I've been living with Tonka Impériale for nearly a year now, almost since Guerlain launched it as their newest perfume in L'Art et la Matière series. I guess I didn't feel like reviewing it since just about everyone else did, and it looks like perfume lovers who also enjoy orientals and in particular the Guerlain way of churning them simply love this well-composed, slightly boozy gourmand. Basically, it's sweet but not too much, complex enough so it doesn't bore us, pays enough homage to the classic Guerlinade without being redundant or too literal in this "back to basics" approach.
It's very obvious that Thierry Wasser, Guerlain's house perfumer, has a real respect to the house's tradition. And to its loyal fans and customers who deserve better than Idylle. I love wearing Tonka Imperiale on all its honeyed tobacco, incense, almond cookies and, of course, vanilla-tonka base. This perfume is softer and more subtle than the list of notes suggests. As L'Heure Bleue wearers can tell everyone, a pastry accord doesn't need to smell like Jessica Simpson. It should smell like Paris, and Tonka Imperiale has that French thing going for it while still offering snuggly comforts.
The tobacco, hay and vague incense-woodiness (I get both more in the middle before it dries down into vanilla) keep Tonka Impériale from getting too sweet and too obvious. Instead, it's warm, sexy and has just enough sillage to make a great date night perfume. It also has all the addictive qualities that make a signature scent. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that some less promiscuous oriental fans are adopting this perfume as their one and only. In another life or a parallel universe it could have been such a candidate for me. As things go in the real world I'm just happy to have it as part of my rotation.
Tonka Impériale ($235, 75ml EDP) is available from Guerlain boutiques around the world (those that stock the L’Art et la Matière series), Saks flagship in NYC, Bergdorf Goodman and online at neimanmarcus.com (look for the fragrance trunk show category). As always, The Posh Peasant and The Perfumed Court sell samples and decants of various sizes, so please don't buy blind.
Photo of Lee Miller by George Hoyningen-Huene