and the prices are affordable for the size and quality of their fragrances, even if “affordability” is a completely skewed, comparative standard given the crazy prices of the niche world. You can buy a big 100 ml bottle of Empire des Indes for €130 or $165 with Oriza and some retailers carrying a cheaper 50 ml bottle for €90. Oriza also offers a refill bottle version for €70 or €100, depending on size, as well as a great sample discovery set. (See, Details section below for more.) They ship worldwide, by the way.
On a completely irrelevant and subjective note, I think Oriza has lovely bottles and packaging. All my personal friends who’ve ordered fragrances from Oriza have always called or written to me gushing about the beautiful or elegant packaging before they even started to talk about how their fragrances smelled. The fact that the pretty packaging comes without you paying through your teeth for it is something that I appreciate. Some fragrance brands truly emphasize looks over scent or the olfactory quality thereof, but Oriza wants to give you an all-around experience without taking you to the cleaners.
If you’re interested in other thoughts about or experiences with Empire des Indes, I’ll let you turn to Fragrantica.
From me, it’s a thumbs-up. If you are also a fan of sweet myrrh, incense ambers, and/or resinously sweet, smoky, spicy, woody ambers with occasional gourmand qualities, then I strongly recommend that you sample it for yourself.
Disclosure: My sample was provided courtesy of Luckyscent. That did not influence this review. I do not do paid reviews and my opinions are my own.