The title of this post refers to the common note in Chanel Bois des Iles and Guerlain Samsara. They share a creamy, dreamy and delectable sandalwood note that is front and centre in both– they give me a feeling of calm inner peace, as one might expect from sandalwood incense in a temple. I think the 80s French ad for Samsara says it all. Simply gorgeous.
Chanel Bois des Iles was first released by the designer in 1926 and is now included in their Exclusif Collection of Rue Cambon fragrances. It is only available at Chanel Boutiques, and only in the spectacular 200ml bottle in an eau de toilette concentration or in the parfum version in a 30ml bottle. According to Bois de Jasmin, the perfumer Ernest Beaux was inspired to create Bois des Iles by an opera by Tchaikovsky, The Queen Of Spades, based on a short story by Aleksandr Pushkin- a heartbreaking romantic tragedy of love and obsession. Heavy stuff, no? I love a perfume with a story and this perfume is so beautiful, I can close my eyes and feel my heart break when I wear it. Really. Bois des Iles is centered around one of the most beautiful sandalwood notes I have ever sniffed. Sandalwood is an endangered species so this extract has become rare and incredibly expensive and Bois des Iles manages to take the sandalwood and make it dreamy and transparent, like a dream you keep trying to remember.
Chanel has an incredible feature in some of it’s boutiques- a table where you can sit down and smell each of the raw materials used in their perfumes in it’s raw form. My dear friend Dane took me to this perfume mecca…..OMG this was a religious experience for me and when they gave us the sandalwood to sniff we wanted to grab it and bolt. But I digress. Chanel’s website lists the notes of Bois des Iles as “an accord of Sandalwood and Ylang-Ylang spirals in a base of Tonka Bean and Bourbon Vanilla, with heady, enchanting notes of Sicilian Mandarin and Calabrian Bergamot.” There is also the aldehydic tingle that you find in Chanel No5 which you smell immediately after applying. Fizzy and breezy, it brings out the florals right off the top- but not overly sweet. More like a Champagne fiz- I love it. Chanel No5 is gorgeous but somehow didn’t suit me. Bois des Iles makes me think that someone extracted the sandalwood out of No5 and served it up on aldehydes, ylang ylang with the tonka and vanilla adding that creamy sensation to the sandalwood. Ahhhh, perfection. The sandalwood manages to be dry but not austere, as I find it can be in some masculine scents. That said, a man could easily pull off wearing Bois des Iles as to my mind it is exactly what Coco Chanel embodies- a perfume that is as easy for a man to wear as it is easy for a woman to wear pants. This is no girly fluffy cotton candy perfume, but it manages to mingle with warm skin so perfectly that it does become smolderingly sexy.
This is one of the perfumes I wear when I can’t choose one from my wardrobe. It is always perfect, and wears close to the body so I don’t leave clouds of sillage behind me when I leave a room. It is timeless, even my 14 year old will inhale deeply and ask me which perfume I am wearing because I smell sooo good. If it gets me an extra hug, well that is a bonus.
So now to the bombastic sandalwood, Guerlain Samsara. There are two stories about the origin of this perfume which was released in 1985. The “official” story from Guerlain tells us that Jean-Paul Guerlain sought inspiration in China and Tibet to create Samsara, “Samsara is a Sanskrit word that has its roots in Hinduism. It signifies the cycle of birth and rebirth, the perpetual voyage from one existence to the next, the wheel of life that keeps on turning. Samsara is an invitation to serenity and harmony, with oneself and with the world. It is a voyage between East and West, Orient and Occident, an homage to the woman who is ever in search of serenity.” How fitting that sandalwood would figure in this scent- again images of temples, incense, prayer and meditation come to mind when one gets a whiff of sandalwood. The second less interesting story is that it was 1985, an era of power scents and Samsara was created to get in on this action. Opium, Obsession and Chanel Coco were hot selling heavy orientals in a big 80s way, and Guerlain did a perfect job creating a contender with Samsara. It packs a one-two punch and is denser in feel than Bois des Iles.
Back to bombastic. The notes from Guerlain speak of “a spellbinding predominance of jasmine. Rose, narcissus and ylang-ylang embellish the fragrance, the better to unite it with the radiant and generous warmth of sandalwood. Lastly, iris, Tonka bean and vanilla render this remarkable fragrance sublime”. I totally agree. There is the classic Guerlain base, commonly known as “Guerlinade” that most (not all) of the classic Guerlains have in common. This is a composition of several perfume notes but notably jasmine, iris, tonka and vanilla. I could drink this it is so divine- it makes you want to lean in and devour the wearer. So, take the Guerlinade, amp up the jasmine to almost obscene levels, then add a combination of pure and synthetic sandalwood at top volume and somehow the sandalwood grounds the jasmine and the jasmine lightens the sandalwood. A perfect and magical combination.
As with many perfumes today, there are different vintages of Samsara, the earlier ones containing more pure sandalwood. There is parfum (purest concentration of perfume), eau de parfum (more alchohol and not as concentrated than parfum) and eau de toilette (most common and less concentrated than eau de parfum and parfum) available in the Samsara line. I have the “vintage” (pre 1990) parfum and eau de toilette as I find the eau de parfum to be the 80s killer BIG PERFUME, but your mileage may vary. They are all powerful in that 80s sense but it’s all in the application. I lightly mist the eau de toilette with divine results. A few dabs of the parfum are intoxicating, the jasmine mingling with the sandalwood in a magical dance that teases forth from the skin. I often dab some on at bedtime (I never get into bed without perfume) and in the morning I can still smell it on my wrists.
Whereas the Bois des Iles is perfect anytime, anywhere, I tend to reserve Samsara for cooler weather. Bois des Iles has a transparency that allows it to adapt from season to season, whereas Samsara’s density makes it work so well in fall and winter. I look forward to wearing both this fall- they both smell wonderful wafting up from a pashmina or sweater. What are your favourite fall sweater scents?