Suzanne's Perfume Journal

Omar Sharif Pour Femme and Dr. Zhivago. Can You Blame Me?

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Until recently, I never knew that the great Egyptian actor Omar Sharif had a design house under his name which produced several fragrances in the early 1990s. My guess is that Sharif merely lent his name to these fragrances and was not creatively involved in their development, but whether he was or wasn’t hardly matters. His name is on the heartbreakingly lovely sample of perfume that I’ve been wearing—Omar Sharif Pour Femme eau de parfum (released in 1990 and now discontinued)—and as such it influences the associations that float up to me while wearing this butterfly of a scent.

Despite the many films he’s done, including Lawrence of Arabia, Omar Sharif will always be Dr. Zhivago to me. I am the incurable romantic who will always be in love with his ‘Yuri,’ and I’m going to tell you that Yuri Zhivago is wrapped up in this perfume, even though there is no olfactory trace of him within its delicate beauty. He is there for me as the tacit source of its inspiration: the missing element that gives rise and meaning to what is there. And yes, I realize I am asking much of you, dear reader, to suspend disbelief to such a degree and fly with me; but if you’re that someone whose pulse beats fast when certain elements come together, then let’s go!

Come. Picture a man, dreamy, soulful and poetic; intelligent, kind and just. A man living through the times of the Russian Revolution, World War I, and the Russian Civil War.

Then picture the two women who love him: dark-eyed, genteel Tonya, whose parents took him in and raised him when he was young and who is, therefore, his deepest knowledge of 'family' when he marries her and begins a family of his own; and beguiling Lara, daughter of a dressmaker but Yuri’s equal in terms of her passionate, sensual nature. One is his sense, the other his sensibility—together they make up two sides of the coin that is the ideal woman, because both love him in that ideal way that only happens in books and movies and the minds of the foolishly innocent. Or when circumstances force us to focus on what’s truly important and worthwhile in these brief lifetimes accorded us.

When Tonya, his wife, and Lara, his mistress, finally meet (a moment we don’t see on film but are made aware of)—under the circumstance of Yuri’s disappearance after he is abducted by Bolshevik partisans and conscripted into service as a medical officer during the Russian Civil War—these women reach some sort of understanding by which they are able to completely bypass the notion of ‘competitor’ and anticipate the needs he will have on his (uncertain) return.

We may be knee-deep in the land of fiction here, but think about this kind of understanding—and how it would feel if you could hold it in your own heart for more than a few hours; what it would taste like if it was the thing you held in your mouth to ensure your lover’s deliverance; and what it would smell like when it floated from that purest part of your mind into the air.

It’s a green and tender smell, slender, yet as spiraling and multi-tendriled as hope. It’s that delicately soapy, pealing-bell smell of orange blossom, almost heart-wrenching in its beauty, which ensures you will do everything to keep it aloft. And it’s the more lingering bouquet of jasmine, tuberose, and ylang that rises up from the ground to meet the orange blossom—the kind of sweetness that is more complex because it carries the tinge of your mortal, carnal self (and his)—its bruised beauty making you aware of the gravity of life and, in its own melancholic way, fortifying your commitment.

Bergamot, fruit notes, galbanum, orange blossom, rosewood, jasmine, narcissus, orris, rose tuberose, ylang-ylang, amber, musk, and sandalwood make up Omar Sharif Pour Femme. I would love to know what the perfumer took as his inspiration when he created this shimmering green-floral scent—aware that it would bear the name of the man who played the perennially appealing Dr. Zhivago and be marketed to hopelessly romantic women like me who are his fans.

Probably he had Julie Christie in mind, since she was the star and there is a floaty “Lara’s Theme” quality to this fragrance. (Somewhere a hill blossoms in green and gold, goes the line in the song.) Yet Geraldine Chaplin playing Tonya was every bit as lovely in her dark-eyed, fine-boned way—and the film wouldn’t be the monumental film it is without any of its three main characters. Because if Dr. Zhivago drives anything home, it’s that you can’t tell any kind of convincing love story that only involves two people, because love isn’t about possessing someone so much as it’s an act of upholding everything you find sacred and precious about another person—of keeping this fragile bubble aloft amidst life’s vying and constantly shifting currents.

And, sadly, sometimes keeping that bubble aloft means letting go of it, too, and allowing it to drift elsewhere as Tonya did.

What’s that, dear reader?

Oh, of course I know that the perfumer who created Omar Sharif Pour Femme wasn’t thinking about all of these things. Maybe he wasn’t even thinking about Dr. Zhivago. But I’m a romantic, intent on keeping my own fragile bubble afloat. And by whatever route this ethereal scent traveled, I’m glad that it took me here.

My sample of Omar Sharif Pour Femme eau de parfum was gifted to me by the generous blogger Olenska and her friend Diane. (Thank you ladies!) Olenska’s concise, accurate and very lovely review can be found here. The fragrance itself can be found at some of the perfume discount sites and on Ebay.

Image: film still of actors Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, starring as Yuri Zivago and Lara, in the 1965 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, Dr. Zhivago.

May 6, 2011: