I'll start with the bottom line: Oriental Brulant, part of Guerlain's Elixirs Charnels (Carnal Elixirs) line, smells like a guilty pleasure. Just like a not so good for you but oh so tasty sweet treat. Or a a frothy chick lit book that wouldn't expand your horizons but is still well written enough as to not completely rot your brain.
I wanted to hate the Elixirs Charnels. I don't like what's been happening to Guerlain in recent years and everything about this range (the original trio of scents and the fourth recent addition) reeks of LVMH. The marketing materials that were released with the perfumes read like a trashy romance novel (see this Perfume Posse post from last year). The pink juice in the too big bottles (2.5 oz) priced at $250, and the fact that once again, Guerlain was trying to sell us a series of super sweet and not very sophisticated juice.
The first time I sniffed the three scents I knew that neither Chypre Fatale nor Gourmand Coquin were my thing. But I liked Oriental Brulant because I'm a sucker for vanilla-tonka bean scents, and the caramelized almond pudding touch was too tempting. It reminded me of Shalimar Light, just with a sweeter opening- a juicier orange instead of the lemon meringue. Since I own a lifetime supply of Shalimar Light, I felt Oriental Brulant, while different enough, could be redundant. But I couldn't stop testing it every time I stopped at Bergdorf or Saks in NYC, and eventually started to find the more interesting facets of this odd pink creature.
It's sweet, alright, and at times fluffy. But there's that unmistakable Guerlain touch, that while isn't exactly vintage Shalimar extrait, is still intoxicating. There are hints pointing to a much darker soul, with just enough incense and wood to rescue Oriental Brulant from being utterly pastry shop fare. Despite the pink packaging it's not fruity or juvenile, and is actually quite friendly and easy to wear. If you're a fan of sweet vanilla scents that don't smell like cheap mall crap, it might be worth your time to ignore the marketing, the company and all the surrounding noise and just give the scent a chance to do its magic. Of course, then you'd risk falling in love with it, the way I did. I'm about to finish a large decant, which makes it time for a full bottle. I find myself craving Oriental Brulant quite often, which is a lot more than I can say for many releases from the last couple of years.
Oriental Brulant and the other Elixirs Charnels ($250) are in limited distribution and available from Guerlain boutiques around the world and select department stores. In NYC they can be found at Bergdorf Goodman and Saks 5th Avenue (the flagship store). Samples and decants can be purchased from The Posh Peasant and The Perfumed Court.
Photo of Rita Hayworth as Salome (1953), performing the Dance Of Seven Veils from stirredstraightup.blogspot.com.