Thierry Wasser 2014-
[les absoly dɔrjɑ̃]
Modern muscular leather
Period: The recapitulation years

There's a lot of money in the United Arab Emirates, and every luxury brand would love to hit it big there. However, deeply rooted in a French perfume tradition dominated by floral harmonies, citrus, amber and powder, Guerlain isn't as popular in the Middle East as it is back home. Like Les Déserts d’Orient, Les Absolus d’Orient are destined for the Middle Eastern market, but at less than half the millilitre price of the former, all bearing stilted and unpronounceable fragrance names typical of "niche" perfumery. Although the brand is now trying to conquer the entire planet with Mon Guerlain, the truth is that perfume tastes in the Arab nations differ vastly from what is popular in the West. What perfumers call oriental fragrances, softly sweet and balsamic compositions, are not favoured in the Middle East. Maybe due to a hot desert climate, which makes perfumes evaporate on skin within minutes, Arab men and women prefer muscular scents with dark wood, spices, resins and rose.

Since 1999, when Guerlain introduced the Aqua Allegoria collection, most of the brand’s new fragrances have come as part of a series. Having series of perfumes, rather than just single perfumes, allows brands to perform a high speed of new launches (at Guerlain it’s ten new formulas per year) all the while keeping bottle design and marketing expenses to a minimum, as well as the catalogue well-structured and easy to understand for the customer. In 2015 alone, seven out of ten new fragrances were members of a group: La Petite Robe Noire Eau Fraîche, Aqua Allegoria Teazzurra, L’Homme Idéal Cologne, Shalimar Cologne, Habit Rouge Dress Code, and the two bridal fragrances, Le Bouquet de la Mariée and Le Plus Beau Jour de ma Vie. Read about Les Déserts d'Orient

Santal Royal
Family: woody, spicy, leather
Notes: leather, peach, cinnamon, orange blossom, sandalwood, oud, musk, saffron, jasmine, ylang-ylang, rose, raspberry, amber

Santal Royal opened straight onto the scent of sandalwood, sweet and fragrant like a sawmill. Sandalwood oil smells profound but has little radiance, and as a main note it risks flattening the perfume, unless a synthetic is added to support it. Here, it was paired with a strong leather note, pure, radiant, raspy and very dry, i.e. the modern variety that we also found in Thierry Wasser’s L’Homme Idéal. In Santal Royal, the dose of leather was high enough to be a top-to-base note. Maybe Thierry Wasser stretched the synthetic part a bit too far; it may fit the Dubai taste for power, but the elegance of the sandalwood oil struggled to breathe underneath it. Together with leather, we got the metallic freshness of neroli, and we clearly sensed that Thierry Wasser composed Santal Royal at the same time as when he created L'Homme Idéal. There was also a fruity top note, that peach-like note which has brought luminosity and sweetness to many a Guerlain composition (Mitsouko, Chant d'Arômes, Nahéma, Guet-Apens). Without this peach, Santal Royal would probably strike you as too bleak and black, at least for a Guerlain perfume.

Say "Guerlain" and "sandalwood" in the same sentence, and you immediately think of Samsara, famous for its overdose of sandalwood. Santal Royal was very different though: far less floral and stripped of the Guerlain powder, it was more of a woody "niche type" oriental. Along with the sandalwood we found an oud note, with its unmistakable flavour of the Middle East. The scent also shared the slightly bitter and spicy saffron vibe of Encens Mythique d'Orient.

The scent of oud is often described as having a syrupy raspberry facet. In Santal Royal, the raspberry note was quite present, and at some point we almost came to think of La Petite Robe Noire Couture. This was the moment when Santal Royal started to get a smoother feel, with a floral bouquet of jasmine, rose and ylang-ylang, classic Guerlain. We also detected the warmth of Christmas spices, in the style of Tonka Impériale. Yet, Santal Royal was not a gourmand fragrance, as the dryness of wood and leather persisted throughout, although it seemed to be rounded off with a bit of caramel sweetness towards the end (but significantly less so than in L’Homme Idéal). If the start of the fragrance could appear a bit unfriendly and stinging, the extremely tenacious base mix of wood, raspberry, amber and leather had that addictive quality that is the hallmark of Guerlain.

Ambre Éternel
Family: balsamic, woody, leather
Notes: ambergris, cinnamon, orris, orange blossom, jasmine, heliotrope, ylang-ylang, patchouli, coriander, sandalwood, cedarwood, leather, aromatic balsams, vanilla

With its rough boisé sec type accord and not much sandalwood, to most Guerlain fans Santal Royal felt like a departure from the brand’s well-known velvety signature. By contrast, while Ambre Éternel had some notes in common with Santal Royal, notably the masculine base, it did have a connection with amber. In perfumery, the term amber usually refers to one of two things: ambergris (a soft-smelling tincture of a rare material that floats on the sea after being disgorged by sperm whales), and the amber accord (a blend of balsamic resins, commonly used for incense since antiquity). Ambre Éternel contained both of these ingredients. Ambery notes are clearly linked to the Guerlain history, as Aimé and Jacques Guerlain used them extensively, and many perfume historians regard Shalimar as the epitome of an amber fragrance. Therefore, despite being far away from Shalimar, Ambre Éternel immediately came across as a Guerlain fragrance.

The scent was essentially a marriage between soft balsamic notes and powerful woody aroma chemicals. We speculate that this was Thierry Wasser’s way of trying to make a French amber fragrance appeal to young, affluent Arabs. From the very start of Ambre Éternel we understood that this was not a traditional Guerlain though, but rather a "niche fragrance”, as it came without the fresh top note that is otherwise a brand signature. Like most of the L’Art & la Matière scents, it seemed composed of ingredients that all have more or less the same evaporation curve, because it didn’t develop much while sitting on the skin. And to have two base notes, amber and wood, to make up the main theme of a composition hardly allowed for the sensory breadth that defines a masterpiece, which Thierry Wasser probably didn't aim for anyway. Albeit very pleasant, Ambre Éternel could appear rather dull and monotone for someone who is used to wearing Shalimar.

Ambre Éternel started out with a silky, matte blend of ambergris, orange blossom, cinnamon, orris, and a lactonic, sweet coconut note. It actually smelled a bit like Thierry Wasser’s re-created 1937 perfume Coque d’Or (which says something about elegance), although we did get L’Homme Idéal’s steely high-tech leather as well. Jean-Paul Guerlain has noted that ambergris doesn’t smell of much by itself, but has a great impact on a fragrance, and it must be the ambergris that we sensed in the beginning, a soft yet deep, salty breath of sea air that recalls vintage Vetiver (minus the vetiver of course). The scent slowly grew sweeter, with notes of jasmine, heliotrope and ylang-ylang appearing, without becoming overtly floral, together with sweet balsams and a dash of vanilla. The balsamic notes lingered throughout the rest of the fragrance while it turned into mainly a woody scent, with patchouli, coriander, sandalwood, and dry cedarwood, making Ambre Éternel a definite unisex fragrance.

For Ambre Éternel, the label design was changed from Santal Royal’s Louis XIV style (borrowed from Guerlain’s own La Poudre C’est Moi from 1925) into a look that was distinctly Middle Eastern.

Oud Essentiel
Family: leather, woody, rose
Notes: saffron, pelargonium, rose, oud, cedarwood, guaiac wood, frankincense, leather

With its dense, musty-resinous, woody odour, oud, a.k.a. agarwood, is a highly prized perfume ingredient in the Middle East. It’s therefore no surprise that Guerlain’s Orient series would eventually include an oud fragrance. The oud note is uncommon at Guerlain, but it has appeared in a supporting role in scents like Cologne du 68, Habit Rouge EdP, Rose Nacrée du Désert, Santal Royal, L'Homme Idéal EdP, and Néroli Outrenoir. Also, Guerlain had a short-lived fragrance, actually a perfume oil, called Oud Sensuel in 2007. Derived from an endangered wood species, oud is one of perfumery’s costliest raw materials, so it's safe to say that in commercial perfumery, most, if not all, "oud" is a recreated synthetic note.

There’s an excellent natural feel to Oud Essentiel, but it’s difficult to tell whether it contains real oud or not, because like Santal Royal and Ambre Éternel, it employs a so-called "boisé sec" type aroma chemical, a woody-leathery-acidic super molecule that nowadays forms the backbone of masculine perfumery, as exemplified by Paco Rabanne’s Invictus, or, in the niche department, Nasomatto's Black Afgano. This powerful material can be smelled a mile away and has an extraordinary capacity to boost all other notes in a formula. At the same time, its strong point is the reason for its bad reputation: its extreme stamina and long evaporation curve outperform anything else, and it therefore tends to impart a somewhat monotonous sensation, especially when the rest of the composition has faded away. Dosed carefully though, it can make a fragrance shimmer and effervesce, being to men’s scents what aldehydes are to women’s. Guerlain has used the boisé sec note with great success in L’Homme Idéal and Habit Rouge Dress Code.

Described as "a subtle alchemy", Oud Essentiel is not as subtle as Ambre Éternel, but luckily far less harsh than Santal Royal. The scent is quite an unusual take on the oud theme, which is often interpreted as warm and dark. Instead, Oud Essentiel uses a citronellol or geraniol note, which is a natural component of rose, for a piercing opening effect similar to the one we know from Habit Rouge or, in an even colder variant, the L’Hiver ("winter") fragrance in the Four Seasons collection. Mixing with plasticky leather, rose absolute, dusty notes of bitter saffron and orangey frankincense, and all sorts of smoky, nutty and ashy facets of wood, not the least of which is a dry cedar, this fragrance could be a rosier, Arabian version of Habit Rouge. In fact, it reminds me of a cross between the discontinued Habit Rouge Extrait and Rose Barbare, which isn’t a bad thing at all. And what a rose: fresh, suave, honeyed, and spicy! Carefully inhale Oud Essentiel, and you’ll understand why Thierry Wasser is so proud of his Bulgarian rose blend. If you loved Ne m’Oubliez Pas, but can do without the fruity top note and the high price, Oud Essentiel will probably make you swoon.

The drydown has a rare animalic and earthy touch (maybe this really is real oud?), wonderfully vintage and chypre-like. It's rounded off with the accord of benzaldehyde (almond and cherry scent), caramel and white musk that Wasser and Jelk use as the base for almost everything they do, from La Petite Robe Noire and L’Homme Idéal to Les Délices de Bain and Mon Guerlain. Why doesn’t Guerlain just give this base a name and include it on the list of Guerlinade ingredients? It smells delicious, so there’s really no point in being secretive, and it would make it so much easier not to have to list the same notes in every fragrance review.

The Absolus d’Orient fragrances come in an opaque, solid-coloured version of the Eau de Rituel bottle, black for Santal Royal and dark purple for Ambre Éternel. The bottle is accented with a masculine-looking scarf around its neck.

  We love: getting to know what Middle Eastern people like


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