The first modern Oriental perfume was Shalimar by Guerlain, created in 1921. It was formulated using a relatively new synthetic molecule, vanillin. Combined with labdanum and coumarin it formed the base of the perfume, along with incense and opoponax. The heart is composed of jasmine, rose and iris with lemon and lots of bergamot on top.
Shalimar caught the attention of the public at the perfect moment, when 1920's Europe was swept away by the exoticism and passion of the East. It set a lasting trend that still intrigues and excites.
Oriental perfumes are almost always built around an amber accord. There is no such thing as amber essential oil. The accord is composed of a combination of vanilla and labdanum. Other resinous notes are added for distinction, some to sweeten such as tonka bean or balsams, and some to darken and deepen like frankincense, myrrh and opoponax.
Oriental perfumes are further classified as Classical, Spicy, Woody, Soft (Incense) and Floral. Classical Oriental perfumes are dark and animalic with heady florals. Shalimar is a perfect example. Spicy Orientals have a dry, woody base with spicy top note. Woody perfumes have a luminosity characterized by sandalwood and other rich woods. Soft Orientals are darker and warmer but are less balsamic and animalic that Classical varieties. They are ethereal and elegant with mysterious notes of incense and amber. Floral Orientals combine the softness of florals with the warmth of orientals. Sweet spices mix with florals to create a sensual scent with depth and complexity.
To learn more and to create your own you can attend my Amber/Oriental Natural Perfumes class on Sunday, July 19th.