The Oriental in All of Us

Once in an idle interval, I remember toting up all the perfumes worn by every member of my extended family according to scent families. An idiotic little game of parallelisms and no doubt OCD as all get out, but bear with me.

What I discovered was that of about a dozen of us, only one of us wore Orientals, and that was my Mom with…drum roll… Tabu.

Even Chypres were better represented (by me), but of Orientals there were, well, only that one .

Why was that? Now that there are more of us, and several of us are a good deal younger than the original test sample, I find the exact same thing.  The ladies in my family wear fruity florals, and aldehydic florals and the odd citrus perfume but now, only one Oriental, namely Poivre, worn by me. No one else wears them at all. 

My own explanation for not wearing Orientals has to do with stuffiness.  I don’t like it.  I like open windows and the smell of air and sea and meadows and space, I suppose, and Orientals are smell crowded rooms.  The air inside an Oriental is often dense and smoky and resinous and sweet and heavy, and this makes me think of restaurants at late hours and opium dens at any hours. These are the sorts of places that squirmy people like me do not frequent. You must have the gift of stillness, or at any rate a disinclination to stir very often. People like me can’t do this. We like to run outside and slam the doors behind us, and breathe in the evening air, all of this makes us, or me anyway, a very bad customer for the oriental perfume.

Poivre I wear because it has this air of outrageous heat, which makes it, I guess, the only pepper Oriental, a total capsaicin fest, and one of the very few that does not speak of enclosed spaces, but rather of a bonfire.

I can wear Orientals I find if they have a healthy draft of air, or fire, or something in them in them somewhere, like the angelica note in old Angelique Encens, or a sort of greeny-earthy patchouli like the one in Kriglers’ Lovely Patchouli,  or the fire down below in Poivre. Then it is okay, but otherwise I find myself wondering if I can prize a window open because someone is wearing something that is just suffocatingly heavy and it’s…me.  That is when a large number of Oriental perfumes down the years have been  creamed and scrubbed off my skin to be replaced by nothing at all, or something with a large lemon or green note in it.

This does not mean that I don’t appreciate the great perfumes in the genre.  I do.  I just don’t wear Nuit de Noel  or Shalimar or Bal a Versailles or L’Heure Bleue.  From my informal poll of my own family, I realize that I am not alone in this reluctance to wear Orientals. Evidently a lot of other people feel that Orientals are just too big and too crowded with scent molecules, and just stick around too long.

All of which makes me think that may be the day of the oddball Oriental may be back.  How about Orientals with more vetivers, galbanums, geraniums, angelicas and herbs and peppers?  What could happen; a few different perfumes, a broadening of the Oriental spectrum?

Well, anyway, I would certainly try one or two or four.

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21 thoughts on “The Oriental in All of Us

  1. I have a love-hate thing going on with Orientals, largely because the category covers a number of scents that I really really hate and despise and abhor to the depths of my being as well as at least two that I adore. Having been bludgeoned early and often by Youth Dew, having had the treasured visits to the lunch counter at the downtown Woolworth’s (following the treasured visits to my dad’s office downtown) ruined by too much Tabu, and having been physically assaulted by Opium at the movie theater, to the point that I couldn’t stay in the theater and had to spend most of the movie sitting in the lobby fighting nausea – well, for years my opinion of Orientals was Perfumes I Cannot Stand.

    And then it occurred to me that Emeraude, which I never want to be without, and Shalimar Light, are Orientals too. BLAST! Now what shall I complain about? I can’t say “I hate Orientals” anymore. I’ll have to go with, “I hate those big balsamy Orientals,” which doesn’t really have the same punch to it.

    I don’t mind sitting still, myself, but in any case I prefer my Orientals to have prevalent florals in them.

    • Plus, ever notice that there are no green orientals outside of Emeraude? None. You get fruity orientals, Casmir? Remember that? Fruit salad from the planet Sucrose? You get gourmand/orientals: Angel. You get vanilla and amber thingies: Anne Pliska, Fifi Chachnil, Oriental Brulant et cetera, but green? NO. None nada. Is it like the Italians will never put cheese on seafood pasta? That kind of taboo? What up with that?

  2. But now I am thinking about fragrances my family members wear, and nobody is a big oriental wearer. My sister used to wear Dune, my SIL still wears it – but that’s a freaky oriental, not the sort of air-sucking thing that many orientals are. My mother wears aldehydic florals, floral musks, and Things That Smell Like Soap. MIL wears plain florals, if she wears anything. SIL loves scented candles but not scent on her body. One grandmother had sensitive skin and didn’t wear fragrance, though she loved it on others. The aunts wear florals, floral chypres, and floral orientals. The other grandmother wore Blue Grass or Avon Cotillion (which, whoops, that WAS a balsamy oriental). Royall Lyme and Old Spice on the masculine side. Daughter likes berry-vanillas and DK Gold.

    And me, of course – my preferences could generally fall into the categories of Big White Florals, Green Florals, Aldehydic Florals, Floral Chypres, and Floral Orientals. Wait, I’m sensing a pattern here… even my Emeraude, in the vintage I like, has noticeable florals.

    • You do seem to have a pattern, but then you also have skin that wears florals well, and what an advantage that is! My florals always have to veer fruity or be extremely stable chemically, otherwise they go eerily sweet or horribly sour.

      How does everyone else handle this odd dichotomy between the orientals and the florals? Chypres used to be an option, but with Chypres likely casualties in the continuing Oakmoss Wars, how long will anyone have the choice?

      And only one relative wore an Oriental, that’s seems to be not atypical. What is the breakdown generally? Do most women simply wear florals? PS, I really like the Things That Smell Like Soap. Shouldn’t mothers smell like that?

      • Things That Smell Like Soap generally bore me silly. Possibly a *result* of my mother’s wearing them, but possibly not. (Striking fact about my mother: she hates white florals. I mean HATES them.) She wears No. 5, of course, and Jovan Musk for Women, and Eliz Arden 5th Avenue, and spent several years in love with Coty’s L’Effleur because, as she said, “It smells like soap. It just smells clean and pretty.” It did, nice creamy floral soap. This is the woman that made me take a new bottle of Sand & Sable, purchased with summer-job money, back to the store because it was “too mature for me.” I was 18.

        I get along very well with my mother, btw, and to some extent it’s fine that mothers should smell of soap and flowers, but I’ll take the flowers and leave the soap (except in the shower). Sigh.

        • Soap in perfume does smell dated to me now. Definitely liked your phrase though, which about sums up suds in scents.
          What is interesting is your Mom’s choice of Jovan Musk. Did that smell clean to her? A lot of musks smell similar to laundry detergent. Jovan smelled clean I guess, nothing like Muscs Khublai Khan, and evidently cleaner than Sand and Sable!

          • It does smell clean. I nabbed a little half-ounce bottle of it last Christmas at the drugstore for about $6, and it’s nice – warm clean skin and some very faint florals, a virtual Mom hug. It is, in my opinion, far nicer than Serge Lutens $120/bottle Clair de Musc.

  3. I’m one of those people who love Orientals BECAUSE they are big and crowded with scent molecules, and stick around a long time. I love what is dense and smoky and resinous and sweet and heavy, as well as restaurants at late hours (haven’t been to an opium den yet). On the contrary, I don’t like what is clean, fresh, soapy, or green. I can tolerate florals with character (i.e. tropical flowers), but nothing too airy-fairy. I guess we are Evil Scent Twins!

    • Haven’t been to an opium den ‘yet’ is good.

      Yes, I think we are evil scent twins, although I can wear some orientals- boozy orientals for instance. Back to Black frequently, and really still want to try A*Men Pure Malt, which is supposed to be single malt whiskey. If I could find something that was sort of narcotic, I might like that (I hasten to add, a narcotic smell not a substance). The closest thing I have so far found, is Sensuous Noir, which Meg liked so much, and pegged right out the gate as a lily scent. I hadn’t realized that it was floral, but that is a late hours scent for sure, a sort of DeQuincey boutonniere.

  4. I could have written the same comment as Fleurdelys, almost verbatim. In fact, I was about to when I read hers. LOL. I guess I’m another Evil Scent twin. :)

    I never really thought about a trend in family perfume style. It’s a really interesting point or issue. Now that I think of it, in my family, almost everyone wears Orientals or chypres. Nowadays, mostly just orientals. Long live vintage Opium! I hope to have it in my nostrils as I take my dying breath. LOL.

    • K, I guess perfume tastes partially run in families, as Coty’s L’Origan (supposed to be a precursor to L’Heure Bleue) was one of my mom’s favorite fragrances. She loved their Airspun face powder as well, which had the L’Origan scent. However, she also wore Evening in Paris and Eternity at different times in her life.

      • I’ve never smelled vintage L’Origan. I imagine it must have been wonderful!

        With my mother, when I was particularly young, I remember her wearing Opium, Joy, Femme, 1000, Fracas, Shalimar, Grès by Madame Grès, Bal à Versailles, Ysatis, and Jolie Madame.

        Opium and Fracas imprinted themselves most deeply on me. But I think they all did in the end which is probably one reason why I cannot bear soapy, clean, or green scents (at all!). In fact, I don’t think a single one of the 4 women in my family has ever worn one.

        This is such a fascinating discussion, Blacknall. Thank you for providing, as always, such a wonderful and different take on perfumes. You enable us to take a fresh approach and I always see perfumes just a little bit differently when I read one of your posts.

        • It ain’t nuthin’.All this makes me wonder though, why it is that some of us go the way of our folks, eg. orientals because our mothers or aunts wore them, or don’t, orientals almost not at all-because our mothers or aunts wore them? Wore chypres myself. Though no one else in my family did, and still do not.
          Clearly you were imprinted by the family traditions and are in the oriental vein.
          By the way, your mother had very refined tastes, clearly she appreciated both chypres and orientals. My Mother’s most elegant choice was Diorissimo in her sixties. Otherwise, it was Tabu all the way, and this despite my Dad’s valiant efforts to get her to wear Arpege.
          And on the subject of L’Origan I’m wearing it tonight (vintage edt). Pretty stuff and more floral than strictly oriental. I’m always happy to share if you want to try it.

          • You’re extremely sweet to offer. I would love to take you up on your offer but I have this terrible neurosis about imposing on people or accepting things. Undina tells me I really need to get over it. Like NOW! :D But it is a work in progress and, until I do, I could never accept something so valuable. I’m so touched by the offer though, and I really thank you. xoxo

          • Offer is still open, and this old L’Origan came from a steal of a buy on fleabay, so you must not feel that you would be put under any obligations. We tend to share perfumes around so as to hear what people think of them, the reactions are the most fun part of the process.

          • Well, I’m not too proud to beg! I’d love a sample of vintage L’Origan. I’ll be happy to pay the shipping.

    • So there are families who prefer orientals. It restores my faith in diversity.

      Actually wore an oriental myself last night, vintage Emeraude, which is the bee’s knees! And do you know, I just realized that none of my relatives ever wore Opium, ginormous hit that it was. Nope, back to business as usual, Estee Lauder on weekdays, and Diorissimo on Sundays for them.

  5. I’m with fleurdelys (except for the tropical floral thing) and kafkaesque. Mals is however right about the evil Youth Dew!
    Before Christmas a Lush store opened up at a local mall. The very young SA saw my daughter and myself browsing and asked me what kind of fragrances I liked. I answered “Oriental.” She then said, “So do you like citrus or floral fragrances?” GRRR!! I had to leave then and there (also because the store’s smell was giving me a headache.) My daughter said she didn’t know why I get so upset, it’s only a job to the SA, and she’s “not obsessed like you are”!

    • SA’s just get under your feet. Sad but true. Sometimes you meet someone higher up in the company who knows what he or she is talking about, but only at the major stores.
      You simply have to lead with the nose, it’s the only way. Also do not let them spritz you! I was gotten, but good, by a perfume model on the floor of Saks last Fall, who was armed with a Fifi award winning chemical weapon, and she opened fire. Had to go home and sandblast myself.

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