A Shift in Perfumery: The Debate Over the "Oriental" Scent Profile - TUOKSU

A Shift in Perfumery: The Debate Over the "Oriental" Scent Profile

In the realm of perfumery, a significant shift is underway. The "oriental" classification, a prominent category on the fragrance wheel, is undergoing a radical transformation, shifting towards a more globally considerate and descriptive terminology: ambery. This change is not merely a matter of semantics but represents a broader evolution in the perfume industry's approach to language, culture, and scent profiles.

The Fragrance Wheel: An Olfactory Classification

The fragrance wheel, a vital tool in the world of perfumery, categorizes scents based on their distinct characteristics. From floral and fresh to woody and oriental, this systematic arrangement has been fundamental in defining the scent profile of perfumes. However, the term "oriental" has recently come under scrutiny for its potential offensive connotations and lack of relevance in today's global context.

The Controversy Around “Oriental” Fragrances

Historically, oriental perfumes, exemplified by iconic fragrances such as Shalimar by Guerlain and Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, were characterized by rich, exotic notes of vanilla, sandalwood, amber, and spices. These scents were designed to evoke an imagined East, a fantasy concocted by Western perfumers.

However, the term "oriental," derived from the Latin word 'orient,' meaning East, has been criticized for its Eurocentric perspective and generalization of diverse cultures and geographies into a single, exoticized category. This classification is seen as outdated and offensive, particularly in its depiction of the East as an exotic, mysterious other.

The Ambery Revolution

Given the increasing pushback against the term "oriental," British fragrance historian Michael Edwards, proposed replacing it with the term "ambery" on his fragrance wheel. The term "ambery" is seen to be more evocative of the warm, resinous notes often associated with oriental perfumes, without any cultural baggage.

Ambery perfumes are typically characterized by a warm, sweet, resinous scent profile, often featuring notes of vanilla, labdanum, and patchouli. This new classification is considered to be more descriptive, globally applicable, and less likely to cause offense.

Rethinking Scent Profiles: A Global Perspective

The transition from "oriental" to "ambery" represents a growing recognition of the need for a global perspective in perfumery. As perfumes are created and sold worldwide, it is increasingly important for scent profiles to be universally understood and respected.

The term "ambery" provides a clear, descriptive language that captures the essence of the fragrances it represents without leaning on outdated, Eurocentric stereotypes. This shift is seen as a positive step towards a more inclusive, globally aware perfume industry.

The Role of Brands and Retailers

Brands, fragrance houses, and retailers have an integral role in this shift towards more inclusive language. As custodians of scent profiles, their choice of language can influence consumer perceptions and promote a more inclusive representation of fragrances.

The Fragrance Foundation, a leading education provider in the perfume industry, has described the term "oriental" as "outdated and offensive," advocating for alternative terminology. Their stance signifies the increasing industry-wide support for this change.

Challenges in Adopting New Terminology

Transitioning from the term "oriental" to "ambery" is not without its challenges. The term "oriental" has been used as a catch-all to describe a wide variety of fragrances featuring notes of sandalwood, patchouli, amber, and incense. Finding a suitable replacement that captures the same breadth and depth of scents can be complex.

However, terms like "spicy" and "resinous" are suggested as starting points to describe the same scent profile that the term "oriental" has historically encapsulated.

The Future of the Fragrance Wheel

The transformation of the "oriental" category to "ambery" signifies a broader evolution within the perfume industry. As the industry moves towards more inclusive and descriptive language, the fragrance wheel, too, will evolve.

While the term "oriental" may still be used to describe a specific style of perfume, its relevance in today's global context is waning. The future of the fragrance wheel lies in its ability to adapt to the changing landscape of perfumery, embracing new terminology and scent profiles that better reflect our diverse and interconnected world.

Embracing Change: A New Dawn for Perfumery

The shift from "oriental" to "ambery" represents a new dawn in perfumery. This change signifies a conscious move towards more inclusive, descriptive, and globally aware practices. By embracing this change, the perfume industry can continue evolving, creating fragrances that not only smell wonderful but also respect and celebrate our diverse world.

As we move forward, the scent of change in the air is unmistakable. The perfume industry is evolving, and with it, our understanding and categorization of fragrances. The journey from "oriental" to "ambery" is just one step in this ongoing evolution, signaling a promising future for the world of perfumery.

Back to blog