The use of the word Oriental in perfumery dates back to mid 1920's in France with Guerlain's perfume ‘SHALIMAR’.
'SHALIMAR’ was inspired by the love story between Mumtaz and the Emperor Shah Jahan that took place in the Shalimar garden in Pakistan. Guerlain used the word ‘Oriental’ to market this perfume.
The term ‘Oriental’ was adopted by the perfume world in the late 1920’s as a categorisation of perfumes with woody, spicy, musky warm notes, such as vanilla, rum, cinnamon, sandalwood & saffron.
‘Oriental’ fragrances are based on a construct of what Europeans perceived ‘the East’ to be in the 1920’s; sensual, exotic & fetishised. Many also believe the word to be an outdated & derogatory term for people of east Asian descent.
"No other industry — not wine, not chocolate, not beer, not tea, not coffee — nobody else uses this term, It's basically a fake marketing word."
The categorisation also attempts to encapsulate the fragrance of vast region which includes over 50 countries, from the Middle East and North Africa to South Asia, each with incredibly different cultures, natural resources and fragrance history. This devalues the influential impact of these unique locations on the perfume world and is a direct form of “othering”.
The notes frequently featured in perfumes categorised as ‘oriental’ come from all corners of the world. Raw vanilla likely originates from Mexico, many spices come from India, and various resins and saps from parts of North Africa. To group these fragrances together by suggesting they have a regional connection is inaccurate.
We think Sali Hughes, a broadcaster, journalist and author summed it up perfectly in one of her fragrance reviews on instagram:
“However much you love perfume, appreciate it and want to protect its heritage, it is only perfume. It is not important that you use a certain word that is classically accurate, because we can do what we like with the language around perfumery. It is much less important that we use those terms than it is to somebody who has spent their entire lives on the receiving end of that word when used as a racial slur. It’s a word that has hurt people and caused pain to people for centuries. Perfume is meant to be a joy, and I don’t want to offend anyone when I’m meant to be describing a lovely thing we should all feel a part of. We shouldn’t alienate a group of people because we insist on using archaic language that has long since been associated with negativity and racism.”
We are excited to see a shift in the fragrance industry as many brands & fragrance houses make this pledge to evolve, including ‘Fragrances of World’ the largest & most referenced guide to perfume classification.
While Oriental is still an “official” classification in the perfume world, Maison Blanche believes it is outdated, unnecessary & offensive. Instead, you will find us using terms like amberesque, heady & spiced to describe fragrance once classified as ‘oriental’.