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 Désert, Encens 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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.