Why did I buy a four-fifths-full 15ml vintage parfum of Guerlain’s monstrous/ gorgeous Samsara from a Fujisawa antiques shop yesterday when I know full well in my heart that I don’t even like it? Or rather, that I have a hate/love relationship which settles far more on the former but most definitely comprises some of the latter? The answer probably lies in the previous sentence: while Samsara, in its original eau de parfum, possibly the strongest and most outrageously spatially-consuming fragrance ever made by mankind – a scent you could literally smell several blocks away, that preceded a person like an ugly reputation, and yet clobbered its nasal recipient over the head with such force, such jasmine/vanilla/deep Mysore sandalwood voluptuosity, that you had, despite your rational objections, no way to withstand its laborious seductions………..is in some ways undoubtedly an outdated relic from another age. It is, though, in its original form, as in the bottle you see above, of such quality ingredients and such unmistakeability that I knew I simply had to have it in my possession. And at £19.47 (￥3000), nestled comfortably in a glass cabinet along with Japanese inro and ivory name stamps and the like, even merely as a sheer contrast to the normality of the workday, there was no way that this wasn’t getting tucked naughtily into the front zipper of my workbag.
I have written about Samsara before. This blog is essentially an almost decade-long stream of consciousness on perfume and life, and sometimes the totems of each era make a re-appearance, either in a review by themselves, or in relation to other perfumes. I occasionally enjoy these repetitions, as a story is never quite told the same way twice, and new readers bring their own unique perspectives to the table (I do remember some amusing anecdotes being exchanged, corroborating the Stephen Hawkings levels of molecule travel through known air space and time that this perfume notoriously wields like a superpower ; those unfortunates who had actually lived with a flatmate at university who would douse herself in Samsara (one dot is enough of this stuff) and had barely – clutching their mottled throats, weeping – lived to tell the tale. My own musings, smelling the desperate warmth of the perfume emanating from the bottle yesterday, were fondly of the time I first properly encountered it, when my mum brought a bottle home from the fashion establishment that she worked in at weekends in a department store and I was utterly mesmerized by its potency and yes, in a way, its alluring fabulousness (sometimes Samsara can smell rather beautiful), even if, I also could never fail to notice that it clogged up your brainwaves and filled every available nook and cranny of the house.
Another memory is going to my friend Hillary’s house. If her mother’s Samsara, apparently just sprayed somewhere upstairs in her bedroom as I rang the doorbell, hadn’t actually penetrated the door and made its way outside through the keyhole (which is kind of how I remember it), it most definitely did assault me the moment I walked in the door, even if, Mrs Evans had not as yet, taken a single step on the carpet as she made her way down the stairs to say hello. I remember us both laughing about this semi-conspiratorially, but also good-naturedly (“She does like it”), Hil told me : : after all, we were talking about perfume, and as a teenager I was already totally besotted. But why was it that, although my mother had worn some other heavy hitters in her time (Oscar De La Renta, Youth Dew, and my favourite by far, Ysatis, alongside her usually much more demure fragrances such as N⁰19 edt, Rive Gauche, Van Cleef & Arpels’ First), there was something uniquely vulgar about Samsara, even as it glinted in its obviously luxuriant – i.e overdone – ‘Parisian’ extravagance. This was, of course, due to the legendary overdose of genuine Mysore sandalwood by Jean Paul Guerlain, revolutionary at the time, which made up 30% of the formula. Sandalwood, in itself, is already an extraordinarily dense, dry, yet moist and glistening oil that eats through negativity and melancholy with full force; the essential oil – buttery, dense, rich, erotic – lasting for days on your skin. If you then pack in loads of very sweet vanilla, musk, tonka amber,etc, along with the Guerlinade, tip top quality ylang ylang (this note was particularly singing on my skin when I attempted a little last night), layers of iris and orris, violet, peach synthetics and effervescent citrus notes fizzing in the fusillades of nose-blasting pomposity, you are really talking sillage here.
The parfum, which God in his mercy has provided in a dab format (do not spray this thing!) is not as intense in many ways as the aforementioned edp, which definitely won the missile range trophy in terms of penetrating subterfuge; the extrait biding its time a little before blooming. But even a bit on the back of my hand after I came home from work filled up the room (‘blimey‘ said D); when he hugged me to say goodnight, slightly taking a couple of steps back, saying wow, you smell so Samsara-y: I replied in turn, ‘do feel free to wear some – as much as you want – tomorrow for work. “My god, he said in return, with a look of horror on his face, ‘can you imagine? It’s so…. ……… busty“.