Attars & CPOs

The Al Haramain Premium Collection

November 20, 2015

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.

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  • Sultan Pasha November 20, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Hey Claire! Good to see you are still ploughing through the mine fields that’s Arabian perfumery!
    I too am not a fan of seufi as found it cloying and nauseating….especially that syroppy rose on top of that ghastly play doh plasticine smelling musk that takes ages to wash off!!
    I’m however a huge fan of Atifa Blanche and safwa although I smelt other oils that are similar to safwa in execution. Atifa Blanche is definitely the clear winner my book as its no way linear and a rather complex shapeshifter that’s a dance of all the different accords. It’s to me one of the best by al Haramain and the longetivity and sillage is phenomenal on my skin.
    I’m glad you didn’t get a sample of Ehsas……it’s unbalanced and rather bleh! It mentions ambergris in all stages but what ambergris????? Do they mean iso E or timbersilk?

    • Claire December 3, 2015 at 12:32 pm

      Sultan, I am so glad to hear that it’s not just me who thought the Seufi was not that great – often my impressions are so out of whack with other people’s opinions (whom I respect) that I begin to doubt myself – and it looks like I dodged a bullet with Ehas. Not a massive fan of Timbersilk, I must say, since it had something to do with the scratchy dry down of Garuda. I have a full tola of ASAQ Sweet Amber Blue, which as you know, is the real deal in terms of ambergris 🙂 Atifa Blanche is beautiful, I agree. Which other oils are like Safwa, if you don’t mind me asking? I am still pondering a bottle of that Safwa……

  • Sultan Pasha Aurum D’Angkhor November 30, 2015 at 9:20 pm

    […] 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 […]

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