Oh, we’ve all heard about the lure of the so-called ‘Orient’, not least here in the fantasy world of fragrance.
A cheerful – if lazy – conflation of anything falling vaguely eastwards of Bulgaria, this mythical clime has gifted us fruits as choice and rare as frankincense, myrrh, aoud, lotus, sandalwood and Rosa damascena. The art and technologies of perfume making are firmly in the Orient’s debt.
Such is the pull of the exotic, erotic ‘East’ that the noble house of Guerlain boasts largely Orient-inspirited scents among its ‘feminine’ perfume classics.
Chief among these is the stately Shalimar, inspired by Emperor Shah Jahan’s exquisite ‘Temple of Love’ (Shalimar) gardens in Lahore. Its jazz-age sister, Mitsouko, a fruity chypre of impeccable pedigree, is named for the winsome Japanese heroine of Claude Farrère’s novel La Bataille. And Samsara, an otherworldly, Eighties floriental, takes the Sanskrit term for ‘eternal birth’ as its conceptual brief and name.
For Occidentals and others living beyond the nebulous ‘East’, what are the olfactory associations of the Orient?
The Perfumed Garden? The Kama Sutra? Opium? Cinnabar? The path to Nirvana?
Perhaps predictably, the imagined ‘Orient’ may be reduced to clichéd stereotypes and binarisms: sensuality rubbing up against Zen-like serenity; ripe voluptuousness spilling over into spirituality. The East is a compelling, vaguely scandalous, fragrant paradise; women who wear its scents become bewitching, inscrutable odalisques.
Even the estimable Yardley of London, most famed for its Old English Lavender and other toilet waters, was seduced by the marketing pull of ‘Eastern promise’. Possibly titillated by Guerlain’s discontinued treasure Kadine, in 1968 Yardley launched its own Khadine, a Delacroix floral elixir of roses, silks and perfumed pools.
And who was the feminine paragon around whom this scent was created, even as women’s liberation snapped at the heels of the modern woman? The kadine, the ‘Chosen One’, the Sultan’s favourite of the harim. A fragrant, fetishised fantasy. A courtesan in cologne.
What do ‘Oriental’ scents mean to you? Share your fantasies here with The Scentimentalist.