An Evening of Orientals – Perfume Lovers London, The New Cavendish Club, London, Thursday 21st November 2013

By Tara

Warm, exotic and sensuous, we explored the heady world of oriental perfumes this month at PLL. The evening was presented by Lila Das Gupta and below is a summarised version of events.

In her introduction, Lila told us a little of the background to modern day oriental perfumes.

In terms of art – there was a fascination with all things Eastern – you had Chinoiserie, and the fashion for all things Chinese, and even more important was Japonisme. When Japan ended its isolationism in the 1850s, artists like Van Gogh and Gaugin were enthralled by the colours, poses and details in Japanese pictures, and they picked up some of the sensuousness too.

Then in the 1920s there was the exploration of the Pyramids in Egypt and films like “The Sheik” with Rudolph Valentino. People living in a very buttoned up society were captivated by what they imagined to be the freedom – including sexual freedom – experienced in “The East”. Perfume was the commercial face of this preoccupation and an easy way to take a magic carpet ride to this new and exciting world.

Thirty-Three, Ex Idolo Perfumes (from Roullier White)


Notes: soft black pepper, candied mandarin, caoutchouc, Chinese white tea, Chinese rose, Taif rose, orris, Damascus steel, rare, natural vintage ouds, aged patchouli, heliotropin

Lila: I’ve chosen Thirty-Three as an example of a modern oriental and Matthew Zhuk from Ex Idolo is here to tell us a bit more about it.

Matthew, why did you choose this particular oud?

Matthew Zhuk: The oud in Thirty-Three was distilled in 1980 and over time it loses that barnyard note. It’s quite dry and less animalic. I used to collect ouds and this was one of my favourites (my absolute favourite was not commercially viable) so I bought up most of the stock and initially made the perfume for myself.

Lila: How long will that supply last?

Matthew: There’s enough for a while. If it sells well…

Lila: It’s my favourite perfume release of the year. It makes me feel really lovely and I love the rose. What do we think of it?

Sounds of positive appreciation from around the room.

Shalimar, Guerlain

shalimar parfum

Notes: bergamot, iris, jasmine, rose, vanilla, opoponax, tonka bean.

Lila: No evening of orientals would be complete without Shalimar. I’m never sure how I feel about it. It’s one of those perfumes that has been around for so long and I feel I should I love, but it’s not always my first choice – I have to be in the mood to wear it.

Thomas (The Candy Perfume Boy), what do you put its enduring popularity down to?

Thomas: It’s iconic and timeless. It’s effortlessly sexy.

Lila said that she had thought about what the definition of an ‘Oriental’ was and decided it was the alignment of three things: a set of ingredients, a sense of place – obviously, the East! and a mood –obviously sensuous.

Sandalwood Oil (New Caledonian)

Lila: Sandalwood is woody, sweet and creamy. It’s still burnt during Hindu wedding ceremonies. Mysore sandalwood is the best but because it’s endangered it now mainly comes from Australia. Sandalwood is used in a lot of oriental perfumes because it blends well with a lot of things, it smooths off jagged edges and it’s a good fixative.

Carbon, Nu Be (available at Les Senteurs)

nube carbon

Notes: ginger, cardamom, red chilli pepper, iris, resins and sandalwood

Lila: I ignored this brand at first because of the packaging and concept, I had a similar reaction to the Blood Concept perfumes – if there’s too much style going on can the perfume be any good? Luckily Carbon is a lovely update of a traditional genre. It’s a nice sandalwood with an edible note. It’s gorgeous and creamy. I came across it because I was standing next to a young man at the Gare du Nord in Paris and I asked him what he was wearing!

Some mirth as Lila tries to crack open the polystyrene packaging…General positive reaction around the room

Lila: We talked about definition of orientals and I wanted to read you an interesting bit from Karen Gilbert’s new book. She’s talking about the two parent groups of orientals – the ambreie accord – often with Bergamot on the top and with vanillin, coumarin and civet – eg. Shalimar is a good example as is Ambre Sultan. The second kind derive from what’s known as the mellis accord – these are much spicier and based on the relationship between benzyl salicylate and eugenol. This will help you when we smell our next two perfumes.

Shanghai Lily, Tom Ford


Notes: bitter orange, clove, pepper, jasmine, rose, vetiver, guaiacwood, amber, benzoin, castoreum, frankincense, and vanilla

Lila: This perfume is inspired by the film Shanghai Lily rather than the flower, lily. In the film, Marlene Dietrich is Shanghai Lily, who is described as a ‘coaster’ – a woman who lives by her wits on the South China Coast. It’s a return to the glamorous perfumes of the 1940s with a lot of eugenol in it – the stuff you get in cloves. I love this perfume because it brings back the smell of carnations, something that has never gone away on the continent, but people have been afraid of here. I hope it’s starting a trend.

Audience member: It’s very retro.

Audience member: It’s a little filthy.

(This ended up to be the most requested sample of the evening by both men and women.)

Ambre Sultan, Serge Lutens

ambre sultan

Notes: coriander, amber, oregano, bay leaf, myrtle, angelica root, sandalwood, patchouli, benzoin, vanilla

Lila: Birgit spoke about this when she did her talk on amber perfumes. It’s the gold standard amber. Serge Lutens is so good at translating the East to Western audiences in perfume. I believe he has a beautiful home in Marrakesh.

Audience member: There’s a medicinal note.

Lila: To me it’s something I can wear at any time.

Indian Oud Oil

Lila: we are very lucky that Saheel is here, a member of the group who deals in Oud. I wanted everyone here to have an odour profile of real oud in their heads, because there are so many bottles that have the word ‘oud’ on it, and although they may contain oud, they won’t educate you in how it smells. You have to smell the raw material first.

This real oud caused quite a stir. It smelt quite startlingly of very ripe blue cheese with a backdrop of barnyard. Nothing like any oud perfume I’ve ever encountered. One person described it as “cow pat and milk”. Over time it mellowed out slightly and the next day it had lost that dairy connotation. It was still very dirty and animalic but it was much more leathery and woody and recognisable as oud. Apparently natural ouds all smell very different and the best oud is from Cambodia, but is extremely expensive.

Al Oudh, L’Artisan Parfumeur


Notes: cumin, cardamom, pink pepper, date, rose, neroli, incense, saffron, leather note, oud, Atlas cedar, castoreum, civet, sandalwood, patchouli, myrrh, vanilla and tonka bean.

Lila: This is not very oud-y in comparison. It’s quite soft, though it is a bit dirty. It has a little cumin but it’s very wearable. It’s by Bertrand Duchaufour who has done many orientals and I think is a master of orientals.

Comments from around the room included “Dirty”, ”Rosy” and ”Turkish Delight”.

Portrait of a Lady, Frederic Malle Editions de Parfums

malle portrait

Notes: benzoin, cinnamon, oriental rose, patchouli, sandalwood, frankincense, musk.

Lila: Thomas described this as a blockbuster. It is of such high quality, it really does stand out.

Thomas: It’s Godzilla. It puts all those cheap mainstream rose/patchouli perfumes in the shade.

Audience member: It doesn’t smell sensual enough to be classed as an oriental to me.


Well, what a great evening…

I really appreciated the opportunity to sample real oud and sandalwood oil. Thirty-Three is a soft rose oud which has won a lot of fans in a crowded market. I genuinely love Shalimar, but like Lila, I don’t often wear it. I’d forgotten how good Ambre Sultan is and I especially love its dried herbs. Carbon was well done, but had a little too much curry spice for my taste and Al Oudh was just too dirty. Shanghai Lily is a glam, throwback carnation and Portrait of a Lady takes no prisoners but radiates confidence.

Have you tried any of these perfumes? What are your thoughts? Do you have a favourite oriental perfume?

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23 Responses to An Evening of Orientals – Perfume Lovers London, The New Cavendish Club, London, Thursday 21st November 2013

  1. Lady Jane Grey says:

    Now, that’s one of those meet-ups I’d have loved to be there… Thank you, Tara, for reporting back !

  2. Undina says:

    Tara, as always, love your reports from these events (and I knew it was coming from the update on another blog 🙂 ).

    I love PoaL and Ambre Sultan. Tried Tom Ford’s perfume and thought it was OK. Don’t care for Shalimar (though would love to love it – sucha gorgeous bottle!) and haven’t tried any of the others but now want to try Thirty-Three.

    • Tara says:

      Thanks, Undina.

      I’m glad you got to at least try the Tom Ford, even it didn’t wow you, as you have an interest in carnation perfume, like me.

      PoaL and Ambre Sultan are such powerhouses. Shalimar does have such a gorgeous bottle. Thirty-Three should be available at Lucky Scent.

  3. Jordan River says:

    Hi Tara, great to see Matt being interviewed. A perfume with real Oud, remarkable. That is the one you reviewed here on November 14. Happen to be wearing 33 now. Still gathering my thoughts on that as it is a very perfumy Oud. Ambre Sultan is The Oriental Sultan. When I first smelt that I thought ‘now this is a perfume’ . Will you send my details to Saheel please? I like to keep track of the Oud dealers!

    • Tara says:

      Hi Jordan

      I wouldn’t imagine 33 is your usual style of oud so I’ll be interested to read your review if you do one.

      Ambre Sultan is a perfume with a capital P.

      I will try and send your details to Saheel.

  4. Alexandra says:

    Thank you for another wonderful write up Tara, it was a great evening and right up my street. The raw materials came as a real surprise to me: the sandalwood wasn’t as creamy as I was expecting and the oud was positively shocking – I couldn’t stop smelling it just to check it really did smell that ripe! There was some lovely scents to try (and my handbag now positively wafts Al Oudh), but the evening mostly reminded me how much I adore Ambre Sultan, and it is finally cold enough to wear it – hurrah!

    (p.s. and thank you so much again for the samples, unfortunately I immediately came down with a stinking cold, so they are currently sitting on my dresser waiting for me x)

    • Tara says:

      Alex, knowing you are such a fan of orientals I’m glad the evening lived up to your expectations.

      Thomas couldn’t stop smelling the natural oud either. It was weirdly compelling.

      It’s great to be reminded of how much you love a perfume that you might not have worn for a while.

      I hope your cold gets better soon.

  5. Vanessa says:

    Thanks for giving us such a good sense of what we missed through your detailed and thorough reporting. I was most interested to learn of the background to oriental scents and I think Lila’s summary of their three elements is spot on. I must say I tend to agree with the audience member who said that PoaL was not sensuous enough to be a full-blown oriental in their estimation, and I would have to say that I don’t find 33 sensuous either, though very high quality and lovely in its own wispy way! It almost lacks ‘body’ to my mind, which is another facet I associate with orientals. I haven’t tried Carbon but am curious, though the curry spice might put me off. 😉 I have civet issues with Shalimar and don’t get on with the herbs in Ambre Sultan – oh dear! And my favourite orientals are probably floral ones with vanilla rather than oud, to be honest. So perhaps from a sniffing point of view, it wasn’t the ideal selection for me, though I am always keen to learn about the category, which is my favourite still.

    • Tara says:

      Hi V,

      Yes, Lila’s description was so good.

      It was Alex who said that she didn’t see PoaL as sensuous and I think she has a point. It lacks a certain plushness (perhaps the same as “body”?) I associate with orientals and it doesn’t transport me anywhere. And yes, it could be the same issue we have 33. Maybe Lila is spraying much more than we are!

      It was more weighted towards oud perfumes than vanilla so maybe it’s for the best you experienced this one virtually. Hopefully you will come down when we have a vanilla evening next year.

      • Vanessa says:

        Yes, plushness is exactly what I meant by body! Oudy perfumes are too ‘thin’ and austere for me in that regard and have no feeling of fullness such as benzoin / vanilla / tonka give. If there’s a vanilla-themed event, I’d do my level best to attend! 😉

  6. Sabine says:

    It was a great evening, and good to meet you, Tara. I was surprised that I had fallen out of love with the Ambre Sultan. I hadn’t smelled it for 2 years and on that day I really didn’t like the herbal note in it. I’m already looking forward to a vanilla evening.

    • Tara says:

      Hi Sabine, it was great to meet you too.

      Sorry to hear that you had the opposite reaction to Alexandra when reacquainted with Ambre Sultan. I admire it so much but that medicinal note is a deal-breaker for me too.

  7. Natalie says:

    As usual, this sounds like a fun evening. I’m actually surprised to see Carbon in this list of orientals. I suppose it is, technically, but it’s so sheer. Nice, but not the kind of heavy oriental I really go for. 🙂

    • Tara says:

      It was a lot of fun.

      I guess Lila thought Carbon was a modern take because it is so sheer but it’s not one for the hardcore orientalists 🙂

      • Natalie says:

        Oh, I didn’t mean to imply it wasn’t a good choice! I hope it didn’t sound that way. I am so obvious when I think about oriental perfumes, and I think it’s great that she thought outside the box to a less obvious choice. (Or maybe that is not outside the box, and I’m even less creative than I think I am!) 😉

        • Tara says:

          Ha! No, not at all. We all have our own perceptions and Alex and Vanessa both mentioned the perfumes they didn’t necessarily associate with the category. I think most of us probably have this idea of the full-bodied, exotic oriental perfume. I agree it was nice that Lila thought outisde the box and you definitely are a creative person!

  8. Annina says:

    Shalimar and Portrait of a Lady are dear to me. But I agree, PoaL doesn’t seem an ‘oriental’ to me. My favorite orientals are Cormorandel, Coco, Dioressence, and Baghari?? Spicy yet creamy, with a bit of mystery.

    • Tara says:

      Thanks for sharing your favourite orientals, Annina. High quality perfumes there, one and all.

      “Spicy yet creamy with a bit of mystery” is a great description.

  9. Thanks for your write-up Tara, you have a good memory! V, there were some vanillary/sweet oriental perfumes on offer, but since we are having our Evening of Vanilla Perfumes with Neil Chapman on March 27th, I was leaving the field clear for him! We did have on the Oriental night – Tom Ford ‘Santal Blush’ (can’t get enough of this..), Do you like it? Vanille by Le Labo, Ambre Preceiux – MPG, we had a table to keep the sandalwood lovers happy and a patchouli table too… a bemused gentleman at the club who was playing bridge next door said “It smells like a souk in here” , to which I obviously replied “I’ll take that as a compliment!”. We also had Chanel’s Bois des Iles on offer – and in addition Tara brought in her Pure Parfum version. Lots of people holding bottles and gasping for pleasure…

    • Tara says:

      You always have something for everyone, which is great. Smelling like a souk is definitely a good thing during an oriental perfume evening.

      I think oriental perfumes are particularly good at making people gasp with pleasure.

    • Vanessa says:

      Hi Lila, I do hope I can make it to the Vanilla night, as that sounds right up my alley! I can understand why you would wish to steer clear of some oriental scents that might fall into that camp. Santal Blush I was *really* expecting to love, but after a very promising opening I found it not nearly blushing enough, like that quick rosy flash of a sunset before it sinks down below the horizon. Plus the sandalwood read on me as rather a thin and cedary kind of wood note, though it is a while since I reviewed it. Needed a bit of Jasmin Rouge slapping on its cheeks, was my general conclusion! Then I do like Le Labo Vanille as well (vanilla straight up, pretty much), and I love Bois des Iles – so all in all, I am sure there would have been other bottles to tempt me on the tables, even if they weren’t the major focus of the talk.

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