This review is for the EDP formulation. As one would expect, Samsara is very sandalwoody, lightly sweet, lightly floral, and a bit powdery. It is so soft, so feminine...I really cannot think of words sufficient to describe how sexy is this parfum. I cannot imagine men wearing this because it is so very feminine, although I am sure some probably do.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Samsara is that there is no Mysore sandalwood oil in it at all, but the synthetics used completely fool one's sense of smell. JP Guerlain created Samsara in the late 1980s, post the collapse of Mysore sandalwood after the tree had become very seriously endangered. I read that it took JP Guelain five LONG years to perfect this parfum and that his reason for creating it was to seduce a certain English woman he knew. Well, all I can say is that she must have been seduced as intended! My goodness this smells heavenly....
Honestly, this smells so heavenly, so uber feminine that you just have to try it for yourself. I apply it liberally. The projection is not huge in my opinion as it wears somewhat close to one's skin, but the projection it does have says "come hither, my love...." :) Sillage is nice, and longevity is moderate+. If I apply it at night before going to bed, I can still smell it on myself in the morning six or so hours later, albeit faintly. It lingers on my clothes and on my desk top and smells divine.
It is no secret that Guerlain is my favourite house. I love Samsara and have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who is interested in sandalwood as a dominant note. If you want to seduce a man, I think Samsara would do the trick. So soft, so indescribably feminine...try it!
Where it was Moguls and Harems that inspired the Oriental prototypes of Les Parfums de Rosine, Samsara is a neo-orientalist work that bears parallels to the phenomenon of Indian Haute Couture which emerged in the 1980s.
The style, based on a hybrid of Indian and Western forms and known as Bollywood Ballgown, was a lavishly embroidered Saree style evening dress, created in India using the latest European fashion training and technology. Guerlain, in partnership with outside perfumer Gérard Anthony created their own version of a western - oriental hybrid in 1989. They did this by applying their skills and technological expertise to traditional Indian materials and tastes - emphasising the sweet over the more stereotypical spicy notes.
Samsara uses a range of flavours found in Indian sweet shops: honey, castor sugar and Demerara, vanilla, spice, starch and milk. These sweet notes form the olfactory ground of the construction, which is offset by a synthetic sandalwood and Mysore oil blend. At first the impression is that there's too much sandal, the obviously synthetic note dominates the other more natural smelling materials; but it plays a crucial role in defining the character of the perfume, which it does in several ways. The Polysantol :
1) boosts the Mysore by giving power and edge to the accord, 2) blocks the gourmand tendency of the sweet notes, 3) bouys up a rather flabby oriental profile by linking with other lighter notes, and it 4) announces that this is not just Shalimar in a Saree.
A stable perfume structure often requires three chords working together like the base of a triangle. In Samsara, along with the sweets and the sandal, the third corner is staked out by a mild rose - jasmin floralesque. This tackles the jagged peak of sandalwood that rises from the pale sugary plain by deploying a large dose of peach C14. It also sustains the excellent bergamot found in the head, and introduces dark spicy tones of opoponax. The aim of the heart accord is to modify the extremes of synthetic sandalwood and the surdose of sweets to bring them into harmony. Not an easy task. Samsara is nothing if not typical of its time, with an eighties loudness and intensity that verges on the brash or even, at times vulgar.
Benjoin has an odour suppressing quality, and when a formula such as this vanillic variation of the oriental is based on a large dose of it, the superstructure must be powerful enough to overcome this technical problem. Consequently the initial stages of Samsara's development are a struggle between vibrant high yield accords and the introverted Benjoin. This conflict is, I believe, the reason for the at times strident character of the juice.
A lot of settling is required for this three chord stand off to find its stasis and it takes a couple of hours for the profile to reach maturity; but when it does, it becomes a pale, well constructed peachy, sweet milky, bitter rose, sandalwood spicy oriental, all resting on a powdery vanillic base of Benjoin and labdanum.
Samsara is a perfume of challenges; the challenge of how to re-present a new Oriental relating to what was happening in the fashion world of Bombay. The challenge of using a vanillic base for an oriental with the associated technical problems of Benjoin. Not least the olfactory challenge of trying to wear this at times difficult perfume. And finally, the complex in-house challenges posed by this princess pretender to Shalimar's crown.
The 1995 vintage juice under review here draws on the traditional Indian forms of sweet making, sandalwood and Attar of rose, to which it adds Western synthetics, French savoir faire and a touch of Guerlainade to create a renewed Oriental.
I had the vintage EDT and adored it. Sold it to purchase the vintage EDP, and find it another level of heaven.
Samsara is the wonderful exploration of an old attic, with relics of long-ago past times, alluding to a glamour of everyday sophistication. It is the weaving in and out of the piles of interesting items, finding new things to observe and immerse oneself in, while also being aware of the current time.
It is said that this scent contains one of the highest concentrations of Mysore sandalwood in any commercial perfume. If the EDT is the attic itself, the EDP is the very unique and exciting closet found within a closet that holds the secret of the creamiest sandalwood to be found this side of the 1990's.
Siddhartha and Odysseus...
My heart lies now like tattered sails in windmills lorn.
Sky, vent your sighs and when the pulse departs the vein,
it will be you for whom I'll live dead and reborn.
Vapour and rain, river and sea...vapour again...
And I'll worship you every night. And I'll kiss your violet lips every morning. And I'll be a pilgrim in your body's temple. And I'll trace the contours of your amber skin with my fingertips. And I'll wash your face with my tears. And I'll treasure every moment of your sandalwood breath. And I'll cherish your image wearing nothing but a golden cincture and a golden anadem to give substance to your diaphanous form.
For you are my golden shackles.
For you are the blood of my dreams.
Can you see me Nausicaa?
Can you feel me Calypso?
Can you touch me Penelope?
Can you smell me Circe?
Can you hear me Cassandra?
I always believed in you...
This is what Shambhala must smell like (provided there is a Guerlain boutique on the premises). This is one of the great classics of the House of Guerlain, as important as Shalimar, Mitsouko, et al. Perhaps the last truly great perfume to come from that house and was at once completely new and original yet classically Guerlain at the same time. Being a Guerlain, of course there is vanilla, benzoin, tonka bean and orris, with an amazing jasmine note dead in the center of things. However, it is the heady overdose of Mysore sandalwood that makes this the beauty that it is. I first bought it for my wife, then fiancee, from a duty free shop when it first came out and I have been keeping her in it ever since. Some call this an overblown powerhouse scent typical of the late 80s, but this is strong, not just because it can be (Poison, I am looking at you) but because the very heavens themselves cannot contain all of the wonderful notes that make up Samsara. The marketing and everything about the creative concept is perfectly in sync with the scent itself, aligned with its parent, the greatest French perfume house of all time, and the era in which it was born.
30th June, 2015 (last edited: 02nd July, 2016)