Originally Posted by Concord
The term oriental was first being used in the early 20th century for perfumes like Shalimar (considered the archetypal oriental). At that time the orient was very much in fashion and was concidered mysterious, seductive, dangerous and forbidden. Oriental fragrances are heavy in the basenotes with spices, balsams, vanilla and animal notes. These perfumes are sweet and heady and the anti-thesis to sporty and fresh fragrances. Gourmand fragrances usually fall under the oriental family as well.
Nowadays most of us are more aware of the actual smells of the orient, so it's no surprise that you are confused by the term. A hundred years ago people dreamed about the orient, nowadays we often experience it ourselves.
I second this entirely.
A trivial detail comes to mind, perhaps it's worth sharing. The Western notion of "The Orient" as a place of Mystery can also be found in the world of theater in the 1910s and 1920s. In Vaudeville performances, magicians were often dressed up in colorful "Asian" tunics, with matching makeup and hairdo. In those days, many famous (Western) performers built their acts around the Oriental concept. Some entertainers took their job very seriously: Chung Ling Soo (1861-1918), known for his world-famous bullet catching trick, died on stage in London during a performance (that's right, the famous bullet catching trick). As doctors tried to rescue him, they noticed his chest was much whiter than the rest of his body. Until then, people simply assumed the man was Chinese. He wore his make-up 24/7; wherever he set foot, he was always escorted by an interpreter. His real name was William Ellsworth Robinson.
Just another illustration of the popularity the Oriental theme in the early 20th century.