What Makes a Perfume “Oriental”?

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Also known as “amber” perfumes, Orientals are frequently described as sensual, spicy and warm. These are rich, often heavy perfume blends that can reach a high degree of complexity. How do you recognise one? It may not be so easy for the untrained nose. Besides, details such as bottle design isn’t always relevant – it can actually be misleading. You may, however, check a perfumes description for clues; if it mentions notes of vanilla, precious woods or musk you may be dealing with an oriental scent.

Orientals are divided into three subgroups: Floral, Spicy, Vanilla and Woody. When it comes to recognising orientals with greater precision, finding out more about these is essential. See below what makes them stand on their own:

The essences

The oriental fragrance family is composed of timeless scents with a rich history, prized by the greatest rulers of the past. Many of these led to intense trade and to the creation of historic routes. Every oriental perfume out there will be based on at least a few of the ingredients below:

Oudh is crafted manually from Aquilaria tree wood and has a multi-faceted aroma, depending on many factors. You may check AlShareefOudh for exquisite varieties and their fascinating stories. Oudh at its best is found in artisanal scents and luxury oud oil, meant for the most refined clientele. It is a smoked, incense-like smell of great sensuality.

Amber is the default oriental note and is made either from ambergris, initially produced by whales (as an expelled stomach secretion) and recreated in laboratories, or from botanical sources. It usually refers to a combination of vanilin and labdanum and it has more of a powdery or sweet scent, warm, sensual and animalic.

Musk is another animalic aroma, highly praised starting with the Arab and Byzantine perfume masters with a balancing and binding effect. It was harvested from male musk deer but later banned, as it became used more frequently in synthetic form. A powerful aphrodisiac, musk has been known for thousands of years and, in its original natural form, it is more expensive than gold itself.

Benzoin is a type of resin secreted by the Styrax tonkinense tree in Asia, with hints of caramel, dry and sweet, turning balsamic.

Vanilla is obtained from a tropical plant in the orchid family, sourced from islands in the Indian Ocean. It gives a gourmand feeling to the perfume, which makes it highly popular. The synthetic version tends to be rather sweet, while the original has a subtle dark, bitter nuance to it.

Preparation methods

Oriental scents, like artisanal Oudh, are created using a whole variety of methods, as there is no unique way to describe the creation of aromas in the oriental perfumery. You will thus hear of distilling, burning (for example burning rose petals), extraction with alcohol or similarly efficient substances, as well as extraction with oil. Many artisans also prefer making incense and then burning it. It is not a rule of thumb but it is often heard about how orientals are made using traditional, often ancient techniques, including those for harvesting.

The layers

Layering is an important aspect in recognising an Oriental fragrance. This is achieved not only by using several diverse aromas for a blend, but also by carefully considering their volatile nature. Thus, some ingredients may release their scent early, with the rest following at different intervals. Depending on the moment of the day, on heat etc., the wearer will distinguish different facets of the same perfume.

Orientals tend to be the perfumes that last the longest and leave wonderful silage behind, creating a mesmerising, and enveloping aura for their wearer. These have quickly taken over the world and are suitable to almost all ages.