The release of Guerlain’s Samsara in I989 will forever be one of those utterly unforgettable perfume experiences. I remember it vividly. We had never smelled anything like it before. Nobody had. A perfume that rich; robust; strong, and eighties: its faux-oriental red canister, its ‘spiritual’ longeurs of thick, never ending sandalwood and jasmine, its shoulder-loving base tones that ate the air. This was a perfume that achieved a feat I have never quite come across since, almost a Marvel Comics-like power: the perfume, once sprayed, or even dabbed, to literally appear in the room, full-bodied and busted, dripping with lusciousness and redness, long before you ever did. You would have just emerged from your bedroom; about to come down the stairs, but before you had even put one foot forward your perfume (god what a perfume) would already be waiting for you impatiently, corporeal, present, at the front door. The whole house would smell of it: your tongue might even taste of it. This was an EVENT.
To an eighteen year old boy, enamoured with perfume, enamoured with life, and what it all might mean, this plush, bombastic bombshell of a scent was magnanimous, replete: shining with ‘exoticism’ and fulsome female sexuality, but even then before I had even left my bedroom, my hometown and experienced anything of the world I could tell that it was vulgar: really vulgar, its edges blunted and forceful despite its ostensibly Parisian credentials. Opulent, as full throttled as an opera singer; gorgeous, frightening even, but most definitely vulgar. It was that sandalwood, real Mysore sandalwood when it first came out and so much of it: as heavy as velvet curtains soaked in roses and tonka and amber, and musk: the gallery of the opera house glinting with lemons and bergamots, narcissus chandeliers dripping ylang ylang and iris: glorious, yes, but somehow still a diva-ish blockhead; an over coloured painting, pores painted and suffocated over like the femme fatale in Goldfinger, no room to breathe, an assault.
I did love it, though, and still do. I am not exactly Mr Subtle myself. And in my collection I have treasured bottles of the vintage eau de parfum and parfum, which I take out occasionally and spray just to relive, remember (but how could I forget) and reassess. The parfum is more subtle, strangely, and I like it more; less brash and trumpeting than the edp which I find tactless in its more-is-more of sandalwood, florals and citrus that are anything but seamless, harsh, even, and herein lies the rub. Despite the genial originality of Jean Paul Guerlain’s most effusive and red-blooded scent ( read Monsieur Guerlain’s comprehensive review for a fuller appreciation of its virtues), when I smell it now, I find Samsara almost maladroit and gauche in its packing in of all those ingredients at once, little calibration; each addition pushed to the max and gilded to the point of no return: I sense bony elbows sticking out like kids fighting inside a duvet, some glinting, chemical edges that make my nose wrinkle. I know that the bottles might have aged (though I don’t really think they have), but I wonder sometimes if it almost might be a case of my memory wearing rose-tinted spectacles, traversing those corridors of time back to my younger days and making Samsara seem more beautiful than it actually is.
Which brings me to Alizée.
We had had a wonderful, sunny day out in Harajuku, a couple of weeks ago, and were just wandering from Yoyogi Park to Shibuya, exploring unexplored Sunday streets on the way to Ebisu, and by chance took a wrong turning, ending up instead in one of those sleepy back alleys of Daikanyama, the trendy bijou youth quarter with its vintage clothes shops and chichi little boutiques and the highest proliferation of fashionable, avant garde hair salons per capita in the world. Yellow pots, colourful flowers, plastic doll heads perched daintily on their niche, balustraded steps, tempting passersby in for their next, modish cut; young things wandering around in their provocatively out-there fashions, supping slowly and delicately on ice creams.
Walking past, I thought I had caught perfume bottles in the entrance of one place – always a reason to snap to attention – and indeed, as we went back on ourselves, mounted the stairs and peered in, I saw to my delight that there was an entire row of perfumes by a French house I had never even heard before. Parfums Détaille. Vintage in look and vintage in smell: but good ones. One sniff told me that these were not some cheap, ersatz rubbish but the real deal: quality, well composed scents redolent of old Paris. Properly made and complex, nuanced, perfumes. Redolent, though, of other scents as well.
Shéliane (which I will have to go back and smell again) struck me as a beautifully complex and richly constructed patchouli chypre floral along the lines of Aromatics Elixir and Parure, but fresher and more elusive; Alizée, another scent placed next to it, unloved, on the shelf – I don’t imagine anyone actually ever buying these, somehow: they are the antithesis of what a jeune Daikanyama-ite would wear, probably just there for Francophilic decoration – I lifted up, smelled, and sprayed a whole load on the back of my hand and on a mass of scent strips, stuffing them in my jeans back pocket as we carried on our way to Ebisu. And quickly, as the familiarly pleasingly sharp and fresh green and citrus notes wove over, I found myself swooning, in the spring afternoon light, over the scent of erotic, living jasmine flowers flowing over old-school sandalwood and narcissus; ylang; iris, all the Samsara ingredients (this really is a copy, or to be kind, an hommage), but I have to say, better: the perfume breathing and suffusing through itself at will: the jasmine and sandalwood more successfully fused, or infused: the whole lighter; more Bohemian. Samsara as she should have been, really; how you would dream her up if you had to recreate her again: idealized.
26 responses to “MORE SAMSARA THAN SAMSARA : SAMSARA by GUERLAIN (1989) + ALIZEE by PARFUMS DETAILLE”
thank you for bringing this to my attention. I have never heard of Detaille and immediately had to see their website, they do “echantillons”….. and 30ml…. The chypre perfume you describe sounds more like me than Samsara/Alizee but as a gift for my sister so she does not have to use the reformulated synthetic Samsara… A lot of thoughts (all shopping in Paris related) twirling in my head on a rainy Sunday morning:)-
Yes yes yes this is exactly what I was hoping. That someone would need a better Samsara. Glad to be of assistance. You can take my word for it that the ones I smelled at least were decent quality (in the older label bottles…..who knows if the more modern ones we see in the pictures on the website are good as well…).
(perhaps you need my vintage, incidentally?)
I can swap it for something if you like.
If you mean vintage Samsara? Or do you mean vintage Japanese Alizee? Either way that would be for my sister. I have a Nocturnes bottle 50 ml almost full (black box with cubist square) that is wasted on me, no other way of putting it unfortunately. To that I could add some Yves Rocher coconut?
For me I would instinctively say no, they wouldn’t quite work, but just seeing those perfumes, vintage Nocturnes, and Yves Rocher Noix De Coco is quite weird for me ;truly my perfumes, those I adore, those that are in me. It is rather David Lynch. Do you love and wear both?
Firstly, I’d love to be in a room with you wearing Samsara upon Samsara. It’s a little vulgar, but also as you said, plush. Anyway it rocks my socks.
Secondly, what a delight to find a new brand that evokes the past! The other brand I know which does this is Oriza L. Legrand. I’ll have to seek some of this Detaille stuff to try.
Oh yes, Mr.
Oriza evokes it, Detaille IS it, though.
You made me discover the Yves Rocher coconut and I wear it occasionally. A fun little thing, summery but not sweet. Since there are no YR shops in Japan and lots here in case you have a shortage… and Nocturnes does not work on me, sadly, that is why at some point it will go to a more deserving skin. Again, if you have a a shortage:)-
A swap shop is ahoy I feel.
I think so too!
The thing with Nocturnes, though, is that it really does depend on how well it has kept. The more recent versions are way too sharp and synthetic, but the originals seem to deteriorate. I have one perfect bottle that I adore, but a couple of crappo ones that almost aren’t worth the trouble. If it doesn’t have the mandarin heavenly beginning over stephanotis and that vetiver vanilla ending, I am not into it either. But sure: it definitely does depend on one’s skin, as does Samsara. I can imagine it smelling unbelievably sexy on the right, booby vixen.
I think it would be more interesting on a guy, actually:)- on me it is more soapy than anything else. oh well…
Ah, Samsara, how I adore it. I wear it, but it never makes me as happy as the thought of it. I wonder why? I guess it is truly because Samsara is a larger than life creation, one which wears similarly on most people. I seem to adore the idea of it more than the reality of it.
So pleased you found Detaille. The company is actually a very old french company that was first known for their face creams. The creams were created for the founder to protect her skin while driving in a new dangled creation, the automobile; this being during the period when windshield were not much larger than a napkin and road dust could cover the face.
I am familiar with their scents, but sadly do not remember them too well. The last store in the states to carry their products was Takashimaya when it was open in NYC. Now I would have to be back in France to smell them. I will say, the scents are very well constructed and worth a gander.
So happy you chanced upon them and shared your fondness for Alizèe.
Samsara is my favourite perfume. I have others that I really like but Samsara ticks all the boxes for me. I am always looking for a perfume that will surpass it but none can be found. Maybe Chamade but maybe not as well. Whenever i wear Samsara people ask what it is. If I wear Mitsouko no one says a word..
Check out Alizee as well. It would be like wearing something similar to Samsara but looser and more free-flowing. No need to wear Mitsouko if it doesn’t suit you….that one can smell so DOWDY and WRONG on the person it is not intended for.
I dont think I will find Alizee or Parfums Detaille in New Zealand unfortunately. I have looked and cant find anything about either. You are right about Mitsouko being dowdy on the wrong person!!
God yes. But on Alizee, if Samsara is already perfect I wouldn’t bother.
Next time you are in Paris……….
Reblogged this on The Black Narcissus.
Ah, speaking of Samsara! I remember when it came out, when I was in my early thirties. Being a fan of Guerlain, I assumed I would love it. But no. It was too, too much. It was one of those fragrances that wore me rather than the other way around. I kept going back to it, trying to love it, but it was so aggressive, sweet, thick and to me, almost claustrophobic. I never did buy a bottle. (To put things in perspective, at that time I was wearing massive quantities of Obsession. Yeah, I know. Yikes.)
Recently, I found a vintage bottle of the EdT. It’s lovely, chic, nuanced, astonishingly polite. Part of it must be the age of it — the loss of stuffing — and part of it is the fact that it’s Samsara’s drier, more angular (relatively speaking) formulation. I’m enjoying it very much. (After finding it, I foolishly ordered a bottle of the current Samsara EdT, but it clearly hasn’t faired well in the reformulation.)
Omg, fared. Senior’s moment.
I have had a similar experience with the edt and also kind of love it. As for Obsession : yikes? Possibly my all time favourite on a woman.
At the time, there wasn’t anything remotely like it. Now it smells like a bit of a cliché and I’d feel like I was in a permanent time warp, the same one that had shoulder pads, if I wore it seriously again, but I’d still love to smell the old stuff. And of course the current Obsession is nothing like it. Man oh man, back then it was NARCOTIC.
It truly was.
By the way, this Alizee really is worth your time if you ever come across this perfume house. I was glad you knew what I meant about the claustrophobia of Samsara – this remake has the same template but is just more ethereal and lovely.
I will keep my eyes peeled!
I have recently encountered the transparent bottles of EDP and EDT, does these differ from the ruby bottles? The newer ones give mo so much headache. I really wanted to love it so I wanted to ask if you think the vintage is substantially different.