Samsara is a perfume but also a turning point for French house Guerlain that marked a quiet but fateful transition from lonely perfume making in a private perfumist lab to unison cooperation with marketing and global markets experts in 1989. It all started in the 1980s when oriental perfumes dominated the market. Those were the times when perfume wasn’t just a means of seduction but also a way to intoxicate senses with Opium, Poison and Obsession leading the way. This trio fantastico dominated the world market, North America especially and Guerlain’s efforts, despite genius creations like Nahema perfume, to conquer world market were in vain. Something had to be done.

Jean Paul Guerlain, the last pater familias of the Guerlain family said in one interview that he found the inspiration for Samsara perfume in a beloved English girl. He wanted to give her the perfume that would be hers only, that will embody her inner world and unique sensuality. Her favorite scent notes were jasmine and sandalwood and those notes are in the heart of Samsara. Each Guerlain’s perfume is a love poem to a woman and for the Lady of Samsara, Jean Paul Guerlain went all the way to India to find the best sandalwood and jasmine that was used exclusively in religious ceremonies. When he returned to Paris, he spent two years working intensively on a formula before Samsara saw the light of day.

Originally named Delicia, Samsara got its name in collaboration with Guerlain marketing team that wanted to give a perfume equivalent to the new spirituality and Orient fascinations of Parisians of those times. The name that marks the constant circle of life and death and the bottle of Chinese red decorated around the edges like a Khmer dancer were the ideal basis for a perfume based on the harmony of milky, creamy woody sandalwood and opulent jasmine, so characteristic of the mystical world of Asia.

I’m not sure Samsara is the right name for this perfume. I would suggest Salome. Biblical Salome, the girl of deadly beauty and diabolical sensuality over whom John the Baptist lost his head. Like Salome, the beauty of Samsara is cruel and uncompromised. Or so it seems at the beginning. The opening is sharp like the sword and citrusy, but one can feel the complex composition behind it. It resembles Opium by Yves Saint Laurent. Uncaged beauty. At times spicy, then fresh, then powdery floral, then soapy and woody. The only constant is this perfume is fun and unmatchable intrigue for the sense of smell. My nose can detect a certain chanelesque quality like Egoiste, Egoiste Platinum and Antheus because with these perfumes, more than any others, you can notice the unipolarity of a good taste that is not determined by sex, race or culture. Samsara smells good for anyone and dare I say on anyone. Just when you think this perfume gave all it could, there is a surprising transformaton into the choir of cherry, vanilla and woody notes that anticipates La Petit Robe Noire collections and fills you up with sinful self-indulgence. Who could judge egoism and self-love when they smell this good?

In time, Samsara was reformulated, just like any other perfume and was probably affected the most by the lack of sandalwood because almost 30 percent of the perfume is made out of this precious and sadly devastated material. Although, that shouldn’t worry us because Guerlain always took care of the nature and the quality of the materials it put in their perfumes, so the heir of Jean Paul Guerlain, the phenomenal Thierry Wasser planted a sandalwood plantation in Shri Lanka making sure that one of Guerlain’s trademarks, the creamy sandalwood still runs in the bloodstream of all Guerlain classics.

[Fragrance notes] top notes: bergamot, lemon, peach; middle notes: jasmine, ylang-ylang, narcissus; base notes: sandalwood, iris root, vanilla, tonka beans.

[Fragrance group] oriental woody.

Perfume creator Jean Paul Guerlain.

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