digging (into) vintage: Guerlain Samsara, 1989

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Man with heartburn nausea upset stomach distress

Perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain

(caveat: I never liked Samsara. Not when it was made with sandalwood, not now.)

Perfumery lore has it that Samsara contained 30% sandalwood oil when launched. Sadly, sandalwood has effectively been removed from the perfumer’s palette, and in Samsara’s case, it’s been replaced ear-splittingly loud synthetics. Perhaps a lush, botanically derived jasmine might have been overmatched by the polysantol (the aromachemical–again, perfume lore) but it appears that a jasmine-analogue of equal volume and shrillness to the synthetic sandalwood has been employed.

With powerful aromachemicals, imbalanced accords and compositions carry greater risks. Their effects are a leveraged increase in punch, sillage, durability. If the accords made with theses strong chemicals are unappealing the negatives will be leveraged as well. Where a haphazard mix of botanicals might read as muddy, Samsara’s gear-grinding volume is horrifying.

I’ve had Samsara in vintage EDP and EDT. The EDT is a bit more manageable and the dry-down is less demanding than the EDP, but both make me uncomfortable. In the current Samsara the shriek of the polysantol combined with the vanilla gives us a new gourmand note: butterscotch vomit. It also creates a perfume sub-genre: the rancid gourmand.


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