Browsing Category

Attars & CPOs

Attars & CPOs Floral Oriental Independent Perfumery Musk Myrrh Oriental Oud Resins Review Rose Sandalwood

Areej Le Doré: Translating Attar Perfumery into Extrait Form

May 13, 2017
attar-2126745_1920

Guys, if you want to smell something truly great, then buy the Areej Le Doré sample set. Costing $40 for samples of three beautiful perfumes that contain real oud oil, santalum album sandalwood, and genuine deer musk, it’s a small price to have your mind blown and eyes opened as to what can be achieved when superlative raw materials meet a talent for composition.

 

Fear not: Areej le Doré is not one of those brands set up in the West to take advantage of the current fashion for haute-luxe Arabian perfumery. It is, in fact, a natural extension of FeelOud, an outfit based in the Far East that has been artisan-distilling wild oud oils for several years now. Led by Russian Adam, a name that will be familiar to real oud oil fans all over the world, FeelOud focuses on producing quite wild, almost feral-smelling oud oils in the old school manner, with little concession made to  who take their oud oil smooth and with a bit of sugar.

 

FeelOud recently diversified into the area of sandalwood oil, recently producing a superb santalum album oil distilled from the buried rootstock of old santalum album trees (long since felled and harvested), the age of which is estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old. The resulting oil, called Sandal 100k, sold out in 24 hours when it was put up on the FeelOud site. It’s beautiful; I give a description of it further on.

 

First, a bit of background on this mysterious-sounding Russian Adam chap. I’ve been sampling Adam’s wares for quite a few years now, at first buying from his Book of Oud store when he was still based in the UK, and then testing a wide cross-section of oud oils produced by FeelOud, which he set up when he moved to the Far East to be an artisan oud distiller.

 

In his trajectory, Adam is following in the footsteps of people like Taha Syed of Agar Aura and Ensar of Ensar Oud, both of whom also relocated from comfortable, middle-class environments in the West (Canada and America, respectively) to the steamy, flea-ridden jungles of the Far East so they could distill wild oud oil on the ground. It’s the only way to do it if you want to ensure a good result, but by all accounts, it is an often times hard life, fraught with frustration and danger. I don’t envy these oud artisans, but I sure as hell respect them for what they do.

 

But now, onto Areej Le Doré. The name itself appears to be a blending of the Arabic name for a girl, Areej, which means “the fragrance from under an orange tree”, and the French phrase for “the golden one”. The ethos behind the brand is to create fragrances that are luxurious explorations of the raw materials with which Adam frequently comes into contact as an artisan. In terms of business strategy, there is a clear evolution here from distilling raw materials (oud and sandalwood) to developing value-added products that blend the raw materials in a complex, abstract composition.

 

And having tested all three perfumes extensively over the last few weeks, I can tell you that these are not some ham-fisted throwing together of a few essential oils – there is evidently a real skill for composition at work here. Each of the perfumes feel “finished” and refined to a high technical degree. In fact, in terms of overall positioning, I would place Areej Le Doré perfumes alongside the first three perfumes by Parfums Dusita, perfumes that are similarly priced and beautifully blended to the same high polish. Dusita is phenomenally successful, and deservedly so: now I wish the same sort of brand trajectory for Areej Le Doré.

 

The Areej Le Doré fragrances are as follows: Siberian Musk, Ottoman Empire, and Oud Zen. They are all technically extraits de parfum, but I would define them more as rich, dense attars translated to spray form through the addition of some indentured alcohol. Also thinning out the attar format are hydrosols distilled by Russian Adam himself – a hydrosol being the water left over after hydro-distillation of some fragrant material like rose or oud wood, and after the essential oils have been separated from the distilling water. After having been passed several times through the fragrant material, the hydrosol is itself highly fragrant and useful in perfumery.

 

Siberian Musk is the one I tried first, and it resulted in the sort of jaw-dropping-to-the-floor awe that happens very rarely in the life of this particular perfume writer. After a bright citrus and pine start, the scent settles quickly into a full-fat, clotted-cream musk redolent of rosy beeswax, apricots, orange blossom, and the salty intimacy of a post-coital embrace.

 

The musk component manages to be seriously filthy but in a refined way, with a buttery floral purr that typifies a French sort of polish. I have smelled quite a few samples of genuine deer musk before, including a 20-year-old Himalayan musk so frighteningly feral that I thought a herd of sweaty goats had taken up residence in my nostrils. This is not that. The musk here is authentically sensual and animal-like, but it comes across as a creamy, rounded smell, not sharply urinous or sweaty. Texture-wise, it has the silky density of yellow fat skimmed off the top of raw milk. Think Muscs Khoublai Khan crossed with the decaying roses and adiposal wax of Rose de Nuit, backlit by the subtle glow of resin, orange blossom, and citrus peel. The contrast between the fresh notes and the fatty, un-fresh musk is perfectly pitched.

 

As the scent progresses, the musk deepens and smolders, like a Persian cat stretching in the sun. Sultan Pasha once described the smell of deer musk to me as saccharine sweet, almost cloying, a smell that clings to the hairs of your nostrils for hours after you’ve smelled it. I sense the same clinging depth of the musk here, and there is a faintly sugared quality to the florals that help the impression along. But it is never cloying (and I agree with Sultan that some deer musks – depending on their geographical provenance, age, and level of heat used during the tincturing process – can be almost claustrophobically sweet).

 

Let me be clear: the musk used here is genuine deer musk, a raw material never used in commercial perfumery these days. Apart from the various legal and ethical concerns, there is the problem of sourcing the darned stuff: perhaps 99% of all deer musk goes straight into the hungry gaping hole that is Chinese medicine, with the remaining 1% trickling down as crumbs to the poor man’s table of perfumery. In terms of perfumery, therefore, only small-batch, artisanal attar makers and perfumers can viably access and use real deer musk. Furthermore, within the artisan attar making community itself, only a few are open about their use of the material.

 

I am writing an article about the issue of musk, which will be published later on this year, but for the moment I will say that Adam’s use of Siberian deer musk here is both ethically and legally fine, because it comes from legal hunting in Siberia, sanctioned and controlled by the Russian Government through seasonal licenses and hunting lotteries. Every part of the deer is used – the meat, the hooves, the skin, everything – and the hunting helps support the incomes of local hunting families.

 

In other words, don’t be afraid that by buying this perfume you might be contributing to illegal hunting or unethical trading practices. Yes, the musk deer still dies to give up his musk – but he is not dying specifically because of the perfume sector. (You might want to start asking the Chinese medical sector some hard questions, though.)

 

The second perfume, Ottoman Empire, is also stunning, but in a different way. Although I suppose technically it is a rose-oud, containing as it does real Assam oud oil and expensive rose absolutes from Afghanistan, India, and Bulgaria, it does not really come across as a typical rose-oud. Instead, it reads more as a buttery rose chypre with a dark, mossy drydown that reminds me of the hippy, retro floriental style of Neil Morris, especially his Rose of Kali, which is a rose slowly left to molder and wither in a damp church basement. In other words, there’s a fair bit of myrrh here. There is also the chocolate-rich dustiness of closed-up spaces and old books, which makes me think of the 70’s style of the original Norma Kamali perfume (not Incense, the namesake perfume itself).

 

The rose oils used in Ottoman Empire are beautiful, and display a wide range of nuances ranging from the fruity apricot hue of the Afghani rose to the sour earwax quality of the Bulgarian. In the context of the blend, the roses are largely subdued by the resins and oakmoss in the base, but their essentially rosy character burns brightly through the blend, like a heat lamp under layers of parchment.  The oakmoss used here, by the way, is real and unneutered: firstly, because it is Indian oakmoss (charila), a lacy oakmoss-like material covering trees in the forests of the Himalayas, and secondly, because, well, Adam is not based in Europe and doesn’t have to be IFRA-compliant.

 

In summary, then, Ottoman Empire is a waxy, mossy rose chypre crossed with souk perfumery (oud and spices) crossed again with a certain hippy, 1970’s style as espoused by certain American indie perfumers. If I’ve made that sound confusing, then don’t worry – the perfume makes perfect sense on the skin. Wear it and see for yourself.

 

The third and last perfume is Oud Zen. People who are a bit wary about the oud note need not worry; the Indian oud oil is authentic (and smells authentic) but it is not nearly as animalic or as feral as uncut Hindi oils can be, when worn neat on the skin. Instead, right from the start, the leathery, sourish smoke of the Indian oud is folded into sweet, smoky woods and vetiver that together smell rather like the saltwater taffy of labdanum. The Hindi oud oil is also moderated by the fresher, more sparkling aspects of a Papuan oud, a variety that often displays surprisingly hints of green tea, mango, and flowers.

 

The main impression is woody, smoky, and leathery, with the Hindi elements of fermentation slowly fading away in the heart, leaving a trail of cool, ashy woods. I suppose it is a traditionally masculine perfume, but I think any woman who wants to could certainly rock it.

 

Interestingly, just as I think the perfume has given up its last breath, it revives and puffs out its chest in a death display of feral honey, vetiver, and dry leather, a combination very much in the vein of Vero Profumo’s Onda Voile d’Extrait or the far reaches of vintage Habanita when the powdery florals have burned off. An extraordinary finish, and one that gets me spraying again and again, just to arrive at the same destination.

 

Lastly, a word about Sandal 100k, FeelOud’s first venture into sandalwood distilling. Sandal 100k was distilled by Russian Adam himself using wood from the buried roots of old santalum album trees that had long been harvested and cleared from land in Indonesia. Forgotten about, the rootstock of these noble old trees lay in the ground until the locals figured out there was precious oil in them there roots!

 

To make the oil, the roots of old trees, all aged around 100 years, are dug up, cleaned off, and left to dry out. Then the roots are broken down into small shards, and finally into a sawdust-type mixture which is put in the distilling pot. The wood was sent from Indonesia to Russian Adam in Thailand, which is where he distilled it himself.

 

To all extents and purposes, the root stock has the same value as heartwood from 100-year old santalum album trees: experts have determined that the age of the santalum album species chosen for distilling is more important to the aroma profile than where the tree actually grows. Therefore, while this oil is not Mysore because the tree (and its roots) was not harvested in the Mysore region of India, it is an incredible santalum album oil because of the age of the heartwood from which it was distilled.

 

Sandal 100k smells bright, greenish, and terpene-rich at the offset, with all the nutty, savory sourness characteristic of santalum album perched just behind it. The slight green bitterness dies back quickly, allowing the salty, buttery sides of the oil to emerge. For the first part of the ride, I’d place this oil in the aromatic, fresh category of santalum album, but as time goes on, the oil gathers force and bursts into full being as the perfect sandalwood – rich, nutty, creamy, salty-sweet, and almost meaty in terms of body. It’s absolutely beautiful, and I urge people to buy it when the second batch of oil is ready for sale. Since my personal ne-plus-ultra of sandalwood oil, Ensar’s 1984 Mysore, is no longer available, this is the next best thing.

Attars & CPOs Oud

Abdul Samad Al Qurashi Kannam 100-Year Aged Oud

December 3, 2015
forest-931706_1920

I realize, as I am sitting down to write this review, that there is no accurate way for me to describe what a hundred-year old oud smells like. The best I can do is to say that it is unami, that Japanese word for the fifth taste, one that is packed ten deep with savory, sweet, salty, and sour notes, all piled in on top of each other so that the taste buds receive a complex sensation that is part taste, part smell, part feeling. Foods that are rich in unami, for example, are aged Parmesan cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, breast milk, and fine wines. In fact, if you have ever tasted any of these things and tried to describe them to someone has hasn’t, then you will know what I mean when I say it is a struggle to come up with accurate vocabulary.

Kannam 100-year old aged oud is, by a very wide margin, the most complex and unami-rich thing I have ever smelled. I feel very privileged to have been able to experience it at all, given that the price per tola on this one is, as the Americans say, “beyond my pay grade”. If I were rich, though, and I wasn’t depleting my kids’ trust funds too badly, I would happily cough up the $2,700 or so it costs (for 11.66666 grams). Hell yeah I would! But unless I find myself a sugar daddy, and soon, before the small portion of good looks I have run out, then I will have to content myself with the memory of my sample.

The oud oil in the sample vial was so thick, black, and viscous that I had to warm it for two hours between my boobs in order to even prise the applicator wand out of the vial (I do apologize to whomever receives this sample after I’m done with it). You have to dab it on, but the texture is like tar, so spreading it around gently is not an option – it sits there on your skin like you just painted it with wood varnish.

The smell – oh my God. It is utterly unfair that I should smell something this good and not be wealthy enough to procure it. Immediately, I have to say that the smell is not animalic or barnyard in the slightest – I was surprised by this. It is smooth and deep, but intense. My husband said it immediately brought him back to his childhood, to a massive state-owned Yugoslav leather goods store in town he used to frequent with his father for shoes, jackets, etc. There was a tannery nearby, and the air in the store thus smelled of newly-tanned leather and of the chemicals used to tan the leather. He said the oud had such an intense smell that it caused his teeth and jaw to ache, just like the leather goods store did. I have read that this is a common reaction with unami-rich smells too.

To me, at first, it smells of the following things: ancient furniture varnish, balsamic vinegar reduction, leather, rubber, resins, pine sap, wintergreen, chopped trees in a wet forest. The smell is, I have to say, intoxicating, smooth, almost sweet, balsamic, but 20,000 miles deep in unami flavors. The fumes are almost radioactive, so I can feel a buzz in my ears, almost like I am getting high on glue or something. Not that the smell is similar, not at all – just that the material gives off this powerful cloud of aromachemicals almost physically intoxicating to the senses.

Strangely, as time goes on, it becomes less sweet and more earthy, by which I mean that it takes on the damp, pleasantly moldy/sour inflections of a good patchouli. It smells of earth freshly upturned, of a wooden box buried in the damp earth for decades and then dug up and opened, releasing a stream of shut-up, stale air that smells ancient and good. I see what other writers on oud mean when they write that they smell like something prehistoric, dug up from a deep, dark cave in the woods somewhere. But like with all primitive smells (oud, patchouli, stone, forest), this has the ability to be “not strange” to your nose, as if somewhere in your prehistoric brain, you do remember this ancient smell from thousands of years ago.

Highly recommended as a once in a lifetime thrill, if only to set your own personal barometer for complexity. Samples of 0.15mls cost almost $50, so you have to be sure you want to travel this road, but it really is something I wish everyone could experience, at least once.

Attars & CPOs

Sultan Pasha Aurum D’Angkhor

November 30, 2015
spoon-678084_1920

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.

Attars & CPOs

The Al Haramain Premium Collection

November 20, 2015
arabian-704885_1920

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.

Attars & CPOs The Discard Pile White Floral

Amouage Afrah

June 29, 2015
michelia-champaca-338087_1920

Amouage Afrah smells like a three-way clash between the heavy, fruity, musky aroma of champaca flowers, a licorice-like basil note, and the marine bilge unpleasantness of either ambergris or civet. The opening is heady and almost indolic/stinky with champaca, but the basil gives it a nice ‘black’ salted licorice lift. I give this attar points for originality, though. I have never smelled anything like it, and indeed, it does not smell like any of the other Amouage attars I have tried. It strikes as less oriental and more European in focus, perhaps. I kind of see where they were going with it.

I just find the civety stink of ambergris to not mesh well with the other notes. There is this heavy aroma of someone who doesn’t have very good hygiene, or who simply has produces bad body odor due to some medical condition like glucose over-production. Worse yet, it is specifically the ‘second day’ smell imprint of their body and hair and discarded skins cells that lies about on the sheets of your bed for days after they’ve gone. Not a winner in my book, I’m afraid.