Do you prefer your orientals to be “stonking?”


Luca Turin has used the phrase “stonking oriental” to describe some scents. This has reminded me of the opinion some people I’ve known have had about certain types of architecture in Asia. That is, they view it as “over the top,” something that should be relegated to an amusement park, for example. Google tells us that stonking is an adjective “used to emphasize something remarkable, exciting, or very large.” Thus, LT’s phrase may not be as precise as we’d like but I think he means it in the sense of being especially large. So, the obvious question is, large in what way?

There has been “debate” on Basenotes.net and other sites about what should be classified as an “oriental” scent. My thought is that it has to include something resinous (amber may be most common but dry, incense/sandalwood notes get the job done too), some sweetness, and some sort of spice note. Too much sweetness may move it into the gourmand category, or render it a “gourmandiental.” Other notes can be added, but if there aren’t resinous, sweet, and spicy facets, it’s not an oriental. You may disagree, of course, but I can only speak to what makes sense to me at this point. One could argue that oriental scents are “stonking” relative to almost all others, but it can still be the case that “stonking orientals” are more resinous, sweet (without coming across as edible), and/or spicy.

I’d argue that any orientals should not be any kind of “hybrid,” such as a scent that begins as a fougere but has an oriental base. Why not call it a “fougeriental” instead? It’s also true that perceptions change, so that a mild oriental of the 1980s would not be considered a stonking one. Putting these possibilities aside, it may make more sense to talk about what’s not a stonking oriental, which is the thought I had when I wore Kenzo’s Jungle Homme the other day. The description of it at Fragrantica.com includes the following:

This is a spicy, masculine fragrance with woody and citrusy notes.The notes of maté and sweet lime are followed by accord of nutmeg and ambrette seeds. Cedar makes it more sensual and warm.

Jungle is a bit sweeter than I usually prefer, and the citrus is stronger than what one might expect for an oriental scent, but the dry wood provides a kind of resinous quality. However, there is no syrupy type of amber quality to it, as is true for perhaps most oriental scents. LT called Cinnabar and Opium (the one marketed to women) stonking orientals, though he may have said this about others as well. I haven’t tried Cinnabar, but the spice note is very strong in vintage Opium (I’ve tried the EdT). I have tried vintage Tabu, vintage Rumba, vintage Diva, vintage Obsession (both), and quite a few other orientals, old and new.

My general view is that one can wear any scent if it is applied in the appropriate way. The main issue for me is usually the difference between the opening and the drydown. If it is too wide, then the drydown may be too weak if I apply it to keep the opening from being too strong. For others, certain notes may seem out of fashion, such as “old school” patchouli (meaning that it hasn’t been domesticated in some sort of Mugler Angel/A*Men kind of way. Whatever the case, LT seems to be concerned with how “loud” a scent might be, and to my knowledge hasn’t spoken much (if at all) about reconsidering how one applies certain kinds of scents.

I wish I could offer more guidance here, but perhaps it’s a matter of what you feel comfortable with and/or what you feel comfortable subjecting others to in this context. For example, I don’t know how many “fuzzy,” sweet, powdery/musky (as in “laundry musk”), woody scents I’ve smelled on people (mostly women) as they have walked by me. They may not be stonking but I do find them at least mildly unpleasant. By contrast, on the rare occasions that someone wearing what seems like what LT would call a stonking oriental, I’ve experienced no issues. With these kinds of claims, I think the author should make clear whether he or she is referring to how others may perceive you or how you will be affected by the scent. I prefer scents to be described in terms of naturalness, richness, depth, dynamism, balance, etc., and of course this is only related to the enjoyment the wearer might experience. How others will perceive you if you wear certain scents is definitely not a major interest of mine.

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Filed under Criticizing the critics., The basics.

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