French perfume and cosmetics brand Guerlain has a rich and storied history in the world of perfumery. They’re known for innovative perfumes that have rightly come to be considered classics, such as Jicky, Shalimar, Mitsouko, Vetiver, Habit Rouge, and Samsara.
Today, they’re still kicking, releasing amazing blend after amazing blend, all with a touch of their signature Guerlinade, a warm mix of florals and vanilla. For this, Guerlain has more than earned its place on any perfume lovers’ radar.
I myself currently own 6 Guerlain fragrances, have had 9 total in my time as a fragrance collector, and probably smelled over 20. Of all of the Guerlains I’ve smelled, though, my favorite by far remains Bois d’Arménie, the subject of this review.
Guerlain’s Bois d’Arménie, part of the L’Art et la Matière collection, is a beautiful woody amber incense fragrance first released in 2006. A luxurious, almost royal perfume, Bois d’Arménie defies easy description. Although it offers relatively low value for money and moderate performance, it is a perfume of the highest quality and caliber.
Want to know more? Let’s take a closer look at Guerlain’s Bois d’Arménie.
Top Notes: incense, iris, pink pepper
Middle Notes: benzoin, guaiac wood, coriander
Base Notes: copahu balm, patchouli, white musk
Unfortunately it is going to be very difficult for me to remain objective in this review. Bois d’Arménie is one of my favorite fragrances of all time; I have been absolutely smitten since first sniff. So be prepared for a bit of gushing.
Bois d’Arménie, which translates to “Armenian Woods”, was inspired by the forests and mountains of the Armenian wilderness. It was also heavily inspired by a typical French incense and household deodorizer known as papier d’Arménie (“Armenian paper”) which is basically strips of paper that have been soaked in benzoin resin, a kind of tree resin that has a sweet, vanillic scent.
And yes, Bois d’Arménie has a sweet, vanillic scent. But it is damnably difficult to actually describe.
There is a list of notes with a top, middle, and base, sure. I can pick up on benzoin, and something a little bit balmy and resinous, which I assume is the copahu balm. There might be a slight touch of guaiac wood, and a smidgen of iris, and a faint whisper of incense. But beyond that, it’s hard to say how this smells in terms of notes and ingredients.
Bois d’Arménie is a master class in perfume blending. All of the edges are smoothed away, all of the characteristic, tell-tale signs of patchouli or incense or pink pepper sanded off and folded into this glistening mix, the texture of cloth-of-gold.
This perfume is an experience, not something that is meant to be dissected, or slapped with a name like “Vanilla Oud” or “Orange and Musk”. It does not merely say what’s in the bottle on the tin. If it had been named “Benzoin Encens” or “Bois Benzoin” or “Bois d’Encens”, I think that the effect of this fragrance would have been diminished. It does not set out to make you smell incense and woods, but create an atmosphere, a mood, a memory.
I’ll describe it in more poetic terms.
This is a gilded fragrance that conjures up a crepuscular, autumnal atmosphere. It reminds me of brocaded silk, a beautiful city built of stone, the rasping of dead leaves on cobbles, the cold breath of the wind, that particular way in which the autumn light falls at a slant that illuminates everything more richly, as if it had been passed through amber.
There is great beauty here, but it is faded beauty, lost beauty.
It’s like an old, early color picture of a party. The opening is like being there, feeling totally present, smelling the beautiful people in expensive clothes, seeing the candlelight refracted through the crystal champagne flutes, feeling the serotinal chill slowly being warded off by a roaring fire. There is something liqueur-like in the opening, almost akin to the boozy vanilla note in Spiritueuse Double Vanille or Tonka Imperiale, two other fragrances in the L’Art et la Matière line.
But as the fragrances dries, the richness and slight booziness of the opening fades. The characteristic Guerlain dustiness begins to take over, powdery incense and resins and patchouli and woods, a wisp of smoke from a burning leaf of papier d’Arménie which is slowly but surely burning away to ashes.
The color has been drained to sepia, the fire has died, the wine’s all been drunk, the candles blown out by the wind. All that remains is the room which has absorbed the reverie, retains the perfumes of the ladies, the smoke of the fire and the extinguished cigars, the spilt brandy, the baking sweets. And through the window the city lights blink out one by one.
The presentation, as is to be expected at this price point, is luxurious.
Bois d’Arménie is an older fragrance, having been first released in 2006. Guerlain is somewhat notorious for their tendency to change the packaging of their fragrances, and thus Bois d’Arménie has gone through a couple of different boxes.
I have a bottle from 2012, which I understand is true to the original release. The box is fairly simple, however, in line with Guerlain’s subtle elegance. The exterior is dull gold in color, with a stripe down the middle, a Guerlain bee emblem, and the name of the house in gold lettering. The interior is simple white styrofoam, with niches fitted for the bottle and its numerous head attachments.
The box from the recent shuffling around of the collection is quite a bit different – white, textured, and white a big black placard with the name of the fragrance and the house. I don’t have any experience with the new presentation, so I can’t tell you much about it, other than if you buy Bois d’Arménie today from a Guerlain boutique, your bottle and box will look a lot different than mine.
The bottle, like the box, is simple but elegant.
It is little more than a rectangular glass bottle with a gold plate bearing the name of the fragrance and a Guerlain bee logo on the side. The name “Guerlain” is also etched into the glass on one side.
My bottle is in the old style, which came with a controversial bulb atomizer – yes, like the ones that you see in the old movies.
Apparently, on first release all of the fragrances from the L’Art et la Matière collection came with a bulb atomizer and nothing more. However, they were evidently so unpopular that subsequent releases included a more conventional fragrance atomizer, along with the bulb.
Later on down the land, the bulb atomizer was discontinued altogether in favor of your average, everyday sprayer.
The cap can be twisted off easily, and you can put in whatever style of atomizer you so choose. There is also a cap without a sprayer included, which I assume is to be used for traveling, since the other atomizers can leak. I sometimes use it as a cap to put on top of the sprayer, even though it doesn’t really fit, just to slow the process of oxidization.
Personally, I think the bulb atomizer is super cool, but it’s just not practical for normal use. It’s difficult to spray without using two hands, and when it does actually release juice, it just goes everywhere in a measly, fine mist. As cool as I think it is, I rarely if ever use it.
Overall, the presentation of Bois d’Arménie is nice – chic, sophisticated, simplicity at its finest. If I have any gripe with it, it’s that the glass of the bottle doesn’t really have much heft to it. It feels very light and fragile in the hand, and I have to be extra careful whenever I put it on, as I feel like the bottle would shatter into a million pieces if I dropped it.
That problem seems to have been rectified with the new presentation. The bottle looks thick and weighty and statuesque, with a big old honking cap and a tassel and cord to boot. It’s also customizable. If you buy Bois d’Arménie now, you can customize the color of the cap, cord and seal, and add an engraved message on the bottle as well.
Now we come to a somewhat controversial point – performance.
On my skin, Bois d’Arménie has respectable longevity.
Three to four sprays on my perfume eating skin give me around seven to eight hours of longevity.
Of course, like usual, if you’d like to increase the longevity of any fragrance, simply bump up the sprays, or spray on clothes. Nevertheless, Bois d’Arménie is not a hyper-powerful fragrance, and no matter how much of the stuff you spray on, you’re not going to get a beast mode, made-for-the-club kind of scent.
Projection & Sillage
Projection and sillage for Bois d’Arménie are, again, respectable.
Three to four sprays give me about two hours of soft projection and a little bit less than arm’s length sillage.
This is not a super strong fragrance. For most of its life, it is going to be more of a skin, or close to the skin scent. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s weak either. Some people have criticized Bois d’Arménie as being little more than scented water. As someone on whose skin fragrance hardly ever lasts very long, that isn’t at all consonant with my experience.
I pick up consistent whiffs through most of the day, and can usually smell it when I get off from work. This is a fragrance more interested in creating an aura around you rather than announcing your presence from a mile away.
Value For Money
Now another controversial point: value for money.
If I were being objective, I could not in good conscience recommend this fragrance. I paid almost $300 for my bottle on Ebay, which is just around the original price. We’re talking ~$280 for a 2.5 oz (75 ml) bottle of scented water that doesn’t perform amazingly well. For a lot of people, that is going to be a huge no go, and so I would say in simple terms that Bois d’Arménie does not have very good value for money at all.
But do I regret spending that money? Absolutely not; I would do it again right now. In my view, Bois d’Arménie is art, and a very personal fragrance that I love deeply. For me, personally, the money-to-enjoyment factor is quite high.
Of course, not everyone is going to feel that way, and as much as I adore this fragrance, I cannot delude you into thinking that you will feel the same way that I do and drop three Benjamins on it.
The value for money has become even lower with the new repackaging. While before the price hovered at around $300, the new, admittedly stouter and nicer customizable packaging of Bois d’Arménie is a cool $360, and that’s before shipping, handling, and tax. So, if you buy Bois d’Arménie today, you’re looking at dropping almost $400 on the thing. Even for me, that might be a little bit too much of an ask.
And we haven’t even come to the point that this is part of Guerlain’s luxury line, and thus never really goes on sale. While fragrances like L’Homme Idéal, Shalimar, and La Petite Robe Noire might show up for around $50 or less on online discounters, that’s never going to happen with Bois d’Arménie.
So, essentially, the only way you’re going to buy Bois d’Arménie is if you really, really love Bois d’Arménie.
Who Would Like It
And that brings us to the question of who would like this fragrance?
This is going to appeal to a certain person, no doubt. It is not a mass appealing fragrance, at all, though that doesn’t mean that people won’t compliment you or that it smells weird or anything. This is just not the kind of stuff that your average Tom, Dick, and Harry wears.
This has absolutely nothing to do with Dior Sauvage, Versace Yellow Diamond, Yves Saint Laurent La Nuit de L’Homme, etc. Zilch.
This is more like an art piece which will call out to those who want an experience, not just a smell to spray on after a shower. People who are artistic, introspective, or who have a lot of experience in the world of fragrance already will be drawn to this. If I had smelled this at the beginning of my interest in perfumes, I would’ve just laughed and scoffed, “People pay $400 for this?” Now I’m on the other side, having spent that money and worn this fragrance to death.
I would also say that people who enjoy incense, vanilla, woods, or who have an interest or appreciation for the house of Guerlain will enjoy this fragrance. Those people are a bit more common, and I think that they would like it if they tried it.
So if you’re: artsy, wear a beret, have an interest in Dark Academia, are a Parisian intellectual, like incense, like grown-up vanilla fragrances, or want something inspired by Armenia, pick this one up.
It’s completely unisex, by the way, as well as ageless, though I think by nature this will appeal to more mature wearers.
When To Wear It
In my view, this is strictly a winter perfume. No, not autumn/winter. Winter, only. Preferably when it’s bitterly cold, it’s dark, and there’s snow on the ground. I pretty much only wear it under such circumstances, around late December to January.
I think it’s because there’s something about this that reminds me of being inside a warm, bright, and cozy room while a cold storm is raging outside. It’s like having a holiday party, drinking booze, laughing, and having fun, but as soon as you step outside you freeze your toes off. It’s festive in a way, but also has that fading beauty effect, just like winter; the world is dead, covered with ice and snow, and yet we celebrate.
So winter, definitely, in my view, though not necessarily Christmastime. Maybe post-Christmas, though I’ve rocked it well before then.
As for occasions? I can’t really think of anywhere it’d seem out of place, so formal and casual both would work. However, I probably wouldn’t pick this for a first date, as there is almost no sex appeal about it.
In my experience, I’ve only found fragrances that get at maybe 50% of Bois d’Arménie. For the less discerning (and more objective) noses, however, I’m sure they’ll do just fine.
One is Guerlain’s own Lui, a 2017 release which I own and will eventually review. It has itself been repackaged into the $360 range and rebranded as Œillet Pourpre. However, I bought my bottle when it was $60; if you act fast, you might be able to scoop one up before they’re all gone.
Lui is a nice fragrance, but it’s definitely not Bois d’Arménie – it’s far too heavy on the spice, leather, and smoke for it to be classified as anything other than “similar”. However, it does have a shared vibe, and if you don’t want to drop the coin on Bois d’Arménie, Lui might do just fine.
Another is from American niche house Imaginary Authors: Memoirs of a Trespasser. Memoirs is a nice fragrance that’s all about incense, resins, woods (including guaiac wood), vanilla, and an interesting clay note. It’s very appealing and a great wear, but unfortunately doesn’t quite do it for me in the same way as Bois d’Arménie. Still, it’s worth a try.
As you can see, there’s not really a budget option on offer.
Pros & Cons
- A work of olfactory sublimity – i.e. it smells darn good.
- High quality packaging.
- Respectable performance.
- Poor value for money which is getting poorer by the year.
- More of an art piece than a fragrance; not going to be loved by everyone.
- Performance is pretty good, but could be better for the price.
The Final Word
I’ve done my best to be impartial in this review, but unfortunately I really can’t. Bois d’Arménie is one of my all time favorite fragrances that I will treasure forever, and I urge you, despite it all, to at least try it if you can.
Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it doesn’t have the best performance. Yes, it doesn’t have much sex appeal or “panty/boxer dropper” flavor. But it is a work of art, a shard of exquisite beauty. Anything that inspires such intense emotions, sensations, and images, I think, is something that is worth experiencing.
I spray on Bois d’Arménie and immediately feel happier.
I am a person who values beauty and wants to share in beauty; I think that the world is in sore need of more beauty, in fact. For me, trudging away at my joyless 9-5, having a little piece of beauty that I can be a part of whenever I feel stressed or angry or frustrated or sad is something precious.
And so you see that this perfume (and really, perfume in general) is something rather personal to me. You might not love it in the same way that I do (after all, scent is the most subjective of our senses), but who knows? Maybe you can, in passing, spray a test strip with Bois d’Arménie and see what the fuss is all about.
You never know, after all. Maybe you find your own little piece of beauty, too.
★★★★★ 5 stars out of 5