Thursday, March 13, 2014

Guerlain- Samsara (Vintage Perfume)


Samsara, launched in 1989, is considered today as the last of the classic Guerlain perfumes. The 1990s, in general, weren't a good decade for Guerlain. LVMH started buying stake in 1994, and the only major releases were the masculine Heritage (1992) and the now discontinued Attrape Coeur (1999), and the decade ended with the first bunch* of the Aqua Allegoria perfumes, which should tell you all that you need to know about what happened to Guerlain. But back in 1989 and the early 90s I didn't like Samsara. I didn't even appreciate it. Someone I knew back then and wasn't exactly a model of class and elegance wore it as her signature scent, and the original advertising campaign (above) somehow rubbed me the wrong way. Don't ask me why. It's a quarter of a century later and I have absolutely no idea why my 19 year old self who still wore most of her high school clothes and didn't leave the house without applying four spritzes of Paloma Picasso, thought this Guerlain ad lacked refinement.

It took me a couple of decades to discover that the massive jasmine perfume I remembered as a brain-piercing nuclear mushroom was actually a cuddly yet luscious beauty. Part of my problem with Samsara has always been the jasmine. It's still not the first note I will list when I finally have a bespoke perfume made for me, but I've learned to enjoy it when sweetened and vanillified, as well as in the company of rounder notes and creamy flowers, especially ylang-ylang. Samsara, indeed, opens as a round and slightly buttered fruit. Some sources list peach,  and I wholeheartedly agree, though it's absent from the one below which comes from the 1997 Perfume Handbook (Second Edition) by Nigel Groom. The very fleshy peach is probably another one of the elements that made me dislike Samsara for so many years.

The fruity, fleshy beginning of Samsara leads it into a golden early afternoon of leisure and luxuries. It is mostly sandalwood, over a recognizable vanilla-tonka Guerlain base, a true oriental, even if it feels much heavier than the smoky-animalic base of Shalimar. Samsara is all about the sandalwood, which is why bottles from the last several years smell so different than what we call "vintage". The original had a hefty percentage of real Mysore sandalwood, an ingredient that is no longer available due to over-harvesting. At its best, Samsara is plush and almost comforting in its soft bear hug. Yes, it verges on larger-than-life, especially when you employ 1980s spraying techniques (spritz a lot, and then some more), but why not live a little?

It seems like there were several iterations of Samsara reformulations, and they also vary by concentrations. I've smelled some that were particularly shrill and harsh, but rumor has it that the newest batches on the shelves are improved. I haven't tested this theory, so I can't confirm.

Notes: sandalwood, jasmine, ylang-ylang,  rose, narcissus, violet, orris, amber, vanilla, tonka bean.


*to be fair, these were the best of the Aqua Allegoria range, all but one now discontinued.

12 comments:

  1. I have recently rediscovered a bought-new-now-vintage bottle of Samsara on my shelf and I have been blown away by how incredible it is. It has rocketed to the very top of list of favorite perfumes of all time.

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  2. I sampled this a couple of years ago, and I loved the scent, but it overpowered me. In fact, I think I must have spilled a drop on the carpet because it also overpowered my bedroom for a few days after I sampled it! Nevertheless, I'm tempted to find some of that new batch and see if it's more wearable now.

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  3. I remember wearing this frequently when it was first released, just prior to the popularity of 'clean' scents. It's olush velvety feel was potent and enveloping. Much like a panther in a velvet blanket.
    I fell in love at first sniff. I'm fortunate to have a bottle of the vintage stuff-the sandalwood is just stellar.

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  4. I'm a longtime reader/lurker, but I've got to come out of hiding to say what a great review of one of my favorite Guerlains! Like you, it took me several years to appreciate this beauty (did it improve in relation to the modern aroma-chemical laden fragrances?), but I now have three vintage bottles stashed away: two EdPs and one extrait. The extrait actually goes on oily from all of the real sandalwood! Thanks for reviewing!

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  5. I wore my vintage extrait yesterday. Love this one but I really have to be in the mood for it.

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  6. I actually hated Samsara when it was launched! Zero appreciation. Somewhere along the way I fell hard for jasmine & sandalwood, AND Guerlain, and it became perfect. My favourites are pre-97 eau de toilette, and parfum. The edt is sheer yet rich, and the parfum is like buttah and wears close to the skin. I could almost drink it.

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  7. Sandalwood is one of those notes I love beyond reason, would write sonnets to if I lived in another century, so when Samsara came out, I immediately got two bottles of the extrait. The sandalwood in it really was spectacular, but, for some reason I can't fully explain, although I definitely loved it, I never came to feel life would be incomplete if I didn't stockpile it. I finally finished off the last of the second bottle of extrait last year and after reading your review, am having a renewed craving for it and think I'm going to have to try out the new version of the extrait (the best for the sandalwood, or at least it was in the past) or maybe start to hunt down a very old vintage bottle on etsy or one of the auction sites. And can I just say how strange it seems to me that I just wrote "very old vintage" about a perfume released when I was in my late 20s? Sigh.
    Anna

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  8. Jasmine & Sandalwood is the only reminder left in my memory. I must say they are unique with their own merit.

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  9. Sorry. I still hate it.

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  10. One of the most sensual & exotic smells I've ever found in a bottle...

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  11. Isn't that Yasmin LeBom? This was clearly marketed to older women and not the 19-year-old I was at the time. I'd love to smell it now.

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  12. I have been looking for the vintage version..cant seem to find it..

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