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November 2015

Attars & CPOs

Sultan Pasha Aurum D’Angkhor

November 30, 2015
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For those of you who don’t know him, Sultan Pasha is a passionate attar collector, curator, and now in recent years, also a perfumer of his own teaching. Based in the UK, Sultan Pasha used to sell a fantastic range of samples of very rare or discontinued attars, including almost all of the Amouage ones, along with his own creations (see his eBay page here). I don’t know if he’s still selling the sample set of other brands, but he very kindly gave me samples from his own range of concentrated perfume oils, attars, and essential oils (including a sample of wild Mysore sandalwood, which I can’t wait to get to!). In the coming weeks and months, I will be reviewing each attar sample in the order they came to me.

If you’re interested in acquiring the sample set yourself (it contains about two drops each of 45 CPOs), you can order it here. Sultan Pasha advises that you dip the end of a paper clip into each sample well to draw out a tiny amount of the oil and apply it to the skin – these oils are extremely strong, so each two-drop sample is more than enough for five wears.

Now to Aurum D’Angkhor. It’s the first CPO in the pack that I tested, and right now I’m worried that nothing will be able to top this for me. Aurum is just mind-blowing. I trudge through an awful lot of the lower-priced Arabian oils and attars (as well as some very high-priced ones), and it’s rare that any of them stand out to me as being worth the skin time. What I mean is that there’s an awful lot of dodgy stuff out there in the CPO world, and with price not always correlating to quality or complexity, you have to have a lot of time and money to hone in on the good ones.

Or maybe it’s just me. Plenty of fellows over at Basenotes go straight to the super high end stuff, such as the pure oud oils and oud mixes (mukhallats) being sold by Ensar Oud and Agar Aura. But the price of entry for that serious oud scares me, so I mainly just lurk in the waters of whatever samples of Ajmal, Al Haramain, and Amouage CPOs that I get my hands on, lazily hoping to somehow stumble upon the attar that seems made just for me.

The Amouage attars, with the exception of Badr al Badour, failed to impress me much. I liked Tribute too, but the expense of tracking it down now seems prohibitive. The recently released premium collection by Al Haramain (reviewed here) was very mixed and in general, not worth the Amouage-level prices they are asking for them. But I did go through about 25 of ASAQ CPOs and oud mukhallats over a year ago, and I got to understand more about oud, the general profiles of the different types, and the difference between young and aged oud. Now I have my favorite CPOs, oud and non-oud mukhallats, ranging from the very costly (Badr al Badour, Ajmal Mukhallat Dehn al Oud Moattaq), mid-range (Arabian Oud Najdi Maliki and Al Siraj) to the very cheap (Majmua attar).

Aurum D’Angkhor, though, is special. It blew my socks off with its depth, complexity, and beauty. It contains a small amount of the famous Ensar Oud Encens D’Angkor in the basenotes, which is a smooth, fruity Cambodi oud oil with soft, cozy wood aspects. But the “Aurum” in Sultan Pasha’s remix means “Golden” and indeed that’s the color that comes across in this blend – golden, dusty saffron, a light smooth oud with the timbre of polished oak floors, smoke, honey, henna, and a haze of sweet jasmine and rose.

The topnote of Aurum D’Angkhor showcases the oud, and for a few minutes it has a ripe, barnyard aroma to it – not unpleasantly animalic, for example nowhere near the sour bile facets of a Hindi oud oil – but it definitely recalls the soft, ripe smell of fresh cow silage, a sort of liquid, sweet aroma that oozes across the room. I find this smell to be warm and nostalgic, because I grew up around farms.

The cow pat note disappears quickly, allowing a soft, spicy brown leather to take shape, with faintly indolic jasmine floating in and out. To my nose, saffron plays a pivotal role here, called on to bring out all its strange facets at once – the leather, the exotic dust, the sweetness, the faintly floral “mouth-feel”, fiery red spice, and a certain medicinal, iodine-like twang. The oud and the saffron create this deep, deep multi-levered scent profile suggestive of old oak floors, spicy brown leather, and dusty fruit skins (plums and figs). It is such a smooth, woody, refined aroma – it has the depth of real oud, but none of the challenging aspects.

Now, as to the smoke – this varied greatly on me from one test to another. At first, I found the opening and heart notes so smoky I felt sure there had to be either a touch of birch tar or cade oil in the topnotes, or at least a hefty dose of labdanum in the basenotes. At times, I felt that the smokiness was almost exactly like the rough, smoky Balsamo della Mecca, which is primarily a labdanum-focused scent, with dusty cinnamon (Siam benzoin) and frankincense. During my second test, I couldn’t detect as much smokiness, but instead I picked up on the honey (a sort of toffee-like, ambery sweetness) and a hint of the hay-like dustiness of henna.

In the base, I pick up a woody resin, kind of nutty, but also kind of granular, like coffee grounds. It may also be the musk, because some suede scents, like Tom Ford Tuscan Leather, Oud Saphir, Black Suede, and Al Haramain Tajibni, use a combination of a vegetal musk like ambrette, saffron, and cedar/woods to create a sort of musky, resinous suede effect. Whatever it is, it’s great. GBP 400 for 3ml, though…..it’s too much for me personally, but I have no doubt that it’s worth it.

Gourmand Leather Masculine Rose Vanilla

Guerlain Habit Rouge Dress Code

November 22, 2015
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What a beautiful opening – delicate and sweet, a cloud of bergamot, rose, and vanilla dust just hanging in the air like a rose-gold halo. And in it, I instantly recognized the ghost of Shalimar.

Well, actually, that’s not exactly true. If Habit Rouge is the male equivalent of Shalimar, then its flanker, Habit Rouge Dress Code is the male equivalent of (a mash-up of) two of the Shalimar flankers – specifically the Parfum Initial L’Eau and the Parfum Initial EDP. The Shalimar flankers strip Shalimar of its leather, smoke, incense, and dirty bergamot, and use her bone structure to turn out streamlined, sweet versions flushed with sweet lemonade, red berries, and that smooth pink patchouli that modern girls love so much. Likewise, Habit Rouge Dress Code takes the rose-leather combination of the original Habit Rouge EDT, strips it of its fresh lemon-and-herb-strewn opening, and fluffs it out with sweet notes that modern tastes love, like praline, caramel, and tonka.

But I don’t just mean that Dress Code smells like the conceptual twin of the Shalimar flankers, I really mean to say that it lifts entire sections from these fragrances. Dress Code has the same hazy but effervescent citrus-rose combo from the opening of the L’Eau, giving off the delightful effect of a huge pitcher of limeade dotted with pink rose petals. Later on, when the sweet praline and caramel come in, it starts to smell a lot like the dry down of the Parfum Initial EDP (minus the iris and berries). The overall feel is pink, balmy, and slightly resinous, so there is obviously a lot of the Guerlainade here too. In fact, at certain points, it reminds me of a sweeter, less complex version of Cologne du 68, which itself is basically an essay on the famous Guerlainade, with anise and angelica stalks added on top.

Two notes take Dress Code away from being a mere pastiche of these other fragrances, though. First, a warm nutmeg note provides a brown, spicy aura that is very striking. It acts upon the vanilla and caramel to produce a sweet, nutty effect very similar to that in Black Flower Mexican Vanilla. Second is a rather strident citronella-like note, probably from the geraniol or citronellol compounds in the rose oil used here. Both the nutmeg and the citronella notes die way back in the dry down.

Dress Code is extremely well-done, and is a striking example of a modern gourmand take on a classic. It will suit modern male tastes, I am sure, as it is extremely sweet and has that praline note that people like so much these days. But for me, it runs into “too sweet” territory, and to be honest, I can’t stand the boatloads of caramel poured into this – it has that syrupy “catch” at the back of my throat that put me off ever buying Parfum Initial EDP. The opening is beautiful, and I’ll admit that within five minutes of applying, I was scouring the net to see where I could find it. But on reflection, I only find the opening alluring because it reminds me of the one Shalimar flanker that I really rate (and own), which is the Parfum Initial L’Eau.

By the way, not that it matters, but if I were smelling this blind, I would swear that Dress Code was a feminine release. It’s a good example of how the line between feminine and masculine fragrances is really a thin one these days, and that it essentially doesn’t matter at all – if you’re a woman and this smells good to you, just wear it.

Chypre Floral Gourmand Iris Patchouli Vanilla

Guerlain Shalimar Parfum Initial

November 22, 2015
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I think Guerlain did a bang up job of modernizing Shalimar for the tastes of the younger market. Personally, I love the original Shalimar, but from what I smell on young girls around my neighborhood, their tender young noses would likely wrinkle at the smell of all that smoke, leather, balsams, and dirtiness. Some perfumes need to be grown into, and Shalimar is definitely one of those. (Don’t worry, girls, she will be still there waiting, still great, when you are finally ready). In the meantime, Shalimar Parfum Initial is a very good rendition.

Shalimar Parfum Initial is essentially an add-and-subtract job that was done with taste and thought. Wasser removed the stinky grade of bergamot used in the top notes of the original and replaced it with a sunny orange/lemon combo unlikely to offend young noses. He took away all the smoky leather, balsams, and incense, and added a huge dollop of what feels to me like Angel-like notes, mainly caramel, berries, and patchouli, thus bringing Parfum Initial to the teetering brink of the modern fruitchouli epidemic, but never pushing it all the way in. Finally, he added a massive dose of iris, giving it a plush, vevelty, powdery mouthfeel that puts it in the same family as the great Dior Homme Intense. It is also vaguely reminiscent of Coco Mademoiselle and Angel, but always retains its own character. It smells a bit like Shalimar too, of course, but the overall feel is different, more gourmand, sweet, plush, and uncomplicated. For people who hated the baby powder in the original, this version will also likely provide some relief – it is not nearly as powdery as the original.

For all of that, I don’t LOVE love it. The original Shalimar simply blows this out of the water on all levels, and it is an impossible act to follow. Moreover, repeat wearings of Parfum Initial has wearied my nose to it somewhat, and there are some things in it that I’m picking up and irritating me. I find that there is an intensely sweet, almost syrupy note in there (the caramel plus berries probably) that I can almost feel in my throat. It kind of throws the perfume off balance a bit. There is nothing to balance out the sweet syrup in this, and it makes me appreciate the original even more, because at least in that, the sweetness of the vanilla is perfectly tempered by the smoke and leather. Anyway, overall the scent is gorgeous and will appeal to the younger market, and (hopefully) bring a new generation of scent lovers around to the great Shalimar when they are good and ready for her.

Amber Animalic Incense Leather Oriental Resins Smoke Tonka Vanilla

Guerlain Shalimar

November 22, 2015
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Ah, Guerlain Shalimar, the ur-Oriental. Sitting down to write a review of Shalimar kind of feels like looking up at the top of Mount Everest and wondering how the hell even to begin the ascent. It seems to cover (in one single bottle) a lot of the themes and notes people go looking for in separate perfumes – you want vanilla, it’s the textbook example, you want smoke and incense, well you got that too, you want amber, it is the mother of all modern ambers, you want animalics and leather, ditto. If you also happen to be the type of person who is interested in freaky notes, like baby diaper, burning tires, tar, and slightly rancid butter, then, why yes, Shalimar also has you covered.

It’s not an easy perfume to love right off the bat. Don’t get me wrong, Shalimar is easy to love, but the actual falling in love bit is not immediate. It took me ten days of wearing it before I could even tolerate it, let alone love it, but I got there and in end, it clicked for me, and that was it. Pure love. The everlasting kind. Whenever I see someone saying, oh I just don’t get Shalimar, or oh Shalimar hates my skin, you know what I am thinking? You’re just not trying hard enough. Put your back into it. If you can’t commit a week or ten days out of your life to understanding Shalimar, then not only are you cheating yourself out of experiencing one of the best perfumes ever made, you are also missing the opportunity to “get” most orientals that came after Shalimar.

For, once you unlock Shalimar, you start to see that Serge Lutens’ Ambre Sultan is just a snapshot of a portion of Shalimar (principally the amber and herbes de provence) blown up 150% and turned sideways. Etro’s Shaal Nur is an abbreviated essay on the incense and opoponax in Shalimar. Mono di Orio’s excellent Vanille is a modern take on the woodsy vanilla of Shalimar. You can spot echoes of Shalimar in Chypre Palatin (vanilla and animalics), Fate Woman (bergamot and powder) and Bulgari Black (vanilla, rubber, smoke). Whether perfumers are aware of it or not, most of today’s grand orientals refer at least in part back to the ur-Mother Oriental herself.

Forgive my wittering on. For all of that, Shalimar smells absolutely wonderful, grand, lush, smoky, sexy, comforting, and warm. The opening, as I’ve mentioned, is jarring to the nth degree, especially if you’re not used to it. I don’t know whether it’s the particularly stinky grade of Bergamot that Guerlain use, or the way it clashes with the vanilla, but the top notes smell curdled and rancid, like when you pour lemonade into cream. The vanilla itself smells tarry and burned, like rubber tires piled high and set on fire. Somehow, somewhere underneath all of that, there appears a slightly horrifying note of soiled diapers, or at least baby powder that has been caked into the creases of a baby’s bottom. It smells sort of unclean, and is pungent enough to singe your nose hairs off.

Here’s the odd thing – after you get used to Shalimar, you start to actively crave the weird opening. When you begin to go “Mmmmmmm” rather than holding your breath, this is a sign that you’ve crossed the line. Welcome! It’s like a Shibboleth for hard-core fans of Shalimar – we’re all over here at the other side of the line, and everyone else is pressing their noses to the glass, shaking their heads and saying, “I think you have Stockholm Syndrome”

After the “horrific” first half hour (for which you may want to refrain from sniffing your wrists if you are smelling it for the first time), it is an easy ride from there on in. Sweet, smoky vanilla poured on top of a long, golden, powdery amber, with accents of leather, smoking resins, and animalic musks. It has this neat trick of smelling comforting/familiar and yet ultra-sexual at the same time. It lasts all day and, in my humble opinion, is just fantastic in whatever concentration and vintage you wear. Yes, the vintage parfum is the deepest and smokiest, but we can’t always be wearing that (for reasons of finances as well as time and place), so it’s good to know that Shalimar is still recognizably the same Shalimar in the weakest EDC as it is in the parfum – thinner, yes, but still, you wouldn’t mistake her for anybody else. For me, it is true love, and a top five perfume forever. It is like my second skin.

Attars & CPOs

The Al Haramain Premium Collection

November 20, 2015
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Given the recent spate of reviews for Al Haramain’s Premium Collection (CPOs and attars) and Prestige Collection (EDPs), I eagerly jumped on the bandwagon of ordering samples from Al Haramain’s main European office, in the Netherlands. The price of the sample set (€20, delivery included) is incredibly good value when you consider that even a sample vial of concentrated perfume oils and attars goes very far. I received (in record time) a sample set containing all except one of the Premium Collection and a bonus two samples from the Prestige Collection.

I want to particularly commend the European office of Al Haramain for offering such a comprehensive (and affordable) sampling program, because most Arabian perfume houses do not. This is a far-sighted decision on the part of Al Haramain because, simply put, it will ensure that more people get to sample the products. And, as we all know, the world of Arabian attars and CPOs is so bewilderingly large and confusing to Western sensibilities, that we need all the help we can get in narrowing down the field.

In the end, here’s the result – I liked some, was deeply “meh” on others, hated one or two with a passion, and loved one enough to start searching for a full bottle of it. For any company worth their salt in this business, I would have to say that that’s a pretty good return on investment – right? Hats off to Al Haramain (Europe branch) for this smart strategy. Now onto the scents themselves:

Hayati

I suspect that there was a mistake in filling my sample because whereas the published notes for this CPO uniformly cite musk, amber, agarwood, sugar, rose, and saffron, I get something completely different. The top note is a bright lemon, quickly followed by a sweaty combination of pine or conifer resin and vetiver. Underneath this rather masculine, woodsy layer, I can almost convince myself that there is an unclean musk lurking, almost like the halitosis tone of ambergris or civet. None of the reviews or marketing blurb mentions anything like this, so I am putting this down to a sample mix up. Hayati itself sounds rather good, but whatever it is that I have on me right now smells pretty foul.

Mukhallat Seufi

I’ll be honest – I ordered the Al Haramain Premium Collection sample pack based purely on the glowing reviews for Mukhallat Seufi. However, to my great disappointment, Mukhallat Seufi is a distinctly middle-of-the-road attar. There is indeed a beautiful, bright, jammy rose for the first hour, tinged somewhat with that lemony floor cleaner note that all good rose oils seem to have. During that first hour, it smells beautiful, if a little traditional (read: that tried and tested rose-and-saffron attar smell).

But soon, it begins to deflate like a popped balloon into the standard fruity-amber midsection that is so familiar to me from other Al Haramain attars such as Attar al Kaaba. It is syrupy, heavily spiced with a dusty saffron, and despite what the reviews would have you believe, completely devoid of the interesting, sour-rotting smell of real oud (or even the high-strung, band-aid slap of the Firmenich synthesized stuff).

The base, which also arrives woefully quickly, is a cheap laundry musk, so within a matter of two hours (sob!) you are plunged from the heights of that initial rose drama to a screechy, rose-tinted white musk. The gorgeous rose is a cruel tease – underneath its brief cameo (“Here I am, look at MEEEEE”), the rest of the oil is getting ready to fall apart. Forget the complex notes list – this is a simple affair. I don’t hate it, but it’s nothing I’d lose my knickers over either.

Given that Mukhallat Seufi (€160 for 6mls, or €26.66 per ml) smells like two-thirds of the Al Haramain bestseller Attar al Kaaba (€40 for 25ml, or €1.6 per ml), I’d be feeling very stiffed indeed if I’d plonked down full price for this. For that kind of money, I could take Attar al Kaaba, fix the less-than-transcendental rose at the top with an expensive pure rose otto, and still have enough dosh in my pocket to buy a bottle of Narciso Rodriguez Musc for Her, which features the same sort of rosy, ambery white musk you get here (if that’s your thing).

Safwa

I never thought this would be the standout for me – cloves! camphor! kill me now! – but it totally steals the show. I was not completely sold on the opening and early heart at first. When I first put it on, I got a biting dose of camphor and a very metallic mix of clove and cardamom. Twenty minutes in, and all other notes drop out of sight for a while, leaving an oily mint note floating there – not a fresh mint note, mind you, but strands of mint roots left to rot gently in a glass of water. It is a very strange and non-traditional opening to a Middle-Eastern attar.

But the more I try it from my sample, the more I start to appreciate its almost refreshing, spicy greenness as a necessary prelude to the main act, which is a brown, spicy patchouli so beautiful it makes me want to cry. If you’ve ever tried Patchouli Boheme by LM Parfums, then you’ve a slight idea of what you’re in for, because it shares something of that musky-ambery vanilla and sandalwood base that makes the patchouli note slightly edible. But this is much, much better than the LM Parfums scent. No chocolate, and no headshop. This is refined stuff. It is also not sweet.

Further on down the line, a smoky labdanum reveals itself, and the smooth woodiness of the vanilla, patchouli, and musk is roughed up by its slightly resinous, tough texture. It’s as if the golden pool of amber and patchouli has been contaminated with the black oil of untreated leather. The smoke, tar, and leather of the labdanum resin adds a very sensual “my skin but better” feel to the scent. On the whole, Safwa has much more development on my skin than any of the others in the sample pack, and is the only one where the complex list of notes actually bears out.

On the subject of development, you’ll have ample time to study it as Safwa has a half life of decades. It’s actually freaking me out how long this lasts (and how beautifully). It wears very closely to the skin, though, and is far from bombastic. Even when I put it on first, I make the mistake of adding more and more because I think I can’t smell anything but oil for a while. It’s a quiet scent. The sample vial it came in snapped off at the top (the Al Haramain sample tubes have an odd fit to them) so I inadvertently gave myself a whore’s bath in it the second time around, and the oil still had the good manners to not shout.

I love this oil – what can I say? I am a sucker, but I am currently scouring the InterWebs for a decently-priced bottle of this. It costs €160 for 24mls, which works out at almost €7 per ml. This is almost four times cheaper than the feted Mukhallat Seufi, and yet in terms of sheer enjoyment (not to mention quality), Safwa is worth four of the Seufi.

Atifa Blanche

Blanche is an excellent word to describe this scent. It is indeed a “white” scent. There is something so softly chewy about the topnotes of Atifa Blanche that I instantly visualized the scent as a white silk pillowcase stuffed with flower petals, marshmallows, meringues, and clouds of whipped cream. It has the straight-forward beauty of a bride coming down the aisle, the sunlight behind her framing her head in an impossible halo of light. The oil opens with sparkling citrus fruits – mandarin, lemon, and lime peel – their sharpness nicely rounded out by the slightly creamy heart of lily and rose.

There is also a noticeable lipstick note in the heart, due to the violet acting upon the rose. In fact, if I were asked to sum up Atifa Blanche in a quick sentence for a catalogue pressed for space, I’d submit this: “A vintage cosmetics scent suitable for virginal brides with a Roller Derby Girl past.” Kind of in the same ballpark as Misia (which is more matronly) or Putain des Palaces (which is skankier) in that they are all big, violet-y powder puff scents at heart. But Atifa Blanche has an interesting wax or dough accord that puts it alongside Kerbside Violet (also suitable for a Roller Derby Girl).

I don’t smell any tuberose or jasmine, to be honest, but I do smell a very small bit of creamy ylang ylang. Still, there is nothing sub-tropical or Big White Floral in feel to this at all – if they are there, they are there only in a strictly denatured form, in other words, no dirty indoles, no rubber, no blowsy ladies-who-lunch elements at all. It is a clean, fresh, and stream-lined scent, with the violet and rose lipstick crème leading the flavor pack at the front.

The notes list an ozonic accord in the topnotes, but I notice nothing aquatic or watery (unless you think of lily as smelling that way, and if you do, then quite clearly you are a gardener). For me, the scent is defined by this radiant aura of clean, sweet lipstick wax, and it strikes me as both innocently retro and almost (but not quite) edible. It is beautiful and feminine, and miles better than By Killian Love. I’d almost certainly buy this if I were in the States, where it costs $90 for 24ml from Beautyspin. Unfortunately, I live in Europe, where the fuckers would charge me €160 for it. Tant pis pour moi.

Atifa Noir

As unbearable as Black Orchid, after which it is clearly modeled. It features a sickly, unholy alliance of chocolate, flowers, and fruit that only lacks the salty cucumber note of Black Orchid to make the horror complete. Atifa Noir clearly has top notch materials, when I manage to pick them out of the black sludge, such as a winey Burgundy rose and…well, no, that’s about all I can pick out. The uneasy mix of chocolate, fruit, vanilla, flowers, and the metaphorical kitchen sink has the added insult of also smelling like a cheap air freshener or a heavily-scented floor cleaning product.

The whole thing has been doused in black pepper which gives it that masculine feel that Black Orchid is so famous for (except in BO’s case, the truffle note is responsible). If Luca Turin was reviewing this oil (unlikely, I know!), I’d like to think that he’d say that Atifa Noir was slumming it in Angel territory and that the black pepper gave the florals an Adam’s Apple. Me, I’m no Luca Turin, but I’d say that Atifa Noir is only one step up from the woeful stuff that Tesori D’Oriente puts out, which is itself only one step up from functional cleaning products. But at least Tesori D’Oriente are honest enough to charge €4 or €5 a bottle. Atifa Noir costs €160 for 24mls.

Tajibni

It surprises me how many fragrances out there smell like Tuscan Leather. Recently it was Oud Sapphir, but there was something in Byredo’s Black Saffron that smelled like it too. Tajibni attar is the latest one. Nothing in the notes really suggests that it should smell like Tuscan Leather. And yet it does.

Tajibni opens with the flat oily aroma of pressed mandarin peel, not fresh or sparkling, but rather dense and compacted. The meat and bones of the “Tuscan Leather” component comes up behind the oily citrus and soon it is pretty much all I can smell. To me, what all these TL smell-alikes have in common is this: a musky suede scent profile built from powdered cedar chips, stale nut shells, and sawdust lining the ground of an indoor horse-riding arena. I like this smell a lot – it reminds me of happy moments in my childhood – but it is still more a “smell” than a complex personal fragrance. That’s the way I feel about Tuscan Leather, and in the interest of fairness, it’s also how I feel about its smell-alikes. Tajibni is a very likeable, high quality suede/leather fragrance, but at €160 for 6ml, I’d be hard pressed to recommend buying this over a bottle of the Tom Ford.

Although for some reason I wasn’t sent Ehas in my sample pack, they did send me two samples from the Prestige Collection, which features EDPs and not oils.

Arabian Treasure

Arabian Treasure is a cuddly vanillic amber along the same lines as Ambre Precieux or Ambre 114, but with an unwelcome mint/basil topnote that comes off as mould. There is also a blast of dirty clove, which lends the composition an unwholesome air, like the closed-up air in the doctor’s waiting room.  All of this is unnecessary – just show me the amber. When they arrive, the base notes are the golden river of amber, labdanum, and patchouli that I like in all the other amber-centric fragrances I like. Just buy one of those instead – any of them – because nobody had any business paying €230 for a basic amber fragrance. The sample card for this read “End of Quest!” Exactly my feelings.

Mystique Musk

This is very nice – a very fruity, sweet white musk with an opening note of pure candied purple violets (the petals as well as the leaves). It’s very childlike and fresh, and the undertone of eraser rubber that I’m also picking up is adding to the scent’s upbeat, preppy aura. It smells slight – just slightly – like the inside of a My Little Pony, when you cut through its belly (I was a weird little child, that’s all I’ll say). This is a good thing, to my nose. Osmanthus adds a hint of apricot, and there is a velvety suede accent to the base (although the notes say leather). If you like gentle, fruity, slightly musky suede scents like Bottega Veneta, Daim Blond, or Cuir Amethyste, you might want to give this a try.

The white musk in the dry down is neither cheap nor offensively “laundry” so even white musk haters should be safe. In fact, for a fragrance named for musk, I am not picking up a whole lot of it. The pricing on this is a bit weird – the official Al Haramain office in the Netherlands has this listed for €230 for 70mls, whereas Parfumaria (also in Holland) has it at €195 for 100mls…..very odd. Either way, not a bargain, and definitely not a masterpiece. I’d only pay those prices for something extremely special. Like, for example, I Miss Violet by The Different Company, which also costs a bomb, but pairs the violet and leather with a sublime ambrette seed that smells like fresh peel from a Granny Smith apple.

Independent Perfumery Review

The Entire Sammarco Line-Up

November 16, 2015
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I’ve already reviewed Sammarco’s wonderful Bond-T here, but I realized that I’d neglected to test the other perfumes in the line. After a whirlwind sampling session or five, I have to say that the entire Sammarco line is a winner in my book – they are direct, unpretentious perfumes with little to no marketing BS behind them, a clear emphasis on quality raw materials, and an evident skill in bringing those raw materials together. Here are my thoughts on the others in the Sammarco line-up.

Sammarco Vitrum

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In my testing round of Sammarco samples, I had put Vitrum off until last, because I despise vetiver as a note and most vetiver soliflores (soliroots? Solidirax?) end up smelling like runner’s sweat to me. But I eat my vetiver-hating hat. It shows off the great skill of Giovanni Sammarco, I believe, that he is able to present all of the nice aspects of vetiver (the smoke, the woodiness, the greenness) without slipping in any of the nasty aspects (most notably that dank, sour “folded-away-when-wet-gym-clothes” funk).

This is pure woodsmoke to me – a sort of lank green-black tendril of smoke from an open fire, simultaneously airy and solid. Dry as a bone, this would work brilliantly for anyone who hates the saltmarshy, sweaty, rooty side of vetiver (like me), for anyone who loves the sooty smoke notes in Comme des Garcons Black and Amouage Memoir Man. To my surprise and delight, two big thumbs up for this utterly wearable vetiver.

Sammarco Alter

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Although I really rate Bond-T and Vitrum, Alter is possibly my favorite from the Sammarco line-up. It presents an incredibly indolic, almost raw-feeling jasmine, and underlines its inherent funk with a sizeable amount of civet. But here’s the thing – none of this comes off as imbalanced or shrill. The potentially screechy combination of jasmine and civet is smoothed out by a rich, earthy myrrh, noted by perfumers for its use in compositions to lend a rich, deep smoothness, much like the use of butter in a cake. The smell of the myrrh is noticeable to my nose, with that earthy bitterness and fungal density you get in myrrh oil, and it acts as an effective grounding foil to the fluffy, almond-blossom-scented mimosa present in the topnotes.

The topnotes also have an almost gasoline or rubber twang to them, pointing to the massive amount of raw jasmine sambac used. For much of the time wearing Alter, I was convinced that the jasmine was actually tuberose, so prominent was the buttery rubber note. The civet in the base creates a oddly leather-like feel, and lends the composition a lived-in, masculine feel. This is one white floral that guys could wear with total confidence. All of Sammarco perfume samples lasted a long time on my skin, and Alter was no exception – about 16 hours in and I could smell the leathery civet and the super-indolic jasmine.

Sammarco Ariel

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A serious blast of violets opens this perfume, but if you’re thinking powdery girly perfume, you’d be wrong – Ariel ties the violets into a weirdly oily spice note at the start (probably the ginger-mandarin combination), rendering the opening effect unsettling and anti-classical. It feels like a new way of treating violets to me, and about a hundred times more interesting than the tired lipstick trope seen in countless violet perfumes from Misia onwards. The spiced, oily floral effect extends into the heart, but Ariel eventually loses the violet and dovetails into a sweet, creamy sandalwood base that recalls Samsara but without the synthetic sonic boom that accompanies it. It ends up being a little too sweet for my taste, but I have to say I like this version of Samsara much better than the current version out there at the moment.

Amber Oriental Oud Rose

Estee Lauder Amber Mystique

November 16, 2015
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I’ve had a sample of Estee Lauder Amber Mystique for ages now but my hand would always pass over it, my mind doing the kind of internal eye-rolling that nonetheless is visible from outer space and makes me (I suspect) quite an irritating person.  The preconceptions I nurtured so smugly were: (i) this is Estee Lauder making a cheap grab for their slice of the oud craze driving the market – totally predictable and utterly depressing, (ii) the bottle is just f^&*($g awful, (iii) it would be just another syrupy, loud oriental amber along the lines of Ameer al Oudh, or 24 Gold, or (iv) that it would be stuffed with cheap woody ambers that scream “Power” and “Projection” to the bros and “outstaying its welcome” to me.

Thankfully, although I am still convinced of numbers (i) and (ii), my fears about the scent itself were completely unjustified. This is a sweet, soft oriental blend of rose, amber, incense, honey, some fruit, and a touch of (non-rubbery, non-medicinal) oud. It is not synthetically-extended in the rear with potent woody ambers. In fact, the sillage is polite and sweetly diaphanous rather than bullying or insistent.

I like it a lot. It would make a great starter oriental for those looking to dip their toe into the water, and for those who do not like the rather over-powered, syrupy, or harsh examples of the Arabian cheapy genre. It opens with a tiny berry and plum note, and what smells to me like a subtle oud wood note, but these get swallowed up pretty quickly into a powdery, sweet amber. It is sweetly balsamic and slightly-honeyed – never throat-catchingly resinous or sharp.

There is, later, an attractively whiskey-ish tone to the amber that develops, giving it some dimension. I also smell a slight buttery tone that could be a facet of the amber or of the leather – either way, it reminds me of the only part of the amber accord in Opus VI that I really like, which is that buttery, almond-like undertone from the periploca flower. In Amber Mystique, you really feel the presence of the rose, and I would say that overall, this is a rosy amber (or an ambery rose), like Dior Privee’s Ambre Nuit, albeit without the salty ambergris tint. If you like Kalemat or Calligraphy Rose, then you’ll enjoy this too (although those other two perfumes are better, in my opinion).

If I had to point out a little niggle, I’d say that it lacks the sub-woofer boom that makes ambery orientals so (traditionally) satisfying. Everything unfolds in a little shallow pool of bliss, the ripples spreading out on the skin, but there are no hidden depths here.

In the United States, this appears to be sold on eBay for $30-40 for the 100ml size, but in Europe, we are still seeing prices of €80-110. I am surprised at the difference, but maybe the American market is just better at finding the correct value of things.

Personally, I would put the real value of Amber Mystique at around the same level of Spellbound or Sensuous Noir. It smells great but is neither groundbreakingly unique nor as attention-grabbing as Estee Lauder would like us to believe, and therefore the “exclusive” tone of the marketing and pricing makes little sense. But if you live in America and see this on eBay for peanuts, grab it! Especially if you don’t already own an example in this genre – Arabian-style oud/amber EDPs – and would like to start off on an easy rung.

Aldehydes Barbershop Floral Independent Perfumery

Bruno Fazzolari Seyrig

November 3, 2015
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All of Bruno Fazzolari’s perfumes are interesting. Some are interesting and beautiful (Au Dela) and some are interesting and edgy (Room 237). Seyrig is interesting and repellent.

It’s a total head trip, this perfume. It transports me on a whoosh of hairspray aldehydes to a bathroom in the 1970’s, where a man in Stetsons is combing his sideburns and sweet talking his own reflection, the bathroom mirror fogging up with the soapy fumes of his bath water and the copious amounts of Aqua Velva he’s just emptied onto himself.

There are other smells in this bathroom too. His wife has been in recently, the memory of a violent application of hairspray lingering with its chemical aftertaste, and his daughter with her precious lilac soaps taken out, used, and then carefully reinserted in their plastic wrapping, the gentle floral aroma floating through the bathroom fog and bringing a maudlin smile to Daddy’s face.

Under that, the clean-dirty stink that Luca Turin called “other people’s bathrooms”, this one’s aggressively sanitized atmosphere not only failing to eliminate the odors of the man’s morning ablutions but serving to accentuate them, the way that a can of air freshener will always make a stink worse. The chemically clean fizz of the bright blue urinal cake dropped hurriedly down the bog offends in its hyper-cleanliness, smelled as it must be against the gloomy backdrop of human waste.

Seyrig is a huge aldehydic floral. But these are not the creamy, pretty aldehydes of the old Chanels. Seyrig’s aldehydes – deliberately chemical, astringent, fused with herbs and flowers – mirror the style of certain Italian perfumers such as Angelo Pregoni (O’Driu) and Antonio Gardoni (Bogue) who use aldehydes in a knowing, ironic kind of way, as a sort of inverted commas on a trip down memory lane peopled by fantastic Big Bitch aldehydes from Arpege all the way to No. 22. These guys make aldehydes butch, not bitch. Subversive and ugly, they come out of the bottle swinging at you with all the pent-up fury of a Travis Bickle.

With Seyrig, Bruno Fazzolari layers these hostile aldehydes over a pretty red mandarin, some fey rose de mai, and a soapy syringa note, hardly notes possessed of the strength of character needed to stand up to the assault. A musky base brings up the rear, in every sense of the word. It’s not dirty per se, but it does bring a feeling of something unclean. The florals are besides the point here – they float prettily through the perfume – but do little else. The main impression is of a bathroom aggressively cleaned with Cillit Bang and Toilet Duck but with the lingering undertow of the collected smells – pleasant and unpleasant – that we humans leave behind.

I absolutely hate it. Every minute it was on my skin was a trial. But I have to hand it to the perfumer – it’s a perfume that painted a crystal clear image in my head, and given that most perfumes leave only a blurred, vague impression, that’s really saying something. In fact, in terms of transportative immediacy, its power is matched only by something like L’Air du Desert Marocain. Just don’t make me wear it, please.