Songe d'un Bois d'Été is what happens when Guerlain does oud: an attractive, just dirty enough, comfortably exotic and spicy wood and leather blend. Songe d'un Bois d'Été has an assertive presence, a notable pedigree and an Arabian Nights charm that manages to entice without crossing the lines into Disney territory*.
The opening of Songe d'un Bois d'Été makes a spicy statement. It's all saffron and cumin, but somehow manages to avoid the worst of B.O. territory. Even the husband, a certified cuminphobe, liked it from first sniff. I think his exact comment was "Cumin. But good cumin". Yes, it is a good cumin, and there's also a wonderful laurel note that works as a bridge between the precious spices and the darker woods. These are all elements that are out of the usual Guerlain comfort zone, making the way perfumer Thierry Wasser worked them into a coherent Guerlain statement even more impressive.
The wood and oud base is the main event here, of course. The smoke is minimal as are any possible oud transgressions that can make people uncomfortable: no bitterness, burnt aftertaste, nor rubbery residue from the medicine cabinet. The wood is tinged (not steeped) in a sweet sap that isn't quite syrupy but makes the oud and cumin go down easily. The cedar note is pretty bold, but like everything else it feels upgraded and gilded while maintaining its recognizable edge.
My favorite aspect of Songe d'un Bois d'Été is the tan leather that wraps and holds all the other elements together. The leather is luxurious but not wimpy or overworked. It's a bit ragged and distressed, more of an antique scabbard than a designer handbag. This leather lived and traveled, had a conversation with some well-loved Lutens perfumes and came out better for it. I can't say that Songe d'un Bois d'Été breaks new grounds in either oud or oriental perfumery, and it might not satisfy lovers of massive statement oud (try Shams by Memo if that's what you're after). However, it's a beautiful and sexy perfume that I hope will prove to be more popular than Guerlain seem to expect from its limited distribution.
Notes: cedar, jasmine, saffron, cardamom, laurel, oud, myrrh, patchouli, leathery notes.
See more reviews of Songe d'un Bois d'Été ( Les Déserts d'Orient) on Perfume Shrine and Olfactoria's Travels.
*But I still managed to get the Genie song from Aladdin stuck in my head while writing this post.
Guerlain Songe d'un Bois d'Été (190€ 75 ml EDP) and the rest of Les Déserts d'Orient Collection are currently in very limited distribution and exclusive to Guerlain boutiques in Europe and the Middle East. Also available from Harrods.
Art: Ali-Baba by Maxfield Parrish, 1909