Perfumer Pierre Guillaume.
The name fits. From the very opening Arabian Horse creates a setting that evokes equestrian affairs. It smells like farms, barns and steeplechases. The topnotes are strong and urgent, but the stables-and-tack mis-en-scène is just exposition and dramatic build-up. The heartnotes are the reveal. The pacing of the perfume reminds me of the actual experience of approaching a horse. At a distance I think what sublime animals horses are. Then, each time, as I get close I’m taken aback. Fuck, they’re huge. Same with Arabian Horse. As the perfume sweeps into the heart, there you are with the horse and, fuck, it’s huge.
The waxy animalic sweetness is offset by a bitter green-tinged floral that gives a raunchy touch. Narcissus flowers are earthy and have a hay-like aroma. Narcissus absolute (I smelled it just once) is even more fecund than the flower. It smells of hay, yes, but it also smells of horseshit, not a bad scent by any means. Think of horseshit as filtered hay. Narcissus is one of those perfectly balanced, good-with-the-bad materials. It also has one of the most animalic facets you’ll find in a botanical, which lends a credulity to the perfume’s image. Still, it’s only one part of the picture. The thickly layered musks have a trippy, arpeggiated circus-calliope feel. Together with the narcissus they creates an aggresive tone, balanced but mobile. More suspended or poised than settled.
The horse angle is brilliant. The scents of leather and wood play with an equestrian-lifestyle fantasy. Polished saddles and stirrups, form fitted johdpurs that sound a crisp crack when struck by a crop. It’s the subdued kink that I imagine Guerlain want you to long for every time you see an Habit Rouge ad. If you’re into an equestrian fantasy scene, this is the scentscape of your kink. Down on all fours with bridle and bit, mucking out the stables. Catherine the Great would have dug this stuff. But the perfume can be taken in another way. For those of us too effete to have such vivid drama, Arabian Horse is also a well-layered woody-floral chypre with a solid dose of leather. It even has a background whiff of the flotsam found at the bottom of a purse. Arabian Horse hits the same spot for me as Jean Kerleo’s brilliant 1000 for Jean Patou–tightly composed yet animalic.
I didn’t follow the release of Guillaume’s remixed perfumes * and when I first smelled Arabian Horse (3.1) I didn’t know it was a reworking of Cuir Venenum, one of my favorite perfumes by Guillaume. Both perfumes create atypical leather notes and use them to build imagistic, suggestive perfumes. They don’t so much smell alike as pursue their compositional goals similarly.
* Cozé Verde 2.1
Le Musc et La Peau 4.1
Vetiver Matale 6.1
Grand Siècle Intense 7.1
Bouquet Massai 10.1
Indian Wood 11.1
(Image, Empress Catherine II before the mirror, 1779 by Vigilius Erichsen)
(sample from LuckyScent)