007 (Hyde & Alchemy)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
No. 007 is a little bum fluff of a thing – a peachy honeysuckle that leans waxy rather than green or fresh. Orange blossom adds a candied edge, like marshmallow and honey whipped together for a sweet, foamy ‘mouthfeel’. The coconut stays firmly in the background for most of the scent’s trajectory, allowing the peach and honeysuckle notes to shine. The subtlety of the coconut note means that this never turns into a beach fest, instead keeping its toes firmly tucked inside the fruity-floral category.
Further on, angelica adds a watery greenness that sharpens the scent up a bit, adding some much-needed definition to the fuzzy honeysuckle. All too soon, however, the scent unravels into a sweet, cottony floral musk that is pleasant but ultimately a little too eau de department store for a genre that promises something a little quirkier.
No. 007 is a soft fruity-floral musk that will appeal to young women who do not want to be challenged by their scent and yet who also do not want to smell like every other gal in town. Sometimes, pretty is all one wants, and in this respect, No. 007 certainly fits the bill. However, if you are going to the trouble of ordering an indie over the Internet, why settle for something that smells like something you would get on the high street?
008 (Hyde & Alchemy)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
No. 008’s citrusy jasmine opening says super femme, but a sudden wave of spicy bay rum takes everything to a darker, more masculine place. Bay rum, a traditional component of men’s aftershaves, draws on the moody bitterness of bay leaf as well as the sweet darkness of fine Jamaican rum. Spiced heavily with black pepper and sometimes clove, this note is associated with classic male perfumes such as Pinaud Clubman Virgin Island Bay Rum and Aramis Havana. Here, the bay rum accord acts upon the syrupy, purple jasmine note to give it a sexy, nocturnal edge. Booze, spice, and indolic white flowers – what’s not to like?
There is light in the murk of this spicy jasmine oriental, however, in the form of wafts of fresh, powdery heliotrope and rose. These small-petalled, almost babyish floral notes take all the sting out of the bay rum, rendering it more conventionally feminine in feel. In fact, No. 008 has all the bones of an eighties powerhouse. The manner in which its salt-flecked base of sandalwood and Ambroxan supports the spicy, musky jasmine is quite close to that of one of Creed’s best fragrances, Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie. However, a beguiling hint of industrial rubber ensures that No. 008 feels modern and up to date. Interesting stuff, and, well, big.
009 (Hyde & Alchemy)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Mmm, creamy coconut shampoo. Rinse and repeat. No. 009 smells almost exactly like one of those fruity monoï shampoos you get from Yves Rocher, crossed with the ambered sweetness of an Argan oil hair product like Moroccan Oil. Note that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to smell like a lush hair product. Scents that smell like personal care products are both insanely evocative and comforting. Look at the number of people who want to find a perfume that recreates the smell of 1970s Revlon Flex.
No. 009 has the same creamy, solar feel as Intense Tiaré by Montale, so if you like smelling beachy, keep your eyes peeled for this. It might also be a good one to test if you love Oud Jaune Intense by Fragrance du Bois, but your wallet does not.
013 (Hyde & Alchemy)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Wintergreen toothpaste! Germolene! Ylang has a medicinal, camphoraceous aspect not often emphasized in perfumery, but here, the perfumers seemed to have rolled the dice and won. The opening of No. 013 delivers the same Listerine slap to the face as Serge Lutens’ great Tubéreuse Criminelle. Indeed, in Britain, Listerine is known as TCP, which happens to have the same initials as Tubéreuse Criminelle Parfum (coincidence? I think not).
The tiger balm mintiness of the ylang softens but never dissipates completely. It freshens up the earthy, almost metallic breath of a lei of mixed tropical flowers – jasmine, orchid, gardenia, as well as ylang. This combination of creamy and medicinal notes means that the fragrance has a sultry tropical feel, but also the nipped-in waist of proper corsetry. Clods of earthy patchouli in the drydown provide a humid soil pillow for the florals in much the same fashion as Manoumalia (Les Nez).
No. 013 is a balmy tropical floral that feeds you all the earthier, leafier parts of the island experience, and very little of the sugar or cream that normally accompanies it. It might be just the thing to convert a self-avowed tropical floral hater. A hint of dark cocoa and amber in the tail is further inducement, should you need it.
Absolute Jasmine (Clive Christian)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Absolute Jasmine opens with a Lanolin-like note, lending the composition a strange waxy texture and an oily aroma that has more in common with the fishy smell of pure silk than with floral absolutes. This (to me) beguiling topnote melts away into a bitter, peppery leather accord with dark plum and cinnamon undertones plumping it out from beneath.
A spicy Coca Cola-like note is next to pull free, reminding me of the moment in Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company) when the dark jasmine butts up against the rose, star anise, and cardamom to create a sweet, fizzing soda note that tickles the nose. In Absolute Jasmine, the tone is much more astringent – nothing sweet or creamy here – but in the meeting of jasmine and spice, much the same effect is achieved.
Absolute Jasmine is a dark, serious perfume with a masculine edge. In a way, it does for jasmine what Tom Ford’s Black Violet did for violets, which was to marry the girlish sweetness of violets to a phenomenally bitter, mossy drydown – a sort of mash up between flowers and aftershave. Absolute Jasmine is a sugar-free jasmine Coca Cola perfume oil for sugar-free adults.
Absolute Orris (Clive Christian)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Orris can be twisted in several different directions, depending on the material used and the composition of the perfume. It can be pulled into a waxy-lipsticky direction, most commonly used in perfumes evoking the smell of cosmetics, like Chanel’s Misia and Histoires de Parfum’s Moulin Rouge. Some orris materials smell more like violets than iris, as evidenced by Iris by Santa Maria Novella and, to some extent, Heeley’s Iris de Nuit. Iris also has rooty, metallic facets that can be accentuated, the most famous example of this type being Iris Silver Mist by Serge Lutens. But many perfumes choose to accentuate the doughy suede elements of iris, and this is the direction taken by Clive Christian for Absolute Orris.
The opening of Absolute Orris is a stark representation of orris root – wet newspapers, carrots, soil, and ice, mixed with stranger elements such as glue and the plastic backing on industrial carpets. Running through this opening accord is a shoal of bright, silvery notes, which on paper read as citrusy, but on the skin turns out to be something between black pepper, mint, and metal.
Absolute Orris evolves into a smooth, buttery suede but retains a certain bitterness inherent to the material. Admirably, the perfume does not attempt to cover this with sweet or creamy supporting notes, but instead just leaves it there, as stark and uncompromising as the stone heads on Easter Island. This accord is both luxurious and straightforward, shorn of noise and distraction. Highly recommended for professionals of any gender with a taste for quiet but forceful luxury.
Absolute Osmanthus (Clive Christian)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Absolute Osmanthus comes with an overdose of woody aromachemicals that obscures the delicate beauty of the osmanthus, making it virtually impossible to evaluate on the skin. On paper, however, there are hints of what I feel I am missing – apricot jam, buttery leather, and sappy green leaf notes that inject a mood of brightness into the entire affair. Those who are less sensitive to woody ambers will probably enjoy this in full on their skin.
Absolute Rose (Clive Christian)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
Revolving around the bright rose de mai varietal, Absolute Rose is a sun-lit take on a garden rose framed by accents of citrus, herbs, and spice. A tart lime-peel bergamot lifts the topnotes, leading into a heart that smells like a pale pink rose plucked from a rain-soaked garden. Geranium leaf boosts the green rosiness inherent to this varietal, but also injects a delightful hint of garden mint, green leaves, and rhubarb stalks.
This sits at the opposite spectrum to the dark, syrupy roses of most Middle Eastern perfumery. It is a young rose, content to simply sparkle against a backdrop of garden greenery. Saffron adds a hint of earthy leather in the base, but generally, the wet herbal feel of the rose and geranium is what dominates. Think Galop (Hermès) dialed back by a factor of seven.
The fresh dew of the rose has been preserved throughout and not allowed to suffocate under a blanket of smoky resin or syrupy amber. This treatment imbues Absolute Rose with an almost Victorian sense of elegance. Men and women looking for a dandified take on a garden rose should seek out a sample of this. Its lack of embellishment and sweetness makes it perfectly suitable for men who are wary of flowers, and roses in particular. This is a particularly unsentimental take on rose that won’t remind anyone of their grandmother.
Akaber (Majid Muzaffar Iterji)
A massively-upholstered floral vanilla attar with an anisic-amaretto tint, Akaber recalls – with suspicious fidelity – the most popular floral vanilla gourmands of the late nineties, i.e., Hypnotic Poison and Dior Addict.
Al’Ghaliyah (Kyara Zen)
Al’Ghaliyah is so beautiful that it is difficult to describe it without gushing. Ghaliyah mukhallats are common in Middle-Eastern perfumery but the bulk of them are harsh and synthetic in aroma. I do not know if Kyara Zen’s version of it is completely natural, but it sure smells like it might be.
Kyara Zen’s Al’Ghaliyah is one of the very few rose-oud mukhallats that manages to achieve perfect balance between the elements in the blend – a rich, perfumey oud that smells like liquid calf leather, a winey rose with no sourness or sharp corners, and what smells like a golden nectar of apricots, peaches, plums, and osmanthus soaking into all the other notes.
All the elements reach the nose at once, cresting over each over continuously like the swell of a wave. The bright rose runs straight through the blend like a piece of thread, so even in the basenotes you can sense its rich, red presence glowing like pulp through the oud and musk. It is unclear whether the succulent fruit notes are emanating from the oud or the rose, but there is a cornucopia of winey, autumnal fruits to savor here. The fruit notes fade away gently, leaving the rich rose to proceed on its own.
According to Kyara Zen’s Instagram feed, it appears that genuine deer musk grains were macerated and then added to the final blend. If that is true, then it is a clever vehicle to demonstrate to people that genuine deer musk does not smell as dirty or as fecal as its recreations sometimes make it out to be. Rather, it is unobtrusively musky, with all the pleasing warmth of a clean, furred animal.
Overall, the richness and depth of this mukhallat is astounding. I applaud the skill of the perfumer who managed to corral two or three of the most commonly-used raw materials in mukhallat perfumery and shape them into a form that smells, if not new exactly, then a hundred times better than other iterations of the same materials. The liquid embodiment of a piece of gold-threaded brocade, Al’Ghaliyah is one of the most beautiful things I have smelled on my journey.
Al Ghar Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Al Ghar is what I feel comfortable calling a girly, gourmand take on the rose-oud mukhallat theme. Al Ghar’s prettiness is so understated that it is easy to miss entirely. A creamy, woodsy blend dusted with rose powder, it takes on the theme of oud in a way that is teasingly subtle, its soft, abstract nature making it difficult to identify and place all the disparate elements. But this is a scent that rewards patience.
The oud, saffron, and rose opening is medicinal, but not challenging to anyone who has ever sat out the opening of a Montale. The oud used here, although purportedly real, has a band-aid twang common to the synthetic oud used in most Western oud fragrances. The oud note is lightly handled, extended at one side by an astringent, leathery saffron and on the other, dusty woods. The rose takes shape as a powdery potpourri note that peeks out shyly from behind the other notes.
A few hours later, creamy, ambery warmth starts stealing over the medicinal opening, flickering in and out over the top, like someone spreading a lace cloth over a table and then whipping it off again. The caramel sweetness of labdanum mingles with the dry, medicinal oud and saffron to create a wonderful saltwater taffy note. This hazy, golden oud-amber-saffron accord stretches out in the base like a cat, picking up an alluring dash of black pepper or clove as it goes on – just enough to warm the tongue but not to make anyone sneeze.
The base features a milky sandalwood that is far more of a texture than an aroma. It is unclear whether Mysore or Australian sandalwood has been used here, but it doesn’t matter because the only thing it is asked to do here is to hand over its cream and be quick about it.
I really like Al Ghar. It is the definition of something delicate for when one is feeling, well, delicate. It calls to mind the comfort of a caramel latte or a cube of milk chocolate sprinkled with salt – piquant, but at the same time, soothing. Coming close in mouthfeel to both White Oud (Montale) and Red Aoud (Montale), I recommend it highly to those looking for a sweet, quasi gourmand take on the traditional ‘attar’ smell of saffron, rose, oud, and sandalwood. It also smells a little like pandan, which is a good thing in my book.
Al Hareem Blanc (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Despite the name, Al Hareem Blanc neither bears any relation to the original Al Hareem nor contains anything truly blanc-feeling in the composition, apart from a tiny dab of heliotrope which immediately gets gobbled up by the other more powerful notes. The opening is dominated by a beefed-up, muscle-bound tuberose with an acetone edge so powerful that it gives you the same head rush as sniffing an open can of paint thinner. It is a startling, unique opening, if not entirely pleasant.
Slowly, as the nose adjusts, it becomes clear that the benzene honk is that of a very pure, very strong tuberose absolute, whose aroma may be further broken down into its constituent parts of fuel, glue, rubber, and the decaying pear notes of nail polish remover. Dry woods, smoke, leather, and engine oil follow, making this one of the rare tuberose-dominated scents that men might feel comfortable wearing.
Men, if you are looking for a butch floral and are scared to death that someone in the grocery store might accuse you of wearing, gasp, a white floral, then get yourself this. Al Hareem Blanc is unambiguously male. It is a leather bomb made up of metal splinters of an equally tough, rugged flower. Actually, the tuberose in Al Hareem Blanc is really less a flower and more assless chaps.
Al Lail (Sultan Pasha Attars)
Al Lail, meaning The Night, is Sultan Pasha’s tribute to one of the stinkiest, civet-laden fragrances of all time, the notorious La Nuit (The Night) by Paco Rabanne. However, Al Lail is not a literal copy. It sidesteps, for example, the immensely sharp pissiness of the honey-civet in the original, and replaces it with a dusty, spicy floral musk that owes more to carnation-heavy feminine classics such as Caron’s Bellodgia and YSL Opium than to La Nuit.
The opening also diverges from its inspiration by plumping for the botanical freshness of a kitchen garden over the rather dated narcissus greenness of the original. The opening is juicy and fresh – clusters of orange, rose, mint, and white jasmine, freshly picked and with dew still on them. A striking artemisia note offers the kind of green bitterness that you can almost feel on your tongue. Going into this expecting a re-do of the immediately funky La Nuit, I was surprised and charmed by this freshness. It is a diversion, but a clever one, serving to juxtapose what comes next.
In Act Two, Al Lail promptly shakes off the sunny innocence of its ‘ripped from nature’ topnotes and settles into a smoky carnation and oakmoss gunpowder, the jasmine deepening into black marker pen indole. The notes all dry up into a floral potpourri of dried carnation and rose petals, with a note in the background that smells pleasantly of yellowing book paper.
Stuffed to the brim with greasy, vintage-style musks, there is almost a suffocating effect to the perfume that reminds me of Charogne by État Libre d’Orange. Wearing it chokes me slightly, like a mink stole tightened too carelessly around my throat, or the acrid fug of air that rushes out at you in a bar that still allows smoking.
Al Lail smells less like La Nuit and more like Bellodgia and Tabac Blond with their spicy, powdery clove-tinted glove leather. However, that reference leaves out the most crucial piece of information, which is that this powdered carnation-leather accord is wrapped up tight in a straitjacket of rude musks, civet, and salty, grungy body odor – a sort of animalic distortion of the Caron ideal.
The heavily musky ‘old’ honey accord in the base is very similar to that of Sohan d’Iris, so if you love that one, you may also love Al Lail. Personally, I could never wear Al Lail, for pretty much the same reason I cannot wear La Nuit – while I appreciate the genius of their construction, their heavy animalism is hard to wear elegantly. However, my tolerance for animalics might be lower than yours, in which case, take the chance.
All in all, Al Lail is a proper little stinker made with love for those who revere the huge, floral-animalic fragrances of the past such as Ubar by Amouage, Joy parfum by Patou, Jasmin Eugenie Impératrice by Creed, and indeed any of the older Carons (especially Acaciosa and Bellodgia). Just imagine any of these scents with their current filthiness multiplied by a factor of ten and you have an idea of where Al Lail stands on the old skank-o-meter.
Al Maqam Blend (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Al Maqam Blend is a limited edition perfume oil produced to commemorate ASAQ’s Diamond Jubilee. In my experience, the words ‘rare’ or ‘limited supply’ do not necessarily translate to amazing, and unfortunately, this is the case here. Al Maqam Blend is perfectly nice but does not reach the exceptional heights that some of the other blends in the ASAQ range. And at this price, it really should.
The basic structure of the scent involves an amorphous blur of flowers over a base of sweetish amber and musk, with a blob of oud making a shy appearance and then absconding far too soon. What flowers or fruits, exactly? It is hard to tell. But the sticky, bubblegummy fruitiness of the opening suggest the presence of ASAQ’s gooey jasmine and orange blossom jam, a blend that seems to bulk out many of the house’s lower-priced oils.
ASAQ lists wildflowers as part of the blend, but since real meadows are in short supply in Saudi Arabia, it is reasonable to assume that this particular bouquet of flowers was birthed in a test tube. In general, whenever you see wildflowers listed for an ASAQ blend, it is shorthand for a fruity-musky blur of flowers that could be anything from freesia to jasmine. The amber-musk base is pleasantly ‘fuzzy’ in texture, but not in the least bit distinctive. It also does nothing to counteract the tremendous sweetness of the florals.
Midway through, a smoky oud note appears, briefly giving the fruity florals a sheen of something respectably woody. More reminiscent of the scent of agarwood chips being heated on an incense burner than the scent of the oil, the oud note comes across as attractively dry and smoky. Somewhat similar to the smoky oud woodchip nuance in Dior’s Leather Oud and Guerlain’s Songe d’Un Bois d’Eté, but far less animalic, this note is the high point of the scent. This is also the only time it feels like someone over the age of twenty-one could viably pull it off. Too soon, however, the oud notes float right out of the scent, leaving behind a trail of sugary white florals over a generic, musky amber. Al Maqam is an uneven, even frustrating experience. When it is good, it is very, very good, but when it is bad, it is wicked.
Al Sharquiah (Al Rehab)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
This is for those nights when you want to leave a loud, sweet fug of rose and oud in the air as a calling card for the opposite sex. It is about as subtle as a baboon’s arse, but there is something about the sweet, sour, and rotting notes in Al Sharquiah that gets people to lean in and sniff you twice. It smells like the fumes from a bag of slowly rotting Medjool dates mingling with oud, wilted roses, cooked rose jam, a hint of metallic smoke, and a bit of funk in the base courtesy of spiced-up woods.
Although it is admittedly a quick snapshot of all the major themes in Arabian perfumery rather than the full deck, Al Sharquiah is a reasonable substitute for far more expensive Western takes on the rose-oud theme, such as Rose Nacrée du Desert by Guerlain or Velvet Rose & Oud by Jo Malone. All for four dollars a bottle? Hell yeah. I’ll have me some of that, thank you very much.
Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Type: essential oil
This was the first pure rose oil I ever tried, and it was a surprise to me in many ways. By pure, I mean that it was derived through slowly distilling Ta’ifi roses in the traditional manner, syringing the pure, clear oil off the hydrosol after distillation, and storing the resulting otto in a small leather flacon to rest and mature.
Ta’ifi roses are gathered at first morning light, before the sun causes the flowers to open fully, thus preserving their immensely fresh, spicy, green scent. Harvesting is an enormously labor-intensive process, requiring rose petals from 30-50 roses to produce just one drop of pure rose otto[i]. Al Shareef Oudh clarifies that: ‘For the pickers there is no time to lose; it is a race against time. As the blazing sun rises and moves higher the harsh rays cause precious oils to evaporate, so much so that by mid-day unpicked roses contain only half of the oil they had at dawn’[ii].
Smelled up close, the oil smells surprisingly nothing like what you expect a rose to smell like –which makes sense given that a rose is made up of over 500 different aroma compounds. The two main ‘flavor’ constituents of rose are geraniol and citronellal, which smell sharply ‘green’ and sharply ‘citric’ respectively. Thus, when I smell Al Ta’if Rose Nakhb Al Arous up close, I mostly smell a piercing lemony note and a lurid green note. These notes present so acidic that it feels like you just peeled a lemon and squirted it into your eye.
The aroma is jagged, and almost animalic in its spiciness. A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. I am willing to wager good money that in a blind smelling test, most people would never guess that this was rose – at least not right away.
Forty minutes in, the brightness fades and the first notes that we collectively understand as ‘rose’ begin to coalesce on the skin, clustering the individual building blocks of honey, lemon, geranium, cinnamon, and pink petal notes used to construct a rose aroma in modern perfumery. Unfortunately, pure rose ottos are extremely volatile and short-lived, so this glorious trajectory is cut short, the scent disappearing through the skin barrier and into the bloodstream within the hour. Still, to experience real beauty, no matter how ephemeral, is always a blessing.
Aroosah (Al Rehab)
Type: concentrated perfume oil
How can marigolds be indolic? Well, in Aroosah, as you will see, they just are. Fresh, earthy, slightly bitter – all the hallmarks of tagetes are there in the topnotes, giving off a brief impression of a freshly-cleaned toilet. But as the fragrance unfolds, so too does a wave of oily indoles similar to those clinging to the inside of Easter lilies, the smell of life and death repeating on itself like a bad meal.
In the later stages of the oil’s development, a heavily-greased almond undertone begins to intrude on proceedings, making things infinitely worse. If you’ve been manfully suffering through the experience thus far, then brace yourself, Bridget. The almond note, when paired with the grassy hay notes from the chamomile, marigold, and saffron, presents the nose with a real challenge: pungency.
Aroosah is not fresh or natural-smelling in the least, being far more redolent of bathroom cleaning detergents than anything botanical in origin. Nonetheless, its soapy, medicinal-herbal aroma is authentically Indian in nature. Not for the faint of heart, or indeed, stomach.
Asala Murakkaz (Arabian Oud)
Asala Murakkaz is a nice if not particularly impressive mukhallat situated at the lower end of the Arabian Oud price range. It opens with a pleasingly sweet, almost honeyed mix of florals, notably orange blossom and rose, accentuated with a fruity (peachy) undertone.
This is not a narcotic floral extravaganza built in the old manner, but rather a playful, modern take. I can see this appealing tremendously to young women who love the clean, musky sweetness of fruitchoulis and gourmand florals such as Miss Dior Cherie. The honeyed florals merge with a plush ‘pink’ musk in the far drydown, for a result that leans more towards a mass market Western fragrance than anything more authentically Eastern in nature. Oh, and in case you were worried – zero oud in evidence here. Asala Murakkaz is strictly for fans of candied, musky florals denuded of any rude bits or sharp edges.
Ashjan marries an orange-tinted rose to a heavy musk that runs right up to the edge of animalic before pulling back at the last moment. The rose notes are juicy and dessert-like, forming a mouthwatering counterpoint to the velvety, thickly-furred musk. Given its heavy-breathing character, Ashjan is perhaps not the best choice to be worn in polite company, but it is one to consider if you need something frankly suggestive for the third date. (Of course, this is all moot, because Ashjan is near to impossible to find now).
Asrar (Abdul Samad al Qurashi)
Asrar is a pot of orange blossom-scented marmalade, heavily spiced with saffron, left to desiccate, uncovered, on a shelf in the larder until only fruit leather remains. In the first hour or so, it is syrupy and densely-spiced to the point of being overwhelming. Orange blossom is not listed anywhere in the notes but take my word for it – Asrar is orange blossom boiled down into a medicinal unguent so sweet that it is bitter. The astringent woodiness of saffron and oud cuts through the waterfall of syrup somewhat, for a pungent undertone that is necessary as an opposing force.
Thankfully, it doesn’t take long for the attar to loosen the stays on its restrictive orange blossom-honey corset, allowing a bright, winey rose to bloom in the background. The rose expands to fill the room, joining forces with a dark, woody oud note to form a traditional rose-oud accord. It is at this point that the attar smells like a gourmand-ish take on Montale’s Black Aoud. The slightly candied, juicy quality in this stage of Asrar’s development is an appealing update to a rather tired template.
Hours in, the scent seems to do a volte face, morphing into a smoky, woodsy affair centering around a nugget of vetiver, cedar, and leather. This part of the attar is almost charcoal-matte in effect. In summary, Asrar kind of smells like a dab of Tribute on the tail end of Serge Lutens’ Fleur d’Oranger, with a brief detour to Black Aoud territory in the middle. Whether this payoff is worth trudging through the tiresome syrup clogging the veins of the scent’s the first hour is up to you. Plenty of people hold Asrar in as high regard as Homage or Tribute, but for me, the opening is too treacly to enjoy. Still, there is no denying that Asrar is one of Amouage’s most characterful attars.
Atifa Blanche (Al Haramain)
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 a trio of sparkling citrus notes – mandarin, lemon, and lime peel – their sharpness nicely rounded out by the slightly creamy lily and rose. There is also a noticeable lipstick note in the heart, thanks to a touch of violet. Think the same ballpark as Chanel Misia (which is more matronly) or Putain des Palaces (which is skankier) – big, violet-y powder puff scents. Atifa Blanche has a weird, doughy cashmeran note that distinguishes it as something that does a bit more than just lookin’ pretty.
No tuberose or jasmine, to my poor nose, but yes to a hint of rubbery, fertile ylang. Still, there is nothing sub-tropical or Big White Floral in feel here. If the white flowers are here, then they are have been sheared of all indole, sharpness, and that lingering ‘ladies-who-lunch’ element that seems to cling to the genre. Atifa Blanche is a fresh, steam-cleaned floral that favors the lipsticky combination of rose and violet over its heavier white floral components.
The notes list an ozonic accord in the topnotes, but there is nothing overtly aquatic here, unless you share Luca Turin’s perception of lily as saltwater-ish. The only real complaint that can be laid at its door is that it is slightly too squeaky clean, and a bit chemically cheap, with a muskiness that feels a bit like a freshly-starched collar. However, bathed in this radiant aura of sweet lipstick wax, Atifa Blanche can be forgiven almost anything. It is both innocently retro and almost (but not quite) edible. A hundred times better than By Killian Love.
Ayoon al Maha (Amouage)
Ayoon al Maha is a gently powdery take on the traditional attar smell of sandalwood and roses. It takes a fresh, tart damask rose and grafts it onto a dusty-creamy sandalwood rootstock. The opening is bright and lush, the green and citrusy facets of rosa damascena brought forward for their moment in the sun. The opening feels quite traditional in that it is true to the scent of the Bulgarian rose, an aroma with which many will be familiar from their childhood. More English in feel than Arabian, therefore – at least at the beginning.
In the base, a lightly toasted, buttery sandalwood note nips at the sharp, fresh rose, covering it in cream and brown sugar. This is likely not pure vintage Mysore sandalwood oil but rather, a good quality santalum album oil boosted with an enhancer like Sandalore (its voice rings out a little louder and sweeter than that of pure, natural sandalwood oil).
Nonetheless, Ayoon al Maha is a truly enjoyable sandalwood experience with a rich, almost caramelized facet that will make your mouth water. There is supposedly some oud oil here, but its presence is so subtle that it is not worth mentioning. Anyone looking for a beautiful rendition of the sandal-rose attar theme should make sampling (or even blind buying) Ayoon al Maha a priority.
About Me: A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes. (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world). Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery. Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud. But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay. In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.
Source of samples: I purchased samples from Hyde & Alchemy, Majid Muzaffar Iterji, Al Haramain, Amouage, Al Rehab, and Arabian Oud. The samples from Abdul Samad al Qurashi, KyaraZen, Clive Christian, and Sultan Pasha were sent to me free of charge either by the brand or a distributor.
Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized. But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button. Thank you!
Cover Image: Custom-designed by Jim Morgan.