Guerlain’s Songe d’Un Bois en Ete smells like the musky, animal, pungent aftermath of sex.
Putting sex in a perfume is notoriously difficult, because human sexuality is, by its very nature, a moving target – impossible to define with any accuracy. For the most part, therefore, it gets translated into perfume form through a number of abstractions – cumin, honey, cardamom, musk, leather notes, labdanum – all standing in to mimic the smells and secretions we produce during sex.
Some perfumes smell like the lead-up to sex, like Absolue Pour Le Soir, with its heavy honey and cumin mimicking sweaty arousal, or moments of unwashed intimacy, like Muscs Khoublai Khan, with its creamy, dark musk. Some use civet, like the vintage Bal a Versailles EDC I have, which is so suggestive of an entire ballroom full of horny dandies starting to get it on that it remains hidden in the darkest recesses of my wardrobe, waiting in vain for an appropriate occasion.
Guerlain’s Songe d’Un Bois En Ete, on the other hand, smells unapologetically like heated sex organs that have been frantically rubbing up against each other for the past hour or so. In fact, it sends out such a frank sexual message that I keep checking my bottle to see if it still reads “Guerlain”. Yep – still Guerlain alright. But if you are looking for Guerlinade, that mixture of vanilla, orris, rose, gum resins, and animal notes used by Guerlain to imprint its DNA onto each perfume in its stable – then look elsewhere. This is a dry, spicy, smoky woods-and-resins affair that burns with the sexual intensity of a thousand suns.
The genius of this perfume, though, is that it manages to suggest two very different landscapes simultaneously. The first is a vast dessert under an endless sky, and the second, a more intimate space between the bodies of two sated lovers. The expansiveness of the first landscape is one that Songe d’Un Bois En Ete shares with only one other scent that I know of – the wonderful L’Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer. In fact, both these fragrances are instant travelogues to the desert. But at some point, Songe inverts its parameters and zooms down into an incredibly intimate, carnal, human body-centered space. The confidence with which the distance between these two points of reference is crossed makes this fragrance a masterpiece.
But make no mistake – despite the sexual overtones, this is a fairly brutal, dry perfume with no sweetness or softness to blunt the impact. The opening smells simultaneously woody, rubbery, and aromatic, like a pile of oud chips and myrrh resins smoking on a barkhour burner. There is also a stonking jasmine absolute note, which smells like gasoline to my nose. The saffron and laurel give it a spicy pungency that only adds to the deep skankiness of this perfume. All of these hard, uncompromising elements conjure up an image of masculine ‘hardness’, like a Bedouin warrior cloaked in black robes from head to toe, galloping across the desert on a camel, his eyes narrowed against the harsh glare of the sun.
It’s sexy. It’s tough. It’s quite masculine. I find it quite hard to wear sometimes, although I’m not sure if it’s because of its harsh nature or because of the fact that whenever I wear it, I feel like people are looking at me, thinking, “That harlot just rolled out of her lover’s bed and didn’t bother washing”. An almost hilariously inappropriate masterpiece from a house you’d least expect to turn out something like this.