A very good friend gave me a spray sample of Guerlain Samsara in the extract (parfum) concentration some months ago. This past weekend, realizing the sample was nearly gone, I decided to wear the last dregs of it in the heat of a summery night, the first one we’ve had this year, while watching a film I love. A film which provided the perfect send-off for this perfume—not that I was consciously trying to pair the two together; it was more of an intuitive thing. Mostly, I wanted to wear my last drops of this beauty in the still thickness of night while I was winding down and could breathe in its buttery, banana-like scent without distraction.

Samsara is the scent of a certain kind of quietude: like a pregnant pause in the middle of a serious conversation, it manages to be both quiet and dense, a scent super-fatted with the creaminess of sandalwood and a tropical custard of jasmine and ylang-ylang. It vibrates at a low hum, like insects in a jungle, a constant white-noise of a scent that functions much like the white noise that helps one relax into sleep—its vibration promising what absolute silence cannot: the certitude that life continues and you will wake to be part of it again. Making it okay to close your eyes and take a respite before pressing on. Yet proving it is smarter than any white-noise machine, Samsara sides with the jungle and spells out this promise in sensual terms, ensuring that you will want to return again.

Did Jean-Paul Guerlain intuit this need for sensuality, perhaps, when he composed Samsara—its name the Sanskrit word referring to the Hindu concept of reincarnation, the cycle of birth and rebirth which all souls undergo as they seek to gain enlightenment and (after who-knows-how-many lifetimes) cease their suffering and attain nirvana?

I would like to think he did—that he was guided by some divine intelligence that said, “For those who so chafe at this notion of reincarnation, they’ll spend all of eternity spinning their wheels and getting nowhere, offer them something that will sweeten the deal, help move things along by a few lifetimes”—and that this is the reason Jean-Paul gave us a Samsara that offers up a sense of fleshly indulgence (albeit indulgence not fully awake but in a state of drowsiness) featuring thick notes of jasmine, ylang-ylang, sandalwood, rose, narcissus, tonka, iris, and vanilla.

In parfum concentration, Samsara is sandalwood-heavy, which makes for a creamy rather than woody composition, and the floral notes of jasmine and ylang-ylang have a banana-crème aroma to them. As perfume lovers know, jasmine has a number of different faces: sometimes it is honeysuckle-like and sweet; at other times it is naughty and indolic; and at still others, it is high-pitched and a little too eager to impress. Here, combined with the ylang-ylang and buffered by the sandalwood and the slightly powdery and ambery base accord, the jasmine has a fruited quality that is deep and almost liqueur-like. Without it, Samsara would be fluffy, light and too vanillic for my tastes: with it, the scent has some delicious weight.

As for the movie I watched as I wore my last precious drops?

That would be Venus (2006), of which I’ve written before and which features Peter O’Toole and Jodie Whittaker in the lead roles. O’Toole plays a man pretty much like himself: a revered actor at the end of his life, a life in which he has largely put his own pleasures first, who is very much aware that death is now staring him in the face. His body and looks have been ravaged by time, but his nimble wit, splendid voice and aristocratic bearing remain intact—and he uses these to pursue one other thing that still remains: carnal desire. In the last act of his life, he falls for an uneducated and uncouth young woman who is the grand-niece of his best friend. There would seem to be nothing redeeming or redeemable about this lowly girl, whom he nicknames Venus, and their relationship to any outsider appears unhealthy. In a very straight-up way, they trade currencies: he buys her things for the semi-sexual favors she grants him (most of them as small as kisses on the neck). Yet in the pursuit of their baser needs, they eventually achieve that state of rapport that is the only thing that matters between two people, the only thing that can banish separateness and lift us up to the next level, or at the very least, keep us from dying alone.

Like I said, the perfect send-off for the last of the Samsara. An acknowledgment of the fleshly desires that bind us to one another while we are here, that vibrate and hum even into the quietest of days, when eventually we must close our eyes and say adieu.



Guerlain Samsara extract (parfum) can be purchased from Macys.com; $192 for 0.5 oz.

Images: Bottle image is from Macys.com; movie still of Peter O'Toole in Venus is from Thecia.com



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Guerlain Samsara: Beautiful Continuum

Suzanne's Perfume Journal

May 31, 2011